Be ready for opening day of deer season

The first week of Mississippi’s gun season will be the best time, outside of the rut, to take a big buck. Make sure you have all the preliminaries taken care of before legal shooting light arrives.

Scanning the swamp bottom, I watched a creek crossing, hoping to catch a glimpse of a buck heading back to his bedding ground. Suddenly, a deer burst into view from the hollow to my left, just across the creek. I could see antlers reaching high as the buck headed for the creek crossing. As he disappeared behind a tree, I raised my rifle and aimed at an opening on the creek bend. 

As the buck stopped on the edge of the creek bank I squeezed the trigger. 

“Tic-boom!” The .270 belched fire and roared, piercing the still morning air. The buck collapsed into the creekbed below. I waited breathlessly for a few minutes and finally realized that he wasn’t coming out. I got down from my stand and quickly made the 75 yards to the creek, finding a beautiful 9-point buck near the water’s edge. He’d collapsed instantly from the single, well-placed shot, and I’d fulfilled an opening day quest. But it wasn’t the buck or stand I’d had in mind for the previous six weeks.

2019

Opening day of the 2019 gun season for deer had dawned with the sky opening and rain pouring down on my camp house. I took one look from the kitchen window, saw the rain and went back in and drank a cup of coffee. As night turned to dawn, the rain quit, and I walked out onto the porch ready to head to my honey hole. I was hit square in the face with a brisk, westerly wind, and my intended opening day stand choice was history. As bad as I wanted to hunt the creekbottom funnel, I knew the wind was blowing from the wrong direction, and I would never have a chance at taking a buck from that stand that day. 

Creek crossings often serve as funnels that direct deer movement, especially to areas where it’s easier for deer to get across and out of the creek.

I’d quickly gathered my gear and headed a few miles up the road to another stand site to hunt in a similar creekbottom funnel. It overlooked a thick creekbottom from the east side, in perfect position downwind of the deer trail and creek crossing. Thick pine timber lined either side of the narrow funnel. 

I’d actually found both deer trails and creek crossings while scouting during squirrel season about six weeks before opening day and had not disturbed either area since that time. 

Opening week affords hunters an opportunity to hunt bucks before hunting pressure makes them become nocturnal. If you can locate one before the season, there’s a good chance you can pattern him before he knows you’re there. 

Scouting for opening week

Consistently harvesting bucks, trophy bucks, means a hunter has put in a lot of time scouting and learning the land, terrain and food sources in the area. Hunting bucks from opening week through the end of the season is all about scouting. To be successful that first week, you must put in the time in the months leading up to opening day. 

From early October through November, deer are easily patterned; they can be found near any available food sources: freshly dropping acorns or food plots, for example. If you’re able to locate their bedding areas and know where they’re feeding, you can intercept them going to and from. 

During squirrel season last October, I found one of the hottest areas I’d ever found in the Bogue Flower Hills near Meridian. Carrying my .22 rifle, hunting for squirrels and buck sign, I was headed to a large, green field when I got to a creek and found deer tracks all over a sandbar. 

The creek flowed through a large pine plantation that was too thick to penetrate without leaving human scent everywhere and spooking the deer. Seeing the tracks I decided to hunt from the creekbed; the farther I walked, the more tracks I saw, so I decided not to shoot any squirrels but spend my time scouting. 

Mike Giles harvested this 12-point buck while hunting in Lauderdale County on Thanksgiving Day 2019.

As I neared the end of the property, I found three heavily used deer trails merging at the creek and going up the opposite bank. It was the most deer sign I’d ever seen in the area, so I retraced my steps and left, returning a few days later to set up my climber in a nearby tree. I didn’t return until Thanksgiving morning when the wind was blowing from the proper direction. 

The moment of truth

After a brisk, 30-minute hike, I climbed the tree quickly, locked my stand down and scanned the woods intently, looking for any sign of a deer. I’d only been in the tree about 5 minutes when I spotted a buck running wide open through the thicket toward me, angling slightly to my left. The buck’s rack was tall and thick, chocolate brown and rose up high above his ears. He’d evidently fed all night and was slipping back to his bedding ground. 

The buck never broke stride and cleared the creek with ease, running past me before I had a shot. 

“Aaaaank!” I sent out a loud grunt with my natural voice, and the buck stopped dead in his tracks, not knowing where the sound came from. All I could see was his head and neck, but that was enough. 

“Boom!” The rifle roared, and the buck collapsed in a heap, dispatched with one shot to the neck. I don’t know how many times the buck had made that same trek, but the thicket was littered with his scrapes and rubs. 

The 210-pound, 12-point buck was a trophy indeed and the best I’d ever killed in the area; it made for a fine Thanksgiving gift, indeed. Thankfully, I’d spent some time scouting before the season and found the buck, then stayed out of the woods until the wind was right. 

Food plots, game cameras

My brother, Joe Giles of Collinsville, spent a lot of time preparing for deer season by plowing, planting and fertilizing several food plots in different locations. Though it was abnormally hot, he put in the time and put up stands in preparation for the cold weather that was sure to come. 

After laying his crops by, he put out game cameras near the food plots to see if he had any prospects. 

“I got a nice buck on my game camera around mid-October,” Giles said, “but most of the pictures came at night, which is typical of older bucks. A couple weeks ago, he appeared in daylight hours, well before dark.” 

That was all the encouragement Giles needed; he knew the buck would leave when the rut kicked in, and he’d probably never see it again. 

“I got some pictures of the buck walking near my stand late one afternoon before dark, a week before the season opened,” Giles said. “I knew right then I had to spend some time in that stand to try and get him.”

Rain on opening morning kept Giles from hunting, but he was in the woods that afternoon.

“I got in the stand around 3 p.m. and prepared for a long afternoon,” he said. “I was prepared to spend a few days hunting that particular stand, so I settled in.”

It all pays off

Things went slowly until a doe and a couple of small deer came in and started darting around the food plot. Then, the doe ran out of the plot and came right back, with a buck hot on her trail. Giles passed on that buck, knowing a bigger one was in the area. 

It was a good decision. 

“I heard something in the woods, and the big buck I’d captured on a game camera came out and started walking toward me,” Giles said. “He was well within shooting range, but I kept waiting for a better shot. He finally turned broadside, quartering away, and I was afraid he’d bolt and leave, so I took a fine bead and pulled the trigger.”

The buck was dead on its feet and only went a few yards before collapsing with a bullet in his engine room. It sported a tall, 8-point rack measuring nearly 20 inches wide and was the best buck he’d ever killed.

“I can’t remember when I’ve killed a buck on opening day. It’s been a while, but it was very satisfying, for sure,” he said.

Thanksgiving came early for the excited hunter, and he counted his blessings with the harvest of a good buck that provided succulent venison for the supper table. However, it would never have happened without a lot of planning, scouting and preseason work which led to locating the buck.

If you identify a buck’s bedding area, don’t bother him in there.

Scouting and hunting tips for opening week

  • Scout early in the fall and hang stands as needed. 
  • Utilize game cameras, but stay out of the area as much as possible. Use cameras that send the photos to your cell phone or computer if available. 
  • Scout from a distance if possible. 
  • Stay out of a buck’s bedding area or core zone. 
  • Cut trails to your stand, if legal in your area, so you can reach your stand without spooking deer or leaving a scent trail. 
  • Only hunt the stand when the wind is right. No matter what gizmos companies come up with, nothing is a sure thing except hunting downwind. 
  • Place your stand as far away from the buck’s trail crossings as you can and still be able to take a killing shot. 
  • Hunt the edges, transitions from one kind of habitat to another, such as cutover, pine plantations, stream management zones, funnels or pinch points in the terrain. 
  • Sight your rifle in well in advance of deer season and know what your gun and you are capable of when shooting at a deer.

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Michael O. Giles
About Michael O. Giles 281 Articles
Mike Giles of Meridian has been hunting and fishing Mississippi since 1965. He is an award-winning wildlife photographer, writer, seminar speaker and guide.

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