By Chris Eberhart:
I was just plain embarrassed on that rut-time November morning about fifteen years ago. For no good reason I just didn’t get out of bed. In an attempt to save face, and avoid the razzing from my father and brother, I decided to do something I had never done before, head for the woods at the time most hunters would be exiting from their morning hunt. Departing before my hunting companions returned I made for a tree at around 9:30, and quickly set up in the thick travel route behind a standing cornfield. My intention was to sit until dark. Honestly, I didn’t expect to see many deer until evening, but at least I could prove my determination to my hunting partners. Shortly after 11:00 the first deer of the day ambled slowly into view, a single mature doe. She was followed, at intervals, by fifteen other deer, including four different young bucks. The immature bucks were chasing wildly, and the action was intense, until 3:30 p.m.. Then, just when most hunters should have been making for their evening hunts, the action came to a screeching halt. The only deer I saw after that was another single doe that cautiously ghosted through right at dark.
Since that day hunting this timeframe, which I’ve come to call second shift bowhunting, has become standard in my hunting routine. Bowhunting the second shift is something every serious bowhunter should consider.
General Deer Behavior
Its no secret that deer move during mid-day. Numerous studies have shown that deer are naturally crepuscular with another peak in movement between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. In areas where there is even moderate hunting pressure I believe deer adjust to the normal hunter timeframe by becoming more nocturnal, and by moving more during midday. Considering that deer generally pattern hunters far better than the other way around, encounters with bowhunters on a normal hunting schedule simply reinforces a natural behavior pattern. Also, a large portion of mature buck rut activity takes place during this same time frame. This mid-day deer movement goes mostly unnoticed because it almost always takes place in thick cover, or even within bedding areas. A second shift approach can put you in position to intercept this mid-day deer movement pattern, a pattern that particularly mature bucks tend to utilize.
Why Hunt the Second Shift
Whenever I mention second shift hunting usually the first question I get is, “Why not simply hunt all day?” All day hunting is something most hunters like to talk about, but very few actually practice. I happen to hunt all day long quite often, and admit that it can be a grueling experience when the action is slow. Cutting four to six hours off an all day hunt can sure reduce stand fatigue. There is definitely a deer movement lull around 9:30. I like to use this little fact to my advantage. Often this means I will get out of the woods early after a morning of little or no action, grab a quick bite, and return within an hour, usually to a fresh stand site.
Another reason to opt for the second shift is changing conditions. In mid October of 2005 I awoke at 4:00 a.m. to temperatures of over 70 degrees. At about 11:00 a.m. the temperature dropped dramatically. Seeing an opportunity, I decided to spend the remainder of the day on stand. After watching deer virtually all day I arrowed a mature nine pointer near dark. Weather conditions that promise instant deer movement simply have to be hunted.
Yet another reason to hunt the second shift is simple bodily fatigue. When I am out on a hunt I sometimes get worn down after a week or so. When this happens I will sleep in one morning and hunt the second shift. I find sleeping in rejuvinates my body and energy level far more than a midday nap does.
There are certain weather conditions, and deer movement periods, that are fortuitous to second shift hunting. Like I just mentioned, rain is a good time to practice this type of hunting. Deer love to move in wet conditions, ranging from fog to a light steady rain. When wet conditions are in the forecast it is good to plan a second shift hunt, no matter what time of season. On the opposite end of the weather spectrum, during the early season, or during unseasonably warm or dry spells, I like to do second shift hunts near hidden water sources. I’ve often witnessed deer drinking just after the hottest part of the day, usually between 2:00 and 4:00 pm. I once arrowed a nice ten pointer by setting up next to a water hole at 11:00 am. Deer started showing up around 2:00 pm, and shortly thereafter two nice bucks bedded within range but protected by cover. Though I didn’t get my shot off until a couple hours later, if I had hunted that spot in the normal bowhunter timeframe I would have spooked those bucks.
Of course, the best time to engage in second shift hunting is during the rut phases. That bucks are on their feet either scent checking for does, or tending does during midday is a well established fact. I find it best to wait for either very cold, or simply, inclement weather for second shift hunts, even at this time.
During a full moon, when there is a clear sky, I have notice there is a little more midday deer activity than normal, and less morning and evening movement. If the moon is full and you are just not seeing the deer you should be, try a second shift hunt.
The last condition for second shift hunting is simply having the time to hunt. While hunting I personally can’t understand not giving one hundred percent. You can’t kill a deer, if you’re not hunting. Sitting around the house, cabin, or camp during the day during deer season is something that I find nearly unbearable. Hunting that midday movement period is a golden opportunity to increase your chances at a mature buck. You never know what might happen, it might be boom or bust. If there isn’t anything urgent that I have to do, I will simply spend most of the day on stand.
As I mentioned earlier much of deer’s daytime activity goes unnoticed by hunters. For a second shift hunt to potentially be successful you have to be in the right location. You should select stands that are well within cover, as close to bedding as you can get without spooking deer by your approach. During the early season, along with the water as I mentioned above, some good second shift spots are hidden soft or hard mast trees, and travel routes surrounded by thick cover. A white oak or apple tree close to bedding are potential hotspots. There will be competition for these food sources, and mature bucks may make mid-day visits. Hidden travel routes, like a creek bottom though a woods, are used regularly during the day.
Later in the season I like to hunt funnels between bedding areas, that bucks scent checking for hot does might pass through. Other rut time second shift spots are primary scrape areas and rut staging areas. Primary scrape areas are always in spots with heavy deer traffic, and are the first places bucks go to scent check for estrous does. Cruising bucks will stop and bed, stage, at rut staging areas during mid-day and wait to catch the afternoon doe movement. If a doe comes through that is close to estrous, the buck will follow. During the rut phases it is critical to take advantage of this midday movement as much as possible.
Running out into the woods for an extra long hunt just like you would for a short evening sit is setting yourself up for discomfort. Besides a comfortable stand, I almost always hunt out of an Ambush Saddle, which is extemely comfortable for long sits, there are a couple items you should bring along. To remain comfortable and alert you have to maintain a constant energy level. If your stomach starts growling it will distract you from the hunt. I always pack a few high energy food items. This usually includes an apple, or two, a granola or power bar, and some chocolate, along with various Wilderness Athlete products. A quick bite when the battery starts to run low can do wonders for your concentration. Of course, a small water bottle is always in my pack as well.
Another item that I consider critical is a pee bottle. It’s almost impossible to sit for more than four hours without having to relieve yourself. Considering deer’s sense of smell and the enormous effort most bowhunters go through to remain as scent free as possible, it would be foolish to go splashing urine around your tree. Also, an item you might consider is distraction material. By this I mean a magazine or book, or whatever you need to keep you in a stand. Personally, I am so focused on my surroundings while hunting that I have never been able to read, or do anything else on stand, however some hunters need material to keep their mind occupied while hunting.
The last item that is absolutely essential to second shift hunting is lightweight rain gear. No matter what the weather is like when you head out hunting, it can change in a flash. A set of thin windproof rain gear will protect you from both water, wind, and a sudden drop in temperature. A suit won’t take up much space in a pack. I learned about packing rain gear the hard way. After not doing so one afternoon I missed a shot at a huge eight pointer because of a case of near hypothermia. That particular day started out in the high eighties, but a few hours into my hunt dropped down into the forties. After freezing for a couple hours I decided to leave, only to see the buck on approach while my bow was already hanging on my bow-rope half way to the ground. A quick attempt at recovery and a very shakey hurried shot was met solidly by a branch I thought I could shoot over. Had I been protected by another layer I would have been sitting quietly on stand, and had time for a shot, still in my shooting lane, when that buck showed himself. For hunting, comfort, and safety reasons a set of rain gear needs to be in your pack on a long hunt.
Second shift bowhunting is a great way to remain rested and fresh while hunting hard and still take advantage of that important midday deer movement pattern. Second shift hunting is also an opportunity to take advantage of changing conditions that mean bucks will be up and moving. Hunting this timeframe has worked well for me, and it can work for you.