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Early Season Tactics Used by Whitetail Outfitters


Generally speaking whitetail hunters await that magical month of November to arrow or shoot that buck of a lifetime. In fact as a whitetail outfitter virtually 70% or more of all hunts are booked during rut dates. While it is true rut hunting is exceptional throughout the Midwest don’t be fooled into thinking non rut hunts are unworthy of your time.

I am the owner of IMB Outfitters, which is one of the oldest (13 years of business) and qualitative whitetail outfitting services in the Midwest. We run both fully and semi guided hunts in Pike County, Illinois. We also run like hunts in Northern Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas. Non rut hunting tactics of whitetail deer vary in each location as deer have evolved differently across each of the five states we outfit whitetail deer hunt in.

Missouri Whitetail Hunting (Non rut Tactics)

In Missouri of 2008 the State was devastated by massive amounts of rainfall all
Spring. Literally many river bottom properties were subject to leavy damages and were under water for weeks. My first thought was, “Oh no, the non rut hunts during early season will be terrible as some of my best properties are under water.” How wrong I was. In fact the exact opposite was true. There is a story in the Bible about how a man named Zachius climbed a tree and waited to see Jesus as he passed by. Think about this. Zachius thought ahead and ran ahead of Jesus’s tour or walk and repositioned himself in a tree so he could see Jesus walk by. As a result Jesus called Zachius down from the tree and blessed him. Based upon this parable we did the same thing as an outfitter. In an effort to stay one step ahead of the whitetail herd we had to think about where the deer would move to until the water subsided. We positioned hunters three quarters of a mile off the river bottom properties in the hill country. As a result the four hunters in camp saw many deer and success rates ran 100% on shot opportunities at Pope and Young Whitetail Bucks. As an outfitter we simply knew the deer wouldn’t bed in 4 inches of water on riverbottom properties and would migrate to higher ground. One of our hunters arrowed a 150 inch drop tine buck as a direct result of this strategy. I had heard of playing the wind, but never playing the water.

Because of the heavy amounts of rainfall soybeans and all other crops were planted way too late. An old farmer once told me that as a golden rule if you don’t have crops planted by mid April your in trouble. As a result of the rain, crops were planted late which brought about our second strategy for the 2nd non rut hunt camp. Whitetail Deer forage on soybeans heavily when they are still green. Normally by hunt season beans are brown. However in 2008 beans were still green early season. While the deer didn’t understand the concept my hunt guides figured out rather quickly we needed to be positioned on green soybean fields that were planted late and stay off the brown soybeans. This also gave us the idea of planting food plots in the form of soybeans for 2009 post May 1 in an effort to always have green soybeans to hunt over early season. This camp did rather well also.

The third camp of non rut hunters to come into Missouri were presented with a far different strategy yet. Again the deer will not adjust to you. You must adjust to them. A good whitetail deer outfitter will always try and be one step ahead of the whitetail deer herd to ensure a successful hunt. The third camp started out with one and a half days of tough hunting. Sighting were scarce which left me scratching my head. The water had subsided in the river bottoms, thereby blowing our playing the water strategy. The beans were all brown. Now what was I to do. As an outfitter I have always preached to new guides that often times a whitetail outfitter is always in one of two roles…………..a liar or a hero. The reason is because hunters expectations and dreams are high. If hunters are seeing good deer you’re a hero. If they aren’t seeing good deer then often times hunters think the outfitter was dishonest in a sales representation. This is the part of outfitting that is painstaking. Reality is that rut hunting is a no brainer and we almost always carry success rates over 100% in whitetail camps, however non rut hunting can make a champ into a chump quickly if your not thinking one step ahead of the deer.

Our third camp in Missouri we noted that harvesting was beginning. The best farm equipment in the world still leaves over 5% of the crop lying on the ground. These leftovers are easy pickins for whitetail deer. Its almost like not having to take the shell off a peanut to consume it. After a harvest the deer need only cruise the field and pick up pure 100% food without shell, cob, or pod to deter fast feeding. Deer began moving in harvested fields only. Thus we moved to hunting fields that had already been harvested. We spent one day with 3 guides driving around simply looking for fields that had been harvested. Suddenly we were on deer and hero’s again. I recall one night a hunter sat on a harvested field and in one sitting saw 27 deer and 15 of those deer were bucks. (Five of those 15 bucks would have qualified for Pope and Young Club.)

Missouri’s late October hunts mostly center around bucks that are too excited too early about breeding and acorns or mast production. Then your into the rut and hunting topographical advantages.

The moral of non rut hunting in the State of Missouri for monster whitetail deer is to always try and think one step ahead of them. This is only done by intense scouting and deep thinking about where would I go under the current environmental conditions.

Pike County, Illinois Whitetail Hunting (Non rut Tactics)

Illinois is a whole different deer with a whole different employment of tactic. Some of the biggest whitetail in the world are harvested under non rut conditions in Pike County, Illinois. Why? Illinois whitetail deer have evolved differently and are identical in nature to Iowa whitetail deer. (Iowa deer are a little less intelligent due to less hunting pressure.) I had always been a resident born and bred in Missouri. In 1998 I moved to Illinois for a short period of time. I employed Missouri hunt tactics upon Illinois deer and learned quickly the deer were much different. In State like Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, and other locations whitetails may only be pursued with shotgun or muzzleloader during the firearms season. Thus deer in shotgun only states have associated safety with standing in the middle of the field.

Non rut hunting in Illinois is usually very easy. In fact on the homepage of our website at there is story written by the Editor of Buckmasters, Tim Martin. If you read the story it reads as if he and his partners were hunting during the rut as he describes massive amounts of deer seen and a successful harvest of a 160 inch monster whitetail buck. This hunt took place in the middle of October.

Truth………….Illinois whitetail deer will waltz right out into the open fields in broad daylight as they believe they are safe in the fields. During the first five days of the 2008 Pike County, Illinois whitetail deer season we had 8 hunters in camp. They had 10 opportunities to harvest record book deer and several of them harvested nice bucks. Its as simply as hunting the edges of harvested fields or green food sources such as clover, soybeans, rape, and many other varieties of crops planted by Illinois landowners.

If you were to ask Jamie McCormick about his 2008 non rut hunt in Pike County, Illinois with IMB Outfitters he would tell you he went home with a wonderful wallhanger. The only problem is now he has to explain to his buddy that he won’t be attending his rut hunt in Illinois thereby leaving his buddy flying solo in November. Either way it’s a good problem for Jamie to have. You can check out our trophy gallery to view Jamie’s early season non rut archery harvest. He’ll be the one smiling from ear to ear.

Iowa Whitetail Hunting (Non rut Tactics)

Normally it takes two to three years to obtain a tag in the State of Iowa. The two zones worthy of hunting in Iowa are Zone 5 and Zone 6. I literally wouldn’t book hunt in Iowa unless I was with an outfitter that is in one of the two Zones with Zone 5 being the best. Problem with Iowa is most outfitters have not been able to avoid bankruptcy because its so hard for hunters to draw tags. In fact outside of a few fly by night, backyard operations I don’t know of another outfitter in my area in Zone 5 to refer to if I am booked. Because of the rarity of drawing an Iowa tag most hunters utilize Iowa bowtags during rut conditions only. The way I look at it is if you get an Iowa tag don’t skimp. Book with IMB Outfitters and book during the rut.

If you are still convinced you want to purchase an Iowa non rut hunt then know this. Little grain storage is available in the prime location of Zone 5 of Iowa. Due to this farmers harvest crops deep into October with the primary crop being corn. Anytime you are surrounded by standing corn even the best of outfitters and hunters often times fail. Bottomline if you draw an Iowa archery tag, hunt the rut. Gun tags are easily obtained as are late season muzzleloader tags.

Nebraska Whitetail Hunting (Non rut Tactics)

As an outfitter I always practice honesty. In 2008 the Nebraska non rut hunts were terrible. Deer just weren’t moving. Normally Nebraska has presented excellent non rut hunting however in 2009 local landowners planted heavy doses of corn that was still standing during September and October. The deer laid up in the corn and moved at night.

Benefits of Booking a Non Rut Whitetail Deer Hunt

There are many benefits to booking a non rut hunt with IMB Outfitters located in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas.

The Element of Surprise
The first benefit is the element of surprise. When you’re the first one’s to hit the camp you’re the first one’s to be hunting the deer. Literally the hunter is in a situation wherein the deer are unaware it is season or unaware they are being pursued by hunters. Often times when a non rut hunter comes to camp our guides have big deer patterned that are doing the same thing every night as opposed to a rut condition where a buck may travel up to nine miles a day during the rut. I remember in 2007 IMB patterned what we believed to be the possible new state record whitetail in Missouri. The deer just continued to prance in front of the same infrared camera every night. Literally when we would collect the camera it was always full of his photos. I didn’t have anyone booked the first five days of the 2007 Missouri season so I called an annual pass holder, Greg Childers.

To educate, an annual pass with IMB Outfitters allows the hunter to hunt all 5 states on an unlimited basis for a fixed price of around $12,500 to $15,000. While that price may sound high it is relatively a small price to pay to access 60,000 acres in five states for deer and spring turkey on an unlimited basis. The pass gives the hunter the chance to harvest 11 turkeys, 8 whitetail bucks, and 1 mule deer buck. One heck of a deal when you consider some outfitters charge over $4000 for a 5 day hunt. In Texas you’d spend that amount on one deer at a high priced game ranch.

Anyway back to my story. I called Greg and simply told him I thought I could place him on this giant buck as the buck was doing the same thing every evening. Greg came up and hunted the giant buck but was not successful. Its always difficult to pursue one particular buck, but early season hunters are placed upon deer we have watched and patterned the entire summer. The element of surprise is without question a benefit.

Fewer Hunters are Present in Camp

During non rut hunts there are always fewer hunters in camp. This provides the benefit of getting special treatment and a vast array of choices of locations to hunt. For example in 2008 Chris Ward came up to hunt Missouri September 15 to 19. Chris was the only one in camp. He was guided on a one guide to one hunter basis and had his choice of hunting anywhere and everywhere. Chris saw many deer and many shooter bucks, however didn’t release an arrow as Chris only shoots at deer exceeding 170 inches. Although presented with opportunities to shoot some Pope and Young Deer he didn’t get close enough to a deer over 170 inches. The benefit is the fewer hunters the more attention the hunter receives, and the more choices of where he or she can hunt.

Lower Prices

As with all Whitetail Outfitters and Guides non rut hunts are cheaper than rut hunts. It’s a great way to save some money. While we are discussing the subject of pricing let me elaborate on the issue. On 9-16-2008 I randomly selected 10 Whitetail Outfitters in Pike County, Illinois along with some others across the Midwest. IMB pricing ranked in the lower 30 percentile. Pricing is one thing that doesn’t always ensure quality when it comes to whitetail deer outfitters. I know outfitters I wouldn’t hunt with that charge over $1000 more than IMB. These same whitetail outfitters don’t have near the quality of lodge, amount of ground, quality of ground, nor an appropriate guide to hunter ratio yet they are more expensive.

Then you have the class of whitetail outfitters and guides that are ridiculously low. These are most generally the “too good to be true” outfitters that are just getting started and don’t know all they need to know about outfitting whitetails. The outfitters running hunts on the family farm out of pole barn or hotel hoping to be the next Bill Jordan or Ted Nugent. Most of these fail miserably and so do their clients. When you go on a whitetail hunt with an outfitter or guide do your research. IMB has been in business for 13 years, won multiple awards in the industry, and sports the support of major hunt companies like Mossy Oak, Mathews Bows, LaCrosse Footwear, Hunter Specialties and many more.

In conclusion, on Sept 14th I glassed a green soybean field and viewed several shooter bucks feed and then jump a fence into a clover field next door. Two nights later I watched the same deer do the exact same thing once again. The next morning at 10 AM I skipped church, hung a stand in the fence line, and went back to hunt the stand that evening. Just prior to dark several does entered the field followed by the parade of bucks I had watched for a few evenings. In less than 10 minutes the deer closed the distance to within 23 yards and I arrowed a massive buck that will be a treasure forever. Don’t underestimate non rut hunting, but also realize you have to book with an outfitter that doing their homework and staying one step ahead of the herd at all times.

Darrin Bradley

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