by Wade Middleton
The 2023-24 deer season for me, started the day after the previous 2022-23 season ended. I’m always planning, tinkering, scouting, and mostly daydreaming about whitetail deer hunting trips yet to come. Some of these hunts I dream about years in advance because the planning, daydreaming, and preparation can be just as fun as the hunt. Sometimes it takes us two to three years to plan, build up enough points to draw a tag, find a place to hunt, and then of course get it all to come together.
When it comes to whitetail deer hunting in Kentucky, I’ve found a place at Salt River Outfitters that really fits me. From the original owner George Cummings to guides like Joey Cheek it’s become a family reunion of sorts when I go over there, and I’ve started my whitetail hunting season there for nearly a decade now.
Much has been written about deer hunting in Kentucky. It’s an over the counter tag so it’s an easy stop in and get a tag. Depending on what you want to hunt with, the bow season in Kentucky starts the first week of September and a lot of the deer are still in velvet or are just starting to shed it off. I love to try and hunt those big velvet bucks so I’m generally on the road in late August heading that way to get ready.
The first day we arrive at camp (which is usually a few days before the season starts) is when we get the stands ready. It’s an all-day deal because we are hanging tree stands, securing all the safety lines, and mounting camera arms in place. We put several Stealth Cam cell cameras out to help us get an idea of where the deer were coming from and what kind of deer were coming to any of our stands.
The food on a trip like this is really fun for a lot of us. Each one of us has a little different talent when it comes to cooking, and some of us have no talent when it came to cooking. Let’s be realistic on that. Thankfully, Angel had pre-made several meals for us packed tightly in our Engel Coolers. So we know that we’ll have at least a Mexican Dinner, some meatloaf for Kevin, and other tasty meals so we won’t entirely starve on this trip.
This past year, we caught a bunch of crappie and bass at a nearby pond, so we all got to sit around the campfire, rehash old stories, fry up the day’s catch, and just disconnect from the world.
Gearing Up Before I Leave
I spend a lot of time gearing up for this hunt. It begins weeks in advance. Mostly because a lot of times this is the time, I get my gear together for the whole year. This is most likely our first big game hunt that kicks off deer season, and where we field test a lot of new products. I enjoy the process of packing, organizing, and working on my bow. I love to tinker with that in the back behind my shop. I have a cool little archery range set up right there with different blackout targets, and I cut a lot of arrows every year. For me, it’s therapeutic. I’m often testing a new bow, scouting camera, stand or who knows what so I like to become as familiar with them as I can.
Expectations for This Hunt
Whitetail deer hunting in Kentucky has been filled with both success and failure for me. I’m guilty of falling in love with certain deer and have gone home empty-handed after never getting a shot. I’ve had some big bucks in front of me that I wasn’t able to get on the ground, I have also unfortunately wounded deer, but I’ve also knocked quite a few big whitetails down in Kentucky, but I don’t judge a trip anymore on taking one or not taking one, I judge it on the time spent afield and the success of others as well.
On our most recent trip conditions-wise, it was hot. The best weather was the day we got there when we hung our stands and got everything ready. It was in the seventies for the highs. The forecast for the week ranged from 88-96 and we had a big ole Super Moon that while cool to look at, likely wasn’t the best for hunting.
The first thing that people mostly say to me about hunting this time of the year (and maybe you were thinking this as well) is why do you hunt this time of the year when it is that hot? Why weren’t you waiting for the cold weather to get these deer on their feet?
I’ve come to learn that if you can pattern a deer in the early season and he’s showing up in daylight you’ve got a better chance to get him. I believe that this is a huge mistake that so many people make by not hunting the early season and waiting for it to get cold. I think your odds to kill a specific target deer are greater in early season before they feel any pressure than they are during the rut. Certainly the rut is a great time to harvest a random buck but targeting one buck during the rut can be tough. What happens to me during the rut so many times is I find a buck, and then he finds a girlfriend, and he moves 67 miles that other way, and I can’t find him anymore.
In the early season, scouting and understanding deer movement is really crucial. When you can find them up on their feet in the daylight hours (which could be tough) you can find a lot of success.
The Hunting Setup in Kentucky
The location that Jeff and I hunted was actually the farm that I had my very first Kentucky hunt on when we first came over many years ago, so it was kind of like this big full circle deal I was pretty excited about the location This stand was way down on the bottom of the farm with a lot of timber and shade. There were a couple of power line cuts that were crossing, and I felt it was a great early season place where a buck would find sanctuary and comfort.
We saw deer on the scouting camera, literally almost all day long, early in the morning, in the middle of the day, at various times. So we took our new Yamaha out, got into our stand, and started the 2023 season with much anticipation but how it ended, I never would have guessed.