Last night my wife and I decided to forgo the normal evening meal at home and dine out at our local restaurant. This eatery is somewhat of an icon here locally. We eat there at least two or three times a month and normally know a half the patrons dining there. This night was no exception and several of the customers were hunters around town. One of them approached our table and from his mouth spilled forth THE most commonly asked question amongst bowhunters, "how did you do last fall". Well... I knew he was not asking about my financial investments on Wall Street. I answered him with "not too bad. I took a nice 8 point on the 13th." Then as required in bowhunting etiquette, I asked the same of him.
"Not a thing" he muttered. "Never had a shot." He then went on into a long dissertation on just why he never was able to put venison in his freezer this past season. As he rambled on about just why he was not able to tag a deer, I could not help but wonder how a fellow that claims he is out there giving it a 100% effort, can not even get a shot at a deer.
After several minutes our food arrived and he ambled back towards his table. My wife looked at me and asked, "how come you always get your buck every year, yet others struggle to just get a shot?" Well... I whispered, then taking a long pull from my glass, "there are ten steps to bowhunting success. "
1. Practice. Archers practice all summer in anticipation of the upcoming deer season. Mostly, they practice in short sleeve t-shirts and other summer attire. Things change drastically when one adds a sweatshirt, long johns, insulated coats and pants. Things such as draw lengths and anchor points. These are things that effect arrow flight. Heavy clothing such as your coat might be in the way of your bowstring when you release. The arms are most often the problem. Also, practice with your broadheads to be sure they fly the same as your field points. This is VERY important. It always amazes me just how few hunters shoot their hunting points before season. Broadheads of equal weight do not always have the same flight characteristics.
2. Scout early and often. A common mistake bowhunters make every fall is to do their scouting the weeks or days just prior to opening day. This is when the pros let the woods calm before they set up their opening day surprise party for mister buck. Do your scouting just after deer season ends, then again in March and April. You will be impressed how well last fall's scrapes and rubs show up in early spring. Spend as much time in the field as you can. Scouting is just putting a giant puzzle together. The more you do it the better you get.
3. Tree stand placement. Success or failure is often measured in mere feet when bowhunting. Being 12 inches out of position can mean the difference between getting a clear shot or possibly not even seeing your quarry. Always set within reasonable range of the trail or area you plan to hunt. Reasonable range is 20 yards or closer. Watch the wind and set your stand as not to be scented by approaching deer. Cut and clear several shooting lanes as to cover any direction a deer may be traveling. Do this trimming early, post season is best. A mature whitetail knows when trees disappear that were there a day ago. Not unlike you if you were to enter your house and notice a chair missing.
4. Know your EKR. Effective kill range, that magical distance that even under extreme pressure one can place his or her arrow in a nine inch circle. Not once, not twice, but nine out of ten times. For some this distance is 40 yards for others it is 25 or even 10. No one can tell you what your EKR is but yourself. Limit yourself to this distance and you will have the confidence to succeed. Instead of spending countless hours tracking, you will be spending time cutting up venison.
5. Ask Questions. Do not be afraid to ask questions. If you are not sure why your bow is suddenly shooting erratically, ask a more knowledgeable archer for help. The same holds true in your hunting arena. The landowner of the property you are hunting can be your best source of information. Question him as to the whereabouts of any potential record book bucks or forkhorns for that matter. If the landowner is a farmer even better. Heck they are out there 24 / 7 who better to know what's running around on the farm.
6. Play the wind. Ahhh... the all telling wind. A famous bowhunter once made the comment when asked about the whitetails olfactory glands. "The nose knows". Above all else play the wind to your favor. Stay home before sitting in a stand where the wind is bad. I have gone as far as to climb down from my stand at prime time when the wind suddenly switched directions rather than risk detection. Generally, I have several trees set up for any possible wind direction.
7. Do not over hunt. You heard me right. Do not over hunt your stands. Rotate your sits, trying to hunt a different stand every day. Scent lingers for hours. Long after you are home and in bed, deer can still pick up the residual scent you left behind. I personally try to give a stand at least a 3 or 4 day break between sits. This can be especially trying when you have spotted a big buck. But, stick to this rule it will pay you back in tenderloins.
8. Hunt hard, hunt late. You have got to be in the woods if you are going to fill your tag. Hunt as often as you can without jeopardizing your marriage or your employment; everything else though is negotiable. I have missed weddings, meetings dinner parties, etc. I even went bowhunting the day after I was married. Hunt as late as you can in the mornings. I try and sit out until at least 11 a.m. During the rut I may well sit all day. You will be amazed at the amount of bucks you will see mid to late mornings.
9. Make the shot count. It is not unusual for a whole season to come down to one shot. This holds most true when hunting and patterning mature bucks. Do not get lazy and forgo practice. I try to shoot at least a couple of broadheads each night before I go out hunting. Judo points and blunts are a great addition to a bow quiver. They enable you to take practice shots while going to a from your stand. After the morning hunt I like to take a shot at a leaf or stump before climbing down.
10. Know your adversary. Learn as much about whitetails as you can. Read everything you can on their habits and life cycle. Study their movements and body language. Spend time driving the back roads in your hunting area glassing and observing the deer. Go to a zoo and watch them up close. Be accustomed to seeing them within bow range
Tom Nelson, well know bowhunter, author, and host of Bowhunter Magazine's American Archer, seen on The Outdoor Channel