Congratulations – you notched your tag! It’s been burning a hole in your pocket for months. Hunting season consumed you. The alarm clock went off extra early every weekend. You were late to dinner night after night because you couldn’t be pulled away from your treestand. Your feet felt the burn of miles of hiking through mountains in search of your quarry.
Filling the freezer takes commitment and hard work, but it’s definitely worth it. There’s that sweet feeling of watching the arrow hit its mark. Looking over the animal, you’re overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. But once the photos are taken, the meat is processed and the gear put away, you’re suddenly left with feelings of emptiness.
Suddenly, the sadness creeps in. You begin to hear phantom elk bugles everywhere. You start climbing treestands in your sleep. You even try to rattle your kids in like bucks to get your fix.
When all the tags are filled, bowhunters have a hard time letting go. But when hunting season ends, it doesn’t mean you have to put away your passion until next year. Here are some activities to keep you busy until next season.
Sign Up for Tournaments
Competing in archery tournaments give you the same feelings as hunting – anticipation, excitement and accomplishment. If you’ve never competed in a tournament it can be intimidating, but organizers and participants are very welcoming. Shooting under the pressure of a tournament sharpens your skills. It’s also a great way to forge friendships with other archery enthusiasts.
Join an Indoor League
When hunting season winds down many local archery shops ramp up league nights. These weekly tournaments keep a running score and at the end, a winner is crowned. Many shops will have a variety of league nights that can include ladies, traditional and youth. 3-D target leagues help improve your hunting skills. These life-sized, three-dimensional animal targets give you practice aiming at an animal’s vital organs.
Small Game Hunting
Most bowhunters feel like big-game hunting season comes and goes quickly. Luckily, the hunting season for small game is much longer, and the bag limits are more liberal. Squirrels provide big fun in small packages. You get plenty of opportunities to practice. Also, shooting at such a small target improves aim. A day of squirrel hunting will give you a boost of confidence and a great meal.
Similar to small-game hunting seasons, predator hunting seasons usually last all winter. Common predators to target include foxes, bobcats and coyotes. These predators pressure livestock and big-game populations. Keeping predator populations in check is an important conservation role for bowhunters.
Bowhunting predators is exciting. Success requires close encounters. Calling is typically the most-effective tactic used. Hunters use either mouth calls or electronic calls in states where they are legal (check rules and regulations to be sure). Calls mimic fellow predators or prey in distress. Predators come into the calls very alert. Predator hunting will test your patience and stealthy abilities.
Feral hogs provide another opportunity for bowhunting outside big-game hunting seasons. Hogs are fun to hunt and tasty to eat. Hunting hogs is also important to habitat and conservation efforts. Feral hogs are an invasive species that wreck crops and habitat, and harm local ecosystem.
Scout for Next Season
Releasing the arrow and filling your tag only takes a second. It’s everything leading up to that moment that takes months of preparation and hard work. Finding wildlife is one of the biggest challenges in bowhunting.
Hunting preparation has no off-season. Most experienced hunters spend months scouting for prime hunting locations. If you want a good area, be on the lookout for animal sign like scrapes, rubs, scat and travel corridors. Here are some additional tips for postseason-scouting.
Deer, elk and moose lose their antlers every winter or early spring to make room for a new set that grows over the summer. The fallen antlers are no longer useful to the animals, but they are prized possessions for shed hunters. Shed hunting provides a lot of the same challenges as bowhunting. You learn a lot about the animals’ patterns and activities over the winter. You can also learn about mature animals in the area. As a bonus, antlers also make for awesome decorations.
Looking for a little fun in the sun with your bow? Try your shot at bowfishing! Bowfishing will scratch the archery itch before big-game season opens. You can bowfish for your dinner and/or target invasive species that are causing problems for local ecosystems.
You’ll need some basic gear for bowfishing. Check the local fishing rules and regulations to see the licensing requirements and what species can be targeted.
Just because your big-game season is over doesn’t mean you should hang up your bow. Shooting year-round will improve your performance and have you prepared for next season. Check with your local archery shop to see what indoor shooting options are available throughout the winter months. They may also be able to connect you with a bowfishing mentor to help introduce you to the sport.