Many beginning bowhunters read articles, find mentors, and learn how to be safe, ethical and successful. But no matter how much you prepare, you’ll eventually make mistakes. What you do next determines your long-term success.
Johnny Tremel, 13, of Dunlap, Iowa, has bowhunted for three years. He thinks mistakes are inevitable.
“As rookie hunters, we all make mistakes,” Tremel said. “There’s nothing you can do about it besides learn from them.”
You might misjudge distances, forget equipment, miss a shot, or move when a deer is watching. Whatever your mistake, it’s a great way to learn and improve.
Nils Melberg, 57, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, is proof that experience often dictates how many mistakes you make. He thinks he’s come far since he started bowhunting in 1984.
“I made a lot more mistakes when I was young, but I still make mistakes, ” Melberg said. “Now that I’m older and more experienced, I’m more cautious and aware of the things I do, and their consequences.”
Tremel and Melberg shared some of their mistakes, and what they learned from these learning opportunities. Likewise, the more you hunt, the more you’ll learn, and the better you’ll become.
Melberg said he was careless when younger because he only wore a safety harness when he was in the treestand, not when he ascended or descended the tree.
“I never got hurt, but I got lucky because I had a couple of close calls,” Melberg said. “My stands have lifelines now, so I’m hooked to the tree from the bottom to the top.”
Tremel is dedicated to hunting but said it’s not worth his life, so he always wears his harness.
Safety should be your No. 1 concern. Treestand falls happen often, but you can prevent them with safety equipment and safe climbing techniques. Watch the Bowhunting 360 video “Get Comfortable with Treestands” for more information.
Tremel regrets not practicing daily after school last year. He said hunters must make time to practice so they’re confident they can make well-placed shots. Ethical, responsible hunters practice regularly, even throughout the season. Tremel recommends practicing like you expect to hunt.
“I always try to practice hunting scenarios,” Tremel said. “[I’ll act like] I’m walking into my treestand, and I see a deer. I’ll lean up against a tree to pull my bow back and shoot.”
Also shoot from elevated positions, wear bowhunting clothes, and compete in high-stress situations like 3D tournaments. Also practice different distances to learn your effective range and estimate distances without a rangefinder.
Slow Down, Take Your Time
Melberg knows the feeling and recalled missing a buck several years ago.
“It was buck fever,” Melberg said. “I finally (drew) my bow back and wanted to get a shot off right away. I rushed it, and I missed. I could have slowed down and held my pin on the vital area a little longer. You have more time than you think.”
Although you might need to act quickly in some situations, many shot opportunities take time to develop. Breathe and be patient. Once you’ve pulled back and locked your sights onto your quarry, take a second to confirm your sight picture. Then, take your shot.
Clear Your Shooting Lanes
Tremel missed a buck two years ago when a branch deflected his arrow. He said the deer had responded to a grunt call, and “looked like something off a TV show” as it came over a hilltop. The buck was walking a trail and came within 7 yards. Tremel shot, but watched the arrow zip beneath the buck’s belly. The buck ran off unharmed, stunning Tremel.
After analyzing what happened, Tremel realized he hadn’t cleared brush off the trail the buck was on because his sister touched poison ivy while walking through it. His arrow likely hit a branch in that brush. He now trims all likely shooting lanes.
“Even though clearing brush isn’t fun, it has to be done,” Tremel said. “Otherwise, bad things will happen, like what happened to me.”
Trim shooting lanes around your favorite treestand or ground blind during the offseason. Remove branches that might interfere with your shot. Just don’t get carried away. Deer and other game prefer secure cover, so don’t turn shooting lanes into clearcuts. One final suggestion: Inspect your shooting lanes from your treestand with binoculars to find obstacles you might not see in low light or with your naked eye.
Wait for Your Quarry to Stop
Melberg once shot a buck in its hindquarters. He was so excited to shoot that he didn’t think to stop the deer. Melberg and his friends trailed it nearly a mile without success. He thinks the animal lived, but he considers that shot a difficult learning experience.
“Don’t shoot at a moving deer,” he said. “Always stop it.”
Melberg suggests making a soft grunting sound to stop deer. The noise usually makes the animal pause, which lets you shoot at a stationary target. Try to stop the animal in an opening or shooting lane.
Shoot a Comfortable Weight
Straining to draw your bow can cause injuries, accidents and ruin your hunt. Tremel said you should be able to comfortably draw your bow in all situations.
Tremel remembers a “freezing-cold” November hunt when a buck walked in. He struggled to draw his bow several times with stiff muscles while wearing bulky clothes. When he finally got it drawn, he was exhausted and couldn’t hold his sight steady. He missed and walked away disappointed.
Soon after, Tremel adjusted his draw weight to a more manageable weight. Drawing, aiming and holding steady at full draw is difficult in cold weather, and even more difficult when seated. Learn to choose a sufficient draw weight here.
Dress for the Occasion
Hunting boots and clothing protect you from the elements, which makes sitting for long periods more bearable. Melberg learned that the hard way. He always checks the weather before entering the woods.
When he started hunting, Melberg didn’t have good boots. He wore his steel-toed work shoes to the woods. He remembers his feet freezing and blistering from temperatures in the low 30s. Soon after he bought wool socks and insulated rubber boots. He also packs extra clothing layers. “I’ll never get cold again,” he said.
Find sturdy, all-weather boots, and break them in before hunting. Dry, warm, blister-free feet keep you comfortable so you can hunt longer. You’ll find many camouflage clothing options, so pick items that fit your build, and whose camo patterns match the terrain and vegetation. Wear lightweight clothing made from moisture-wicking fabrics for warm temperatures, and layer wool or other insulating layers atop moisture-wicking long underwear for cold temperatures. Scent-free and scent-trapping clothing will also help you succeed.
Set Up Downwind
Busted! Hunters “get winded” time and time again by game animals. Deer have a fantastic sense of smell. Therefore, play the wind and be as scent-free as possible.
Tremel said he’s been winded by deer before he could draw his bow. He encourages beginners to pay attention to wind directions, and use scent-eliminating sprays, deodorants and detergents.
Always consider the area’s predominant wind direction when placing your treestand or ground blind. Stay downwind from wildlife so their scents get carried to you. You don’t want your scent carrying toward, and spooking, the animal. You might think you have the perfect setup, but if the wind blows your scent toward approaching animals, they’ll smell you and flee. The wind affects bowhunters in many ways. Learn more here.
The best way to avoid mistakes is to be aware, and anticipate potential errors. However, everyone makes mistakes. If something happens, just acknowledge it, analyze it, and vow to do better next time. That’s how you improve!