When learning a hobby, you’re bound to make mistakes. Bowhunting is rife with opportunities to err, whether you’re a veteran or beginner. It’s especially complicated because it requires hunting skills and technical archery talent.
You probably set up your bow this summer, added accessories, and practiced regularly. Once hunting season begins, keep shooting so you’re sharp when a shot presents itself. Now, more than ever, is a good time to practice field situations. Practice shooting from a treestand rather than an elevated platform at the range. Practice tough-angle shots, even right behind you. Also practice in low light, when you’re most likely encounter big whitetails.
Shooting at targets hones skills, but shooting at a live target is always more difficult. You must draw your bow without spooking your quarry. And you must be as quiet as possible. You can ignore noise when shooting targets, but a creaky draw or rattling release alarms game, causing them to “duck the string” and inadvertently dodge your arrow. Dry limb pockets or over-tightened limbs can squeak. Those problems are best fixed by a knowledgeable archery pro. Archery shops also sell accessories that address excessive noise and vibrations when you release your arrow. Stay alert. During cold weather, noises crop up that never happened in moderate temperatures. Avoid those problems by drawing a few times in camp or by your truck during cold conditions.
Also be sure to practice while wearing your hunting clothes. Shooting in jeans and a T-shirt is easy, but shooting while wearing a bulky jacket over layered clothing presents a challenge. Your bowstring might swat your coat sleeve or the front of your jacket when you release. Practice shooting while dressed for hunting, and make sure you can draw, swivel and release comfortably. You might need an armguard to keep your sleeve out of the bowstring’s path.
If you practice during hunting season and shoot in field conditions while wearing hunting clothing, kudos to you. You’ll likely succeed at bowhunting. But besides being able to make shots under varying conditions, you must get near your quarry just for a shot opportunity.
Many people try archery after first hunting with a rifle, shotgun or muzzleloader. As such, they’ve acquired some hunting skills. Still, taking a 300-yard rifle shot across a field differs greatly from getting within bow range of a whitetail.
First, you must plan a route to your stand that lets you slip in without spooking game. Mature bucks often move just as shooting light ends, so you might need to sneak in close to its bedding area. You must be quiet and stay downwind so your scent won’t betray you. That can mean taking the long way around to avoid crunchy leaves, crossing a field, or treading upwind of the bedding area. Precautions that hide your presence can be a hassle, but they’re vital to success when you must get close for an ethical bow shot.
The next point might seem to contradict the last one, but you must hunt where bucks are, and that changes throughout bow season. Even though you must minimize your presence in the woods, you must also scout during the season to monitor bucks as they move from pre-rut, to rut to post-rut.
Early in the season, you might find bachelor groups in crop fields at dusk. That’s a great time to get the drop on a big buck because you’ll have a few weeks before the season to learn its patterns. However, just about the time archery season usually opens, bucks enter the rut’s earliest stages. That makes them less tolerant of other bucks, and they rub and scrape more often. Hunting rub lines and scrape lines can be productive for a short time before the first does come into heat. Soon after, bucks focus more on doe bedding areas to find does in estrus.
During the full-blown rut, bucks can show up anywhere at any time, so all-day sits can be productive. After the rut ends and cold sets in, bucks feed heavily to regain body fat they lost during the rut.
As you can see, a buck’s activity changes throughout fall. Yours must too if you want to succeed.
This final tip meshes with the last: Don’t overhunt a stand. Although deer movements often change, some stands remain productive most of the season, namely those in pinch points or good feeding areas. Still, don’t hunt them carelessly or too often. Make sure the wind favors your setup, and don’t hunt a stand if you don’t have the right wind, no matter how badly you want to risk it. You can’t beat a whitetail’s nose. If a deer busts you, that particular deer will always check that tree to see if you’re sitting there, or it might change its movements completely. Hunt a stand only when conditions favor you, and readily move to new sites to retain the element of surprise.
You’ll hear and read far more stories of close encounters with big bucks than you will success stories. Whitetails try to avoid predators 365 days a year. They’re extremely wary. Even veteran bowhunters do things they shouldn’t, and blow chances at deer.
If you practice shooting and monitor deer movements all fall, and always think like a predator, you’ll be on your way to filling your tag.