Bowhunting 360 spoke with six bowhunters from Kentucky to learn how they define success and their tips for being successful on opening day, which begins for them on Sept. 4. Each bowhunter had a unique definition of success. Answers ranged from simply getting to hunt, seeing deer and being safe to learning something new, putting meat on the table, arrowing a nice buck, or making smart, ethical decisions.
Regardless of how you define success, everyone agreed the No. 1 tip to achieve success is to be prepared, which includes scouting, obtaining essential gear, washing your hunting clothes and identifying times and places to hunt. Many said practicing goes hand in hand with being prepared. They suggest shooting regularly to ensure your equipment works properly and that you can comfortably and confidently shoot with broadheads, in your hunting clothes and from an elevated or seated position — depending on whether you’re in a treestand or on the ground.
Here’s some additional advice to help ensure a safe, enjoyable and productive season opener.
Scannell is from Louisville and has 35 years of bowhunting experience. He said bowhunters should decide what they want to shoot and know if (and when) they can shoot it according to their state wildlife agency’s hunting regulations.
“In Kentucky, you’re only allowed one buck for the season,” he said. “Bowhunters shouldn’t approach the season haphazardly. They should know the regulations and think about how they want their season to play out in terms of those regulations. Otherwise, they might make a mistake or shoot an animal they didn’t want to take.”
Bowhunters must read and understand all state game laws and area-specific regulations before hunting because the rules might differ between private land, public land or wildlife management areas. Pay close attention to the season dates, harvest limits, draw weight requirements, and legal weapons and shooting hours. Some states also have “doe days” or “earn-a-buck” tags, which dictate when hunters can legally take an animal. Hunting regulations were created to keep hunters safe, maintain healthy wildlife populations and keep a level playing field between animals and hunters.
Bryant hails from Lexington and has two years of bowhunting experience. He said having a plan and a backup plan is crucial, especially if you hunt public land.
Before the season, Bryant uses online scouting tools, like the onX Hunt app, to find various hunting spots. Then, he visits those spots on foot to determine if deer are in the area and which tree or location he’ll hunt from specifically. “From this information, I develop my opening day plan and the backup plan in the event I run into hunting pressure or other obstacles that keep me from using my original plan,” he said.
Your hunting plan should also include how long you intend to hunt, whom you’ll contact in case of emergency and what you’ll do with the animal if you’re fortunate enough to harvest one.
Bottoms, from Lawrenceburg, has 17 years of bowhunting experience. He said bowhunters should never take a shot outside their comfort zone, even if it’s the buck of a lifetime.
“I think it’s better to see him trot off to be hunted another day then wounded to run off, perish and not be found,” he said. “As hunters, we owe it to the animals we pursue to make good shots and quick, clean harvests. Knowing your limits can save you a lot of headache and heartache.”
Understand your strengths and weaknesses, and practice to identify your ideal shot distance. Use a rangefinder or pace off landmarks before you start your hunt. Do everything you can to ensure a humane harvest.
Ballard is from Monterey; she has hunted with a crossbow for six years and a compound for three. She urges all bowhunters to stay calm and wait for the right opportunity.
“A mature animal is smart and cautious,” she said. “Don’t rush yourself or get frustrated you didn’t have an opportunity. (A) lack of patience can make you flustered and possibly (cause you to) take a shot you shouldn’t have.”
Never force a shot, especially on opening day. Most states offer a lengthy, generous archery season. Read a whitetail’s body language and wait for the perfect moment to draw your bow and shoot, ideally, when the deer is broadside and within your effective archery range.
Copley is from Lawrenceburg and has seven years of bowhunting experience. She believes finding someone supportive, knowledgeable and encouraging can significantly improve your season.
“(A mentor) might be someone going with you for your hunt or someone that you can ask questions and get advice from,” she said. “This is important because there is so much to learn, even for advanced bowhunters.”
Mentors can provide helpful, practical advice and ease the transition from nonhunter to hunter. To find a mentor, join a conservation organization, look in your personal or professional life for someone who hunts or search online for a nearby “Learn to Hunt” class or program to enroll in.
Littrell lives in Harrodsburg and has three years of bowhunting experience. She encourages bowhunters to embrace and enjoy all the aspects of bowhunting without expecting too much each time they hunt.
“My first couple seasons of hunting, I would get so discouraged if I came back home without seeing any deer,” she said. “But as a stay-at-home mom to two wild and rambunctious boys, time in the woods has become time for me to enjoy nature and the quiet.”
Learn to appreciate the little things and remember to laugh at yourself if you make mistakes. Approach each hunt with the right mindset. Your attitude can make or break your experience.
Before you head afield this season, determine how you define success and then take the necessary steps to achieve it. Remember to pack water, bring snacks, dress appropriately for the weather and be a responsible bowhunter. If you prepared accordingly, everything else should fall into place from there.