Stick to the Basics. Whether you use a compound, longbow, recurve or flatbow, the basic elements of bow tuning are identical.
For many, bow hunting for deer is not just a passion, it's a way of life. If we're not trying to fill tags, we're reliving the glory days or remembering the mistakes that will forever haunt us. We read about it, investigate the latest gear, and make plans for the season to come.
That last part is especially important because how you prepare for next season has a direct impact on the memories you'll take away from it. With that in mind, here are a few things that every bowhunter should do well before the leaves turn color.
Tune Your Bow
Whether you use a compound, longbow, recurve or flatbow, the basic elements of bow tuning are identical.
The most essential ingredient is the right arrow. If you're not sure what that is, consult a manufacturer's shaft selection chart. First, however, you'll need to know your bow's draw weight, type of cams (if any), and your draw length. This information will yield a short list of arrows that will match your outfit.
Once you've selected from that list, adjust the bow's nocking point and arrow rest until you achieve optimum arrow flight. A quick search on the Internet will provide sound advice on how to do this. There are also books, videos and DVDs available that explain the process very well. It's well worth the effort. A tuned bow shoots arrows more accurately and with increased penetration — two essentials for the hunting archer.
Making the Most of Your Bow
Once your bow has been tuned, it's time to consider how all of its components work together. The idea is to evaluate each accessory to ensure that each is useful and quiet in the field.
Start by making sure that you have a reliable hunting sight. Your peep sight, if you use one, should have a large aperture, conducive to use in low light. Similarly, your sight pins should be highly luminous and fine — the bigger the pin, the harder it is to settle on a small spot on a distant animal. While you're at it, ask yourself how many pins you really need. In the northeastern hardwoods, where I hunt, I use two, one set at 20 and the other at 30 yards. This covers practical hunting distances while leaving an uncluttered sight picture. Whatever your preference, the off-season is the time to decide what works for you.
Also evaluate your stabilizer, silencers, quiver, release and grip to ensure that everything works effectively. Lastly, decide on a broadhead that shoots well from your bow, and, once satisfied, stick with it.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Every bowhunter has been offered this advice. Yet, few practice as much as we should. Personally, I'm a practice junkie.
Go the Distance. Yardage guessing exercises help hone your range estimation skills, which are invaluable when hunting.
I shoot with friends, family and alone. Sometimes I'm striving for better groups, which is an indication of a tuned bow and consistent form, but most times my shooting is less formal, at 3-D targets or rotted stumps I see while roving.
In these situations, I change my mental attitude. I pretend that the target before me is the buck I've been waiting for all year. I tell myself everything hinges upon this one arrow.
Concentration becomes key. So, as I draw, I try to maintain proper form, and aim at a target within the target. I'm striving for a perfect release.
Though most of my practice is within my maximum bowhunting range of 30 yards, range estimation skills are also critical. So, before each shot, I guess the yardage. Afterwards, I use a rangefinder or pace it off to find out what the range actually was. Additionally, I'm constantly guessing yardage whenever I go for a walk. It might seem trivial but these little exercises help hone your range estimation skill, which is invaluable when hunting.
As the season draws closer, I practice while wearing my hunting garb, and I start shooting from elevated platforms too. I'll also shoot from awkward positions, as if a deer circled behind me, for instance. And I always endeavor to move slowly and deliberately when coming to full draw, just as I try to do when hunting.
You probably practice differently. There are hundreds of innovative ways to do so. As long as you loose arrows regularly, try to simulate hunting conditions, and strive for perfection in each shot, you're doing a service to yourself and the deer you hunt this autumn.
The off-season, especially before green-up, is the time to explore your deer woods and get to know the terrain. Make these excursions un-intrusive and infrequent, however — you don't want to educate the deer you plan on hunting.
I begin by visiting known feeding areas, such as isolated hay fields or old orchards, in the middle of the day. Then I backtrack those trails that lead into them hoping to find bedding areas. Along the way, I note good stand locations; places where trails converge, or where deer will be funneled by terrain or man-made obstacles such as fences. I'll pay special attention to old scrapes, last year's rubs, and concentrations of scat, as well as places where I actually see deer.
Mark the Spot. Pay special attention to old scrapes, last year's rubs and concentrations of scat, then mark these places on your GPS.
I'll mark these things on my handheld GPS. And, once at home, I'll plot all the sign on a hand-drawn map. When combined with the experiences of previous seasons and the prevailing wind, stand placement decisions become easier.
Finding New Places to Hunt
The old saying about the grass being always greener doesn't just apply to livestock. Most hunters know of good properties that we'd like access to as well. Sometimes, social groups, friends who know the landowner, your standing in the community, or good fortune, might provide a reasonable chance at securing permission. But most times, you need to go knocking on doors.
If you are thinking of this, don't wait until the day before the opener. I have found that people are much more apt to consider your request if it is the first one, rather than one of many — a situation where they sometimes feel it's easiest to say no to everyone. Asking early gives a landowner time to learn a little more about you and your sport. It also demonstrates that you are more serious than those who are scrambling for last minute hunting spots and, should permission be granted, it gives you time to scout.
Critiquing Last Season
A friend once told me, "If they live, you learn," and I consider that great advice. You should learn something from every bowhunting mistake. But you should also learn from successes.
For example, last year, I failed to take the biggest buck of the year because I stayed in a stand after the wind shifted. Though I knew that the bucks I hunted almost always scent-checked the field, I thought that this time, because of the whisp of a breeze and my cover scents, I might get away with it. Of course, I lived to regret that decision. Now I know never to take that chance again.
Don't Forget. Asking landowners for permission to hunt early demonstrates that you are serious about your sport.
On another hunt, I was reminded about the effectiveness of grunt calls. So this year, I will certainly make them a greater part of my bowhunting repertoire.
The deer are constantly teaching us lessons that shouldn't just be filed away. Instead, each encounter should be examined for the things you did right and wrong as well as for why the deer acted the way it did. Digesting these lessons brings you one step closer to venison in the upcoming season.
Developing a Scent Strategy
A good hunter never underestimates a deer's sense of smell. That's why hunting with a favorable wind is so important. But when a deer gets up close and personal, it also pays off to have a proven scent strategy. And, once again, the off-season is the time to work this out.
That's when I talk to successful hunters, do my research, and, finally, collect cover and attractor scents that will give me an edge. I'll also look for clothing that suppresses human scent, as well as body washes, shampoos and clothing storage systems. Once I find the right products, I'll add them to my kit.
While I'm at it, I'll determine the appropriate stand heights for different locations — generally, as high as the situation allows, within reason. Do these things and that buck will never know you're there, even as you are coming to full draw.
Setting Up Stands
Because I hunt on private property, I have the luxury of setting up my tree stands early. This allows time for the deer to get used to them and provides me with good options no matter what opening day brings.
At high percentage spots, such as old apple orchards, I try to have at least two stands set up so that I can hunt the place regardless of the wind direction.
A Final Word
When a nice cold beverage or a good bass lake is calling your name, all this preparation might seem like work you can put off until later. But don't be fooled. Life gets in the way and the best of intentions fall by the wayside. And with it, so do your chances of taking that big buck.
Don't let that happen to you this season. Hey, the countdown is on.