Let your guard down and a deer will surely appear within range.
The deer magically appeared as if it had popped out of a hole in the ground. It arrived without so much as rustling a leaf. As I glanced over the wide sweeping antlers and began raising and drawing my bow, I knew the next seconds were critical. When the carbon arrow came to a stop on the rest, I was aligning the sight pins with that magical "X" up on the rib cage just behind the buck's front leg. Then I studied an open hole through the brush. At my release, the "whack" meant a solid hit, and then the buck bounded away. After sprinting about 40 yards and leaping across a gully, I saw the deer come to a sudden stop. It stood and looked back in my direction as the red spot on its side grew larger. Finally, the buck began to falter on its legs before toppling over and rolling down into the gully.
In addition to practice, scouting, and knowing my gear and my personal limitations as an archer, I owe that buck to one important factor that some bowhunters overlook -- being ready, ALWAYS.
Bowhunting is a close game. You peer through the nearby maze of tree limbs and leaves and down into the brush below a treestand, looking for a deer on a nearby trail, possibly pausing to feed on acorns, apples or other foods. Often times you can't see very far around you because of the dense early-fall vegetation. Then, when that deer "instantly" appears near your hunting location, you need to find that small window of opportunity and immediately send an arrow after the deer's vitals when that window is full of hair-covered ribs. Opportunities are lost to seconds -- or a second. Hesitations on your part always favor the deer. Archers pause and pass on makeable, fatal shots as they wait to see more of the deer. Other archers make the mistake of holding out for a better -- or perfect -- shot opportunity that never materializes.
Each year bowhunters everywhere report that the deer they thought they would kill suddenly moved on and was out of range, behind a tree, or partially concealed by brush before they could pick up their bow, draw and then release an arrow. As those hunters look back, they realize that they had a basketball-sized hole where an arrow could have zipped through, if only they had been ready to draw, aim and release.
This hunter will need several seconds before he can stand and release. The deer could easily be gone before he is ready for the shot.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not championing taking marginal or risky shots at animals with an arrow. I do, however, encourage you to practice shooting through openings in brush and down from treestands at various angles and in odd directions. Shooting across a wide, open backyard with neatly mowed lawn never simulates any in-the-field hunting situations I am familiar with. When you practice properly and build confidence in your gear and yourself, your opportunities -- and successes -- increase drastically.
Recognize Your Small Opportunities
While I love to look at hunting magazines and view photographs of big bucks with massive antlers, most of those images often depict a buck standing broadside in the wide open. Where do those naive deer live? When I see deer in their natural world, they are almost always partially concealed by brush or hidden back in the shadows under a thick maze of tree limbs. Most deer, except when they are bedded, are also nearly always moving along as eons of evolution have taught them in their efforts to avoid predators -- like us. You can overcome the whole-deer syndrome by spending more time afield looking at deer where they live. Think parts in your search for a deer.
Once you climb into a treestand, you should also scan for the openings through which you can shoot an arrow while sitting, standing and looking all around the location. Find those openings, and make a mental note of the angle or effort you'll need to send an arrow through the hole. Consider this site-specific scouting. Most bows today send an arrow forth with gusto, and arrows are flying fairly flat. Practice and experience will reveal what size opening -- at what distance -- you can zip an arrow through without making flight altering contact. When a deer's vital zone appears in the opening, you'll know more about what to do instead of being panicked by surprise and confusion.
One of the most important steps to sure success is keeping your bow in your hand at the ready. Many hunters I know use bow hangers, and leave their bow hanging there until a deer suddenly appears. These hunters often take a seat and wait for action -- a bad move. When a deer appears nearby, those hunters slowly inch up from the seat, and most often have to turn to remove a bow from the hanger that's on the tree trunk behind them. Next, they have to turn their bow and body to align with the deer. That's a lot of moving, and a deer often sees this hunter activity.
This hunter is on high alert and ready should a deer arrive near his stand.
The best plan to keep your bow at the ready is to use a wrist sling, keeping your bow tied to your hand every possible second while hunting -- period. Standing as much as possible will also help you be prepared, or practice shooting from a seated position. Keeping an arrow on the rest will also help you gain precious seconds when a deer comes near. Even if you allowed yourself seconds to stand, reach and grip your bow, turn where you need to align for the anticipated shot, nock an arrow, and then draw, that's five seconds. The deer has moved. Stay as close to being ready to draw and release as possible.
If you do need to hang or place a bow somewhere, keep it just ahead of you. You can hang it from a limb with a screw in bowhanger, and possibly leave an arrow nocked. Some stands will accept a bow holder that holds your bow upright, ready to grasp, and just in front of you. You can use the precious seconds gained to draw and release.
It's also important to keep your release aid strapped to your wrist -- or in your hand. An aid placed in a pocket will take an additional second, or more, to find and grasp. That's a second you'll forfeit to the deer, and that it will use to its advantage.
You can also get the jump on approaching deer and thus have more time (seconds back in your favor) to prepare by using a binocular and scanning the brush farther away from your stand. Barking squirrels and fussing blue jays can also let you know they've spotted a deer. The more heads-up you have that a deer is near, the more time you have to be prepared when it moves within range.
Don't think of bowhunting as a situation where seconds count. Think that a second counts. Be ready!
What Deer Tell You
Deer often reveal what their next move will be. It pays to observe a deer's body language, and use the information garnered to plan ahead your next move. A deer's flicking tail often means that the deer will next raise its head to pause and study the surrounding area. A deer that suddenly snaps its head up and remains motionless -- or rotates its ears -- has been alerted by noise or scent. Deer often extend their neck and head directly out from their body to look up. If you see the deer stomp its front feet or hear it begin snorting, it will be gone within the next few seconds. A deer that is leisurely feeding, squatting and using the bathroom, or that drops down to bed nearby, is pretty relaxed and will be around for a while. Understanding deer will help you be better prepared -- or prepared for what might happen next.
When an opportunity arises to arrow a deer, and you know you can make it, take it. You might never have another chance. Remember, always be ready to draw and release -- or you'll surely miss that second of opportunity on many deer.
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