Maybe you experienced some of these frustrations last season. The best way I know to get these experiences out of your head is to start planning this year’s hunt.
Six key steps in the bow hunting process will help turn near misses into a successful season: pre-season scouting, stand site selection, using multiple stands, stand preparation, scent control, and shooting practice.
Deer are creatures of habit. Once an adult buck develops a pattern of movement, he’s likely to stick with it until he is shot or a change in his habitat forces him to move.
Edges between different habitat types are the best places to look for rub lines. Aspen clear cuts that are bordered by highland hardwoods, the line formed where red or jack pines planted in rows intercept other cover types, or the edges where dense cover like tag alder, tamarack, and willow thickets stop abruptly against grassy fields or crop lands are just a few examples of the places rubs and rub lines tend to show up.
Look over rubbed trees carefully. Trees that show rub marks from more than one season are a strong indication that an adult buck lives in your hunting area. The trees bucks rub can also give you a clue to the size of the buck and what his antlers may look like.
Adult bucks tend to rub on fairly large trees three or more inches in diameter. Yearling bucks, the teenagers of the whitetail world, select smaller saplings to rub against.
If a buck selects a pine, spruce, or fir as his rubbing tree, his antlers will become stained a dark brown. Bucks with pure white polished antlers spend their time rubbing against deciduous trees like aspen, maple, or ash.
Rubs that indicate a better than average buck lives in the area, provide the hunter with an important focal point. The process of patterning an individual buck begins with the knowledge that a desirable animal is probably living in your hunting area.
Breeding scrapes and licking branches, primary trails, and bedding areas are also used over and over from year to year. Once you’ve located sufficient sign that a buck lives in the vicinity, it’s time to start searching out potential blind sites.
The best scent is no scent. Despite the claims made by cover scent manufacturers, nothing I’ve tried will prevent a deer from detecting you if it approaches from downwind. Cover scents may help confuse an animal in a swirling wind for a few moments, but these products can’t make up for mistakes in stand placement or hunters who climb into a stand despite a poor wind direction.
Red fox or coon urine are strong odors that can help mask human scent. I like to use a little cedar or hemlock oil sprinkled on a cotton ball and stuffed in the pocket of my jacket and bibs. This natural scent is a lot better smelling than the stuff that comes from foxes or coons.
Think of cover scents this way. A dog can smell 10 times better than we can and a deer can smell 10 times better than a dog. If you think for one second that you can beat a deer’s nose with cover scents, you’re fooling yourself.
Take every precaution to keep your body and hunting cloths clean and as free as possible from foreign odors. Washing hunting cloths in scent free soaps or baking soda is a good idea. I store my cleaned hunting cloths in a heavy plastic bag after each hunt to reduce undesirable odors. I also shower daily and wash my clothes every few hunts, then hang them to dry outside in the fresh air.
Rubber boots are mandatory for serious archery hunters. Rubber-bottom/leather-top boots aren’t the answer. I use knee-high rubber boots with my pant legs tucked inside when walking to and from blind sites. Red Ball and LaCross make excellent rubber boots that are scent free and comfortable to walk in.
Late in the season when cold weather sets in, I switch to a pair of Cabela’s 14-inch felt-insulated pull-on rubber boots. The extra warmth these boots provide is a welcome addition in a November or December deer stand.
Hip boots are another excellent product for controlling human scent. Most models allow the legs to be rolled down to avoid overheating when walking long distances.
All the above precautions and preparations can’t put an arrow through the heart-lung area of a buck. Anybody can get lucky and spot a big buck, but it takes more than luck to turn an arrow into a deadly weapon.
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that shooting year around is the only way to keep a bow in tune and shooting skills sharp. There are many ways to stay active in archery during the off season. Join an organized league, shoot in your basement, or try your hand at the new video archery games. It doesn’t matter what you shoot so long as you shoot.
During the off season, a weekly basement shooting session keeps me tuned into the sport and thinking about bow hunts to come. My winter practice sessions are informal and designed more to keep my arm and shoulder muscles in shape than to hammer out quarter-sized groups.
Serious practice begins when the weather gets warm enough to shoot outside. Shooting a flat target is good, but nothing teaches shot placement better than a 3-D target. Shoot the 3-D target from different angles and ranges, and from an elevated platform if you hunt from a treestand. If you plan to shoot sitting down, practice from that position.
Order or purchase new bows, rests, releases, sights, quivers or other equipment early and practice until these new items are as familiar as your favorite cap. If a bow is out of tune, needs a new string or cables, visit an archery pro shop as soon as possible.