Many deer hunters who use a bow consistently talk about the added challenge of using archery equipment for tagging trophy bucks. What a gross understatement that turns out to be.
In its own right, bow hunting can be the toughest way to pursue any deer, much less trophy class bucks. There are special skills, tactics and unique conditions needed to be reliably successful at it.
Besides the gear itself being much more difficult to master, the equipment is also considerably more unwieldy to use in the field. Poised high in a tree stand, a bow can be tricky to position and draw. A deer is typically within bow-hunting range under 30 yards and rarely over 40.
Often the shot has to be taken with so many eyes watching every movement in the woods, with does sniffing for any foreign smell.
So, what would be a set of polished skills and circumstances that allow a bowhunter to score on trophy class bucks most seasons they hunt?
Mike Summerlin, who analyzes everything to the Nth degree from years spent working in the world of insurance and finances, said it all starts with your mind set.
“The white-tailed deer can be one of the most-elusive and frustrating animals there is to pursue,” Summerlin said. “But they can be equally as rewarding to catch up to in the woods.
“The moment when you realize that luck, skill and fate all are about to intersect — as long as you just make the shot — is one of the most-amazing highs you will ever experience. Once you connect with that first true trophy buck, you will do everything you can to recreate the experience over and over.
“But how do we get there?”
Many hunters expect to pick up a bow and experience success quickly, but Summerlin said there is a lot of work involved in bow hunting.
“Learn your trade,” he said. “Practice the shots, read books and articles, and watch hunting shows — some of them anyway, because some are garbage while some are great. You will quickly learn the difference.
“Sharpen your skills as often as you can. Do things like shoot your bow all year long, even out of season.”
He said real-world practice is vital to being ready to make a shot once opening day arrives.
“Practice standing up, by using a chair outside or hanging a stand on a tree just a few feet up,” Summerlin said. “Be sure to practice shooting using your safety harness, as well. Shoot out of this position often, aiming for different angles and ranges.
“Sit, and then learn to stand up and draw quietly. Trust me it takes lots of practice.”
But there’s more to bow hunting than being able to hit the target. Woodcraft is even more important when throwing a stick at a deer than when using a rifle.
“Be sure to remember to come into your hunting areas with the wind in your face,” Summerlin said. “Go early and stay late. You also have to know your environment inside and out. Study maps and retrace the past times you hunted the same areas.
“Remember the obstacles you may have faced during a previous hunting season.”
Summerlin said to look for patterns of early season feeding to late-season travel.
“Know your woods so you are aware of where the early season persimmons get ripe, and then know where the acorns are dropping profusely and also the hottest plots late in the year,” he said. “Deer food and feeding habits are key to what a trophy buck will eventually respond to.”
It’s all about understanding the essentials of a deer’s life cycle.
“One thing I constantly keep in perspective is that we human hunters know when and where to get some food, water, shelter and loving companionship. So do the whitetail bucks we seek,” Summerlin said.
Luck of the hunt or something more?
“We’ve all seen that guy at one time or another — the one who always bags the big one,” Summerlin said. “No matter what, he just gets it done.”
He admitted that luck can be involved, but Summerlin said he’s convinced consistent success goes past just having a horseshoe in your back pocket.
“Well, I’ve always heard that we make our own luck. That’s true to some degree I guess,” he said. “In the final analysis, it’s a numbers game, though. A lot of the time it boils down to the time on task.
“The more you go to the woods, the better your chances get. It’s often as simple as that. There is a short window of opportunity in the bowhunter woods before the season ends; within that short time frame inside of the entire season there are the few weeks where the really big boys are coming out.
“Successful bowhunters have got to stay focused.”
Summerlin said you truly have to put yourself in a position to go when the time is right, no matter the conditions or other commitments.
“Though conditions may matter, this is the time you have to be hunting,” he said. “The more you are there in the woods — seat in the tree stand — the more you scout, the more you learn, the more you see.
“The more time you put on the task, the greater increases in opportunity are likely to present themselves. Just be there.”
That might sound too basic, but he said that simple truth cannot be overstressed.
“So, get in the woods,” Summerlin said. “Good things can happen there, and do. It may be your time. It’s amazing what happens when you are there, as opposed to sleeping in the bed late, napping in the recliner or even working at the office.
“Time on task is the essential element to letting go a string on a trophy buck.”
So how much of a role does fate play in the game?
“Fate is a final result or consequence; an outcome or an unfavorable destiny; doom,” Summerlin said. “I have felt this, too. I have prayed all the same prayers. But, like everything else great in life, a trophy buck comes with the price of persistent and consistent pursuit.
“This pursuit can make wives feel like widows, children as orphans and customers ignored. Just how much blood, sweat and tears, time, effort and work you put into this sport is your call. And every now and then, it all just comes on the first try. I guess that is how us bowhunters can define fate when it comes to our deer hunting.”
You can say a lot of things about how to bow hunt, but often it just comes down to success vs. the chase.
“No matter why you hunt these great animals, you have three things working for or against you: luck, fate and skill,” Summerlin said. “It is the thrill of the hunt itself that should captivate you.”
Again, that’s pretty basic. But this hunter said it’s something many forget.
“Today’s hunter is all caught up in the score (of a buck),” Summerlin said. “So much so that 10-year-old boys ask, ‘What’d he score?’ before anything else.
“It’s great that we are at a place in this great state where we have enough deer to hunt and manage them to our liking, but let’s keep our focus here.”
Summerlin said deer hunting can quickly and easily turn into a high-pressure, cost-sensitive game of frustration, fines and deer camp rivalry. Then the fun of deer hunting can fall to the wayside very quickly.
“Put yourself in a place where luck, fate and skill intersect,” Summerlin said. “Success will find you. Occasionally take a break, go hunt just for the sake of hunting; make it fun, because it’s designed to be recreation. Take a kid every chance you get, or watch your wife have fun taking a deer.
“The thrill in their eyes will overshadow yours every time.”