What would you say was one of the most inexcusable acts in deer hunting? Certainly the list could be quite long. But perhaps at the top of the order is when a hunter falters on the most elemental responsibility of undertaking proper preseason preparation.

Even so, it happens every year.

"A new member once showed up in deer camp wearing white tennis shoes," said Holmes County deer camp owner Kam Newton. "The following year, that same hunter brought a box of .30-06 ammunition for his .270 deer rifle. Two years ago the same guy came up at the cabin, and when he opened his gear bag that his wife had packed for him there was no hunting pants - only shirts and socks. I always wondered if that was accidental or intentional on her part."

Last year a dude in my office regaled the story of his opening-day deer hunt kicking off the bow season. He sat on the edge of a food plot in a ground blind when a mature doe wandered into the plot. It covered turf slowly, but finally offered a classic broadside shot at only 20 yards. He drew, released and missed by a mile.

Interested in the details of his hunt, I inquired about his preseason practice routine. I was amazed to learn he had not shot his bow with even one single arrow in practice for the upcoming season. And he wondered why he missed the easy shot on that doe.


Preseason prep

When I was taking flying lessons from my dad back when I was a teen, before every flight we did a pre-flight inspection of the airplane. Now I always thought to myself what a waste of time that was, because there was never anything wrong with the plane - until one day I found a rock wedged in the crack of the horizontal stabilizer that makes the airplane go up or down. That has stuck in my mind for more than 40 years.

Although of lesser significance in the scheme of life, I cannot imagine taking out a bow, deer rifle or muzzleloader before the season without giving it a complete inspection and one last cleaning.

Then a friend of mine came back to camp one day with all the parts of his bow cradled in his arm. Turns out when the string gave way at full draw, the whole bow flew apart like an explosion in his hands. He remarked he thought that bow needed a new string … .

Obviously the lesson here is to take that bow out of the closet and out of its case in August or September for a good going over. Based on personal experience, there are some things in life better left to paying others who really know what they are doing. I count among this list maintenance, fine tuning and repairs of a bow and or the arrows. Modern bows are tricky mechanical devices, and unless you know how to work on them, your best bet is to take them to a first-rate shop for an annual check up. It will be money well-spent.

If not, then check, clean and properly lube everything that moves or squeaks on the bow. Check cams for cracks or wear. Inspect the string for fraying, and wax it or replace it. Tighten sights, pins and other limb attachments. Check the mechanical trigger release too.

Go over every arrow for straightness and fletching wear. Inspect, clean and sharpen all the broadheads you intend to use. Make sure they are screwed onto the arrow shaft properly and fully tightened down. Put them securely back in a scabbard until ready for use.

Check other bowhunting gear too including tree stands, safety harnesses, pull-up ropes or devices, rangefinders, binoculars, etc. Make sure everything is ready to go in tip-top shape.


Back to form in two weeks

Sure those crazed bowhunters have been shooting 20 arrows a day for three months by now. There's nothing wrong with that if you can find the time to invest. Most of us cannot. We're looking for a quick fix.

"With a shoulder that has tightened up over the years on me. I've learned to start slow in shooting my bow, then ramping up to a pretty aggressive regimen just before the season opens," said John Mark Cockrell of Brandon. "I start first each practice session with plenty of shoulder-stretching exercises plus knee squats and torso twists trying to mock moves I make in the tree stand when actually shooting at a deer.

"The first day, I'll shoot no more than 10 shots at a 20-yard range. I do this number for two or three days before I start to kick it up to 15 shots by the end of the week. I also start to increase the range up to 30 then eventually 35 yards, which is my chosen max range.

"By the start of the second week, I shoot from elevated positions, twisting, bending shots and long holding shots. I put up a ladder stand in the back yard for realistic shooting. I stake out range flags at 20-25-30-35 yards to double check my sight pins. A couple of days before hunting, I'm up to 40 shots.

"At the end of each shooting session, I go over the bow again to make sure everything remains tight and