If Robin Hood only had known what Mississippi's Will Primos, Preston Pittman and Ronnie Strickland know, he could have fed fresh venison to all the peasants of Nottingham.

For many years, these professional hunters' livelihoods have depended on their woodsmanship and accuracy with bows and arrows.

Although the life of a professional hunter seems glamorous, they actually work harder and spend more hours even today trying to learn about bowhunting and whitetails than most other hunters.

 

Seven tips from Will Primos

Will Primos, a bowhunter for 45 years and founder of Primos Game Calls in Flora, has produced the "Truth" series of videos and TV productions for numerous years. Primos has earned a major portion of his living pinpointing and taking deer with a bow.

If you think the pressure's heavy when your buck of a lifetime comes in, consider that when big bucks get within bow range of Primos, he has millions of eyes watching him draw and shoot.

"When I was just a little fellow, I liked to slip-up on squirrels and birds and shoot at them with my bow," he said. "My first bow was a Wilson longbow, and I sometimes built my own arrows. I shot that bow off the side of my hand, because there were no rests in those days.

To become a better bowhunter, Primos suggests the following:

1) Respect the whitetail.

"When you start hunting deer at the first of bow season, they've had plenty of food, water and cover, and no one has harassed them all summer," he said. "As soon as they smell your human odor, the whole world changes for them. Never hunt a whitetail where he is, but rather, hunt him where he wants to be. If you get lucky, you may be able to spot and stalk a deer, but more than likely, especially here in Mississippi, you've got to anticipate where that whitetail will be and hunt him there.

"Or you'll have to call to that whitetail and make him come to you.

"Don't get too close to the area where you think the deer is when you start setting up your tree stand, and always respect the wind's direction. Our company makes some fantastic scent-elimination products, but you can't use hunting aids and ignore good hunting practices."

2) Consider your calling tactics when placing your stand.

"For instance, if you call a deer that starts coming to you but then stops and won't move any closer, you may have set your tree stand in an opening where the deer can see well past your stand," he said. "If bucks can't see a deer where they've heard the call coming from, they won't come any closer. Always make sure there's cover either in front of or behind you that looks like it can hold a deer where a buck can't spot it. I like to set my tree stand on the edge of a cane thicket."

3) Know how and when to call the deer.

"Never use a deer call when the deer can see you or can see from where the call has come," Primos said. "If a buck's head goes behind a big tree, then give him the buck roar or a bleat call. When he comes out from behind the tree, he'll be looking and walking to try to identify the location of that call. The timing of when you make a call is critically important to calling in a buck."

4) Hunt the split trails.

"Before deer season arrives, I go to agricultural fields and find where the deer trails are coming out of the woods and going into the fields," he said. "Then I follow the trails back into the woods for at least 100 yards to where each trail splits.

"That's where I'll hang my tree stand, if I get a wind in my favor, because this way I've doubled my odds for seeing a buck. I've got deer coming from two directions to funnel onto that one trail."

5) Make eating easy for the deer.

"Often you'll find groups of trees that produce nuts that deer favor," he said. "But you don't know which tree the bucks will choose to feed under, since the deer have the option of four or five different trees.

"Before the season arrives, I clear the ground under one of those oak trees with a rake, a machete or a small hatchet. I've learned that the deer more often will feed under a tree with less brush and leaves under it, because the acorns are easier for them to see than acorns under a tree with brush and leaf litter built-up under it.

"One year, I took a gasoline-powered lawnmower into the area I wanted to hunt that fall and cut down all the trees, bushes and shrubs and vacuumed-up everything on the ground with that lawnmower. Later, the deer came to that tree to feed first."

6) Become the acorn.

"Once while hunting in an acorn flat, I noticed that every time an acorn would fall out of the tree, a deer would leave where it was feeding and go to the spot where the acorn just had fallen," he said. "I was sitting in a white oak tree on the edge of the Mississippi River, and I could see 10 white oaks from my perch. A big 9-point buck was going from tree to tree eating acorns.

"Suddenly an acorn fell off the tree to my right about 40 yards away, hit the branches and leaves and finally landed on the ground. When that deer heard that acorn fall, he ran to that acorn.

"The next time I went to hunt near an acorn tree, I carried a pocket full of gravel with me. I saw a doe feeding and threw one big piece of gravel up in my tree to try to get it to fall through the leaves and branches like an acorn would, which it did. Immediately the deer jerked her head up and looked at my tree. As she put her head back down, I took another piece of gravel from my pocket and dropped it straight down under my tree. When the gravel hit the ground, that doe came running over to my tree, and I took her."

7) Don't hunt naked.

"Deer have a sixth sense," he said. "I've seen young bucks walk right under the tree where I'm sitting, and then when they get 10 yards away from the trees, they'll stop and look straight up at me. Once when this happened, I was wearing my Mossy Oak Bottomland camo, which made me invisible. A buck never saw or heard me, but he knew something was wrong. He looked up in that tree and spotted me.

"I read an article once that said that deer could sense the electrical charges given off by the human body if the deer got close enough. I believe that's true.

"One of the mistakes I think many hunters make is they clear away too much brush around their tree stands. Then as they sit or stand, their silhouettes aren't broken up. Leave some of the limbs in front of your tree stand, and pick the holes in the brush through which you'll shoot.

"You may have to shoot over a limb, under a limb or beside a limb, but you'll see more deer and have more opportunities to take a buck if you'll leave some of those limbs and leaves to break up your outline."

 

Preston Pittman's four P's

Preston Pittman, owner of Pittman's Game Calls of Pickens, says, "I was hatched in Mississippi."

Pittman's a world turkey-calling champion, having won almost every turkey-calling championship in the nation. He's also considered one of the country's top bowhunters, and shares his top keys to deer-hunting success.

Hunters must:

1) Have persistence.

"One of the most-overlooked elements of deer hunting is persistence," he said. "Besides hunting on the weekends, find some time during the week to hunt when fewer hunters will be in the woods, and the deer will experience less pressure, which will increase your odds for success.

"The other part of persistence is not giving up. If you're not persistent enough to continue to hunt when you're not seeing deer, you may not get that chance to take a buck of a lifetime.

"Be even more persistent if your trail cameras have told you that there's a big buck in the area."

2) Have patience.

"When you've only got a day or two per week to bowhunt deer, and only so many days per season to hunt, when a buck comes in, you're tempted to rush the shot, rather than waiting on the deer to present a shot you can make," he said. "You may think, 'I may never see that buck again. A bad shot is better than no shot at all.' But I promise you, this philosophy is a losing one.

"If you don't have the shot you need to effectively take the animal, let the deer walk. You can come back to that same place and hunt that deer another day if you don't spook it."

3) Practice.

"To practice for bow season, I suggest you climb into a tree stand while wearing your safety harness and get about the same height from the ground from which you expect to hunt," he said. "Face the tree, and have your hunting buddy set a 3D target up at an unknown distance. When your buddy is out of the way, have him tell you to turn and shoot.

"You'll have to quickly determine distance, draw your bow and choose the pin sight you need to use to shoot accurately. Shoot at the target from different distances and angles. And sometimes you may have no shot, because your buddy has placed the target so the deer's too far away, at a bad angle or behind a bush where you can't take the shot.

"You also can sit in your tree stand and have your buddy put the target behind you. By practicing shooting with your bow in these various ways, you'll be able to play like you practice, as football players say. You'll be accustomed to having to shoot at unknown distances at different angles and various positions from your tree stand.

"Remember, each time you draw to shoot at the target, you only get one shot.

"Practicing with your bow will teach you how to judge distance, where to put your pin sight on a deer that's turned at different angles, and how to determine the flight of an arrow from a tree stand, since you're not shooting from level ground.

"You also can see the path the arrow will take once it enters the deer. The angle that the arrow hits the 3D target will tell you at about what angle the arrow will come out of a deer, which will let you know whether or not your shot has been effective."

4) Position yourself properly.

"The wind will determine your position, although I advocate wearing Scent-Lok clothing while you're hunting," he said. "Odor-killing products wipe-out the scent coming from your body. However, eliminating the odors your clothing collects as you head to your tree stand is just as important an aspect of successful deer hunting.

"Since the smell of your breakfast or fuel from your stop at a gas station can linger on your clothes, spray-down thoroughly with a spray that eliminates or neutralizes odor just before you walk into the woods. Even when you take all of these precautions, always hunt with the wind in your favor.

"Also, trail cameras can tell you when and where the animals will come to a feeding spot. Then you can position your tree stand to get the right angle for a shot and always have the wind in your favor. Make sure you'll have a shot at the range that you feel comfortable taking."

 

Ronnie Strickland top 6

Ronnie "Cuz" Strickland of West Point, vice president of Mossy Oak in charge of TV and video production, grew up in Mississippi. For many years, he's picked productive tree-stand sites for himself as well as for the hunters and cameramen who film Mossy Oak's TV programs and videos.

"I believe 90 percent of the reasons a good bowhunter doesn't take a deer is due to the noise factor," he said. "Oil and grease your tree stand. Then climb in that stand, and move around in it to make sure it doesn't squeak when a deer's in close, and you're ready to take the shot.

"Also, think about squeaky arrows or cams. At one time, I used furniture polish on my arrows to make them so slick they wouldn't make any noise when I drew back my bow.

"Today, Scorpion Venom makes an arrow-release fluid. If you put that on your arrows, not only will they not make noise when they come across your rest, they'll be so slick you may not be able to hold onto them. I've found that this product makes my draw absolutely silent.

"Scorpion Venom also makes a lube oil to keep your cams silent. Mississippi deer will hear you in a heartbeat when you draw a bow if it's got any squeak in it."

Here are some other tips that will improve your bowhunting:

1) Shorten your draw length.

"I always set up my bow 1/2-inch shorter than my draw length," he said. "If you're squatting in a tree stand, kneeling on the ground or turning around in the stand to make the shot, you don't really have time to think about form. You have to spend all of your thinking time looking for that pin sight and making sure you've got your pin on the spot on the deer that you want to hit.

When I draw my bow, I don't want to have to think about whether my shoulders are relaxed, my toes are pointed the right way or any other elements related to form. I just want to be sure I have the string all the way to the back wall and my pin sight where I want my arrow to land to make the shot.

"I want my bow to be comfortable enough for me to shoot, so I don't have to worry about form.

"Setting my bow up 1/2-inch shorter than my draw length means that when I hit that back wall, I know that string is all the way back. Then all I have to do is aim and shoot."

2) Use a kisser button and a peep sight.

"With these two devices, I know that my form's right when I get the string back to where it's supposed to be," he said. "Also, I quickly and easily can tell that I've got my anchor points set and my body lined up. I also should be able to see where the arrow will land."

3) Bet on your first strike.

"I like to put my tree stands up three to four weeks in advance of the opening of bow season, especially if I'm using a ladder stand," he said. "But I've had the most luck by going to the spot that I'm hunting and going up a tree with a climbing stand on the day I'm hunting from that place.

"I want to get my tree stand up above the deer's line of sight, and I prefer to be in a place that deer has no reason to expect me to be. The first time you put a tree stand up is when your odds of taking an older-age-class buck will be best from that stand."

4) Cover up.

"Your face and hands are the parts of your body that a deer is most likely to spot," he said. "If you get in a tree stand and are ready to put on your headnet or gloves but are missing those, then you can paint up like old-school bowhunters did before the advent of gloves and headnets, if you keep face paint in your daypack.

"Also, I like to pull my headnet on and put face paint on my face around my eyes to disguise the pale skin that may show through the eye holes."

5) Lighter is better.

"Successful bowhunting isn't about how strong you are," he said. "It's about how accurately you shoot. I realize some bowhunters shoot 60, 70 and 80 pounds. But my bow's set on 58 pounds because I want to be able to draw my bow by pushing the bow straight away from me, not by sticking my arrow straight up in the air, pulling and pushing to get the arrow back and then bringing my bow down to aim at the target.

"You can draw quieter and with less motion than if you have to go through a gymnastic move to get your bow to full draw. Today's bows are so fast that you don't have to shoot 70- or 80-pound bows to deliver the arrow quickly. I've shot before all the way through a 700-pound elk with my bow set at 58 pounds."

6) Don't stop the deer.

"If you watch the bowhunting pros on TV when a deer's walking, to stop the deer, they'll say the word 'mamp,' trying to sound like a bleat," he said. "However, when you 'mamp' a deer, it will automatically know something is wrong.

"To solve this problem, I cut shooting lanes. Then the deer will stop just before or just as he passes a shooting lane.

"When a deer drops down before he jumps, many people call that jumping the string. But the deer's just dropping down to spring away from the danger it's heard.

"If you 'mamp' a deer, it will drop down deeper and quicker than if you don't 'mamp' it. If the deer doesn't stop where I want it to, I may shush it or give a low whistle, because I don't want to startle a deer before I take a shot at it."