Ask a bowhunter if he'd rather be lucky or good. The smart ones will choose luck every time.

The stone-cold truth is that much of the success rate of even the best bowhunters is left to chance. Another honest fact is that most of them probably prefer it that way.

Two of these individuals are black-and-gold-blooded Mathews Archery hunters Cade Hawkins and Dan Thomas.

Hawkins has been hunting in the woods around his Tate County home since he was a youngster. He killed his first deer with a bow nearly 17 years ago, and has learned much in his years of deer hunting about where big bucks prefer to hang out.

Two years ago while turkey hunting, he bumped some good deer from a likely looking spot, and made a mental note about the white oak grove he'd discovered that was neatly tucked into the corner of a cutover.

Hawkins returned to the spot last October with the intent of climbing a tree to hunt since the wind and falling acorns were in his favor. Finding no suitable tree to climb, he was relegated to a long-forgotten metal ladder stand.

Just before dark, a bachelor group of mature bucks entered the grove from the cutover. True to form, Hawkins managed to arrow a 4½-year-old 11-point that measured 135 inches and had a 17-inch inside spread.

Though he had done many things right to take the deer at just 14 yards, including scouting the area ahead of the season, ranging his targets well ahead of time and using the wind and available cover to his advantage, he still feels luck was highly in his favor.

"I've had so many deer walk into and out of my life for no apparent reason," he said. "There's a whole lot of stuff you can do to stack the odds, but when that big buck walks within range, when you get right down to it, the whole thing is based on luck."

Since there is little a hunter can do about luck but a whole lot that can be done to prepare for it, Hawkins and Thomas suggested some things that can help you take advantage this bowseason.

 

Scouting

Two factors have to be considered when scouting for a mature buck to take with a bow. The first is that a mature buck won't tolerate much intrusion into his home range. The second is that if you have or think you have a big buck patterned, his habits are likely to change as the season progresses due to food sources, hunting pressure and the onset of the rut.

"Scouting for bowhunting is much different than scouting for rifle hunting where you only need to get within gun range to kill a deer," said Hawkins. "You need to know exactly where that deer will walk so that you can get within bow range of him at some point to get the shot."

Thomas agreed.

"I've come to rely heavily on my Cuddeback trail cameras," he said, suggesting the installation of scouting cameras on trails leading into and out of feeding and bedding areas rather than strictly in feeding areas. "Early on in bow season, the bucks are still grouped up, and a well-placed camera can let you know what's walking on your land and what times they prefer to move."

Most of this should be done well ahead of time.

"It's hard to be successful scouting in person during the season," said Hawkins. "For me, scouting is a year-round process every time I'm in the woods."

In order to minimize pressure, Hawkins and his hunting partners rotate how they hunt their property, and roughly divide the area into east and west sections, alternating hunt sections in order to give the other areas time to rest.

"We also make it a point to hunt food sources in the afternoon and transition areas in the morning," he said. "Deer will change food sources three to four times during the season, so it's important to know what sources are available in the area you hunt and also know when the deer are using them - all without adding pressure by stomping up the woods."

Again, Thomas does all this early on.

"I locate my acorn stands and honeysuckle patches before the season even starts," he said.

Thomas hunts areas in Tate, Panola and Lafayette counties near his Senatobia home.

"When those plants start to produce crops on non-hunting land around the house, I know it's time to go to them on the hunting land," he said.

 

Tools of the trade

While Hawkins touts his Mathews Switchback XT and Thomas relies on his Matthews Outback, both hunters suggest going with equipment that you are most comfortable with shooting and that you have the most confidence in.

"I used to try to keep up with the latest technology in bows, but that Switchback in a 70-pound pull is the most comfortable bow I've ever shot," said Hawkins. "That makes a big difference when the big shot is on the line."

Relying on archery gear doesn't end with the bow and arrow. While both hunters try to keep what they haul into the woods to a minimum, there are a few other tools they'd rather not do without.

"I've tried other arrow rests, but I'm a huge fan of the Whisker Biscuit," said Thomas. "I know some guys claim they affect arrow flight, but I've never had that problem, plus that arrow stays knocked and in position from the time I get in the stand until I have to make a shot. Sometimes that might mean bending over backwards, but the arrow is still in place, ready to shoot."

Hawkins has his favorites as well.

"I suggest every bowhunter should carry a rangefinder with them in the woods," he said. "It doesn't have to be an expensive one, just one that will read accurately out to effective bow ranges. That one piece of equipment has increased my bow kills tremendously. In fact, when I pick up my bow in my left hand, I have my range finder in my right. I may not have time to range the deer, but I can range a landmark ahead of where he's walking if I think I can take a shot there."

And field glasses are a must.

"I carry binoculars with me both scouting and hunting," said Thomas. "Before the season, I use them to check out the acorn crop in the trees, and when I'm in the stand, I can often pick out a deer through the woods before he gets within bow range, and that gives me some time to prepare before he's right on top of me."

Both Hawkins and Thomas are traditional hunters in the sense of the broadheads they use. Fixed-blade broad heads will be found in both archers' quivers. They indicate that fixed blades are more forgiving, provide a better chance for a pass through and with today's advancements, fly much truer than they have in the past.

"I find 97 percent of the deer I shoot I get a pass through," said Thomas. "Even if I make a mistake on my shot placement, I've found two deer that had deep artery damage because they left a good blood trail. I just don't think you get as good a hit with a mechanical head. In fact, I hunt almost every year up in Pike County, Ill., and none of the outfitters I know up there will let you use mechanical heads."

With archery season cranking up this month, it's a sure bet that Magnolia stick-and-string fans will be hanging out somewhere waiting for either that buck of a lifetime or maybe even a couple of does for the freezer. In either case, you might consider packing along a lucky rabbit's foot - just in case.