Outdoorsmen are not necessarily procrastinators by nature, and the main reason so many deer hunters find themselves behind when it comes to preparing for the coming deer season is that they’ve been busy.
Following last deer season it was duck season, and following duck season it was turkey season, and after turkey season there a whole slew of fishing to be done through the rest of the spring and summer, and after that, this month there’s dove hunting, and … well you get the idea.
There are just so many things we can shoot and hook.
Approaching deer season always brings to mind college football. For one, it’s something most people who enjoy it are passionate about, and second through maybe 25th, there’s a lot of prep work to be done before opening day when you take to the field to face your opponent.
Before you begin any undertaking, it’s best to have an end goal in mind. Is the goal to simply harvest a trophy buck? Is it to stock a freezer with venison? Or, is it to manage a deer herd, which will give you the opportunity to do both?
Mark Buxton of Southeastern Wildlife Habitat Services just across the state line in Magnolia, Ala., said the key to a healthy deer herd, meaning having trophy bucks to harvest and plenty of deer for meat, is a three-facet approach.
The first is a good buck-to-doe ratio on the property you are hunting. It’s always wise to have a game plan of just how many of each sex deer will be harvested from your property.
“A healthy herd will have good buck-to-doe ratios,” said Buxton. “Typically, that means one buck for every three to six adult does, but that number may vary.”
Before deciding how many does is the right number for your property, it’s important to understand balanced deer ratios. First, there are buck-to-doe ratios, then there are antlerless-to-antlered deer ratios. Because hunters and land managers are the ones who are monitoring the number of deer that use their property, the antler-to-antlerless deer ratio is typically the most useful.
Part of the burden of managing one’s hunting land is monitoring and keeping records of what you and other hunters see on the property. That includes deer seen during pre-season scouting and while hunting during the season. Keep track of when you see deer, how many, and where you see them. In addition, record approximate body sizes, weight and of course, antler size of all the deer you see.
Counting deer on your property may seem like counting minnows in a bucket, but trail cameras have made this task much easier. Many serious land managers monitor trail cameras overlooking feed stations or food plots year round to keep track of their herd.
Balanced age structure
The second phase of Buxton’s recommendation is a properly balanced age structure.
“This means your property will contain almost as many mature deer as young deer but with an appropriate year class system to replace those deer that are harvested or age out,” said Buxton.
While most hunt clubs or land owners “plan” to only harvest mature deer, the tally at the end of the season is sometimes mixed. For this reason, it’s a good idea to implement a harvest record that indicates the weight, sex, date and approximate age of every deer harvested from the property.
Buxton’s third phase of is having a good nutritional plan. Deer herds become and stay healthy with a well-balanced diet that includes year-round food and mineral supplies.
“Typically planting for fall and winter food plots should be done sometime around mid-September until around the first of October,” said Buxton.
Many land managers are hesitant about putting money in dusty ground, and Buxton knows the best way to check for soil moisture is by sight. Locations of food plots may have an impact on their success with bottom and near some type of water source preferable to a high ridge in the middle of a pine plantation.
“Even if it’s dry now, if the forecasters say rain is coming, then you can plant two or three days before and hopefully get the seeds to germinate,” he said.
With opening day of archery season on Sept. 30 (not the usual Oct. 1, because it’s a Sunday) in the Delta, Northeast, East Central, and Southwest zones and Oct. 14 in the Southeast Zone, hunters still have about 30 days to get their shooting skills honed if they have not already been shooting.
Matthews archery pro Doug Goins said tuning your bow is the first step in achieving a more accurate weapon. Tuning can be boiled down to two primary facets, timing and center-shot alignment. Both can affect how well you shoot.
“Cam rotation, the alignment of the wheels located on either end of a compound bow, determine the timing of the bow,” Goins said. “Some models use one oblong cam and one round wheel which greatly assists in making sure cam rotation is well-timed.”
The pro also pointed out that alignment of the arrow on the string is factored in accuracy by placement of the rest and nocking point, making sure that both are centered.
“To measure this alignment, an arrow that is shot through paper will tear a smaller, cleaner hole while an out-of-center arrow will tear the hole as the arrow shaft passed through the target,” said Goins. “If your arrow is leaving the bow at an angle, then you can count on less than desired accuracy.”
Rifle accuracy is a culmination of proper scope alignment with the barrel, holding the barrel steady while holding the cross hairs of the scope on target, and depressing the trigger without any movement of the alignment.
Professional long-range match shooter Jerry Land explains that unfortunately, other variables like gravity, wind, and distance also factor into how accurate a shot through a scoped rifle can be. Even something as seemingly sublime as the type of cartridges used can have a devastating effect on where the bullet hits after the trigger is pulled.
“Entry level equipment will not be as accurate as guns designed for intermediate and advanced level users. The idea of an entry level gun is to allow the user to get acclimated to the sport, find out if he or she likes it without breaking the bank to get into the sport, and familiarize the user with basics,” Land said.
More advanced equipment will have more features and these features will perform better than introductory equipment. Better equipment typically relates to better accuracy, but brings the caveat of greater expense and harder learning curve.
“I suggest having an objective in mind when you practice,” Land said. “You want to touch the gun the same way every time you shoot. That builds consistency and accuracy. Also practice at the distance you want to be able to shoot. If it’s 400 yards, there are a lot of variables that affect accuracy. The slightest vibration or movement that causes you to miss a half inch at 50 yards will move the bullet dramatically out at 400 yards.”
In the end, the skill level of the shooter makes the difference. A skilled shooter practices more and shoots more often. A skilled shooter analyzes what shots went wrong and why and works to improve the problem that caused the inaccuracy.
A prepared shooter hunting properly prepared and managed property can make for better results during the season.