Cross your t’s and dot your i’s as archery season arrives; the first few days will be your best chance at a buck before he becomes wary.
Finally, after a long layoff, hunters are getting back into the woods, but many who venture into the sweltering deer stands of early archery season are doing so unprepared.
Too many spent the offseason fishing, lounging around and waiting on deer season to open, when the first weeks of the season may offer the best opportunity to get that buck you have been targeting. They are very predictable and easily patterned, so it’s time to use your knowledge and skill to put an arrow where it needs to be.
Afternoons or mornings?
Many bowhunters skip hunting mornings, thinking that afternoons are best early in the season. But the opposite may be true. In places where bow season opens as October arrives, bucks are already putting on their winter coats, and the heat of the afternoon can be oppressive. Cooler, morning temperatures make it not only more comfortable for deer, but also for hunters. Cooler, morning temperatures tend to allow bucks to lazily wander back to their beds. After months of not being under any hunting pressure, a cool morning will often bring bucks past your stand more consistently than afternoon hunts.
Stopping your scent
Vicki Cianciarulo, co-host of Archer’s Choice and The Choice, is perhaps the most-accomplished female hunter on television. She has spent an inordinate amount of time in the field during the early season for more than 30 years and said scent control is one of the most-important elements as the season kicks off.
“Being able to keep the deer from smelling you is essential,” she said, explaining that she and her husband and co-host, Ralph, have a regimen of laundry, bathing, spraying everything down and wearing the right clothes to keep perspiration at a minimum. She said hunting the wind is more critical in the early season than at any other time.
“Our bodies emit a lot of odors, and while scents and masking agents certainly help, nothing helps better than hunting the wind. You have to pay close attention to the wind, especially during the early season,” she said.
Other concerns of early season hunting in the south are controlling the throngs of mosquitoes that will feast on you while you are in your stand. Hordes that descend on you in Biblical proportions can make hunting impossible. Nothing has changed hunting more than ThermaCell products. Many hunters will go home before hunting without their ThermaCell mosquito appliance. Being able to sit on stand comfortably and for extended periods is essential for killing bucks. Comfortable hunters are successful hunters. Hunters who are constantly sweating and swatting are not going to be successful.
Practice, practice, practice
Last, prepare and practice before the season with your equipment. Too often, bowhunters shelve their bows and arrows until a few weeks before the season opens, then sling a few arrows and consider themselves ready.
Nothing could be further from the truth. You should go through your equipment with a fine-toothed comb every season. Check your cams, cables and string. Servings tend to wear, so replace your “D-loop.” Clean you sights and check your rest. Check every bolt and screw on your bow, going through it carefully and tightening everything.
Arrows are next. If they’re bent, cracked or splintered, they need replacing, and good ones may need re-fletching. After that, check your peripheral equipment: release aid, broadheads, quivers, etc. It’s not a bad idea to carry a spare release aid in your pack.
Employing these tactics and tips can help you be better prepared for early season when the buck of your dreams shows up during the cool of the morning.
Hen decoy can add to archery setup
Two of the keys to taking deer with bow and arrow are to get them in range and to make them relaxed once they’re there, so they aren’t on full alert to jump or duck a shot.
Food is one of the means, and food plots, feeders and food piles are all used with varying degrees of success. But getting them to drop their guard and relax is another problem, the solution of which can result in easy shots at close range without the problem of a nice buck jumping the string. The deer must be confident the spot is safe before dropping its guard.
One way is to add something super wary to the area that a deer will perceive as relaxed. Waterfowl hunters use blue heron, seagull and crow decoys to convince wary ducks and geese their setup is safe. This idea works well with deer, too. A blue heron decoy may work with water nearby, but almost all deer respond well to a hen turkey decoy.
Many gobbler decoys are strutters, an unnatural posture in the fall. There are jake decoys with folded fans that might work, but a hen or two feeding in the general area, off to the side, will make deer confident the area is safe.
Place the hen decoy about 10 yards from the spot you expect the deer to appear. Getting ready to enter the area, deer may stop to scan the surroundings, and the hen decoy will give most of them the feeling of security they need to make that final, fatal move into range.
— Jerry Dilsaver
The five P’s of shooting practice
Ralph Cianciarulo developed a saying when teaching people proper shooting techniques: “Proper Practice Promotes Perfect Placement.”
The five P’s of practice make shot placement perfect, and when hunting live animals, there is no excuse for bad shot placement.
“When I practice, I want everything to be exactly like I am hunting,” he said. “I try and replicate the situation as best I can.
“Too many people go out and sling arrows and have no idea what they may be doing wrong or right. They just go out and shoot.”
Cianciarulo stresses that before the season, hunters should consider the responsibility they have in releasing an arrow and do everything to ensure that the arrow will hit exactly where they want.
Cianciarulo is a strong proponent for life-sized targets.
“Shooting bags is good, but it really does not help with judging animal anatomy and where the arrow will go once it hits the animal,” he said, encouraging hunters to get life-sized, 3D targets for practice and to concentrate on proper shot placement. “I tell people to aim through the animal. Shoot for the opposite shoulder. If you do that, you will hit the vitals every time.”
The value of a rangefinder
For the past nine months, deer hunters have painfully waited for the opening day of bow season, and they need be prepared on several different levels to make their opportunities count and get that big buck on the ground and off to the taxidermist.
Hunters have invested countless hours planting food plots, scouting, capturing detailed surveillance photos of deer and developing a foolproof strategy to open the season successfully. And who could forget the hundreds of arrows slung into foam targets at various distances.
Even though many archers can group arrows into golf ball-sized targets from 10 to 40 yards out, knowing the exact distance is a key component to precise and accurate shots. A rangefinder is must-have gear for the archer.
Rangefinders come in various shapes and sizes. Most are capable of producing accurate readings to very long distances, and most come with optical zooms and the works. Extended-range units have been embraced by western varmint or big-game hunters, making 1,000-yard shots across a valley on a neighboring mountaintop a possibility. Sig Sauer makes a Kilo unit that comes equipped with an optical zoom and Lightwave DSP technology to accurately range targets out to two miles.
Bowhunters need accurate readings on a much-smaller scale, typically out to 50 yards. With readings accurate to one yard, an optical zoom isn’t as important.
The most important features
High-end and economical options are available that can fill a bowhunter’s needs. The two most-important features archers need to consider is whether units will provide corrected distances based on vertical adjustments, and overall size.
Bowhunters have tons of gear to drag into the tree stand, and a rangefinder doesn’t need to be much bigger than palm-sized to get the job done. A unit that can fit inside a shirt pocket is ideal.
Nine out of 10 bowhunters will be hunting from elevated positions, and a standard, horizontal rangefinder will not take into account the vertical distance. Most late-model rangefinders developed for hunting have built-in inclinometers to make sure the range results are true distances that compensate for the elevation from a tree stand or terrain.
Rangefinders may seem like extra gear for some hunters, but not for the avid bowhunter trying to close the deal on a trophy buck. They will eliminate the distance variable to make an accurate sight-pin choice.
— Jeff Burleson