Anyone who tells you bow hunting is easy is flat out lying. From the time you start your scouting in midsummer until the rut in late fall, there are going to be challenges. If you are looking to up your game, we have some bowhunting tips to balance the odds in your favor.
You will still have to do your part, all the way from scouting to taking the shot. Bowhunting isn't for the unmotivated hunter. But if you are willing to get down in the dirt and do it right, we will set you on the right track.
Scouting is a science. If done wrong, it can hurt more than it can help. What you want to do is find the deer without spooking them. It's no good to know where deer are if you startle them into jumping ship and heading to a new site.
The first step in scouting is knowing the area where you will be hunting and having a good idea of how the deer will move within that area. Starting with 3D mapping software like Google Earth is a great idea. You can also download free topographic maps from the USGS Topoview service.
I treat this like I am planning a war. I want to get an idea of about where deer will stay, the paths they will take when moving, and where they are heading to. In early planning, it’s just to get an idea. You will need boots on the ground to confirm deer activity. Until then, look for likely paths of least resistance, choke points, and possible watering sources.
Once you have a good idea of locations, hit the field and check things out.
Use trail cameras extensively in your hunting area and use as many as you can reasonably get away with. Get an early start in mid-summer and be persistent. Don’t just hang your cameras and forget about them until the week before the season. The idea is not to find a big buck on one camera but to find a trend of buck behavior.
Early in the scouting season, I may check my cameras more frequently but as the season moves on, leave the cameras be. You want the deer to get acclimated to your presence but not enough to make the edge.
I pull all my cameras a couple of weeks before the start of the season. At this point, I want the deer to forget I was ever there. I don’t want them wary or spooked and I want them on their normal behavior.
Areas of Importance
Most deer are taken to and from their food source. In early season this will be grains as much as they can get them but if you move into later months, keep an eye on late acorn crops. Deer seem to prize acorns over most other foods and a rich crop will bring in the deer. Mark some oak trees on your map and keep an eye on them.
Finding areas of sanctuary and bedding sites should be the cornerstone of your hunting game. If you do find one, never scout into or place cameras in either type of site. If you scare deer of their bed, they may leave completely. Keep your distance and look for the paths they are traveling to and from their sleeping area.
- Before you head to the woods in earnest, you need to get your gear ready and your mind in the game. It’s all about giving yourself the best opportunity and making sure that when the time comes, you can take that shot with confidence.
- Take the time to tune your bow and when you are done start over and tune it again. Make sure it's as accurate as you can possibly get it. No one should leave for the woods with an untuned bow. Even if you tuned it last year, tune it again this year.
- Never shoot farther than you can make an ethical kill but be ready to shoot as far as you need to. Most fatal shots on deer happen at 30 yards or less and pushing past 40 yards becomes quite difficult. If you want to be able to take those 40-yard shots, you need to practice at 60 yards. It will take the stress out of the equation and get you used to aiming at a smaller area.
- Practice for the worst-case scenario and be ready for every shot. You may have to shoot in the rain, cold, low-light, at high angles, farther than you are used to, and at partially concealed deer. Practice shooting under stress and with challenges like those above.
- Proper ranging is critical and some hunters can get a dead reckoning on range that will rival any technology out there. But don’t risk it. Get yourself a quality rangefinder, one made for archery, and learn how to use it. If you hunt from a tree stand, make sure it has angle measurements.
- Know the hunting laws and regulations in your area. Most of the country has laws that rarely change and that leads to complacency. Double check with your state wildlife authority this year as the spread of communicable diseases has forced a change in some areas.
- Similarly, be aware of broadhead regulations for your state. You can find a list of every states broadhead regulations here.
On the Hunt
- If you have done everything up to this point right, the hard part is over. You know your spot, you know your gear, it's just a matter of waiting. If you scouted well, you will get the opportunity you are looking for. To make the most of that opportunity, here is a little help.
- If you want a trophy buck, don’t shoot the first deer you see. Most hunters get too excited to wait but often times larger deer will be a little wiser and will let younger bucks pass through an area first on the way to feed. Hold your shot on those first few days until you see the deer you are after.
- The biggest mistake that most hunters make is leaving the stand too early. Too many hunters hunt till 10:00 am and are out of the woods. Don’t make this mistake. Stick to your stand later in the mornings, especially through October. Deer gave an active period that most hunters fail to exploit. Hang in there till around noon to make the most of your day.
- Know your scents. Doe scents are all most people use but they are not at all effective in the early season. During the rut, doe scent will work but I prefer a buck scent at all times of the year. It triggers the territorial nature of deer, especially when breeding season starts.
- After you have made a hit, most deer aren’t going to just fall over. Learn to read a blood trail to know what you are in for. Pink blood is often a good sign of a lung hit and you likely won’t have far to track. Dark red blood usually means you hit too far back, possibly a liver hit. Watery blood is synonymous with a stomach hit which is bad news for you and the deer, it may take days to die.
This is a basic overview of a few tips that can help out during deer season and in no way a complete guide to deer hunting. It presumes you know the basics of the hunt and how to use your equipment. If you don’t, join a local hunting club or find an experienced hunter to take you under his wing.
As I said, nothing in bow hunting is easy and it takes time to get good. These simple bowhunting tips will give you an advantage over most hunters but it will not make you a good hunter on its own. In the end, the two best teachers are experience and the deer themselves.