Millions of Americans enjoy hunting, taking to the fields, plains and forests of America in search of game and many millions more people around the world do the same.
Some do it for sport, do it for sustenance or do it because the mantle of supremacy as the apex organism on the planet rests on our shoulders.
Whatever the reason, hunting has always been an activity that mankind has undertaken.
Only the tools have changed, and the tool of the trade today is the firearm and all its many forms. But some hunters feel a calling of the old ways.
They express it with a different weapon of choice for bagging their quarry.
One of mankind’s oldest weapons that still perseveres today is the bow, and even though the modern compound bow is capable of performance that ancient archers couldn’t even dream of. Even so, no bow can rival the range or power of a firearm.
This means that hunters who choose to go afield with a bow must be all the more capable as hunters.
Better knowledge of the animals they seek, greater mastery of the terrain, greater skill at arms, everything.
For many, it is the increased challenge of using a bow over a gun that makes the rewards of a successful hunt so much sweeter.
We are here to help make your next bow hunting outing for deer a success, and we will do that by providing you 10 no-fail tips to help turn you into a master archer.
1. Hunting the Rut? Keep an Eye on the Does
For bowhunters and gunhunters alike, prime hunting season is always in the rut. This is the time of mating, when bucks in their prime are looking to pass on their lineage to as many does as possible.
Accordingly, this is the time of greatest activity, for both man and beast.
Bucks are on the prowl and fighting off would-be competitors and hunters are taking to the field in the greatest numbers. Somewhere in the middle, the does are naturally and rightly nervous.
This is the hunting season when everybody wants to bag that big trophy buck, and it follows then that many hunters will let does go by without a second glance, completely focused on any sign or trace of that one big buck. This is understandable, but it is definitely a mistake.
Consider that everything a buck does during the rut is influenced by the does. He wants to be near them, if he isn’t near them he wants to find them.
If he finds another buck in the area he will fight with him in an attempt to run him off. The does, in essence, dictate where the bucks will be at any given time.
Make it a point to pay close attention to the behavior of those in the preseason and stick as near to them as you can while afield. You’ll be sure to find the bucks you seek if you do.
2. You Must Perfect Your Stalking Game if You Want Success with a Bow
Plenty of hunters are content to shoot from a stationary position, be it a blind or a stand, but for a select few, hunting isn’t hunting unless you are down on the ground actually in pursuit of your prey.
Stalking is the purest distillation of hunting for these folks, and certainly the most exciting.
Instead of sitting around staring at the same vista for hours and hours on end waiting for your Corey to blunder by, you are actually in pursuit of it or maneuvering to set up an ambush.
Stalking is hard work and while it is a lot of fun your chances of success are significantly lower.
They get lower still when you choose a bow over a gun. For bowhunters who live to stock, you must take your fieldcraft skills to the next level if you want to have any hope of success.
Because you will not have nearly as good a field of view is down on the ground as compared to in a stand or blind, you’ll need to get even closer than the already close ranges necessitated for a successful shot.
Your movement, camouflage, scent control and terrain reading must all be excellent if you want to succeed.
Blundering around making a racket only means that the deer will hear you coming from a country mile away, and you’ll be lucky if you even see them.
3. Get Your Pre-Season Prep Done Early ASAP!
For some hunters doing all of your pre-hunt prep work before the season is near as fun and fulfilling as the hunt itself.
Lots of folks love getting into the field scouting for animal activity, looking for trails, setting up cameras, locating their shooting positions, and more.
If you want to maximize your chances of success, there is an awful lot to do!
However, I rarely fail to see hunters who aren’t spending every possible minute in the field doing one of these critical activities right up until the very last moment before the season starts.
I can certainly admire their diligence, but this is a procedural and tactical error. Deer are intelligent, skittish and in tune with their environments.
Every little change you make, every step you take, and every foray out into their territory will stress them out a little.
Stress them out too much and they might get spooked, departing from the area entirely for calmer pastures, or rather woods.
You want the deer to be entirely comfortable in your neck of the woods, and that means you need to give them the greatest possible buffer to relax prior to the opening of the season.
Make it a point to be as fast and efficient as possible doing your prep work as early as is practical.
Once you have the information you need and placed the equipment and supplies required and then have formulated your strategy, stay out of the woods.
4. Pressure from Other Hunters is Your Secret Weapon
Dovetailing with the previous tip, you should make it a point to let the deer think that the land you’ll be hunting is as safe, secure, and sedate as possible.
Also, don’t do anything to discourage other hunters from causing a ruckus in their areas. Why? Simple. When deer are feeling pressured, they will move from an unknown or dodgy area into one that they know is safer or at least calm.
If that area happens to be your parcel, you’ll have plenty of traffic from deer seeking refuge and if you have played your cards right you’ll be able to pick up plenty of worthy game thanks to the ceaseless activity of other hunters.
This is a type of positive pressure that “pushes” or “squeezes” deer from busy areas into less busy ones, namely yours.
Ideally, your area will be quieter and quieter as the preseason winds down while other areas only grow busier and busier, culminating with a flurry of hunters taking to the field on opening day.
Once the deer are suitably conditioned, they will disappear from those places and reappear in yours, ripe for the taking.
5. Clean up Your Paths and Climb in the Preseason
Every deer hunter knows the value of silence and furthermore knows that deer are keenly alert to any unexpected or strange noises in their environment.
The snap of a single twig is all it takes to get a deer focusing in your direction, or even turning its tail to run.
It might sound like a small thing, but any effort you can put in ahead of time to reduce noise in your environment is well worth it so long as it is not so radical a change that it will further stress or worry the deer.
While you are doing all of your preseason chores, make it a point to clear the path you will take onto the parcel and to your stand or blind of branches, twigs, dry leaves and any other detritus that is likely to crunch underfoot or snag you and make noise as you pass.
Additionally, at the same time, you should ensure that any rungs, ladders, or other access points that will take you to your tree stand are completely secure and free of squeaks, moans, or groans.
It would be a major blunder to spend all of this time getting ready for a successful hunt and silencing your gear only for noisy, crunching twigs or squeaky rungs on a ladder to completely blow the effort you have invested up to that point.
6. Keep Your Stand Gear and Lifelines Tidy
Another tip about your tree stand. I know a few hunters who are remarkably diligent and disciplined about silencing their own gear, reducing their profile, and preventing any unwanted movements or noise on or about their person, but their tree stand looks like a soup sandwich.
Chief offenders in this category or a dangling and usually off-colored hoisting rope or lifeline.
Many hunters use a rope or cord to hoist their bow and other gear into the tree stand with them after they climb up safely unencumbered.
Those who are a little higher up or prefer an abundance of caution may also use a lifeline connected to a safety harness to prevent an accidental fall with dire consequences.
This is good practice and definitely worthwhile, whoever you are, but now is not the time to drop the ball when it comes to camouflage and proper procedure.
Your lifeline and any rope or cord you use for lifting should be a seasonal and environment-appropriate camouflage color and then dressed or stowed in such a way that it will not sway, flap, or otherwise stick out to a deer that might be spooked by it. It’s all about the little things people!
7. Don’t Neglect Regular Practice
Anything you want to be good at requires practice. Complicated, nuanced tasks that require subtle manipulation and fine coordination require an awful lot of practice.
Accurately shooting a bow, to say nothing of shooting it quickly and on-demand is one such task and that means you had better be practicing. Talk about missing the forest for the trees.
Some hunters, especially bowhunters, are notorious for doing every, single thing they can to increase their chances of successfully bringing down a deer except putting in the long hours of sometimes boring practice with their bows.
It is this practice that will produce the accuracy needed but also instill the confidence to prevent the onset of the dreaded buck fever.
You need to make an appointment to get out to the range as often as is practical, but preferably once a week at the very least.
Also make it a point to vary your range from the target and even put yourself on a timer so you learn how to start shooting and shooting well, under pressure.
None of your other efforts will amount to a hill of beans if you cannot hit the target!
8. Learn to Shoot Well from Odd Positions
This is another tip that dovetails with the previous one.
Gunhunters and users of firearms for tactical or defensive purposes are well acquainted with a blind spot in practice methodology that is sometimes referred to as square range mentality.
This means that when practicing, the shooter stands in one spot shooting straight ahead at a target at a known distance and that’s all.
While a person who does this all of the time will certainly become very accurate and highly proficient, they will only be proficient under a comparatively narrow set of circumstances, namely standing up in a certain way and shooting straight ahead at a target positioned in a certain way.
The same thing applies to bowhunters. If you are only shooting at a target from a standing position with the target broadside to you you are doing yourself a disservice.
We are practicing with your bow, shooting from odd positions and odd angles, and taking shots on a target that is not at an ideal angle.
You need to know what limitations you have if shooting from a fixed position beforehand, not when you are struggling to mount the bow and draw back the arrow.
Likewise shooting on a target at a suboptimal angle will better inform you of what shots you can humanely take for the best effect, and which ones you need to pass on.
9. Getting Closer for Shots Means You Are More Likely to Startle Deer
One of the single, biggest challenges facing bow hunters is attendant to the bow itself.
Compared to any firearm, even a handgun, you must get much closer to your target in order to guarantee adequate penetration and accuracy.
Obviously, the closer and closer you get to the deer the more likely it is that it will detect you using any of its excellent senses, particularly hearing and vision.
This means your margin for screwing up as a bowhunter is far narrower than a gun hunter.
Accordingly, you must use every advantage, every trick in the book in order to close this distance or otherwise bring the deer closer to you without detection.
Spare no expense and no detail when it comes to maximizing your camouflage, squashing every unnatural scent or odor on your body, clothing and gear, and leave nothing to chance when it comes to positioning yourself or your stand.
This also means that any window of opportunity you might have when a deer is making a decision after it is detected a possible threat will be narrower owing to how close you are to it.
When the time comes to shoot you’ll need to shoot well and quickly if you want to prevent escape should you be detected.
10. Consider Hunting in the Cold Months to Make Locating Deer Paths Easy
Cold weather hunting is not for everybody, and I have noticed a distinct trend when it comes to bow hunters avoiding hunting during the winter or the snowy season.
Maybe it is simply the abject misery of doing so but I believe that bowhunters face additional challenges in cold weather that see some hanging up their gear until the warmer months.
However, wintry weather can afford all hunters, but especially bowhunters, considerable advantages if you make use of it properly.
A big part of this is understanding the nature of deer and what challenges they face themselves when it is cold outside.
First, greatly reduced access to reliable sources of food means that a deer is far more likely to choose and stick close to food sources that are near their bedding location.
Additionally, any amount of snowfall on the ground makes hoof prints, and particularly repeated passage, easy to spot.
Once a deer falls into a regular feeding habit, it is an easy thing to set up an ambush somewhere along that path, allowing you to dictate the engagement range far more easily.
Hunting is a wonderful pastime and a way to reconnect with nature and the challenge inherent to hunting is what makes it so very appealing. How much greater, then, is the appeal of hunting with a bow.
Bowhunting is definitely far and again more challenging than hunting with a gun, and that means you’ll need to press every advantage and use every trick you can if you want to be successful.
Make sure you implement all of the tips I have shared with you throughout this article and you can be sure that you’ll stand a much better chance of getting that trophy deer.