Ready or Not, Here I Come
As a bowhunter, I spend most of my spring and summer dreaming about the return of fall. It may appear on the outside that I'm in a thoughtless daze, but inside my mind is filled with a longing for the solitude and joy that can only be found 20 feet up a tree. Then one day, it inevitably happens. I walk by the calendar and realize that deer season is quickly approaching. The adrenaline starts pumping, but I take a deep breath and try to take the steps to ensure a safe and successful season.
Like many bowhunters, I fail to practice as much during the summer as I should, but it's not too late to get your equipment and your form in top shape. Shooting your first arrow of the year at a live target is a recipe for disappointment. Visually inspect the cable, bowstring, peep sight and any other part of the bow that could fail during the season. Also, carefully examine all parts of your arrows. A guide for checking and repairing arrows can be found in the article Arrow Repair 101 available here at on BigGameHunt.net. For safety and consistency, replace any worn parts as soon as possible to ensure that you are practicing with the same setup that you will be shooting with in the treestand. To ensure that your sights are still accurate, begin practicing at known yardages and adjust your sights accordingly. Once you have your equipment in good shape and sights adjusted, it is time to practice reality. Try shooting from various unknown yardages at all possible angles to fine tune your ability to make the shot wherever the deer appears.
If you are hunting a new property or don't have the deer patterned from last year, there is still time to figure them out. Determining the who, what, when, where and why of deer became a lot easier with the invention of trail cameras. Woodsmanship skills are still important in determining the best locations to place the cameras, but the digital images help to pinpoint exact times and specific deer. You get what you pay for with trail cameras and spending a few dollars more for a quality product will save you the hassles of missed, partial or fuzzy photos. For a dependable entry level trail camera from one of the leaders in the market, the Cuddeback Capture is an excellent choice. A description of the product is available in the gear review section of BigGameHunt.net.
Once you know where you want to intercept the big boy, treestands should be put in place as soon as possible to allow the deer a chance to get used to them. For safety and ease of installation, it is always best for at least two people to be involved in the process of putting up stands. This allows the person in the tree to stay in the tree and can save a lot of time and energy.
I also like to put up all the stands that I think I will need before season rather than move them during season. Deer don't follow the same pattern all year long. Setting up on a food source that is getting hammered won't do you much good if that food source is gone or not being used come opening day. If you are hunting on someone else's property, find out the potential harvest dates for the various crops that they have planted and place stands accordingly. Having a different stand that is ideal for each wind direction will give you an opportunity to hunt every day without spooking deer no matter what Mother Nature is doing.
One of the most important things a bowhunter can do to increase their odds of getting a shot is to clear shooting lanes. When using two people to setup stands, the one in the tree can direct the person on the ground to the exact limbs to trim or remove. I like my shooting lanes to be as wide as a deer is long. This gives me a good chance of stopping the deer with its boiler room somewhere in the opening. Don't forget to look behind the stand as well and clear a few lanes. Deer are unpredictable and convincing yourself that they won't travel behind you will only ensure that they will do exactly that.
Misjudgment of yardage is probably the most common reason for missed shots by bowhunters. Visually calculating a distance is a skill that can only come with practice and many don't put in the practice to become proficient and accurate at it. Even those that do can sometimes lose their wits when ol' split toe steps out. A rangefinder can help but often there is not time to use it. A roll of flagging ribbon can save you a lot of guesswork. Use your rangefinder or a tape measure to locate a position 20 yards from the base of your treestand in one of the shooting lanes. Mark it by attaching a piece of flagging ribbon to a nearby limb or bush. Then move out to 30 yards, 40 yards and 50 yards and do the same thing. Repeat the procedure in each of the shooting lanes. If your sights are not set for these yardages, you can mark the distances that better match your sights or shooting limitations. A couple of tricks can be used to ensure that you know which flagging corresponds to which yardage. Use an identifying number of flags on each limb to match the yardage. At 20 yards use two flags, at 30 use three, etc. Another option is the use flagging colors that match your sight colors. If your 20 and 30 yard pins are red and yellow, use the corresponding flag colors on the appropriate limbs.
All the stand placement, lane clearing and yardage marking won't prepare you for the moment of truth unless you actually practice out of your stand. Place the target in each shooting lane at various distances and practice standing, sitting, leaning, twisting and any other position that you might have to get into to make the shot. Waiting to find out a limb in is your flight path, a yardage was measured incorrectly or you can't draw your bow due to an obstruction when Bullwinkle is standing broadside is not the best option.
The clock is ticking, but there is still time to get ready. Spending a little time before season getting ready will increase your time in the stand during season and quite possibly your success. One thing is for sure, deer season is coming whether you are ready or not.
Larry R. Beckett Jr. is a full time freelance writer, photographer and videographer. His greatest joy is spending time fishing, hunting and hiking with his wife and son. Larry discovered his enthusiasm for the outdoors at a young age and devotes much of his time trying to instill that same enthusiasm in future generations.