Advice from this traditional bowhunter can help you be in the right spot.
I heard the sound of footfalls on the leaves to the right. I could tell by the cadence it was definitely a deer and not a squirrel, hog or armadillo, and I didn’t dare move my head for fear it would spot me.
I listened as it moved closer, my eyes aching from the strain of holding them to the right for so long. Finally, a doe’s head appeared at the outer edge of my peripheral vision.
My eyes followed her as she moved slowly through the Florida palmetto thicket where I was hiding. Although we were eye to eye and she was barely five steps away, she had no idea I was there.
When her head went down to browse, I drew my bow. The whisper of my arrow across the rest caused her head to pop up, ears at attention. It was too late. My arrow flashed across the scant feet that separated us, and my public-land doe traveled only a short distance before dropping.
I was in my late teens then, and the sense of pride I felt from harvesting that old mature doe from the ground, just feet away, far outweighed the fact she wasn’t sporting antlers.
I grew up hunting in the thick swamps of the Southeast, and I am convinced if you can shoot a whitetail on the ground on pressured public land there, you can shoot anything, anywhere.
It wasn’t by chance that I got such a close shot. I had a great teacher. From the time I was little, my father had drummed into me that you had to be stealthy, have the right equipment, know your quarry and blend into your surroundings. He had been a Green Beret, and he used the skills the military taught him and applied them to hunting.
I moved to Colorado when I was 21 and discovered those same rules applied as I gained experience hunting whitetails out West. Thanks to my father’s instruction, I have harvested whitetails with a bow in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Indiana, Michigan, New York, South Dakota and Wisconsin. I mention this to show I have a little experience hunting whitetails with a bow, not to brag.
I still learn something every season, and I can tell you that by paying attention to details, you can increase your odds of getting bow-close to whitetails whether you are inside a ground blind, still-hunting, stalking or perched in a tree.
My father refused to hunt out of a treestand and often said he felt a treestand gave a hunter an unfair advantage. I would argue that in pressured areas, a hunter on the ground might have the advantage because it seems a lot of deer today have learned to watch the trees for anything that might look like a bowhunter.
Getting bow-close, no matter how you choose to hunt whitetails, is the biggest challenge we face. Here are some things that have helped me and my clients get close enough to whitetails to take gimme shots.
WIND & SCENT
Although having the wind in your favor sounds obvious, there’s more to it than it seems.
Even if the wind is at your back, currents can carry your scent up and over the trees. Terrain, water, obstacles, up or down drafts, temperature and many other factors all play a role. Because those factors are constantly changing, so are your danger zones for scent. Sit around a campfire for an hour and see how many times you have to move to keep smoke out of your eyes. To a deer, that smoke is just like your human scent.
So what can you do?
I set up with the predominant wind in my face and hope for the best. I also like to use a product like Smoke in a Bottle to see what the wind is doing 10, 20 or even 30 yards downwind. I check the wind every 15 or 30 minutes to see if anything has changed. Doing so can tell me how far down a trail I can let a deer come before it’s going to catch my scent.
I don’t believe any product on the market can eliminate human scent. Does that mean I don’t believe in scent-absorbing clothing? I think if you’re super careful with keeping your clothes clean and you use one of the scent-absorbing clothing suits, including the head cover, you can sometimes fool a deer into not going on full alert. Because they’re getting a smaller percentage of your scent, they’re fooled into thinking you are not in the immediate vicinity.
Even with such suits, you need to make the extra effort to be as scent-free as possible.
People a lot smarter than me still argue over what colors deer can see. I have no idea, but I know that without head-to-toe camouflage, including gloves, a headnet or facepaint, the odds a deer will spot you are greatly increased.
When you’re bow-close to a cagey, hard-hunted buck that has played the game before, anything out of place visually will cost you a shot. I even use a fletching cover most of the time to hide the feathers in my quiver.
When still-hunting, stick to cover where you can blend in, and try to stay in the shadows. When you stop to glass or listen, do so near a tree, brush or branches to break up your outline. Camouflage works by making your human outline indistinguishable from objects around you. The more you help it do its job, the more effective it will be.
That applies to treestand hunting, too. The treestand you set up in September can stick out like a sore thumb once the leaves drop. I like to tie brush around my treestands for additional cover.
When hunting from the ground, I often use a brushed-in pop-up blind. If I’m sitting on a stool with my back to a tree, I arrange limbs to break up my outline.
The material your camouflage is made from is important, too. Avoid loud fabrics that make noise when you move. In bad weather, I cover my rain gear with a layer of quiet clothing. This helps mask the loud pitter patter that occurs when water drops hit most rain gear.
If your bow squeaks, pops or makes any noise, find out why. Then fix it or get rid of it. I have used moleskin, oil, grease and even tape to quiet my equipment. It’s no use doing all the work to get close to a buck only to have your trophy spooked when you try to draw. I have even put my bow in a freezer in the off season to make sure it wouldn’t make any noise when I draw it in cold conditions.
Being stealthy is a state of mind. Try to be quiet the moment you step out of your truck. I have hunted with guys who make a racket getting to their hunting spot. They later wonder why they didn’t see anything even though they sat quietly after reaching the stand.
Leave a little earlier and sneak in to your location as quietly as possible. I park farther away than most folks, too.
Whitetails are super sensitive to noise, so slow down and move quietly to and from your stand. Odds are you will see more game.
Next time you plan to get bow-close to a whitetail, make sure your equipment and camouflage are as ready as you are. Then think like a predator and slip in as quietly as a cat. Read Recent Articles:
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• How to Choose a Bow Sight: What you need to know to make the right choice for your bowhunting style. This article was published in the August 2011 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.