By P.J. Reilly
Hunting with stick and string has enough challenges, so avoid these common mistakes.
In a perfect world, Superman always foils the crime, baseball is always played outdoors and bowhunters always get the drop on Old Swayback.
Spoiler alert! Superman is a cartoon. Teams like Seattle and Milwaukee play their home games inside domes, and bowhunters see the whitetail’s namesake appendage bouncing away on far too many occasions.
A bowhunt can go bust for any number of reasons. Heck, even after sitting for 10 hours straight in a steady northwest wind, a momentary southeast swirl can turn an archery deer hunter from hero to zero in a flash. It’s really aggravating.
Samson had Delilah. Superman had kryptonite. Bowhunters have the seven deadly sins.
Commit any one of these bowhunting sacrileges, and odds are you’ll suffer the hell of watching a buck carry its rack to safety. Avoid them, and you’ll have a chance to drag a heavy, long-tined set of antlers to the house.
HUNTING A WRONG WIND
We’ve all been there. You have the day free to bowhunt. There’s one particular stand you’ve been waiting weeks to try in a buck’s core area. But the wind has always been wrong. And it still is.
I’m going to hunt that stand, anyway, you reason. One hunt won’t hurt.
Resist the temptation. Stay away.
True, your target buck could strut to your stand from straight downwind and offer you a perfect shot. It’s also true you could win the lottery every time you buy a ticket. How’s that working for you?
Odds are if you hunt a wrong wind, you are going to tip off the deer to your presence. They won’t forget before the end of the season. Mature deer aren’t like 1 1⁄2- and 2 1⁄2-year-olds. They have zero tolerance for human intrusion.
One year, I had a 150-class 10-pointer’s early season evening pattern down cold. He came to the same soybean field on the same trail, with the same bachelor group of young bucks every night.
Opening day, the wind was wrong for me to hunt a stand I had placed overlooking the big buck’s evening trail. I hunted it anyway.
The five bucks that traveled with the big 10-pointer all filed under my stand as expected. The big boy stepped out of the bedding thicket 80 yards away, tilted his massive rack backward to sniff the air, turned around, tucked his tail and melted back into the brush. I didn’t see that buck again until after the season ended.
DUDE, YOU STINK!
It’s been reported that a deer’s sense of smell is 1,000 times stronger than a human’s. So just because you think you don’t stink, doesn’t mean a deer would agree.
Yes, maintaining a strict scent-control regimen is a pain as the season wears on. But your efforts to remain as scent-free as possible are worth it, especially when you consider it’s still possible for a deer to smell you no matter how careful you are.
Shower with a scent-free soap before every hunt. Keep your bowhunting clothes, boots and gear someplace at home where they won’t absorb household odors. And spray yourself and all your gear with a scent eliminator before you head into the woods.
You have to think about stink constantly during bow season. For example, don’t wear your bowhunting clothes and boots in the truck when you travel to your hunting spot. Certainly do not walk across a gas station lot or into a store wearing your hunting boots. Keep your clothes and boots in a scent-free container and dress when you arrive at your spot.
Wear gloves when you head into the woods. Your hands stink, and anything you touch will smell like you. That stink will alert deer for hours after you lay it down.
MOVING AT THE WRONG TIME
Learning when and how to move in close proximity to a whitetail are acquired skills. Here’s a simple rule of thumb. If you can see any part of even one of a deer’s eyeballs, it can see you. That doesn’t mean it will see you. But it can.
The way a deer’s eyes are designed, there’s only a small window straight behind its head where it cannot see. So, unless you are in that window or there’s something blocking a deer’s eyes, it’s possible for it to spot you — whether you’re moving or not.
When compared to a predator like a coyote or hawk, a deer doesn’t see that well. It can’t see colors the way we do. That’s why camouflage is so effective for whitetail hunting. If you blend in with your surroundings and don’t move, you should be OK. We’ve all had experiences when we sat frozen in the woods and had deer walk within feet of us.
Movement gets a bowhunter busted. And if you’re using a compound or recurve bow, you will need to move at some point to draw. Be patient. Wait for the deer’s head to go behind a tree, or until it looks dead away.
We’ve covered problems associated with beating a deer’s senses of smell and sight. Even if you beat those razor-sharp, danger-detection devices, you can still get busted by the two furry radar dishes on a deer’s head.
Some studies have suggested deer don’t hear much better than we do, even though their ears are much larger than ours. So the difference in hearing is not as skewed in favor of the deer as their sense of smell. However, don’t let this lull you into a false sense of security.
Deer are experts at differentiating between sounds that belong in their environment and those that don’t. Any foreign noise — the creaking of a treestand, the tearing of Velcro, etc. — is sure to get a deer’s attention. Maybe it will freeze and try to pinpoint the source and location of the sound. Or maybe it will bolt. Either way, you’re in trouble.
Try to figure out what gear you’re going to take to the woods that’s likely to produce any sound that could alarm a deer, then work to silence it. Maybe that means tightening treestand bolts or covering your bow’s riser with fleece strips. Do your best to be silent, and you won’t have to worry about being heard.
You wouldn’t purposely spook a deer as it’s approaching your stand. So why on earth would you repeatedly walk to your stand through an area where you regularly jump deer?
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That’s a fact. But that doesn’t mean the best way to get from your truck to your stand is to walk in a straight line, especially if taking that route means you’re likely to spook deer. You could be killing your hunt before it begins.
Spooking deer is never a good thing. The buck you kicked out of the brush pile 100 yards from your stand might have walked under your stand later. If it’s a mature deer, it might not feel comfortable in that area for weeks.
Bowhunters are meticulous about choosing the right spot for a treestand or ground blind, but they don’t always give as much thought to the route they take to reach it.
Take the time to figure out how to get to a spot without bumping deer. The best access route might require walking farther, or it could mean arriving several hours before the deer show up.
It’s imperative for calling in a white-tailed buck. Even if you’re calling aggressively by rattling horns, snort-wheezing or growling, subtlety is still key. How’s that?
The goal of calling whitetails is to first get their attention. Then, you have to pique their curiosity enough that they can’t resist looking for the intruding buck or the hot doe.
The key is to keep the buck from knowing exactly where you are. You only want him to have a general idea when he walks into bow range looking for the other buck or doe.
Here are a few ways to avoid overcalling: Never call a deer that is coming your way. What’s the point? He’s already coming, so keep quiet and let him come. Never call a deer that is looking your way. Make any sound when an alert buck has his eyes and ears focused your way and he will peg you immediately.
If you’re calling blind — calling in hope of luring in an unseen deer — make just a few calls and sit quietly for at least 20 minutes. Spend that time looking rather than calling.
It’s one of the oldest stories in the bowhunter’s book of excuses: “I shot him for 25 yards, but he was actually 32.” Countless arrows sail high or low every season because archers misjudge the distance.
Bowhunting whitetails is a close-range game. Sixty yards is about tops for any archer, although most won’t shoot past 40.
Even though you’re up close and personal with the deer, range estimation has to be precise. With recurves, longbows and slower compounds, if your judgment is off by 6 feet, you could miss.
A simple way to avoid misjudging distance is to always use a laser rangefinder. Put the dot on the deer, press the button and you get an instant measurement.
If you can’t range a deer for fear of spooking it with extra movement, range various landmarks around you before a deer shows up. If the stump in front of you is 24 yards out, you know how far away a deer is that’s standing next to it.
If you’re in an elevated stand, remember shots at steep angles will hit higher. Shooting my Mathews Creed at 301 fps while 18 feet up in a tree, my shots are off by about 5 yards. On a 25-yard shot, for example, I have to aim as if the deer is 20 yards. Many of today’s rangefinders will automatically compensate for these angles.
Don’t be a sinner this season. Avoid bowhunting’s seven deadlies, and a heaven of filled tags, big racks and succulent venison awaits.
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This article was published in the August 2013 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.