Bow hunting lessons learned

December 3, 2014

Faith Outdoors

With the archery hunting season nearing the end, I thought now would be a good time to offer some of the important lessons I learned this season. Unfortunately, they come as a result of failures. I always say that bow hunting is a very tough sport that punishes even the smallest mistakes. Hopefully, these lessons will help you avoid the same mistakes I made.

1. Take your time when shooting. My friend Steve Huettl reminded me of this important lesson several times this fall, usually right after I rushed a shot and either missed a deer or hit it in the wrong spot. On the other hand, on two instances, I took the time to settle the pin on the right spot and execute a smooth release, which resulted in two does harvested. I have had a tendency to shoot quickly ever since I started bow hunting, so it’s a hard habit to break. But, it’s important that I do. The two times I was able to do it this fall will help me next year.

2. Dress to stay warm in the stand. Despite a colder-than-normal November, I managed to stay warm in my stands this year. I have developed a system that seems to work very well. Important components are: 1. layering, starting with a base layer of Under Armour cold weather underwear; 2. a muff to keep my hands warm, which is a critical part of bow hunting; 3. hand warmer packets to put inside the muff — they really work; 4. a thin balaclava for my head and neck, and a really warm hat for colder days (I use one called a Mad Bomber, which uses real rabbit fur); 5. warm boots (I use Muck Arctic Pro boots, which are insulated rubber boots); and 6. insulated bibs underneath a heavy, insulated parka. I think I had the ultimate test this year, and held up well. So, I have no worries about keeping warm in November.

3. Be careful when attempting to call. Twice, I decided to use calling to try and lure in a buck. Both times, I did not have a deer in sight when I tried it, and both times, it worked — kind of. I had bucks come to within bow range, but did not take a shot either time. What happened on both occasions is that a small buck came walking in straight at me very cautiously and with its head up. That made it impossible to draw. What was happening, I believe, is that both bucks were looking for the source of the calling and were trying to see the deer that made the sound. In one case, I used a grunt call. In another, I used a doe bleat call. I think the most effective way to use calls is to have a deer decoy set up, so that when a buck comes in, there will be a decoy to draw him in. Plus, if you position the decoy in a certain way, it helps you be able to get the buck in the right position for a shot. That’s something I may try next year.

4. Nothing beats funnels. Steve has continually stressed the importance of this, and one of my does came as a result of setting up on a nice pinch point. Not only was I set up on a narrow strip of woods between two areas of tall, marshy grass, but there was a large fallen tree that funneled deer right past my stand. A doe walked past my stand at about 10 yards, then turned straight away from me just as I was getting ready to draw. Fortunately, that move caused her to be facing the downed tree. Therefore, I knew it was just a matter of time before she had to turn to the right to walk around the tree. That’s exactly what she did, offering a quartering away shot. I put the arrow right where it needed to go, and she went only about 80 to 100 yards before falling.

5. Do scouting when the leaves are down. I believe this is the key to knowing how the woods look in November during the rut. It tells you two things: 1. What kind of shooting lanes you really have; and 2. What are the remaining thicker areas where deer feel secure. In September, it’s thick everywhere because of the foliage, so deer can bed down and hang out just about anywhere and feel safe. Once the leaves are down, the woods are far more open and, sometimes, thicker areas are at a premium. If you can find them, it’s good to hunt them. I like to find trails leading from the thicker areas. The best scenario is that, because of a funnel, there is only one trail the deer are using. That is literally a gold mine. Does like to bed in thicker areas, and bucks like to hang out in them to wait for does or look for them. A friend hunted near an area like this and heard deer moving around in it for the first hour or two of a morning hunt. Then, a doe came busting out of the thicket with a nice 10-point buck trailing her. He shot the buck at almost point-blank range after the doe whisked by his stand.

6. Never be satisfied. Although I had success in the woods this year, I know I can do better next year. It’s that mindset that had me out in the woods scouting over the weekend, and resulted in finding a new spot for next year. I went to an area of the property I hadn’t spent much time in, and found a new spot that looks absolutely dynamite. It features a funnel that comes off of a corn field. The trail the deer were using was absolutely beaten down with tracks. In fact, it was the most deer sign I have ever seen on this property. In addition to tracks, there was fresh deer droppings all over, indicating the deer are spending lots of time here. I plan on being there next fall to greet them.

7. Get out in the woods in the spring. I plan on going back to this new spot in late March or early April, and getting a stand ready. I may even go sooner, especially if it warms up later this month like the weather experts are predicting. Then, I can not only put the stand up, but cut shooting lanes and put trail tacks up so I can find my way to the stand in the dark. Then, the stand will sit there for months, allowing the deer to get used to it. Hopefully, they’ll be relaxed when they walk past it next fall while I’m sitting in it.

I’ve heard some people call bow hunting a year-round endeavor. I always thought that was strange and a bit excessive, but I think I’m slowly becoming part of that crowd (my wife uses the term “obsession” more and more these days). I’m realizing that this kind of effort is what it takes to be consistently successful. I have come to one simple conclusion — bow hunting is VERY hard. For me, it’s huge to get any deer with a bow. My goal now is to be consistently successful. The good news is, I have done a lot of work already, so I’m merely doing a few more things, like setting up a new stand. I have gotten pretty good at stand setup, so this doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it’s fun, despite the hard work involved.

I’m hoping it will pay dividends next fall. I still don’t consider myself a trophy hunter, but I’m starting to like the idea of trying for at least a nice buck. I shot a buck last fall with a very small 8-point rack, and I would sure like to get something bigger next fall. I think that’s a realistic goal. Who knows? Maybe something really nice will come walking by.

I’ll be waiting.

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About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

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