A beautiful morning in the woods, but where were the deer?

October 17, 2011

Faith Outdoors

I couldn’t resist the urge to get out in the woods yesterday morning and sit in my stand for a few hours of bow hunting. I was hoping  the deer would be moving during the cooler weather we’ve been having the last few days.

But, what greeted me in the opening minutes of legal shooting hours were not the footsteps of whitetails heading to their bedding areas, but shotgun blasts. Apparently, there were some busy waterfowl hunters nearby. The area I hunt near Lino Lakes in the northern suburbs features a lot of wetlands, and it was obvious that ducks were flying in the area.

So much for peace and quiet. It sounded more like the firearms deer opener. Yet, being in an archery-only area, I figured maybe the deer wouldn’t get spooked so much by the noise that they would sit tight.

Nothing moving

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Whether for that reason or some other, no deer were moving. With most of the leaves down on the ground, I could see much farther than I could on opening weekend, so I figured I might see deer a ways off.

No dice. I suspect that there were at least two factors that led to the lack of deer activity in the woods. The first is what my experienced bow hunting friend calls the October lull. It seems that in mid-October, the deer will slow down their movements for about two weeks or so right before the rut kicks in. He thinks it has to do with the deer wanting to rest up a bit before the breeding starts and they move much more than normal. In fact, the rut features the highest amount of deer movement of the entire year. That’s a big reason why hunters like getting out in the woods in November.

Reason No. 2 is the wind. It has been very windy the last few days and, although the wind died down a little bit, it still was strong yesterday morning. That will often shut down deer movement, except during the rut, which is about two weeks away.

Time for some scouting

At 9:15 a.m., I climbed down from my stand and headed over to a second stand that I had put up last week. It’s much farther back into the woods and I needed to finish putting up some trail tacks on trees so I can find the stand in the dark. I began that task last week, but ran out of tacks. So, yesterday, I was able to finish the job.

I also did a little walking around the area to see where deer might move and where I might see them. Turns out, I am in a nice bottleneck area that features a point of tall grass coming in from the west and a big swamp coming in from the east. And, to my left is a creek bottom with a thicket of woods behind it. There is a crossing to my left that’s about 15-20 yards from my stand and one to my right that’s about 25 yards. Both crossings lead right into the thicket. I know deer will use them to come in and out of the thick cover, so I think there’s a good chance of some movement on these trails when the rut kicks in.

Preparation is key

When it comes to bow hunting, advance planning and preparation is crucial to success. Of course, it starts with practicing with your bow and developing shooting proficiency. I think hunters should be good to at least 20 yards, if not 30. I have been practicing at 20 yards for several months, so I feel confident I can make shots up to that distance. I tried a couple at 30 yesterday. One was wide right, but the second shot hit the center of the bullseye. I adjusted my sight a little because I had been shooting right of the bullseye consistently. After moving my sight, I was back on the bullseye. Experts say not to correct for mistakes in your shooting form, but I had been shooting to the right for two whole sessions, so it was time for a change. If I start shooting left, I will simply move the sight back.

Another part of preparation is having the right setup in your stand to accommodate all the directions where you might have to shoot. One change I made to accomplish this is getting a new safety system. I was using a safety harness that attaches to my upper body and both legs. But, I found it to be cumbersome and restrictive when I would try to rotate a lot to the left or right.

Silent Slide is the answer

Then, I found out about a product called the Silent Slide. It’s a marvelous device invented and patented by a couple in Wisconsin that is very simple in its design and well made. I was nervous about trying it at first because it’s a belt and not a full body harness. But, once I understood how it works, I felt it was worth a try.

I bought one and used it for the first time yesterday morning. All you do is put the belt around your waist before you go into the woods, and roll up the belt that attaches to the tree. Then, once in your stand, simply put the belt around the tree at waist level of a standing position. The tether on your waist belt allows you to move however you need to with no restrictions or binding. And, it has quick release buckles that allow you to get out of it when you need to. Because there is only 12 inches of strap from your waist belt to the tree belt, you’ll merely fall against the tree if you have an accident. When this happens, you simply turn your body to the tree and either climb back into the stand, or release the belt and shimmy down the tree.

I have full confidence in this product and I think it’s a brilliant piece of engineering. It’s easy to set up in the dark, and that’s something hunters should always think about when trying to get a stand ready for hunting. During the rut, mornings can be very good times to hunt, and experienced bow hunters often preach about the benefits of getting into your stand before legal shooting hours. Now, I’m ready to do just that.

Bring on the rut!

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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.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek