3 years ago I took up archery hunting with my good friends Chris Sinsel and his brother Steve. To be honest it took a little convincing to get me engaged as sitting still in a tree for long periods of time held little interest. After Chris almost guaranteeing that I would see deer I threw in the towel and went along for the adventure. He was not kidding as my first outing turned out to be one of the best I have experienced and although we did not kill anything that first weekend, the adrenaline filled moments of the close encounters with deer had me instantly hooked on the sport. We started off bow hunting with little to no knowledge of the sport. 3 years later on 11/18/12 7:28 am is the time I harvested my first archery deer. It was a very emotional moment for me as it had been a long journey with many unsuccessful outings before achieving success. The night before I shot my first deer my good friend Chris also arrowed his first deer. We were both very excited with our weekend results. The past several years we, like many others before us, found there are many painful lessons to be learned as a novice bow hunter.
1. Scouting – The area we hunt is 3 hours from the house so this extremely limits our ability to scout. Initially deer stands were erected based on the locations deer were seen during turkey season. We had several close encounters early on but nothing killed. The next year based on the number of deer seen the prior year we elected to leave the stands in the same location. After several long sits and seeing very little we learned this was a mistake. This year we knew we needed to make a change and relocate stands but we were not sure where. We looked for signs of deer activity and then looked to see if there was a place to mount a stand. If there was a suitable tree we would prep the tree for a stand and put out a camera to determine the number of deer in the area. If we found deer were active in the area we placed a stand but otherwise we would begin monitoring a different area. Since we could only check our cameras every couple of weeks we were having trouble zeroing in on good locations for our stands. By now we are in the heart of bow season and it is hard to hunt and scout in a weekend. We finally decided we would pass on a full days hunt and spend the day seeking out signs of high deer activity. We walked for miles on land we had not really scouted and boy did we find what we were looking for. . ..we began seeing deer tracks everywhere. We deployed 2 plot watcher cameras and headed home. By now it is so late in the archery season that this intel most likely will not benefit us this year but hopefully it will in years to come. After the long 2 week wait we finally found what we were hoping to see. Several nice deer were walking by on most days. Below are a few of the deer caught on camera just days before we arrived. This is the location where I killed my deer and it would not have been possible without time spent scouting. Placing stands based on seeing deer signs alone has not paid off for us. Hunting is the time you spend before you sit in the stand, sitting in the stand is where you hope your hunting was successful.
2. Practice – I admit I do not shoot much in the off season but I go in the back yard or archery range and practice several times a week leading up to the season. I practice shooting from standing, sitting positions and under low light conditions.
3. Be Ready – Watching hunting shows it appears like they spot deer coming from far off and have all day to reach over and grab the bow from the holder, maybe take a drink of water, grab the range finder, look back at the camera and have a long discussion then eventually shoot the unsuspecting deer. I must admit my ears are not the best but I still fail to understand how an animal so large can move so quietly. On several occasions the deer seem to appear in front of you with little or no warning and at that point if you do not have your bow at the ready all you can do is watch them walk by. I have missed several opportunities not having my bow at the ready. As time goes on I may learn more of what you can get away with by reaching for the bow but why take the chance of sitting hours in the stand only to have the moment come and go and not be ready.
4. Remain calm – I have experienced the full fury of buck fever. It was one of my first archery hunts and my buddy Chris was hunting with me maybe 60 feet away in a climber stand. I was in a ladder stand overlooking a corn field and directly behind me is a creek bed. From this creek bed there was a trail that ran under my stand and out to the edge of the corn field. When sitting in a deer stand you have hours to contemplate the what ifs and I played out the scenario of the deer walking under my stand no less than 100 times not believing it would actually happen. Chris alerts me there is a deer in the creek bed and it is headed my way. This immediately initiates the heart pounding as I look over my shoulder and see a buck making his way through the creek bed directly behind me. The deer makes his way to the steep inclined bank and I realize my scenario is getting ready to come true and this deer is going to walk directly underneath me. With a small tree separating us I reposition myself on the stand and get ready to draw. By now he is maybe 10 yards in front of me standing broadside at the edge of the field looking away from me. I attempt to draw the bow quietly but I am shaking so bad that mid-draw I shake the arrow out of the bow and it falls hitting the ladder stand obviously alerting the deer which jumped out into the field before eventually fleeing the area. Shaking violently from adrenaline I turn around to look back at Chris and though I am unable to see his covered face I can easily tell by his body movement he found the previous event very funny. I believe it was that night I purchased a Whisker Biscuit arrow rest! Fellow bow hunters have given me good advice on how best to deal with buck fever and it starts while you practice shooting. While target practicing, visualize your seeing and shooting the deer. Don’t focus so much on the deer but when it comes time to shoot focus on your anchor point and insuring your site is lined up properly. Keep your mind focused on anything but OMG this deer is huge.
5. Weather – This has been a warm fall. When daytime temperatures heat up in late fall the daylight deer activity dies off. Through the use of plot watcher cameras we could clearly see the changes in the amount of daytime activity based on temperature and\or wind. On the camera where we caught the deer pictures displayed above, previous days when it was windy we could look through an entire day and not see a single deer but on a following day with light or no wind the deer were plentiful. This is not to say you won’t see deer in the wind as the wind was blowing over 20 mph when I shot my deer. Based on what we saw on camera, lower daytime temperatures and light winds increase the odds of seeing deer. This was our observation based on the last few weeks of this season and is by no means a scientific study. Next year we plan to continue our monitoring and study how the weather effects daytime activity in our area.
6. Scents, calls and decoys – This was the first year I attempted using a deer scent. Based on other hunters recommendation I tried using a scent drag with Tinks 69 Doe Estrous along with also using the orange bottles with the wick and deer scent but did not see a thing. I tried using this in 3 different locations with the same result but I think the days when I tried it were too warm to generate activity. I have not had success with calling, rattling or using a decoy but I know many others have. I have heard from several bow hunters how they rattle a few times and deer come crashing in but I have yet to see it for myself. I will continue to try and hopefully I will achieve the desired result.
Shooting my first deer with a bow was very rewarding and I don’t think I will ever forget it. We realize we know very little about deer behavior and still consider ourselves novice bow hunters. Speaking with other long time archery hunters once you reach a point where you feel you have a good grasp of the sport mother nature has a way of bringing humility back to your life. I not only cherish the hunts but also really enjoy the time spent with friends on our hunting trips. I am very excited about the sport and I am already looking forward to discussing and implementing strategies for next season.