5 Summer Key’s to Fall Success

By Kevin Sturm

Over the years my wife may have mentioned to me a time or two that hunting season seems to never end, and after some reflection I would have to say she is exactly right. I have learned over the years, there is a huge difference in my hunting success when I work through the summer in preparation for the fall hunting season, rather than going out and blindly hunting on opening day. I can tell you I honestly do not have all the answers, nor will I ever, regardless of how many hours I spend hunting. But what I can do is give you some information that has worked for me over the past serval years. In this article, I am going to share 5 key things I do throughout the summer that have greatly improved my odds in the fall.

1. Trail Camera’s
In my opinion this is the most important step of my summer preparation. It is extremely helpful to know what deer are on the property and how they are using the property. Running trail camera’s is extremely helpful to identify the key travel corridors through the property. Using trail cameras can be extremely rewarding and extremely frustrating all at the same time.

I have a friend that aggressively runs trail cameras. Every June he starts strategically placing his trail cameras and he runs trail cameras all the way up to hunting season. He has told me with great frustration many times that every year he has a bunch of great pictures of bucks and does through June and July and then his pictures drop off as the year progresses and once hunting season starts the majority of his deer traffic is either nocturnal or nonexistent. He asked me why I thought his deer traffic drops off and why they have gone nocturnal? In my opinion it came down to one thing. He was checking his trail camera’s every week to two weeks regardless of wind direction and camera placement. He was not using scent control methods and he was putting too much pressure and human scent in the core areas of his farm pushing the deer off his property.

As a rule of thumb, I use the method of “set it and forget it”. I leave my trail cameras alone a minimum of two weeks and more typically a month and sometimes even longer! I always check the wind direction and make sure my scent is blowing away from the core areas of the farm when checking trail cameras. I change memory cards and leave immediately checking the cards at a later time. I also stay out of the core bedding areas, I set my trail cameras on the travel corridors going to and from the bedding area’s and sanctuaries.

A little discipline and commitment goes a long way, when it comes to using trail cameras. It’s extremely rewarding not only getting pictures of great deer, but it’s also rewarding building a story and creating history with a specific deer and hopefully at some point reap the benefits and harvest the deer.

2. Food plots & mineral sights
I am a firm believer in food plots and mineral sights. Giving the deer the needed minerals and nutrition, along with suppling different food types then what is readily available can be a game changer. Feeding mineral through the summer gives the bucks the needed minerals to support body and antler growth. With additional food on a property it also assists in raising the population of deer on the property.

Throughout the year, deer key in on certain types of food. If you have the right food source in front of a tree stand during hunting season your chances of success can increase dramatically!!! Food plots and mineral sights greatly assist with the running of trail cameras, allowing you to put the deer directly in front of your trail cameras. Using mineral sites and food plots are a great way to get an inventory of deer living and frequenting your property.

With that being said, keep in mind the state regulations when it comes to creating mineral sights and using deer attractants. Do not place mineral or deer attractant near your tree stands or near any area you may want to put a tree stand in the future. If for some reason, you decide to hunt an area where there is an active mineral sight, you have to remove the mineral from the area by digging up the mineral contaminated soil and fill the remaining hole with clean untainted soil.

3. Check treestands
One thing that is often overlooked and rarely or never checked is the physical status of treestands. When is the last time you went through and checked the safety straps, nuts and bolts of your treestands? It is something that is often taken for granted and can be a career ending decision. 1 out of 4 hunters fall out of a tree stand every year getting into or out of their tree stands. Caused by wet surfaces, muddy boots, broken ratchet straps, broken ratchets or snapped rusted bolts. This highlights the reason for using safety harnesses and fall guy ropes.

Whenever I replace nut’s and bolts on my tree stands I always use grade 8 bolts, plastic washers and locking nuts. I use plastic washers in between moving parts to eliminate any squeaking or noise that may be made while moving the seat or by me simply shifting my weight in the tree stand. I never use grease or lubricants on moving parts due to the risk of scent. When replacing ratchets and straps on my treestands I always check the weight capacity to ensure it will hold my weight plus some, better safe than sorry. Before hanging my treestands I always spray them down with sent away spray to eliminate any human scent.

4. Setting treestands & clearing shooting lanes
Setting treestands and cutting shooting lanes in the middle of summer are key practices. Placing your stands in early to mid-summer allows the deer time to adjust to any changes in their surroundings before hunting season starts. I have gone in and set what I call kill sets in the middle of deer season, I cut my shooting lanes and had everything set up and ready for the big moment. Unfortunately, when the mature old doe came walking in she realized something was different, even though the wind was right and she could not smell me, she was not having any of it, she blew, the white flags went up and the hunt was over! Any time you make a change to the deer surroundings it is a good rule of thumb to give it time!

Many hunters make the biggest mistakes of their hunting season, when the season isn’t even open. During summer, it’s normally hot, making scent control challenging, compound that with wrong wind direction, added human intrusion through the core areas of their farm and you may end up with results you are not looking for! Mature deer do not tolerate a lot of human intrusion, especially in their core areas this added pressure may cause deer to leave your farm never to return.

When hanging treestands I like to be strategic. I am constantly thinking about how am I going to get in and out of the stand with the least amount of intrusion on the property no matter what time of year it is. I try to understand how the deer move through the property, this helps me determine where and what direction I should place my treestands. Once the stand is hung I trim the needed shooting lanes, hang my fall guy ropes, place my bag holders, bow holders and have everything set up and ready to hunt. This is also a great time to cut walking paths to and from your tree stands allowing you to slip in and out of your treestands undetected. After all of that work is done I do not visit the set again until I hunt the stand in the fall.

5. Practice
Last but not least PRACTICE!!! I am a firm believer in practice makes perfect and if you are an archer there is no such thing as to much practice. So, with that being said, I spend several weekends during the summer shooting in 3D archery shoots throughout the state of Iowa. I also practice shooting from a treestand that is placed in my yard. I strongly suggest shooting at a 3D deer target because it mentally prepares you for shooting at a live animal. Shooting at a block target trying to hit a dot is good practice, but it does not compare to the life like curved surfaces of a 3D target. After shooting at a 3D target I like to look at every arrow and evaluate whether it was a good ethical shot placement or not. Did I hit one lung, both lungs, the heart or did I wound the animal? I practice shooting every shot angle and I shoot from yardages ranging from 3 yards to 80 yards. I practice shooting sitting, standing, and even bent over out of my treestand, I also practice shooting from the ground while standing, sitting, kneeling and whatever real life situation I can think of being caught in.

One of the best things I have learned from practicing as a bow hunter is the importance of shooting long distance. If you are wanting to be a more accurate archer shooting long distance is the key. Long distance shooting does not allow for bad form, forcing you to work on your shooting form and pin placement consistency. Most of my practice time is spent shooting 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80 yards. Once you become proficient shooting at distances 40 yards and greater you will find shooting at distances of 10 to 30 yards becomes extremely simplistic and your success rate in the field will greatly improve. I also periodically practice shooting while wearing my hunting clothes. Extra layers of clothing can change your anchor point and cause you to shoot off target.

If you are solely a gun hunter it is important for you to practice shooting your gun of choice too. Practice shooting your equipment making sure your gun is accurate and properly sighted in, along with understanding the ballistics of your gun and practice shooting at different yardages is great practice. Shooting without shivering in the cold and just plain old, practice will increase your odds of success.

As I said in the beginning of this article I do not have all of the answers and I probably never will. But, what I do know is, whether you are a meat hunter or a trophy hunter, the more time spent in the off season preparing for the upcoming season, you are only increasing your odds of success! Good luck and safe hunting!!!