Early Season Bow Hunting Mistakes, and How to Avoid Making Them
By Jason Smith
Bow season rolls around the same time every year, but it still catches many sportsmen under and ill prepared. It seems like if mistakes are going to be made, they’re more likely to happen early, than at any other point during the season. Getting busted, missing a duffed shot, not seeing deer, or coming down with a bad case of poison ivy can quickly turn exciting pre-season fantasies and expectations into a season of misery and heartbreak.
Here are some early season bow hunting mistakes that are commonly made and some suggestions on how to avoid making them.
Aerial map scouting
I believe that the best way to learn the lay of the land and observe animal activities in an area is by putting boots on the ground. With that said, physically scouting properties can be time consuming, and if you’re like most hard working sportsmen, you already don’t have enough free time to do a quarter of the things you really want to do within any given year.
Google Maps is an amazing and time saving FREE tool available at your fingertips. Not only can you use it to get to where you’re wanting to go, but you can also use the aerial pics to spot possible pinch points, water and food sources, bedding areas, travel routes, etc., all from your home / work computer or smartphone.
County Assessor Websites are other good places to snag good aerial shots of hunting land and surrounding properties. Many Sites mark property lines as well. This comes in very handy when fence lines aren’t maintained or are completely non-existent.
County and state governmental agencies and conservational organizations also provide some nice aerial maps of public land. These usually also include information about the specific area like where to park, what types of game animals are present, and what activities are allowed.
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” (Vince Lombardi)
“You can shoot eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, all you become is good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.” (Michael Jordan)
Archery technology has improved greatly over the past three decades. Solid back-stops, high let-off percentages, uber fast arrow speeds, incredibly accurate arrows, broad-heads that slice baseball sized holes, etc. When set-up properly, some modern bows feel like they almost shoot themselves.
It’s easy today for a hunter to go out, shoot a few dozen arrows at different ranges on flat terrain, place most arrows within a typical ‘kill zone’ sized target, call it good, and then muff their first thirty yard chip shot from the tree-stand. Why? Because the practice didn’t prepare the hunter for the situation.
If you’re going to be shooting from an elevated position, you need to practice from an elevated position. The same goes for conditions, locations, terrain and specific game. If you’re going to be bow hunting in South Dakota, you’d better practice in the wind. If you’re going to be still or spot and stalk hunting, you’d better practice taking shots with your feet and torso in odd positions and from kneeling or even seated positions. You never know what you’re going to encounter, so it’s best to be ready for anything before old mossy horns himself steps into view.
Sure, you’ve Robin Hood’d a few arrows at twenty yards with a field point this pre-season. You’ve picked out your best half dozen arrows to use for hunting, and you’ve purchased the latest and greatest broadheads on the market. Your confidence level is quickly decimated when you watch your arrow veer off course or do a death wobble as it flies out of sight on your first shot of the season, and you watch your quarry bound off.
A faulty broadhead can absolutely ruin your day, but a broadhead doesn’t have to be faulty in order to not strike what you’re aiming at either. Broadheads rarely shoot identical to field points. The weight could be off slightly, the drag could be a bit more or less, the threaded shaft could be slightly bent, the head itself could be unbalanced, and wind could affect a broadhead differently due to the additional surface area, etc.
Whatever the case is, this can all be figured out and adjusted for prior to opening day, with a little additional practice. Use your field points to zero in your bow and do a majority of your practice shooting, but make sure to practice a few shots with your broad-heads as well. If you find that they shoot an inch or two off vertically or horizontally at twenty yards, that can spell disaster in a real world hunting situation, especially when compounded at longer ranges.
If you recognize a noticeable difference in shot placement between your broadheads and field points, you have a few options. Adjust your pins accordingly, replace your broadheads, or make a mental adjustment by aiming differently when shooting your broadheads. I don’t suggest the last option, as buck fever can make you forget crucial things like that.
The woods and prairies are still beautiful with their lush greens and yellows during the early season, and it’s nice to hunt in a single layer of light clothing, but the warm temps also come with some things to keep in mind.
Biting insects can make hunting more aggravating than tranquil. Wearing clothing that keeps the bugs from getting to your skin can help. I try to wear a light mesh camo suit as an outer layer, along with a full mesh facemask, during early season. The bugs can land on me, but can’t bite me. It also doesn’t block out any breeze that may be blowing.
Poisonous plants are relatively easy to identify, but almost impossible to stay out of when traipsing through the woods, especially in the dark. I find the best way for me to avoid breaking out in blisters and rashes is to wash my outer layer clothes, at least, and make sure to scrub down well with dish soap, especially my face, hands, wrists and ankles, following every hunt. Many poisonous plants don’t produce an adverse effect until three or so days after contact, and the painful and itchy discomfort can last up to a month or more.
Heat can spoil meat and ruin capes quickly. Fill a few milk jugs with water, freeze them solid, and throw them into the chest cavity of your harvested deer. This will help to drop carcass temps and keep them low while you’re transporting.
Scouting too much or too little
Scout too much and you risk the chance of bumping deer out of an area or at least making them wiser to your presence. Scout too little, and you may find yourself hunting areas that don’t produce deer, or sitting in stands that put you just out of range.
Reviewing aerial maps and driving back country roads are great ways to scout areas without disturbing them. If you’re going to put boots on the ground prior to the season, I suggest you do it in the middle of the day and get out well before dusk. There’s plenty of sunlight for you to locate trails, scrapes, rubs, and bedding areas. The downside is that you may kick some deer up off of their beds in doing so. If you do, don’t continue in the directions they went. Give them a wide birth and attempt not to bump them completely out of the area.
If I believe that I am done hunting an area for the season, or at least won’t be back for a while, I will actively scout it while I ground hunt it via the still and spot-and-stalk hunting methods. This allows me to observe deer activity during the actual hunting season and provides me with the opportunity to harvest a deer from the ground at the same time. Most of my scouting observations actually come from an accumulation of knowledge gathered from years of hunting properties. I may not know if a specific deer is in an area this season, but if they are, I have a good idea about where they may bed, where their water and food sources are, and where their travel routes are. Play the long game. Use the knowledge gained from this season to plan for next season.
Educating the deer
Educated deer are tougher to successfully hunt, and no matter what anybody says, smart deer don’t taste any better than any other deer. The more time you spend hunting an area, the more of an education you unintentionally provide the animals that reside there. Deer quickly learn your scent, where your stands are, the main routes you take to and from your stands, and what times you prefer to ‘sneek’ in and out. Educated deer can and will intentionally avoid you or leave the area entirely.
A few ways to keep deer from learning anything about you are:
Don’t over hunt or scout an area. Once deer tune into you it’s almost like they can sense the moment you step out of your vehicle.
Keep your clothes, gear and body clean and scent free. If deer can’t smell you, they have to rely on their eyes and ears to detect you, so your odds drastically improve.
Depending on wind and location of the deer, pick the most appropriate entry and exit routes. If the conditions aren’t right for hunting a specific area, don’t hunt it.
Choose different times to exit and enter. Deer can’t tell time, but If you hunt like you’re punching a clock for work, they will adjust their movements around your repetitive activity. Don’t let the deer pattern you.
Your first time hunting an area could be, and many times is, your best opportunity at making a successful harvest because the deer haven’t been educated by you yet. Don’t blow it. Make sure you’ve practiced enough, that your gear is all operational, and that you have everything that you need.
Loose lips sink ships
This is a difficult one to learn first-hand, but sometimes the best lessons are learned the hard way. If you share what you have observed during your scouting expeditions and hunting adventures, you run the risk of having unwelcome hunting competition, even from family members or best buddies.
There’s nothing like finding a secluded ‘honey hole’ that you just obtained permission to hunt or you have recently patterned deer through, only to have stands pop up next to yours or find a ‘buddy’ sitting in your stand when you get there.
Similar is when you have success on a property one season, only to have it leased out from under you the following season.
Sharing hunting related information doesn’t mean that you have to share detailed, specific information. Sometimes I don’t even like to get as specific as sharing the counties that I hunt in. There’s no way to keep others from coming across and hunting the same areas as you, but you can keep them from learning about them from you and your big mouth.
October 1st is just around the corner. Try to implement a few of these suggestions to minimize early season mistakes, stay safe, enjoy yourself out there, and make sure to smile in your harvest pictures. Best of luck to you all.