Bowhunting is a challenging sport. It’s more of an art than a science, and eventually every hunter develops a style that maximizes their success and fun with the sport. However, if you apply some fundamentals, you will be well on your way to killing a deer with archery equipment. Here are my Top 5 tips for beginning bowhunters.
1. Know your food sources
During bow season, food sources are the name of the game. If you can find a good food source, you will see deer during the early part of archery season. Water oaks, muscadines, persimmons and crabapples are some hot food sources this time of year. Familiarize yourself with the bark and leaves of these trees, so that you can identify them even when they aren’t dropping fruit. Find one of these trees with deer droppings and tracks underneath, and you’ve found a spot to kill a deer. If you find sawtooth oaks on the property, you are in for a real early season treat.
Travel routes in between food and bedding areas are also great sites for bow stands. Often, if you try to bowhunt directly over a food source in the morning, you will spook deer that are already there feeding. However, a hunter watching a travel route can often sneak in undetected and catch deer heading back to bed. This is also an advantage if you are hunting a large, spread out food source. It might prove difficult to get a shot at a deer feeding on a 5-acre hardwood ridge full of acorns. However, setting up on a travel route between there and a bedding area is a great tactic for a morning bowhunt during Georgia’s archery season.
2. Scent Control
It is incredibly important to keep your human scent to a minimum and under control, especially when bowhunting. Playing the wind is the No. 1 most important factor in regards to this. NEVER hunt an area if the wind will be blowing toward the deer. Your entry/exit route is also very important. Don’t hunt a stand where you have to walk in across or along a deer trail you expect deer to be using. Hygiene precautions such as scent-free showering and spraying down are important. Proper scent control will dramatically increase the number of deer you see, particularly mature bucks and does.
I could write pages on the importance of these things. In fact, I did. For more reading, see my article “Low-Impact Hunting for Better Bucks” in the October 2014 issue of GON. If you don’t have that issue, simply get on your computer and type “hunt low impact” into Google. My article on the GON website at www.gon.com should be the first search result.
One thing that separates bowhunting from rifle hunting is the difficulty of taking a shot. A bowhunter must be able to draw back with deer at close range without being detected. I know I will not be seen if I am 20 to 25 feet up in a tree that’s as wide as I am with a good back drop of foliage, so I prefer to use a climbing stand. A climber makes the most sense for a new bowhunter because you would only need to purchase one stand to hunt a variety of places.
Another advantage is that the climbing stand is much more portable than other stands. If you are seeing deer out of range, you can easily move before the next hunt. This factor has benefited me on many occasions. A couple years back, I was hunting a large grove of water oaks, and during the first hunt at that spot every deer eased through just out of range. The next time I hunted there I moved closer to where they were and arrowed the largest buck of my life at 18 yards.
Elevation and camo help, but stillness is the most important factor. The second tree I just mentioned only allowed me to climb about 17 feet high, but I knew that I’d go undetected if I was cautious when moving. When drawing back, make sure to move slowly, and try to wait until the deer are looking away. My dad once told me that if you can’t see a deer eyes, then it can’t see you—advice that has never failed me.
4. Make Your Shot Count
As a hunter, there is nothing worse than wounding an animal. You should be proficient with your equipment, including practicing from an elevated position, before stepping foot in the woods. I would strongly encourage someone who has never killed a deer with a bow to wait for the literal perfect broadside shot. In my opinion, 20 yards is generally the perfect distance out of a tree stand. Close, but not so close that you have to bend at an uncomfortable angle to shoot.
Furthermore, only shoot at deer that are at ease. Unlike rifle hunting, a deer can duck down to jump and cause the hunter to miss or hit high, often resulting in a difficult track. A deer at ease calmly flicks its tail every few seconds and surveys its surroundings every so often without focusing too much on any one thing.
5. After The Shot
Pay attention to where your arrow hits. Familiarize yourself with the effects that different wounds have on the deer’s reaction to the shot, and on the blood, or lack thereof, that you find. Make sure to give the deer ample time to expire, and err on the side of more time rather than less. If there is ever any doubt, it is 100 percent imperative to call a tracking dog. You owe it to yourself and the animal to try any and all means necessary to recover it. A lot of people will not call a dog for a wounded doe, and that is simply not ethical in my opinion. A doe deserves the same respect as a world-record buck.