No matter how many years you hunt with a bow, there’s always something new to learn.
Much of what I’ve learned about hunting over the years has come in small doses via lessons shared by friends or through personal experiences that have resulted in hits or misses. From rattling and grunting to deer jumping the string, check out these two dozen archery mini-lessons for bowhunters young and old.
Golfers aren’t the only people plagued by hooks and slices. Some archers are frustrated by their arrows hooking or slicing off-target. Are yours? Maybe you’re squeezing the bow too tightly. Archers who do well under the relaxed conditions of range shooting become tense when deer are in their sights. A tight grip can torque the bow at the moment of release, sending the arrow off to the left. Lefties will send their arrows off to the right. Loosen up.
Fancy-Up Your Fletching
Use this tip from a taxidermist for maintaining proper feather fletching: Fletching that’s matted or in disarray from being exposed to foul weather, rugged use or improper storage can be restored by holding it over a steaming teakettle and softly stroking the vanes. That’s how taxidermists add the finishing touches to feathers on the game birds and waterfowl they mount.
A down feather from a duck, goose or game bird tied to the end of a 10-inch piece of thread and hung from the bottom of your bow or stabilizer will signal the direction of the slightest movement of air currents.
Jumping the String
Slow-motion videos clearly demonstrate a phenomenon that experienced bowhunters have known for years. When a buck or doe jumps the string (dodges an arrow by dipping or sidestepping), it’s the result of the deer hearing the noise of the bow and string, and then reacting. They do not see the arrow coming and avoid it, as some hunters believe. Using whiskers or other silencers on the string and assuring maximum quietness by tightening your bow’s lockdown screws will minimize the loud thump of an arrow’s release.
Hunt With a Grunt
If you’re new to deer calling, remember that it can’t be compared to turkey calling. Don’t expect to grunt or bleat and have a deer sprint in or answer you. Instead, be subtle and use the calls sparingly and methodically.
If your grunt tube is naturally loud, it might be effective when broadcasting calls long distances. However, it could be too loud for calling when a deer is close. Muffle the volume by inserting the end inside your jacket or vest as you blow softly.
Tickle the Tines
Rattling antlers can be effective during the pre-rut and post-rut periods, even though deer might not be in serious combat then. Instead of attempting to imitate aggressive fighting, simply tickle the tines occasionally to reproduce the sound of bucks sizing up one another. Clashing the antlers aggressively has been known to drive off smaller bucks, although it is effective in states such as Texas, Iowa, Illinois and other places known for bigger and more abundant bucks.
Know Your Draw
The public relations agent of a major hunting and fishing mail order catalog company once told me that more bows are returned because of improper draw length than for any other reason. If you’re buying a bow through a catalog or from a department store where a salesperson very likely knows little or nothing about the product, be sure you know your draw length before making a purchase. Consider, instead, using the expertise and services of a local pro shop when choosing or tuning new gear.
When practicing for the fall bow season, first check for subtle bow noises that could spook deer. Have a companion stand a few yards away in a quiet room. Draw the bow several times to check for controllable sounds — like the arrow scraping across the rest, cables rubbing or wheels squeaking.
Porpoises and Fishtails
During my long-ago introduction to bowhunting, my instructor frequently used the terms porpoising and fishtailing in reference to improper arrow flight. Not giving the terms much thought, I assumed they both meant the same thing. It took a couple of sessions before I finally realized that porpoising describes up-and-down arrow wobble, while fishtailing indicates a side-to-side wobble. Porpoising is usually alleviated by changing the nock point. Fishtailing is caused by a poor release, improper spine weight or the fletching striking the rest upon release.
Take a few minutes to stretch your legs, back and arms before climbing into a treestand. Do the same before descending after spending a long period cramped in a stand. A couple minutes spent limbering up can prevent sprains, pulled muscles and perhaps a dangerous slip while ascending or descending.
Dream Up a Buck
Olympic archery gold medalist Jay Barrs, an avid deer hunter, recommends daydreaming as a way to help cure buck fever. Barrs said he frequently visualizes a big buck in his sights as he mentally reviews the process of drawing, picking the kill zone and smoothly releasing the arrow. “Think about it enough, and it will seem like you’ve done it before when the time comes,” says Barrs. “I used similar mental preparation to win the Olympics.” He won the world competition with a bull’s-eye at 100 yards using a traditional bow.
Attach flexible foam pipe wrap from hardware, plumbing and building-supply stores to guard rails on treestands to help muffle scraping sounds and metallic dings.
Windy or rainy days are prime times for stalking standing corn. Move with the breeze in your face or hunt the crosswind, moving slowly and carefully studying each row. The rustling of stalks by the wind will help hide your presence. Rainy days or times when showers have softened the leaves and ground are also good for walking corn rows, which deer frequently use as feeding and day-bedding sites.
Shooting the Breeze
Most of us practice our bow sighting and tuning on still days. Make it a point to also practice shooting your bow on windy days. By taking 15- to 30-yard shots at a target, you’ll gain some appreciation and understanding of the effect of wind on your accuracy.
The String Thing
If you haven’t changed your bowstring in the past couple of years, give it a close inspection. The greatest wear will probably be right under your nose — at the nock point. Replace the string if necessary, and wax the string at least once a month to prevent premature wear.
The Wing Thing
Wing nuts used to install many portable treestands are easily dropped, especially when cold weather brings stiff fingers. They can be difficult to find when dropped in snow or leaf litter and when stands are being hung or removed in the dark. Spray-paint the nuts with fluorescent orange (this shows up well in the beam of a flashlight) and carry an extra nut.
Don’t Pick Up a Tick
Deer hunters are particularly susceptible to contact with disease-carrying ticks, indoors and out. The bite of even one tiny deer tick can cause the debilitating illness Lyme disease. Soon after a deer’s death, ticks will drop off to seek new hosts. When handling a carcass, especially if it is stored in a garage or transported inside a vehicle, watch for ticks, which can crawl onto you or someone else days later.
Try a Ground Blind
Not all hunters feel confident climbing into treestands. If you’re one of them, consider building a ground blind. Construct a hideout along a well-used trail before the season — the sooner the better — and practice shooting from it to assure sufficient room to draw and release an arrow.
The Eyes Have It
Nature has placed the white-tailed deer’s eyes on the sides of its head. At best, a deer is able to pick up movement at a phenomenal 300-310 degrees without moving its head. Even though a deer might not appear to be looking at you, it can see you move an arm or draw your bow.
Say No to Velcro
Velcro is a useful fastener for everything from tent flaps to sneakers. But it can be the item that spoils the day for a deer hunter. The sound of a Velcro pocket or storm flap being pulled open can alert a deer at 60 yards or more. Choose hunting clothes without Velcro, or sew cloth over those already on your coat or jacket. However, if you have waterproof clothing, do not damage it with a needle.
Distant Early Warnings
Always keep an ear tuned to nature when deer hunting. A crow’s caw, a squirrel’s throaty chuck or whistle, a blue jay’s scream or a chipmunk’s chip can signal an intruder moving through its territory. That intruder might be another hunter — or a deer. If you’re trailing a wounded deer, keep watch for circling crows or vultures, which might already have found the carcass.
While deer will eat acorns from all kinds of oaks, the white oak is preferred. Its nuts contain less of the bitter tannic acid than pin, black and red oaks and have a sweeter taste. The closely related chestnut oak also offers a sweeter treat. Learn to identify the leaves and nuts of a few of the oak species found where you hunt.
In years of abundant acorn harvests, deer need not travel far to find food. When the crop is slim, however, bowhunters should spend some pre-season scouting time in search of productive oak trees, which will lure deer from near and far.
This article was published in the July 2008 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.