Like many of you, I cried last winter when the close of the archery deer season came around. It seems like every year the end of an era. The coming opener always seems like a lifetime away, like the week after Christmas to a young kid. Yet once again, we take it for granted that all pieces of the puzzle come together to allow for another season….and it is almost upon us! With the crazy weather we have seen all summer, this year will present new challenges and opportunities for us archers.
The ultimate secret to archery success is found in the details. How well we address each of these details will be observed during the final exam when we are in the stand looking through our sight pins at……………
- Gear – I am not about to suggest that to be successful you need to run out and spend hundreds of dollars on new gear as that has never been nor will it ever be the case. Gear does not a hunter make. On the other hand, gear is the catalyst for eternal optimism and it sure is fun to have. Those new arrows, bow, sights, etc. are sure to give us that little extra edge this fall right? No. But, knowing your gear and how to use it will help. Become proficient with whatever piece of gear you think you need and save money by forgoing the junk you do not need. And if you happen to buy a new bow and set of arrows, be proud as each purchased provides funding for conservation! Maybe we all need new bows this year?
- Proficiency – I am amazed at some hunters who will get frustrated when everything does not come together for that deer of a lifetime yet refuse to spend the time practicing with their equipment. Your second grade teacher was correct when he/she told you practice makes perfect. At the time they were probably talking about multiplication tables but you can make the connection. Practice! Lincoln has one of the finest public archery ranges in Nebraska in Boosalis Park just west of Lincoln Trap and Skeet at 44th and Superior. Use it and be thankful to the Lincoln Prairie Bowmen Archery Club for maintaining this wonderful facility for you and to Lincoln Trap and Skeet for providing access through their facility. If you have not participated in one of the many shoots they put on you are missing out! After practicing from the ground, it is important that you also practice shooting from an elevated platform if you plan to hunt from a tree stand. You will notice a slight change in your point of impact because of the angle. Keep this rule in mind…you are shooting the distance from the base of the tree to the target and not the hypotenuse of the triangle (should have paid attention in Geometry class)! When you overcompensate by shooting the distance from the tree stand to the target you will almost always shoot over the target….sound familiar?
- When finished practicing with your bow take a break and then practice some more. Practice wearing the clothes you will hunt in. A head net is a neat piece of gear until you are at full draw for the first time and cannot see the target. Practice in short shooting sessions from various distances. A fun game is for you and your hunting buddies to take your bows on a scouting trip and rove the field pointing out targets such as stumps, dirt clods, hedge apples, etc. and shooting at them with blunt tipped arrows. Also, don’t forget to practice with your actual broad heads you intend to hunt with. Often they will shoot very different from field practice points.
- Bow hunter Education – there is still plenty of time to find a bow hunter education course but options are dwindling. This course is simply incredible at teaching the new archer about safety and the details that will ultimately make him/her a better hunter. I took mine after hunting with bow for more than 10 years and I was amazed by how much I learned ( or rather how much I didn’t know). You can find more info or register for classes by going to www.huntsafenebraska.org
- Distance Judging – With the advent of range finders this is becoming a skill long forgotten and I think that is unfortunate. The well rounded archer needs to be able to judge distances out to 40 yards accurately. Yes I know, todays bows are more forgiving than ever before. Doesn’t matter. The final act on an accurate shot is judging the correct distance. This type of practice can be done in the back yard, on walks and even at your kids soccer game by continually finding distance objects and judging distance. Start by perfecting 10 yards. Then simply double that distance for a 20 yard target and so on. Break the distance down into such increments and it will make it a lot easier to judge longer distances. Trust me when I say this is a skill worth mastering!
- Scouting – by now I am sure most of us have been in the field observing deer sign and have maybe even hung a stand or two (or 20). If you have not, now is the time to get out and finalize your scouting for accurate stand placement. Now is also a good time to talk to landowners and make sure that you still have permission to hunt. A lot can change in a year so don’t assume. Early season scouting, especially closer to the opener, is best done from afar, at least for initial scouting. Using binoculars, watch fields for deer entering and note locations and times. Look for patterns. Too much intrusion into the deer woods can spook bucks and does alike, causing you to continuously mumble statements like “what have I done?” “why me?”, etc. Been there.
- Shooting lanes – Take the time to trim good shooting lanes from your stand. Several great deer are still laughing because I failed to heed this advice (I can still hear their haunting laughter but maybe I should not admit that?). We don’t need to clear the forest here but just make quality clean shooting lanes. If your stand leaves you void of cover as you move up the tree, plastic flag holders are a cheap way of anchoring cut branches around your stand to help hide you.
- Invest in a quality fall arrest system – Safety should be priority one of every archer. Such a system includes a full body harness that will keep you from harm should you fall from your stand. While on this subject, don’t forget to equip each stand with a haul line to bring gear to you once you are safely fastened in the stand. Climbing up a ladder or tree steps with a bow or other great attached to you is a really bad idea.
- Check your stands – Go over all tree stands and check welds, bolts, cables, straps, etc. Replace what needs to be and keep them safe. If your stand is still in the tree from last year you have a lot of work to do!
- Keep them sharp – make sure your broadheads are razor sharp. This is important for a quick and humane harvest. Replace old blades and re sharpen those you can. This minute detail will become the most important thing on your mind about two seconds after you release that arrow. If that blade falls in the dirt or sand, sharpen again.
- Invest in a Thermacell – I cannot say enough about these devices. They simply keep mosquitoes away and that is something we have fought in early season since time began. Swatting and swearing at the little blood suckers is not the best way of staying hidden while hunting.
- Hunt Plan – Make sure you develop hunt plans for your various areas and let loved ones know where you are hunting and when you will return. In the most unlikely chance something does go wrong your hunt plan could save your life.
- Learn to use a fawn bleat– Early season archery deer hunting is an excellent time to harvest a doe or two and a bleat call this time of year can be deadly. Most hunters are not used to calling to does but such effort can result in instant success! Again, practice makes perfect. It is not uncommon for me to be found with a bleat call hanging from my neck…while shopping or at a restaurant. I guess I am different…
- Oh how times have changed – I truly enjoy those days of fall sitting in my stand overlooking a corner corn field and watching deer sneak through the rows. I also applaud the farmer when his/her combine enters the field, removing that summer cover that has kept deer hidden since the archery opener. Some have voiced concern that with the drought and rough crop condition, farmers are removing corn much earlier this year for silage. Opening such cover will have big advantages for the early season archer. Deer will likely spend more travel time in the woods where we hang stands putting us in much better position. Ever try to take a deer that seems to have an affinity for large corn fields? It is pretty tough. Also, this year has seen mast production in the deer woods ahead of normal schedule. It would appear that oak trees are deciding to save themselves vs the acorn. Deer are likely feeding on acorns as you read this. Look for oaks with rounded leaves as these are much more palatable to deer and free of the tannic acid associated with oak varieties with sharp pointed leaf tips. Another good tip is to focus on water sources this year. With the drought, many ponds and cricks are dry which will concentrate deer near natural spring fed ponds that will be important for the early season archer. If you have never taken water into account with your normal scouting you will need to this year.
- Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) – always present in the Nebraska deer herd to some extent, 2012 has provided the “perfect storm” of weather, drought, heat, etc. that is responsible for a larger-than-normal outbreak this year. To date, we are aware of roughly 1,900 cases and it will be some time before we completely understand the extent of this latest outbreak. The virus is caused by the bite of a midge that thrives under the conditions we have had this summer. Although this may have larger impacts in limited regions, I am still planning for this to be a great deer season!
- Minimize mistakes – the goal of all this is to help the bow hunter to be more successful. You are going to make mistakes, bump deer, choose bad stand locations, etc. The key is to be flexible. Be willing to change locations, tactics, etc. based on what your scouting is telling you. Lay off stand sites when the wind is wrong (I know this is hard for some but this is where we often make big mistakes) and make sure you are in your stand when the weather is right (that is what vacation is for!). The old saying “deer are where you find them” is true but those hunters that pay more respect to the details sure seem to find them a lot more often.