Years of experience teaches hundreds of lessons if you keep an open mind. Of course, it is better to learn those lessons from the mistakes of others so here are five to avoid this season.
1. Not Playing the Wind When Entering a Stand
I have a friend who likes to say that a burglar would be a fool to crash in the front door and then sneak around inside the house. Yet that is what you do when you neglect the wind. You won’t be aware of the damage you’ve done. You just won’t see much game.
Though the challenge of playing the wind every time you head to a stand is tough, it is the key to joining the 10 percent of hunters taking 90 percent of the nice bucks. It is the real chess match of stand hunting.
2. Scouting Too Much
After spring green-up, stay out of your hunting area until the day you hunt it so the bucks continue moving naturally. That makes them as vulnerable as they’ll be all season. Any scouting in their core areas just before, or during, the season gives them an early warning.
Consider an in-season scouting method that relies heavily on homework. Spend time at the kitchen table looking at aerial photos and trail-cam pictures (from cameras you set on the fringes of your hunting area). If you don’t have a stand in the right place, wait until the time is right to carry in a portable stand to a better spot, set it up and start hunting. This allows you to keep your hunting area fresh while still trying new spots. I started hunting this way in the 1990s and have increased the number of big bucks I’ve seen. Resist the urge to roam.
3. Overhunting Your Stands
For example, if you were only able to hunt weekends, it would be best to have at least four stands—one for each wind direction—and maybe an extra one or two for the prevailing wind. This keeps you from burning out any one area. For a solid week of hunting, have a dozen stand sites ready to go. Prepare half your stands for the prevailing wind just in case it blows every day.
Save your best stands until the rut. Hunting them too soon educates deer at a time before the bucks are moving much during daylight. Spread your efforts over multiple stands.
4. Being Careless With Ground Scent
Generally, if a cruising buck hits your scent trail it will go on red alert and back out of the area. There are steps you can take to reduce human ground scent, but the only one I have found that is close to 100 percent is to wear PVC waders. The next best solution is to plan entry and exit routes carefully.
Use creeks and ditches to keep your scent away from deer and keep you out of sight. Open ground, free of vegetation, also holds less human scent. This is why some hunters actually rake a path through the woods to their stands. When you get to your stand, climb the tree quickly without leaving more scent than necessary.
5. Choking Under Pressure
The key is to keep things routine. Pre-think every possible shot scenario when you get on stand so you can react decisively. Don’t expect bucks to follow trails. Be ready for anything. Know the range to multiple reference points. Know exactly where to aim for each body position a deer may present so you don’t have to think about it. It is easy to write off mental mistakes as “that’s bowhunting” when they could have been avoided with a pre-shot routine. Make these steps instinctive.
Attention to detail is one thing that sets consistently successful bowhunters apart from the rest. By taking steps to avoid common mistakes, your most lasting memory of the season will be a short blood trail, rather than a blown opportunity.