There was no need to worry about the cold. It was the kind of cold you cannot beat—not a bone-chilling cold, but rather the kind of cold that wraps itself around you like the plastic around the meat in the grocery store. Smarter folks were still at home in warm beds, but not me. No sir, not me. I was thirty feet up it an oak tree, facing the wind, sitting on a hard, cold, metal tree stand.
Many people consider me a bit crazy for enduring the weather that accompanies fall and early winter. A treestand or a duck blind are places most of them choose to avoid. My quest for trophy deer is a driving force and, believe it or not, if I was not having fun, I would not be doing it. Bowhunting is a passion.
The cold melted away like an ice cube on a brick hearth. Antlers have that effect on deer hunters. The buck was coming in parallel to the trail and about 30 yards down-wind of it. I had positioned my stand for exactly this move. I knew the does and yearlings would use the trail. I also bet the buck would not.
His path would take him behind my tree. That was fine. I slowly turned my back to the buck and methodically raised my bow. I listened as he made his way toward me. He passed my tree at about 15 yards. It had been very windy that morning and I had been grunting loudly. I now used my grunt call to stop the buck. One short, soft grunt planted him like a block of granite.
Many things cross your mind as you anchor, aim and release an arrow at a mature buck. Many things must be right. A few more must be perfect. This split second culminates many months of preparation and planning. As the arrow slid smoothly through both his lungs, all the time and effort that it took to get to that point paid-off. Let's look at some ways to help you get there, too.
Bowhunting for deer requires quite a bit of preparation time. Few are lucky enough to step into the timber for the first time and stick a buck; pre-season scouting is essential. By pre-season, I do not mean September. Walks in the woods in September will cause more harm than good. You will probably alert your buck to your presence and make him nervous even before the season starts.
Scouting should begin during the previous season and be completed by mid-summer. Your stand location should be chosen and your stand put up by July. Deer are creatures of habit. Seldom do I find new trails where I hunt. Rubs are often in the same locations and quite often on the same trees. Scrape lines are also usually consistent year after year.
Bucks are much easier to pattern early in the season, before the rut begins. When scouting for buck sign, especially in the spring and early summer, do not look for lots of tracks. An area that has an abundance of tracks and droppings probably holds mature does and their offspring. This time of year, bucks are not likely to be with females. Places with a high density of deer sign are not likely to include the sign of a mature buck.
It is a good idea, however, to remember where these spots are located. According to noted whitetail-deer biologist C.J. Winand, "Areas of concentrated deer droppings indicate either a bedding or feeding area. Knowing where does live can come in handy," Winand told me. As the rut begins, bucks alter their patterns to find does. If you plan to hunt the rut, move into an area that holds many female deer. The bucks will come.
Another good piece of scouting advice is to keep in mind the agricultural status of your hunting area. Deer movements will change markedly if an area which was standing corn last year is planted on soybeans this year. We all know the advantage that deer have in standing corn. There routes and the level of their nocturnality will change if the planting of a shorter crop eliminates this advantage. Be aware, in the spring, of what crops are present. This will help you predict how the deer might adapt to them.
The final comment of scouting is that it is never done. Every trip you make into the woods should give you more information about deer. Physical traits of the land itself can change between seasons. Scouting gives you better awareness of your area. Remember, this is his home. You should try to know it as well as he does.
Much has been written in recent years about attracting deer with sound. Antler rattling and deer calling are not new tactics in some deer-hunting circles. These ploys are however, relatively new to the general public. Lately, every game-call manufacturer in the country has come out with a grunt call. All of these calls are patterned after and mimic the sound of the first ever deer grunt call developed by Brad Harris.
The grunt call is a universal, year-round sound that puts deer at ease and triggers their curiosity. Some grunts are merely contact calls. They are a form of vocal communication between deer. Other grunts may be in a more challenging form, like when two dominate bucks meet. Still other grunt sounds are made by deer that are in a breeding mood.
Grunting is, by far, the most effective method of calling deer into your archery-shooting radius. Personally, I think the grunt call is the most dynamic development in bowhunting since the compound bow. But grunting is not the only audible tool the bowhunter has at his disposal.
Antler rattling has earned its place in the deer-hunting history books. Native American paintings depict antler rattling before we ever got here, and nowadays, antlers are not the only rattling devices that have been used to imitate a buck fight. Synthetic materials such as plastic and fiberglass have been made into antler rattles. Dowel rods in cloth bags are available and now small plastic "rattle boxes" are being produced.
The key to rattling is timing. Without making an overly lengthy discussion out of this, let's just use some logic. If dominant bucks are with estrogen-laden females during the peak rut, will they lead those prime does to a fight between two other males? Probably not. On the other hand, would a buck seek-out other fighting males during the pre-rut when the order of dominance is being established? Probably so. Bottom line...rattle in the pre-rut. During the actual rut, leave your rattling tools at home and depend on your grunt call.
Here is another important factor that deserves our time. The only way you are going to fool deer consistently is to beat their noses—their number-one means of survival. Despite all the natural and manufactured fragrances you can buy, positioning is still the most critical factor. Your strongest cologne will not spook a buck if the wind prevents him from smelling it.
We should break the scents into two separate categories: attracting scents and cover scents. Attracting scents are those aromas that, when picked-up by a deer's olfactory glands, tells their instinct to seek-out the source of the odor. The two basic types of attracting scents are food and sex scents.
These types of deer attractants should be used sparingly. Now I know we have all seen the videos where the hunter liberally applies the liquid "doe in heat" all over his body. This is something you should never do with an attracting scent. A deer's nose is like radar. He can pinpoint the source of a smell from quite some distance. If you are the source of that smell, he will pinpoint you.
My suggestion for the use of attracting scents is to keep it light. An abnormal amount of a natural scent is just as damaging as an unnatural scent. Keeping in mind the super-sensitivity of a deer's nose, go easy on these products. Use a few drops on a drag-rag or around a mock scrape. Your worst mistake with attracting scents is overuse.
When using a cover scent, you do not have to be quite so cautious. Cover scents come in a variety of "flavors". Red-fox urine is good if there are lots of foxes in your area. Cedar is good too, provided there are cedar trees around. Any natural scent will help cover your unnatural scent. The important part is, it should be a scent that the deer recognize, but is not afraid of nor attracted to.
The best aroma I have found for a cover scent is one that exists almost everywhere. Some call it "damp dirt". Others call it "fresh earth" or "natural ground". Regardless of its name, this scent effectively covers yours, without alarming the animal. But please remember, no amount of cover scent or attracting scent will make-up for consistent mistakes with the wind.
Every bowhunter knows the basics of how to choose a stand site, and that the prevailing wind is critical. But another tip about moving air involves the "thermals" associated with warm air movement up a hill. Conversely, as it cools it moves downhill. This moving air will carry your scent particles. As you place your stand and determine if it will be a morning or an evening site, remember the thermals.
All too often hunters place their stands directly on trails or directly over scrapes. This is not always an advisable tactic. Many female and young deer will use the trail routinely. A buck however, will quite often parallel the trail from several yards downwind. As you search for a good stand site, check closely for secondary, paralleling trails. Such trails may just be where the bucks travel.
Scrape hunting is not an exact science, either. Putting your stand within easy bow range of an active or a mock scrape will sometimes be successful. More often than not, a mature buck will approach from downwind. He will examine the area with his nose, from a distance. The best bet remains in placing your stand about 30- to 40-yards downwind of the scrape. This will not always work, but it certainly increases your odds.
"The key word to keep in mind when placing your stand is edge, deer biologist Winand also told me. "Where CRP or grain fields meet the timber is where 90-percent of deer activity will occur," Winand continued. "Most hot trails will probably parallel the edge, about 20 to 30 yards inside the timber. That's where your stand should be for a chance at a buck," C.J. advised.
Most frequently the females and young deer will enter a field first, to feed. The buck or bucks will lag behind, waiting for the cover of darkness, before joining the other deer in the field. These “off-the-edge” trails are where they will stop and wait. Again, that is where your stand should be.
The home range of a deer is at least partially determined by the edge. Deer can and will move to new areas for many reasons. But as a general rule, the more edge that is available, the smaller the deer's homer range. If deer must travel long distances between edge areas they will, thus increasing the area they call home. This information too, is courtesy of Mr. Winand.
Knowing a deer's preference for edge can help you locate your buck. "A quality buck is a totally different species, behaviorally, compared with other deer," Winand also told me. "They are difficult to pattern and there are always environmental intangibles to consider," he ended. The bottom line for stand placement is to find the area that deer use, usually an edge, and use the natural surroundings and conditions to your advantage.
Many say the broadhead is the most important component of the bowhunter’s kit. Because this object is the first thing that actually comes into contact with the deer, the idea is well founded. Choosing a broadhead can be a frustrating proposition—there are more hunting points out there than we have species to shoot them at.
Your broadhead, of course, should be chosen to fit your exact needs. Some things to consider first are: type of bow, composition of arrow, size of game and affordability. Carbon arrows have proven to me to be superior to aluminum. Not only do their decreased diameter increase speed by reducing drag, but they are much more resilient and forgiving than aluminum. AFC has some very dramatic slow motion video footage that demonstrates the advantages of carbon as an arrow.
Lennie Rezmer, of Game Tracker, showed me a video that illustrates not only the added energy that increases penetration, but also the "flimsiness" of aluminum arrows as they hit their target. As a metal arrow impacts a solid target, like a deer's shoulder blade or spine, it begins to bend and wobble. This wobble continues for several seconds. This phenomenon not only decreases penetration, but also affects the arrow's flight. When shot into the same target material, there was virtually no bending and the wobble with carbon. There were also no latent effects detectable on the carbon arrows. If all of our shots were through soft tissue these facts would not be so crucial. Unfortunately, bone is a factor.
Propelling these high-performance projectiles is where your system will be completed. Finding the right bow to hunt deer with is as fun as it is important. Keep one point foremost in your mind as you shop and decide on a bow: buy a bow that is comfortable for you. Do not let public opinion, your buddy's advice or slick advertising affect your judgment.
In my opinion, you should look for a bow that delivers high speed and superior power. Look for a bow that will shoot your arrows at over 240 fps. I recommend limb-forward positioning and an adjustable grip. I suggest a bow that allows you the option of different let-offs, but is also lightweight and well-balanced bow.
The most important factor that will increase both your enjoyment of bowhunting and the satisfaction that you glean from the sport is the attitude that you carry into the woods. No one appreciates a bloodthirsty slob who ignores the law and turns his back on hunting ethics. Anti-hunting groups feed on this, and it should be our stance to exude a demeanor that gives them no cause to protest.
Greg Nixon is, in my opinion, a consummate bowhunter. He lives in west central Illinois and has several animals in the Pope & Young book as well as Boone & Crockett, all with a bow. He is a pure archer. Nixon says, "Bowhunting is exciting because, to get close enough to game animals to be effective, you must study their behavioral traits. Because of the limitations of your equipment, you must be very adaptable. This lends a greater respect not only to the animal, but to the sport as well."
A bowhunter must realize the tradition that he chooses to be a part of. Even though you sit in your stand alone, you still-hunt alone or you are in your blind alone, this is not an individual sport. Every time you set foot in the field with a bow in your hand, you take with you all of the time, effort, money, sweat, tears and mystique that hundreds of years of archery evolution has given us. You represent what many consider to be the purest form of hunting.
Greg Nixon says, "Perseverance and patience must be top priorities for a bowhunter." These priorities are also virtues that are to be admired. Greg says, "A bowhunter should be focused on the experience he has as he blends in with nature, not what he can put on the wall."
The fine sport of bowhunting is a privilege that we are fortunate to have. I hope and pray that the attitude we all share about this precious resource is one of deep respect.