Strategies to Improve Your Bow Hunting This Season
There’s no better feeling than sitting in your stand in the pre-dawn light, and knowing that you did absolutely everything you could to maximize your odds this year out bow hunting. While others throw chance completely to the wind, you can sit content in your tree or blind with the confidence that you did everything possible to craft your property into the ultimate deer hunting paradise. Regardless of whether you get a deer or not, you’ll still feel successful. But before you can feel that amazing sense of accomplishment, you first need to learn how to attract and hold whitetails on your property. Let’s dig in.
First, let’s review a quick biology lesson that every bow hunter knows and few do anything to improve. Whitetail deer, or any animal for that matter, require cover, food, and water to survive. If your property is lacking any of those puzzle pieces, deer may still visit your property but they will be forced to leave to find the missing pieces. Think about it. If your house was very comfortable but lacked a refrigerator or water faucet, how long would you stay put? You’d need to go somewhere else to meet your basic needs. If you want to protect deer at younger ages so that they can mature into nice deer someday, you’ll need to have all three items on your land to eliminate any excuse they have to leave.
There are many ways to provide these three basic needs to your whitetail herd. So before bow hunting season begins in your area, let’s discuss some of the ways you can make a difference now before the season starts. But we’ll also include some long-term goals you can address over the long haul.
A Comfy Place to Sleep
Without adequate cover, a deer won’t ever call your property home. Not entirely. They may wander on to steal some food at night, but unless you can catch them while leaving your fields, good luck bow hunting them. Whitetails require both bedding cover and security cover. Bedding cover is a comfortable place where they can rest throughout the day with a good ability to detect predators from approaching. Typical natural bedding areas are located on south-facing ridges, edges of dense shrub thickets, or native warm season grass fields. Security cover is a habitat that deer will feel safe to move through on their way between bedding and feeding areas (travel corridors) or that they can use in inclement weather or to hide from predators. Typical security cover might include a dense young conifer plantation, thick alder swamp, or blowdown area.
Many recreational properties have large expanses of open, mature woodlands. These are nice to look at, can be beautiful, and may seem like a great place to bow hunt because of all the natural shooting lanes. However, deer also know that these open areas mean potential trouble from predators. As a result, they won’t often travel through them. So if you have these open areas, consider taking steps to fix it.
There are a couple ways to increase the bedding and security cover on your property. One of the best ways occurs over the winter months, and is called timber stand improvement, or TSI. Using this method in the off-season is a nice distraction during the long winter months. However, you can still have success with it during the summer. To start, locate a few areas that are situated on top of a rise with a view, or level areas with relatively open views that point away from the prevailing winds. Hinge-cut a tree by cutting halfway through it and letting it topple. The tree will continue to grow for a few years from the downed tops, creating thick growth. Deer, and bucks in particular, will often bed right at the base of these trees looking out into the open areas. That way they can smell predators from behind them and see anything in front.
One of the best things you can do to enhance the attraction power of cover on your property is to simply leave it alone. Sure, go ahead and do some TSI maintenance every few years, but otherwise leave these areas completely untouched. Try to keep a 5- to 10-acre sanctuary if you can, but smaller ones will attract deer too.
Build a Buffet
Ask just about any hunter how to improve your land for deer, and they’ll give you the same answer: food plots. While natural browse and cover is likely more important overall, they’re not wrong. Food plots can offer a tremendous amount of calories for deer herds almost year-round. The key is to plant species that will provide food when most of the surrounding area is deficient. For example, if you live in an agricultural area where surrounding farms are covered in corn, try planting a late-season brassica mix, which will provide calories after the corn has long been harvested.
The other key to food plot success is diversity. Don’t plant your property all in one type of plant. Instead, plant each plot with a different species or blend. That way, if one species doesn’t develop or gets wiped out too soon, you can count on others to still attract deer during bow hunting season. Does will move around between these plots to eat, while bucks will do the same and use them to check for estrous does.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Deer require water to survive year-round, but it is especially important in the hot summer months. If you don’t have any natural water features (streams, rivers, ponds, swamps, etc.) on your land, consider making some. No, you don’t need to use a backhoe to excavate a huge pond. Actually, multiple smaller water sources are better for deer so they do not have to travel so far and feel comfortable using them.
One simple way to add water is to cut 55 gallon plastic drums in half so that you have two pieces you can counter-sink into the ground. These small pools will collect rainwater for deer to use. Lay a sturdy stick in them so that small animals can climb out if they fall in. During hot or dry fall weather, these water sources can be dynamite bow hunting spots!
So what’s the perfect way to incorporate all of these suggestions and make your land a deer magnet? There is no wrong answer, but consider the following example. Keep a thick sanctuary bedding area at the interior of your property. Surround this area with multiple small food plots with water sources between the food and bedding. Maintain good travel corridors between these areas, as deer usually will take the path of least resistance. Now whitetails will have everything they require within your property lines. They’ll also spend most of their daytime hours at the interior of your land (away from your neighbors), and by the time they feed past your small food plots, it will be too dark for anyone else to shoot them. Don’t forget with all this work put in, to get out and shoot the PRIME as much as possible in order to make it count when the opportunity presents itself.