How to Be a Lifetime Deer Hunting Student
Though we hate to admit it, the 2016 bow hunting season is coming to a close very soon. Maybe you can get out on a few more late season hunts, but it’s definitely close. It’s always a bittersweet thing this time of year, particularly if things didn’t go the way you wanted them to. On one hand, that means an official end to deer hunting in the woods with a stick and string for another year, which is a sad realization. However, there will be more time for family and the many other activities that winter has in store, such as ice fishing, snowmobiling, kids’ sporting events, etc. This is also a great opportunity to use your new “free” time to reflect on how the archery season went. By looking back at what might have went wrong or what worked out better than expected, you can have some great lessons learned that you can apply to next year. It’s always good to stay teachable and flexible as we get older because that’s how you grow. This is definitely true about bow hunting deer, since the more you learn, the more you can adapt.
So how are you supposed to come up with and record these thoughts to turn them into deer hunting tips? Whatever method you will enjoy and stick with is the best option. Everyone’s different and has different thought processes and habits, so there’s really no wrong way to do this.
Some hunters might find it helpful to write their observations down in a journal. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy either; a simple notebook will do just fine. Start by writing down a few thoughts on deer behavior or interesting conditions you faced during the year. Did a certain tree stand work out better or worse for deer hunting than you were hoping it would? Simply getting started can be all it takes to really get the pen flowing more easily.
Others might prefer a more technological option. Keeping a deer hunting spreadsheet of various observations from year to year can be incredibly informative. Make separate columns for weather conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, temperature, precipitation, sky cover, etc.), time and date of the observation, and the actual event you witnessed. Whether you write down that a buck approached you from a direction you would have never thought they would or you shot a deer in a new tree stand, these are all powerful observations to keep track of over time. Reviewing these from year to year and adding anything interesting will help you develop a pattern for the deer you hunt, which can make future successes more likely.
If keeping track of these items doesn’t sound interesting to you, don’t sweat it. You can just think about the past season and make mental notes about what you noticed. The next time you gather with hunting buddies and family members, pay attention to what they observed and see if they spill any inadvertent bow hunting tips, especially if they hunt on the same property you do. Reflecting on the deer hunting season is a pretty enjoyable way to spend a winter evening, especially if you can sit by a warm fire while you do it. The faster you learn from your own mistakes and those of others, the better hunter you will become.
Common Lessons Learned From Deer Hunting
Let’s dive into ten common hunting lessons you will likely learn (or have already learned) in this process. Hopefully you’ll be able to apply these to your own hunting situation for next year. There will always be more lessons to learn too; some come easy and some hard. But keep adapting and moving forward.
1. Practice, Practice, Practice…
Just because you’ve been a bow hunter for years doesn’t mean you’re automatically entitled to only making great shots. You need to earn it on every single opportunity. If you can honestly admit to yourself that you didn’t prepare much over the summer, you should probably postpone your hunt to shoot some arrows. This will help reinforce your existing muscle memory, but it will also build up your confidence in making a great shot when the occasion presents itself. If you’ve ever had this situation happen before, remember it for next year. Dedicate time for archery practice throughout the summer and fall. Study archery accuracy tips so that you are always ready for a hunt.
Use Your Patterns with Caution
If you’ve hunted an area for a few years and have kept good notes on deer behavior and the conditions, you may well find an obvious pattern to follow. For example, maybe deer consistently move from south to north past your tree stand when the wind is blowing a certain direction in the morning. That is fantastic to know because it sets you up with the advantage of potentially catching a deer off-guard instead of the other way around. But don’t let the patterns dictate everything you do. Be alert for outliers that don’t fit neatly into the routine. As another example, don’t completely avoid hunting mornings of the rut if you’ve only ever really seen bucks move during the midday hours. Being in the woods during the rut could pay off at any moment, even if it doesn’t match the historic deer movement.
Don’t Get Patterned
That being said, you don’t want to go deer hunting so much every day that the deer pattern you either. They’re very smart animals and they will quickly pick up on your habits if you go in day after day at the same time. That obviously won’t help your chances of harvesting a deer. Instead of hunting the same tree stand through any type of weather, try switching things up or taking a break. It can be really hard to take a day off from deer hunting with a bow. But it’s better to not hunt on a day where the wind is blowing right into a bedding area rather than letting your stubbornness to hunt risk your odds the rest of the season.
Inspect Your Gear
After hunting heavily, our gear can sometimes take a beating. Whether we bump our bow on a tree or our backpack falls out of our tree stand, our critical hunting equipment can be put in jeopardy. Before you leave for the woods, quickly run through a bow hunting gear list to make sure it’s all in good condition. That should include taking a quick shot with your bow, just to make sure it’s still shooting accurately. Some hunters even repeat this step once they climb into their stands by bringing an extra arrow in their Head-loc quiver that they will shoot at a dead stump. Whatever works for you.
Check, and Check Again
Before you physically enter the woods or start off for your tree stand, run through a mental checklist of the bow hunting equipment you need. Think of the small hunting accessories, but also the obvious things. Many hunters forget their release back at the truck because they are in a hurry or don’t stop to think about it, which then just wastes time. For critical items like that, you may even want to leave a spare in your hunting backpack or jacket pocket that never leaves it. That way, you’re covered even if you forget the primary model.
Treat Every Access like a Stalk
At the start of the season, we will often tip toe through the woods on the way to our tree stand locations, keeping our eyes and ears open for any kind of activity. But as the season progresses, we might lose that edge a little and get complacent with simply walking to our stand. This might be exactly when a nice buck bedded just 75 yards away hears you and sneaks out the back door instead of sticking around for a shot. Any time you’re moving on the ground, you should treat it as if you’re stalking a deer. If you’re stealthy, slow down, and avoid breaking branches underfoot, you’ll be much more likely to seal the deal later on.
Wear a Harness
Far too many people are severely injured or even die each year when they fall from their tree stands while deer hunting. This is so pointless, considering it’s never been easier to stay safe in a tree. A safety harness is truly one of the major necessities for bow hunting. When you arrive at your tree stand, the first thing you should do is put on your safety harness. Don’t even question it. Once it becomes part of your routine, you won’t even notice it. It’s definitely worth your time to save your life.
We don’t know what it is about the fresh air and sounds of the forest, but it can be extremely hard to pay attention 100% of the time in a tree stand. We get lost in our own thoughts, take a quick cat nap, or start staring at the squirrel barking at you across the way. That’s when a mature buck literally appears under your tree stand. At that point, you can’t move much to grab your bow, and you’ll just have to wait until he moves off a distance. It’s hard, but try to stay alert and ready for a shot at any time.
Related to the one above, it can feel too tempting to rush into position when we see a deer quickly traveling our way. In the panic, we quickly reach for our bow and draw, which then sends the deer to a screeching halt or running the opposite direction. This is one of the most deer hunting basics, but even veteran hunters get busted this way occasionally. Even when they’re moving fast, we need to still be slow and methodical in our movements, or we risk alerting them and losing a shot opportunity.
Whether you’re new to bow hunting or you’ve been deer hunting for decades, you’ve probably made a shot you weren’t proud of. It’s bound to happen. But if you take time to figure out what went wrong, it will be a valuable lesson instead of just a bad shot. Think about what caused you to miss the perfect shoulder shot. Was it your nerves due to buck fever? Was it a nervous deer that jumped the string? Did the wind cause the fixed broadhead to plane one direction or another? Once you identify the cause of the issue, you’ll be more likely to avoid it next year.
Trust us when we say that making time for this exercise is a worthwhile effort. The deer hunting 2016 season may be almost over, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop thinking about it. The more you dedicate your time to this now, the more prepared you’ll be for opening day…when it comes in several months.