Countdown to Bow Season: Critique Last Year, Prepare for This Year

News & Tips: Countdown to Bow Season: Critique Last Year, Prepare for This Year...

A successful hunt falls on lessons learned and how you apply that to the next hunt. It's also about preparation, whether scouting or talking with land owners early in the year. Remember, the early bird gets the worm.

Critiquing Last Season  

A friend once told me, "If they live, you learn," and I consider that great advice. You should learn something from every bowhunting mistake. But you should also learn from successes.  

For example, one year I failed to take the biggest buck of the year because I stayed in a stand after the wind shifted. Though I knew that the bucks I hunted almost always scent-checked the field, I thought that this time, because of the whisp of a breeze and my cover scents, I might get away with it. Of course, I lived to regret that decision. Now I know never to take that chance again.

On another hunt, I was reminded about the effectiveness of grunt calls. So this year, I will certainly make them a greater part of my bowhunting repertoire.  

Pay special attention to old scrapes, last year's rubs and concentrations of scat, then mark these places on your GPS.

The deer are constantly teaching us lessons that shouldn't just be filed away. Instead, each encounter should be examined for the things you did right and wrong as well as for why the deer acted the way it did. Digesting these lessons brings you one step closer to venison in the upcoming season. 

Preseason Scouting

The off-season, especially before green-up, is the time to explore your deer woods and get to know the terrain. Make these excursions un-intrusive and infrequent, however you don't want to educate the deer you plan on hunting. 

I begin by visiting known feeding areas, such as isolated hay fields or old orchards, in the middle of the day. Then I backtrack those trails that lead into them hoping to find bedding areas. Along the way, I note good stand locations; places where trails converge, or where deer will be funneled by terrain or man-made obstacles such as fences. I'll pay special attention to old scrapes, last year's rubs, and concentrations of scat, as well as places where I actually see deer.

I'll mark these things on my handheld GPS. And, once at home, I'll plot all the sign on a hand-drawn map. When combined with the experiences of previous seasons and the prevailing wind, stand placement decisions become easier.

If You Want a New Place to Hunt, Ask Early

The old saying about the grass being always greener doesn't just apply to livestock. Most hunters know of good properties that we'd like access to as well. Sometimes, social groups, friends who know the landowner, your standing in the community, or good fortune, might provide a reasonable chance at securing permission. But most times, you need to go knocking on doors.  

Asking landowners for permission to hunt early demonstrates that you are serious about your sport.

If you are thinking of this, don't wait until the day before the opener. I have found that people are much more apt to consider your request if it is the first one, rather than one of many — a situation where they sometimes feel it's easiest to say no to everyone. Asking early gives a landowner time to learn a little more about you and your sport. It also demonstrates that you are more serious than those who are scrambling for last minute hunting spots and, should permission be granted, it gives you time to scout.

Developing a Scent Strategy  

A good hunter never underestimates a deer's sense of smell. That's why hunting with a favorable wind is so important. But when a deer gets up close and personal, it also pays off to have a proven scent strategy. And, once again, the off-season is the time to work this out.  

That's when I talk to successful hunters, do my research, and, finally, collect cover and attractor scents that will give me an edge. I'll also look for clothing that suppresses human scent, as well as body washes, shampoos and clothing storage systems. Once I find the right products, I'll add them to my kit.  

While I'm at it, I'll determine the appropriate stand heights for different locations — generally, as high as the situation allows, within reason. Do these things and that buck will never know you're there, even as you are coming to full draw.

Setting Up Stands  

Because I hunt on private property, I have the luxury of setting up my tree stands early. This allows time for the deer to get used to them and provides me with good options no matter what opening day brings.

At high percentage spots, such as old apple orchards, I try to have at least two stands set up so that I can hunt the place regardless of the wind direction.

A Final Word  

When a nice cold beverage or a good bass lake is calling your name, all this preparation might seem like work you can put off until later. But don't be fooled. Life gets in the way and the best of intentions fall by the wayside. And with it, so do your chances of taking that big buck.  

Don't let that happen to you this season. Hey, the countdown is on.