4 Last-Minute Strategies to Help You Cram for Bow Season
This bowhunter's playbook will prepare even the biggest procrastinator for deer season
Time is a peculiar thing indeed. It can crawl along ever so slowly, or race past in a blink And sometimes, it seems to do both. Such is the case with bow season. Just yesterday, it seemed so far off. Today? It’s practically here. Are you ready? If you’ve allowed the archery opener to creep up on you, rest easy—all is not lost. There’s still time to get yourself in shape for your best bow season ever. But you need to get started—right now.
1. Tune It
The first task to address is a critical one. To get your entire rig into shooting shape, you must also focus on your broadheads. We’re not talking about a full-scale tuning session here. Instead, the goal is simple: Hit the target where you’re aiming.
Too often bowhunters paint broadhead tuning as a time-consuming and difficult process. Hogwash. Hopefully you’ve shot your bow at least a few times over the summer months and are reasonably happy with the results. If that’s the case, tuning your broadheads should take 30 minutes or less.
Get in Line
If my bow is shooting tight groups at 30 to 40 yards using field points, I’m reluctant to change much. I’ll screw my broadheads onto the same size and weight arrow shaft I’ve been practicing with all summer. The key is to align everything before taking that first shot with a broadhead. If you’re using fixed blades, you’ll want to align each blade with the arrow vanes. Here’s how:
- If you used hot-melt adhesive to install your inserts: Simply screw the fixed broadhead in tight, heat the arrow shaft to soften the adhesive, and align the blades with the vanes.
- If your inserts are glued in: Install a small rubber O-ring between the broadhead and the arrow. This will allow you to fine-tune blade alignment while still screwing the broadhead in tight.
There’s no need to worry about blade alignment if you used mechanical heads—just screw them in tight and start shooting.
Next, spin the broadhead-tipped shafts like a top on a hard, flat surface. If they wobble, they won’t fly right. That wobble could be the result of a crooked insert or bent ferrule on the broadhead itself. Correct the problem before moving on.
With the blades aligned and the shaft spinning true, it’s time to shoot those broadheads. My routine involves shooting from 20 yards, then 30, then 40.
If my bow is reasonably tuned, both fixed-blade broadheads and mechanical heads should hit within an inch or so of where the field points hit.
To adjust for minor variances in impact points of fixed-blade heads, I’ll adjust my sights. I’m far more concerned with groupings than variances in impact points between broadheads and field points. So long as I’m able to shoot tight groups from my maximum effective range, no further tuning is needed and I’m good to go—even if I had to adjust my sight pins slightly.
Mechanicals have a similar profile to field points in flight, so the process is usually simple. If they don’t hit where your field points hit, you either have a major tuning issue (which would likely be apparent when shooting field points anyway) or the blades are deploying early. Try shooting a different broadhead of the same brand. If the problem persists, try a different mechanical brand. If both group erratically, it’s likely a tuning issue. If that’s the case, your only recourse is to paper-tune the bow.
2. Scout It
Put your bow away for the day. Lace up your boots and grab a couple of treestands. It’s time to seek out your early-season spots.
I was once an advocate of the “hang your stands well before the season starts” approach. Not anymore. These days, I prefer to wait until just a few days before the opener to move my early-season stands into position. Admittedly, part of this comes from a lack of time to prepare for hunting season. But it’s also a process born of experience.
I live in farm country where corn and soybeans dominate a whitetail’s diet throughout September and October. If I hang stands too early, I run the very real risk of choosing a location that won’t play when Michigan’s bow season opens on October 1.
Soybean fields start to turn yellow, acorns drop early (or late), cornfields are chopped for feed—all of these scenarios can strike around opening day. They can also turn a great stand location into a deer desert in a matter of hours. Thus, I’ve adopted a “speed scout” routine, which can work for hunters in any location, or for anyone who’s just running late.
Put Boots on the Ground Head to the area you intend to hunt and evaluate it in a hurry. Get the job done, and get out. Don’t worry too much about bumping deer…so long as you bump them the right way (see “Troubleshoot,” opposite).
As you scout, look for active primary food sources, any obvious rubbing or scraping activity, and, of course, any sign of other hunters. I can cover a 40-acre parcel in about 30 minutes by working the edges and avoiding areas that contain thick bedding cover. The goal here isn’t to find the perfect spot—it’s to select a smart observational stand with the potential for killing a deer. You can fine-tune the location as needed after a sit or two.
Troubleshoot You won’t be able to keep deer from knowing you’re there, so don’t try. I’m convinced that whitetails in most parts of the country will tolerate some level of human activity as long as they don’t see that activity as a threat. Farmers have been working fields, clearing lanes, and making noise throughout the summer; deer aren’t bothered by this. But sneak up on one, and he’ll have a very different reaction.
Thus, when I speed scout, I don’t try to be quiet. In fact, I want to let the deer know I’m around. I’ll often use an ATV for the task. But if I’m on foot, I’ll make noise and sometimes bring my dog along for the trip. I’ve cleared shooting lanes with a chain saw, and I’ll bang treestands around a bit. I know I’m going to alert deer, so I try to do it in a way that makes me appear nonthreatening.
3. Stand It
The first few weeks of bow season are best suited to afternoon or evening hunts. Whitetails will still be locked into fairly predictable feeding patterns, and the best way to take advantage of that is with an afternoon sit. During the speed scout, take notes on three types of stand locations:
1. Evening Feeding Locations
You should be able to identify the best food sources in your hunting area. Once located during your speed scout, the entry and exit routes to those foods will be fairly obvious, thanks to trails, tracks, and evidence of feeding. That area of heavy sign is where you hang your first stand.
2. Feed-to-Bed morning Routes
Next, locate one of the most-used trails heading toward thick cover near that food source. Follow it until you locate potential bedding cover. Use caution here: You don’t want to disturb that bedding area too much. If the travel route is located in an area that allows you to enter the stand location for a morning sit without blowing deer off the food source, you’ve just found your second stand location. But even then, understand that many of these locations won’t allow for a detection-free approach in the morning. If that’s the case, avoid hunting there until later in the season, as the rut approaches.
The third stand should be positioned near a hub of active sign. This will generally be an area of scrapes, rubs, and intersecting trails. Most properties have an area that deer tend to use more than any other. Finding this during a speed scout is a hit-or-miss affair. But you’ll know it when you see it. If you do find one, consider yourself lucky and get a stand in place.
- Oats: 2 50-lb. bags
- W. Wheat: 2 50-lb. bags
- Turnips: 5-lb.
- Fertilizer: 2 bags
- AA Batteries
Gear For Hanging Stands
- Extra Gloves
- Pole Saw
- Chain Saw, Ear Plugs
- Safety Glasses
- Tool Kit
- Duct Tape
- Ratchet Straps
- Flagging Tape, Glow Tacks
- Bug Spray
- Bow Ropes
- Bow Hooks/Hangers
- Compass (to check wind)
- Trail cams
- SD cards
4. Plot It
If you’re hunting private land and have the option of planting a food plot, you can still squeeze one in.
Pick Your Potion
Planting oats and winter wheat in late August and early September can yield excellent results. Both germinate quickly, grow rapidly in cooler temperatures, and draw deer like crazy. You can also mix in some brassicas if you like.
Time it right
The key is to plant when there’s rain in the forecast, and to apply fertilizer. If you don’t have time for a soil test, an application of 19-19-19 fertilizer mix (available at most farm supply stores) will help immensely. My own plots get a basic treatment: I start by hitting the location with an application of glyphosate about two weeks prior to planting. I’ll follow up with another application a week later.
When it’s time to plant, I broadcast seed by hand right over the dead weeds and grasses. Then I pull an old harrow drag behind my ATV around the plot. This will get the seed into contact with the soil. The dead weeds act like mulch, helping to retain soil moisture. In about two weeks, you’ll have a carpet of green and, hopefully, a steady parade of hungry whitetails enjoying the fruits of your labor. Just make sure you’re in the stand when they show.