In the gear-heavy and short-range archery game, those who sweat the details are most often rewarded with the biggest racks and the most venison. Attention to the small stuff often makes the difference between a bagged buck and a story about what went wrong. Here are 20 tips that I hunt by.
1. Before a buck appears, use a range finder to check yardages of different points around your stand. You might even mark the ranges with color-coded tacks on trees. This way you’ll pick the right pin for sure, boosting your odds of a double-lung hit.
2. Screw fixed or mechanical broadheads into the arrows you’ll tote in your quiver and test every one on a broadhead target. Two or three will undoubtedly fly more smoothly and accurately than the rest. Mark those shafts, hone or replace blades as necessary and shoot them first in the field.
3. To quiet a bow and prevent bucks from jumping the string, Dan Perez of PSE Archery tightens all screws, ties on string silencers, uses fork tamers or heat shrink on his arrow rest and pads areas around the rest with moleskin. “Arrows should weigh at least six grains for every pound of bow draw weight to keep them from making a cracking sound when they leave the string,” he says.
4. Pack a journal. Record all deer sightings, along with the time of day, the wind direction and the weather. Cross-reference this data against an aerial photo of your bow area; you’ll be amazed at how deer patterns jump out at you.
5. “In many woods the first scrapes pop up on the edges of old logging roads,” says Jim Crumley, Virginia archer and creator of Trebark camouflage. “Slip along and scout those roads first.”
6. If a mature doe walks downwind of your stand and smells a rat (i.e., you), she’s liable to stamp and blow for five minutes. To reduce the chance of such a scenario developing, set up where your scent will float back and over a spot where deer probably won’t or can’t walk-a pasture, rocky gully or deep creek.
7. Hunting videographer Terry Drury, of Drury Outdoors, says you should hang your tree stands between 17 and 20 feet up. “At that height, when a deer is broadside between fifteen and twenty-five yards away, you’ll have a good shooting angle.”
8. Look around for logs or brushy tops that would block a buck from walking within 30 yards of your stand. Drag big stuff away and stash it downwind. It amazes me how many hunters fail to do this. They end up sitting and watching deer after deer skirt a log or treetop and veer 10 to 20 yards out of bow range.
9. News flash: It’s foolish to sit in a tree stand you can’t shoot out of. Trim at least three shooting lanes. Hunters are too hesitant to do this.
10. For the best visibility and the most shooting light at dawn and dusk, point a morning stand west and an evening stand east. With the rising or setting sun at your back, you’ll be shaded and hidden. A buck’s antlers and hide will shine, making him easy to pick up a long way out.
[pagebreak] 11. If you scout near a stream, don’t let the sandy soil fool you. Tracks and scrapes in sand are generally fresher than they look.
12. If heavy rains swell a creek into a food plot or oak bottom, deer will hop over to the next closest feed until the water recedes. Move to crops or clover 100 yards away, or hang a stand on a high-and-dry oak ridge and try to surprise a buck at dinnertime.
13. Boots with hard soles and deep lugs grate, thud and bang on a steel platform. A buck that hears you as you stand to draw will look up, get bug-eyed and bolt. Boots with soft, quiet soles and shallow lugs are best when hunting from a tree stand.
14. If the wind is calm, pay close attention to thermals, vertical air currents that generally rise in the morning and sink in late afternoon. You might not like hunting in a steady 15 to 20 mph breeze, but the upside to a stiiff wind is that it shoots your scent in a narrow stream behind your stand. Vertical currents are the most unpredictable and the toughest to handle.
15. Though they haven’t been hunted in a year, many whitetails are super sensitive in early October. If you’re sloppy as you enter or leave a stand, you might clear a field or woodlot of deer and contaminate the spot for a week. Sneak in from downwind, hide behind structure, don’t crack a stick, don’t squeak a wire fence and don’t bang a boot on an aluminum ladder…get the idea?
16. Though I’ve yet to see a buck with a barometer hanging in his core area, deer sure tend to move well when the barometric pressure is rising or falling. Try to hunt those high-pressure days after a cold front blows through your neighborhood.
17. Grunt at every buck that cruises just out of bow range. You never know when one will come toward you to check out the commotion. Pack a bleat call too. “Often deer can hear sassy, high-pitched bleats farther than grunts, especially if it’s windy,” says Will Primos of Primos Hunting Calls.
18. your rattling antlers at home before October 25. That way, you won’t get the urge to rattle and spook deer that aren’t yet ready to respond. Start cracking and grinding antlers together around Halloween and keep it up for the next three weeks.
19. Big rubs generally tell you a big buck is working a ridge or draw. Look for snapped-off limbs and mangled saplings: They mean the buck is aggressive. That’s the kind of buck you want to hunt, because he’s apt to move quite a bit during daylight hours.
20. Remember to draw and be ready to fire before you grunt with your voice. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to get pumped up and put the cart before the horse when a big-racked bruiser is 20 yards below you and trotting away from your stand. If you stop him first and then try to draw, only a miracle will keep you from getting busted. If that happens, you might as well go home, and take your stand with you.