Bowhunting Bonus: September 2010

Time to get ready for bow season! Here are some of the hottest tips to score early on the biggest buck of your life.

Fit is the most important factor when choosing a harness. Try different models until you find one that feels just right.

DEADLY STANDS

Utilize these pull-stand strategies to coax monster bucks out of their isolated sanctuaries.

by Travis Faulkner

A mature buck that has survived long enough to be packing around a lot of bone on his head can be extremely difficult to hunt, and for good reason. These bad boys are master escape artists who have learned how to play (and even cheat) the game.

To make matters even more challenging, shooter bucks living in highly pressured areas are usually notorious for moving exclusively under the cover of darkness.

However, there are a few sneaky set-ups and tricks you can use to pull a monster buck right out of his safe zone and into one of your cleared shooting lanes.

Exploit Safe Routes

Have you ever noticed how challenging it can sometimes be to move in close and hang a stand near a veteran buck's preferred travel route? These carefully picked trails usually cut across hard-to-reach areas that are protected by thick cover and prevailing wind directions. Hunters who try to force the issue and set up dangerously close to these routes often end up spooking and educating a potential shooter.

The trick is to strategically hang pull-stands within hearing, smelling or seeing distance of these big buck safe routes. Look for key locations that you can reach and hunt without alerting bucks to your presence. Next, utilize appropriate calling, decoying and scent-application strategies that will help lure the big boys directly to your set-up.

Hit His Staging Area

The same concept can also be used when targeting bucks inside of hard-to-hunt staging areas. These potential hot spots are generally located somewhere between current bedding and feeding areas that offer adequate cover.

A deadly strategy is to set up several pull-stands that will allow you to hunt close to prime staging areas regardless of the current wind direction. Again, make sure you are capable of safely entering and exiting these stand sites without alarming or alerting deer.

Bust His Bed

Sneaking into a buck's bedroom and hunting a stand without being detected can be a risky move. Instead of intruding into these highly sensitive areas, try hanging a pull-stand along the perimeter or edges.

These strategically placed set-ups will allow you to grab the buck's attention, and then coax him into range without bumping any other deer off their bedding.

A highly effective technique is to attack all three of a buck's primary senses by using calls, scents and decoys together to add realism. Remember, the key to success with any pull-stand set-up is to correctly match your tactics with the current transitional phase of the rut (see below).

Calling the Rut

1. Early Pre-Rut Transition - Hunters should use non-threatening social buck grunts, straight pre-rut buck urine and a buck decoy during the opening weeks of the season. These tactics

can stimulate a buck's curiosity to check out the new guy on

the block.

2. Rut Transition - Step things up a notch by hitting bucks with more aggressive strategies that can trigger a territorial response. Use agitated grunts, rattling, dominant buck urine and an intruder buck decoy.

3. Rut Breeding Transition - The actual breeding phase requires hunters to switch over to hot-doe bleats, tending grunts, estrous-doe scents and a doe decoy. During this brief period, mature bucks are focused entirely on estrous does, and your strategies should match this behavior.

Fit is the most important factor when choosing a harness. Try different models until you find one that feels just right.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT SAFETY HARNESS

Of all the equipment a bowhunter uses, this may be the most important. Here's what to look for.

by Todd Kuhn

When you're 25 feet up a tree, the only thing between you and the unforgiving ground below is your harness. This needn't be a worry--if you're wearing a proper safety harness. A dizzying array of products exists, so how do you decide what's right for you? Here's a simple list of things to look for when shopping for a harness.

Fit Check: When looking for a new harness, make sure you try on several models and brands. Never choose a harness from the package label. Every manufacturer has its own design features. Research the brands you are interested in and choose according to their product merits.

By all means, check the weight capacity of the harness to ensure you don't exceed it.

Cinch It Up: After slipping on a harness, tighten the leg straps, waist belt and shoulder straps. Once you're buckled in, move around and lift your legs to simulate climbing.

Extend your arms as if drawing a bow or aiming a rifle. If the harness binds, try another until you find one that fits properly and feels really comfortable.

Gadgets: At some point, harness manufacturers thought that adding "gadgets" would sell more harnesses. While a few gadgets may be helpful, most are distractions or nuisances.

Remember, in most instances your harness will be under several layers of thick outerwear, rendering access to belt pockets difficult. If you won't use them, don't pay for them.

Bulkiness: Nothing is more frustrating than wearing a cumbersome harness. Typically, the less expensive the harness, the more bulky it is.

Large, obtuse buckles and stiff, non-conforming webbing is cheaper than diminutive hardware and supple webbing. If a harness doesn't conform to your curves and the hardware bites you, you won't wear it.

This harness, from Summit, can be worn under or over clothing. Note that it fits well and there is no jangling hardware.

Underwear: When you're trying on harnesses, remember that they're generally worn under your layering. A harness tried on over a short-sleeve T-shirt won't fit the same as when it's worn over heavy undergarments.

When trying different harnesses, always wear your base-layer hunting garments. While you might look a bit odd, you'll leave the store confident your harness fits.

Durability and Quality: Before buying, give the harness a close once-over. Check the tightness of the stitching and the quality of junctures (e.g., where the webbing overlays other webbing and is sewn).

Inspect the hardware: Is it ruggedly designed and easily operated (even while you're wearing gloves)? Is it silent?

Hardware that clanks together will have you muttering nasties under your breath the rest of the season.

Most important: Make sure the harness meets Treestand Manufacturers Association (TMA) standards. If it doesn't say so, put it down and opt for one that does.

Warranty: Typically, the better the harness, the better the warranty. Harnesses meeting the TMA standards will have a date of manufacture label. Check to make sure the harness has been manufactured recently, since there is a 3- to 5-year expiration date.

Stick to mainstream manufacturers to minimize warranty issues. "Budget" harnesses are usually just that.

The crossbow's horizontal limbs make it easy to maneuver, but the notion that it shoots as flat as a rifle is pure myth.

CROSSING OVER

Here's how to transition from shooting a compound to mastering a crossbow.

by Todd Kuhn

Whether you're a crossbow advocate or just an interested bowhunter, rest assured, crossbows are here to stay. Each year, thousands of loyal compounders are making the conversion from compounds to crossbows. There are many reasons for shouldering a crossbow, but the first, and perhaps the most important, is that they are just plain fun to shoot and hunt with.

If you're ready to take the plunge into the crossbow world, here are a few things to keep in mind when making the switch.

Different Strokes: Crossbows have abbreviated power strokes compared to their compound counterparts. As such, they require more draw weight to achieve efficient arrow speeds.

Draw weights on crossbows typically range from 150 to 200 pounds. These heavyweights require mechanical cocking devices to draw, and that takes time and movement.

In hunting situations, this can be a detriment because, as with a single-shot firearm, should your first shot miss, chances are you won't get another as re-cocking is neither a quick, nor quiet affair.

The Myth Debunked: Most of us have heard the comparison of crossbows to guns, with the implication that these bows are as flat-shooting as rifles. Though widely spread by anti-crossbow folks, that claim is a myth. Crossbows are primitive hunting weapons.

Compound arrows weigh around 350 grains; crossbow arrows tip the scales at 425 to 450 grains. While the feet-per-second speeds are comparable, arrow trajectories are not. Crossbow arrows have considerably more drop than compound arrows do, and are typically less forgiving.

Versatility: On the whole, crossbows are more versatile. Compounds are draw-weight and draw-length specific, and are sighted in for each individual shooter. Crossbows, on the other hand, can be sighted in and used by any number of shooters.

In addition, once a crossbow has been cocked, anyone capable of holding it can shoot it. And in most instances, crossbows are ambidextrous, so anyone, right or left-handed, can enjoy shooting the same bow.

Physical Considerations: While crossbows have certain advantages, they're not without their drawbacks. Most crossbows are physically heavy, making it a chore to lug them to and from hunting stands. They're also oddly balanced, with a completely unique feel from either a rifle or compound, which can make them challenging to aim for the uninitiated.

When aiming a scope-sighted crossbow, your field of view is diminished over a traditional peep and compound pin sight combination. Aiming with both eyes open on a compound affords a panoramic field of view, in contrast to the crossbow's claustrophobic tunnel vision view through a scope.

Ground Gainer: Crossbows do shine in several hunting situations, however. When assigned to groundblind duty, they're particularly hard to beat. A ground blind's low overhead clearance has plagued almost every compound shooter who has spent time giving it a go from the ground.

In many cases, the upper limb of the compound has the frustrating tendency of contacting the blind's roof. Add to the mix the wingspan of the compound shooter, and fore and aft operating room rapidly becomes a treasured commodity. The crossbow's horizontal limb design eliminates all such problems, making them a perfect ground-blind companion.

Crossbows can also be drawn long before an animal appears and can be held comfortably (and motionless) until the perfect shot presents itself.

Heavyweight Champ: Most crossbow novices will immediately notice how heavy the arrows are compared to compound arrows. Crossbow arrows typically weigh about 75 to 100 grains more than their compound cousins.

With the added mass, crossbow arrows deliver considerably more kinetic energy to the target. This added "oomph" can mean the difference between a marginal shot resulting in marginal penetration and punching through for an ethical kill.

Business End: Whether with a compound or crossbow, if you're going to hunt, you'll need a complement of broadheads. In most instances, getting broadheads to fly true out of a crossbow is more difficult than with a compound. As such, many crossbowers resort to mechanical broadheads.

While mechanical designs have progressed light years, there's still a compromise on performance. Mechanicals require more kinetic energy to deploy the blades upon impact, rendering them less efficient than their fixed-bladed counterparts.

While it may take a bit more tweaking to get fixed-blade heads to fly perfectly, do yourself and your game a favor, opt for these.

Quick Fact: Crossbows shoot "arrows." The term crossbow "bolt" refers to short, medieval dart-like projectiles designed to pierce chainmail amour. Using the term "bolt" should strictly be left to ancient history buffs.

Quick Fact: The popularity of red-dot scopes has grown exponentially as crossbowers enjoy the weapon's ease of operation and improved field of view. Unmagnified red-dot scopes help hunters attain their target quickly without fusing with magnification settings.

FOUR BEST BOWS UNDER $500

Budget tight? No worries. These bows offer great features and performance, and they're easy on the pocketbook.

by Paul Korn

1 | Bear Charge

What's Hot: Starting with a bow that offers a lot of value to performance, the Bear Charge, at $300, is hard to beat. It has an IBO rating of 305 fps and a

brace height of 7.75. The draw adjusts from 26 to 30 inches with a mass weight of 3.7 pounds.

The only issues we have surface when the bow is adjusted to its two shortest draw adjustments. The buss cable doesn't align perfectly in the 26- and 27-inch draw lengths, and it rubs very hard on the cam.

The Bear Strike is a similar bow that sells for $400, which gives you a few more fps and adds two string stops; the Charge has none.

Bottom Line: This bow shoots and handles well. It has lots of adjustment and the price is very attractive.

The Bowtech Soldier offers a wide range of draw-weight adjustments and shoots well, even at low poundage.

FOUR BEST BOWS UNDER $500

by Paul Korn

2 | Bowtech Soldier

What's Hot: Our next pick is the Bowtech Soldier, which retails for $400 and offers a 6 7⁄8-inch brace height and 80 percent let-off, and measures 31 3⁄8 inches axle-to-axle. The draw length adjusts from 22 to 29 inches on Bowtech's popular Binary cam.

The Soldier accomplishes the draw-length changes by having oversize limb pockets, whereas other bows, such as those from Mission, use modules to shorten or lengthen the cables to make these adjustments. We noticed that when this bow is adjusted down to 35 pounds, the string and cables become very loose.

Bottom Line: It still seems to shoot well at the lower poundage, but with more vibration and noise.

FOUR BEST BOWS UNDER $500

by Paul Korn

3 | Hoyt Power Hawk

What's Hot: Next is the Hoyt Power Hawk, which retails for $450. It has an IBO speed of 303 fps and 32-inch axle-to-axle measurement. This bow offers a magnesium riser and two cam adjustments. (No. 1 is 25 to 27.5 inches and No. 2 is 27.5 to 30 inches.)

Bottom Line: This bow shoots very well, feels good in the hand and tunes up quickly.

The Mission Maniac is the most adjustable bow out there--from 20 to 70 pounds--so it's perfect for growing young archers.

FOUR BEST BOWS UNDER $500

by Paul Korn

4 | Mission Maniac

What's Hot: The Mission Maniac is a lot of bow for $450. It offers a 31-inch axle-to-axle measurement, 7.125-inch brace height, 310 IBO speed, 4.125-pound mass weight and 77 percent let-off. It is also the most adjustable bow on the market, going from 20 to 70 pounds, with 22 to 30 inches of draw adjustment on a dual-cam system.

Mission does a great job on its website of explaining how the length and weights change in relation to each other. With the Maniac, you can take a 70-pound bow down to 35 pounds at a draw length of 22 inches.

Bottom Line: This bow will grow with a younger archer; it's also a great choice for Mom or Dad.

Editor's note: Paul Korn is the owner of A-1 Archery in Hudson, Wisconsin. The above information is based on his many years of experience and that of the technicians at his shop.

GOING RECURVE

A perfect set-up for traditional archery.

by Todd Smith

When I wanted to put together a traditional recurve set-up, I turned to the experts at Bear Archery and 3 Rivers Archery. Here's what they recommended.

1 | Bear Grizzly - Beautiful satin finish, and at 58 inches, it's not overly long to shoot. It's tough and super-traditional. ($330)

2 | Limbsaver Stringer - This easy-to-use stringer from Selway Archery eliminates string twists. ($12)

3 | Berlin Glove - This deerskin glove feels great, and reinforced fingertips ensure years of wear. ($24)

4 | Arrowhead Armguard - Three layers of leather offer great protection. Stretch cords keep the armguard firmly in place. ($23)

5 | Masters of the Barebow - There are some great tips on this DVD from some of the best traditional archers in the game. ($25)

6 | TA Back Quiver - Holds up to a dozen arrows, and adjusts easily to fit over clothing. ($101)

7 | Traditional Only Arrows - These look like wood but offer the great flight and deep pass-through of carbon construction. ($63 to $110)