This week is almost a national holiday in the whitetail nation. All over the country, hunters are cashing in those vacation days (or just calling in sick). The highways are crowded with pickups hauling coolers and ATVs. It’s deer hunting season! In Missouri, we’ve been triply blessed: the gun season for deer seems to have coincided with the peak of the rut and [at last] a perfect week of calm, cool weather. I went out and got my firearms any-deer permit. I inherited a 30-06 from my grandfather, who hunted in the mountains of Pennsylvania. I’m not taking it out this year, though.
Because I’m bowhunting during gun season.
Granted, there’s a reason that deer hunters love gun season. Last weekend, youth hunters (ages 6-15) killed 19,300 deer last in Missouri, up 18% from last year. Two days, a bunch of kids, and almost 20,000 deer were taken. There’s a certain satisfaction for the early-season bowhunter, too, because every deer that was too far out or quartering-to or hiding behind a bush is now in range.
Advantages to Bowhunting During Gun Season
Technically, archery season is suspended in Missouri while the firearms deer season takes place. However, a bow is a legal weapon for gun seasons, so all you need is a firearms deer tag to take one. Crossbows are also allowed, as are primitive weapons like the atlatl (though I would really LOVE to see someone throw a 5-foot dart with a large wooden paddle without giving the deer time to bolt).
Here’s why I like to bowhunt during gun season:
- Continuity. I’ve been so obsessed with archery season, archery shooting, target practice, wind direction… just when it’s all coming to a head, I hate to put aside the bow to collect dust for a couple of weeks while I take the gun out.
- Hunting ground. Most of the time, I hunt on public land that’s designated “archery methods only”. This is because it’s close to home and I feel slightly safer going out. The only problem is that public lands get crowded, especially on weekends, and worst of all in November. Firearms season is a brief respite: most of the hunters are off gun hunting.
- Use the pressure. Between the intensity of the rut and the constant fusillade of gunfire, whitetail deer are bound to be on high alert. I’m hoping that the sudden, high hunting pressure will drive them into quieter areas where gun hunting isn’t allowed. Areas where silent bowhunters will be waiting.
- Dense timber. Most of my deer encounters this year were in dense woods. Visibility is often 30 yards or less. I don’t need a gun for that distance, so I might as well be using a bow.
- Safety. I know that 99.9% of hunters are safety conscious. They practice good muzzle control, don’t shoot until they’re sure that (1) it’s a deer, and (2) there’s nothing in harm’s way behind the target. That said, I know the heart-pounding rush of adrenaline that occurs when you hear a deer about to walk into view. I feel much safer if I’m on grounds where I and other hunters are using bows instead of quick-to-pull triggers.
- Just love bowhunting. There’s something primal about taking a historic (if technologically current) weapon with you out into the woods in pursuit of game.
Finally, if it comes to that, there will be a true feeling of satisfaction when I punch a firearms deer tag with my compound bow.