I looked down at the calendar and realized that the start of Missouri’s bowhunting season is just a few weeks away. The wait is almost over!. It went faster than I thought. Almost too fast. There are good hunter-writers like John and Chris Eberhart who take a year-round approach to hunting mature whitetails.
As much as we would love to, many of us bowhunters can’t really pull that off. At least, not while keeping our wives, kids,and gainful employment. But with about a month to go, there are things we can do now to get ready for opening weekend.
1. Locate All Hunting Equipment
Hunting gear tends to spread out over the course of several months. Other hunting seasons, spring cleaning, home improvements, and other activities tend to spread things around. I know that some of my gear is in the garage, and some in the basement, and some in my office. It’s going to take some time to track it all down.
I’ve read that one of the best ways to prepare before the season is pick a date and pretend it’s opening day. Gear up as if you’re really going out hunting in the morning. Get your clothes and boots together. Load your bow and quiver and tree stand and everything else in the truck. That’s the best way to figure out exactly what’s accounted for, and what’s missing.
2. Replace or Repair Old/Damaged Gear
Some gear is durable and seems to hold up year after year. Other equipment gets lost, damaged, or broken. The equipment I’m usually replacing every year includes:
- Arrows, field tips, and broadheads. Shots taken in the field, or more often too much target practice, is hard on them. Broadheads become dull or mangled. And I want every arrow in pristine condition for the start of a new season.
- Fuel and pads for my Thermacell mosquito repeller, an absolute must for early season. Because you can’t sit still with a cloud of mosquoties around you.
- Odor neutralizers and cover scents. These get used up, and even if they don’t, cover scents and neutralizers lose potency over time.
3. Make new hunting buddies
Hunting is often a solo activity, particularly for bowhunters. Coming from a mostly non-hunting family, I’m always looking to meet new people who hunt, or try to persuade existing family/friends/co-workers to take up the sport. Doing either thing gets harder once the season begins, for a few reasons:
- Time. With shorter daylight hours and either the rut or the end of season approaching, time is limited. Scouting and hunting have to take priority.
- Learning curve. It seems harder to get a non-hunter educated, licensed, equipped, and up to speed once hunting season has started. Certain skills, like estimating distance and shooting tight groups, take long hours of practice.
- Competition. Let’s be honest, there’s a bit of a conflict of interest involved during the season. Especially in heavily hunted communities where hunters far outnumber the deer or deer tags available.
But hey, it’s still summer so most of us aren’t worried about that. It’s a good time to make a friend. The same goes for online connections. If you happen to be a hunter who writes or blogs about it (or was considering doing so), give me a shout!
4. Find private land to hunt
One of my goals this year is to get permission to hunt on private land. This isn’t as easy to do as it once was. There’s less land, more hunters, and greater fear of liability. I don’t have the magic answer for finding land and obtaining permission to hunt it, but it’s a topic covered by many writers. Bass Pro Shops has a good article on the passport to private land hunting.
But I’ve really only had success when I know the landowner personally. So ask around. One of your friends or family probably knows someone with a farm or tract of land that needs hunting.
5. Scout public land
More than likely I’ll still spend much of the season hunting public land. I simply can’t get myself out to conservation areas in spring or early summer to scout. There’s too much going on, the bugs are horrible, the weather’s hot… there are plenty of reasons not to go. Scouting is critical, we all know that. Here are a few reasons to go now:
- Most people aren’t thinking about hunting. People are taking vacations, getting ready for school, doing just about anything but thinking about hunting season. With all of that activity, you can scout much less conspicuously. That’s a must for hunting in urban zones.
- Deer patterns are changing. I’ve had the joy of watching a doe raise twin fawns in my backyard this year, so I’m pretty plugged into behavior. Now, the fawns are just getting to the point of independence. Food and water are the priority. Sounds like early season patterning to me.
- Competitive advantage. I’m talking about other hunters and the deer. Neither group expects you to be out there this early. It gives you more time to find that secluded spot for the perfect early fall ambush.
6. Clear shooting lanes
As I found out today with the weedwacker in my own back yard, crap has been growing like crazy over the summer. Isn’t nature just incredible? If you’re lucky enough to have some stand locations figured out, you can clear the shooting lanes now, and have your scent gone well before opening season rolls around.
Here’s a fun way to get warmed up for bowhunting season: use your digital trail cameras to take a wildlife survey. I’ve done this once already to investigate a wooded area beside an orchard where we’d seen some deer a while back. Now’s the time to spot and pattern that new buck, or find out which does made it (and had fawns) over the last year.
Plus, it takes a lot of work to get those shots that you can submit to Field & Stream‘s trail cam photo contests!
8. Mineral Licks and Food Plots
Nothing draws game like food and nutrients. For bowhunters, baiting is usually out — for legal or ethical reasons — but salt/mineral licks and planted food plots are good alternatives. Both are effective lures for deer and other wildlife, but both need to become established before they’re valuable for scouting or hunting over.
Setting them up now leaves plenty of time for your scent to wash away, and the animals to find them, before hunting hours are open. Today I bought Evolved Habitat’s Clover Crush, which you can plant in the spring or fall and provides perennial clover growth to attract deer.
9. Practice with the Bow
There is probably no more important skill in bowhunting than being able to shoot accurately. You can do everything else right, have a perfect 170-class pause broadside at 20 yards, and still not take him if you don’t have the shooting skills down cold.
For me, it’s the distance estimation that’s the challenge. I’ll have to get back into my habit of constantly estimating distances to things as I go about my daily routine.
10. Build goodwill at home and at work
Hunting, for most of us, is an obsession. Between September and January it’s all-consuming. Lots of things take a back seat to the pursuit of the monster buck, including:
- Work responsibilities
- Family activities
- Home repairs
- Social engagements
- Personal hygiene
Now’s the time to make some headway in those areas. Any goodwill you build up now can be drawn upon when you have to get up at 3:30 a.m. to be in your stand an hour before sunrise.