It’s late August, and bowhunters in Missouri are counting down the days until September 15th, when archery deer and turkey season begins. More deer are taken on opening day in than any other day during hunting season, and that includes the rut. But this almost seems too early to be thinking about hunting. It’s 95 degrees and sunny out, and here I am checking through my Mossy Oak jacket and bowhunting gloves. If the past weather patterns are any indication, 20 short days won’t see a significant drop in temperature. Opening day here isn’t early fall. It’s more like late summer.
Hunting in warm weather is a fact of life for bowhunters in the Midwest. The opening day of bow season brings a single critical advantage (the element of surprise), but the typically warm weather brings a number of challenges. Here’s what we’re up against.
- Dealing with Mosquitoes
- Ticks and How to Remove Them
- Poison Ivy and Other Plants
- Dense Foliage and Thick Cover
For me, the mosquitoes are the absolute worst thing about early season. I loathe them like nothing else in the world. You walk into the woods, and a cloud of them surrounds you. Mosquitoes are most active in open areas in the early morning and late evening (when hunting usually takes place), but in the deep woods, they’re never absent. Worse, in warm weather I generally don’t have thick pants, jacket, and gloves to protect me. It’s not just the biting, it’s the distraction: I can’t help but swat away bugs that are harassing me, and that’s more movement for a deer or turkey to notice.
And if the nuisance isn’t enough, there’s the threat of disease. We’ve had something like 20 West Nile virus cases in Missouri this year, and the numbers are climbing. Now that it’s late summer, mosquitoes no longer have the same easy prey (baby birds and small animals). We are the main food source. Thanks to the drought-like conditions, mosquitoes haven’t been much of a problem in our neighborhood until the last couple of weeks. They’re getting markedly worse, and I dread what they’ll be like in the deep woods on opening day. So here’s my bug strategy.
|1. Insect repellent with plenty of DEET. None of this family-friendly 10% “Skinsations” crap either. I’m talking about “Deep Woods” variety repellent with 40% DEET or higher. Better yet, 100% DEET. The top-selling bug repellent on Amazon is Repel 100, a pump spray bottle of 100% DEET repellent that lasts for 10 hours. I spray it liberally from top of head to hunting boots while I’m at the car. I know there’s a risk of the deer smelling this, but it’s my one concession. The benefits outweigh the risks.|
|2. Camouflage face mask. Nothing is more annoying than have a mosquito buzz into your ear. When it happens, I just have to jerk my head away. And then I spend a few seconds attempting to deliver quick-handed death to the offender. The best solution I have for this is wearing a lightweight camouflage face mask that covers the ears. The Primos Mossy Oak Face Mask is nice for warm weather hunting because it’s open on top where your hat goes, so it’s a little cooler to wear. And the extra camouflage seems like a good idea.|
|3. Fire up the Thermacell. When I first groused about how bad the mosquitoes were in early-season hunting on the Missouri Whitetails forums, several fellow hunters immediately had the same advice: Get a Thermacell. These portable devices use butane fuel and repellent-soaked pads to emit a colorless, odorless “smoke” that repels mosquitoes from an entire area.It does you little good while moving, but when you’re sitting still, this thing works incredibly well. And it is essentially odorless (to me, at least). I don’t know that this is the case for deer, but I’ve seen deer while using one, so it can’t be too bad.|
Whenever you’re going into the woods or long grasses, ticks are always a concern. In the areas where I hunt, these pests seem to peak in the springtime rather than the fall, but I’m still wary of them. And I’ve had plenty in life. There’s little more than common sense that can help you avoid ticks while hunting:
- Use high DEET insect repellent. Make sure to spray your legs and ankles.
- Tuck your pants into your boots, or wear pants that tighten with zip cords around your boots. The same goes for gloves and sleeves. Some old hands will just use rubber bands at the wrists and ankles to make better seals.
- Wear a hat. Ticks often drop onto their prey from the trees and foliage above.
- Avoid short and tall grasses when possible. It’s hard to know where exactly I pick up ticks, but grass and fields seem to make me most susceptible.
Any time that you go hunting in warm weather, it’s important to do a “tick check” when you get home. If you have a girlfriend or wife to assist, so much the better! Remove any ticks you find immediately. If he’s still crawling around you can usually use a fingernail. If’he’s dug in, do NOT try to pull the tick out by the body. You need to get him to come out on his own. There are several ways to do this; here are my two recommended ones:
- The match trick. My father-in-law was kind enough to apply this to me when we found a tick on my head. You light a match, blow it out, and immediately put the tip on the tick’s backside. It’s usually not so hot as to burn you, but the ticks don’t like it. Once he’s out, you can kind of prod him around with the match until he can be grabbed.
- Petroleum or polish. Another, and perhaps more widely recommended strategy is to apply petroleum jelly or nail polish at the bite. Coat the tick and the skin all around. If you cover it well enough, these substances will cut off a tick’s air supply, and he’ll have to move in order to breathe.
Once you remove the tick, be sure to dispose of it. These things are harder to kill than you’d think.
In mid-September the plants are very much alive, and that includes poisonous plants. Topping in at the #1 most common allergy among humans worldwide is poison ivy. This crap grows like the weed that it is. There have been times that I was out in the woods, and suddenly realized I was walking in a SEA of poison ivy ground cover. Poison ivy and other toxic plants thrive in transition areas, such as field edges, small clearings, and along trails. They grow best in the same mature forests and woody habitats as our game, so we’re going to run into it.
Most serious bowhunters are competent woodsmen. We know what poison ivy looks like, or at least we’re familiar with the old adage “Leaves of three, let it be.” But there are occasions where brushing against it is inevitable. And the oil can be transferred from one surface to another, even hours after the initial contact.
Thus, when hunting in early season I’m SUPER careful about:
- Wearing long pants, long sleeves, and gloves, even if it’s warm. My Primos stretch-fit gloves, though too thin for December, are perfect for early season.
- Avoiding touching plants at all. If I must, I use a gloved hand.
- Removing a glove and using alcohol-based hand sanitizer before touching my face, (you know) any other part of me.
- When I leave, I peel off all exterior garments (so that they end up inside out) and stuff them into a trash bag until I get get them into the wash.
The woods are very different in early season compared to the rut. Basically everything is still alive and flush from summer. This dense foliage is good cover, for both the hunter and the game. I think, though, that the advantage leans somewhat in their favor. As hunters, we rely more on our eyesight than any other sense, and that’s what dense foliage impedes. The animals know the landscape better than we do. We’re the thing that’s out of place.
In my hunter’s safety training years ago, the instructors mentioned that deer have very poor eyesight, that “beyond 20 yards, everything is a blur to them.” As most bowhunters know, this isn’t quite accurate. Deer seem to have excellent vision. I’ve been spotted, and watched, from more than 50 yards away. And it’s a scientific fact that, in low light, deer see better than humans do.
Of course the other bowhunting quarry — turkeys — have outstanding hearing and perceptive vision. Both senses are better than ours. My safety instructors were right on this count when they said, “You won’t sneak up on a turkey.”
Another drawback to the early season foliage is the lack of shooting lanes. If I set up my stand in advance, I’ll use clippers to trim back some branches, or even a rope or vine to pull them out of the way. I’ve learned over the years to climb up into my stand first, to figure out where the obstructions are. And by “learned” I mean the hard way: after numerous hunts where I climbed up, settled in, and then looked out at a sapling or branch perfectly obstructing my shooting line.