Right now, with the peak of the rut approaching in many states, there were bound to be some interesting answers. So far I’ve seen 75 replies across the two discussions, with lots of experienced bowhunters chiming in.
So I’ve taken all of their good answers and boiled it down to these tips.
Many, perhaps most of the recurrent tips from bowhunters centered on the hunter himself (or herself), on adopting attitudes and practices that ultimately yield success.
- Be patient. This was the most frequent tip I heard from experienced bowhunters. Even the best of us spend more hours sitting in the stand or blind, not seeing or shooting anything. Patience applies to the season as well: don’t get dispirited because you haven’t taken a deer by the end of the rut. Not every deer is taken by November 30th! Finally, be patient through your hunting career. Hunters generally get better over time, and their success reflects that.
- Stay confident. Believing in yourself, your abilities, the choices you’ve made for a particular hunt, are all important. The moment you start second-guessing yourself, your hunting will suffer. Every morning, go out with this mentality: I’m going to shoot a deer today.
Preparing for the Hunt
- Know the area you intend to hunt as well as your own backyard. Scout before, during, and after the season. Use topo maps, digital scouting cameras, and Google Earth to know the land through and through.
Practice good scent control. Many, many serious hunters obsess about this. They take scent showers with the green soap, they mix their own homegrown scent neutralizers, they put foul-smelling varmint urine on their boots. I’m getting more into this because it’s something hunter can work on when even not in the field. We can avoid everyday sources of strong, unnatural scents like gasoline, smoke, cleaning supplies, chemicals, cologne, and perfume. Use scent killers (either the commercial version or baking soda) on everything that goes out in the field with you. For an in-depth guide, see my article on how scent control helps bowhunters.
Remember that time you were out hunting and made that incredibly stupid mistake? We all have stories like these. Hilarious to re-tell, but not very funny at the time. Here are some practical tips from the old hands of bowhunting.
- Don’t forget your release. This seems to be a pretty common problem. One bowhunter suggested finding a release you love and buying a second one – keep it in your hunting pack so you always have a backup.
- Make sure your bow will clear your stand when you shoot. Same goes for nearby branches. If your arrow bumps something, you’re going to miss the shot. If a limb of your bow hits something, you might be in bigger trouble!
- Pack extra batteries if you take a flashlight or GPS to the woods. And certainly if you’re going to check your trail camera, because Murphy’s Law says that the trail camera batteries will always, always be dead.
Deer Hunting Strategies
There were a lot of general bits of wisdom from longtime hunters, the sort of advice that covers deer hunting in a nutshell. We hunters know these things already, but a reminder never hurts.
- Hunt the wind. Probably the single most important strategy for hunting whitetail deer, even with scent killers and cover scents. Hunting the wind doesn’t just mean that you check the wind when you get out of the truck and assume it never changes. It means you constantly monitor wind direction and plan your hunts around it. If the timing and season and deer behaviors are perfect for your favorite stand, but the wind is not, don’t hunt that stand. Instead, hang multiple stands for different wind directions.
- Monitor your surroundings constantly. Deer tend to come from unexpected directions, especially during the rut. Give yourself a good view of your surroundings. Investigate every sound. Learn to watch for parts of deer — an ear, an antler, the white flash of under-fur. Invest in a pair of good hunting binoculars (see my reviews of the best hunting binoculars), keep them handy, and use them often.
- Be quiet. Be still. There’s a strong temptation to move too much while waiting in ambush. And there are plenty of ways to make too much noise (things that clink, rattle, squeak, click, etc.) that should be addressed before you go afield. Forget about smell, deer have better hearing than we do as well. And they see better in low light which is usually when we’re hunting them.
Tips for the Rut
- Spend as much time as possible in the stand. This is something many hunters echoed. It’s all about getting out there and putting in the stand time. The deer are more active and less wary. Perhaps more importantly, they’re moving in daylight hours (AKA legal shooting time).
- Hunt the does. Buck behavior changes significantly during the pre-rut and rut periods as the desire to breed does disrupts most of their routines. They’re seeking out does, following, chasing, eating and bedding with them. So if you want to see a buck, go out and hunt the does.
Making One Shot Count
When that magical moment comes and the Pope & Young buck steps into a shooting lane, you get exactly one chance. All of your scouting and scent-blocking and patience have been spent just to give that opportunity. Don’t blow it.
- Know your distance. Most missed shots are due to incorrect yardage estimation. When you’re sitting in your stand, range trees at different distances and set them as landmarks in your head. Use a laser rangefinder. Whenever I’ve seen a deer in the woods, my mind immediately shouts the distance. And that first shout is usually wrong. I try to take an extra second, use my landmarks, to select the right pin for the shot.
- Practice, practice, practice. Go to the range even during the season. Practice shooting from different positions and elevations (most of us are shooting from tree stands). Multiple hunters stressed that you should practice shooting in a way that mimics how things will be in the field – so wear all of your camo, hat, heavy coat, etc.
- Use razor-sharp broadheads. These kill more efficiently and leave a better blood trail. Check blades for sharpness before each hunt; oxidation and going in and out of the quiver can dull them. Replace broadheads that are old or damaged. Believe it or not, you can actually find good broadheads for cheap on Ebay.
One of the most resounding themes among hunters sharing their tips was safety.
- Wear a harness while in the tree stand. Better yet, use a lifeline and fasten it the moment you start climbing the tree. Too many hunters have become injured or worse by falling out of their tree stands. Don’t become a statistic.
- Make sure someone knows when and where you’ll be hunting. If something happens and you don’t make it home, that person can tell searchers where to find you. Hours could make the difference if you get lost, injured, or just need help dragging out a deer.
- Keep your phone or radio in your pocket. Not in your hunting bag. I thought this was a great tip, because as the hunter pointed out, if you fall or get lost, a phone in your backpack up in your tree stand doesn’t help you at all.
In Summary, Get Out and Hunt
I really enjoyed reading the #1 tips that bowhunters had to offer. I couldn’t even cover them all; for my own personal safety I didn’t highlight the tongue-in-cheek suggestion “If you want to see deer, don’t share a stand or blind with your spouse.” With luck, you found some of these tips helpful. If you have a great #1 bowhunting tip that’s not on the list, I’d love to hear it! Shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment below.