The final week leading up to the bowhunting season’s opening day seems to drag on forever. Part of the problem is that most of my big preparation tasks for bow season are done already. I’ve been shooting the bow for months, getting it tuned in and trying for tight, accurate groups. In my pre-season scouting trips (Labor Day scouting and also scouting some urban land), I followed up on deer and turkey that I already knew to inhabit two of my planned hunting areas. I stared at satellite and topo maps on Google Earth until my eyes burned.
Instead, in this last week, preparation is all about the little things.
Hunting Gear Inventory and Prep
A big part of the last-minute prep is collecting all of my gear together, taking inventory, cleaning it, and packing it so that I know where everything is. My gear tends to get spread around to various places (basement, garage, etc.) and I have to track it all down. Everything goes into the hunting backpack. Ever take a minute to count the number of things in your backpack? It’s probably upward of 30 items in mine. I’m organizing things, changing batteries, replacing plastic bags, that sort of thing.
And I pay particular attention to these essentials, the four things I would turn around and go back to the car for:
- Rope. A length of camouflage rope or sturdy cord comes in is important. I use it to raise and lower things to/from my stand, pull trees and limbs out of shooting lanes, and as an extra safety measure while climbing. Sturdy rope is also critical for dragging a deer out after a successful hunt.
- Binoculars. I would never go hunting without a pair of good hunting binoculars. They have so many uses — looking for game, inspecting “strange” objects in dense timber, searching for sign — that I’d feel almost blind going in without them.
- Knife. Maybe it’s the Boy Scout in me, but I don’t go into the woods (even scouting) without a good knife. In addition to the obvious (though unlikely to be needed) self-defense, a knife is a critical survival tool. For me, it’s important in the warm weather of early season to touch things. With poison ivy and oak and other toxic plants still alive, I try not to touch anything in the woods I don’t have to. A knife helps.
- GPS. I’m quite familiar with the areas I hunt, but the thing about mature forest is that a lot of it looks the same. It’s so easy to get turned around. In addition to making sure I can find my way home, the GPS lets me mark new sign, game trails, and other landmarks for later analysis.
- Bug protection. I’m dead serious about bug protection in early season. Mosquitoes are the worst, and with West Nile cases up 30% since last week, keeping them away from me is more important than ever. I pack high-DEET insect repellent and coat myself with it the second I get out of the car. Once I’m set up, I light the miraculous Thermacell and enjoy a bug-free hunt.
My uncle takes an annual fishing trip with his buddies up to Canada. We normally play soccer together, but a few weeks before the trip he starts sitting games out. He cuts back on the beer: he’s in self-preservation mode, ensuring that nothing will interfere with the big trip. The week before the bow season starts, I’m exactly the same way. I’m eating well and exercising, taking extra vitamins, that sort of thing. With hunting season comes flu season, and I take no chances!
Another thing I’m trying to do (with limited success, thanks to blogging) is get ahead on sleep. No matter how early you try to go to bed in hunting season, 5 a.m. comes early. If I can get ahead a little bit on sleep now, it’ll pay dividends later.
I’ve been doing some research lately on the whitetail deer’s sense of smell. We all know it’s incredible, and their best defense in the woods against predators. Like us. It turns out that a deer’s nasal surface area exceeds even that of a German Shepherd, the dog that can smell bombs and buried bodies and cocaine hidden in cans of coffee grounds. Part of my final week of hunting preparation is simply reducing my “human scent” as much as possible. Mostly it’s about avoidance of foods, chemicals, and anything else that might leave a powerful smell on me.
And of course, I’ve broken out the stand-by tool of hunters everywhere: the green soap.
Hunting License and Tags
I like to get my hunting tags in place well in advance of the hunt – I have this paranoia of getting out into the woods only to realize that I forgot them. Missouri recently moved to primarly an e-tag system, where you can purchase your hunting permits online and print them from your computer. The downside is that you don’t get the nice heavy-duty yellow sticker tags that attach so easily and make a great pot of tag soup. But I love the online system, because I can:
- Buy the tags from my computer, rather than driving to a sporting goods store
- Print multiple copies, in case I lose one or destroy it.
- Keep an electronic copy of the PDF on my phone, just in case.
As you’ve probably figured out, I’m a nut for backups. I’ve never been “carded” by a conservation agent while hunting (though I have while fishing), and when the day comes, I want to be ready.
Extreme Shooting Practice
Last but not least, I’m hoping to squeeze in a little more time on the range. The past few weeks have made me reasonably happy with my pin settings and shooting techniques. Now, it’s time for some extreme practice to mimic (as closely as possible) the conditions I’ll be shooting in while in hunting. This includes:
- Shooting with “live” broadheads. This always makes me nervous, since they cost a lot more than a field point, but I know it’s a necessary step.
- Shooting from awkward positions, like crouching, kneeling, and sitting down. I’d like to practice a tree stand too, but haven’t figured out a way to do that at my range.
- Estimating distance and shooting from non-canonical yardages. Deer don’t usually pause at exact distances divisible by 10. It’s usually 23 yards or 32 yards or something. I’m trying to practice these distances so I’ll be ready in the field.
Just a couple more days now. I’m going to check through my backpack just ONE more time…