Jim Crumley -- The Importance of Preparation
EDITOR'S NOTE: Why do some archers consistently take deer each season with their bows while others who spend just as much time in the woods rarely if ever experience success? Let's see how some of the best bowhunters in the nation produce deer. Jim Crumley of Roanoke, Virginia, the creator of Trebark camouflage, has bowhunted for many years and enjoys bowhunting on his farm.
If I'm hunting new land, then as soon as I obtain permission to hunt that land, I'll spend as much time as I can in those woods. I want to learn as much as possible about the woods where I'll hunt well in advance of deer season including the locations of the potential food trees and other food sources as well as the agricultural fields in the region and from where the deer most likely will approach those fields.
If bow/deer season comes in at the first or the middle of October, then by the first of September, I'll already know whether or not this region will have an acorn crop by seeing the green acorns on the trees. I'll have learned when the farmer plans to cut his crops on which the deer have fed as well as where the deer will feed after their early food sources are gone.
For a preseason scout plan to be effective, pinpoint not only where the deer will feed and bed during the opening week of bow season but also where and what the deer will eat once that food supply is depleted. When you stock your freezer for a month, you'll have an idea of what you'll eat first, what food is available in your freezer mid-way through the month and what you'll have left to eat at the end of the month. And you'll set your menus accordingly.
Deer generally follow that same timetable. When a primary food source is gone, they already have other food sources identified that they can eat. By understanding the different types of foods the deer will feed on as they deplete their primary food source, you can pre-predict where and when you may encounter deer each week of bow season.
If you don't know the deer's food timetable, talk to your local department of conservation's district wildlife biologist about where you plan to hunt. This wildlife specialist can tell you the deer's food sources and the order in which the deer will feed on those food sources in the area you plan to hunt.
Once you have that information, then look for those food sources on the property you'll hunt. Set up tree stand sites to hunt over those food sources each week of bow season. If you're hunting private lands, you may want to go ahead and set up your tree stands six to eight weeks before the season opens.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Larry Norton of Pennington, Alabama, a member of Wellington Outdoors' and Mossy Oak's pro staff teams, guides hunters for deer and turkey at Bent Creek Lodge in Jachin, Alabama.
Both squirrels and deer feed on nut trees. By noticing which trees the squirrels feed on each week of deer season, you often can find deer under those same trees. In my home state of Alabama, red oaks and water oaks drop their acorns first for the deer and squirrels to eat. Then the white oaks lose their nuts, and finally the large white oaks, known as chestnut oaks, drop their acorns. However, water oak acorns continue to fall throughout deer season and until the end of February in much of the South.
I also like to keep a tree log to improve my chances of arrowing a buck. To concentrate deer close enough for a bow shot, find the first tree of each species to drop its nuts. Deer often will come from a great distance to taste the first nuts of a particular type of tree. Not only will squirrels tell you which trees drop their nuts first, but they also will knock nuts loose from the trees as they bounce around in the limbs, putting more nuts on the ground for the deer. Once I pinpoint the first nut tree of each kind in an area to drop its nuts, I'll record its location and the date in a log book.
One of the most critical keys to hunting nut trees is to know when to leave one kind of nut tree and when to start hunting another type of nut tree. I've discovered the white oaks in my area usually begin dropping their nuts around the first of November, two weeks after the beginning of bow season and four to six weeks after the red oaks and water oaks start to drop their nuts. When the white oaks turn loose of their nuts, I can hunt successfully around a white oak tree for five to six days.
Most of the white oak nuts will fall off a tree within a day or two, remaining on the ground for only five to seven days before the deer will eat them up. If a rain occurs during the time when the acorns are on the ground, the white oak acorn will sour and rot. A white oak tree with its very sweet nuts can concentrate deer and cause them to leave the red oak and water oak acorns, which are more abundant than the white oak acorns.
Deer remind me of children at a picnic. Even though they may have all the food they want to eat, when the popsicle man comes around, they'll leave that abundance of food to get the sweet treat that only is available for a short time.
After hunting the white oak trees, I then will hunt around chestnut oaks, which have sweet acorns too that are larger in size. Deer don't have to eat as many of them as they do the water oak and red oak acorns to be satisfied. The chestnut oak seems to provide a banquet feast for the deer, whereas the water oak and the red oak are more like hors d'oeuvres.
The food supply of the chestnut oak only lasts from five to seven days -- like the smaller white oak. If you can hunt around chestnut oaks during the time the nuts are on the ground, you drastically will increase your odds for taking a whitetail.
I've learned the chestnut oak and the smaller white oak concentrate deer better than either the red oak or the water oak. By keeping a log of the location of the trees and what date each tree drops its nuts, every year I accurately can predict which white oak or chestnut oak trees I should hunt around each week of bow season. Although not all trees bear nuts each season, I have enough trees in my log to insure I always have a tree to hunt.
Remember too that not all white oaks or chestnut oaks drop their nuts on the same day or even during the same week or the same month each year. If you'll pattern the trees in your hunting area and keep a log on them, you also can pattern deer and predict where and when you can expect to find the bucks.
After the white oaks and the chestnut oaks have stopped producing nuts, I once again begin to hunt water oak acorns as well as shrubs like blackberry bushes and greenbrier (smilax) later in the season, especially if I've fertilized these plants before the season.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Bob Foulkrod of Troy, Pennsylvania, has killed a world-record caribou and 16 other caribou that qualify for the Pope and Young record book with his bow. Also a bowhunting instructor, Foulkrod intensively hunts whitetails each year and has learned to solve bowhunting problems to bag more bucks.
Many hunters will set up a tree stand and may see deer 50 yards from their stands all week. I'm convinced a hunter should move his tree stand -- even if he has to lose a hunting day -- to get his stand in the right place to take a deer, rather than watching deer just out of range. I've also known other hunters, who after setting up their tree stands, have sat in these stands for several weeks and not spotted any deer. If I set up a tree stand, I want to see deer.
Although I don't believe the kill is the number-one reason for bowhunting, I do go into the woods to attempt to bag a deer. If I can't take a deer, I at least want the opportunity to see deer. For all these people who say they go into the woods to observe wildlife while sitting in their tree stands, I suggest they go out on their front porches or down the road and stay out of the woods where other people are trying to hunt. Perhaps more bowhunters don't take more deer because they're reluctant to move their tree stands once they put them up.
One of the most difficult problems with taking deer from a tree stand is the noise the hunter makes when he stands to shoot, when he draws his bow, when he moves on the stand to shoot or when his clothes rustle against a bush. In my opinion, the hunter hasn't had bad luck when this happens but rather is experiencing hunting problems created by the hunter.
Most bowmen believe when they put a stand in a tree that all that's left to do is to hunt from that tree stand. However, successful tree stand hunting involves much more than having an elevated platform from which to shoot. After I've placed a stand in a tree, I stand on that stand and practice drawing and aiming in every direction from which a deer possibly can come.
If a limb or a twig is in the way for when a deer presents a shot, I eliminate it. If any branch is sticking out close to my seat, I cut it off. Then my clothes won't brush against it. If my tree stand squeaks the slightest bit, I try to locate the squeak and get rid of it. I attempt to eliminate all the excuses or all the problems that keep me from taking a clean shot once the deer presents that shot. This preparation is made prior to my actually hunting from that stand. Then when I leave a stand site, I know the next time I get in that stand, I've removed all the problems I can that will prevent me from taking a clean shot at a deer.
John Demp Grace
EDITOR'S NOTE: A longtime, avid bowhunter from York, Alabama, John Demp Grace bowhunts public lands during gun/deer season.
I've found gun/deer season the easiest time to find and take a big buck, especially in high-pressure areas like public lands. Because gun hunters and bowhunters hunt differently, the gun hunter will force a buck to move to a spot where I can locate him easily and then bag him.
Gun hunters most often hunt open places where they can see for 50 to 200 yards, since they want to spot and take deer to the maximum effectiveness of their shooting skills and their rifles' ranges. They believe the more land they can watch, the greater their odds for seeing a buck. Because gun hunters walk, stalk and put up their tree stands on these places, older-age-class bucks have learned to avoid those areas to survive.
The only regions bucks have to be by the end of gun/deer season on public lands are in thick cover where the hunter can see only 30 yards or less. Of course, these stand sites are ideal for the bowhunter who wants his shot at 30 yards or less.
Older-age-class bucks have well-defined routes they use to go into sanctuary areas. By taking a stand along these routes, I consistently can bag the bucks the gun hunters drive to me.
Because deer realize which natural barriers hunters won't cross such as creeks, thick cover and property lines, the three best places for me to take a stand are at creek crossings, in thick cover or along the edges of property lines. Where private land touches public land, the deer on the public land know if they can get to the sanctuary of the private land, they can avoid hunting pressure. By taking a stand on a trail that leads to private land, I greatly increase my odds for bagging a buck, especially if this private land is not hunted or is hunted very little.
Although you must first find a place to take a buck to have success when bowhunting and be quiet and position your tree stand in the best place, shooting accurately when the shot presents itself either will make or break a bowhunter. I talk to myself mentally when the buck is in front of me. The first thing I say to myself is, "Pick a good shot." By that, I'm telling myself to remember to calculate the distance to the deer, let the deer present the best shot he will, look for the spot on the deer I want to shoot at, don't watch the whole deer and try to be comfortable when I have the arrow drawn back.
Next I tell myself to, "Have good form." I must be certain that when I have the bow at full draw, I mentally check my anchor point, my sighting point and every other aspect of good form in archery whether I'm shooting at a deer or a target. Unless I mentally check out my form, I realize I will shoot inaccurately.
Then I remind myself to, "Get a good release." Although I use a mechanical release, I want to make sure the release is smooth and not jerky -- which can throw the arrow off- target. I hold my pin on the target I'm shooting, squeeze the trigger and continue to look at my sight on the spot I'm shooting until the arrow hits the deer. I've found that follow-through is critical in accurate shooting. If you're not looking at the spot you're shooting until the arrow hits, you probably won't shoot as correctly.
At the same time I'm squeezing the trigger, I'm saying to myself, "I've got to have that buck." I never question about whether or not I'll take him. I tell myself I will take the deer, which I believe enables me to bag more bucks.
Dr. Robert Sheppard
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Sheppard of Carrollton, Alabama, lives in the middle of some of the best deer-hunting country in the South. He actively pursues many kinds of game year-round and especially enjoys the challenge of hunting with his bow.
I go to the thick-cover areas on the land I hunt during the summer months and move 30 to 40 yards inside a thicket. I cut a small trail to the spot in the thicket I want to hunt. Usually the trail will be no more than two feet wide -- just wide enough for me to walk without my clothes touching bushes and brambles on either side. Then I won't leave very much odor on bushes and trees as I walk.
At the end of the trail in the middle of the thicket, I'll look for a tree to place a tree stand in or a high point where I can set up a ground blind. Then I'll set up my tree stand or build a ground blind and face it northwest by using my compass to increase my odds of having a favorable wind on the day I hunt. The wind in west-central Alabama where I generally hunt blows from the northwest.
Then I'll cut four shooting lanes, three to four feet wide, in the heart of the thick cover, that spoke out in different directions from my stand site. These shooting lanes give me a clear path for my arrow to fly when I see a buck in that thick cover.
I may return to this region just before bow season to make sure I don't have to do any more cutting or cleaning of my shooting lanes. On my way out of the thicket, I'll place two Bright Eyes, which are thumb tacks tipped with fluorescent paint, in trees or bushes about 8 to 10 inches off the ground where I can see them before daylight. I'll put them close to the ground so anyone else who spots them will think they're rabbits' eyes and not trail markers.
If you want to take a trophy buck with your bow in thick cover during gun/deer season, you must be sure no one else hunts your stand site except you. Only by camouflaging the way you go into and leave that thicket can you be certain no one else hunts your late season hotspot.
Many good bowhunters don't harvest deer as often as they can because they don't know when to take their shots. They either shoot before they have good shots or wait for the best shot and never get a shot.
Experience is the best teacher a bowhunter can have, because a hunter must learn when he should take a shot. But my rule is that when an animal presents me with a good shot that I feel I can put him down with, that's the time I shoot. I don't believe you ever should hurry a shot. However, also I've found that you shouldn't wait on that best shot, because many times deer won't give you the shot for which you're looking. I've waited around for that best shot before, never had it presented to me and watched a nice deer walk away from me.
Don't play with a deer, don't watch a deer, and don't take a head-on shot either. But when you've got a good shot, take the shot.