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Shrinking the Woods
 

Shrinking the Woods
Editor's Note: Many bowhunters think of themselves as two-season hunters who hunt with bows and arrows during bow season and then become gun hunters as soon as gun season arrives. However, in the states that have bow season and gun season occurring simultaneously, a sportsman may have a greater chance of taking a trophy buck with a bow during gun season than he does with a gun.
You already understand the directly opposite philosophies of the two sports of gun hunting and bowhunting. Gun hunters use binoculars and scopes to see further and shoot deer at greater distances than bowhunters do. A rifle hunter takes great pride in making 150- to 300-yard shots on deer and will brag that, "If I can see a buck, I can bag him." Therefore you'll usually find most of the gun-hunting pressure concentrated in open places.
However, bowhunters want their deer in close. Bowhunters make their average bow shots at deer at about 18 yards, with 90% of the successful shots made at less than 30 yards. Most proficient bowhunters will hunt in thick cover where they'll encounter the least amount of pressure from gun hunters and find the most deer.
To take deer when you bowhunt, you must use your scouting abilities well and accurately predict where and when a deer will show up within 30 yards or less of a particular tree where you've put your tree stand. But when gun hunting, you'll probably use your optics more, which will enable you to spot a deer long before the deer smell or see you. Because of the differences in these two styles of hunting, bowhunters have the odds stacked in their favor during gun season. Let's look at why.
Besides knowing where a deer will appear, you must understand why a buck won't come to certain areas. The less woods you must hunt for a buck, the more intensively you can scout, and the more you can learn about deer in the region and their habits in a shorter time.
As Sam Spencer of Montgomery, Alabama, an avid bowhunter and a biologist, explains, "You actually kill your deer scouting; you just collect it when you're hunting."
Using an aerial photo to pinpoint creeks, drainage ditches, bald spots and cut-overs and having knowledge of the lands where most gun hunters hunt will tip the scales heavily in your favor when bowhunting. Most gun hunters won't walk more than 1/4- to 1/2-mile from any roads, which means the heaviest hunting pressure will occur within 1/4- to 1/2-mile of the road system. An aerial photo will allow you to pinpoint the places with the most hunting pressure. Eliminate these close-to-the road areas from your hunt plan.
Gun hunters usually will concentrate most of their hunting time in places where they can see the longest distances. You can cross off right-of-ways and open woods from your list as regions you don't need to bowhunt, since you know gun hunters will frequent these spots. But anyone gun hunting will seldom appear in thick cover where he can see less than 30 yards. Yet you'll find these spots ideal bowhunting sites, because that's the precise range a bowhunter needs to make an accurate shot.
Having eliminated the parts of the woods where gun hunters most likely will hunt and you'll find the highest hunting pressure, you now will have an accurate picture on your aerial photo of where the fewest gun hunters but the most deer will appear.

Scouting Thick Cover
Editor's Note: Many bowhunters think of themselves as two-season hunters who hunt with bows and arrows during bow season and then become gun hunters as soon as gun season arrives. However, in the states that have bow season and gun season occurring simultaneously, a sportsman may have a greater chance of taking a trophy buck with a bow during gun season than he does with a gun.
To bowhunt successfully, scout thick cover for food, bedding areas and tree stand sites. Spend most of your scouting time evaluating these spots that have the least amount of hunting pressure. You'll probably discover the largest and oldest bucks in these regions, since the more mature animals will respond quickest to hunting pressure and will spend most of their daylight hours in thick cover during gun season. Learn all you can about the thickets big bucks must utilize during gun/deer season.
Deer will frequent two types of thickets when hunting pressure forces them into heavy cover -- the thickets you can hunt and the ones you can't hunt. The ones you can hunt will have some type of clearing or a bald spot where you can build a ground blind in them or a tree that's sturdy enough for you to put your tree stand.
A bowhunter can see deer in an overgrown thicket and hunt there, although others may find it difficult to hunt, if it has shooting lanes spoking out from a tree stand site. Also a bowhunter can have success hunting a thicket with a creek running through it that provides access to that thicket. The thickets you can't hunt won't have openings in them or creeks, washes or ditches running through them or trees where you can place a tree stand. However, deer will utilize these thickets as sanctuaries. They will have escape trails leading from the open woods into that thick cover.
My friend Mike Fine of Missouri has taken five Pope and Young bucks with his bow and hunts the trails leading to thick cover well away from the road system.
"Deer travel escape trails to get away from hunting pressure and to head into thick cover," Fine reported. "Remember when hunting escape trails that the bowhunter must be far enough away from major roads so when the bucks come down the trail to escape early morning hunting pressure, he can see those deer during daylight hours. If you hunt an escape trail too close to hunting pressure, deer will move down that trail before daylight, and you'll never spot the animals.
"Something else to remember when hunting escape trails is to take a stand downwind of the trail and not tight on top of the trail. I've found that deer walking down a trail will be looking up the trail. If you take a stand on that trail, more than likely the buck will spot you before you can get off a shot. But if you're 20 yards off the trail and downwind of the buck, generally he'll never detect you before you can draw and shoot."
Fine also has found that keeping human odor out of an area where he hunts makes him more successful.
"That's why I wash my hunting clothes and bathe in some type of odor-eliminating soap before I go into the woods," Fine emphasized. "The less human odor you leave in the place you hunt, the better your odds are of bagging a buck there."
After you have a thorough knowledge of the thickets, make the decision not to hunt them until the peak of gun season. During bow season, don't go near these thick areas. The less human odor a buck encounters and the fewer human sightings he has in one of these sanctuaries, the more likely that he will frequent those sanctuaries when hunting pressure builds.
Once the peak of gun season arrives, don't use the same trail going into these thickets each time you enter them. Also, always carefully notice the wind. Don't move into the thickets with a wind that's wrong that will carry your scent to the deer you're attempting to bag. Hunters also can identify places to bowhunt for deer in various parts of the country that hunters in other sections of the nation may not hunt successfully.
As Fine, who has moved several times around the nation in his PR career, reports, "Just like being versatile in how you fish is important, so is having an open mind essential to successful bowhunting. For example in Iowa where I once lived, deer actually lived in the crops -- soybeans and corn.
"I once asked a game warden in Iowa how many acres of woods the state had. He told me, 'Seven million, but they're all in corn.' When I moved to Iowa I had to readjust my thinking to pinpoint what was a bowhunting hotspot."



Check back each day this week for more about Bowhunters Have The Edge For Big Bucks
Letting the Gun Hunter Drive the Bucks to You
Editor's Note: Many bowhunters think of themselves as two-season hunters who hunt with bows and arrows during bow season and then become gun hunters as soon as gun season arrives. However, in the states that have bow season and gun season occurring simultaneously, a sportsman may have a greater chance of taking a trophy buck with a bow during gun season than he does with a gun.
To take a trophy buck with a bow during gun season, you must learn to use hunting pressure to your advantage as well as understand how and where a gun hunter hunts. Generally a gun hunter will arrive in the woods 30 minutes before daylight and wait for the first rays of light to show him the paths he needs to take through the woods in search of deer.
However, bowhunters should enter the woods 1 1/2-hours to two hours before daylight and head for their tree stand sites in the dark long before anyone gun hunting ever arrives in the woods. By allowing plenty of time to not only get to your stand site but also to put your stand up and let the woods settle before gun hunters start to move, you may have the opportunity to take a shot at a sneaky buck.
Gun hunters often enter the woods after slamming car doors and trunks, which signals to the deer that the time has arrived for them to begin to migrate to the thick cover. The further you have your tree stand away from a major road, the better your odds for seeing a buck moving into the thick cover at dawn. As the gun hunters start to travel further into the woods, the bucks will go to thick cover. If you've scouted carefully and properly, you should arrow your buck before the gun hunter ever reaches the place he plans to stalk or stand.



Determining the Best Times to Bowhunt During Gun Season
Editor's Note: Many bowhunters think of themselves as two-season hunters who hunt with bows and arrows during bow season and then become gun hunters as soon as gun season arrives. However, in the states that have bow season and gun season occurring simultaneously, a sportsman may have a greater chance of taking a trophy buck with a bow during gun season than he does with a gun.
Getting in your stand before the first gun hunter arrives in an area may pay buck dividends for you. However, if you don't take a buck during the first hours following daylight, you still may have the opportunity to arrow a buck between 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Generally, a gun hunter will remain on his stand or make a stalk for deer until about 10:00 a.m. Then usually his brain will give him one of two messages...
* "Well, because I haven't seen anything standing or stalking, I think I'll try and jump a deer up and shoot him."
* Or, "Since I'm hungry, and the deer aren't moving anyway, I'll go back to the car and return to this stand after lunch." When hunters start trying to jump deer and/or return to their vehicles for lunch, they will spook deer. The big bucks will head automatically to the thick cover where they'll encounter you set up waiting.
Older, smarter bucks that already may have reached the thick cover even before you do usually will stay bedded-down until the middle of the day when most hunters leave the woods to eat their lunches, and little or no hunting pressure exists. These wise, more mature bucks have learned they can eat, breed does and stretch in thick cover during this time without detection. At about 1:30 or 2:00 p.m., when gun hunters re-enter the woods after lunch, they once again will spook deer back into thick cover where you'll wait with your bow.
You'll next have an opportunity to bag deer while bowhunting in thick cover during gun season the last 15 minutes before dark. Because most gun hunters prefer not to come out of the woods after dark, they'll start moving toward their vehicles 30 to 45 minutes before dark. They lose that last bit of hunting time, which means hunting pressure will decrease as night falls. Then bucks will stand up and move in heavy cover and head toward the more open areas, knowing the darkness will cover their movements. If you remain in your tree stand, bucks will head automatically to the thick cover where they'll encounter you set up and waiting.


Learning the Best Days to Bag a Trophy Buck During Gun Season
Editor's Note: Many bowhunters think of themselves as two-season hunters who hunt with bows and arrows during bow season and then become gun hunters as soon as gun season arrives. However, in the states that have bow season and gun season occurring simultaneously, a sportsman may have a greater chance of taking a trophy buck with a bow during gun season than he does with a gun.
I've always found the opening day of gun/deer season the most productive day for me to bowhunt. In most states, the woods will have a maximum number of people in them then, which translates into the most hunting pressure that will drive the bigger, smarter bucks into the thick places. Too, bowhunters will encounter numbers of hunters the days before and after Thanksgiving, and the first five days of the Christmas holidays when children don't have school and before and after New Year's -- if your state has gun/deer season open at these times. Areas will have high hunting pressure then, which will force big bucks into thick cover where you can get a shot with your bow.
The bowman who allows gun hunters to concentrate deer, especially trophy bucks, into hotspots, greatly reduces the amount of area he must scout. He also stacks the odds in his favor for bagging a buck with a bow rather than taking a deer with a gun. The bowhunter has the edge for bagging bucks during gun season.




John Phillips

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