The Struggle of Post Firearms Season Bowhunting
by Darrin Bradley
. The climb up the cold steel ladder had taken forever. Far beneath me, I could view the clowns riding their bicycles in small circles on the pavement. It was a long way down to the ground from the lonely platform. After taping my wrists tightly, I applied the chalk to the palms of my hands, hoping this would help me maintain a grip, in the event of a fall. I waved to the crowd, and turned back to my lovely assistant to ask for the twenty foot baton. Slowly, I shook my head from side to side, in an attempt to rid my mind of the distracting carnival music, and laughter coming from below. I stepped onto the narrow rope, and took a deep breath. Without a net below me, I began the journey to the other side. The difficulty of bowhunting whitetails after firearms seasons, had begun to make me feel like I was performing a high wire act. I zipped up my coveralls, and began to travel down the old abandoned logroad toward the stand. Tonight I was thankful to be bowhunting once again, yet so ungrateful it was a post firearms season bowhunt. What animals were still alive had to be spooked, the rut had concluded, and dependable food sources had become scarce
After several hours of staring into the lifeless timber, I detected movement. A large animal was strolling down the logroad toward my stand location. I reached for my binoculars as he paused to munch on the foilage. It was a Pope and Young buck. My heart began to pound furiously as I waited for him to travel within bowrange. The prize paused at thirty yards broadside. In the numbing cold of the late November evening I released an arrow in his direction. I gave the animal plenty of time to lay down. I wasn’t about to push him further into the timber. I was desperate to recover my second Pope and Young harvest of the year. I was even more desperate to accomplish one of archery’s toughest goals. To harvest a trophy buck after firearms season. Two hours later I recovered the 136 5/8 inch, ten point. Reflecting back over my entire archery career, I couldn’t think of any animal which made me feel as proud as this one.
The tradition of outdoor magazines has always been to publish articles each December and January which offer helpful tips for harvesting mature animals after the firearms season. Some refer to this time of year as, “Second Half Hunting”. I have read more “second half” articles than I can count. Most of the advice indicated an archer must concentrate on a second half food source to harvest a mature buck during this time of the year. I appreciated those pieces, however none of the proposed strategies for “second half” hunting had enabled me to become successful. I had become extremely discouraged and frustrated with the whole scenario. After reviewing my game diary I discovered that after firearms season my odds for sighting a buck was reduced by 62%. My odds for simply viewing deer from a stand location were reduced by 18%.
After careful review, I was fortunate enough to devise a strategy of my own that paid off on my FIRST HUNT after firearms season, during the 1999-2000 archery season. I took an afternoon to review over the past six years of my game diary in search of “second half” answers. I compared what each “second half” stand location had in common that had been successful over the years. Successful “second half” stands utilized during my archery hunting had been positioned in a topographical advantage, such as a funnel, logroad, or lowspot, 80% of the time. Seventy-one percent of the time the successful stands were also positioned near a bed area.
I concentrate on six topographical advantages during the whitetail season. These are inclusive of Spiderwebs, Funnels, Shelves, Ridge Ramps, Logging Roads, and Lowspots.
A spiderweb is created by the intersections of ditches, fencerows, or other terrain breaks. The denser the fence row or ditch the more heavily traveled it will become. The key to location s successful spider web lies in it’s density, length, and quantity of intersecting travel routes. The arms, ditches and fence rows, of the web need to connect to timber, bed areas, or food sources.
A funnel is a natural or man made piece of topography that pushes deer into a travel route which has been decreased in size from the surrounding terrain. A field funel occurs when the width of a field dramatically decreases in width and then increases again.
Corners of fields are the most opportunistic locations on any field to hunt. Animals often enter here as they are afforded the opportunity to view the entire field at once rather than looking in all directions for danger.
Shelves occur along sides of ridges. Some hunters insist mature animals frequently move along shelves to avoid the dangers presented by high and low elevation travel.
Ridge Ramps occur on ridge bends and corners. In the bends and corners of ridges, erosion usually decreases the angle of elevation thus creating a ramp. These ramps make deer travel less difficult, thereby enhancing whitetail travel up and down steep ridges.
Logging Roads are a lesser route of restriction for whitetails to travel. These logroads also can be an excellent place to locate active scrapes and breeding zones.
Lowspots are created when the terrain on a given tract of ground abruptly decreases in elevation. Whitetails feed and travel in low spots to remain unseeen by predators. Deer travel waterways and gullies because the elevation of each feature is a means by which they can remain below the surface of the surrounding terrain. Low spot hunting can be phenomenal.
During the early season, and the rut, it can be very productive to hunt any one of these topographical advantages. I’ve harvested many a whitetail by hunting these topographical shortcuts. That’s not big news. After firearms season has concluded the archer is severly handicapped. It is no longer enough to hunt in a funnel, or a lowspot, or any one topographical advantage. Now one must multiply topographical advantages. Learn to find stand locations during those post firearms months which offer two or more topographical advantages at one time. During the 1999-2000 season I positioned a stand location in an area which offered several topographical advantages. All of these advantages were occuring within 50 yards of my tree. It is not enough to sit on an area that is not close to it’s topographical benefits. My 1999-2000 “second half” stand was inclusive of two logroads, two corners, a lowspot, one huge funnel, and a spiderweb. (See Figure I.) Now that’s an advantage. You may not be able to find a single stand in your area that can offer all this, however do your best. I’d rather hunt a stand that offers a lowspot, and a funnel than a stand that offers just a funnel. Simple multiplication my friend. It’s just not enough to sit in those old reliable locations which were so prosperous early in the season, and during the rut. Successful post-firearms archery hunter look for locations which offer multiple topographical advantages. If you can locate such a location “second-half” archery hunting won’t feel like your walking a tightrope.