Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The School Of Hard Nocks - or The Education of a Middle-Aged Bowhunter

This deer season marks my third as a bow hunter. I grew up mainly hunting birds because those were the opportunities afforded me both by geography and my income.

A few years ago I was able to take the plunge into the world of deer hunting in the Hill Country of Texas, where I make my home. Rather than start with a high-powered rifle in the fashion that most deer hunters cut their teeth, I wanted to bow hunt from the beginning.

The main reason was bow hunting requires more skill and knowledge of deer than gun hunting, in the same way fly fishing does relative to fish. Since I am not a subsistence hunter, having meat in the freezer is more of a luxury than a necessity. I was willing to continue to buy our meat at the supermarket as I learned this new outdoor pursuit.

I have been fortunate to put two deer on the ground in the last three years, but I am still chasing that elusive mature buck. A move to a much more productive (and distant) hunting lease this season has given me many more close encounters with deer than my old lease. I was within 18 yards of more deer in three days last week than I saw in two years at my previous spot.

My season has been full of soul-satisfying days afield. But with those increased  encounters I have learned some hard lessons that previously eluded me. I wanted to share some of them here in hopes that it may be useful (or humorous, most likely) to others who also chase deer with stick and string.

  • Inspect your pull up rope. This is the cord you use to pull your bow up once you are in your stand. I acquired a used stand this season from a friend, and he used a thick twine for this purpose. It was still attached to the stand so I just used that. Predictably, on my second hunt after quietly sneaking into the stand, the string broke with my new bow attached to it. It was only a couple of feet from the ground so the bow sustained no damage, but it made a heck of a racket when it collided with metal ladder, ruining any chance at stealth. The string was replaced promptly with some parachute cord You can bet it will be replaced with new cord before the season opener in 2013.
  •  Replace trail cameras when they begin to be unreliable 
  • If using a feeder, invest in a solar panel to keep your batteries charged. Some trail cams also have the ability to use a solar panel. This keeps your trips into the area, and the time spent at each camera to a minimum. 
  • Invest in 2 SD cards per trail cam
  • Ensure your feeder is waterproof.  If you are also feeding protein as I was, the protein will do a great job of impersonating mortar and clog your feeder funnel. Something you will discover invariably when you find no feed or deer activity at daybreak, turning your hunt into a maintenance mission.
  • If possible use a 12V feeder motor system. Increased battery longevity and motor life over 6 volt systems is the benefit. 
  • Do not purchase hunting clothing with Velcro if you can avoid it. Some "archer's gloves" I bought last year seemed like a great purchase because they wee designed to accommodate a mechanical release. However, when I went to full  draw last week on a nice buck at 18 yards, the Velcro closure barely scraped against my facemask. The resulting sound sent the spooky deer out of range in the blink of an eye. 
  • Make sure you have clothing for all kinds of weather conditions. I know, this seems obvious. But the temps I experience at my lease are usually at least 10 degrees colder (or more) than at my old lease. Last week we had wind chills in the teens. I didn't have appropriate cold weather gear. I hunted in some insulated coveralls that were warm enough, but are bulky and noisy when I moved. Bulky and noisy are not good characteristics for bow hunting clothing. Cabelas got an online order from me as soon as I got home from that trip. 
  • Pack only what you need. I am notorious for bringing too much on a trip and too much to the stand. I hate forgetting things. But I found that on each hunt a quick inventory of what I need allows me to carry a 600 cubic inch backpack vs. a 2,000 cubic inch pack (or none at all). All those extra accoutrements add weight, noise, and clutter to your stand. If you can use pockets, do so and leave all the extra stuff in the truck.  
  • Practice shooting your bow while seated. I did almost all my off season practicing while standing. Unfortunately almost all of my shots from stand will be from a seated position. It requires a different method of drawing the bow, and you need to practice making sure you have your hips, shoulders and spine in proper alignment for seated shots.I also found I needed to reduce my bow poundage while seated and hunting in cold weather. While I could easily draw my bow when temps were in the mid 80's in October, attempting to do so when the temps were in the teens after 3 hours in the stand forces me to work a lot harder and make a lot more movement than backing off the draw weight 5 pounds or so.
  • Practice in the clothing you will wear hunting. My Velcro mistake is only one example. Another I discovered while trying to make a shot during a hunt is that while seated my jacket collar was higher on my neck than when I am standing. Great for blocking wind, but I was unable to find my anchor point because I couldn't feel it beneath the thick collar. That makes it really hard to shoot accurately.
  • Learn to laugh at things you can't control. On my last evening hunt, I was feeling the pressure to arrow a nice buck. I had passsed on a few young bucks, and blew a couple chances on more mature ones earlier in the week.  As daylight started to fade, set, a nice 8 pointer started coming in. Three times he spooked out of range due to some cows lumbering through the area. After all the cows safely moved through, I watched him stage up for a fourth attempt to come to feed. At around 50 yards, an unseen coyote no more than 40 yards behind me sounded off. Then another to  the west, and another to the south...the buck and I were completely surrounded by a pack of coyotes. It didn't take anymore convincing for the buck to head for safer pastures. a few moments later a beautiful full moon rose bloody red on the horizon. I was frustrated at not gettign a chance at that buck, but what a cool way to end the day! 
Epilog - I wrote the above blog post the morning of Jan 1st before my evening hunt. There is only a week left for buck season in Texas. I had a tall racked 8 pointer come in early and I had him at 18 yards at an undetected full draw. A chip shot. But the arrow deflected off a small unseen twig and missed cleanly.
Ten minutes later this smaller 8 point came in and I dropped him in his tracks at 20 yards (Rage broadheads are amazing).

I am a little sad that it is over, but what a season of learning!


The Peavine said...

Great tips! Awesome post!

Mark said...

Thanks for visiting and your comments Peavine!