5 Things That Will Make Opening Day Much Sweeter
Im the type of hunter that daydreams about being in the woods all year long. I start preparing for archery season in May, and try to practice with my bow year round. Even though I can't seem to get bowhunting off my mind, I still end up running around getting all the things I should have gotten done in the summer two weeks before the season starts. This year I decided to get more organized. I set out five goals to work on regularly throughout the summer.
1)Practice, Tune, Practice
The first on my list is what I consider to be the most important factor of bowhunting- practice and tuning. These two go hand in hand and cannot be left until the end of the summer. The ability to make an accurate and clean shot is critical to ethical hunting. Also, you gain great confidence in your equipment and your own shooting abilities, something that can be invaluable when that once-in-a-lifetime shot presents itself. I started changing some equipment and gadgets on my bow in late May. The first few weeks were mostly the tuning stage where I spent a great deal of time fine-tuning my bow. It started with paper tuning, then moved onto bare shaft tuning, and finally broadhead tuning. With all the tinkering and changes, I wasn't completely tuned until the middle of July. Currently I get 3-inch groups at 35 yards with three different types of broad heads. Ive spent a few years collecting 3-D targets and set up a nice range for practice. Try to get out and practice 5-6 days a week at ranges varying from 10 to 55 yards. I also practice from an old ladder stand in my range. This is important because your arrows tend to shoot high when you are in an elevated position, so practicing from the ground alone won't cut it if you hunt from a tree.
It is also beneficial to make your practices more challenging, which can add a lot of fun. My cousin and I regularly shoot together and will play Horseâ throughout the night. We walk all over the range trying to come up with a creative and difficult shot. As the night goes on, the shots get much more interesting. We routinely shoot from our knees, through a small window of brush, and at long ranges. Be safe and creative when doing this, and it will make you a much better shot.
2) Scouting Trips
Midsummer scouting is critical to any bowhunter's success, and is commonly overlooked by many hunters. I know too many hunters that rely on early season hunting and past experience as their only scouting tools. Consequently, they end up blowing golden opportunities and missing a chance at a deer. I hunt many agricultural areas and try to spend one or two nights every two weeks just watching. The key to scouting is getting to your location with enough time to be there when the deer emerge. It can be as simple as sitting in your truck with a spotting scope or as difficult as walking 2 miles, hiding in the brush, and being attacked by mosquitoes. Regardless of the effort involved, a few trips throughout the summer will help you narrow in on your trophy, and will give you a good idea of what is out there.
I also like to rely on the information that scouting cameras provide. I have a strong distaste for tromping through the woods in the summer heat, looking for sign, and leaving my own sign behind. I have numerous cameras set up on food sources, trails, and mineral supplements to help me pattern the deer. A camera set up over a mineral supplement will provide incredible photos and show you just about every buck on your property.
3) Stand Preparation & Placement
Another common mistake we hunters are guilty of is lack of stand preparation. Waiting until opening day or the week prior to hang your stands is not the best-case scenario. It is a good idea to get your stands and blinds up in July or August so that the deer have time to get used to them, and youre not spreading your scent two days before you hunt an area.
The first step to hanging a stand is location. I rely on all the methods of scouting as well as topographical maps and prevailing winds. You can usually tell which direction the prevailing wind is by looking at tall grasses- they tend to lean in the direction the wind blows them. Also, many weather sites out there can help you track the wind. A good topographical map helps you make an educated guess as to where the deer will travel. Look for bottoms, ravines, and saddles to find your big buck. There are also great satellite imaging sources online that provide quality satellite photos for free. Try Google Maps or Microsoft teraserver. I use all this information to pick a stand location, then look at the stand approach. You could have a great location quickly ruined by a poor approach. I have to walk almost twice as far to one of my favorite stands, so as not to push the deer out of bed, compared to the easy route. Looking at your stand location on a map, both topo and satellite, will help you plan your attack. Make sure to stay far from bedding areas, and if possible, avoid travel areas. I know of hunters that won't continue to a stand if they jump a deer.
When you start early, you have more time to place your stand, and youll be more patient and careful. I know when I end up doing things last minute I start cutting corners and end up trading my safety for time efficiency. I can't stress safety enough; more times than Id like to recall, my safety belt has saved me from certain falls, usually because I am in a hurry to get something done. Once you have your stand properly hung, it is important to clear the trail to your tree as well as shooting lanes. I also like to cut some cedar branches to brush in a stand if the tree I picked doesn't have enough cover.
There is nothing worse than that reality check on the first hunt of the season. You find yourself halfway to your stand sweating buckets and completely out of breath. It can be very discouraging, yet easily avoidable. Ive learned that I can sneak into the woods and my stand much easier when Im in better shape. A steady exercise routine throughout the summer will help you when you need it most, i.e. dragging your big buck. However, this number on the checklist is probably the hardest to do consistently of all the goals I set. For me, work picked up a lot in June, so Ive only been getting to the gym about 2-3 days a week instead of the 4-6 days I was managing throughout the Spring. Hopefully as the season closes in Ill get there more frequently.
You don't have to have a gym membership to get ready for hunting season. Here are a few good exercises you can do at home to get ready for opening day:
1. Pushups - great for building overall upper body strength.
2. Crunches - A stronger core will make climbing and dragging easier.
3. Shoot your bow - Shooting, even after you start to lose accuracy, can be a great workout. Just don't get discouraged when you can't get any groups.
4. Cardio - Walk, run, bike, hike, or whatever you enjoy the most- get out and get that ticker pumping.
Remember to start light and pace yourself. Get a buddy to train with you and track your progress- it's a great motivator.
5) Gear Check
Finally we come to the fun part, at least for the credit card company. This is the time you set aside to organize the mess left over from last season. Time to lube your bow cams, wax your string, buy new arrows and broad heads, check out the latest and greatest camo and that new little gadget everyone is talking bout. I enjoy fletching my own arrows with the newest fletching and artistic wraps, a great way to spend time with your bow on those hot summer nights when you can't bring yourself to go out and practice. Check over your hunting wardrobe; make sure you have everything you need and that it's clean and scent free. I like to have some spare essentials around in case of emergency: an extra release, plenty of good arrows, possibly another string, or if you have some money to burn maybe making your bow into a back-up bow. This is also the time to double-check your safety equipment. Make sure your harness is free of flaws and you have all the required parts. Practice taking it on and off so you can easily do so in the field. If it isn't much of an inconvenience, youre more likely to use it.
So remember, have fun getting ready for the season; it helps with the overbearing need to be hunting