Bowhunting in the Wintertime

Posted on May 25, 2011

By Joe Belldeer hunting

At this time of year many bowhunters feel gloomy, knowing nearly a year must lapse before deer season starts up again. But for me, things are just getting started.

Each January usually finds me bowhunting javelina and deer in my home state of Arizona. The desert is cool and colorful, and there’s an abundance of game to see as animals are much more active now compared to during the hotness of summer.

I highly recommend pursuing javelina if you’re looking for more casual, relaxing experience. Deer, on the other hand, require a bit more time and tenacity on a hunter’s part.

Pursue what best fits you and your vacation plans. Either way, you’re bound to have a blast and you’ll certainly enjoy the warmer, sunnier days this region has to offer compared to winter weather in most other parts of the country. It’s really all just a few hours’ flight and a rental car away. Bring some basic camping gear and set up anywhere you like–there are countless miles of public land available to hunt.

Beyond that, it’s a matter of hunting the right way. Yes, game does abound here, but with so much “big country” to cover, animals can easily slip under your radar. You must hunt right to prevent getting skunked.

Below I’ve listed some pointers that I think will come in handy for a successful trip.

Locate Your Hunting Area: To start, go to the state’s game department website for areas to hunt, then call game biologists, archery shops, and taxidermists in the area to narrow down hotspots. The narrower your focus, the more time you can spend actually hunting and not driving bumpy, washboard roads. This will keep your motivation and excitement for the hunt alive. Be sure to buy basic road and topo maps of the area too.

Glass Long: To locate animals, spend as much time as possible behind binoculars. With optics, quality is more important than power in order to prevent eye strain. I recommend mid-grade $250 glass or better, preferably something in the 8- to 10–42 range. If you really want to get serious, rent or borrow a set of 15-power binoculars along with a quality tripod that provides rock-solid function. I use Swarovski 15–56 binoculars mounted to an Outdoorsmans Tripod.

The key behind effective glassing is to be on a prominent lookout at first light, with lots of warm layers on to keep you comfortable (temps go from chilly to warm quickly). Bibs are good to have. Pack a compact chair or gardener’s pad to sit on as well, as sharp rocks, stickers and cactus are literally everywhere.

Hunting Tips: Javelina don’t like severely cold weather, so you’ll often see them sunning themselves on hillsides early in the day. However, when it’s warm or windy, or hunting pressure, “pigs” often retreat to flatter, brushier areas, not far from washes and river bottoms. Be ready to change with conditions, knowing you may have to walk and still-hunt these areas to get a shot.

In flat open country, try glassing from the top of the vehicle.

Fresh sign is important, but it must be super fresh, otherwise animals have likely vacated the area already. Hunting “ghosts” wastes a lot of precious time. Stick to glassing if you can.

Always have a rabbit-in-distress call handy. In brushy areas too thick to hunt, use it to coax javelina out in the open. It also works wonders when they spook–it usually lures them back into bow range.

Animals spotted near dusk offer little time for a stalk. This means you must get aggressive, or wait for the next day. Play it smart: Don’t spook today what you can stalk tomorrow.

Bring Lightweight Boots: Heavy boots are a mistake. Instead, use mid-weight or hiker-style boots that are about 7-inches high. This will give you more power for climbing hills and greater stealth during a stalk. Insist on good ankle support, however, as terrain can be pretty rugged and side-hilling is common.

Also, fleece booties that go over your boots help hush your steps when closing in on game. Forget about stalking in bare socks–too many stickers and cactus. Thick-soled moccasins do work pretty well, however.

Sharpen Your Shooting: Shots on javelina are usually close–20 yards or less. Having patience and waiting for a closer, better shot to materialize are key. However, sometimes a 30- or 40-yard shot may be all you get, especially on that last day. So, it’s a good idea to increase your effective range and to insist on a well-tuned, well-sighted-in bow that drives tacks, despite minor flaws in shooting form. Javelina have small kill zones. Deer, on the other hand, require much longer-than-normal shooting across the board, so be prepared for 45-plus-yard shots.

Bring Knee Gear: If you want to sneak up on desert mulies or Coues deer, be ready to crawl. This means your knees will get worked over, unless you wear kneepads. I like the ones from Trophy Line (www.trophylineusa.com) called Knee Savers.

Have a 4-Wheel Drive: If you’re flying to the region by commercial jet, be sure to rent a 4WD-equipped SUV, and get the insurance. There’s lots of rugged backcountry here, and the roads can be tough. You’ll need the added ground clearance and traction offered by a four-by.

Desert hunting has filled my off season with lots of great bowhunting action and fun. I urge you to give it a try and see what you’ve been missing.

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