Posted on November 29, 2011
Get the most out of the upcoming season with this in-depth survival guide
By Steve Flores
I think most bowhunters would agree when I say that the average whitetail season can feel a lot like a roller-coaster ride, or better yet, a day at the circus. With so many highs and lows, not to mention the endless temptations in gear and tactics, it’s easy to understand how the whole process of filling a whitetail tag can sometimes turn into a chaotic mess.
For me, it’s akin to watching my own children when the “big-top” comes to town. There is so much to see and do that they literally don’t know where to begin. Choices and decisions pull their little minds in all directions. Luckily, they have their mother and me to guide them along, making sure they get the most out of the experience.
Bowhunters, on the other hand, aren’t always as fortunate. If you’re blessed enough to have your own guide or mentor when it comes to facing the “whitetail circus,” consider yourself lucky. If not, you may find yourself throwing your camo hat to the ground in frustration. After all, for as many questions as you may have, there are likely just as many answers–making the task of choosing the right ones even more difficult.
Like a lot of bowhunters, I have thrown my hat to the ground in anger at one point or another, and I have felt the sting of defeat and wrong choices made while in the stand. However, I have also learned from those experiences.
My goal with this particular article was to take what those experiences have taught me and create a guide, of sorts, that could be used to help others navigate the whole “whitetail circus” just a little bit easier. Here is what I have learned thus far.
Price of Admission
Without a doubt, the cost of a ticket, a bag of popcorn, some cotton candy and a cold drink is going up. So is the cost of bowhunting gear.
While that fact alone is cause enough for concern, I think the most damaging aspect is the effect it has on recruiting newcomers into our beloved sport. For those on the outside looking in, perhaps thinking about giving bowhunting a try, the cost of admission can seem like an impossible demand to meet.
The good news is that you really don’t need to spend a lot of money to enjoy bowhunting–or even be successful at it. Sure, just like any other sport, there are a number of items that cost a pretty penny, but there are also products available that will get the job done without breaking your bank account.
Take the most fundamental piece of equipment in this sport … the bow. While we all want the latest and greatest on the market, keep in mind that bows that were made a few short years ago are available today at a substantially lower cost and are more than capable of taking down a whitetail.
Bows that were once deemed “flagship” or “cutting edge” don’t suddenly lose their killing prowess just because a little time has passed or a newer model is introduced. Therefore, forget about keeping up with the Joneses and simply look for a quiet, accurate shooting bow that gives you confidence whenever you pick it up, regardless of manufacturer or model.
The same goes for all of the “extras” available today. Now, I will be the first to admit that I love all the gear and gadgets that go along with bowhunting. But honestly, I’ve learned that success typically can’t be bought on a showroom shelf or found in the pages of a catalog.
Rather, being successful really comes down to three things: location, tactics and time. Along with those basic fundamentals, all the gear you really need is a quiet, accurate bow, a comfortable treestand and warm clothing. Focus on those things instead of the next “magic bullet,” and you will eventually begin to fill more tags.
The Bearded LadyÃ‚Â
Just like this popular circus attraction of old, the early season can conjure up similar feelings of confusion and misunderstandings.
With expectations high, most bowhunters find themselves in a quandary once that buck they’ve been scouting all summer suddenly drops off the face of the earth.
And while many hunters believe they’ve gone nocturnal, the truth is, most bucks have simply altered their travel routes and movement times due to changes in cover and an increase in hunting pressure. These early-season bucks are still moving and feeding; they are just doing so over a smaller area than they did during the lazy, uninterrupted days of summer.
When looking for early-season stand sights, consider areas of thick cover that will be used for bedding, near food or water sources. Be cautious, though, because setting up near a buck’s bedroom is always risky. A good approach would be to get close, but not too close, and try to catch him on his feet for a midday stretch or in the evening during last light as he makes his way to feed.
Don’t forget: The early season isn’t like the rut. Bucks are laying low, moving under cover and staying out of sight. Your tactics should match theirs.
The Strong Man
This guy is always a crowd favorite, and children and adults alike are amazed at the feats of strength he demonstrates.
Likewise, if you want to be amazed at your own accomplishments, particularly in the whitetail woods, you’ve got to be in shape–especially if you hunt whitetails in the mountainous regions of the East.
Regardless of terrain, however, conducting pre-season scouting sessions, hanging multiple stands, climbing up and down trees steps for several days in a row, battling harsh weather, packing gear in and out of the woods, and ultimately, dragging your trophy all require a certain level of physical fitness. For the unprepared bowhunter, these basic chores might not only affect the outcome of the hunt, if poor health is an issue, they can also be life-threatening.
I have learned through my own mistakes that when my body is in lousy shape, my hunting success usually follows suit. On the other hand, when my body is in good shape, my mind is sharper, my attitude and focus are more intense, and I have no problem going the extra mile to do what I have to do to increase the odds that I am successful.
This means practicing more often, scouting harder in the post season, hunting tough terrain that others overlook, hanging and re-hanging stands to get them just right, and staying in the tree longer. Do yourself a favor and get in shape before opening day and see if your success rate doesn’t improve.