Sept. 19, 2009, was the opener of Pennsylvania’s early antlerless-only archery season, and I had high hopes of getting things off to a fast start by filling the freezer with a nice, fat doe.
Although I maintain more than a dozen productive stand locations, I felt particularly good about a narrow pinch point where an old woods road leads from a well-trafficked field point to a known bedding area. On opening morning, I climbed into that stand brimming with confidence that something good would happen.
Sure enough, only about 45 minutes after legal shooting light, a lone doe approached from my left and slowly made her way in my direction, just inside the woods from the field edge. At 25 yards, I put a Rage 2-blade broadhead through her chest. She ran 20 yards and fell over in sight. Just like that — less than an hour into the day — my mission was accomplished. As an old ball coach would say, it all went down just the way we drew it up on the chalkboard.
Maybe I simply got lucky. But I’d like to think my good feeling about that stand was the product of several years of bowhunting experience in that area — experience that had convinced me that stand was an early-season hotspot. I could have hunted in any number of productive areas that morning, but ultimately I had to make a choice, and I decided to trust my instincts.
Another day last fall, I found myself taking a leisurely lunch break in the woods when a group of turkeys started talking on a nearby ridgetop. Being familiar with the area, I had a pretty good idea where those birds were headed. After moving to a likely ambush point, I waited until I spotted a trio of turkey heads bobbing along the ridgetop. Immediately upon seeing their travel route, a little voice inside me told me where I needed to be. The only question was whether I could get there first.
Crouching down and using the ridgeline as cover, I scrambled about 50 yards to my left and flopped down to my knees. Literally seconds later — and with my chest still heaving from the move — I saw the birds approaching. When they ducked their heads to slink under a fallen tree, I raised my bow arm and came to full draw as three longbeards stepped out on the main trail no more than 15 feet away. I centered my 20-yard pin on the lead bird and squeezed the release. Thwack! Feathers floated in the air as the birds sprinted over the ridge and out of sight. I was flabbergasted not to see a dying tom flopping around in front of me. Then I noticed my clean shaft buried in a log. I had shot high, giving that tom the scare of his life!
I lost sleep that night reliving the scene and asking myself how I could have missed such a gimme. Still, flubbing a golden opportunity did nothing to diminish the fact I put myself in position for the kill.
There simply is no magic formula for bowhunting success. Sure, there are some general rules, such as playing the wind and hunting bedding areas in the mornings and feeding areas in the evenings. But after all the conventional wisdom is factored in, you still have plenty of options and it’s time to make a decision.
When that time comes, go with your gut. You won’t always score, but you’ll learn as much from your failures as your successes and become a better bowhunter in the process.