Question: I have been bowhunting for a couple of years now. I have never shot a deer. I put a lot of time in but think I’m doing something wrong. Do you have any advice for me? — Mark Cringan, Clay Center, KS
HOW TO KILL YOUR FIRST DEER
I have hunted near your home area in years past and it has a decent number of deer, so that is not the biggest factor. More than likely there is something you are doing that is keeping the deer from coming within range. In this response, I am going to go over the basics of how to shoot your first deer.
The most important rule is to keep the deer from knowing that you are hunting them. Take that to extremes. If you do that well, you will have plenty of opportunities. Here is what I mean.
Concern yourself with three aspects of your hunt: where you park, the route you take to and from your stand and where you actually sit. In other words, every step you take matters-every step has the potential to alarm and educate deer if not done carefully. I’ll break it down one part at a time.
Where you park: I used to park too close to my stands. Generally, I was parking on county roads so I figured it didn’t matter how far away I stopped. The deer are used to vehicles on the road right? Yes, but they aren’t used to them stopping and not starting again. When that happens, they stop what they are doing and listen-maybe stalking closer to check things out.
Have you ever been on stand on a calm, crisp morning and heard a vehicle go by on a distant road and it sounded like it was right next to you? Do you think if it had actually been right next to you that you would have overlooked the fact that it stopped and a person got out? I rest my case.
Park at least one quarter-mile from your stand. I have begun stretching my walk to a half-mile in recent seasons. I have one stand that is literally 40 yards off a county road yet I park more than one half-mile away. I feel silly driving past the stand so close I can hit it with a rock and then driving across a creek and up a hill before I park and walk all the way back. However, I feel that is the best way to keep the deer in that area from knowing that I am headed their way.
If you can find a place to park where your vehicle blends into the local scene, such as parking at someone’s home, that is even better. I have a spot that is very close to an active farmyard and I just park in the farmer’s driveway. It works great. There are many ways to blend in but the ones that work all share the same quality: the deer don’t pay it any mind.
How you walk to and from the stand: Selecting your route (and deciding which stands you can even hunt effectively) is the fun chess match of deer hunting. It is what I spend most of my time thinking about when deciding where and how to hunt.
Creeks, ditches, draws, standing cornfields and brushy fence lines are your friends when sneaking anywhere. Use them to stay under the radar. In fact, when deciding where to hunt, the first thing you should do is find a great way to sneak into and out of your hunting area. Then you can find a stand near that route, rather than finding the stand first and looking for the route later.
Just a note of caution: stay away from feeding areas on your way to your morning stand and as you leave your afternoon stands.
A stand you can get to: Anyone can walk into the woods and select a tree next to a heavy trail and put up a stand. You’ve probably tried that already. If you get lucky, that might work, but in most cases, that approach only leads to educated deer. Successful archery hunters know that you need stands you can get to without alerting the deer. Every other kind of stand, regardless of how much sign is on the ground below it, is worse than useless because it results in educated (a.k.a. unkillable) deer.
If you super-glue your hands together you have a pretty good idea how the stand and the route work as a team. They have to. They are stitched together like two pieces of a parachute-one is worthless without the other.
JUST ADD TIME
This is a simple pursuit. If the deer don’t know you are hunting them, you will eventually be successful-that’s how it works. Keep it simple. Don’t become discouraged if you aren’t quickly successful. Eventually, you will have your opportunity and you will make good. Don’t give up. You can and will eventually shoot your first deer.
Shoot a doe: Don’t wait around trying to make your first deer a buck. Shoot the first legal adult deer that comes past. In many parts of the country, it is very easy to get a doe tag that you can fill and still keep your either-sex tag to try to shoot a buck later in the season. You really need some confidence and the best way to do that is to shoot the first doe that comes past.
When a deer approaches: If you find that you start breathing hard and your right knee won’t stay still-join the club. It is awesome and the main reason we love to bowhunt. The idea is not to eliminate the excitement, but to find a way to function in spite of it. The key is to focus on every step of the process that leads up to the release of the string, rather than focusing on the deer itself.
Step one: Decide where you will shoot–it is best to have a shooting lane cut that permits an easy, tension-free shot.
Step two: Determine the range–ideally, you have already taken a range reading to the spot where the deer is likely to pass and know the distance. Remember, unless you sighted-in from a tree, you need to use the true horizontal distance of the shot not the line of sight distance. That means that you need the distance to the expected shot location at a level even with your stand. (It will always be less than line of sight distance, making this difference one of the key reasons that many archery hunters shoot high at their first deer).
Step three: Decide when to draw your bow–the best time to draw is when the deer is looking away from you. If the deer is moving steadily, I try to draw early and wait rather than take the risk that an opportunity to draw will come just before the deer enters my shooting lane.
Step four: Stop the deer–if it is walking, make a grunting sound or a whistle with your mouth but be prepared to shoot within a few seconds after the deer stops.
Step five: Pick a spot–choose your aiming point and stay locked on it until the arrow hits.