June 10, 2021
By Mark Demko
It’s hot, it’s humid and it may finally be time to pick up the fishing pole or golf clubs, since the next hunting season is now months away.
For many bowhunters, summer is the “dead zone” between hunts, when spring turkey season seems like a long time ago and cooler autumn weather is nowhere in sight. When it comes to archery hunting, however, there’s really no off-season, even in June and July. From unique hunting experiences to tasks that can help prepare you for your next outing afield, there are plenty of bowhunting-related activities and projects to embark upon, even during the dog days of summer. To help get you started, here are a handful of suggestions to make the warmest season of the year even hotter, especially from the archery perspective:
1. Move the Mountain
They’re considered a 3-D archery experience rather than a 3-D shoot, and with good reason!
Mountain archery challenges such as the Total Archery Challenge (TAC), Northwest Mountain Challenge and Mountain Archery Fest can be demanding and exhausting, but they’ll leave you feeling like you’re the king of the mountain when you’re done. They’re so popular they draw thousands of bowhunters from coast to coast, many of whom are simply looking for a different take on traditional summertime shoots.
“They continue to grow every year and we continue to expand our footprint,” says Sean DeGrey, event manager for TAC, which now hosts 10 events across the country, including a home event in Utah that draws 3,000 shooters annually.
If you’ve never taken part in a mountain shoot, be prepared for plenty of fun, but also come ready for the challenge with quality hiking boots, sunscreen, backpack and water all essential. Courses for various skill levels are laid out across the landscape, with targets set at different ranges and angles to replicate what you might experience on an actual hunt. Shooting scenarios vary from close-range opportunities shooting through obstacles such as trees to acute-angle shots and even a few long-range bombs that span the length of a football field.
“We focus a lot on that (variety), because it gets people ready for whatever they’re going to be doing,” DeGrey said. “The angles are just the nature of the beast in some of these mountains. So, when you’re hunting out west for example, you’re going to get into those situations where you have a steep shot off a cliff or a downhill or uphill angle, and we like to replicate that.”
One of best aspects of mountain archery challenges is you don’t have to shoot in a competitive format. While participants can keep score, it’s not required, making the shoots awesome for groups of family and friends to do together.
“We promote (our events) for everyone, no matter the skill level,” DeGrey said. “Whether you’re an expert or new, come on out because everyone’s welcome. The camaraderie there shows nobody cares — they just want you out there having a good time.”
2. Head to Hawaii
Summer is usually the last time of year people think of visiting Hawaii, but if you’re looking for an awesome, off-season hunt, it’s definitely a season worth considering. The Aloha State offers quality hunting for species such as Polynesian wild boar, feral goats, mouflon, blackbuck, black-tailed deer and even Rio Grande turkeys, depending on the island and time of the year. The highlight for many, however, is the opportunity to pursue axis deer, with the rut typically running from late May through mid-July.
Hawaii Safaris’ owner Patrick Fisher, who offers guided hunts on 84,000 acres of private land spread across four of the seven islands, says it’s not uncommon to see 50-75 axis deer a day, with bowhunters having a 75 percent shooting opportunity.
“We do a fair amount of spot and stalk, so if people are comfortable (shooting) out to 50 yards that’s good,” says Fisher, who offers axis deer hunts on Maui and Molokai. “We also do a lot of shooting off our knees. A lot of guys come and then you get set up in a situation and they say, ‘I’ve never really shot off my knee.’ Because you have to crawl into the herds and you can’t stand up, we suggest that you practice at least some shooting off your knees.”
While axis deer are the big draw, Fisher says shooting opportunities for other species such as goats and boars can be even higher, somewhere in the 90-95 percent range. Depending on the species you ultimately decide to target, hunts can take place anywhere from near sea level to 8,500 feet up, with terrain ranging from brush, fields and tropical forest settings to rugged, mountainlike terrain.
If you want to go it alone, Hawaii does offer hunting on public parcels such as Game Management Areas and State Forest Reserves, but there are established seasons for species such as axis deer and blacktails. Plus, you may need to draw a permit to pursue them. If you plan to hunt private lands, there’s no need to worry, since hunting is allowed year-round with a valid license and the permission of the owner. Contact: hawaiisafaris.com | 808-640-0755
3. Extend Your Range
For the majority of bowhunters, especially those who pursue whitetails in the eastern U.S., shots typically fall somewhere in the 15-30-yard range. If you hunt out west or over open fields, however, then you know opportunities in the 40-60-yard range can and do present themselves.
June and July are the perfect times to pick up your bow and step outside your comfort zone by extending the distance of your practice. Don’t go for the gusto all at once, however; instead, start by increasing 10 yards at a time. Once you become proficient at 40 yards, then you can stretch yourself to 50 and 60 yards.
The further you shoot, the more important good form and sound shooting practices become, since longer distances tend to magnify inconsistences in technique. Make sure you are locked in on the same anchor point every time, concentrate on replicating your stance and shooting form with every shot and be sure to have your equipment fine-tuned for maximum efficiency. Having a good, quality stabilizer is also important, as it helps to balance your setup by moving weight away from the bow, thereby improving accuracy and consistency.
While we may not often think about it, it’s also worth mentioning that it’s nearly impossible to hold your pin dead-on the bull’s eye, especially at longer distances, and fighting to try and do so can cause muscle tension/fatigue or even inadvertent movement that can ultimately affect the shot. When shooting, instead let your pin hover or float over the bull’s-eye in a figure eight pattern, which should help produce a natural, more relaxed shot.
In the end, practicing regularly at longer distances builds confidence, helps you develop better shooting habits and ultimately extends your range in the field so you can take that shot when a big bull elk or mule deer walks out 50 yards away. The added bonus is that when you step back to shooting 20- and 30-yard shots, they’ll seem like a piece of cake!
4. Go Hog Wild!
They’re tough, challenging and quite tasty!
If you want a hunt that’s exciting and easily affordable — no matter the time of year — look no further than wild pigs.
Feral swine have greatly expanded their populations across many portions of the U.S. in recent decades, making them a popular target in many states. In addition to being fun and yielding some great-tasting meat, wild hog hunts are probably the most economical guided archery hunts you can embark upon. For example, one-day hunts at Osceola Outfitters in Florida from May-December are only $250; Piney Woods Hunting Lodge in southeastern Alabama offers two-day, all-inclusive hunts for $650; and three-day excursions in Texas range between $500-$700, depending on meals and accommodations.
Don’t want to hire a guide? States such as Florida, Alabama, Georgia and California, to name a few, offer solid wild pig hunting on a number of publicly accessible hunting lands, though it’s important to note that season and/or bag limits may be in place depending on where you hunt. For example, pig hunting on Wildlife Management Areas in the Peach State is permitted only when a big- or small-game season is open (Georgia’s squirrel season starts in mid-August). It’s best to check the wildlife agency website for the state you plan to hunt, since rules and regulations may also vary from one public parcel to another.
If you’re skilled and lucky enough to score some pork in summer, it goes without saying that dressing the animal and getting it on ice as soon as possible is crucial. Whether you choose to take a stand over bait, still hunt or pursue them with dogs, however, wild hog hunting is an adrenaline-inducing thrill that will help keep your hunting skills sharp in the off-season. Contacts: Osceola Outfitters (Florida), osceolaoutfitters.com or 407-957-3593; Piney Woods Hunting Lodge (Alabama), pineywoodshuntinglodge.com or 334-695-2932
5. Upgrade Your Bow Setup
While every bowhunter would love a new bow every year or two, the reality is it’s simply not in the budget for many of us. That said, there are smaller, more affordable steps you can take each year to ensure you remain at the top of your shooting game.
This summer, consider upgrading your arrow rest, sight, quiver or other accessories, especially if they’re more than five years old or you’re not 100 percent satisfied with their performance.
Why? If we look at today’s sights, for example, the models currently made by TRUGLO, IQ Bowsights, Apex, Axcel, Trophy Ridge and others are more advanced than those of just a few years ago. So, whether you want the ability to adjust both the second and third axis for super fine-tuning, or you are looking for superior illumination and pin visibility in low-light conditions, you’re likely going to find an option out there for you. In fact, even if you’re thrilled with your current sight, rest and other accessories, chances are good the manufacturer has made tweaks or upgrades to improve features and enhance functionality.
Even quivers continue to evolve, with today’s models more compact and customizable than ever. In just one example, TightSpot recently released the Pivot 2.5, a two-piece model that goes beyond the typical preset positions of some adjustable quivers thanks to its triple-axis adjustment capability that allows you to move the quiver up/down, in/out and forward/backward. Like all TightSpot Quivers, the Pivot 2.5 is designed to act similar to a stabilizer, providing better bow balance and helping to reduce torque. While making small adjustments and upgrades to your bowhunting rig may not seem vitally important, it can often pay off in a big way by improving shooting comfort, confidence and accuracy.
Going over your accessories thoroughly may also alert you to any potential equipment troubles such as loose screws, a cracked sight housing or some other potential problem you otherwise might not have noticed. Working on your bow during the off-season is a great way to familiarize yourself intimately with your best friend. Then, when hunting season draws near, you won’t be shell-shocked if relationship troubles seem to spring up out of nowhere!
Take Aim at a New Target
As bow and crossbow speeds continue to increase, a new breed of targets is emerging to withstand the high-velocity assaults that come with repeated practice. Whether you like bag targets for easy extraction of arrows and bolts, or you prefer 3-D targets to help simulate quarry in the field, here are six new shot stoppers keeping up with the times!
BLOCK Infinity — Capable of stopping arrows up to 500 fps, the Infinity offers six shooting faces with five unique designs. Employing BLOCK’s PolyFusion Technology, the target features a high-density foam core encased in exterior foam walls and uses friction to halt arrows as they slide between the layers. The result is super stopping power and easy retrieval of shots. The target comes in 20x20-inch and 22x22-inch options and is safe for practicing with fieldpoints, fixed blades and expandable broadheads. $179.99-$199.99 | feradyne.com/block
Delta McKenzie Speed Bag 24 — Designed to stop today’s ultra-fast arrows and bolts, the Speed Bag 24 features up to 34 pounds of shot-stopping fill capable of handling speeds up to 500 fps. This target is engineered for prolonged life, standing up to repeated practice throughout the year. Its 24x24x10-inch frame features a 24-inch target face on one side, with convenient one-inch grid sight calibration on the opposite side. The bag’s high-contrast graphics make it easy to take aim at your target, while the generous fill allows for easy, one-handed removal of bolts and arrows. $53.99 | dmtargets.com
Delta McKenzie Green Line — This four-sided, block-style target offers superior halting power, with heavy-duty foam layers designed to stand up to repeated abuse from arrows and bolts. Built to last twice as long as conventional shooting targets, the Green Line measures 18x16x11 inches and comes with integrated handles molded into the sides of the block for easy carrying. Go ahead — give it your best shot! $79.99 | dmtargets.com
Rinehart Woodland Antelope — Heading for pronghorns or simply looking for a new 3-D target? Then the Woodland Antelope is a great option. Standing 36 inches tall and 31 inches long, this addition to Rinehart’s Woodland Series features solid foam construction that’s designed to not only withstand repeated practice with fieldpoints and broadheads, but also hold up to the impacts of UV rays and snow, sleet and rain. The target also has a replaceable core, making it easy to change if needed. $224.99 | rinehart3d.com
Morrell Transformer Buck 3D Target — The Transformer Buck is a two-in-one target that’s perfect for both backyard shooting and practicing once you get to your hunting destination. The vital area is made of Morrell’s High Roller Foam, a durable, self-healing foam that reportedly offers the easiest arrow removal among foam targets. This midsection area also serves as a stand-alone target that can be removed from the 3-D target and taken to camp for a quick practice round before the hunt begins. $249 | morrelltargets.com
Hurricane Cat 5 — Even the fastest bows and crossbows on the market are no match for this target, which Hurricane calls its “most extreme yet.” Designed to withstand projectiles flying up to 650 fps, the Cat 5 offers a generous 25x25-inch face, with images on both sides of the bag. The high visibility, tricolor graphics make it easy to see the target, while the sight-in grid aids with precision adjustments of sight pins and crossbow scopes. $69.99 | feradyne.com/hurricane