November 03, 2021
By Bill Winke
Consider how much fun you’d have if you could go back in time and start through young adulthood knowing what you know now.
Maybe you would ruin things by knowing too much, but it sure would be fun to find out.
What would I change? Well, for starters I’d buy as many shares of Apple stock when it first hit the market as I could possibly afford. I would be a more diligent student, more focused athlete, better son and citizen — all things we see as important only through the lens of time.
It’s also fun to consider the possible “Back to the Future” scenarios involving bowhunting. If I could go back and start my bowhunting life over, I’d do a few things differently.
Enjoy Every Part of the Hunt
I was so intense when I seriously got into bowhunting that I barely enjoyed it. It was more of a drive than a pleasure, and I missed the chance to smell the roses along the way.
Over time, I learned that antler score is way less important than some people think. The only score in bowhunting that is worth keeping is the number of adventures, breathtaking experiences and lifetime memories it offers us. That is what enriches our lives.
If a pure experience is the goal, our No. 1 priority has to be the quest itself and all the small treasures that go along with it — not just filled tags. Hunting primarily for a specific size antler taints that purity.
Life is too short to miss the simple pleasures of even one day in the field. If success is defined only by tags filled or antler score, most of the season is essentially wasted with failed attempts and we grow only another year older instead of another year richer in spirit.
Take Shooting Lessons
Once I got serious about archery and bowhunting it took four or five years of almost daily practice to learn to shoot a bow fairly well. I wouldn’t say I have the world’s greatest technique today, but with help from guys such as Randy Ulmer, John Dudley and others, it has evolved into something fairly serviceable in the field.
But how good could I have been had I only sought the advice of a skilled archer before I formed any bad habits? I’m sure my early years of hunting would have been more productive, and my current abilities would be greater.
Golfers are always advised to take lessons before they learn to do it wrong. The same applies to archers. If you get the chance, it’s a great idea to find an archery mentor and learn everything you can about shooting and tuning a bow. The lessons will last a lifetime and shave many years off your learning curve.
Understand the True Secrets
Bowhunters are more than happy to share their success formulas. So, there are few real secrets in this sport. However, there are certain aspects of the hunt most bowhunters overlook because they aren’t glamorous.
Novice bowhunters often skim right past important fundamental advice in the articles they read and selectively tune it out in the seminars they attend. Instead, they want to know how a certain deer call or certain scent will buy them success. They want to get there quickly.
I did the same thing for many years before I finally learned the hard way, by trial and error, the importance of ground-level principles. Only when you have exhausted all the quick fixes will the real “secrets,” the fundamentals, suddenly make sense and show their true value. I wish I’d learned these secrets sooner.
Secret #1: Entry and exit routes are more important than stand location. Early on, I hunted only the hottest sign I could find regardless of how tough it was to get to and from the stand undetected. It took nearly 10 years to break that habit. Now, I’d rather hunt a stand overlooking average sign with excellent access than a stand overlooking excellent sign with poor access.
Becoming a consistent bowhunter sometimes means going the extra mile — literally — to arrive at your stands by the best possible approach that keeps you from bumping even a single deer. If you do only this, you will become a much more consistent bowhunter. It’s not exciting, but it’s one of the real keys to success.
Secret #2: There’s more to bowhunting than funnels. For years, I missed out on some of the best rut hunting because I only hung my stands over bottlenecks. I took some decent bucks, but I never seemed to get the real wall hangers. I figured that without trails or definite travel routes, bowhunting became pure luck. I felt that luck could be overcome with great strategies and hunting over great sign.
Well, luck can’t be overcome, and it will always be a big part of any bowhunting success. Embrace the unknown as the most exciting part of the hunt. It has only been in the last 15 years that I’ve learned the value of hunting random travel areas where there aren’t trails or bottlenecks to define the best stand sites. Bucks are so unpredictable during the rut that they don’t even know where they’ll be next.
Few of them cruise solo — traveling through every funnel between point A and point B. The number that do is a lot fewer, in fact, than I used to believe. Instead, they’re where the does are.
Today, I spend much more of my time hunting ridges and general doe bedding areas during the rut. Without a trail, you have to rely on terrain, or just good old-fashioned luck, to bring bucks within range. But I’ve seen and arrowed more and bigger bucks this way than I ever did hunting only heavily traveled funnels.
Rely on Instinct
I started out as an instinctive shooter. Even after I began shooting a compound, I shot it instinctively for the first three or four years. I only wish I’d stuck with instinctive shooting a little longer to give it a better chance to shape my technique. There’s no more enjoyable method of shooting an arrow than to do it purely by instinct. It’s tough to be a really good instinctive shot after you’ve come to rely on sights. Shooting becomes systematic and you’ll find it hard to trust your natural abilities.
If you’re just getting started in archery, I recommend you spend some of your practice time with an old recurve bow shooting instinctively. Do it for a while until you get good at it. You will find that switching back and forth between sights and instinctive shooting will be easy if you start doing it both ways. It will make you a better archer in the end, and it will also keep you connected to the roots of our great pastime.