Question: I am 15 years old. This past season I had several opportunities at deer, yet never scored. I am driven to get a bow kill this year. What is the single best advice you can give me? — Ben Trom, Blooming Prairie, Minn.
My Best Piece of Advice
The animal is always easier to tag when it doesn't know it's being hunted. This single universal rule applies everywhere and under every situation where you will hunt. If you do nothing more than focus on every possible way to can keep the game from knowing you are hunting it, you will immediately become a better bowhunter. Here are some of the many ways that simply obeying this rule will improve your success rate.
Living By the Rule
Let's say you just found a very good-looking scrape located at the bottom of a draw. The moist earth is ripped up so deeply that you could actually stumble into it. Just to your right is a perfect oak tree with the leave still on to provide plenty of cover for your stand. Are you going to hunt it? You won't if you are serious about Rule Number One. Such a location looks great, but the swirling winds in the draw will educate too many deer. It is better to try to find another location nearby where the wind is more predictable.
You've just climbed down from your evening stand. The hunt was a bust. You saw nothing and are not sure you want to hunt the stand again. You can take the long way back to the truck using a ditch, a creek and an old farm road or you can cut the walk in half by heading straight toward your truck past a feeding area.Will you take the shortcut? Rule Number One rears its conservative head again. Even if you don't plan to hunt the stand again you should still do everything possible to keep from alerting even a single deer. Your stand exit route is just as important in reducing your overall impact to your hunting area as your entry route.
You've had a tough three days of hunting. You've only seen one small buck and now you're tempted to walk your best areas to figure out where all the deer went. Are you going to put on your walking boots? You better not if you have any respect for Rule Number One. There's a fine line in scouting.
Too much is actually worse than none at all. Your stands are located where they are for a reason; trust your instincts and the information you gathered during the off-season. Playing hopscotch with your stands in a desperate attempt to strike gold is a losing proposition. All you will do is educate deer — spooking the very animals you are trying to hunt. If you are going to do any scouting at all, keep it low impact and stick to the downwind fringes of the cover.
You've been waiting all summer for the bow season to finally arrive and now the magical date arrives. Your best stand is located next to a ridge top bedding area. You saw three nice bucks from that stand late in the rut the previous season and you can't wait to get back and hunt it again. Saturday finally arrives and the wind is perfect. Are you going to hunt it? You won't if hope to see a repeat of last season's action.
Rule Number One requires that you leave your best stands alone until the times when they are most likely to produce action. It is too risky to hunt a bedding area before the bucks are in there chasing does. All you will do is alert a bunch of deer to the fact that they are being hunted. At the wrong times the reward is not worth the risk of burning out a potentially great stand.
Forming a Strategy
Here's a bare-bones approach to the season that can serve as an outline for your success. Ideally, you have a number of decent stands located in lots of different kinds of places. You can hunt a few stands along field edges early in the season while deer are still feeding. You can do this without getting close to the sensitive core of your hunting area. As the rut nears you should increase your pressure by hunting closer and closer to the areas that have the most deer activity. At this time travel funnels between two bedding areas are a great choice.
Finally, as the rut peaks and the firearms season draws near (whichever comes first), you should be hunting close to the bedding areas and overlooking the highest activity areas where you hunt. By increase the pressure slowly you don't burn out your hunting area before prime time.
Let Rule Number One guide everything you do in the woods this fall. Sure, there are times when a few calculated risks are worth taking, but for the most part, your strategy should be very conservative with only one goal: don't let them know they are being hunted.