The second day of the bow season opener was drawing to a close as the woods changed over from an early fall day to a beautiful fall evening. Leaning forward to listen, the archer strained his eyes to the limit of his peripheral vision without moving his head, watching the corners. He heard the sound again. He knew the sound well: it was the footstep of a deer. But he couldn’t place it’s source, only that it was to his right, as expected.
Slowly raising his binoculars, he peered through the foliage and panned to his right, willing his eyes to register through the undergrowth. The rotation of the antlers gave away the buck’s location. Definitely a shooter. The hunter began aligning his body to position himself where he could stand and draw the bow in the vicinity of where he hoped the deer would appear. The buck emerged a half step behind to the right of the “30 yard mark” giving the hunter just enough time to stand and draw before it’s full head and vitals cleared the tree.
Sensing he was no longer alone, the buck stopped and put his ears on alert as the archer settled his second pin on the buck’s armpit and sent the arrow home.
With the release of the arrow, the hunter in the above scenario culminated what most would consider a good day’s hunting. In truth, however, it was the culmination of several months worth of planning, scouting, and preparation that helped the archer bag his deer.
While most bow hunters would readily accept being lucky whenever they can, there’s no substitute for being prepared. If you are one of these hunters, the time to prepare for the upcoming bow season opener is now. In days of old, many deer hunters spent countless afternoons in the woods trying to find pieces to a puzzle that would lead them to the arrowing of a trophy deer. Often time and money were invested in stomping up the woods while several good bucks were bumped off the property in the process.
The advancements in technology today, while not a substitute for good old-fashioned scouting, can sure assist the bow hunter in scouting smarter. Here are some high-tech deer scouting tips for your bow opener.
Consider deer scouting as a version of “sighting in” a gun or bow. The first step is to get the shot on paper and to do that you’ll need a computer and the Internet.
Back during the turn of the century, if you wanted to get aerial views of a piece of property, you’d probably have to hire an airplane pilot to take you up and use your own camera to take the pictures yourself.
One tool today’s deer hunters have that wasn’t available as little as 10 years ago is the use of satellite imagery to discover likely deer holding areas. With just the click of a mouse, bow hunters can preview most any location in the world to begin to find out if it might have the potential for holding deer. Additionally, internet scouting can suggest travel routes between feeding and bedding areas, as well as the presence of ditches, washes, thick areas, and other terrain features that would funnel deer.
Since the food sources deer use are key to most bow hunters, especially in the early bow season, once you’ve marked likely bedding, feeding and travel routes on the map, look for choke points in between those areas. These are fingers of trees or funnel areas that deer will have to while traveling from one area to the other; if you are right about deer using both those areas, a stand placed in the funnel can put you in range for a shot. Some internet sites will even provide you with the exact GPS coordinates of the potential locations.
Two of the top free internet locations for virtual scouting include Google Maps and Google Earth. Google Maps offers the utility of entering a known street address, then converting the map location into a satellite view with just one click. Once a location is determined, Google Maps will provide turn by turn driving directions to that spot. A “man on the scene” icon will download street level interactive 360 degree photographs of many locations, although photos are available from only public right of ways, mainly public roads. You can find google maps at www.google.com and go to “maps”.
Google Earth is an entirely satellite image application available for free by downloading a program from the Google Earth website. A built in measuring tool even allows you to measure distances from one point to another while taking elevations into consideration. Street map overlay is a great enhancement for navigating to known locations. The website address is www.earth.goggle.com.
ON THE GROUND
Once he’s armed with the knowledge of the lay of the land, Doug Goins, Mathews Archery certified bow hunter and owner of J & S Gun Depot & Archery, sets out on foot to verify his internet scouting. When he hits the ground, he’s trying to pattern deer. He uses some high tech tools for that too.
“The next step is to put out remote game cameras that will give me specific data to pattern the deer that are using the area,” said Goins. “I start with the game cameras sometime around the end of June, they will allow me to thoroughly scout the area without bumping and pushing deer.”
The data that Goins wants to collect with his trail cameras includes information on the direction deer are coming from and going to as well as the frequency of travel. He obviously will get some idea of the number and size deer using the area too, but at this point he may not home in on one particular deer, just yet. Since bucks are still in their summer bachelor groups, their behavior and travel patterns are likely to change once the season comes in and the velvet comes off.
“If I can get an idea of sex ratios, how many does versus how many buck are in this area, I can use that information to plan later hunts when mature bucks will be more interested in the doe herd,” he said.
On subsequent visits to check his cameras, typically done during mid day when deer are more likely not to be in the area, he can adjust the camera locations further up or down the trail. This not only helps him pattern deer for hunting but also for further scouting.
“You’ll quickly learn where and when to scout so you can go in and verify food sources and bedding areas and be confident of not bumping deer,” he said.
While Goins is obviously going to check out the upcoming mast crop, he’s also interested in finding browse sources such as green briers and honeysuckle that will still be available once the season opens. Once he has this information, he’s more confident and can locate and place stand positions that he’ll use for hunting. If he’s new to the property he may also go back to the internet to check historical data on prevailing winds during the fall season which will help him with proper stand placement to use the wind to his advantage.
IN THE STANDS
The final phase of homing in on a trophy buck occurs the moment Goins settles in to his deer stand on Opening Day. During the early bow season, leaves are still on the trees and surrounding foliage is dense. Cutting shooting lanes at this point is akin to leaving a calling card that reads “Death stopped by to see you but you weren’t in so I’ll stop back later.”
Goins picks his stand locations to give him a decent view of the deer trail without having to clear away limbs. He relies on a quality rangefinder to decipher the exact distance from his stand to immobile targets around his stand. Doing this also relieves him of having to range an actual animal prior to taking the shot.
“Right after I get in my stand and settled in, I start ranging trees around my stand” he said. “I hunt a lot in the afternoon so right after I get up there’s not much going on and I range landmarks to keep from getting bored. The benefit is when a deer walks by, I only have to estimate the distance of the deer to an object at a known distance. That means I’m guessing distances of 1 or 2 yards rather then 25 or 30. The margin of error goes way down and that’s s a huge confidence issue to know precisely how far away that deer is.”
For hunters whose preferences or schedules are more conducive to morning hunts, Goins suggests ranging objects when you hang the stand and make notes on paper of those distances. Reading the notes before getting in the stand keeps the distances fresh and helps hunters recall how the site is laid out ‑‑ a benefit in lowlight conditions in a site you’ve not hunted before.
He also hunts with a compact yet quality pair of binoculars around his neck. He’s still scouting deer all the way up to the shot. The pro suggests obtaining optics with a good objective lens, something in the 8 x 42 or 10 x 56 ranges.
“The naked eye can only focus on so many things at one time” he said. “With a good set of objective lens binoculars, you can actually see through underbrush and focus on objects that are out of your normal range of vision.”
The other benefit of binoculars, according to Goins, is that they pick up more ambient light and allow hunters to see better into dark corners and other shadowy places that deer often use to approach an open area. This is especially important as daylight approaches or fades.
Although the calendar may suggest it’s Independence Day, start making your preparations now and you can might be able to celebrate the bow season opener with the deer of a lifetime.