Tips From A Minnesota Bowhunting Expert
September 30, 2010
Dan Urbas has learned a lot in his many years of bowhunting for trophy bucks. Maybe his knowledge will help you connect this season. (August 2006)
Dan Urbas arrowed this dandy Minnesota buck in 2005.
Photo courtesy of Dan Urbas.
When a bowhunter shoots a trophy buck, many people will think the archer is a lucky hunter. If that person should kill another record-book buck, then the luck factor becomes less of an issue and the bowhunter is labeled adept at the sport. If this hunter consistently kills world-class bucks, then he gets elevated to a status where he is respected for his abilities and everyone involved in the sport covets the knowledge that this person must possess.
But knowledge is only a portion of the program that leads to success. There is also a strong level of desire that is necessary to carry out a trophy-whitetail program as well as the determination that drives a person to push himself to the highest level in a sport. Only a few have the time and the motivation required to devote to consistently bagging trophy deer. What they achieve, they deserve.
Dan Urbas from Oakdale has been bowhunting since he was 15 years old. In mid-September when bowhunting begins, he will have 18 seasons under his belt. He freely admits that he has learned a lot since his early days chasing whitetails.
"When I started bowhunting in 1988, I didn't know much then," Urbas said. "I was serious about hunting, but I just didn't know much. I learned on my own through trial and error. When I was younger, I had some opportunities to watch some big bucks, to observe them and see how they check for scents on the wind currents and where they bed and how they use trails."
Urbas cut his teeth on bowhunting in Pennsylvania, which he said was a great place to learn before his transition to Minnesota.
"I grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to Minnesota in 1998," he said.
"I read a lot about the Midwest before moving here. The hunting pressure out there is much higher than we have here. What I learned is that getting a shot at a good whitetail requires you to be on a spot -- just like fishing."
Urbas looks for his spot beginning in July. "I generally hunt the same spots each year, and a few of my spots tend to produce opportunities for me each year," he said. "I start in mid- to late July and I deploy four to five trail cameras. I use them as locating tools."
Even though Urbas is scouting his areas two months before the season opener, he still takes precautions.
"An important thing here, even this early," said Urbas, "is that when I put the cameras out, I go through my entire scent-free program. I shower, wear scent-free rubber gloves, and I go in totally scent-free.
"I feel this is important," he continued, "because when you're entering a big buck's home, where they don't get to smell a human on a regular basis, you have to go in scent-free, especially when you are going to leave something behind, like a trail camera. That can leave scent in the area for hours if you don't handle it properly. Why put the deer on high alert to this area if you don't have to?"
According to Urbas, his cautionary stance is due to the wary nature of the bigger whitetails.
"Being scent-free is important for the big bucks," he said. "I think you can get away with some scent in the region when it comes to the 2 1/2-year-old and 3 1/2-year-old bucks. But when you decide to start targeting the 5 1/2-year-old trophy bucks, if they catch one whiff of you, it's going to make them harder to kill."
Urbas is careful not to keep the cameras in the areas for extended periods of time. His goal is just to locate a trophy.
"I leave the camera in an area for two weeks," he said. "I'm not one of those guys that keeps putting them back out in a spot. If there's a big deer there, you'll spot it in that two-week period. Why keep potentially adding scent to an area? If the camera shows there is a big buck in that zone, you're much better off watching it from a distance."
And it's not only big deer he looks for. "If the camera has picked up a smaller buck or a doe with a fawn or two, I watch them carefully as well," Urbas said. "The reason for this is because they are all likely using the same food source, and there is a good possibility that they are all moving to that food source on the same trail. The younger bucks and does can tip you off to where this is happening and can direct you to the big buck. Some guys throw away all the photos of the smaller bucks, but I make notes on them to see if they are using the same routes as the big buck I'm going to target."
What if the cameras don't record that deer he's looking for? "If a camera doesn't pick up a big buck, I might put them back in a different location in that same zone to see if there are any big bucks there using a different trail, or whatever, but once I photograph an animal that I should try to shoot, I leave that area alone until the season begins," Urbas said.
Once Urbas locates the buck he plans to target, he will watch the area from a distance.
"I never go back into an area after I pull the cameras because I don't want to change the deer's habits by my presence," he said. "I always know where I'm going to set up the stand, based on the fact I have gotten pictures of the buck, have been watching him for the past couple of months from a distance with binoculars and I know his habits. I'll know which tree I'm using, where to put the pegs and which direction to place the stand."
During some seasons, Urbas is fortunate to have more than one big buck to target, but that is not always the case. "To have more than two options is very rare," he said, "and having two to go after is not all that common."
From opening day until the rut, Urbas only hunts the evening period.
"It's rare during the early season that you will find me hunting mornings," he said. "It's because I won't know where the deer are in the morning. Everyone said that deer feed all night and head back to the beds in the morning. Well, I've not found that to be true. And, since I don't know where those deer are, I don't want to risk spooking them. In the morning, what hunters are trying to do is move into a bedding area an hour before it gets light and set up their stand. That's very difficult. An hour before light, that deer can be anywhere, w
hich means there is a good possibility you will spook it. That big deer likes to roam when it's dark out. So that's why I stay away in the mornings. During an early-season hunt when you go into your spot in the afternoon, you just know that deer is bedded."
Urbas is so concerned about tipping off a deer to his presence that he mounts his stand on the day of the hunt.
"I seldom put stands up early," he said. "I prefer to put my stand up on the opening day, that is if the wind is right. If the wind is not right, I won't even go there. I think it's a high risk to set up a day or two before because you create a situation that will put an older buck on alert. The big deer might change its routine if it notices a change in the landscape or picks up an unusual scent. I'm real particular about spooking deer. You can go into an area too much and push a deer into another area or routine just because they don't want to put up with you in their area. That's why I like setting up the day of the hunt."
Is stand placement important? It is, according to Urbas.
"I vary where I put the stand, but I like to be anywhere from 15 to 30 feet high," Urbas explained. "I like to be high where I might not be skylined easily. If I have a lot of cover and some branches to break up my pattern, 15 feet high is fine. The height of the stand just depends on where the deer is going to come in, whether he can skyline spot me, and how much cover I have."
When it comes to scent control during the actual season, Urbas considers himself, well, let's let him describe it. "I'm probably considered extreme when it comes to scent control, but I'm telling you, those deer can smell everything, and if they get one whiff of something unusual, it will make them change their pattern and put them on alert."
Urbas starts by shaving his legs, his arms, even his armpits. "I get my hair cut real short," he said, "and I start a week before the season taking scent-free showers. I don't take a regular shower again until the end of December. I brush my teeth in baking soda. I don't drink alcohol. When I wash my clothing in scent-free soap, I use rubber gloves to take the clothing out of the machine and hang them outside. When I dress, I get dressed outside naked and I'm careful about the bottom of my boots, which I spray down heavily with Scent Killer. I even carry the scent-free wipes. This works well if you sweat a little bit. You can wipe yourself down with a wipe."
According to Urbas, it is sweat that is the bane of archery deer hunting, and this has been a real problem in the past few years because it has been so warm around the opener.
"We had a really warm early season last year," Urbas said. "That can make it tough. There were lots of days when the temperature was warm and the wind wasn't right. I just wouldn't hunt. It's too high a risk with the sweating and the wind blowing that scent right to the deer. Once they know something has changed, the next time they come through will be midnight. You've forced them to change their pattern."
Another change in the pattern happens when the deer move into the rutting period. At this point, Urbas changes from a late-afternoon-only hunter into an all-day hunter.
"During the rut, the big bucks are more active all day," Urbas said. "You have to be very careful going in and out from the stand, but the rut is a period when you should be in your stand as much as possible."
Urbas stressed that the most critical time for hunters targeting a big buck is when they are moving to and from their stand.
"When you are on your way to and from your stand, it is extremely important that you do not bump deer. Be very cautious and pay attention. If you have to go through a standing corn field to get to your stand, get two rows in to give yourself some cover. If you have deer come in while you're hunting and they are blocking your route out, circle around so not to spook those deer. As soon as you spook any deer, you change the pattern of them all. A lot of people overlook this."
Once on stand, Urbas relies very little on rattling or calls. "It's very rare that I rattle. Maybe a little during the rut. I prefer no wind when I rattle. Ninety-nine percent of the trophy bucks I've rattled always circled downwind of where I was rattling. There are very few calm days in Minnesota, so I don't do much rattling. While I have had little bucks come right into the rattles, the big bucks will circle so they're downwind of the sound of the rattling before they commit. Sometimes I use a doe bleat call while the rut is going on just to get a buck's attention or turn them, or to stop them for the shot."
The wind is an important factor for Urbas. He uses wind floaters and constantly checks the direction of the wind currents. "I've been on the stand before when the wind has changed in such a way that I knew it would be detrimental for me to stay," he said. "So I climbed down from the stand and left rather than risk getting discovered."
Getting discovered is rare for Urbas with all his precautions, but it does occur, much to his dismay.
"The first deer you see will probably be the mother with her fawn," he said, "and she'll always wind you if you're not set up properly. When she does, she'll tell everyone around there that something is up. Those mothers are tough. When I get a doe close or underneath me, I'll huddle real close to the tree so I have no outline. I don't want her pinning me. Once they catch on to you, there's nothing you can do. If she does pin me and blows a couple of times, then I'll let the spot rest for a few days before I return.
"If you get made by the big boy, that's a sin," Urbas continued. "If it happens during the early season, that spot becomes useless until the rut begins and then you can return. Sometimes if I am discovered by the deer I'm targeting, I give the spot a rest for a few days and then go back and watch from a distance. I want that animal to get comfortable again."
When all the hard work does result in an opportunity and that big buck starts moving into position, it's important, according to Urbas, to take 20 seconds and mentally calm yourself so you can make a clean shot.
"I always wait for the high-percentage shot," he said. "The last thing I want to do is wound one. I would rather pass on a marginal shot to get a better shot later. And an experienced archer is going to know if the shot is good one to take. If I'm not sure it is a solid double-lunger, I wait for a better opportunity."
While Urbas is the ultimate trophy bowhunter, he wants everyone to realize that his passionate stance to the sport won't be for everybody and it's enjoyable whether an opportunity for a trophy is realized or not.
"Shooting big bucks doesn't make you a better bowhunter than someone who shoots a doe," Urbas said. "It's just whatever you want to do. I shot a 191-incher in 2004 and it's all relative. As far as I'
m concerned, it's about finding excellent spots and scouting hard and paying attention to the variables that will keep you from getting discovered."