Five Mistakes Bowhunters Make

There are many ways to foul up a bowhunting trip.

But you can avoid these five common mistakes if you plan ahead. Our expert explains how it's done. (July 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

So you've been hunting deer with firearms for a few years, and now you want to take the plunge into the world of bowhunting. Welcome aboard!

Bowhunting deer is no different than hunting them with firearms. The goal is to get close enough to a deer to be within effective range of your weapon in hand. The difference is, to shoot a deer with a bow and arrow, you need to be a lot closer to it than you do with a rifle.

And the closer you get to a deer, you more you'll magnify all those things that worry you as a gun hunter -- increasing the odds that a deer will detect your presence before you can make a killing shot.

Take up bowhunting, and you'll also realize the need for precision shooting. Because a bow is less powerful than a rifle, the margin for error is smaller for estimating range. And because an arrow kills by hemorrhage, while a rifle bullet kills by shock, a bowhunter's shot placement has to be more precise. You must put that arrow right through the boiler room to ensure a quick, clean kill.

Following is a list of the five most common bowhunting errors -- and tips on how to avoid them:

AGAINST THE WIND

It's no secret that the whitetail's greatest defense mechanism is its nose. To put your tag on a big buck, you have to beat that deer's sense of smell. And that task begins at home.

Wash your hunting clothes in unscented, bacteria-killing detergent, hang them outside to dry and then seal them in a plastic tub or bag to keep household odors from seeping into them.

For added protection, buy hunting clothes lined with carbon, which prevents human odors from escaping into the air. In the container with my clothes, I like to put something that will smell like the area I'm going to hunt -- dead leaves, acorns or some other earthy scent -- to impregnate the cloth with a cover scent to mask my own odor. Then, don't take your clothes out of their protective container until you're in the field and ready to hunt.

Once you're dressed and ready to go, spray yourself down with a scent eliminator, which kills human odor on contact. There are dozens of brands of scent-killers on the market. You can also apply to your boots a cover scent, such as raccoon urine, to mask any human scent you may leave on the ground when you walk to your stand.

When you choose an area to hunt, pick multiple trees for your stand(s) so that you can hunt effectively no matter which direction the wind is blowing. Remember, you want to be always downwind of where you expect deer will appear. If a big buck gets one whiff of you, you might never see him.

If you're in a stand and the wind shifts, climb down and relocate.

MOVING VIOLATION

"I had this nice buck come right up to me. And when I went to draw my bow, he caught the movement and took off."

If I've heard this account of a botched bowhunt once, I've heard it a million times. I've even been the hunter in this situation a time or 30. Deer may not have the world's greatest eyesight when it comes to picking out stationary objects, but twitch a finger at the wrong time, and they'll nail you.

Most bowhunters hunt from elevated platforms. When you set up your stand, try to find a spot that provides cover, such as tree branches, leaves or some other vegetation, behind you so that you can avoid being "skylined" -- with nothing but clear sky behind your outline. When you have no cover behind you, the movements of your dark body against the backdrop of the much-lighter sky are pronounced and easy to spot from the ground.

It's also not a bad idea to have cover in front of you. Anything you can do to break up your silhouette is good. Of course, if you do have cover in front of you, you need to make sure you have lanes through which you can shoot an arrow at a deer.

Of course, when a deer approaches to within bow range of your stand, you're going to have to move at some point. The key to not being spotted -- whether you have good cover or not -- is to avoid moving when a deer is looking your way. Try to move only when a tree or some other vegetation blocks the animal's head or when it's looking away from you.

SOUNDS OF SILENCE

Someone once said, "Silence is golden," and that person must have been a bowhunter. Bowhunt long enough, and you'll swear deer can hear you change your mind.

Have an arrow fall off your bow's rest and hit the riser, or shift your weight on your tree stand so that it squeaks, and you're likely to send any deer nearby high-tailing it out of the area.

Regularly check your climbing stand at home to see if any of its moving parts create any sounds. If they do, spray them with a shot of silicone gel. Also, cover your bow's riser and shelf -- the places an arrow might hit -- with felt. Most archery shops carry patches of this quiet material, which has one sticky side so you can affix it to your bow.

When it's cold, fabrics like nylon and cotton can get stiff, making noise when you move. Stick to fleece or wool materials, which are extremely quiet.

A DEER TOO FAR

When you're hunting with a rifle, the difference between 30 yards and 40 yards doesn't matter. Aim dead-on, and you'll get your deer at either distance. If you're bowhunting, however, and you guess it's 30 yards to a deer when it's actually 40 -- or vice versa -- then you're going to miss.

Bowhunters must be able to judge distance precisely in order to be effective. And today's archers are fortunate to have laser range finders available to take away the guesswork. Simply point one of these devices at your target, press a button, and you'll instantly know how far away that target is.

But to avoid having to pull out my range finder, put it up to my face, take a reading on a deer, put it away and then pick up my bow -- all while a deer is standing 30 yards away or so -- I like to use my range finder to mark trees around my stand long before any deer show up. That way, when a deer walks in front of one of my marked trees, I'll know exactly how far away it is.

Of course, just when you think you've marked every necessary tree, a huge buck will walk through an area you haven't ranged

. So don't neglect the art of judging distance using your eyes alone. Spend time looking at objects at known distances away, and your brain will become calibrated like a range finder. You'll get a feel for when something is 20, 25, or 30 yards away.

I MISSED!

For a deer to walk within bow range of your stand while you're in it, so many things have to fall perfectly into place. Wouldn't it be a shame to have the buck of a lifetime saunter up to you one morning, and you blow the deal with an errant arrow because you didn't take time to practice your shooting?

The best way to avoid missing a deer with a bow and arrow is to practice, practice, practice. Shoot at 3-D foam deer targets to train yourself to target the vital heart-lung area and drill it with an arrow. Shoot from your tree stand, so you can learn how to find that vital area from an elevated position. Because the arrow is traveling downward, you'll have to have to aim higher on the deer's body than if you were shooting from the ground. A higher impact point is necessary to get the arrow to travel through the "heart" of the vital area.

Practice shooting at a target that's quartering away from you so you'll learn to aim farther back than normal. If a deer is quartering away enough, you might actually have to aim behind the stomach area in order for your arrow to slice up into the chest cavity.

Always practice shooting at targets in real-life hunting situations. That way, when opportunity presents itself in the woods, you'll be ready.

Bowhunting deer might seem like a daunting game at first, but don't be intimidated. Be smart and pay attention to details and this could be the year you find yourself within spitting distance of the trophy buck of your dreams.

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