Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Bow season for deer hunting in Alabama begins on Oct. 15 and runs through Jan. 31 in most sections of the state. If you are like most bowhunters in Alabama, you go to your hunting lease or to a wildlife management area to scout the weekend before that season starts.
On the opening day of archery season, most hunters will not take a deer, and many will not even see one. Of the hunters who spot a whitetail, the odds are that a large percentage will miss the shot at the animal. Then, on the way home, they wonder what went wrong. The answer is usually that the bowhunter hadn’t done the necessary pre-season preparation.
Fortunately, in target-rich Alabama, our large deer herd makes it a safe bet that other opportunities may present themselves later in the season. But why fall into this early season rut? Let’s look at some ways to make opening weekend of the Cotton State archery season a success.
This month, take time to get your equipment ready for hunting.
“Take your bow to your local sporting goods or archery shop and have the archery pro do a minor tune-up for the quickest, easiest and best way to get your bow ready for the season,” advised John “Boo” Stiff, head of the archery department at Mark’s Outdoors in Birmingham. “For about $20, he’ll check your string and cables, tighten up anything on your bow that may have come loose, take the axles off the bow and grease them, and then paper-tune your bow. We recommend that you put a new string on every year. Keep the old string in case your new string breaks or gets cut in your case by a broadhead.”
Once you put a new string on, Stiff recommends shooting 100 to 150 arrows to break in the string before you finally sight in your bow. He also suggests that you look over the arrow shafts. If you shoot aluminum arrows, make sure the shafts have no dings or creases. If you shoot carbon arrows, inspect the shafts for cracks.
“Check your broadheads next to make sure they’re sharp and have no nicks on the blades,” Stiff said. “If there are, either discard the blades or sharpen them.”
While at the shop, it is not a bad idea to have the archery pro watch you shoot, if the shop has a range. He quickly and easily can see form mistakes and make sure both the bow and you are functioning properly.
The next step is to hit the range on your own and practice regularly in the lead-up to opening day. Not only does practice improve accuracy, but it also builds the confidence needed to support that accuracy. When a whitetail presents a target, you want to know you can bag it, rather than simply hope to hit the mark. That confidence only comes from having practiced at different distances and angles from the ground and tree stands.
Some people seem to believe tree stands and safety harnesses never wear out, never malfunction and always perform perfectly without any maintenance. Tree stands do need oiling, tightening and inspecting. Similarly, safety harnesses need to be examined for wear and tear. If you oil your tree stands prior to the season, the oily smell can have enough time to dissipate before you head out on that first hunt of the season.
After oiling and greasing the tree stand, spray it with an odor killer to help ensure that those early bowhunts are odor-free.
Next, try on all of your camouflage clothing to see what effect those extra biscuits have had on your waistline and chest measurements since last year. I also make sure my boots still fit and are comfortable. For leather boots that need waterproofing, add a new application of Sno Seal from Atsko. Each year it is not a bad idea to put new innersoles in your boots. Most boots wear out from the inside before they wear out on the outside. New innersoles give new life not only to your boots but also to your feet.
The final step in gear preparation is to go through all the equipment you plan to carry along to the deer woods. That includes your daypack, flashlights, compasses and, especially, a head net for when the Alabama’s early fall insect swarms show up.
Once you have all your equipment ready, it’s time to begin breaking out the maps. A bit of research beforehand can make time spent scouting shorter, more productive and less of a hassle.
Once you’ve gotten the map, begin to eliminate the places you would be least likely see a deer. These include spots within a quarter-mile of any access road on the tract. If you hunt leased or club lands, try to determine where most of the hunters concentrate and thus identify the areas where you’re likely to encounter the smallest number of fellow hunters, or perhaps none at all. Mark those under-hunted regions on the map. You still need to check them out later on foot. After all, there could be a very good reason no one targets the area: it could be open pasture or some other situation that is not ideal for a deer hunt.
Another productive way to scout an area quickly and surprisingly inexpensively is to take your map and a hand-held GPS receiver to a nearby airport. Then, hire a pilot and plane for an hour to fly over the property you want to hunt. From the air, you can identify thick-cover areas, open regions, waterways, trails and hard-to-get-to spots that should hold deer. Mark these sites on your map. At the same time, use the GPS receiver to record the waypoints. Although hiring a pilot and plane to fly over your hunting site may seem like a costly expense, if you determine how much time you have to spend on the ground scouting to learn that same information, the cost of flying over the area may seem less prohibitive and more of a bargain.
HIT THE GROUND
Now that you are back on Earth, it is time to use your map and GPS to visit the points of interest you have recorded. As you move to these areas, search for droppings, old rubs, scrapes and travel trails. As you mark deer sign, try to determine its freshness. Look for sites where you can hang a tree stand.
… Stiff recommends shooting 100 to 150 arrows to break in
the string before you finally sight in your bow.
Once you’ve found the tree near the deer sign you want to hunt, get several thumbtacks with fluorescent paint on them and use the tacks to ring the tree at eye level. This allows you to more easily use a flashlight to locate the tree in the dark. Of course, also mark that tree-stand site as a waypoint on your GPS receiver. Try to locate two or three different tree stand sites that surround each potential hunting
site. Then regardless of the wind condition on the day of the hunt you have a location with a favorable wind direction.
If time and conditions allow, it is a great help to mount a motion-sensor trail camera at the site to get pictures of the size and the number of deer coming down the trail or feeding in an area. Such cameras also record what time of day or night the deer use the site.
Motion-sensor cameras can record deer movement for as much as a week. There is no better way to scout a tract and determine whether deer use that area.
Be aware, however, that scouting with a motion-sensor camera provides success only for the first week of deer season if you hunt high-pressure areas like WMAs.
The more intensively you scout before the season, the less time you need to spend in a tree stand once the season starts. A lot of hunters believe that the number of hours they spend in a tree stand, the number of days they hunt, and the number of stand sites they use determine whether or not they will successfully arrow a buck. But being in the woods can only improve your odds if you are in the right place. By employing the modern technology of motion-sensor cameras, hand-held GPS receivers, airplane reconnaissance and up-to-date maps, you can scout out those places you should be hunting much more quickly and easily.
LEARNING TO SHOOT
The Alabama DWFF has implemented an exciting program to pass on the sport of bowhunting to future generations of Cotton State youngsters. The Alabama National Archery in the Schools Program is modeled after the curriculum of “On Target for Life,” developed by the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources Department. It features the teaching of Olympic-style archery in the 6th through 8th grades.
The curriculum covers archery history, safety, technique, equipment, mental concentration and self-improvement. During the two-week course, students shoot at bull’s-eye targets set up in front of an arrow-resistant net. Teachers undergo a 12-hour archery-training program to prepare for teaching the course and master the use of the state-of-the-art equipment. School systems are able to purchase the gear for roughly a 50 percent discount.
Besides teaching students the fun of archery, this program allows youngsters of all sizes and physical abilities to participate in the sport successfully. According to teachers involved with National Archery in the Schools, this curriculum gives students skills that they can use the rest of their lives. Teachers also have noticed that many students resistant to traditional sports enjoy participating in this program.
Approximately 900 students from all across the state took part in the 2005 second annual Alabama National Archery in the Schools statewide competition.