“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail!”
Benjamin Franklin is credited with coining the phrase. While I don’t know whether old Ben was ever a bowhunter, his words sure seem to apply to this challenging sport. As any successful bowhunter will attest, you can’t put too much emphasis on the importance of adequately preparing for archery season. And there is no better time to get started than right now.
By following these step-by-step bow season preparations, you will be well prepared if that buck of a lifetime steps in front of you this fall.
Before you even think about pulling your bow to full draw, you should first make a thorough inspection of all your hunting gear. A good place to start is with your bow. Check the cable or string for signs of abrasion and wear. Meticulously inspect the limbs, pulleys, cams, wheels, and riser for tiny cracks or other damage.
Next, make sure all nuts, bolts, and fittings are tightened adequately and free of excessive wear. I have found that applying a small drop of clear nail polish to any exposed nuts and bolts will help prevent them from vibrating loose.
Once your bow passes this initial inspection, the next step is to apply a generous coating of string wax to your bowstring. Also, lubricating all moving parts with a Teflon spray, odorless bow oil, or a dry lubricant such as graphite will greatly enhance the life of your bow, improve its performance, and dramatically reduce the noise it produces. But be sure to wipe off any excess lubricant with a clean cloth to prevent buildup of dirt and debris.
Probably the most overlooked piece of equipment in your bowhunting arsenal is the mechanical release. Check it to make sure it holds until you press the trigger. Also check all moving parts on your release for wear or rust and lubricate if needed. And don’t forget to inspect the wrist straps for tears in the nylon or cracks in the leather.
The best bow is only as good as the arrows it sends downrange. Perfectly straight and balanced arrows and broadheads are an absolute necessity when bowhunting. Inspect each individual arrow for straightness by spinning them in your hand with the fletchings up or by rolling them across a flat surface. If there is any wobble visible during either of these methods, simply throw the arrow away. Repair or replace any loose or damaged fletchings and make sure they are aligned properly. Check nocks for cracks and improper alignment and make certain your inserts are snug and properly seated. All the practice in the world is worth very little if you attempt to hunt with arrows that are not perfectly straight and properly tuned.
Since we’re on the subject, let’s see how to combine practice sessions with the inspection of auxiliary gear. When practicing in the preseason, you should always wear the same hat, gloves, mask and clothing that you will be wearing in the deer season. This helps eliminate any surprises when you actually go afield.
For example, if you practice in short sleeves, you may not compensate for the string clearance needed when wearing a lightweight jacket. Or your hunting gloves might make the trigger on your mechanical release have a different “feel” compared to when you use it bare-handed on the practice range.
The same goes for how you shoot at the targets on the practice range. Most bowhunters practice shooting at targets from 20 to 30 yards, while standing on the ground. Practicing in this manner is far better than not practicing at all. However, most deer harvested in Mississippi each year are taken from an elevated stand of some type. Try to make your practice sessions as realistic as possible. If you plan on hunting from a tree stand, then practice shooting your bow from the same type of stand. But if you plan to hunt from a ground blind, then practice shooting from a stool or chair.
Fortunately, Mississippi hunters don’t have to be in the same peak physical condition that would be necessary on most Western big game hunts, but it sure wouldn’t hurt. Just keep in mind that your “bow muscles” need to be brought back into shape well before the season opener. Since the muscles you use to draw your bow are not the same ones you use on a daily basis, several practice sessions will be necessary to get them in condition.
Using the same gear during your practice also provides the perfect opportunity to check your auxiliary items for wear and tear.
Even when you’re just practicing in your back yard, safety should always be your top priority. Inspect your stands and safety harnesses for wear and tear. This is a good time to perform any routine maintenance like oiling moving parts, tightening bolts, and inspecting welds. The vast majority of deer hunting accidents in the Magnolia State are the result of hunters falling from stands. Properly inspecting your gear greatly decreases the odds of you becoming a statistic.
But safety isn’t the only reason to check your gear. By trying on all your camouflage clothing a few months prior to opening day, you will be able to see if the summer cookouts have added a few inches to your waistline. Hunting boots — both leather and rubber — are notorious for dry rotting from one season to the next if not properly stored. If you discover that your camouflage clothes fit a little too tight or your favorite pair of hunting boots has fallen apart, then you will have plenty of time to replace and break them in before the season begins.
Finally, be sure to go through all the other gear you plan to carry along to the deer woods. These items might include your backpack, flashlight, compass, pull rope, flagging tape, bow holder, binoculars, rangefinder, and knife. Don’t forget to stock up on insect repellant since the mosquitoes and gnats are out in full force when October 1 rolls around.
Preparation is the key to successful bowhunting. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to pre-season scouting. Proper and thorough pre-season scouting combined with meticulous preparation can mean the difference between success and failure.
Many bowhunters in Mississippi wait until August or September to do their pre-season scouting. Locating well used trails, finding good food sources, and identifying well-defined scrape lines from the previous season all provide extremely valuable information. But spending too much time scouting in your hunting area can be more harmful than helpful. Extensive scouting just prior to the season can be detrimental to your chances of harvesting that trophy buck when the season opens. If at all possible, scouting should be done in one fu
ll day for a particular hunting area, not multiple evening or morning visits just prior to opening day.
Scouting smart means acquiring enough information to effectively set up on a trophy whitetail without letting him know you were there. If a mature buck suspects he is being watched or senses excessive pressure from your repeated visits to his domain, he will move to a more secluded area.
Spotting scopes and digital game cameras are two of the most effective pre-season scouting tools available to bowhunters, especially when reducing excessive pressure in your hunting area is a factor. A spotting scope allows you to observe a buck and become more familiar with his habits without him ever knowing you were there. In similar fashion, game cameras are invaluable in helping identify what trails a buck is using, the time of day or night they are being used, and under what conditions. After all, the more you know about a particular buck, the better prepared you will be for hunting season.
BEST BETS FOR BUCKS
While trophy bucks can show up any place in Mississippi, some areas of the Magnolia State are in a class by themselves when it comes to producing giant whitetails. The best way to identify these bowhunting hotspots is to key in on locations that exhibit the most potential for producing trophy whitetails.
“In order to produce trophy bucks, a combination of fundamental elements must be present,” said Chad Dacus, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Statewide Deer Program Coordinator. “There are three key factors that determine antler size: age, nutrition, and genetics.”
Picking the best areas of the state for taking a trophy buck with archery gear will center on your ability to do some scientific detective work prior to the season. In general, trophy buck hotspots usually have fertile soils and agricultural land-uses that favor quality forage production. They also have an intensively managed deer herd with limited hunting pressure. Finally the deer in these locations have the genetic background to produce trophy bucks.
A quick check of the Pope and Young Club and Magnolia Records Programs for the Mississippi counties that have produced the most archery bucks in the last five years revealed an interesting trend. The top 10 archery counties are Madison, Claiborne, Warren, Yazoo, Hinds, Holmes, Jefferson, Adams, Issaquena, and Washington. Each of these counties is located either adjacent to the Big Black River or the Mississippi River. A couple of counties, Warren and Claiborne, are fortunate to border both of these rivers. These 10 river-bottom counties are the cream of the crop when it comes to producing monster whitetails.
Much of this prime deer habitat consists of large tracts of privately owned land containing an abundance of agricultural crops surrounded by hardwoods. All the ingredients necessary for a whitetail deer herd to flourish can be found within this small block of counties — extremely fertile river bottoms, an abundance of food and cover, and most properties following some form of quality deer management. It’s no wonder that these counties contain the highest concentration of trophy bucks to be found anywhere in the Magnolia State.
“More properties in this particular area of the state are practicing quality deer management and making great strides at targeting bucks in the 4 1/2-year-old age-class,” said Lann Wilf, the MDWFP Regional Deer Biologist for the Delta Region.
It’s also worth noting that all 10 of the top Mississippi archery counties are part of MDWFP Deer Management Zone 3, which has the strictest harvest regulations of the three deer management zones implemented last season. In Zones 1 and 2, legal bucks are required to have an inside spread of 10 inches or one main beam of 13 inches. But the more stringent requirements in Zone 3 specify that legal bucks must have an inside spread of 12 inches or one main beam of 15 inches.
While the MDWFP stresses that these regulations are not a form of mandatory trophy management, they are designed to protect virtually all 2 1/2-year-old and younger bucks, which increases the buck age structure. With more bucks reaching older age classes, the odds favor even greater numbers of record book bucks being harvested in these 10 trophy-producing counties this fall. In fact, the state’s top deer biologist expects one or two existing state records to fall in the next few years.
By following these few pre-season tips, you are certain to be much better prepared for the upcoming bow season. Throw in a little planning and a lot of luck, and you could be introducing one of these Magnolia State monsters to the sharp end of a well-placed arrow.