The archery season opens on some South Florida public lands the last week of this month. Are you ready for the action -- and the heat? (August 2007)
Enduring the heat and mosquitoes of the early bow season can spell the difference between success and failure.
Photo by Michael Corrigan.
Florida's archery season opens the last week of this month in the southern portions of the state. You can bet that hot, muggy conditions will be on the menu.
A Florida swamp is perhaps the hottest, wettest and most bug-infested place in the nation for an early-season bowhunter to venture into. Because of this, many simply wait until the first cool fronts approach before venturing afield. I made my start as a Florida bowhunter and for over 20 years, have hunted some of the state's most forbidding locations. As a result, I've learned to cope with temperatures that nearly blew the tops off thermometers.
With weather conditions that are anything but pleasant, why do so many diehard bowhunters take to the field this time of year? The answer is simple: For many, myself included, the archery opener is arguably the most productive time to harvest whitetails.
This time of year, highly preferred soft-mast food sources are available for deer. In some locations, hard-mast crops also become available. At no other time are deer less pressured and more predictable to pattern than during the archery season.
However, when temperatures are high, harvesting whitetails does come with its challenges. Soaring temperatures typically discourage deer movement, and scouting becomes a dreaded chore. Pinpointing available food sources within close walking distance from the truck is critical when the temperature is sweltering.
Careful forethought is also required to defeat the swarms of mosquitoes and to stay cool and dry while on stand.
The challenges are tough. However, I have developed some tactics that can help you increase your comfort level on even the hottest of days and stack the odds of success for the bow opener in your favor.
FIND THE FOOD!
I like to focus completely on available food sources. During the bow opener, as is the case during the entire hunting season, does frequent areas where food is available. As for bucks, you have as good a chance of connecting with one early in the archery season as you do during the rut.
In my experience, in fact, bucks are more predictable during this period than at any other time of year. Bucks are now more relaxed than ever, after having had an entire spring and summer to recover from the previous season's hunting pressure. Many believe that cold winter temperatures are needed to drive Florida deer movements. However, I have found that hunting pressure will override cold weather conditions -- hands down.
In short, during the archery season, two key elements play in favor of the hunter. First and foremost is the lack of hunting pressure. Second is the availability of soft- and hard-mast food sources, which helps to concentrate deer feeding activity.
Through scouting, my goal is to take a solid inventory of available food sources in the woods I hunt and mark the locations with the aid of a hand-held GPS. I diligently seek out locations that offer stands of persimmon trees, thickets of southern crabapple trees, wild grapes and so on. Once I find them, I can bet on a successful archery season.
For the opener in northern Florida, be sure to also check out stands of oak trees. Shortly thereafter, key in on white oaks. In central and southern portions of the state, acorn-bearing varieties such as live oak, bluejack, water and laurel oak will be key producers of hard mast.
WARM WEATHER WHITETAIL BEHAVIOR
When temperatures are high, contrary to what some people think, deer in Florida do not simply find a nice place to lie about and sleep the entire day. At the very least, they have to take periodic bathroom breaks. One study conducted on whitetails revealed they do so as often as 22 times each day!
This means that during daylight, you can expect deer to move roughly 10 times, as they stand and travel a short distance from their previous bed before lying down again.
In addition, though major feeding activity often occurs under the cover of darkness, deer take advantage of these daytime calls of nature to stretch their legs and browse on available vegetation or mast before bedding down once more. Over the course of a day, a deer may cover an area of 50 to 100 yards or more.
It's true, deer do minimize their movement when temperatures are high. That means they'll often bed in close proximity to a preferred food source -- as was dramatized by a situation a colleague told me about.
He was hunting near a large persimmon tree that was in the peak of fruit production. Every time a persimmon fell from a branch to the forest floor below, a doe would rise from her bed nearby and walk over to eat the fruit beneath the tree. She would then return to her bed only 20-yards away and listen for the next piece of succulent fruit to fall.
After a few hours of witnessing the scenario replay over and over, my pal harvested the doe.
It's common knowledge that deer tend to move the most during the cooler hours close to dawn and dusk, as opposed to the middle of day when temperatures are nearing their peak.
Armed with this knowledge, I always try to be on stand early in the morning and again late in the afternoon during the archery season. However, I also make an effort to be on stand during major feeding periods, even if they're predicted to occur at midday. I've killed several deer between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. when temperatures were scorching hot.
In my experience, at no other time of year are the published "feed periods" more reliable than during the early archery season. Hunting pressure is low this time of year, and major cold fronts have not yet come into play. Either or both of those factors can override published feed periods.
This archery season, make plans to be on stand during the major feed periods.
DRESSED TO KILL!
How you dress on hot, "buggy" days can greatly determine your comfort level -- and your staying power.
Florida's mosquito population is legendary. To deter the bloodsuckers, in the past I relied on repellants containing 100 percent Deet. However, Dee
t is messy and can damage equipment. And unless you diligently cover every square inch of your body, you will still get bitten.
I now rely exclusively on the Thermocell mosquito repellant device. It's become an absolute vital piece of equipment for me, and I cannot imagine hunting in Florida without one. A Thermocell keeps the bugs away completely -- so much so, that I can even listen more effectively for approaching game without the nagging sound of mosquitoes swarming around my head.
And most notably, by removing the bloodsucking dive-bombers, it has allowed me to wear ultra-lightweight clothing without being eaten alive. When it comes to hot weather, the lighter the garment, the better. I like to use lightweight garments with moisture wicking properties such as Under Armour camo apparel -- or X-System clothing, which contains nano silver that helps to regulate heat and also has antimicrobial properties to control human scent.
Also, I wear knee-high rubber boots, or hip boots if I plan to traverse deep water. Rubber boots are admittedly warm, but I usually don't walk far in them, and they are vital for controlling human odor. After I reach my stand and get settled in for the hunt, I immediately remove my boots and hang them on the back of my tree stand.
That's right -- I hunt in my socks, with my boots off. Believe me, you will be much more comfortable if you remove your boots on hot days.
Your feet will be cool, but what about your scent? The traditional thinking is that wearing rubber boots helps to control your scent, both on the way to your stand and while you're in it. In years past, I carried with me a tiny spray bottle of scent-elimination formula. After removing my boots, I'd douse my feet with the spray. Currently, I use X-System brand socks instead. They have the same antimicrobial properties as the garments I wear, so that foot odor is no longer an issue.
COOL TRICKS OF THE TRADE
With some pre-hunt scouting, you should have pegged several food-source locations a short distance from the truck and have located obstacle-free access trails to reach them. I like to scout early-season hunting grounds at least a week or two before the opener.
I always check out specific GPS-recorded food source locations that were productive in past years. Along the trail you plan to use to enter your chosen stand locations, trim low-hanging tree branches and clip small shrubs and other vegetation at ground level.
I like to do this for several reasons.
First of all, trimming an easily accessed trail means I won't have to bend, contort and step around obstacles on my way to the stand, which gets me overheated in a hurry. Because I've chosen locations that are within easy walking distance from the truck, trimming a trail ahead of time usually takes very little effort.
Second, if I do sweat, I won't be rubbing up against vegetation and leaving a trail of human scent all the way to my stand.
Another option is to use floating transportation to reach your stand locations. A johnboat or canoe, powered by an electric trolling motor or paddle, can be used to access islands or remote shores in swamps or sloughs with relatively little physical exertion. And they are stealth-quiet. Using a boat is also a great way to get away from the crowds.
To further reduce physical exertion and the sweat that it produces, take with you only what's absolutely necessary. Ideally, you can put up the stand in advance, and dramatically reduce payload weight by 20 to 30 pounds or more. If equipment theft is an issue and you must tote a portable stand, then perhaps look into some of the ultra-lightweight aluminum models, such as those produced by Lone Wolf Tree Stands.
Your stand locations should be well thought out. A shady spot is a must. Sitting facing the sun is a great way to burn up in a hurry. Even on an extremely hot day, sitting motionless in the shade is tolerable.
Also, be sure to take along a plastic canteen of water you've kept in the freezer overnight. Drinking cold water as the ice thaws helps cool your body and keep you hydrated.
When temperatures are high, be sure to take extra water. Stay hydrated and stay safe.
To increase my comfort level and further control my scent on extremely hot days, I have developed a killer keep-cool trick.
The evening before my hunt, I mix a tablespoon of Arm & Hammer baking soda in a bowl of water and soak a kitchen towel in it. I gently wring out the wet towel -- but not completely -- and fold it into a little square. Then I place the damp towel into a zip lock bag and place it in my kitchen freezer or camp cooler. When it's time to go hunting, the last thing I do before I leave the house or camp is to place it in my fanny pack.
By the time I reach my stand, the towel is partially thawed. After climbing into the stand, I remove my shirt, drop my trousers and wipe down my entire body thoroughly with the wet hand towel.
As fanatical as this may sound, don't knock it until you try it. Almost instantly, your skin surface is cooled and you feel shower-fresh. Any odors on the surface of your skin are either wiped away or controlled by the solution of baking soda that is applied.
Baking soda -- also known as sodium bicarbonate -- neutralizes odors chemically. Most unpleasant odors arise from compounds that are either strong acids or strong bases. Both are affected by baking soda, which essentially deodorizes by bringing both acidic and alkaline odor molecules into a neutral pH, odor-free state.
After I wipe myself down with the cold, wet hand towel, I seal it back into my zip lock bag and stow it in my fanny pack.
Within minutes after I've wiped down and gotten dressed again, the cool moisture on my skin is wicked away by my clothing, and I'm left feeling dry and comfortable. On extremely hot days, I may bring two frozen hand towels with me. Halfway through my hunt, I take a two-minute break and use the second towel to freshen up and further control odor.
These towels weigh almost nothing and will greatly increase your comfort level and staying power when it is hot.
WHILE THE ACTION IS HOT!
Armed with the knowledge of available food source locations and the right equipment, you can collect your venison when the temperatures are high.
Employ these keep-cool tricks this season, and with a little planning, you can stay dry, comfortable and relatively scent-free during your early-season Florida bowhunts.