Bowhunting season is drawing near, so we talked to an expert who really knows deer. In fact, Marty Stubstad is on a mission to introduce newcomers to the sport. (August 2007)
Photo by Troy Huffman.
If someone would have been filming a movie at the time, they could have named it "High Noon."
Marty Stubstad had been sitting in a tree stand since dawn, watching the antics of several whitetails. But when the morning "rush hour" was over, Stubstad -- unlike most deer hunters -- refused to give up and head to camp. With all his necessary gear with him in his stand, the bowhunter stayed put, determined to take advantage of every moment of hunting time available.
"It was a wet, snowy morning the first week of November, and I knew the rut activity would be good," Stubstad recalled. "But it had slowed during midday, and I wasn't looking around as much. Suddenly a doe just appeared in front of me. She had slipped through the snow and never made a sound. I knew she was moving for a reason, so I started looking around, and pretty soon I spotted this big buck coming in right behind her."
It would have been easy for Stubstad to be pinned down in such a situation had he been unprepared. But the veteran bowhunter wore a sling that kept his bow at waist level. With an arrow nocked, all he had to do was slide his hand on the grip and prepare for the shot. When the big buck's head was behind a tree, Stubstad raised and drew the bow.
"I suppose I was at full draw for close to half a minute," he said. "I remember thinking, C'mon deer, just take a step and I can shoot. They almost never do that when you need them to! But for some reason, the buck took that step, and I had a perfect 15-yard shot. The buck crashed off and I heard him go down seconds later. When I looked at my watch, it said 12:22."
The fact that Stubstad was in his stand while most folks would be back in the shack says volumes about his approach to hunting. His expertise showed when he used the right equipment to turn a difficult situation into a skillful kill. Indeed, when Stubstad tagged the trophy 9-pointer, he illustrated that a veteran's commitment to hunting hard and smart -- as well as using modern archery gear effectively -- can pay huge dividends.
But those who know Marty Stubstad would agree that such success is no surprise. Owner of the highly successful Archery Headquarters in Rochester, Stubstad has made it his life's work to educate himself about proper bowhunting gear, techniques and practices. Even better, he has been a positive force for encouraging other people by introducing them to the sport, setting them up with quality equipment and educating them about the joys of archery.
Interestingly, Stubstad did not set out to be a pro-shop owner.
"I was a special education teacher for 13 years in the Rochester Public Schools," he said. "I opened Archery Headquarters in 1977 and ran it part-time as I taught. But in 1989, I decided to retire from teaching and go full-time with the shop. Since then, there is not a day I don't look forward to opening the doors."
The natural assumption, of course, is that the owner of an archery shop has a dream job, with oodles of time to indulge in hunting at will throughout the fall. While recent seasons have allowed Stubstad to hunt with more regularity, the reality of being a retailer means his store needs to be open to service the hundreds of customers relying on Archery Headquarters for their bowhunting needs. Though Stubstad enjoys some quality hunting close to home, those local outings are a mixed blessing.
"I'm so busy in the fall that I have trouble enjoying my tree stand time around here," he said with a laugh. "I'm always thinking of all the things I need to do at the shop. It's almost better for me to travel somewhere and hunt. Then I can totally relax and enjoy myself."
Still, Stubstad hunts enough in the deer-rich areas near Rochester to stay plugged in to the pulse of bowhunting in the region, and he feels that Minnesota archers have much to be thankful for.
"I saw more bucks (last) fall than ever," he said. "I think people are starting to ease the pressure on bucks in Minnesota, and that's going to make better hunting for everyone. Learning which bucks should be harvested and which need time to grow is an education process, and I think hunters are learning. Plus, bowhunters are lucky in that we have a long season to enjoy. In many ways, I think we have the best opportunities to take a nice buck."
Stubstad said the first few weeks after the September opener present a great window of opportunity.
"If a guy has a good spot and the time to observe and pattern a buck, the early season is one of the best times to shoot a trophy," he said. "But hunters really need to pay attention to their setup and wind direction. You always hear, 'The first time you sit on a stand is the best chance to shoot a deer,' and I believe it. I think if you could interview a lot of those guys in the record books, you would find they shot their big deer the first time they were in a particular stand."
Archery Headquarters is a Department of Natural Resources registration station, so Stubstad knows firsthand when hunters bring in the most, and the nicest, whitetails.
"From Oct. 1 through the middle of the month is very difficult for most guys," he said. "And I'm convinced a lot of that is just overhunting their areas. Bucks just aren't moving a lot, and if you go at it too hard and don't hunt carefully, you're just burning out your areas. You don't have to stop hunting. You just have to be really careful about how often you go, wind direction, all those things that we know about but sometimes ignore."
Once the rut comes and the action heats up, Stubstad relies on some non-conventional tactics to score. As the hunt mentioned earlier illustrates, sitting all day is one of those tactics.
"Another thing you hear all the time is that magic period between 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, and I believe in it," he said. "When I hunt during the rut, I get in a stand and I stay all day. A lot of guys feel that's really difficult, but I enjoy it. For one thing, it's just a fun thing for me to get out in the woods and enjoy as much time as I can. But the other part -- battling the physical needs and mental tiredness that makes you want to quit -- can be overcome, too.
"For starters, I bring everything to the stand with me that will keep me comfortable," Stubstad continued. "And I mean extra clothes, a thermos of coffee or soup, food -- anything that might tempt me to head back to the truck or camp. I just want to be prepared and not
have any piece of gear or 'comfort thing' that will make me quit. And for the boredom aspect, I bring things that will distract my mind when the deer aren't moving. Lately, I've really been into those little hand-held games, like Yahtzee, that give me something do when the action is slow. It might sound crazy, but if it keeps you in the stand . . . "
Stubstad is also willing to think outside the box when he pursues white-tailed deer, just like when he hunts turkeys. Stubstad has killed many gobblers with archery tackle and helped others do the same.
"Turkey hunting with a bow taught me the effectiveness of ground blinds," he said. "I'm a big fan of the Double Bull Matrix blind. It's solid and doesn't make noise in a wind, and it also gives you a 360-degree view of the area. There are no blind spots or noisy window flaps to take down in order to see or shoot at game. And they're roomy enough to let me bring the gear I need to stay comfortable."
Though Stubstad has taken many archery turkeys from a ground blind, he acknowledges deer are different.
"They are more suspicious of things they haven't seen before," he noted. "So you need to camouflage the blind to its surroundings. In brushy cover, you need to brush it in, and in open cover, I like it to be more visible. For example, last year I hunted a secluded alfalfa field that deer were just hammering. I set the blind up, then with the landowner's permission, rolled a couple of round bales that were on the edge of the field near the blind. Then I left it alone and didn't hunt it for a while. When I came back, deer would walk right up to it. That's another key: Let the deer get used to the blind before you hunt. They need time to accept it as a natural thing in their world. They're real homebodies and notice strange objects. It's no different than you or me walking into our living room, seeing a new picture, and saying, 'Hey, that was never there before.' "
Like many successful bowhunters, Stubstad recognizes that consistent success means plenty of commitment, as well as the willingness to try new techniques.
"I've been using decoys a lot the last few years and really enjoyed that experience," he noted. "Decoys not only draw a buck in for a shot, but they let you see a lot of great deer behavior. Basically, I think really good deer hunters recognize that this is now a 365-day-per-year sport. Whether it's shed-antler hunting, taking trail-camera photos or scouting in the off-season, the most successful guys are the ones who really put in their time."
Stubstad is intimately familiar with today's bowhunting gear, and he said one of the first steps to becoming a successful deer hunter is getting outfitted properly.
"One of the most common mistakes I see is guys buying equipment that just doesn't fit them," Stubstad said. "I compare it to buying a pair of shoes. Your bow has to suit your body type, strength, experience and situation. I've seen things as dramatic as a left-handed shooter trying to shoot a right-handed bow, but most problems are a lot easier to fix. For starters, guys always want to shoot bows with a heavy draw weight. With the quality of bows these days, it's simply not necessary. It's much better to buy a bow you can draw back easily and shoot accurately."
Gear choices don't end with a bow purchase, Stubstad warned. It's critical to get every element of the setup -- sight, rest and release -- to function as a unit.
"Arrows are another place where I see people goof up a lot," he said. "They want to shoot fast, so they select an arrow too light for their bow. If you want optimum flight and penetration, I recommend 9 grains of weight per inch of arrow length, and strive for an arrow/broadhead setup that weighs 400 grains or more. Today's carbon (or composite) shafts allow hunters to shoot a heavy, narrow-diameter arrow that penetrates extremely well."
Broadheads are another critical element to bowhunting success.
"Expandable or mechanical heads are very popular with bowhunters," Stubstad said. "They can work well when everything is perfect, but you have to be very selective about your shots. Someday, someone will invent the perfect mechanical broadhead and we'll all shoot it. But that day isn't here yet. For most hunters -- and I include myself -- the conventional fixed-blade broadhead with a cut-on-contact head is the best bet. It's interesting to me how this has come full circle, because this was the standard broadhead design for years, and then everyone was trying to improve it. Now they're coming back to it because nothing penetrates better. Some people complain that they don't fly well from their bows, but if you are shooting a release and have your bow tuned properly, it should be a non-issue. Five-inch feathers that are helical-fletched help, too."
Visiting a pro shop is the first step in getting outfitted with the proper equipment.
"I try to stock a pretty complete line of bows from a variety of companies and in a range of prices," Stubstad said. "I like my customers to have a choice. And I'll gladly work on a bow that someone has bought at a discount store. A lot of shop owners won't, but I consider that a huge mistake. If I refuse that person service, I lose a potential customer. More importantly, I feel I have a responsibility to get people outfitted properly and educate them on good technique."
Stubstad has spent thousands of hours as a volunteer instructor in Minnesota's Bowhunter Education program. Though the program is voluntary, Stubstad wishes all hunters would take the course.
"It goes far beyond basics and safety," he stressed. "There is so much that's different about bowhunting, and we cover a lot of important topics, such as shot selection and safety. I'm very big on both of those, especially tree stand safety. Too many guys aren't wearing a full-body safety harness when they're in a stand, and there's simply no excuse, especially with the vest systems that are out there now. Wearing one means that being safe is as simple as putting on a layer of clothing. Last year, I was offering them at dealer cost at my shop, and I'll continue that policy this fall. I had a sign by the display urging everyone to buy one that said, 'I want you back!' "
In addition to his visibility as a shop owner, Stubstad is well known in southeastern Minnesota for his devotion to advancing the sport of bowhunting. He introduced legislation for the creation of the state's archery season for turkeys, and is a regular volunteer instructor for bowhunter education classes in the region. Also, Stubstad has introduced hundreds of young and beginning archers to the sport of archery and bowhunting. His amiable personality and easy rapport with kids make him a natural when appearing before scouting groups and schoolchildren.
"I've made it a point to reach out to the community as a source for bowhunting knowledge, and I enjoy volunteering my time to hopefully make the sport accessible to more people," Stubstad said. "Once you get over 50, you've gained some knowledge and start to look for ways to give something back."
Many people say, "Thank you, Marty."