Getting Ready for Minnesota Bow Season

Our state's bowhunters will have plenty of opportunities to be successful this season. Here's some advice that will help you no matter where you hunt.

By Tim Lesmeister

There is little doubt that archery deer hunters in Minnesota are going to have plenty of opportunities this season. The winter conditions favored whitetails. Little snow in our state meant that deer could effectively elude predators, and it left plenty of available forage. Whether archery hunters get close enough to that trophy buck they seek is up to them.

"My prospects for the upcoming year are better than ever," said Todd Amenrud, one of Minnesota's most well-known bowhunters. Amenrud has tallied 15 bucks for the Pope and Young record book and plans to add more if this season comes together as planned.

"I have scouting cameras out and I've seen a 6x6 in my hunting zone that would score 190," says Amenrud. "I'm going to try to get real close to that one."

I asked Amenrud how he gets close to those big bucks that bowhunters yearn for.

"I do whatever it takes to get close to deer," he said. "The old 'observe and ambush' style of hunting works, and it can work better with some enhancement. Those big guys occasionally need a little something to entice them in to your position. I've shot some very nice bucks using calling, rattling, scents, decoys and other methods. You do what needs to be done to get that deer close enough for a shot."

That sounded too vague. I wanted specifics. What was Amenrud's No. 1 priority when it came to connecting with a whitetail that had "Pope and Young" written all over it?

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"I would have to say that if there's one thing that I have done that has put me onto the trophy bucks, it's a strict routine for scent elimination," he explained. "Not only paying attention to the bad smells I'm carrying out there with me, but my trapping background tells me to be careful about what I'm leaving behind.

"I shower, washing my hair and my body," continued Amenrud. "I wash my clothes and I don't put them on until I get to where I'm hunting. If I have a long walk to where I'm hunting, I'll carry those clothes in a bag and when I get fairly close to the stand I'll put them on. I use a lot of scent killer. I brush my teeth and watch what I eat before I get into the field. At the beginning of August I start taking chlorophyll tablets that help with the odors your body emits."

Another aspect of odor elimination that Amenrud mentioned that I believe hunters fail to consider is that which is on the actual archery equipment.

"I pay attention to the odors on the equipment," Amenrud said. "You've been grabbing your bow to practice with your sweaty-smelling hand all summer. You have to take the time to wipe down that bow with scent killer. Anything you're bringing out there will have a scent that is foreign to the deer. Get rid of it."

Scouting is Amenrud's second-highest priority for scoring a big buck with a bow. Since Amenrud spends a lot of time traveling - and has a family that requires some special time to be fit into his schedule for them - he has been utilizing the field cameras to cut his scouting time by a large percentage.

"I have film cameras and digital infrared units," he explained. "It depends on what you want as to which camera you use. If you want some nice pictures to show your friends, you want a film camera with flash. If you're serious about getting close to trophy animals, the infrareds are the only cameras to use."

I wanted Amenrud to go into more detail on why the digital infrared was better for bigger deer.

"When you're talking about a 4-year-old deer and as wary as they are, a flash from a camera will spook them out of the area," he says. "The small bucks and does don't seem to mind the flash, but the older deer - the quality deer you're after - won't stick around after getting hit by that flash a couple of times. The digital infrared makes no noise and doesn't flash. You can see those trophies coming and going as long as they're in the area, and they don't sense anything different in their region.

"After all," said Amenrud, "big deer trust all of their senses. It gives them the extra edge that keeps them alive. We teach them not only that it is wise to avoid anything different in their surroundings, but what to look for and smell and hear to allow them to maintain that distance."

Amenrud likes to set up his cameras on well-used trails, food sources, fence crossings and wherever he can get a good clean photo that is relevant to the information he wants to gather. He has a unique trick to get the deer close to the camera on a fence crossing.

"I use the old trick where you go out with some twine and tie down the top strand of wire between two fence posts. I position the camera on this spot and you can see the deer as they migrate to this low spot to jump the fence."

The third priority in Amenrud's program is finding the big deer. Not every grove of trees holds one of those quality deer that archers are chasing.

"A given piece of property will hold or sustain a certain amount of deer," said Amenrud. "How the dispersal works is interesting. Let's say a doe has a buck fawn and a doe fawn. After one year when mama wants to get rid of the fawns she kicks the buck fawn out and he establishes a new home range some distance away - Mother Nature's way of preventing inbreeding. It could be three miles, it could be 20 miles.

"The doe fawn establishes her home range right next to mother and over time you get a big doe society in one zone," Amenrud continued. "This society keeps getting bigger and bigger, and when a new buck comes to town, there's little room for him."

According to Amenrud, habitat and nutrition will make a difference as well. You can increase carrying capacity and put a few more deer in a zone by creating quality habitat, but what he looks for most of all when scouting is a balanced sex ratio as well as balanced age structure in the regions he hunts.

Amenrud did make the point that while the state of Minnesota doesn't actively manage the deer herds for trophy animals, it is possible to do that if you have your own property. While letting the smaller bucks live until they become big bucks is part of that plan, landowners must also harvest does. He states that the mother doe may or may not have a part in scooting that year-old buck out of the region to keep it away from other family members, but instinctually that is what happens. Fewer does on a section of land can create some

space for the big bucks as they get older.

Priority No. 4 for Amenrud is making sure he is well-practiced and won't miss what he is aiming at. He admits that he is no different from any other bowhunter when he sees a trophy animal. The adrenaline starts pumping and the knees begin quivering, but a well-practiced archer will still make an accurate shot.

"Practice is a necessity when hunting trophies," he said. "When I have a 150-size whitetail walking up to me I don't want to have to think about what needs to be done to make that perfect shot. If I have to think about how to hold my wrist or which pin to use, I'll probably miss. I want the motion of drawing and shooting to be second nature. I focus on the spot and get the job done.

"Marginal shots should be extremely rare," Amenrud continued. "Guys who think that because they can drop a dozen arrows into a plate-sized target at 20 yards in a controlled environment they can be adequate in the field are doing a disservice to the bowhunters who work extremely hard to be efficient on the hunt. I think you should be able to put 20 arrows into a target the size of a quarter at 20 yards in a controlled environment, and I believe you need to practice in the conditions you face in the field."

Amenrud explained even further.

"If you're going to hunt from a tree stand, practice from a tree stand. If you hunt from the ground, practice from the ground. If it's going to be 40 below zero where you hunt and you wear a facemask and mittens, practice with a facemask and mittens on. When you hunt, how often are you standing on flat ground, in perfect archery form? Never. You need to be able to shoot well in the conditions you face. That takes practice."

Amenrud says that it is very important that you know your limitations.

"In Minnesota I've never shot a whitetail that was over 32 yards from me," he said. "I've practiced out to 60 yards, but there are many variables. What position is the deer in? Is clutter in the way? Is there something that you have to shoot around? You have to make the right decision based on your limitations. So you must know what they are."

Once you're in your shooting position - in a tree stand or wherever you're set up - Amenrud says the next priority is understanding what the wind currents are doing. He uses a product called Breeze Detector that consists of a "puffer" that shoots a fine odorless powder into the air that is very easy to see. He can track the wind by following the small white cloud.

"A lot of hunters don't pay enough attention to the wind," he said. "And not only do they not pay attention to wind direction, but the thermal currents and wind eddies can also be a huge factor. You can be sitting in a tree stand and the wind is hitting you on the right side of your face, but 10 yards away the wind can be doing something totally opposite. You have to pay attention to thermals and eddies and realize how that will affect the way scent travels. If you don't know where the wind is moving, you don't know how deer will react when they get into your zone."

There are two reasons that it's important to understand how the wind is reacting around you. One is to know which directions your scents are moving, the other to know where the scents you placed to attract deer are traveling.

Since scents have puzzled bowhunters for as long as hunters have been using them, I contacted Ron Bice at Wildlife Research Center. Bice keeps me informed on what works and why it works when it comes to incorporating scents into a hunting scheme. We both agreed that hunters need to make sure they understand when scents should be part of the hunting program.

"You break the seasons up into three periods," said Bice. "During the early season, there's not a lot going on. Bucks have just shed their velvet and the does are out in the middle of the fields feeding. The most popular scent for this period is the curiosity scents. Sex scents don't work well; sometimes they don't work at all. It is during the early season when you use food-type scents, curiosity scents and masking scents.

"Then there is the rut," he said, "when the most popular scents become the sex type of scents. Most people realize that the rut is an important time to use scents and it's a very effective time to use scents.

"The late season is where you kick back into your food and curiosity-type scents," said Bice. "Territorial-type scents work anytime. These consist of doe and buck urine and actually act as a curiosity-type scent. A buck will want to check out the deer that has moved into his territory and will come to that kind of scent. There's a lot of options, but after you do some research and work out all the details, you will figure out what works best for you."

Like Bice, I became a believer in scents, calling, rattling and decoying when I needed to get closer to the deer I was hunting. He tells a story that I'm sure many bowhunters can relate to.

"The first time I ever rattled antlers, nothing happened," Bice said. "I did it another 20 times after that and nothing happened, so I gave up on it. I thought it might work for some people, but it won't work for me. A few years later, for some reason, I decided to try it again, and with a little more information and a little more patience I rattled in a Pope and Young whitetail. And now whenever I hunt I carry a set of rattling antlers with me, and if I need them, I have them. If the conditions are right I know how to use them.

"The same thing can be said about scents," he continued. "The first time I saw a buck positively react to scents I couldn't believe it. The first time anyone sees this, they're amazed. They've learned what they're doing is working and they're now going to put it in their bag of tricks right along with those rattling antlers and the grunt and bleat calls. Every time you open a bottle of scent you might not get a buck to run over and commit suicide, but when it does happen and a buck reacts, you realize that there is a reason to use it."

Minnesota archers will have a lot of opportunities to score on white-tailed deer this season. There are just a lot of deer around. The question becomes: Will you shoot the first decent buck that comes along? Wait all season for the "Thirty-Point Buck" and then if he doesn't show up, take a doe or a smaller buck? Or maybe you won't shoot anything at all. Some archers only hunt because they're after that trophy opportunity. Then again, for some, Pope and Young isn't the measure of a trophy hunt. Amenrud describes it best.

"There are a lot of reasons to hunt with a bow," he says, "and each individual has their own reason for doing it. Me, I like to have the benefit of spending more time in the field. You get a nice long season. Some like the ability to take more than one animal per season, which you can with archery hunts and special hunts. It means more venison in the freezer. But the biggest reason for going through all the effort to bowhunt white-tailed deer is the challenge. I'm truly amazed by whitetails, and even though I bowhunt a lot of different animal species, the whitetail still holds the most fascination

for me. What keeps us coming back is the challenge of taking that trophy. And I don't look at a trophy as a record-book buck. I think of it as the challenge. Is it a mature animal that has learned all the tricks on how to avoid hunters? The antlers may not match up and score high, but the animal provided a challenge and that's what I deem a trophy. Am I happy with the accomplishments of the hunt? If so, then the animal can be considered a trophy."

May all you bowhunters out there get your "trophy" this season. But more importantly, enjoy the hunt!

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