Tips From An Expert Piedmont Bowhunter

Bobby Abernathy is a stickler for details -- not only in the deer he mounts as a taxidermist, but in the way he hunts bucks himself.

Bobby Abernathy was all smiles when I quizzed him about his profession. He said: "I am a retired taxidermist. My first Social Security check (arrived) in June and now I can hunt and fish all I want to without having to be tied to a work schedule."

Bobby Abernathy with an 8-point buck, one of the deer he killed last season with his bow.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Abernathy.

Some of the trophies he has mounted in the past have come from Canada, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and quite a few from South Carolina. One giant buck had an 11-inch circumference at the base of his antlers, and almost too many points to count. Abernathy has killed so many trophy bucks that he doesn't even mount them for himself now, but he has plenty of photographs to look at to remind him of these wonderful hunts.

Though he may not mount all his trophies, he still hunts seriously, and normally kills four to seven deer per season with archery tackle.

Abernathy started hunting deer in 1967, but it was the following year before he killed one; his first was a nice 8-pointer and his second sported 7 points. Both of these bucks were killed with a rifle.

After killing these bucks, he was hooked on deer hunting -- but he wanted even more excitement from his hunts. He started bowhunting in 1969 to be able to get in two extra weeks chasing deer. He found that this type of hunting required more concentration, and more attention to detail than a rifle hunt required. With a rifle, a 100-yard opportunity was a "chip shot," but you could only look at deer at that range with a bow. He had to get within 40 yards of deer for a shot with a bow, and 20 yards was even better.

As for many hunters, the challenge of having to get up close and personal to get a shot pumped extra adrenalin through his veins. His first bow was a recurve, but he changed over to a compound when they first came on the market. The compound didn't affect his range, but made it drastically easier to hold a bow at full draw for a longer period of time with the compound's let-off feature.

When the 2003 deer season started, Abernathy made the decision to only hunt with a bow and he has done so ever since.

Stand placement while hunting with a bow is much more precise than with a rifle because of the killing range of the weapon. Abernathy started thinking about ways to lure deer inside the 40-yard range he needed to consistently kill deer.

To a large extent, that meant he focused on habitat features that funnel deer through defined paths. For example, one funnel he hunted was a narrow strip of woods that butts against a steep bank -- the bank restrains the deer, and the cover of the woods are attractive to them, so deer moving through the area are likely to move along that strip of woods.

Other funnels include any place a strip of woods bisects two fields; deer like to travel where they feel they are somewhat protected and unseen. Places where several trails intersect in effect become a funnel. Another high-percentage funnel is where you find a line of scrapes and rubs around the edge of a field.

There are many types of funnels, but when you find one that leads to a bedding or food source, you have found a honeyhole. If you are able to select a good tree to climb close to this funnel, you'll be in a good place to hunt.

Moreover, he pays quite a bit of attention to how he sets up the stand itself.

Abernathy is different from most bowhunters in that he uses a two-piece Buckshot climbing stand that faces the tree rather than away from it. By facing the tree, he uses the tree for concealment. He shoots right-handed, and uses a screw-in step on the left of the tree to hang his bow on.

"When I see a deer, all I have to do is stand and remove my bow from the screw-in step," he said.

He also puts in another screw-in step at eye level in front of himself. On that step, he hangs binoculars, calls and whatever else he might need to reach for without noise or much movement. This step also doubles as a handhold that he can use to pull himself slowly upright to a shooting position without much effort.

"A height of around 20 feet is ideal to climb," he said. "I find it better if this tree is on level ground as opposed to one on a hillside. A tree on level ground gives the best opportunity for a double lung broadside shot, which is my preference of shot placement."

There are numerous stages of the deer season here in South Carolina, and Abernathy believes you need to change gears for each stage.

Unlike many hunters, Abernathy normally waits until mid-August to start scouting. The main reason for that is that he hunts the same area year after year, so he has a base of knowledge to build on. He already knows the lay of the land, where food sources are and where deer are most apt to travel. All he has to do is find out which oaks have an acorn crop this year.

Like many hunters, he looks for white oaks first, as deer prefer them because of their sweet taste.

Once he determines the location of an early-season stand, he cuts shooting lanes but is very selective about how much he cuts, believing that bucks will know that their habitat has changed if he cuts too much, just as you'd know something was wrong if someone moved your living room furniture.

When the bow season first comes in, deer are still running in groups. Just a few weeks later, these groups begin to split up and a hunter needs to change his tactics. At that point, Abernathy believes, rubs and scrape lines are a good place to concentrate your efforts.

Late October through November encompasses the rut. It is during this stage that you have your best chance at a trophy buck. Nocturnal bucks begin to show themselves during the day as they seek does in estrus. If you see a doe running through the woods during this time, be on full alert because odds are high that a buck is chasing her.

After the rut, Abernathy's tactics change once again. Frequently deer start moving at midday after most hunters have already gone home; the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. can be productive, he has found.

"After rifle season comes in, it is harder to get a double lung shot. By using doe bleats and rattling horns, you can guide deer to within your shooting ra

nge," Abernathy said. "Bleats will frequently stop a moving deer to give you a stationary target; bleats are one of my favorite ways of calling deer. I stop rattling horns when the rut is over."

Some general tips that Abernathy had to offer other hunters are:

  1. Pay attention to what deer are doing. At the first of the season, you might have to move around a little bit to get where the deer want to be.
  2. Get in the woods 30 to 45 minutes before light.
  3. Stay in your stand until 1 p.m. even if you haven't already seen deer.
  4. Clean out a path to your stand so as to reduce any noise you might make in your approach to the stand.
  5. Use a light only when necessary.
  6. Look for food. Trails that lead to and from food are prime areas. If you find a big scrape near a food source, then you've greatly improved your odds of taking a buck.
  7. Wear camo from head to foot -- and include your weapon.
  8. Use a cover scent. Hunters Specialty Scent Away is his preference.
  9. Use bright fluorescent fletching to follow the flight of the arrow to see where it hit, and as an aid in recovering arrows.
  10. Follow trails from food to bedding areas late in the season, and store that information in your mind for next year.
  11. Sit still! Move slowly when you have to move.

Abernathy told me that one of his most memorable hunts was during the rut. A doe was running through the woods at full tilt with a big buck chasing her. Abernathy bleated loudly and the buck stopped; the doe kept running, and was soon out of sight of the buck. Abernathy bleated again; the buck came within 15 yards and stopped.

However, as he came to full draw with his bow, the notch separated from the shaft of the arrow. He had to let down on his draw, and stick the notch back on. Meanwhile, the buck moved to a scrape not too far from his stand -- but a tree prohibited a clear shot. Abernathy slid his stand around the tree for a better angle. He prefers to stand to shoot, but the only opportunity was through a small opening that could only be seen while sitting. Everything lined up and he made a perfect heart shot. The big buck was an 8-point that weighed 170 pounds. Abernathy said that was his "Muzzy Moment Buck," as he was shooting Muzzy broadheads.

Use the tips that Bobby Abernathy gives to help you make the 2008 season a memorable one. Maybe you can even have a Muzzy Moment!

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