10: Perform Bow Maintenance
- Clean and lubricate all moving parts and apply a coat of wax to the bowstring. Even if you did that at the end of last season, do it again.
- Inspect cams, limbs and any other moving parts to ensure they’re in good shape and aren’t loose or compromised in any way. Tighten all bolts and screws.
- Check that your sighting pins are still set to your preferred distances and that all screws are tight.
- Your aim is no better than your arrow is straight. Check shafts for nicks or any issues that would prevent them from flying true.
- Check vanes for wear and replace as needed. Inspect nocks for damage or wear and ensure lighted nocks still work.
- Check practice tips for uniformity to ensure they don’t compromise practice groupings.
- Check broadheads for sharp cutting edges and inserts for worn threads.
- Inspect your release to confirm it’s working as it should be.
9: Sight in Your Rifle in 5 Steps
- Disassemble, clean and oil the firearm.
- While disassembled check all moving parts to ensure all mechanisms function as they should.
- Check the scope’s eye relief and make sure it’s level. Tighten all mounting hardware.
- Clean the lens with proper lens care equipment and have extras for your gear bag.
- Make sure you’re well stocked on ammo for both practice and hunting.
8: Scout with Trail Cams
If you haven’t already, get trail cameras out now to gather as much information as you can on the deer using the property you hunt.
Ideal cam locations will vary from one property to the next, but one prime spot now is around any agriculture fields, especially soybeans or corn. Place cameras near trails deer use to access the field and in small pockets or hidden corners.
Find travel corridors and place cameras along funnels and pinch points where travel routes are naturally restricted. Set up to observe other food-source areas in addition to crop fields, including summer food plots, natural forage, salt licks or feeding stations where legal.
Cellular cameras that transmit photos directly to a device have become popular in recent years and there are now several affordable models on the market.
“They give me real-time, precise location of the animals, so I know exactly where and when they’re showing up,” says South Carolina guide Tyler Chappell. “Plus, I don’t have to go on-site to collect data and can keep human scent out of the area.”
Once your basic pre-season deer pattern is determined, move cameras not in high-use areas to spots where pre-rut activity typically occurs so you know when to transition from early-season strategies to the next phase.
7: Scout with Glass
Supplement your trail cam recon with some in-person glassing. Drive the roads on and around the property and glass fields, openings, powerlines or any open rights-of-way. Evening is often the best time. You’ll likely see bachelor groups of bucks in crop fields. Watching multiple bucks from a distance provides insight on dominance and enables you to place specific bucks in the ‘hit-list’ or ‘pass’ category.
6: Knock On Doors
Have you been putting off requesting permission to hunt a promising parcel of private land? If so, do it now. First, research the property to understand the deer habitat available on the land. County land records and Google Earth can help. Have a specific plan for your use of the property before talking to the landowner. Next, contact the landowner and ask to meet with them personally—it’s much more effective than making a cold call over the phone. Share your thoughts about how you will use—and respect—the property. Discuss harvest goals and present safety considerations if any homes, buildings or livestock are in the area. Finally, offer the landowner part of the harvest. They may decline, but it’s always best to offer something in return for hunting rights to a piece of private ground.
5: Check Your Stands
If you didn’t take your stands down after last season, now’s the time to make sure they’re in good working order. First, though, check for wasps and other critters from the ground before climbing. Check ladders, steps and braces to ensure all are intact and tighten straps. Paint over any rust.
Inspect seats to ensure they’re still safe and don’t snap, crackle or pop when you sit or move. If you have a swivel seat, make sure it’s lubricated. Any scent from oil, paint or sweat will be long forgotten by deer by the time the season opens.
Climb the stand and check shooting lanes and surrounding habitat to ensure no dramatic habitat changes have occurred. If you need to move a stand, do it now.
4: Prep Stand Sites
If you’re moving a stand or hanging a new one, clear enough vegetation at the site to safely and securely place the stand, but don’t over-clear. Natural vegetation helps hide a new stand. Complete as much assembly as possible before to going to the stand site and have proper equipment along to do the remaining work. Perform this task mid-day, not during hours of peak deer activity. Enlist help if you’re putting up a ladder or tripod stand. It’s not only quicker, but can help alleviate unnecessary activity, noise and scent.
Once the stand is in place, trim your shooting lanes. Remove branches or moveable obstructions that may hinder line of sight and shooting angles but, again, keep those that help hide the stand. When trimming, consider how wind might move limbs into your field of view when hunting.
Ingress and egress routes are crucial to success, especially when hunting a big buck. Now is the time to plan travel routes that enable you to avoid the areas where deer live. If you need to clear a walking trail to reduce potential noise and scent, now’s the time.
3: Load your pack
Load it now so you’re able to grab it and go on Opening Day. At a minimum, be sure to have these items:
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Backup batteries for any electronics
- Facemask and gloves
- Cover scent or scent control spray
- Scent-free insect repellent
- Grunt tube, bleat call, and/or rattle bag
- A sharp knife and field sharpener
- Plastic bag, pen and zip ties for licenses and tags
2: Practice Scent Control
Scent control is crucial to success and it’s one variable a hunter can control.
Even if you washed your hunting clothes in a scent-control wash at the end of last season, clothes need to be cleaned and aired now to pass a deer’s scent test this season.
Numerous products are available to wash hunting clothes to eliminate/reduce scents, so do that first. I like to air dry my hunting clothes following the wash. Place clothes in scent control bags once dry.
Many hunters employ ozone machines for scent reduction, and multiple sprays are commercially available that neutralize human scent from your clothing and body. Treat scent control as the crucial key to success it is, and you’ll be better off in the field.
1: Bone up on regs
Knowing any regulatory changes should be top priority before hitting the woods. The biology of managing deer populations is an ever-changing task for wildlife managers and new or updated regulations are often made annually. In particular, as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) continues to spread, make sure you know how your state is handling that threat.