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The Hunt

In bow practice before the hunt, spend some time shooting while sitting.  If you hunt from a tree stand that is the stance you will probably be using unless you are able to stand for hours at a time. Standing after you see a deer is usually not possible without spooking the animal.   Be advised that a  bow is a harder to draw from a sitting position than while standing, so be sure you can draw your bow quickly and fluidly while sitting.

You will want to hunt where the deer are. Therefore you need to plan your hunt at least a couple weeks before the season opens, and preferably months before.  Spending time in the woods in the area you plan to hunt is a necessity if you are to be successful.  Look for deer sign--droppings, tracks, deer trails, and in the fall rubs and scrapes.  Deer trails are recognizable in the summer time as regular trails, often somewhat hard to see, but when you are walking in the woods and picking the easiest rout through the brush, very often you are following a deer trail.  If that is the case, you will notice rotten logs in the trail that have fresh wood exposed by the hooves of deer as they travel the trail. Rubs and scrapes are indications of a buck inhabiting the area.   Rubs are places on small trees where the bark has been scraped off by a buck with his antlers.  They usually pick a tree about two inches in diameter.  Scrapes are areas that the ground has been pawed in an area usually an oval about 1.5x3 feet in size.  The deer rubs his face on a branch over the scrape to deposit his scent as part of the mating routine.  If you are hunting a farmers land, ask him where he usually see deer and which direction they come from.  You will want to hunt an area with the most traffic possible.  Setting up a trail timer (photo or timer) will verify traffic, and help pattern the deer in the area.

You should choose hunting sites with deer traffic and a tree appropriate for a tree stand, at least 8" in diameter at a height of 15'.  If there are no appropriate trees in the area you can try a ground blind, but it should be put up a month or more  before the season so the deer will get used to it.  Set up your tree stand or blind between noon and 3:00 pm, the time when deer are least likely to be around.  In addition to a tree stand or blind you need an open shooting lane.  Set up your stand so that the area of traffic that you anticipate the deer will come from will be in the direction of the prevailing wind (stand down wind). It is helpful to have an alternative site if the wind is contrary.  Keep in mind that if you are hunting on someone else's land, you should ask before cutting any significant tree in a shooting lane.  In Michigan where limited baiting is legal (the first day of season and thereafter), bait all your hunting sites regularly in the middle of the day.  Usual bait includes apples, carrots, sugar beets, corn, pumpkin, greens (lettuce, cabbage, etc) and mineral licks.  Where baiting is not allowed, during the rut bleat calls, doe urine, and rattling antlers can call a buck to your hunting area.  Also, you can make use of natural food sources and even plant some if you own the land.

 For the actual hunt, you should arrive at the appropriate site (one that is down wind) before daylight.  If you can stand it, remain until about eleven o'clock.  During the middle of the day, 11 - 3 the probability of seeing a deer are reduced as they bed down during these hours.  Be back in the stand before four o'clock and hunt until dark. 

While in your stand, you must remain quiet and still.  Deer have fantastic hearing, and although they do not see well in the day time they see movement very well.  You do not want them to hear or see you before you are aware of their presence.  Be aware that it is easy to fall asleep sitting motionless for a long time.  If you are in a tree stand you must have a harness to keep you from falling.  As a deer approaches, you must be totally silent.  They will often hear the scratch of cloth against cloth as you reach for your bow.  If the deer tenses and becomes aware of possible danger, one more sound or movement will cause him to bolt, including the movement and sounds from drawing your bow.  Unless you draw on an unsuspecting deer your chances of harvesting him are almost nil.  Your only hope of getting a shot while he is tense is to wait absolutely motionless until he relaxes

If a totally unsuspecting deer comes within bow shot, you usually have only about two or three seconds from the beginning of the draw to get a shot off.  Even though he hears or sees the activity of the draw, he ordinarily does not bolt immediately.  He will look up at you to see the source of the sound or motion before taking off.  If he is walking he will generally stop at hearing a noise before fleeing unless he was previously aware of danger.

Besides sound and motion, human odor will make a deer wary.  Often winds switch direction momentarily or swirl because of obstructions, carrying your scent to a deer.  A number of products on the market can be sprayed on your clothes and shoes that are suppose to eliminate your scent.  Also a gum can be purchased that purportedly clears your breath which the makers claim gives off a major fraction of your total scent.  Activated charcoal lined suits and jackets are sold that supposedly eliminate your scent or at least a fraction of it.  While these may be helpful, hunting from a tree stand that is down wind from the area the deer approach from is sufficient for most hunters.  The extent you have to go to in making yourself undetectable depends on your expectations.  If you are a meat hunter, willing to accept a doe or young buck you will have much less trouble getting a deer.  Trophy bucks are old deer that have lived a long time because they have learned to be much more wary than the average deer.

You should aim low, on the deer's body just behind the front leg, the idea being to penetrate both lungs.  You aim low because upon hearing the bow release a deer will crouch in preparation for a leap.  Most bow hunters who miss deer shoot over their back because of this.   A broadside shot is the only one you should take.  The kill zone is approximately the front third of the body, however the shoulder or leg bone can prevent the arrow from penetrating both lungs.  A deer can run a long way on one lung.  Also a gut shot deer will die, but it will often take many hours, and tracking will be difficult. 

If you shoot a deer, do not search for it immediately!  Wait at least a half hour if you are sure you hit it well and there is prodigious bleeding.  If you hit it too far back and are afraid it is gut shot, wait as long as circumstances will allow before following a blood trail.  A wounded deer will generally lie down within about a couple hundred yards of being shot.  If you approach too soon it will get up and take off, decreasing your chances of finding it.  When you shoot a deer at dusk, the tendency is to want to find it before dark.  Don't give in to that temptation.  It is better to have a short search in the dark (with a good light of course) than a much longer one.

Following a blood trail is often a difficult task, particularly at night and in areas where red leaves have freshly fallen.  Blood sign may be many feet apart even when a deer is well hit and bleeding internally.  It is easy to become disoriented while looking for fresh sign and loose the blood trail altogether.  It is helpful to have flagging tape to mark spots along the trail so if you loose it you don't have to start all over.  A well hit deer will fall within about 100 yards, but finding it at night can be difficult.

One more piece of observation from the author's experience which may be helpful: once a deer detects you in a tree stand, shortly (a few days) thereafter no deer will visit the site during daylight hours.  You may as well pack up your stand and move to another spot. 


2007 Bow Hunter's Advantage

906-482-6557 P.O. Box 467, Dollar Bay, MI 49922