Little Details PAY BIG DIVIDENDS
I was just scanning a popular Michigan hunting forum and noticed a post asking for advice on how to be successful bowhunting for deer this fall. A bunch of people offered fundamental advice. While it’s true that the fundamentals of bowhunting are very important, often the key to consistent success really boils down to those little details that pay big dividends.
Shot Cycle Silence
Being able to draw your bow with absolute silence is one aspect of bowhunting that most bowhunters fail to address sufficiently. Drawing your bow in the quiet woods with a radar eared buck in close proximity requires absolute silence during the drawing process. Start with wearing nothing but super quiet clothing. During a drawing motion, if even the slightest noise is audible, then that garment is simply not suitable for stand hunting wily whitetails. Unfortunately, better than half the hunting clothes on the market today are grossly unsuitable for bowhunting, so shop wisely.
A silent bow, rest and even arrows are also critical to success. Once again, if you can hear the slightest noise when you draw an arrow then the setup needs refinement. The arrow rest is usually a big noise producing culprit. Where the arrow contacts the rest needs special attention. Jeff Sturgis is a former championship archer and one of the most consistently successful trophy whitetail hunters I know. Sturgis says: “I like to silence the launchers on my drop-away rest with soft, rubber tubing. You can get it in various sizes at hardware and automotive parts stores. It’s used for fuel lines and such. You have to wet it down to allow the tubing to slide on, but it wears well and is very quiet.”
If your rest will not accept rubber tubing, then peel-and-stick felt material can be cut to shape and applied to the rest. You have to replace it often though as it is prone to wear and tear. I use a lot of that felt below my drop-away rest to cushion and deaden the impact of the rest when it falls. I also use it to pad my rest and riser anywhere an arrow might make contact. Adding silencing material to your rest will typically require tuning adjustments though.
Cable guards are often a very noisy element in the shot cycle. In my opinion the roller type cable guards are a much better choice compared to the old fashioned cable guard rod/slide that are prone to lots of shot cycle noise. The best and quietest one I’ve seen though is the I-Glide system offered on Michigan made Quest and Prime bows. If you have a rod/slide type cable guard, then the best method I’ve found to silence those is to just keep the components super clean and lightly polish the rod with an automotive style rubbing compound. It’s also a good idea to keep your cables and string well waxed to reduce noise and prolong component life.
Dulling down the vibrations generated during the shot is also very important. Arrows should be held tightly in bow quivers. Arrows can loosen up during practice sessions, so make sure to check them each time before heading afield. I love string stoppers as they really quiet down the shot and also minimize string slap on clothing too. If your bow is not equipped with sound dampening technology, including string silencers, then adding those accessories will really take a bite out of shot noise. I prefer old fashion Cat Whiskers on the string and also highly recommend adding a vibration dampening, LimbSaver stabilizer too.
One of the most valuable tools in my bowhunting arsenal is a heavy-duty weed-whacker with a brush cutting attachment (like a circular saw blade). Mine’s an old Stihl model that I’ve had for almost 20 years. It can blast though branches and saplings up to a couple inches thick. I mainly use it in the off-season to trim out stand entry and exit routs and to prep stand sites by opening up shooting lanes. You can even reach branches that are over 10′ high reducing them to forest floor litter. I also trim out deer trails to help funnel deer and to brush out the roads and trails on my property. With the string attachment installed, I can mow small, hard to access food plots and even use it for its intended purpose, to trim around the house.
Hang A Stand In Less Than 10 Minutes
Last year I watched a bowhunter take hours to set one treestand. I can usually hang a stand in less than 10 minutes. Here’s how: First and foremost I come prepared. I wear my old faithful Seat-O-The-Pants safety harness system, which comes with a strap system that ties the user to the tree like a lineman’s climber. It also has a handy pouch to carry tree steps too.
The first order of business is to clear a path up the tree to access the stand location. I use a 14′, telescoping pole pruner to efficiently snip and saw off branches that are in the way. I then tie a rope to my harness that is connected to the treestand, hook the harness strap around the tree and work my way up the tree using both hands to install tree steps or other climbing devices. When I get to the desired stand height, I can use both hands to haul up the stand and fasten it to the tree. Once in place, I always install a locking device to prevent theft. I use a small Gerber hand saw to trim around the stand, set up a bow holder, and then use the pole pruner to open up shooting lanes that are too high to reach. The rope that I pull the stand up with also serves as the bow hoist rope. I tie a loop-knot that hangs about chest high so that when I lower the bow down, it doesn’t contact the ground. Always tie off the end of the hoist rope so it doesn’t get blown around by the wind.
Scent Free Boots
Most bowhunters know that knee high rubber boots are a good idea to minimize foot odor. What a lot of folks don’t know though is that new boots are so stinky (chemical odor) that I can smell them across the room: You can probably imagine how deer, with their super olfactory senses, will react to such a strong scent. Boots should be aged like a fine wine for at least one year prior to hunting with them. I generally get about 2-3 years out of my rubber boots and I wear them a lot. Buying two pairs at a time when they are on sale is a great strategy; that way you always have an aged, scent free pair on hand should you blow out a boot.
Veteran bowhunter John Eberhart says, “If you have to buy a new pair of rubber boots and don’t have the time to age them so they deodorize, then you can burry them in dirt for a week or two to help de-scent them.”
What to Carry Afield for Whitetail Stand Hunts
Besides my bow, arrows and release, there are some other valuable tools and sundries that I always carry afield. The most used items are carried in my pockets. In my left coat pocket is a focus free monocular, which I find much more practical for stand hunting than a binocular. I mainly use it for quick identification purposes, so the ultra compact size and quick ease of use is perfect. It’s easy to see through while bending and twisting around too.
My right jacket pocket contains a compact range finder and a small grunt call. I carry a Mini-Mag flashlight and a container of goose down in my pants pockets.
The bulk of my gear is stowed in a waterproof fanny pack, which features seven separate compartments containing: tags and licenses, cell phone (for emergencies only), a knife, GPS, small saw, Strapper Bow Hoist, Dynamite Rattlers, rubber gloves, paper towels, head lamp, spare batteries, camera, mini-tripod, estrous doe call, safety harness, moleskin, two folding tree steps, EZ Hanger Bow Holder, notepad, pencil, small tape measure, extra gloves, surveyor’s tape and a Thermax facemask.
I also carry an emergency kit containing: space blanket, lighter, fire starters, spare compass, lip balm, zip lock bags, water purification tablets, Band-Aids, bandages and meds including antacid, cough drops and aspirin.
The Answer is Blowing in the Wind
The wind can be a hunter’s best friend or worst enemy. I’m obsessive on keeping track of the wind. I plan my entire whitetail stand selection strategy based on wind forecasts. Before each hunt, I really study the predicted wind forecast, but I also take into consideration the current conditions too. I test the wind by dropping feathers before finally committing to a particular stand. I’ve tried all the commercially available wind detectors, and have found that goose down is the best. I pack down into a film canister and simply drop the feathers and watch which way they drift. Often times the wind swirls and the goose down will show the user what the wind is really doing. I also periodically drop feathers from my stands while hunting to keep tabs on the wind currents. Several times a year I will abandon a stand and relocate in the middle of a hunt because the wind changes.
Keep Deer Up Wind and In Range
If possible, Jeff Sturgis reduces the chances of deer winding him by blocking all deer passage downwind of his stands. He strategically hinge cuts trees and piles up brush creating blockades to funnel deer. A hinge cut is done with a chainsaw where the user cuts a tree about ¾ of the way through the trunk. The tree is then pushed over and the remaining, uncut ¼ of the trunk holds the trunk onto the stump at a level that helps to block passage.
Jeff Sturgis also strategically piles brush that’s a byproduct of clearing shooting lanes and deer passage trails. He piles half around the tree that the stand is in to keep deer from getting too close. The other half gets piled at end of shooting lanes to help pinch deer for optimal shot positioning.
Practice from Elevated Positions
Most deer hunters hunt from treestands, but I’d guess that less than half actually practice shooting regularly from elevated stands. I have a ladder stand in my back yard specifically for archery practice sessions. I also use my Tree Saddle above the ladder stand to practice for shots from that setup too. For the month before the opener, over 75% of my practice is conducted from those stands. In the off season I often take my bow to a few of the tree stands on my property and practice shooting from actual hunting locations too.
John Eberhart practices almost exclusively from his roof top. Since his roof pitch is pretty steep, he built a platform that fits on top the ridge of his roof where he can safely practice his elevated stand shooting form.
Shooting with Gloves
I once saw a bowhunting video where the star missed an easy shot at a big buck. Afterward he blamed his glove for the blown opportunity as the trigger finger was tattered. What a stupid, preventable mistake that was. Gloves serve three important bowhunting purposes: First and foremost they keep hands warm, but they also serve to camouflage the hands and if there are biting bugs around, they add a layer of protection too. I use a typical wrist strap style release and have tried to shoot using gloves, but just never seemed to get consistent accuracy using them. I solved that problem by simply cutting off half of the index finger from the right glove. I use a lighter to burn the edges to prevent fraying and it works great.
Jeff Sturgis does not like to shoot with gloves on so when it’s cold he uses a hand muff that clips around his waist. When it gets really cold, he puts a chemical hand warmer in the muff.
Tree Step Savvy
Many hunters use screw-in tree steps. Here are a few tips to make using those steps easier, quicker and safer. First a sharp tree step is a much better one. Very few new ones come with a needle sharp tip. I sharpen my steps with a file and tool sharpening stone.
I also lube the threads of my steps with petroleum jelly, which makes them spin into the wood much easier. The rest of the step gets a coat of rust inhibiting paint whenever corrosion starts to appear.
John Eberhart prefers folding tree steps on thick barked trees. He said, “When the bark is thick, some steps do not allow the user to penetrate far enough into solid wood, thus making them unsafe in those situations. Folding steps can be started between cracks in the bark and by aligning the shank straight with the screw; you can drive it deep into the tree for safe climbing.”
Keep Your Bow Handy
Jeff Sturgis says, “I’ve had many instances when a big buck simply appeared at close range without warning. If I didn’t have my bow handy, those opportunities would have been blown. I like to keep my bow between my legs as I sit. My stands feature a metal mesh deck. I rest the bottom pulley against the platform and the bow is then leaned back between my legs for a hands free, quick-draw position.”
I also sometimes rest my bow between my legs the same way Jeff does, but I prefer to hang it if possible, but never in a position where I have to move my body to get to it. My favorite type of stand locations is where multiple trees grow up in a bunch. That way I can put a bow holder into a tree right in front of the stand. I like to use an EZ Hanger Bow Holder, which screws into the tree and can be positioned for convenience. It folds up for storage in a fanny pack too.