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A wise man once said, “the satisfaction one gets out of any endeavor is usually proportional to what one puts into it.” That wise man is Barry Wensel. Barry and his twin brother, Gene Wensel, are two of the most well respected names in bowhunting. They’ve been doing things by the book, and getting it done with traditional equipment for over fifty years. They know more about bowhunting giant whitetails than almost all outdoor TV personalities nowadays combined. So when I sat down to write this article on season preparation, I looked no further than one of Barry’s articles for inspiration.
There is so much truth to Barry’s quote. Especially pertaining to bowhunting giant whitetails. After being quite successful in the woods recently taking nine Ohio Big Bucks over the past ten years guys and gals alike ask me all the time, “How do you always shoot a big buck every year?” My answer is always the same. And it relates back to Barry’s quote. You can’t harvest them inside watching football.
Like anything else in this world, to be a successful bowhunter it takes dedication. For me, I look at it as a 365 day job. You can’t expect to half-ass it, go out, hang a climber, and shoot a huge whitetail one weekend when the Buckeyes have a bye week. It just doesn’t work like that. Yes, there are rare occasions where a bowhunter will head for the woods with hardly any knowledge of what they are doing, sit for fifteen minutes, a stud buck walks by, and they pin it. Like the saying goes, “a blind squirrel finds a nut every once and awhile.” But that’s rare. Very rare. To be a successful bowhunter consistently year after year you *must* put the hours in.
Within this article I’m going to discuss five tips on how you can better prepare yourself for this upcoming whitetail season. Now, I understand most of us bowhunters have full time jobs and plenty of other obligations. That’s life. It’s going to get in the way sometimes. But as a busy guy myself, I believe you can still find ways to get out there, and get the preparation you need to be successful this fall.
1. Know Your Property
Knowing every nook, and cranny of your hunting property is one of the biggest advantages you can have when bowhunting. My first tip to you… know it. Know where the deer’s food sources are, where they bed, where there’s cover, where transition areas are. Find out where their travel routes run through a pinch point. Anything that can help you pattern your deer herd, know it about your property. Preparation is only going to help you, as much as you help yourself. Get real nit-picky. Go as far as to finding out where your oak trees are, and what kind they are. Acorns are the number one choice of food for deer. Finding out where they are can be very rewarding later on.
Don’t stop there. Knowing how your property lays out in the big picture can also help you plan your attack. Find access to topography maps, and aerial views of your property. You can find these all over the internet nowadays. This can really help you see how the deer are moving, and why they do so. Like Barry’s quote, you’ll find throughout these five tips, you can only take your success as far as you want to take your preparation and dedication.
Pictured are two aerial views of the exact same property. You can see how each map can be helpful in it’s own way.
2. Scout, Scout, Scout
Scouting is a way for us hunters to have an idea of what our deer herd is going to be like for the upcoming season. Rather than looking like a bunch of fools out there waiting in trees where a deer may never walk by, scouting can help us pin point where we want to hunt, when, and how. There are many ways to scout your property, and typically, the more ways you use to your advantage, the better off you’ll be.
With huge leaps and bounds in technology over the past 15 years, scouting has become an easier task for us hunters. However, this new technology in trail cameras, spotting scopes, and long-range binoculars isn’t by any means cheap. The average trail camera rings up around $200 with high-end cameras reaching upwards of $500-$600. While spotting scopes, and binos run upwards of a couple grand, but you can find some lower end-average ones for a few hundred bucks. It really depends how much you want to invest. A couple decent trail cams paired with a spotting scope can be a deadly combination.
If you have the luxury of a spotting scope, it can be a great tool to observe your herd from afar during those summer months.
On the other hand, scouting done the old fashioned way can end with success just as well. Walking your property, looking for and picking out every helpful thing to set a stand is the cheapest way to better your chances at a giant buck. I could dive into deep depths of each tactic, but just look for natural funnels, a pinch point where several trails come together, a rub line, a scrape, anything you can observe is to your advantage. Why not use it?
3. Stand Maintenance
Probably the most physically demanding of all preparation is keeping your stands hunt-able and safe. This step should be common sense, but there are hunters every year that just leave their stands hung year round. Then they go to hunt in one the first time, and either there’s shooting lanes blocked from new growth, the stand is messed up from the tree growing around the chain or something has changed that will effect their hunting. A simple tear down, and reset of your stands every year can fix that.
To make sure your stand site is cocked, locked, and ready to rock, doc, make sure you doing the following:
1. Clear a path in. Make sure you can sneak into your setup with the least detection. Use dips, and cuts to your advantage. Bring a rake, or use your boot to clear leaves and debris off the trail you walk in. You’ll have to do this a couple times a year because of newly fallen leaves, but it is worth it. Sneaking in on a cleared path as quiet as a church mouse can just be the difference maker you need.
2. Check your steps and reset the stand. Most of us know that when steps, stand chains and straps get hooked into a tree, eventually, the tree will grow around it. To make sure your stand and steps are safe, you need to reset these every year. It takes a little extra effort but it’s worth it when you’re life depends on safe reliable steps and a stand.
3. Bring your saw. Re-clearing shooting lanes is almost always necessary year to year. Your arrow depends on a clear path to the vitals. Don’t let laziness get in the way. Clipping out new growth from the past year can be the difference between a BBD, and one standing behind newly grown leaves, denying any shot opportunity.
4. Be Organized
There’s nothing worse than waiting until the last minute to try and throw everything together before season. Being organized and planning ahead can eliminate any stress of you being ready for the season. This step in preparation is the easiest of them all, and speaks for itself. Having a game plan to get all of your gear and camo together can make things so much easier on yourself. Make a list. Every year before season, or before I go on a hunting trip I make a list of what I’m going to need. Go through the hunt in your mind. Think about what all you’re going to need for every situation. Doing this will help you remember everything from your bow, down to a box of waterproof matches for the worst case scenario.
Stand lists with wind directions are always a great way to stay organized.
Another thing I do to stay organized throughout the whole season is I make a tree stand list. Because the wind plays such a huge part in how us bowhunters pursue the whitetailed deer, it’s nice to have a list of your stands with possible wind directions you can hunt in that particular stand. Being that there are four of us that hunt together, we have 40+ stands and ground blinds set up for different wind directions. Having a list is a must. It’s just another way I stay organized, and it’s one less thing I have to worry about when it comes time for the season.
5. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
You know how the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect?” Well, erase that from your mind. For archery and bowhunting especially it should say, “perfect practice makes perfect.” Work on your form now, and it can pay off in huge dividends during that moment of truth. What I try and do is make my practice as life-like as possible. I want to simulate the upcoming hunt as close as I can. So for whitetail hunting I’m mostly going to be hunting out of a tree stand. This can easily be simulated by hanging a stand in your backyard, shooting from an elevated hillside, or if you have the luxury, you can do what I do and shoot off your deck.
Another step I’ll take is to make sure I’m shooting the 3D version of what I’m about to pursue. Personally I believe shooting bag and block targets can actually hinder your practice rather than help it. Have you ever drawn back on a deer shaped like a block? Or set your sights on a black bear that had dots on it’s side? There a few exceptions such as the axis deer which gives you nice spots to aim at, and the pronghorn antelope which has a patch of white belly hair that comes up to a point right where the vitals are. However, most game animals don’t have any distinct markings to aim at, and they sure aren’t shaped like blocks. Practicing on the same thing that you will be hunting will make your practice more effective and worth while. It will force you to pick a spot yourself. Getting used to this preseason will help you be more accurate come crunch time.
Here I am shooting from my elevated deck down to a GlenDel target to simulate a tree stand shot on a dominant buck.
If you really want to take your practice to the next level, try this right before season. Practice shooting with your hunting camo on. Whatever you plan on wearing in the field, wear it while you shoot. This can eliminate any problems you may have with a sleeve that’s in the way, your hat bill hitting the string, a call hitting your limb. Anything that could throw your shot off is better to be found now, rather than later.