THE GAME OF INCHES
By: Patrick Kalmerton
How many times have you heard the words “IF ONLY” or “A FEW MORE INCHES” come from the disgruntled sighs of a hunting companion? If only the buck would have… If only I would have… If only the wind wouldn’t have… The frustration continues, but there’s more to take away from these missed opportunities.
I will be the first to tell you that I have made my fair share of mistakes. I have drawn when I was not supposed to. I have tried shooting through a branch or tree. I have been winded by an animal. I have been busted by an animal I never knew was there who then alerted the animal I was seeking. I have set up in the wrong tree. I have walked in at the wrong time or have taken the wrong route to get into my stand. I have walked in with scent on my boots that the animal detected. I have been caught dancing in my stand. I have been caught off guard. I have shot high, low, off target side to side, and I have even shot through my ground blind not knowing I missed the window – BEAT THAT FOR A STORY!
Bottom line is: bow hunting is a game of inches. At least one of the scenarios I mentioned above has happened to each and every one of us as we learned the ins and outs of bow hunting the hard way. This is not a team sport with on-field instruction and it certainly does not forgive your mistakes…or does it?
In my experience, mistakes are forgiven but not forgotten. They’re a learning tool. Take everything that has happened (including mistakes!) in the past or could happen in the future and compile them to reach greater success. When all the pieces of the puzzle start aligning you will start harvesting bigger animals.
Here are a few of the steps I have taken to improve my odds at bringing home dinner for my family and gaining a few bragging rights too!
Learn the daily movements of all deer, not just the big ones. The smaller ones are the ones that will most likely bust you. Learn their routine, especially early-season. Track their patterns so that, when the time comes, you will be able to hunt their patterns.
As a starting point, watch fields with binoculars. I usually start this around July 4th and continue through the summer. Once I have a general location where the deer are hanging, I find what they need to survive: first, their water source; then, their food source (which changes monthly); finally, their bedding area. I set all my Wild Game cameras based on these primary locations. Don’t think you need trail cams? Deer will not just stand there and wait for you to watch, so set some cameras to capture all that’s happening when you’re away! It’s important to cover the trails that the deer are most likely traveling, as well as the fields that they’re using for their food source. And make sure you’re covering them at the right angles. If your camera is INCHES off you may miss capturing the head of an animal (or the entire animal) and not pay it the attention it requires for a clean harvest in the future.
Next, if you have the opportunity to set some food plots, what are you waiting for? Go do it! I have had great success with many blends from Evolved Harvest, particularly Clover with Chicory, Bones & Beards, and Rack Radish. I put the Clover and Bones & Beards in first during early summer. Then I plant the Rack Radish in late summer or early fall so I have a great food source after the farmers harvest their corn and beans. That is what keeps deer coming late in the fall, into firearm season and don’t forget one of my favorites – late bow season! Food plots require little work to get going. Spray the weeds to eliminate, then scuff up the surface with a disk or tiller and simply spread the seed. I replant the radish blend annually. However, the clover will come back year after year giving you three-to-five good years of adequate food source.
Trails, food plots, farm fields, water holes, bedding areas, scrapes, rubs. Make sure you have done your scouting ahead of time and know where your best chances for success are.
SET YOUR STANDS
During the fall bow hunting season, I spend more time in my tree stand than in my bed at home. Strategic stand placement is a must, but more important than location is comfort! The more comfortable you are, the less you move, enhancing your success. I use the Ameristep Brotherhood two-man ladder stand if I am hunting a food plot or trail system where I know there are deer moving. If I am in a high grassy area where there are no trees and the deer are just passing through, I set an Ameristep Vantage Point Quad Pod which is a six-foot-high raised platform. Then I attach my ground blind to the five-foot-wide platform for a raised ground blind setup and easier viewing of passing deer. The other must is a safety harness and pull rope for your bow, and don’t forget your bow holder. Be prepared so you don’t find yourself searching for solutions the day of your hunt!
Position your stands 15-20 yards off the location you believe to be your best spot of impact. The deer may skirt wide which, with proper practice, can still be fatal shot (make sure your shooting lanes go past the trail), yet they still have room to shimmy up close without sneaking behind you.
If you are hunting food plots, set two stands for different winds. Pay attention to the secrets your trail cameras shared, especially the date-stamps. In certain locations, the deer will only show up with certain winds. Choose the stand which is downwind from where the deer are traveling. Never put yourself in the position to fail if you can help it.
And never pick a tree with no cover. When I was new to bow hunting, I did this all the time and got busted by almost every animal! Pick a tree that has some cover – canopy below you and side shields (branches with leaves) to cover your mistakes. The key here is that leaves rustle so there’s always some movement. But tree trunks never move, so your tiny movements become blatantly obvious to animals and alert them all!
Of course, make sure you still have a clear shooting path. You need to be able to see 40 yards. It’s not firearm season where you can reach out 300 yards. The longer you have to watch an animal come in, the longer you have to get nervous and develop “buck fever” – everyone gets it at some point. Breathe. Relax. Draw. Deep breath. Exhale. Out of breath. Release and stay still! Hold that position until you see the arrow hit the vitals you were aiming at! HOLD THAT POSITION!
Practice your shots! Know your device – long bow, compound bow, cross bow. Know your limitations and take quality shots. If the animal does not present a perfect shot, that animal defeated you that day and it should drive you to beat them next time. Know your capabilities. Can you hit a golf ball or is your target more like a softball? Are you as comfortable at 40 yards as you are at 10? If you’re shooting 40 comfortably, where does that pin need to be when the buck of a lifetime is standing at 50? How much wind is there? Practice on calm days as well as very windy days because that arrow will get pushed and that can mean the difference between making a 15-yard shot vs. a 40-yard shot in heavy winds. To be an ethical hunter you need to know this and obey it.
When hunting, either carry a range finder or put out cheater sticks. Some people (including myself) set sticks or branches in the food plot. When a deer gets to the branch I know it’s within my lethal distance at discharge.
Cover your scent! You may think the wind is in your face but I have been caught off guard and it negates all the preparation – now that deer knows there was something there and will skirt you in the future. Use cover up spray. Some like deer estrus or skunk spray, others like smelling like pine trees if near a pine plantation. You’re the one who has to smell yourself! I prefer anything other than the skunk! Move slow and enjoy the day.
There is something about sitting in a tree stand knowing you did your homework and are ready. Yet there is always a chance you will learn you did wrong. It’s hunting. It’s challenging. It pushes us to the limits of our mental and physical abilities and that is why we love it so much! GOOD LUCK, BE SAFE, AND AIM SMALL!