Hunting is one of the most primal and time-honored pastimes that one can engage in.
Aside from an enjoyable pursuit that helps remind you of your place in the world it is also an invaluable survival skill, one that can help you put high-quality, clean animal protein on your dinner plate or in the freezer.
The vast majority of hunters taking to the field in search of deer are doing so with a firearm of one kind or another. Rifles and shotguns, handguns and even the odd muzzleloader or two.
Gun season is always a high-stress, high-tension time for deer which are notoriously jumpy for obvious reasons.
But some hunters prefer the old ways, or at least the older ways of hunting deer.
Using a bow or crossbow means that one must get much closer and produce even better accuracy for lethal result if you want to humanely bag your quarry and avoid going home empty-handed.
This also means that you’re hunting skills and fieldcraft must be commensurately sharper in order to compensate.
To help you bag your quarry during bow hunting season we are here with 10 tips that you can employ when hunting deer with a bow or crossbow.
ABC: Always Be ‘Chooting!
The first tip on our list is one of the most essential, but sadly one of the most neglected.
If you are hunting with any bow, or crossbow, the pressure will really be on to place your shots with precision if you want to successfully and humanely bag a deer.
This is easier said than done, because compared to firearms shooting either but especially a compound or traditional bow requires entirely different skills and better mastery of range estimation for precise placement.
This means you need to be shooting all the time, not just worried about your scouting and preseason setup on your patch. You need to be shooting in the morning, and in the evening.
Shooting at big targets and small targets. Shooting when you are fresh and shooting when you are tired.
Only by regular repetition will you develop the dependable knowledge of the way your bow or crossbow behaves with a given arrow and head.
Additionally, regular practice will begin to instill an instinctive feel of when the shot is on and this will go a long way towards alleviating a buck fever, or target-induced anxiety when the moment is upon you and that impressive specimen is in your sights.
Practice from Unconventional Positions
This is a follow-on tip that dovetails nicely with the previous one, but I have it listed separately because it is not necessarily something that you’ll be able to practice during a typical range session.
You must vary your shooting positions when practicing, and if possible, practice from positions that are not entirely comfortable or traditional so long as you’re able to do it safely.
You might not be able to assume a picture-perfect standing or sitting posture when you have the best shot that you’ll be able to take.
It is crucial that you work out shots taken at steeper angles up or down as well as traverse to either side, both to understand your own physical limitations but also the precise point at which you can maintain control without interfering with your bow or crossbow.
You don’t want to be presented with an easy close-range shot out in the field only to discover that you are a mess of knees and elbows trying to present your weapon.
Closer Ranges Mean You Have No Room for Error When Spooking Deer
Deer are notoriously skittish, and they are especially skittish during the rut or during times of high pressure, and their keen senses will be even more likely to detect your presence when you are forced to get closer to them.
If you’re going to be hunting with a bow, you won’t be afforded nearly the range advantage that you would have if you were using a firearm. This is definitely a challenge, but a big part of the fun of bow hunting.
To help overcome this difficulty, you can take absolutely no chances when it comes to spooking deer.
Noise and scent control must be maxed out to any degree practical, and even your camouflage can leave little room for error as the deer will be able to see anything that is glaringly out of place when you are in an optimum range.
If you are new to bow hunting or you have already been out a couple of times without any results, you are likely lazy and sloppy and that means you need to start working on it now in order to avoid spooking your quarry.
Silence Your Routes of Ingress, Stalking Paths, and Climb
This is a preseason activity that pays great dividends and pays in gold.
Make it a point to absolutely silence your routes of ingress to your property, blind or deer stand as well as any likely stalking routes that you will take if you’re going to hunt from the ground.
Particularly when hunting during the rut or the late season, deer will be on high alert thanks to plenty of other hunters of field and gun hunters in particular.
Give yourself a major advantage by taking the time to clear twigs, brush, leaves, and other detritus from paths you plan on taking.
The climb into your stand is likely to be a major culprit, as any rattle, squeak, grown or clatter will sound like a claxon to any deer in the area.
Any likely stalking paths, if it factors into your strategy, should likewise be optimized for quiet movement, although care must be taken in order to keep from making changes so drastic that deer will get seriously spooked and leave the area entirely.
Plan and Prep as Early as Possible, then Leave!
I cannot stress this enough for bowhunters who plan on hunting at any point during the season, but particularly during the early season and the rut.
Get into the field as early as possible to start scouting, looking for evidence of deer paths, bedding sites, food sources, and the like as well as likely locations for blinds or stands.
Gather your info, develop your strategy, and then get out of the area so deer stop feeling pressure.
You want them to feel comfortable and start developing routines on your patch, and you also want deer and neighboring areas to know that they can retreat to your patch when the pressure gets turned up in their usual neighborhoods.
This more than anything else will help to give you plentiful targets that are less likely to be edgy when you actually get out into the field looking to fill your quota. The earlier you can do what you need to do and then get out of Dodge, the better.
Take Advantage of High Pressure from Other Hunters
If you have followed all of the above tips, especially the ones concerning getting your preseason work done and strategy dialed in before quitting the field, you should be prepared to go out when you know pressure from other hunters will be at its highest.
No matter the season and no matter the circumstances, mature deer, especially bucks, will know where they can retreat to in times of trouble. You want that escape route or safe haven to be your property.
If all goes well, they will flee from the activity or likely presence of other hunters right into your sights.
As a bowhunter, you will need every advantage you can get, and taking advantage of your target’s natural inclination to flee out of stressful situations or uncertain conditions will do much to overcome the other challenges and shortcomings attendant to your weapon of choice.
If Hunting the Rut, Follow the Does
If there’s one thing that most hunters of deer want, it is that big buck.
Depending on the prevailing conditions and your region, there could be plenty of bucks for every doe or drastically more does than bucks.
Regardless, bagging a trophy buck requires strategy, a keen insight into their behavior, and a little bit of luck.
Once in the field, with the clock running and tensions high, most hunters will ignore anything that comes by that isn’t the “Big One”. This is a mistake, especially concerning does.
During the rut, bucks will never be far away from does especially when competition is fierce.
If you stay near the does you can be assured that you’ll eventually locate a big buck at the very least. Getting a shot off on him is another matter entirely.
Along the same track, pay attention to what the does are doing during the preseason as this can inform your choices when it is time to get out in the field.
This is an especially good strategy when the ratio of bucks to does approaches three to one or even higher.
Locating Paths is Easy in the Winter
I know lots of hunters who don’t particularly enjoy hunting in the winter time, and I count many bow hunters among them.
Compared to a firearm, a bow demands much more dexterity and tactility, and the puffy, bulky garments required for staying warm in the winter time can interfere with a stroke of the bow string, fouling a shot or potentially even injuring you.
That being said, this might be the best time to head out bow hunting. You have a two-pronged advantage when bow hunting in the winter time.
First, with many previously ample food sources disappearing or being covered under a layer of snow, deer are far more likely to stick close to one or two reliable food sources comparatively near their bedding location.
The paths that they take from their betting location to that food source we’ll also be much easier to see thanks to any snow on the ground or a general lack of ground-level vegetation.
In essence, this lets you detect and plan around a deer’s habitual movements far easier than you would in warmer seasons.
Assuming you can overcome any difficulties leveled against your shooting my bulky winter clothing, you can set yourself up for comparatively easy success by taking to the field in the cold months.
Manage Your Lift Rope when Stand Hunting!
One of the most common crimes I see bow hunters who shoot from a standing commit is not managing the rope they use to hoist their bow or lift other gear up to the stand. If you use a lifeline, this advice counts the same.
Just because you use a brown or green rope to haul your gear doesn’t mean you can let it dangle and flap in the breeze or it can startle any deer that might be nearby.
Deer, especially mature bucks, are exceedingly cautious critters and as mentioned previously they will be highly alert to anything that might indicate a threat when the pressure is turned up.
Imagine going through all of the work I’ve outlined above only to have your upcoming shot spoiled because the deer on approach saw your rope swing and twist unnaturally in the breeze before turning tail and running for the horizon.
Anything that you use to haul your gear up into the stand should be appropriately camouflaged but it should also be stowed when you are done with it.
At the very least wrap it around a nearby and convenient branch or a rail on your tree stand so it does not betray your presence when you can least afford it.
If Stalking, Your Stealth Game Has to Be on Point
For some hunters, waiting around in a tree stand or blind just won’t do.
They want to be down on the ground, closing in on their prey, senses fully engaged, and truly pitting themselves against the environment and their quarry.
For these hunters, this is the only way to hunt but for bow hunters, the challenge rating ratchets up considerably considering how much closer they must get to their prey to make a clean shot.
If you want to stalk while using your bow, you must take your stealth skill sets to the next level, and it isn’t just a matter of clearing the trails as I mentioned.
Sure, your camouflage and scent control must be dependably excellent, but more than that you must practice good fieldcraft.
How to move, how to minimize potential sight lines of an unseen animal, and how to put yourself in the best possible position for a shot with the minimum possible exposure.
You must understand, truly understand your land, and how to make use of every terrain feature on it to your advantage.
You must be keenly alert to the wind and what it is doing, even when it is barely blowing.
Bow hunting the stalk is the ultimate challenge, both of your basic skills as a hunter and as an archer or arbalest.
For those who have tired of hunting with a firearm or those who just greatly prefer the bow, bow-hunting deer presents an excellent challenge with a tremendous payoff.
The difficulty factor is definitely there, however you prefer to hunt wherever you happen to be hunting, but by sharpening your skills and employing the tips we have brought you today you can greatly increase the chances that your efforts will be fruitful!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.