Every year, I hear countless stories about close encounters with big bucks that ended without a good comfortable shot opportunity. After thinking about this sad situation, one thing that amazes me is the number of big bucks hanging on the wall in my family's house -- and how relatively few of these stories our family has in comparison. I believe that we owe much of our success to my father's tree stand setup and years of knowledge that he has shared with us.
Here are a few simple tricks that just may help you turn your next close encounter into a successful shooting opportunity.
Tree Stand Placement
This is a critical factor in getting your shot on a big buck. Know the deer's travel patterns in an area.
Always try to place your tree stand so that all of the deer passing by your stand will do so within range on the upwind side. If you use the lay of the land properly, you may be able to make it nearly impossible for a deer to end up on your downwind side.
You can achieve this by backing up your stand against a river, ravine, levee, steep hillside, ditch, or any obstacle that helps to funnel or direct deer movement. At times, it may even be necessary to create obstacles such as cutting brush and blocking the paths you don't want deer to take, and opening up a new path you do want the deer to take.
Anticipate Their Approach
Consider which direction the deer will come from. Your stand should be set in such a way so that it's comfortable for you to look in the direction from which deer will be approaching.
It's always best if you can pick up your bow without ever taking your eyes off the deer. This helps prevent getting spotted by moving at an inopportune time.
It's equally important to have the deer facing in the right direction. It's hard to get drawn when a big buck is facing you -- and even harder when you have a big buck and five other deer facing you.
A slight bend in the path that angles the deer away from you is often all you need to get to full draw. In the off-season, you can easily create a bend in the path by placing in the way an obstacle, such as a small downed tree that the deer must walk around.
Have a game plan. Pick out the spot along the path where you want the deer to be standing when you shoot.
It won't always end up the way you want. But if you're prepared and do your homework, many times it will.
Sometimes, my father puts a drop of doe scent on the ground in his shooting lane, on the side of the path opposite the tree. When using this method, you must take great care not to step where the deer might walk.
A drop of doe scent may be enough to stop a buck in his path and get him to turn his head. But any hint of human scent is all that's needed to end the hunt early!
Know The Wind
When picking a stand site, always consider the prevailing winds of the region. It's to your advantage to place your stand in a tree that lends itself to your favored wind direction more days out of the season. Hunt the stand only with the correct wind.
Often you only get one chance at a big buck. If he winds you, you could spook him out of the area altogether, and he may not come by that stand again for several months. Better to let the stand rest and wait for the right wind than to hunt it with a bad wind direction and educate the deer.
Use Good Cover
Placing your stand in a big tree with other trees, limbs, or background cover will help minimize the chances of being silhouetted.
My father has even gone as far as to nail a couple of extra leafy branches in a tree to prevent the deer from silhouetting us too easily.
One of my favorite ways to avoid being spotted is to lean close to the trunk or large limb of a big tree. This method also works well in emergency situations on the ground. On the ground, I have often gone undetected by deer at ranges as close as five feet, simply by leaning up against a large tree. If you put on a ski mask or pull your hat down low so you can just barely see out, most times you will go undetected.
Deer can see your eyes, so squinting can help during a stare-down. Holding your bow directly in front of you helps break up your outline and hide your face -- and also leaves you in a better position when it comes time to draw.
To maximize your success, minimize your movements. Situate your stand or blind so that you'll need to engage in as little movement as possible for those times when the big one slips in on you before you realize it.
If you're a right-handed shooter, this means having any shooting paths off your left shoulder.
This is a must! It avoids having to turn around or move your feet to situate yourself for the shot. If you plan right, rarely have should the deer end up on the wrong side of the tree.
Position Your Bow
Keep your bow hook pointed at your anticipated shooting lane with the arrow nocked and ready. The bow hook should be placed at the exact height so there is no need to lift the bow up or lower it down for the shot. Your only movement should be lifting it off the hook and drawing.
As mentioned, it's important to be familiar enough with your stand's setup that you can pick your bow up off the hook without taking your eyes off the deer. Practice taking your bow off the hook a couple of times when you get into your stand. If it makes a noise, or if a piece of bark or limb might snag the string or bow, it's better to know about that ahead of time.
Holding your bow while you are sitting or standing is always a good idea. If you do this, try to hold it in a position that requires a minimal amount of movement while you prepare to draw. Keep in mind that it's more difficult for animals to detect movement straight toward or straight away from them than motions from side to side, or up and down.
It can be awkward or fatiguing to hold your bow during the entire several-hour hunt. So
during the first hour of light in the morning, and the last hour of daylight in the evening, I'll often stand close to the tree, holding my bow in the ready position.
During the remainder of the hunt, I'll leave it on the bow hook, pointed at the main path.
Perfect Your Draw
Drawing the bow is that critical time when many bowhunters get spotted. Learn to draw your bow slowly, while keeping the pin on the deer at all times. Not only does this minimize movement, but keeping the pin on the target while drawing is also the same method used by an overwhelming majority of the top tournament shooters.
If you can, draw your bow when the deer's head is behind a tree. If this isn't possible, try to draw slowly while the deer is moving and/or when he's looking in the opposite direction.
The faster a deer is moving, the more apparent movement he sees in his field of view, and the more difficult it is for him to detect your movements.
When a deer moves slowly, you should move slowly. But when a deer is moving fast, you can often get away with faster movements.
Improvise When Necessary
Be adaptable. Learning to improvise when things aren't going as planned can be a valuable skill. Knowing how to read a buck's body language makes it easier to predict his next move and makes it easier to plan your next move.
Deer hunting is a constant challenge, with no guarantees. Preparing for and anticipating your next opportunity for a shot on a deer doesn't mean you will get it. But it does mean greatly increasing your odds of capitalizing on that opportunity, should it arise!