When hunters think “hunter orange” they no doubt think in terms of rifle hunting: crowded woods, roaring rifles, general mayhem. Bowhunting doesn’t occur to most nimrods under these circumstances, but this need not be the case, at least not where whitetail deer rule.
In fact, bowhunters are nearly always welcomed to join the festivities, and in many states aren’t even required to wear orange at all—though that’s a safety precaution that’s entirely up to you. In fact, I’ve learned bowhunters shouldn’t feel unduly handicapped when orange clothing’s required. Deer are still available for the taking, and in some cases (which I will address shortly) rifle hunting can actually work to make bowhunting better.
I understand, sitting a tree while wearing glow-orange simple doesn’t feel right. You feel as conspicuous as a lit-up Christmas tree, as foolish as wearing swim trunks to a formal dinner. In places like Kansas and Nebraska, while taking advantage of late seasons when firearms just happen to be part of the equation, I’ve sat in stands in my bright orange, expecting every passing deer to nail me immediately. Such wasn’t the case in most instances—and besides there are new concealment options to keep you feeling stealthy.
It’s important to pour over specific regulations carefully, but many states don’t insist on solid colors for legality (though certainly not all). This opens the effective option of safety-orange camouflage, such as Realtree’s AP Orange, Mothwing Blaze, or Skyline orange-dominated camouflage. Better yet, such options are often offered in reversible garments, owning standard woodland camouflage on one side for bow-only dates, blaze camo on the other when it’s required by law or for safety’s sake. Atsko, the Sno-Seal and U-V-Killer folks, offer an ingenious option for states that do require solid colors during firearms seasons. The U-V-Killer Camo vest is printed using various wavelength dyes that appear solid orange to the human eye, but a dull yellow and brown camouflage to color-blind deer.
The first trick to bowhunting during rifle seasons: Take advantage of increased hunting pressure. Know your area intimately and know how hunters access the woods, then find a position that lets others push deer beneath your stand. You may have to wake up earlier, but if you’re left with an unfilled tag at this late juncture, the extra effort shouldn’t daunt you. Throngs of rifle-toting hunters bumbling through thick woods through the day can also mean deer, too, will move in daylight to stay a few steps ahead of hunter traffic.
More pointedly, property where rifle hunting isn’t allowed—a bowhunting-only lease or friend or family land managed thusly—can create a safe haven that deer naturally flock to when loud rifles go off. I’ve experienced this scenario in both Kansas and Nebraska. Deer numbers actually increased on bow-only properties as firearms seasons progressed. Hunting pressure pushed deer from public hunting areas or private lands and onto adjoining property where gunfire was absent. In still other areas, wildlife refuges managed for wintering birds, or suburban areas limited to short-range bows because of the proximity of homes, hunting can actually improve when rifles roar on outlaying properties.
Even on wide-open public lands, there are always places other hunters avoid altogether or bypass for easier ground. Discovering a small opening in otherwise jungle-like vegetation creates the perfect bowhunting sanctuary. Even the skilled still-hunter typically avoids such tangles because moving stealthily is all but impossible. Deer understand this, or at least have learned from experience they can retreat to these crowded areas and avoid disturbance. Add a slogging wade through nasty swamp, a rough canyon, or a ridge in mountainous terrain and solitude is almost assured.
Some of my hotspots during general rifle seasons where I live in the Inland Northwest are anything but difficult to access. They are simply overlooked and, therefore, spared hunter traffic that puts deer on edge. This is generally most true in huge expanses of rough mountain terrain where there is plenty of elbow room for all.
I must admit I’d rather bowhunt an Iowa, Illinois, or Kansas rut completely free of rifle blasts, but I’ve learned from bowhunting close to home in Washington, Idaho and Montana, where rifle hunters reign and bowhunting is often viewed with amusement, that plucking big bucks from the heart of firearms seasons is certainly possible. Just come in with the right attitude and approach.