A halfback plans on doing a touchdown dance every time he carries the ball. Though that score-every-touch mentality rarely comes to fruition, he’s prepared to maximize every snap until he eventually tumbles across the goal line. Blessed with months of hunting opportunity, bowhunters should, likewise, plan to arrow their quarry every time they head afield but realize it may take multiple tries.
From opening day to season’s end, hunting pressure varies, habitat changes, and deer behavior and activity fluctuate. To maximize your potential for each segment, begin with a “big-picture” goal in mind and prepare for what lies ahead. Know your objectives: Are you looking for a fat, tasty doe? A trophy buck at the time they are most vulnerable? A late-season venison bonus that will last the family until summer? Or to spark the hunting fire of a newcomer? Whatever your goal, pace your season and make the most of each part.
Quarter 1: Prep Bow And Body
Like any athlete preparing for a full season, you must be physically and mentally ready. Crossbows level the playing field among archers so you can shoot a powerful bow regardless of age, sex or physical stature. Build and strengthen your core by walking or jogging, work out moderately, and practice on a 3-D target to boost your overall muscle memory and kill-zone concentration.
Practice with your horizontal weapon is crucial. However, you don’t want to overdo it. Once you’re familiar with your crossbow and as opening day draws near, practice intermittently at known distances. I like to shoot one arrow before work, maybe over a lunch break and again at the end of the day. Getting a second shot with a crossbow is very difficult, so it’s absolutely critical you make that first shot count. I also recommend plenty of practice shooting offhand since a bench-style rest is unrealistic in most hunting situations.
Quarter 2: Early Season
“Early” means August 15 in South Carolina, September in many Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states and October in others places. The best part about the early season: unpressured bachelor bucks are on a strict food-to-bed pattern. The key word in that last sentence is “pattern.”
Hands-on scouting, trail cameras, and long-range observation behind a pair of 12X binos or a good spotting scope are the keys to finding and unraveling the pattern of an early-season bruiser. Key in on protein-rich food sources like alfalfa in close proximity to heavy bedding cover, and you’ll likely uncover a few bachelors worthy of putting your tag on.
Quarter 3: Right On With The Rut
In late October and early November, whitetail behavior changes, and those early-season bucks that went dark during the first and second week of October suddenly reappear again in daylight. This rut window gives you the chance to outsmart your adversary with numerous tricks and tactics: rattling antlers, deer scents and decoys, to name a few.
Before peak breeding begins, bucks rub trees, make scrapes and expand their core areas. Posting a stand or ground blind along a fresh rub line can be very effective, especially in late October and early November. Grunt tubes and rattling horns work well in this early phase of the rut when bucks are primed to breed but does are still resistant.
Quarter 4: Late Season
If you weren’t able to skewer a deer during the first two parts of the season, you still have some time, and if you once again key in on food sources and other areas a late-cycling doe or two may be roaming, you may be in for some hot action. That was what the Rowe family learned last winter.
“Back in September, Sawyer began asking for a crossbow for Christmas, and as the holidays grew nearer, he became more and more excited about the prospect,” said Sawyer’s father, Zane Rowe.
Luckily, Excalibur had just introduced the Micro 335 model. It was light and compact, and it fit even an elementary student well enough to shoot. Ten-year-old Sawyer made Santa’s “nice list” and unwrapped the new bow on Christmas morning.
Over the next week, father and son shot each day, and the youngster soon demonstrated he was ready to hunt. Rowe had never shot a crossbow before and seeing his son become proficient was really exciting. “We practiced on a 3-D target, and he could put that bolt right behind the shoulder every single time,” Rowe recalled.
The afternoon of January 2 found father and son tucked away in a brushed-in blind waiting for action. A half-hour before sunset, three does passed the blind, and Sawyer was about to take the shot when his father heard a grunting sound. “Hold on,” Rowe whispered. “I think I hear a buck.”
Sawyer’s eyes, which according to Rowe were already as big as saucers, bulged out even further when he spied a respectable 8-point buck feeding along behind the passing does. As the buck fed closer, Sawyer rested the Excalibur on a tripod shooting rest and concentrated on an exact spot.
The bolt flew so fast the father-son duo couldn’t see the hit, so they decided to wait 15 minutes before checking out the shot. They found blood and a trail that led toward an open field, but Rowe suggested they go back home, get good lights and return.
The double-lung hit left plenty of red on the ground, and while Rowe focused his attention on the blood trail, Sawyer’s excitement couldn’t help but let the flashlight beam shine away from the blood and into the field. It didn’t take long for the beam to cross a white belly. Sawyer was elated and is already making plans for next season. His goal: hunt the early part of the season with his crossbow and kill a buck in velvet.