Bowhunting Deer During Late Rifle Season Can Actually Improve Your Chances

Donning blaze orange and bowhunting deer during late rifle season can offer its own set of opportunities, especially in prime whitetail country.

Bowhunting Deer During Late Rifle Season Can Actually Improve Your Chances

When hunters think “hunter orange” they no doubt think in terms of rifle hunting: crowded woods, rifles and possibly mayhem. Bowhunting deer during late rifle season doesn't occur to a lot of hunters, but maybe it should. Especially if you happen to be in prime whitetail country.

In fact, bowhunters are nearly always welcome to join in on the festivities. And in many states, bowhunters aren’t required to wear orange at all — though that’s a safety precaution that’s entirely up to you. Besides, what I’ve learned is that bowhunters shouldn’t feel unduly handicapped when orange clothing is required. Deer are still available for the taking and, in some cases, rifle hunting can actually work to improve your chances of when bowhunting deer. 

I understand, sitting in a tree while wearing hunter orange is as conspicuous as a lit-up Christmas tree. Yet 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 my bright orange expecting every passing deer to nail me immediately. 

But that simply wasn't the case. 

Even on wide-open public lands, there are always places other hunters avoid altogether or bypass for easier ground. Add a slogging wade through nasty swamp, a rough canyon, or a ridge in mountainous terrain and solitude is almost assured. Photo: John Hafner
Even on wide-open public lands, there are always places other hunters avoid altogether or bypass for easier ground. Add a slogging wade through nasty swamp, a rough canyon, or a ridge in mountainous terrain and solitude is almost assured. Photo: John Hafner

Bowhunter Tricks for Rifle Season

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 deter. Throngs of rifle-toting hunters making their way into the deer woods can also mean the deer will be moving in the daylight too, staying 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 for bowhunting — can create a safe haven deer naturally flock to as rifles fire. On hunts 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. Rifle season can benefit other areas too. In 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 the general rifle seasons in the northwest region where I live 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.

During rifle season, the author took this mature midwestern buck with his bow. Photo: Clint Stone
During rifle season, the author took this mature midwestern buck with his bow. Photo: Clint Stone
Featured Photo: John Hafner
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