Situational Bowhunting

We presented three bow experts with a fictional map, and asked them where and how they’d set up their stand. Here’s what they had to say.

The situation appears perfect. A nice buck and two mature does are 100 yards in front of your stand. They are feeding in the wide open. They don’t know you exist. You can already taste the paneed backstrap.

Wrong! You’re bowhunting, and that hundred yards may as well be a mile.

To take a deer with a bow, any deer, is truly a hunting accomplishment. Many gun hunters simply pick a random tree, place their stand and then score when a deer appears anywhere within several hundred yards. This haphazard method might feed a gun hunter’s family, but it simply will not work when you are armed with a bow. The chain of events for a successful bowhunt is much more intricate.

Countless articles are written and much debate is had regarding the best equipment and products. Expandable versus fixed broadheads? Peep, no peep? Scent, no scent? The list of topics is endless.

The equipment/products debate really becomes one of personal preference. If used correctly, most products will perform as designed.

However, for every product out there, some will swear by them, some will swear at them. It makes no difference to the deer if he was done in by a carbon rather than an aluminum arrow. Use what works for you, and you’ll have more confidence and more success.

Fundamentals are a different story altogether. You must become proficient with your equipment, but that alone won’t get you a deer. For a whitetail bowhunt that results in venison on your table and/or a trophy on your wall, skill and luck have to perfectly mesh.

Even the most skilled deer hunters will acknowledge the roll luck plays in taking a deer. However, bowhunters who stick to certain fundamentals and perfect their skills need not rely solely on luck.

Even a bowhunter with the best equipment and a golden horseshoe you know where will not take a deer if not properly set up in the right spot. Whitetails are not wide ranging, and you can be sure that no matter how well you know your hunting area, the deer know it better. The few days or weeks you spend there cannot match the deer’s daily life experiences.

Couple that with senses that allow them to detect the slightest alteration to their home turf, and the bowhunter is decidedly at a disadvantage.

None of this should discourage you as a bowhunter. In fact, these are some of the very things that drive the sport. Many people bowhunt to extend their season and opportunities, but none can deny the challenge or that they seek the almost indescribable thrill of arrowing a deer. Being an outsider, undetected in the whitetail’s world — that’s what its all about.

In any bowhunting question-and-answer forum, except for the most general of answers, the most sound advice is “check with your local archery pro shop.” Unfortunately, in today’s world of catalog and internet product ordering, the vast knowledge and experience of the local pro shop is often overlooked. The owners and employees of these local shops have a wealth of knowledge that they eagerly share. These guys live archery all year long.

We visited with shops from across the state; keep in mind that their advice comes foremost from being bowhunters, Louisiana bowhunters.

Location, location, location! This timeless axiom of the real estate world is equally applicable to bowhunting. In bowhunting, however, location does not simply mean the right place. It also means the right time and the right setup.

We provided each archery shop pro with a simple map of a typical Louisiana bowhunting situation. We asked for their thoughts on stand placement and other fundamental advice. Here are their answers.

David Cross, La. Archery & Sports Center, Pineville

Under the direction of store owner Bubba Cross (David’s father), David began shooting a bow at about 8 years old. He took his first archery deer at age 10.

Now in his early 20s, he has successfully arrowed more than 40 whitetails, and has put away his gun for the last four years.

When shown the hypothetical map, Cross immediately took notice of the wind direction.

“You’ve got to ‘play the wind,’” he said.

He set his stand picks for the area near the food plot where the two main deer trails intersect.

“You would want to set up a little back from the trail, not right on top of it,” he said.

He would select a tree that provides natural cover other than just leaves.

“I prefer to select a site that has vines, moss or other natural features,” he said. “A stand that is well hidden by leaves in the early season will stand out come fall.”

While making every effort to hunt on a favorable wind, Cross still believes that scent control is a key fundamental. He uses any product that helps him go undetected while on the stand and while traveling to and from it. He also hunts as high as possible, but not so high that the tree canopy blocks his view.

“A piney woods area can generally be hunted higher than an oak ridge,” he said.

He also prefers climbing stands for their ease of mobility, which proves invaluable for quick moves necessitated by a change of wind direction or deer patterns.

Cross agrees that no matter what you do right, if your stand is not in an area that will put a deer into bow range, you’ve wasted your time. He recommends having several stand locations that will allow you to move as conditions change.

“You can fool his eyes, you can fool his ears, but you can’t fool his nose,” Cross said.

Craig Rodrigue, Hunters Pro Shop, Baton Rouge

Craig Rodrigue looked at the hypothetical map and said “tough choice.”

With the wind blowing toward the food plot, any attempts to hunt near the bedding area for a morning hunt would push the hunter’s scent toward the approaching deer — not a good thing.

His best suggestion would be an evening hunt (which he prefers anyway) near where the trails end by the food plot. He should know; Rodrigue has been in the archery business for over two years and has bow-killed a dozen deer. His main philosophy: “Hunt high and watch the wind.”

In the given situation, Rodrigue would place either a climber or loc-on type stand in a tree with natural cover off of the deer trail.

“Set up about 20 feet high, and position the stand at an angle,” said Rodrigue.

By not facing the stand directly toward the expected deer approach area, you have a wider turning radius and can visually cover the area with less movement.

“This also gives a broader shot set-up without having to get into some contorted position,” he said.

Another tip Rodrigue would offer is the use of lunar feeding tables to help ensure you are on the stand at peak movement times.

“It works,” he said.

Rodrigue also notes a problem with older bows and the need to compensate for a deer that “jumps the string” upon release of the arrow. This reflex reaction is caused by the deer flinching at the sound of the shot. Many an arrow has hit too high or sailed over a deer’s back due to string-jumping.

However, Rodrigue says that today’s bows are much faster and quieter, and compensation is not necessary on most close-range shots.

“Even if the deer does react to the sound of the release, the arrow is there so quickly that the shot is still on target,” he said.

Rodrigue advises to use common sense when choosing a stand location.

“Leave yourself options, and don’t force it by hunting a stand with an unfavorable wind. If you eliminate as many negatives as possible, your chances of taking a deer increase accordingly,” he said.

Micah Shelton, Outlaw Archery, Bossier City

With about 30 bow-killed deer to his credit, 27-year-old Micah Shelton knows a thing or two about successful bowhunting. In the archery shop business for just over a year, Shelton is eager to share his expertise.

The hypothetical map, with well-defined trails, made Shelton’s stand locations easy to pick.

“I like to stay away from bedding areas and set up near a well-used trail,” he said. “If deer are using a specific trail, it is because they are going somewhere. Find where that is, and make the proper setup.”

Based on the map, Shelton knew that the areas he selected for stand sites would provide great evening hunting. The deer would likely come on a trail from the bedding area or browsing through the oak flat on their way to the food plot.

“By setting up near the intersection of the trails, you would be downwind of the approaching deer and right in the middle of the area the deer will stage before entering the open food plot,” he said.

This is an ideal situation to get a buck into bow range, as they often wait in the thick fringes so they can enter the food plot at or just after dark.

In yet another testament to the whitetail’s sniffer, Shelton always wears a scent-lock suit and rubber boots.

“When the rut approaches, I’ll also use sex attractant scents to help lure a buck into range,” he said.

Shelton prefers the versatility of loc-on type stands combined with aluminum climbing sticks — portable ladders that allow for secure climbing in almost any tree. Once set up, this combination provides a quiet, stable stand.

“I always climb over 20 feet and wear a safety harness whether hunting or just hanging a stand,” he said.

Also, when hunting big oak bottoms, Shelton finds that the use of climbing-type stands is limited due to the larger size of the trees.

Shelton advises that one of the advantages of today’s technology is that the shorter bows allow the hunter to shoot sitting down.

“With an overhead EZ (bow) hanger and a short axle bow, you can get to your bow and draw with very little movement and no standing. This can make the difference between getting the shot or getting busted,” he said.

Like Rodrigue and Cross, Shelton also believes in following the moon chart and keeping alternative stands at your disposal. With 30 bow kills, he’s surely doing things right.

Three different archers. Three different areas of the state. Why did all three select nearly the same spots for stand locations? They stuck to the fundamentals.

Although their opinions differ slightly, their insight is invaluable. Their basic principles are tellingly similar. Hunt high, carefully select your stand location, be flexible and definitely play the wind.

Choosing the right area and applying these fundamentals is the difference between a successful hunt or hours of watching trees.

Once at your chosen location, the obvious goal is to make minimal noise and movement and to eliminate or cover your scent. You may not totally defeat a deer’s defensive senses, but you can overcome them.

Although the perfectly scripted hunt never seems to play out, proper planning and practices can help to avoid the inevitable mishaps. Learn from your mistakes, heed the advice of others and remember the fundamentals. Experience builds confidence and confidence builds success. Every bowhunt will be a learning experience that will make each successive hunt better.

Bowhunting is truly an addictive sport. More and more gun hunters are turning to archery to experience the in-your-face thrill of silently taking a deer within feet of the stand. Successful bowhunting is demanding, and one must dedicate ample time to perfecting the necessary skills. Just ask any bowhunter, and they will tell you that it’s definitely worth the effort.

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Chris Holmes
About Chris Holmes 208 Articles
Chris Holmes has kayak fished in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and many places in between.

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