How to Become a Better Bowhunter

A quality hunting spot is only a quality spot if you can shoot your bow without being seen, smelled or heard.  However, getting a shot has become increasingly difficult across deer country. Whitetails are now more accustomed to the tactics of modern archers, forcing many hunters to add radical tactics to their arsenal.

Hunting effectively from tree stands or ground blinds requires a flexible strategy. Deer are adept at survival and have learned to detect any intrusion into their home territory — including those camouflaged by a ground blind or hanging in a tree stand.
Take Inventory
Radical bow-hunters must be aware of several factors if their stands or blinds are going to be effective. First, it is absolutely crucial to understand local deer movement and behavior. Scouting will help you pattern local deer and provide the key information about how and where to place a stand or ground blind.

A radical bow-hunter must also realize the importance of setting up blinds or hanging tree stands in several locations. Whitetails develop an intricate system of trails and travel routes within their home territory. This network enables them to avoid ambush and detection while on their way to feeding and bedding grounds. They might have a dozen or more paths to the same spot. They will also have escape routes that they can use to flee if they sense danger.

If you have set up one stationary tree stand or ground blind, your chances of being on the right trail at the right time can be slim. Multiple stands allow you to avoid detection at different times of day and in changing conditions. With so many options, the hunter’s chances of success are greatly increased.

Get the Forecast
Weather also influences whitetail movements. Windy and rainy days create a backdrop of sound. With his sense of hearing confused by the thrashing of branches or falling rain, a buck might stick close to his bedding area for safety and security.

When the leaves have fallen from the trees, white-tailed deer seek areas that offer more cover. They search for dense pines, tall brush, thick stands of trees or any place that will help camouflage their presence. They might also abandon areas that provided dense cover in spring and summer, for more secure locations during the hunting season.  As the season progresses, less cover will be available. Make sure your stand or ground blind is not situated in an area that looks great in August, but is barren in October.

Know Your Options
To increase your odds for success, use the following tactics to find quality stand or blind locations.
1. Hone in on any low spots, narrow creek crossings and fencerows. These funnels are prime locations for finding large bucks.
2. If you hunt an area with crops such as alfalfa, corn or soybeans, investigate the harvest time. The loss of food and cover will change deer patterns in a hurry.
3. Deer prefer to travel the edges where dark timber, like heavy pines, and hardwoods meet. They also move between crop fields and timber along brushy and tree-lined fencerows.
4. Mature bucks often bed in thickets located on ridges or hillsides.
5. Look for ridge saddles, shallow ditches or any subtle land contour that will squeeze a buck past a tree stand or blind.
6. Mature bucks often browse and bed in and around power lines and clearcuts, especially if they are off the beaten path.

Get Out Early
The most important part of finding the right locations to place stands or ground blinds is good scouting, ideally several months before the hunting season. You must scout to pinpoint areas where deer activity is high. Areas of high activity will be prime sites for tree stands or  ground blinds.

Mobility is vital. If one area is not working, move to a new one. Remember to be aware of other hunters’ movements. Don’t set up near areas where hunters passing through will disturb deer, or worse, blow your setup.

Prepare your ambush sites early. Clear out a few shooting lanes to increase your effectiveness by snipping branches or chopping limbs. Be especially careful not to remove too much cover while you are creating your shooting lanes. Many bow-hunters clear out their hunting spots so well that they re-pattern a mature buck right out of that area for the majority of the hunting season. Doing the work months in advance will allow deer to become accustomed to the changes well before hunting season.

A quality tree stand or ground blind is one of bow-hunting’s most valuable assets. Select your equipment with care. Many manufacturers offer light, strong, compact tree stands with few moving parts.

Quality tree stands and blinds are easy to set up and mount, and, most importantly, they are quiet. One “clink” of metal during the hunting season can make your setup useless. Make every attempt to use a tree stand or ground blind that will allow you to operate as silently as possible.

 Choose a stand that allows you to move to a new location easily. If you are detected or if the deer retreat to a different area, you will be able to move to the new area and not waste your entire season sitting in a place where the deer move around, but not near, your setup.

Stay a Step Ahead
As we know, whitetails have a very keen sense of smell. However, if they detect human odor, they will often wait to confirm human presence with another sense. Sometimes, they will pass under a tree stand unalarmed. Although they might sense your presence, they might also have been conditioned to human presence.

If you are still and quiet, they might not view you as a threat. Yet, they will be wary. At other times, they might send out a chemical warning to other deer by stamping their hoofs and depositing an alarm scent on the ground. Some biologists believe this scent can remain to alert other whitetails for several days.

Always be critically aware of eliminating human scent by using scent-eliminating soap, shampoo and deodorant. I would never think of hunting without wearing a fully activated scent-suppression suit with head cover, gloves, and moisture-wicking, scent-suppressing undergarments. I hunted for many years without the protection these products afford, and now I believe I cannot afford to enter the deer woods without it. The technology is available, and it can certainly tip the odds of success in your direction.
Don’t underestimate a whitetail’s vision. They can detect the slightest change in their environment, and new studies have proven deer can see colors as well.

What does this mean to the hunter? They can recognize your skin color, so camouflage your face and hands by wearing a full head covering and gloves. Use camouflage patterns that blend with the natural surroundings as closely as possible.

If you are using a tree stand, it is a good idea to cover the floor and the lower half of your stand area with camouflage material. When you are sitting, all that will be visible from the ground is your upper body. Additionally, this screen will cover a lot of your movements, muffle sound and block the wind. Consider purchasing a mirror for your stand. Like a car’s rearview mirror, it can alert you to anything coming from behind you and eliminate any neck-craning movements that might spook deer.

White-tailed deer naturally move during the low-light times of day — dawn, dusk and during the night. Their eyes are designed for catching all available light. This means that unlike humans, deer can see ultraviolet light. Many fabrics today are treated with “brighteners” that reflect UV light. Detergents also add brighteners to each wash. While you sit perched silently in your stand, your clothing might be a screaming beacon to the deer. Look for “brightener-free” laundry detergent to wash your hunting clothing.

Even with all these precautions, the serious bow-hunter needs to understand that within 24 to 48 hours of being occupied for any length of time, most tree stands will be identified, and deer will begin avoiding them. For bow-hunters who do not follow careful techniques to minimize noise, scent and visibility, tree stands or ground blinds might be “ruined” almost immediately, the first time they are used. In many cases, especially with mature bucks, deer will move out and circle the area, safe and out of range but close enough to know what’s going on. Despite your best efforts at avoiding detection, the whitetail’s keen security system makes it imperative that you have alternate sites available.

Flexibility and mobility are often the keys to bow-hunting success. If a stand is not productive, don’t try to “wait it out.” Carefully and quietly move to a new location. Make your hunting sites as flexible and responsive to change as the monster bucks you are bow-hunting, and watch your overall success increase.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from long-time D&DH contributor Dick Scorzafava’s new book, Radical Bowhunter.  To obtain a copy, visit, or call 800-732-3669.