Common Mistakes Bowhunters Make

April 4th, 2011 / Posted by David
Common Mistakes Bowhunters Make

Though it’s a bitter pill to swallow, the sad truth is that most bowhunters will never realize the ecstasy associated with putting their tag on even one big buck. Obviously then, being able to take bragging size whitetails on a yearly basis will forever remain a dream for these individuals.
But I honestly believe that most whitetail bowhunters would be ecstatic to attain a moderate level of success on even average size bucks. Alas, if what I’ve seen in recent years is any indication, a rather large number of bowhunters will never reach even this somewhat successful plateau.

It’s become obvious to me why so many bowhunters will continue to fail in their efforts. You see, achieving an enviable level of big buck success means paying some hefty dues. Personally, I’ve taken great pains throughout the 30-plus years I’ve been bowhunting to learn as much as I possibly can about my quarry. You’d think most “dedicated” hunters would take this same approach to the sport. But that’s just not the case.

Keep A Low Profile


Many bowhunters fail in their efforts to kill big deer simply because they’re unable to hit what they’re shooting at - which leads to the most important part of hunting - PRACTICE.

The one thing aspiring whitetail bowhunters must work hardest at is their conduct while hunting. I’ve made the following comment countless times before, but it bears repeating. It’s tough enough trying to get within bow range of big bucks when those deer have no idea they’re being hunted. But this task becomes virtually impossible once the bucks catch on to your game plan.

Every one of the many successful trophy whitetail bowhunters I know agree on one point. Keeping a low profile is key to achieving a consistent success rate on mature bucks. Trust me, the best in the business go to extremes to keep the deer in their hunting areas from catching on that a bowhunter is routinely invading their domain.once the bucks catch on to your game plan.

A Case Study

My good friend, Doug Below, has taken nearly a dozen Pope & Young class bucks over the years. Doug told me that the key to his success is the fact that he avoids deer on his walks into and out of his hunting areas. “Years ago I’d take the shortest and quickest routes into my stand sites,” he stated. “Almost without fail I’d jump some deer. Those deer would then blow loudly, sometimes for several minutes. Of course, every big buck within hearing range knew something was up. It soon became obvious that I had to try something different.”

In attempt to overcome his problem, Doug logged a bunch of hours during the off-season figuring out “deerless” walking routes to his stand sites. The end results have been nothing short of amazing. Even though he bowhunts in areas that receive intense amounts of pressure, Doug routinely arrows large-racked bucks. No doubt it’s his cautious approach to the sport that’s the difference.

Another Common Mistake
Just about all bowhunters, from novices to the most experienced, are aware of the negatives associated with having big bucks smell you. Amazingly though, a lot of these same hunters don’t understand the potential harm that can be done by having big bucks see you. I personally believe that this lack of understanding can be attributed to a common misconception regarding the whitetails sense of sight. Put simply, a lot of bowhunters are under the impression that deer don’t see all that well. But let me assure you, whitetails see very well!

I think everyone reading this will agree that humans are the number-one predator of whitetails. Lest you think otherwise, the deer are aware of this fact as well. With the way they’ve been pressured in recent years, mature bucks have become especially adept at visually recognizing the human form. Contrary to what some hunters believe, they don’t need to substantiate these sightings with one of their other senses either. Remember that humans are the only one of the whitetail’s predators that walks upright on two legs. Really, how difficult can it be to recognize this posture?

No Such Thing As “Instant Hunters”

I’m always amazed at the number of people who suddenly become “bowhunters” on a certain day of the year. They spend absolutely no time during the rest of the year preparing for the upcoming season. Yet when opening day rolls around, these are some of the first people to hit the woods.

Although there are many negatives associated with the “instant bowhunter” syndrome, one is especially disturbing. Simply put, these “bowhunters” lack an acceptable level of proficiency with their weapons. Each year I talk with numerous people who have blown golden opportunities at big bucks. Tragically, the vast majority of these people lost out simply because they weren’t able to hit what they were aiming at. I personally find it hard to feel sorry for people who don’t practice.

Long-time bowhunter, Wendell Johnson, agrees with me on the importance of attaining good marksmanship. This 67 year-old native of Centuria, Wisconsin has four bucks in the Pope & Young record book and another that misses the minimum entry score by less than an inch. Interestingly, Wendell’s most recent record book buck was taken during the late archery season.

“I was using a recurve with no sights,” Wendell recalls. “A doe walked by me first. The buck came following along about 100 feet behind her. I would have had a chip shot at him had he continued on, but when he was 35 yards from me, the doe caught my wind. Well, she snorted and took off at a dead run. The buck was just turning to go when I raised my bow, drew and shot. Although I didn’t see the arrow hit, the shot felt good.” Wendell found the big nine pointer laying dead just 150 yards away.

“There’s no doubt that poor marksmanship is the number-one reason most hunters fail to bring home a buck,” Wendell stated. “And that goes for gun hunters as well as bowhunters. It’s hard to believe, but people will neglect to fire their weapons until the day before season. If it hits somewhere close to where they’re pointing, they figure that’s good enough.”

The “Feeling”
There’s another negative associated with being an instant hunter. Simply put, you’re not going to have that unexplainable “feel” that’s so important in this sport. As I’ve learned after many years of first-hand dealings with it, this “feel” often is all you have to go on when doing things like selecting stand sites or rating the potential of a given area. Many times, I’ve placed a stand in a certain spot or had confidence in an area simply because it “felt”right. By the way, you can’t pass this “feel”on to others. You acquire it purely from spending time in the outdoors.

Personally, I spend an enormous amount of time in the woods throughout the entire year. Even at that, though, I still spend the first couple weeks of the season trying to get into the flow of things. I can’t imagine how someone who spends virtually no time in the woods must feel.

Make The Most Of Your Time

Most bowhunters are afforded only a limited amount of time to hunt each year. Just about all of the bowhunters from my neck of the woods fall into this category.

Amazingly, as precious as this time has got to be, darn few bowhunters I know use it the way they should. These individuals spend a few hours hunting in the morning and a couple of hours hunting in the evening. That’s it! What’s even more unbelievable is that they don’t spend the hours in between doing anything to increas their chances for some big buck success. They don’t study topo maps, they don’t scout and they don’t talk to other bowhunters.

If your hunting time is limited, doesn’t it make sense that you should spend as much of that time as possible in the woods? I realize that your chances of arrowing a buck during the mid-day hours aren’t as good as they are early in the morning or late in the afternoon. But that doesn’t mean you should never hunt at this time of day.

Also, if you’re spending the middle part of the day sitting in front of the T.V. or taking a nap, then you’re doing nothing to improve your chances on future hunts. As I stated earlier in this article, achieving an enviable level of big buck success means paying some hefty dues. None of the highly successful bowhunters I know got where they are by watching T.V. or taking naps. Like me, these individuals are constantly scouting and striving to learn more about their quarry.

Develop The Proper Attitude

Finally, one of the biggest reasons that a lot of bowhunters fail in their efforts is because they go into the woods with the wrong attitude. Killing a big buck has somehow become more important to them than the quality of the hunt. Granted, we’re all out there for the same reason, However, some bowhunters want so desperately to kill a big buck so badly that when the opportunity finally presents itself, they blow it.

The key to lifting this burden from your shoulders is to remember that it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t connect. Even the best deer hunters suffer through seasons when they don’t tag an animal.

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