When opening day of gun season rolls around in most states, hunters flood the woods feeling like it’s Christmas Day.
For bowhunters, however, the joyful opening day of gun season often signifies the end of the good deer prospects—not just for this year’s bowhunting season, but for next year’s as well. Not only does gun season bring hundreds of thousands of hunters to the woods, crowding whitetail hunting spots for miles around and bringing about the harvest of countless deer, it also spooks the surviving deer, usually enough to get them to wise up and change their movement patterns.
Bowhunting is, on the whole, a relatively quiet and stealthy activity. While some bucks will notice bow-toting hunters and recognize them as a threat, it isn’t the same thing as the pops, cracks, and orange blaze that flood deer hunting properties on the first day of rifle season.
In other words, if a bowhunter doesn’t get a buck in the early season, before gun season starts, chances are that he or she is going home empty-handed this year. An army of gun hunters is just too big of a threat for whitetail herds, and those who aren’t killed in the transaction aren’t likely to come out to test the waters once the whole thing has subsided.
However, there are ways that a bowhunter can fight gun season, give bucks refuge for that late November period, and then come back to hunt them later, either late in the year or during the following year’s hunting season.
For this refuge concept to work, bucks and does have to have a property where they feel safe during the scourge of gun season. The easiest way to do this is to have your own property and to turn it into a bowhunting haven where gun hunters aren’t allowed to tread. However, not all of us have our own slab of acreage, so always be on the hunt for farmers or landowners who welcome bowhunters on their land, but spurn rifle hunters.
Many landowners aren’t comfortable having gun hunters on their property, but are perfectly game to invite bowhunters to thin the populations of animals who are eating their crops, bothering their animals, or otherwise disturbing their properties. If you make a connection with such a landowner, have it in the back of your mind not to hunt their property at all during rifle season. This move might take away some good hunting opportunities on opening day, but in the long run, it will help to better posit the property as a low pressure safe haven for deer.
Since most public land—and some private property—will be inundated with gun hunters from opening day to the end of gun season, deer from those properties will flee the scene in pursuit of safer pastures. If you manage to turn your property into a safe haven of sorts, deer will slowly matriculate over the course of gun season. If you have permission from the property owner, trying planting a few food plots, for next season if for nothing else.
In addition, make sure a water source is available and readily accessible. These characteristics will help your refuge deer to feel like your property is home, and will make them perfect hunting targets for you late in the year, after gun season has abated.