As we start nearing mid-November, many bowhunters dread the end of many regular archery deer hunting seasons and the start of firearms deer season. Who can blame them? (Or, likely, you. You're reading this article, after all!) Bowhunting is a passion, a unique link between today's modern hunters and humanity's ancient hunting roots. Every year, when twangs give way to reports, a certain nostalgic sadness kicks in for bowhunters.
But who says you can't hunt deer with a bow during the gun season? It turns out there are a few ways to keep the fun going. Today we have tips for you to keep deer hunting with your archery gear even as the dwindling year increases the pressure. These bowhunting tips should help you put a mature buck on the ground when everyone else is toting a shotgun or rifle.
Can You Hunt Deer With a Bow During Gun Season?
Before we go any further, you need to check your local regulations. Using longbows, recurves, compound bows, and crossbows outside archery hunting season are perfectly legal in most states and provinces. But there are often additional regulations you aren't required to abide by during archery season.
For instance, most states require anyone hunting with archery gear during firearms season to wear blaze orange or another safety color. Some areas only allow the use of crossbows during the firearms season. In some states, taking your compound bow and a rifle is perfectly legal if you so desire. That way, you can hope to take that big buck first with your bow, but you have a backup in case he's not going to go into range. Some states require deer hunters to have tags specific to firearms season when hunting firearms season, even if they're only bowhunting deer. Check to make sure. It's better to be safe than sorry.
With that out of the way, let's talk tactics.
Go Into the Thick Stuff
Once the hunting pressure is on, whitetail deer act accordingly. In Michigan, the mature bucks go back into the thickest brushy cover they can find, and they'll sometimes stay there until long after the season is over. My trail cameras confirm this unfortunate truth year after year. When they get up to move, it's usually only at night.
Again, using Michigan as an example, we have a lot of lowlands and swamps in the southern portion of the state. Game animals like these areas because they hear other animals and potential predators sloshing through the water. Many humans don't even enter them, especially on public land. Identify the spots for your post-archery season tree stands or ground blinds well before the season starts, and then don't enter them until the pressure kicks in. Firearms season may be the only time of year you can get away with inserting yourself into a tight spot near a bedding area with a thick cover on all sides. You may only get one chance, so practice extreme scent control.
Also, be careful about not trimming too much in the way of shooting lanes. Bucks will notice if you clear out a 10-foot swath of limbs and will likely avoid the area. It makes shot placement more critical and a lot tougher. But being subtle here ups the odds of a shooter walking into bow range.
Using a bow in the thick stuff is advantageous since you'll not get long shots.
Don't Get Discouraged
If you're after a huge buck, it's natural to be anxious as firearms season approaches if you still don't have that target buck on the ground. Don't get too blinded by the antlers. Many bowhunters mess things up by panicking and getting too aggressive right before gun hunters arrive. You've been careful all through the rut, don't throw all that hard work away because you're worried about the neighbors.
Oddly, if you've been careful about wind direction and haven't over-hunted your area, that big boy is still around. If you've played your cards right, he should see your hunting area as a sanctuary once the neighbors start shooting at everything in sight.
Remember, big bucks don't get that large by being stupid. Stick to the game plan that you made in the early season. Is there a chance the neighbors could shoot that big buck of your dreams? Absolutely. Anything is possible, especially if the rut is still on. But there is no point in worrying about things you can't control. Stick to your game plan and keep your cool. It's your best chance for success as your hunt extends into firearms season.
Push Into an Urban Setting
If the areas you hunt are overwhelmed with gun hunters, sometimes you can do little to improve your odds of bowhunting during the firearms season. It's time to change tactics.
Urban areas can be some of the best spots to hunt when pressure is on during firearms season. I know; it sounds counter-intuitive. Wildlife is wildlife, after all-it's against our instincts as hunters to scout game closer to the hustle and bustle of human civilization. But it may not be a bad idea if you're bowhunting this late into the season.
The great thing about these spots is that most aren't open to hunting with guns. That means you may have many places all to yourself. Have you ever had a buck disappear from trail cameras only to reappear once firearms season ended? That buck likely has a sanctuary area somewhere you're not expecting. If you're on the city's outskirts, it's worth scouting closer to people. More big bucks are figuring out that the closer they move to humans, the safer they are.
Plenty of these big bucks get displaced by hunting pressure every year. If he's done it once, he will likely do it again—time to think outside the box. We recommend looking near safety zones where hunting isn't allowed. These are usually going to be urban areas. Remember to keep your broadheads sharp and remember your shot placement. Urban hunting spots are often relatively small, and you don't want your big game harvest in someone's backyard.
How to Use a Bow During Archery Season
As we've already noted, most states require blaze orange archery hunters during gun season. Even if yours does not work for some reason, we recommend wearing it anyway, for your safety and as a common courtesy to other hunters.
Speaking of safety, we don't recommend some common bow hunting tactics like using a decoy during the firearms season. The chance of someone taking a potshot at the lure is much too great. Save it for the stick and string seasons.
The arrival of firearms season doesn't have to mean the end of your fun bowhunting this year. The time of year may require a simple shift in tactics to make this season one of your most memorable. Good luck to all the bowhunters who take on the challenge of trying to obtain venison with a bow during gun season!
This article was originally published on November 11, 2019.
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