Originally Published in Rifle & Rod Magazine.
September in South Georgia brings high school football under the lights, marching band melodies floating on a fall breeze and most importantly – the opening of archery season for white-tailed deer. Every year more people join the elite group of hunters in Georgia that hunt white-tailed deer during archery season. These hunters must fend off mosquitoes, poisonous snakes and 90-degree temperatures, all for a chance at unwary deer that have yet to be educated by other hunters.
Unlike rifle hunting, bow hunting is an entirely different type of adventure. With today’s high-powered rifles, it’s not a challenging feat to drop a deer with one shot at distances of more than 200 yards. Because of the high amounts of energy behind a bullet traveling at such extreme rates of speed, a perfect shot isn’t required for a fast kill. But, with bow hunting, an almost perfect shot at an exact angle is required for a fast, clean kill. Add that with the fact that most archery hunters won’t take a shot of more than 30 yards and you’ve got an unbelievable disadvantage when it comes to trying to kill a deer with a bow versus a rifle.
But, don’t fret just yet, there’s still hope for killing a deer with a bow. Seasoned bowhunting veterans and rookies alike can learn a lot from other hunters. I’ve interviewed a few successful bow hunters from different regions of the Peach State to see what they consider the most important tips they could give other bow hunters.
Jeff Manley from The Rock, Ga. put down his rifle and has been bow hunting exclusively in 1996. Since converting to bow-only hunting, he has taken an average of three or four does a year and usually takes a mature buck once every three years. He was quick to say that he’s passed many 130- and 140-inch (antler size) 8- and 10-points for a shot at something bigger than the Pope-and-Young class buck he already has on his wall.
Jeff said the best piece of advice he could give any bow hunter was preparation. That goes for practicing every day, preparing your clothing well before the season and scouting for the best positions to hang stands.
“I start practicing almost daily in July to be prepared for bow season. With bow hunting is so important to make the perfect shot, and you’ve got to be able to do that even after holding your bow back for several minutes at a time. For that reason, I try to shoot about 50 shots a day at about 45 to 50 yards. I even practice holding my bow back for several minutes at a time before I shoot so I can get my muscles toned for having to do that in the stand,” said Jeff.
He explained that practicing at greater distances made the shots of 15 to 30 yards he hopes to take in the stand seem that much easier. He explained he almost never takes shots of more than 30 yards unless it’s a perfect angle in an open environment where there isn’t much chance of the arrow hitting a limb and going off course.
Because a white-tailed deer’s number one defense is its nose and the ability to smell danger at long distances, Jeff is also very meticulous about the clothing he wears and how it is stored.
“Before the season begins I take all of the clothes that I’m going to wear and wash them in scent-killing detergent. Then I take several Scent-Lok bags, jumbo Zip-Loc bags work just as well, and I fill them full of leaves, tree bark and plants from the environment I will be hunting. I’ve got one set of clothes I wear for swamps, one set for hardwoods and another set for pines. I want my scent to be covered as much as possible in case a deer does get a whiff of me, it might not spook as bad,” said Jeff.
Jeff doesn’t rely on covering his scent alone to stay invisible to deer, he also will only hunt an area if the wind is right. Bow hunters should always hunt with the wind in their face and the deer approaching from upwind so the hunter’s scent is traveling away from the deer. Jeff said this stand position is a perfect scenario and might not always happen, but hunter’s should strive to position their stands in areas based on the normal wind conditions and only hunt them when the time is right.
“Not only do I only hunt stands when the wind is perfect to hunt them, but I also walk out of my way to keep from spooking bedded deer with my scent before daylight. I have stands that I could easily pull a four-wheeler to the bottom and climb right up, but instead I walk almost a mile and a half from the other direction to keep from spooking deer I know are bedded close by. If I know there’s a big buck in the area and there’s so many deer bedded around that I just can’t get in without spooking them, I’ll get there two hours before daylight and climb in my stand and wait,” said Jeff.
He said he always wears a safety harness while hunting from an elevated stand, and it is extremely important when getting in the stand two hours before daylight.
“I know a lot of people have a big problem with sleeping in the stand, but I hunt from Millennium lock-on stands which are extremely comfortable and almost impossible to fall out of. There’s still the possibility, but you’ve just got to be safe as you can and wear your harness at all times,” said Jeff.
Another seasoned bow hunter, Jeff Horne, originally from Bainbridge, Ga. who now lives in Valdosta, spends a lot of time hunting public land near Bainbridge. He not only hunts public land, but he also kills a lot of deer with a bow on public land, which is a difficult task within itself.
Horne was also quick to say that preparation was one of the most important parts of hunting, especially with a bow on public land that anyone has access to hunt.
Jeff said the first thing and probably the most important thing he does is a year-round process that he can complete without ever leaving the house.
“I spend hours looking at topographical maps. Looking for particular terrain changes that give me the advantages needed for bow hunting. The vast majority of my hunting is done on public land and thankfully around Bainbridge there is more than enough for one person to hunt. This large amount of land can make it hard to narrow down spots sometime and with limited time actually afield, I have to be in the stand when I can go,” he said.
Jeff’s time in the field is maximized by focusing on key features which have been productive in the past for many different reasons.
“When looking at the maps, I look for creeks and other natural funnels for deer, but I also look for spots that are the farthest away from any road. Most people use the satellite view on Google earth (which shows actual satellite images) but I have found that the terrain layer is very useful as well. Early in the season I look for small ditches that run through big stands of planted pines. The ditches show up on the map and are a great spot to look for crab apples, which can also be found on old fence rows and firebreaks. I love to hunt big creek bottoms but during bow season I have much better luck hunt in planted pines. There is a noticeable change in the temperature from a muggy creek bottom to a breezy stand of pines. There is also usually less mosquitoes and more food for them in the pines during bow season,” said Jeff.
After finding these areas that “should” be productive for bow hunting, Jeff keys in and starts to look for actual signs that deer are in the area. Just because the area has food and is secluded from human interaction, doesn’t necessarily mean the deer are using it.
“Don’t waste your time on spots that are just “pretty.” With ample land (public) to hunt, I only hunt setups that have it all, bedding, food and water. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world so sometimes you have to pick, and then I revert back to which one has more sign,” he said.
You’ll need a comfy deer stand you can sit a long time in.
Jeff Horne also agreed with Jeff Manley on only hunting a certain area when the wind and conditions are absolutely correct so you don’t mess up your chances at a buck of a lifetime.
“The key here is to only hunt your spots when the conditions are perfect! As tempting as it is to hunt your best stand opening morning, don’t do it unless the wind is perfect. The best chance you have at killing a mature buck is the first time you hunt a stand – so it’s worth the wait until everything is perfect until you hunt those best spots. To add to this it critical that you have a way to get into the stand and out of the stand without being noticed. This is even more important with bow hunting since you’re much closer to the deer than you would be with a rifle,” he said.
Kevin Cox from Milledgeville, Ga. is an avid bow hunter as well. He also put down his gun for good in 1996 and now only hunts deer with a bow. Like both Jeffs, Kevin likes to control his scent as a main means of camouflage from the deer.
“I keep all my hunting clothes in a plastic container until I put them on when I reach my hunting area. I wash them in baking soda or other odorless detergent and I only wear rubber boots as well,” said Kevin.
He also said he would not hunt a stand if he was unable to reach it without spooking deer or if the wind wasn’t right to hunt that particular stand.
When it comes to finding where the deer are going to be, Kevin said it’s all about food within the vicinity of a bedding area. This is particulary the case with mature bucks when the weather is still very hot.
“I really key on evening hunts in the early bow season in Georgia. Most mature bucks will get up just before dark and head to their feeding area. Many times in the mornings they are back to bed before light and your chances of spooking them are much greater. With that being said, I try and find the preferred food source of the bucks in September. That is usually agricultural crops like soybeans, corn and peanuts in some parts of the state but mainly soft mass where I hunt in Central Georgia. I key on persimmons if they are available. Crab apples, muscadines and early dropping acorns also. If I had to pick one food source to hunt near, it would be persimmons by a large margin. Bucks love persimmons! Over the years, I have taken more than 10 mature bucks from stands over looking this candy. Two were 5 1/2 years old and several more that were 4 1/2. The key is finding a persimmon tree or trees that are loaded with fruit and are in or near the thickest place you can find,” said Kevin.
He said the difference between mature bucks and younger bucks and does, is that the younger deer will linger further from a bedding area.
“You can shoot deer over the persimmons on field edges, but they are likely to be does or small bucks. The big bucks don’t move far in these warm temperatures. You must find the food that is near the bedding areas and the closer the better. When I hunt mornings in the early season, I try and hunt trails from the food to the bed if there is enough distance between the two. If not, I stay out except on evening hunts when the wind is favorable.,” said Kevin.
With the help of these three bow hunting greats, you should have a lot better understanding of the dedication it takes to kill a deer with a bow. It isn’t a point and click act like rifle hunting, and it takes a lot of preparation. So, get off of the couch and put some miles on your boots so you can get that buck of a lifetime without ever picking up a gun.
Author Drew Hall with a doe he killed with his bow during the 2013 hunting season