Learning The Hard Way
Published: October 13th, 2021
By: Eric Davis

Learning the hard way

When I stop and think about how far I’ve come since the first year I deer hunted, I find myself cringing at some of the things I did, while laughing about most of it.

I only deer hunted with a firearm for about 5 years before I took my bowhunter education course and took up archery hunting as well. Whenever I talk to someone who is new to deer hunting either with a bow or a gun, I try to use my hard learned lessons to help them cut the learning curve down.

Without a doubt, the biggest thing I wished I had learned sooner was to sit still. I thought I was fine fidgeting my feet or swatting at bugs buzzing around my head. My approach was that if a deer was close enough to see that, I should be able to shoot them with my firearm. That might have worked for firearm hunting, but archery hunting is another beast.

Now I use a hand muff, just like the ones you see NFL quarterbacks use, to keep my hands warm and hidden (I use a thumb-activated bow release, so I don’t wear gloves in the stand). When you think you hear something coming, do not snap your head around to try to see it. That quick flash of movement is exactly what a deer is looking out for. So, try to look for whatever it is by only moving your eyes. If that doesn’t work, then slowly turn your head. The same can be said for turkey hunting. Cell phones can be a good and a bad thing. Staring at your phone will keep you from moving as much but it also may allow you to not notice a deer walking by until it’s too late.

Another thing that can be troubling is missing when you shoot. As much as hunters don’t like to admit, everyone misses at some point. The issue isn’t the miss, it’s what it does to your mental state. That tiny sliver of doubt that starts to grow every time you replay it in your head. The key is to own your miss. While it is easy to blame it on an outside factor, such as wind, a hidden branch, or even the deer, you are still the one who decided to shoot at that moment.

You need to have a soccer forward or basketball shooter’s mentality. Your last shot doesn’t matter because you are going to make your next shot. The first year I archery hunted, I missed four different deer. That includes two deer at the same distance from the same treestand only a day apart! My sight got bumped during travel (easy excuse), but it was my fault for not checking it over before going to my stand.

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It took another year and another miss before I shot my first deer with a bow. Even last year I missed an easy shot because I rushed with my rangefinder and aimed with the wrong pin. However, the next morning I put a perfect shot on a doe at 25 yards and watched her go down after making it about 40 yards after the shot. So remember, your next shot is the only one that matters, and you are going to make it.

The third thing that sticks out is having the right equipment. This doesn’t mean strictly what bow, arrows, or broadheads you use. Having the right clothing to stay dry and warm will make you stay in the stand longer, making you more likely to see deer.

The same goes for footwear. I used to wear the heaviest socks with the warmest boots. Every morning around 8:30 my feet would be cold because they had gotten so sweaty, and the sweat was starting to evaporate. It takes some trial and error but once you figure it out, you will know exactly what to wear for different weather conditions. Other equipment to have includes your after-the-shot gear.

Gutting gloves, a sharp knife, and a drag rope will make field dressing and getting your harvest back to the truck easier. Having a pack with a drink and a snack can also extend the amount of time you spend in the stand.