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10 Tips For Becoming A Better Bowhunter
Looking to boost your odds of bowhunting success this season? Here are 10 steps to help you do just that, no matter what the quarry!
The Roosevelt bull bugled at every sound I made, but would not leave his cows. The next morning I found him again, but he didn't respond to a single call. I trailed him for over two hours, passively waiting for a time to make a move. As the herd fed over a knoll, I used the shadows and the wind to move closer, then used aggressive cow talk to lure him–and the rest 
of the herd–within bow range. One shot and the massive bull traveled only 75 yards before collapsing.

No matter what big game animal you'll be pursuing this season, there are times to be aggressive and times to be passive. What you choose to do, and when, comes down to many factors, not the least of which is the behavior of the animals themselves. Following is a look at 10 bowhunting tips that can help fill those tags, no matter what species you're after.



Be Aggressive
There are four aggressive steps archers can turn to during the course of a hunting season, but knowing when and where to use them is critical. Factors 
like time of year, rutting periods, hunter pressure and moon phases are just some of the elements that play in to how we hunt. That said, here are four aggressive moves that have worked for me over the years.

Tip 1: Calling
Archers have the luxury of hunting many animals during the course of the rut, be it elk, pronghorns, blacktails, muleys or whitetails. The rut is a time when the males of these species are most vocal, and most aggressive. Testosterone levels peak, the need for dominance arises, and because of this, hunters can use animal communication to help get a shot.

As with all game calling, nothing is ever guaranteed. Sometimes on opening day, bulls may be bugling like mad, other times they may not make a sound. When bulls are quiet early in the year, try offering subtle bull talk and combining that with cow and calf elk sounds. This series of sounds creates the feeling of a herd, with a bull eager, but waiting in the wings for a cow to reach estrous. As the season progresses, aggressive bugles and hyper cow talk can be the ticket, simply due to the fact herd dynamics change as cows distance themselves from calves, go into heat, and the rut increases in intensity.

For deer, grunts and doe bleats can be effective during the late fall or early winter rut. While blacktails and whitetails will travel a good distance in response to a call, hunters will likely have to get closer to a muley's home turf to pull him within bow range.

Pronghorn bucks can also be called in during the height of their doe chasing. Personally, these calls have proven most effective when used with a decoy, and have made a difference in pulling bucks away from their harem.

Tip 2: Rattling
Rattling late season deer is one of the most effective ways of getting them within bow range. In thick cover blacktail habitat, try setting up, rattling for one to two minutes, then sitting still, bow ready, for five minutes. Repeat the process for 30-45 minutes, and if nothing is seen, move into the next location and try again. I've had bucks come running in before even completing the first sequence. I've also stayed in an area for more than two hours, bringing in four different bucks. Let the situation and the setting dictate how long you rattle.

For whitetails inhabiting brush-choked habitat out West, there are some excellent late season hunting opportunities, and rattling can be key. As with blacktails, aggressive rattling can yield results. If you know bucks are in the area, but aren't coming in, move 15-20 yards between the short rattling sequences, to create the illusion that you're two bucks fighting and on the move. It might be just the trick to luring in a call-shy buck.

Muleys can also be rattled in. Though I've not personally taken a muley by rattling them, I've talked with a good number of hunters who have, and they all shared a common theme: get as close to the buck as possible before starting to rattle. It seems a big muley buck is reluctant to travel far if he hears a fight in progress, and the closer one can get, preferably amid some brush for cover, the greater the odds of pulling him in.

Rattling for elk can also be very effect in the September bowhunting season. If calls don't seem to be pulling in a bull, try raking a shed antler, even an old tree limb, on some brush or against another tree. Kick and stomp on the ground, to create the sounds of a true fight, and a bull might just come charging in.

Tip 3: Decoys
Big game decoys are becoming more popular among western archers, and for good reason; they work. When combined with calling and rattling during the rut, decoys can be the key in getting a wise male of the species to commit.
Having been on several pronghorn hunts during the rut, the action here when using a decoy can be nothing short of an adrenaline rush. I've seen bucks come on a dead sprint from over 500 yards, only to stop mere feet from the decoy. Other times they may skirt around the decoy, check it out, then waltz in for closer inspection. Pronghorns rely on their eyes for survival, and the use of a decoy during the September rut is a good choice.

Elk hunters can also benefit from decoys. A cow decoy, be it a side profile or one that's facing away, may be all it takes to bring that bull a little closer for a high percentage shot. Often a bull will hangup, looking for the source of the bull and/or cow calls that brought him this far. A decoy placed beyond the hunter's position can work well in making an approaching bull walk by the hunter to check things out.

Deer hunters are also using 3D targets with amazing success on late season blacktails and whitetails. Again, placed beyond where you anticipate approaching bucks to come in from, so they have to pass by your tree stand or ground blind to check it out, can produce surprising success. Decoys also help focus the attention of approaching animals, allowing you to safely reach full-draw.

Tip 4: Spot-&-Stalk
For an archer, it's hard to beat the thrills and satisfaction of stealthing to within range of an animal, then closing the deal with one, well-placed shot. Last season, though it took four blown attempts, I finally got into shooting position on a 29" wide muley, and connected at 17 yards. Previous stalks had put me within three and six yards of two other bucks, but they were bedded tight against a cut bank, and all I could see was antlers.

For early season muley hunters, targeting bedded bucks looking to escape the beating sun is a good option. Locate bucks early, watch where they bed, and use the wind to work into position for a shot. The same is true for early blacktail and whitetail deer. Targeting all three deer in a feeding area can also pay off, and if the terrain allows, stalking to within range in this habitat can be done, just be watchful of too many eyes which might detect you.

Elk and pronghorn are also quite stalkable. For elk, play the wind and use timbered shadows to work within range. If you break a branch while stalking, give a slight blow on a calf call to calm an alerted bull. For speedgoats, use broken terrain to get within shooting distance.

Be Passive
Not always are aggressive moves the best option. Sometimes, being too aggressive can spook an animal out of the area. In such cases, perhaps taking a more passive approach is key. Here are three passive tactics worth considering.

Tip 5: Treestands
More hunters are turning to treestands out West, and with good success. Once you've done the homework and found the bedding and feeding areas of big game, and the trails they utilize to travel between the two, you're on the way to being an effective treestand hunter.

Positioning of the stand is critical, and it's a good idea to have at least two stands in place in one area, so you can enter at least one without having to worry about the wind giving you away. If the wind is blowing from you toward where the animals are, hunting from tree stands will be a futile effort. Be sure to position stands so you can enter them without fear of the wind giving you away.

Treestands work any time of year, and once you start hunting from them, it's amazing how much game you'll actually see, if properly positioned. In addition to working well over trails, tree stands are also effective over water holes, near feeding zones and with decoys set below. They are also good to rattle from when it comes to brush-country blacktails, whitetails and elk.

Tip 6: Ground Blinds
Open-country pronghorns. Early season elk and deer. Rutting deer. All three can be hunted with high success from ground blinds. The key in each, however, is strategic positioning of the blind. There must be a reason to place the blind where you want it, be it near water, food or a trail site.

While a pronghorn blind can be erected and hunted from that day, it may take deer and elk a while to get used to the blind. This means erecting a blind a week or two before you plan on hunting from it, is wise. For these species, brushing in the blind, that is, placing brush around the bottom, top and edges, helps breakup the outline and can set animals at ease. And as with any bowhunting approach, play the wind.

Tip 7: Water Holes
Early season water holes can be highly effective targets for archers to sit on. For elk, this can be both drinking sites and wallows. For deer, it may be a small pond or creek. For pronghorns, it's likely a pothole or seep in the desert.

Because hunting water holes with stick and string is a sit-and-wait game, being hidden in a ground blind, or aloft in a tree stand is almost a must. These two tools allow hunters to reach full-draw without detection. Another valuable tool for water hole hunters is a trail camera. A trail camera allows you to track exactly what time animals are coming to water, and precisely where they are drinking. Knowing this, the blind or stand can be erected, accordingly.

Bow Tips
Whether hunting aggressively or passively, there are three important tips all hunters should live by. No matter what hunting situation you find yourself in, these three points will do nothing but improve your chances of success.

8. The Wind
More than any other factor, the wind could well be the bowhunter's worst enemy, or best friend. Over the years I've had changing winds blow more opportunities at elk than I can count. At the same time, a good breeze has allowed me to stealth within 20 yards of pronghorns bedded in the wide open, and deer tucked tight against cover.

If an elk winds you, it's over, period. The same with deer. Pronghorns can be a bit more forgiving, as they rely on sight as their main sensory device. If you find yourself in a situation where the wind is unfavorable, back out. If, midway through a stalk or calling session, the wind changes, get out of there and come back another day. It makes no difference how good a stalk you have going, or how real the calls sound, if an animal approaches, then catches wind and spooks, that's just one more animal that's been educated.

9. Practice
Every season I hear stories of hunters getting shots at 10, 12 or more deer a season. It's great that the shot opportunities come, but when the season starts, plan on taking only one shot and making that count. The multiple-shot hunters are usually those who have not practiced. They set their bow down at the end of last season, and don't pick it up until a few days prior the to the new opener.

I spend a good deal of time in bow pro shops, and am amazed at the number of people who come in and purchase a bow only days before the season. Consistently shooting a bow with accuracy takes practice, year-round practice for most people. Do yourself and the animals a favor, and practice year-round, at least twice a week, and you'll be amazed at how automatic and accurate your shots become in the field. Having a rangefinder, and using it, can make a huge difference when it comes time to make the shot. The new rangefinders with built in angle range compensation, are perfect for shooting in the rugged West.

10. Know When To Shoot
The more time you spend in the woods, the more will be learned about animal behavior. No matter what your hunting style or approach, it all comes down to one shot, and if or when that shot should even be taken comes down to evaluating how the animal is behaving.

A relaxed animal, one that's unaware of your presence, makes the perfect target. An animal that's nervous and knows you're there can flinch at the shot. At the same time, a rut-crazed bull or decoying pronghorn may well see you, but their aggressive nature keeps them standing still enough for a shot.

Prior to letting any arrow fly, observe the animal and note its behavior. It's better to let off, hoping for another shot, than chancing a miss or worse yet, crippling an animal. You'll know when all comes together and it's time to take the shot, for everything will feel just right.

This hunting season, be sure to get in the practice and do your homework to learn more about the areas you plan on hunting. Be sure to devote time to more than just being on the range. Practice calling, rattling as well as shooting from blinds, tree stands, off your knees and from other positions you may find yourself in.

Make sure all gear, from bows to blinds to boots and survival gear, are all in order. For the archer, consistent success comes only with hard work, and we need to be in control of as many variables as possible in order to routinely fill those tags. Once a disciplined approach is developed, and your hunting repertoire expanded, you'll be amazed at how success rates climb.

 
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