In many parts of the country, archery deer season opens in mid-September and here in Pennsylvania, the kick off generally occurs on the first Saturday in October. Drive through any rural area in Pennsylvania this time of year and you’re likely to see stacks of hay bales or shot-up McKenzie targets gracing backyards and clotheslines sagging under the weight of freshly washed camo garments.
In the weeks leading up to the opener I become a nervous mess. At this point it’s not about scouting; it’s about making sure that your gear is in order and that you’re mentally prepared for hunting season. There’s so much to do and so much to think about.
Last minute preparation calms pre-season jitters
One Shot, One Kill
Bowhunters often put more emphasis on shooting practice than any other aspect of the hunt- and for good reason. Ethical shot placement is critical when hunting with an arrow and the way to increase the odds of success is to repeat the shot process over and over until it becomes ingrained in your muscles and mind.
While some bowhunters shoot year-round at indoor archery leagues, for most, practice often begins in June and amplifies as the season approaches. But simply winging arrows across a freshly manicured lawn in a t-shirt and Bermuda shorts is just the beginning. In the final weeks leading up to opening day, I practice in real hunting conditions, including rainy or windy days. I shoot wearing full hunting apparel including whatever headwear I plan to use throughout the season. Find out if your clothing binds movement or if cuffs or sleeves interfere with shooting from various positions. It’s a good way to identify any potential hang-ups that may affect your shooting.
Since many shots at deer are taken in the last minutes of daylight, practicing late in the evening or early in the morning affords bowhunters the opportunity to practice in low-light conditions. As the countdown to opening day wears on, I shoot from an elevated stand, wearing a backpack, leaning against a tree, or whatever scenario I can dream up.
Prepping hunting clothes before opening day is like a ritual. Washing camo clothes in non-scent soap or baking soda and hanging them outside to “air out” is standard practice (just remember to wash again periodically throughout the season- and just a suggestion- turn garments inside out to help prevent expensive camo from fading in the sun). Rubber boots are addressed for any holes or cracks from last season and repaired with Shoe Goo. My leather-top Schnee’s boots get a slow-bake treatment in the hot sun with a heavy dose of Montana Pitch Blend too. (It’s a slow natural process and the leather absorbs the conditioner much better this way than any other method I’ve tried.)
The week before opening day, I’ll empty the contents of my Tenzing 1250 pack on floor and sort through the twigs, scraps of tree bark, and a tangled assortment of gear. More than likely it’s the gear I used during last year’s rifle season and not necessarily what I’ll want to lug around in early bow season. I try to par down to the essentials and eliminate any unnecessary items from my pack. Treestands and safety harnesses get checked for any defects, rust, or frayed straps. Knives get sharpened; flashlight batteries get replaced…etc.
Most bowhunters are set up less than a mile from the truck- many are much closer, so there’s really no need to complicate the hunt with unnecessary provisions. Outside of my clothing and main hardware like my bow, arrows, Lone Wolf Alpha treestand and safety harness, here’s my short list:
- Drag rope (I like to be optimistic)
- Headlamp and high beam flashlight for blood trailing with extra batteries for both
- Wind detector powder
- Compact binoculars
- Deer call
- Belt knife
- Whistle (I always wear one around my neck when hunting from a treestand)
- Hot Hands hand warmers
- Emergency field kit containing: latex gloves, pain reliever medicine, bandages, lip balm, space blanket, and a lighter with cotton balls soaked in Vaseline– all sealed in a small plastic bag.
- Contractor-sized trash bag (for packing heart &liver, temporary shelter, ground cover, or 100 other possible uses)
Broadheads Do the Work
Think of your arrow as a delivery system for what actually does the killing- the broadhead. When it comes to broadheads the motto is “keep ‘em sharp”… scary sharp! Broadhead arrows should be tuned and shot several weeks prior to opening day. Since I shoot traditional heads, getting them sharp is all on me. I like to hone one broadhead for each evening of the week prior to opening day, taking my time and really focusing on getting each head perfect. A few drops of mineral oil in quiver’s arrow slots help to protect the heads from rust and oxidation.
A-type personalities like me can get really stressed out over these details; but, being prepared leads to peace of mind and confidence in the field. Although I may get a little obsessive in the final weeks and days leading up to bow season, it’s all worth it. Whether I shoot something or not, knowing I am prepared to hunt gives me personal satisfaction and makes me feel like a well-oiled killing machine.
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