Bowhunting for deer has one mystique impossible to deny. Simplistically speaking, an archer needs one tree large enough for a stand in a 15-acre wood lot and patience to sit still for long vigils until a whitetail wanders past in bow range. That’s it for diving into the sport.
In contrast, varying-hare and particularly upland-bird hunters require myriad secondary-growth covers that measure 15 acres each or certainly more — lots of country for running dogs. I once lived and breathed bird-hunting with setters and a Lab in bird covers across 31 towns between Augusta and Belfast, including south to Georgetown and north to Thorndike. It took hundreds of acres to keep me going all fall, practically daily.
After bowhunters find one to three suitable 15-acre plots, they can hunt deer in October and November. If the land is in the expanded archery deer zone, folks have another month. Talk about a good deal — three months.
When choosing a spot for a stand, a few solid tips lead to success:
Bowhunters must find a well-used deer trail, but not just any tracked-up path with myriad droppings will do. Deer make signs galore in forage areas strictly after dark, including around 1) heavy mast crops; 2) abandoned, overgrown apple orchards; or 3) agricultural crops.
A trail camera or a 5-foot long sapling stuck into the ground and angled about 25 to 28 inches high across the trail tells a hunter if deer have walked there at night or during daylight.
I spent my early years as a bowhunter, sitting in tree stands set up in abandoned orchards or on oak ridges littered with acorn, and I did shoot a couple deer, but it was hit or miss.
Until I figured out a better plan.
I’d find well-used whitetail trails between forage and bedding areas, the latter often in swampy or side-hill thickets. Whitetails walk these paths in the 30 minutes between sunset and when shooting time ends, and then again at dawn between full dark and the half-hour before sunrise. Deer time their arrival or exit in the forage areas to be under the safety of darkness, knowing that predators (man, coyotes, dogs, etc.) key on these places.
My absolute favorite trail for deer hunting with a bow and arrow (or rifle) lies between a lowland swamp thicket and hardwood ridge with oak or beech. I prefer oak for the more steady mast crops year-in and year-out.
If a peninsula extends into the swamp from the upland, so much the better. Deer often move onto the peninsula earlier than onto higher ground.
My tree stand or ground blind lies within shooting distance of the trail and downwind to prevailing breezes, usually from the northwest or west winds during fair weather, and from southeast, east or northeast during inclement times. Approaching storms produce south winds.
A tree stand needs high trees behind it with foliage, so a hunter can blend into the skyline. A leafless tree for a stand with no conifers or deciduous cover behind it makes a hunter stick out against the sky.
On my trip to the tree stand or ground blind, I personally dislike — no, I hate — to walk across a deer trail, which leaves my scent there. Wearing rubber-bottomed boots, hip boots, gloves and hat surely help contain human odor, but no attire works perfectly to eliminate human smell. Walking hunters spill scent as they move through woodlands.
Cover scents make sense to an extent, but as old woodsmen often say, a skunk with French perfume smells like a skunk with French perfume.
Soft clothing such as fleece, chamois, wool and so forth enable hunters to move silently. When hunters wear stiff cloth such as nylon or cotton-duck and rub an arm against their side, brush their back against the trunk, slap limbs against them etc., it alerts deer big time.
Also, beware of coats with soft, outer materials and noisy linings that make loud sounds as hunters move limbs. A woolen coat with a stiff nylon liner is bad news.
In the old days when teaching high school, I was on my feet all day so I loved sitting in a tree stand or canoe in the late afternoon or on weekends, but these days I sit all day writing or editing. My lethargic job makes long, stationary vigils in the outdoors feel like boring work, making me reluctant to do so. I must be exercising in my sports — say still hunting.
Those folks who don’t mind long, silent sitting without much happening have it made in my opinion. Such quiet with ample time to think pleasant thoughts must reduce blood pressure. Back in my teaching days I could leave school frazzled, sit on a deer stand for two or more hours and return home, feeling like a new man without a care in the world.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: