For me, there is nothing quite like the days leading up to bow season. Tags are purchased, shooting form is polished and polished again, hunting clothes are washed and put away, plans are formulated, vacation days are submitted, and field points are enthusiastically replaced with broadheads. Perhaps the most alluring part of my preparation is the gathering of gear. You know what I’m talking about. All of that “stuff” that makes wrapping your hands around a set of deer antlers just a little bit easier.
However, this yearly “gear gathering” ritual isn’t without its own recurring problem. You see, regardless of how much bowhunting paraphernalia you have managed to amass, the truth is you can only take so much of it with you into the stand. And, if you’re anything like me, deciding which items stay home and which ones will accompany you on your next big journey can be a tough decision. After all, is there really such a thing as a “non-essential” item?
I use to think there wasn’t. But, like most things in life, time and experience has taught me otherwise. Consequently, I have managed to narrow my gear list down just a bit. And, while it may still appear to be lengthy, each piece of equipment has, at one time or another made the difference when it came to getting the most out of my experience chasing whitetails with a bow and arrow. Some of the items are only used during certain phases of the season. Others, I would never leave home without.
If you’re having trouble deciding which category your stuff falls under, fret no more. What follows is a no-nonsense look at the gear bag which has served me well for many years in the whitetail woods.
Whether you’re heading out to a local honey-hole in your own backyard, or a prime location 500 miles away, you’ve got to make sure that your bow survives the trip. Otherwise, its game over before the game even starts. In order to do that, you’ve got to have quality protection for your valued weapon.
The biggest dilemma I face in the terrain I typically hunt, is finding a way to safely and securely store my bow on my ATV. Bone-jarring rides over rocky terrain, errant branches, knee-high ruts, and dust filled rides are all part of the experience. A week’s worth of exposure to those conditions can wreak havoc on your equipment; especially if you simply strap your bow down with some inexpensive bungee-cords. Which, by the way, I have tried….not the outcome I had hoped for.
The Big Horn Rear Rack Bag by Moose Utility Division has plenty of room to carry and protect different types of bowhunting equipment—all in one easy to use system.
There are several companies who manufacture quality bow cases that will attach directly to an ATV. Some cases are hard, and some are semi ridged. The choice is really up to you as to which one is best. I have used both. And, while hard cases are the best for overall protection, they do take up a little more space. However, they can also be used for transporting your bow in a vehicle too; essentially allowing you to kill two birds with one stone.
When it comes to traveling by plane, protecting your equipment is an absolute must. Without question, a hard-case is the only way to go. To say your stuff is going to endure some abuse would be an understatement. I once shared camp with an industry writer who gambled with a semi-ridged bow case. When the airline finally found his luggage (a day late), we were astonished to discover that one of the carbon arrows in his quiver was snapped completely in half! Luckily his bow was still intact and functioning properly. One can only imagine what carelessness his case was exposed to.
When it comes to getting your bow up to the stand from ground level, the long running standard has always been the bow rope. Being lightweight, easy to carry, and next to nothing in overall size, bow ropes are pretty convenient. That is, until you pull one out in the middle of the pre-dawn darkness and it has more twists and turns in it than a John Grisham novel. Certainly, a knotted up bow rope is the last thing you want to face before climbing into your stand.
In order to avoid such calamities, you can always opt for one of the self-contained “retrieval-type” systems on the market. These handy devices never tangle since the bow rope (cord) is typically housed in its own convenient case. As you pull your bow up to your stand, the excess rope feeds itself back into the case; much like a carpenter’s tape measure.
Another option is to simply leave your bow-rope hanging from your stand, if it is pre-hung, and attach your bow once you reach it. Or, wrap it around the platform of your self-climbing stand so it is less likely to become tangled before using it.
While I tend to think that most areas are either “called” to death, or deer ratio’s are so far out of whack that certain types of calls aren’t very effective, I do believe there should always be room in your backpack for one or two. If I had to choose a single call it would be the “snort-wheeze”. As of late, I have gotten the most reaction out of this call when compared to a grunt tube, rattling antlers or even an estrus bleat. That’s not to say that I haven’t had success with the other calls from time to time. But, overall, the snort-wheeze seems to be enticing the most curiosity these days.
While using calls is a good strategy, consider where and when you are using them before adding this technique to your bag of tricks.
Still, when hunting in areas that have ideal buck-to-doe ratios, a good rattling bag and a grunt tube are hard to beat during the days leading up to actual breeding; as is an estrus bleat call. In addition, I often prefer the compact size of rattling bags (despite the added weight), over much larger real or synthetic antlers. Of course, the choice is really up to you.
When it comes to bowhunting, the goal is to get as close as possible to your prey. Unlike spot and stalk bowhunters, treestand hunters don’t have the luxury of mobility. Therefore, it is imperative that we hang our stands in the best locations….yeah, if it were only that easy. This is where scents can tip the odds in your favor.
On more than one occasion, I have had bucks pass by my stand that otherwise would have gone the other way, if not for some type of attractant I had applied somewhere nearby. Not only can certain types of scents be used to bring whitetails in, they can also be used to stop them in specific shooting lanes when applied properly to either the ground or neighboring vegetation. A few drops of doe estrus scent placed along a well-worn trail will almost guarantee a buck stops to investigate; giving you the perfect opportunity to draw and shoot.
Scents, such as Tink’s Power Scrape, are good for not only bringing deer in close, but they can also be used to stop deer in shooting lanes for the perfect shot.
Additionally, there are scents on the market that are aimed primarily at covering your own stench. You can never be to scent-cautious when dealing with whitetails; especially if you are targeting older-class bucks. Choices include animal-based cover scents such as fox or coon urine, food type cover scents like acorn or apple blends, or non-scented odor elimination sprays like those from Tink’s, or Scent-Away (by Hunters Specialties); just to name a few. These products can be applied to anything that accompanies you into the field, anytime of the year.
The most important thing to remember though when using animal or food based cover scents is to make sure the odor is naturally occurring in your area. In other words, if fox are not common where you hunt, then using fox urine to mask your own scent could very well alert deer that something just isn’t right. They may not actually smell you, but the end result will be the same.
See the Game
You may think that a good pair of bino’s is better suited for someone hunting vast amounts of real-estate that require hours of “glassing” before moving in for a shot, but they indeed have their place in the treestand bowhunters backpack. Not only are they ideal for getting a closer look at animals just out of range, they can be great for passing time when movement is slow.
I have found a good pair of binoculars to be very handy, even in the eastern mountains I hunt which offer limited visibility in most areas. More than once, I have spotted and examined rubs and scrapes from my stand, studied topographic features on distant ridges and mountains, and even watched a few unaware bowhunters move through the area—-all with my bino’s.
Know the Distance
Without a doubt, one of the biggest obstacles we face as bowhunters is knowing just how far away our target is. When quick, humane kills are the goal, and they always should be, knowing the exact distance to that buck standing down-range can make all the difference in the world. Even if you plan to take only short, up close shots, it is always a good idea to have a rangefinder handy.
One of the most critical aspects of making a good bow shot is knowing the distance.
There are several good models to choose from and each year companies offer smaller, lighter, and faster units; and that’s a good thing. Depending on your budget, your next rangefinder can come with just the basic features, or the most cutting edge technology. Either way, I think the one characteristic you should be most concerned with is “angle compensation”. This simply means that when the rangefinder calculates the yardage to your target, it is also compensating for the height and angle to the target as well.
Let there be Light
I think everyone carries some sort of light in their backpack so advising you to do so would be pretty lame on my part. However, I do believe the color of light you use can have a bearing on your success. While some instances call for your standard white-light, the rest of the time you should be using a red or green light because red is at the bottom of the color spectrum when it comes to colors whitetails can see. On the other hand, it has often been stated that a whitetails eyes are extremely sensitive to colors in the blue spectrum so avoid those if you can.
For most applications a standard “white” light will do more damage than good when accessing your stand site.
Not only is the color of your light significant, but the manner in which you carry it is important too. Trying to climb a treestand with a light in your hand, or even your mouth, isn’t the safest option in the world. The best way to get in and out of your stand, or climb a tree, is with both hands free. You can accomplish this by simply using a light that straps to your head or any other part of your body.
Hang in There
The very fact that I have to mention this item is disturbing. However, it amazes me the number of bowhunters who are willing to gamble with their own lives because they choose not to wear some sort of safety harness when hunting from a treestand. I‘ve tried to understand the reasoning behind the decision not to wear one, but I just can’t. Especially when you consider how much safety restraint systems have improved over the last few years.
Without question the most important piece of gear you can take with you is a quality safety harness; pictured here is the Ultra-Lite by Hunter Safety System.
Most fall systems have indeed gotten lighter and more use- friendly, which by all accounts, should eliminate any excuses for not using one. Many are even offered in the most poplar camo patterns. The vest-type models even have pockets for storing essential gear such as calls, rangefinders, etc.
I once had a brute of a whitetail come in on a string thanks to a scent trail I had laid while walking to my stand. Unfortunately, when the wise, old buck couldn’t locate the object of his affection, he began to get suspicious. Long story short—-he eventually high-tailed it out of the area and I never saw him again. What I wouldn’t have given for a decoy that cold November morning.
When used during the right time of the year, decoys can be a real game-changer.
While decoys aren’t practical in every hunting situation, when the conditions are right, they can be just what you need to add the finishing touches on a near perfect whitetail trap. Each year, decoys are getting lighter, less noisy, and easier to setup, which makes using one even more enticing.
Just be sure that whatever type of decoy you use, that you keep it as scent-free as you possibly can. When that trophy buck comes in for a closer look, his nose will be working overtime so you’ve got to make sure you cross your T’s and dot your I’s when it comes to minimizing foreign odors.
Back it Up
Sometimes I catch myself wondering what I would do if a piece of equipment failed on my bow. While I feel confident that I can get around a lot of scenarios, the one that always seems to give me fits is that which deals with my release aid. In all likelihood, if my release-aid goes down my hunt is pretty much over.
In years past, with longer axle to axle bows, you could probably get by with using your fingers if something happened to your release. Of course, sight pins would most likely need to be adjusted when switching from release to fingers in the middle of a hunt. With the tight string angles on today’s bows, shooting with fingers would be tough. Therefore, it is important to carry a spare release-aid just in case something does happen to your primary one.
Nothing could be worse than finding the perfect tree only to discover you can’t climb up it due to tree braches jutting out from the sides. That is why I make it a habit to always carry a “pruning” saw with me. On top of being useful during the season, trimming saws are almost a “necessity” during the pre-season as well.
Hanging new stands in the early spring/summer usually requires the cutting of shooting lanes as well as removing errant limbs that always seem to impede stand access. In addition, there is undoubtedly going to be that one branch that you cannot reach. That is when a telescoping trimming saw can be a Godsend.
Sure, you may not be able to take everything in the woods with you at once, but gathering gear is still one of the best parts of the bowhunting experience. And, just like the sport itself, gear choices are personal. So, take what you want and leave behind what you don’t need until eventually you develop your very own “Gear for Deer” list.