Shoot Your Bow: Best Summer Practice

bow shootingStanding in the backyard and burning arrow after arrow into foams target is a good way to get your shooting muscles toned and your release and follow-through down. But now is the time to raise your game and shoot from an elevated platform like you’ll do when deer season rolls around in 6 weeks or so.

Why You Should Practice High

When you shoot on the ground, you stand fence-post straight, plant your feet in a baseball hitter’s stance, stare across at your target, draw with ease and let an arrow fly. Pretty simple.

In a tree stand, you have to stand up on a small platform; turn your body; and your footing is trickier. Leaning left, right, back or out, you draw, bend at the waist and aim down. Your draw elbow might brush the tree at your back…or you must cant your bow to keep it from catching a limb. Not so simple.

Also, it’s harder and takes more effort to pull a 60- to 70-pound bow in an 18-foot-high stand, especially one with a small foot platform, than it is on solid ground. Cold weather and several layers of hunting clothes compound the extra effort you need to pull the string smoothly.

Finally, when you stare across the flat yard at a 3-D buck you see deep, flat vitals, and it’s easy to pin a sight pin there. But when you’re 17 feet or so high, you see less of a deer’s broadside; the higher you go the thinner and more hidden an animal’s vitals appear, until you’re almost looking straight down on its spine. Now where in the heck do you aim?

For all these reasons get high for the final weeks of your bow practice.

How to Get High

Got an elevated deck or maybe a second-floor porch? If so, shoot off it at 3-D targets and blocks scattered in your yard below. In late summer I shoot practice arrows off my deck. It’s only 10 feet high—not high enough, but better than nothing.

I’ve got a buddy that practices from a small porch off his master bedroom. It is 30 feet up, an extreme height, but he’s into it. “I figure if I can center-punch targets from that high up, I can shoot all right at a buck from a 17-foot stand,” Bill told me. He’s right.

By the way, Bill’s got three bows and a bunch of arrow quivers hanging on a rack on his bedroom wall. His wife doesn’t mind. The shortest of those bows is hers!

A more realistic if time-consuming way to elevate your practice is to hang a stand in a tree behind your house, climb up and shoot at targets below. A bit of a hassle yes, but the best practice. Commit to it now and I guarantee you’ll be a better deer shot this fall.

Hang the exact same fixed or climbing stand for practice that you’ll use in the woods. The more you get used to climbing into the stand, figuring out your footwork and shooting out of it with a harness on, the better (and safer) you’ll hunt.

Depending on whether you like to bowhunt at 16, 18 or 22 feet, set your practice perch 16, 18 or 22 feet high. When you practice and hunt from the same height with the same sight picture, it becomes easier to estimate the range to both foam bucks and live ones; in either case, use your range finder to confirm. Also, your practice will tell you precisely how your arrows with broadheads fly and strike—probably a tad higher than when you shot on the ground, so find out now.

Scatter three or four deer targets around, under and even behind your practice stand. Set them 10 to 40 yards away, in brush, partly behind trees, broadside, quartering-away, quartering slightly to…you get the picture, change it up. Simulate shots you’re apt to get in the woods. Vary the distances and angles of your 3-Ds every week so you’ll cover all the bases with your practice.

Climb into your stand, attach your safety harness and rope up your bow. Sit down and “hunt.” Visualize an 8-pointer coming in. Stand slowly, turn, draw and release an arrow smoothly. The more foam deer you stick like that, the better you’ll shoot on flesh-and-blood bucks in a couple of months, guaranteed. 

2019 Summer Scouting: Giant Drop-Tine On Trail Cam!

va 2019 drop

“Some men are obsessed with good guns, fine wine and beautiful women. I am consumed with shooting a drop-tine buck.”

I wrote that on January 1, 2008, the day I launched this Big Deer Blog. To this day I am still enamored with antler tines that grow down rather than up.

Imagine the excitement yesterday, July 21, when I opened the Spartan Camera app on my iPhone and this giant popped up! First time we’d seen him this summer.

Exciting. While we get images every summer of solid bucks on the farms I hunt in Virginia, this one is exceptional.

Even more exciting is that this buck’s rack will grow a bit more over the next 3 weeks. By mid-August most of the antler growth for the year is done.

I got to thinking, a couple of years ago we got one picture of a big drop tine on the same ridge where this buck was photographed. Just one picture all summer and fall. My theory was that the 2017 drop (below) summered part of the time on our farm, but then shifted over 500 yards to the neighbor’s property and spend the fall and winter there. We never saw that buck again.

va drop 2017

Until yesterday! I went back and compared the 2 images—same buck! He never showed up during the summer of 2018, but now he’s back!

Will the buck shift and leave our area again? Unfortunately, there’s a good chance he will, but… Several biologists I work with say that as some bucks get older, they roam less and their core areas shrink, so maybe, just maybe he’ll stay on our side of the fence this year.

Finger crossed, I’ll keep the Go Cams rolling and keep ya posted.



Big Deer: James Pope’s 204 0/8” Kansas Buck

Ks James Pope 2

Hey Mike: This is James Pope from Lumberton, Texas. On November 10, 2018 I killed the deer of a lifetime on a small farm in southeast Kansas. I’m reaching out to you because I believe you have hunted with the same outfitter, Keaton Kelso. He spoke highly of you and how much he enjoyed having you in camp.

I’ve had my deer officially scored and it was been accepted into the Lifetime Awards of B&C with a net non-typical score of 204 0/8!–Thanks, James

James, thanks for the sharing the pictures of your Kansas giant, and for the nice words. That is one incredible archery buck my friend.

Seeing James’ 2018 monster pop up in my email last evening was timely.

Earlier in the day I had been working on a “Top 10 Rut Tactics” script for a new episode of BIG DEER TV and I wrote:

In any given year November 6 through 13, any of those days, is the sweet spot for big bucks in most parts of the country…start planning your hunting vacation for 2019.

Take a look at the Pope buck again, what are you waiting for!

rut calendar


8 Best Spots for Trail Cameras

spartan setOne August day Iowa hunter Jay Gregory glassed a giant buck in one of his soybean fields. He snuck into a thick marsh a half-mile from where he spotted the deer and set up some trail cameras. Over the next 7 weeks he got 5 photos of the buck–not a lot, but enough. The image time-stamped 9:00 a.m. on October 24 was gold–it showed the hard-antlered monster at the waterhole in broad daylight. Jay moved in with a tree stand and arrowed the beast a few days later—it gross-scored 198.

After spotting a big buck in an ag field or food plot, sneak in and set a couple of cameras on well-used trails near the closest river, creek or marsh. As summer deepens, mature deer spend a lot of time hanging out near water in low-lying areas. If you get lucky and set your cams in the right spot, you can find out where a giant is bedding. Then plan your ambush on a trail between the bed and the feed.

va spartan 2Another great spot for cams in the early season: small clearings in the timber 50 to 100 yards off a crop field or clover plot where deer feed on September evenings. Mature bucks often hang up in these staging areas in late afternoon before moving out to a field at or after dark. Find a staging area and set a cam on a fresh trail, or near an oak tree where acorns are falling. If you photograph a good buck, slip into the staging area, hang a stand and try to shoot him if the wind and access in the area let you do it.

In the book Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting Wisconsin bowhunter and QDMA member Todd Reabe reveals where he gets amazing daytime photos of monster bucks. And day images are what you want, because that shows when and where you might arrow a whopper when he’s on his feet in shooting light. Todd stays away from field edges and instead aims his cameras into pockets and strips of security cover. “Small funnels and bottlenecks of thick cover between feeding and bedding areas are the best spots for my cams,” he says. Look for these secret cam hotspots on aerial photos and then go in and ground scout.

Dr. Mickey Hellickson, one of the top whitetail biologists in America, has taken camera surveys for more than 10 years on his Iowa hunting property with the sole intent of finding terrains and covers where mature bucks routinely travel. “The spot where we’ve gotten the most mature buck photos is where 2 or more drainages or fingers of timber come together,” he says. Mick notes that these funnels may be large or small, but one constant is that “there is thick security cover nearby.” Hang cameras near these bottlenecks and you will find big deer. Then cross-reference the photos with aerial maps, consider fresh sign on the ground and hang tree stands for ambushes.

Hellickson’s surveys have revealed a second great place to set your cameras, especially later in the fall when the leaves blow down and the days get colder. “Our photos show mature bucks regularly use small blocks of timber with evergreen trees because the conifers provide increased security cover late in the year,” he says. Copses or wind rows of pines or cedars also break the wind and provide a warmer climate for deer on cold, north-wind days. Beginning in late November, set a couple of cameras in these habitats and be ready to move in with a stand when a bomber buck shows up.

spartan buck scrapeAnother top deer biologist, Dr. Grant Woods from Missouri, has analyzed hundreds of thousands of cam photos taken in all imaginable types of habitat from September through January. He says the best place to get buck shots bar none is at scrapes during the rut. Look for big, active scrapes deep in the timber and “monitor them throughout the rut, not just for two weeks during the peak,” he says. He explains that different bucks of all age classes show up at different scrapes at different times of the season—some come early in the pre-rut, some at peak, others don’t show until the post-rut phase. “Monitor the best scrapes for four to six weeks and you’ll see almost every buck big and small in the area,” says Woods. “You’ll get images of the local bucks on your land, and many of the transient bucks that work through too.”

Midwestern bowhunter and TV personality Terry Drury loves to hang cameras near “fence jumps.” “It might be a low, drooping spot in a wire fence, a hole in a ditch below a fence, an open gap gate, or a spot where a tree has fallen across a fence and knocked it down,” he says. “Any point where deer funnel to and cross a fence every day.” Second only to scrapes in the rut, fence crossings are where Terry captures some of his best buck images every season. “Whether you have 2, 6 or 20 fences crisscrossing your property, bucks are going to cross them in funnel spots all season long,” he says. “If you watch those spots enough with cameras you’re going to find some big deer.”

Minnesota hunter Ron Bice often hides a camera in cover where he thinks or knows a good buck is bedding. “In dense cover deep in the timber, deer get up and move around a lot in daylight hours to browse or just stretch,” he says. “You never know what kind of buck you’ll catch in there.” It’s risky business because you have to sneak in there at least twice—once to set a camera and again to check the memory card–but it can pay off. “Get a picture of a big deer in his bedroom, and you’ve got a huge advantage,” notes Bice. “You get an idea where that buck is moving out of cover at dusk, and where he’s heading back at first light the next morning.” Then hang a tree stand along a nearby trail or funnel for a high-odds ambush.

Should You Shoot Straight Down At A Deer?

bow shot downMike: At one of my best bow stands, deer often walk in and stop right below my stand, 17 feet straight down and less than 10 feet from the tree. I have passed those shots but maybe I should be taking them, shooting down through the front shoulders of the deer and below the neck. What do you think? Hard to pass such close shots, but I’m not sure of the angle.—Doug from Michigan

I was in a stand in one day last September, thinking about Doug’s question. A trail ran directly under the stand I was in and 5 feet from the toe of the tree. Five does walked under me that evening, and I envisioned trying to kill one. All I could see was bony spine, and one narrow lung on either side.

Not a good bowshot in my opinion, and I would not recommend it.

BUT, when a deer you want to shoot walks straight under your stand, don’t just sit there–draw when you can and wait. Many times the deer will keep walking 5, 10 or 20 yards, stop and turn slightly right or left, going broadside or quartering away and exposing the lungs. There’s your shot. Just remember, when the shot is quartering away, move your sight pin back on the deer’s ribs to drive the arrow forward through the boiler room.