| Come the cooler days of October, it’s impossible for rabid outdoorsmen to stay inside doing such pointless things as work or chores. The “call of the wild” is just as loud in our ears as it was in Jack London’s day, and even though few of us will ever wander the remote wilds of Alaska and Canada, we can find plenty to do right here, just minutes from home.
To be truthful, if you like deer hunting, now is the time to be out there. Maine’s archery deer season is open all month under the general law, which means you can wander the woods with your trusty recurve, longbow or compound bow and see if you can get within 40 yards of a winter’s supply of venison.
I’ve been slinging arrows at deer since the mid-1960s, when my best (and only) bow was a Ben Pearson Cougar recurve that had a pull of 35 pounds barely legal in most states now and pretty much scoffed at by today’s archers who consider bows that pull 60 pounds and more as the minimum. Trends are trends, I guess, but I had no idea that my little Pearson bow was not enough for deer, nor did the dozen or so whitetails I took with it over the years! I was deadly out to about 20 yards, so I kept my shots close and didn’t take any chances, but even at that low pull weight, I don’t recall one instance in which the arrow didn’t pass completely through the deer. I used basic Bear broadheads (similar in design to the Native Americans’ chipped flint arrowheads) and had no trouble finding my game after the shot.
Those days are long gone, of course, and few bowyers make bows with such puny pull weights. It’s all about 50 pounds and up now, which is fine the deer won’t know the difference.
What truly matters in archery deer hunting is getting close and putting the arrow where it needs to go. This means lots of practice, and that should start well before the season opens. Most experienced archers never really stop shooting, but they really crank it up around August and September. Bowhunting is not a perfect science by any means, and most archers who’ll admit it will tell you that they often have days when they can’t seem to hit a phone booth from the inside! Some days are better than others, but as you practice you trim down the margin of error till, by opening day, you can chunk one arrow after another into a 6-inch circle at 20 yards. If not, keep shooting!
If your shooting skills are up to par (and you shouldn’t go out the door if they are not!), then the only other ingredient you’ll need is patience. If you hunt for deer in Maine in October the odds are that you are going to see a deer in range eventually, and what you do when the animal is finally “right there” will determine how much meat you get to bring home.
Even though archers may hunt in full camouflage (no orange) deer can still see them. Unusual shapes and movement can still send a whitetail flying through the woods, so full camo is no guarantee of success. What the archer must do is stay alert, be ready when a deer shows up and know when to move, when to draw and when to shoot and it’s not easy when a big buck is coming along closing the distance at every step.
Not only must the bowhunter not move, he must wait for a clean, open shot. If you are hunting from a stand (tree stand, ground blind or the like), you can take some time to trim away low limbs and branches, creating ideal shooting lanes that will allow you to aim and shoot without impedance. But, if you’re still-hunting or stalking, you have to wait for a clear shot no other projectile known to hunters is as sensitive to obstructions as an arrow. A leaf, a twig or even a spider’s web can alter the trajectory of an arrow in flight, enough to completely miss a 200-pound deer at 20 yards! (I know because I’ve done it!) There can be nothing but air between you and your target or Murphy’s Law will immediately take effect.
Today’s compound bows are great for situations in which you have to wait a few seconds for the deer to clear an obstacle. Most such bows have 50 percent or more let-off, which means you can hold a 60-pound-pull bow at full draw at only 30 pounds of effort. You can’t hold on forever, of course, but long enough to make a difference.
Recurve hunters have a real problem. Not only do they have to wait for a clear shot before they raise their bow, they also have to come to full draw without the animal seeing them. This is where the challenge of bowhunting really comes into play. You may have done everything else right but, at 10 yards and no cover, the deer sees you draw your bow and just skips away usually forever! The only way to counter this action is to practice holding at full draw for as long as possible and then shooting when the wiggles and wobbles begin to become too much. Each practice session, I try holding at full draw till my eyes start to pop out and then make the shot. On a good day I can hold on for about 30 seconds, which normally is long enough for a deer to come into range, stop and present a shot. I have had deer escape because they took 40 seconds to get where I wanted them, but that’s deer hunting!
These cool, clear days of October are the perfect time to be in the woods. The deer are calmer and more active throughout the day, the weather is unbeatable and the odds are all in the archer’s favor after all they get first crack at the state’s deer herd, long before any gun hunters enter the woods.
Spend a few days out there now and see for yourself why bowhunting is one of the fastest-growing outdoor pursuits in the U.S.!