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By: Robert Janis
Photos By: ATV Source

The Hunt -- Going After Whitetail Deer

Have you looked at the calendar lately? Itís fall. Therefore, true outdoorsmen know that when the leaves on the trees begin to turn color, it is hunting season.

No doubt many of you who visit ATVSource.com are advent hunters. You have years of experience and look forward to this time of year like football fans look forward to the kick off of the National Football League season. You donít need anyone to tell you how to hunt.

However, no doubt, there are a lot of you who have never gone hunting before and would like to. This article is for you. Be prepared to learn how to select the best gun or bow to use to bag your deer. Youíll learn how to shoot a bow, how to track in the snow, and where on the animal itís best to target a deer.

There are many hunting sites you can find on the internet that provide you with all sorts of answers to questions you may have on hunting whitetail deer or any other big or small game. A lot of the information in this story was found at websites, particularly Bowhunting Whitetails.com. Just do a Google search for ďDeer HuntingĒ and you should find a lot of good sources.

Preparing for the Hunt

Obviously, the first thing you need to do is prepare. Thatís right. As for anything in life, you have to make plans before you take the plunge so that when you do take the plunge, it is a lot more fun.
There are six weapons you can use when chasing after whitetail deer. Thatís right. You are not just limited to a rifle. You can use a crossbow (in many states), a shotgun with slugs, a muzzleloader, a handgun, and a bow also. Bow hunters are the true masters of the art of hunting. At least, they would like to make the novice believe so.

As far as weapons that fire a projectile other than an arrow, there are the following options.

Rifles are a commonly-used weapon and there is not just one rifle which can be used. Like many other items involved in hunting, there are choices. Some of the major selections to consider are a light end rifle, which includes a .243 Winchester, 6 mm Remington, .250 Savage, .257 Roberts, .260 Remington, or a 30-30 Winchester; a medium end rifle, which includes a .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, 7x57 Mauser, 7 mm-08 Remington, or a .284 Winchester; a heavy end rifle, which includes a .308 Winchester, a 30-06 Springfield, or a 7 mm Remington Magnum.

Even pistols can be considered like the light weight .357 Magnum; the medium weight .41 Magnum or .44 Remington Magnum; or the heavy end .454 Casull. Muzzleloading rifles to consider are the light-end .45 Caliber; the medium .50 Caliber; or the heavy-end 54 Caliber. Finally, there are shotguns like the light-end 20 gauge; the medium 12 gauge; and the heavy-end 10 gauge.

Experts say that good selections for hunting deer include the .44 Remington Magnum pistol, the .50 caliber muzzleloader, and the 12 gauge shotgun.

While selecting the proper rifle, pistol, or shotgun to use, seek the advice of the salesperson that is assisting you.

Selections of bows will also fall into a light end, medium and heavy end. The light-end choice is the 40 pound bow; the medium choices are the 45, 50, or 55 pound bow; and the heavy end is the 60 pound bow. Experts say that the 50-pound compound bow is a good choice to bag deer.

Because bow hunters are so particular about their skill, it is not unreasonable to realize that there are hundreds of different bows from which you can choose ;  and that holds true for the bow accessories, too. For example, there are carbon shaft arrows to laser bow sights. Many types are what experts call ďpassing fadsĒ and many are based on cutting edge technology.

Moreover, your skill and comfort level are very important to the process of selecting the right bow to use. So, the process is a subjective thing, not objective. However, the experts have some ideas.

First, you donít have to buy the most expensive bow and accessories on the shelf. Yet,  just like with any hobby, you arenít going to buy the cheapest equipment either. The best thing to do is get an idea of what to look for by talking to bow hunters you know and respect. If you donít know anyone, then go on- line and find a bow hunting site like http://www.whitetails.com and ask for advice.

Before you go to the store to buy that bow, you need to do some personal evaluation. In order to select the proper bow, you need to know your eye dominance, your length of draw, and the draw weight that is most comfortable for you.

First, there are bow models that are designed for left-handers and bows designed for right- hand people. It is your eye dominance, not your pitching hand that determines which configuration to select. Just as you are left-handed or right- handed, you are left eye or right eye dominant. Usually, say the experts, hand and eye dominance match. If you are left-hander, you are probably left eye dominate, etc. However, to be certain, you should perform a little test. Point at a distant object with both eyes open. Then close your left eye. If your finger still appears to be pointing at the object, you have a dominant right eye. If your finger appears to shift to the side when you close your left eye, then you have a dominant left eye. Test your findings by pointing at a distant object with both eyes open and then close the right eye. As when you were looking at the object with your left eye was open, if your finger appears to be pointing at the object, you have a dominant left eye.

Now, if your eye and hand dominance is left, choose a left-handed bow. If your eye and hand dominance is split, then eye dominance dominates. Choose a bow that matches your eye dominance. Left-handed bow for left eye dominance; right-handed bow for right eye dominance.

Next, you need to determine the proper draw length of the bow. This is the distance between the bowstring and the grip when you hold the bow at full draw. The length of your arms and the width of your shoulders usually determine this measurement. Regardless of what that is, you will need help to make the measurement. Put an arrow onto the bowstring and draw the bow. Then have the measurer or assistant mark the arrow directly above the pressure point of the handle. The spot should be even with the arrow-rest hole in the sight window. Once determined, add 1-3/4-inches to that figure to determine your draw length for a compound bow. Simply put, if the measurement is 28-inches, then you add 1-3/4-inches and come out with 29-3/4-inches. This is your draw length.

Next, you need to be concerned with the draw weight of the bow. This is the maximum amount of weight necessary to draw the bow. This will help you select a bow that you can easily draw. However, it also is important in preventing injuries. You could experience severe, chronic shoulder and elbow injuries, including tendonitis and bursitis by working a bow with a too-heavy draw weight over a period of years. So take the time to test out the bows you are considering for selection. Experts say that there is no exact formula to determine draw weight. It varies in accordance to your body strength and build. However, generally, you should be able to draw your bow easily. If you have to hold the bow over your head to obtain leverage to draw it, then the draw weight is too heavy. You should be able to hold the sights of the bow on the target and draw the string straight back without straining or shaking. When determining the draw weight, keep in mind that drawing a bow becomes more difficult as you get more fatigued, or if you are cold. Experts say that if you strain to draw the bow in practice, then you probably canít draw it at all when in a difficult hunting environment. Choose a bow with a draw weight you can easily handle under any circumstances.

After you have selected a bow, you need to select the proper arrows to use with that bow. Experts suggest that you consult with the person who sold you the bow to determine the proper arrows.

Now you have your bow and arrows. But you just canít say now you are ready to bag yourself a deer. You need to go out and practice with the bow first to assure that you have the proper skills and mechanics.
Experts say that to have a consistent technique and mechanics, you need to be relaxed. However, you need to also be concerned with injury. Working a bow over a period of years can lead to the injuries as mentioned above. It is suggested that before you take the first draw of the bow, do some exercises like arm circles, shoulder shrugs, isometrics, and stretching to warm up your arm, shoulder,  and back muscles.

As far as mechanics are concerned, there are four things to focus on--stance, hand placement, the draw, and the release.

When using your bow, start with your feet spread apart at shoulder width and situate yourself 90 degrees to the target. Then take a half-step back with the front foot and pivot slightly toward the target. This will produce a mildly open stance. Your weight should be evenly distributed on both feet,  and you should stand up straight with your head positioned directly over the center of your body. Keep this stance as you raise the bow to shoot. Donít lean forward or backward when you pull the bow and donít cock your head to the side to line up your sight.

That said you donít need it to be set in stone as far as your stance is concerned. Many things can be happening prior to shooting your bow in real hunting conditions that makes it difficult, if not downright impossible, to keep your stance perfectly as described. The key is to be in a position that supports good upper body stability. If you have to kneel, then put both knees firmly on the ground instead of kneeling on one knee while extending the other. Use your practice time to use different postures to determine which are most stable.

You can determine your best hand placement on the bow by shooting arrows through paper at the target range during practice sessions. Changing hand placement between shots will change the angle the arrow hits the paper and that affects the size of the arrow groups. You want to achieve tight groups so to assure consistent accuracy, place your hand on the bow identically for every shot. You want the hand placement to be a low-wrist position. To achieve this, hold your hand out at armís length as if pointing at a distant object. Your hand is not held vertically but is tilted to the side. Keep your hand in this tilted position and place the bow handle into your hand. You should feel pressure of the bow handle on the meaty part of your thumb. Try not to palm the bow. This will create two pressure points--the thumb and the heel of the hand. With your hand in that relaxed position, your little finger will not hang in front of the bow handle, but will fall to the side.
As you draw the bow, your hand should stay totally relaxed; and the fingers should hang loosely throughout the shot.

The hand that draws the bow, the string hand, should remain in a naturally-rotated position throughout the shot. To achieve this you may want to consider using a wrist-strap or finger held release. With a wrist strap release you should feel a pull only on the strap. Your fingers should remain loose throughout the shot. With a finger-held release, your wrist should stay straight and relaxed.

If you release with your fingers, start by grasping the string at the first joints of your first three fingers with the index finger above the arrow nock and the other two fingers below the nock. Rotate your string hand into a natural position. As you draw, the middle finger should hold most of the weight; and the other two fingers should float on the string.

To draw, hold to a solid stance and place your hands correctly on the bow and string. Hold the bow at arms length and roughly aim at the target; then begin to draw. Pull with the muscles of your back. Your wrist, forearm, and biceps should remain relaxed even at full draw. Maintain your stance as you draw. When you reach the point when the compound bow reaches its lowest draw weight, anchor solidly and aim at the target. When you anchor, you are planting your index finger solidly on the surface of your body. Some archers like to anchor with the big knuckle of the index finger pressed behind the jaw. Others like to anchor with the back of the hand pressed against the jaw. The most important thing about anchoring, though, is to be consistent with the method you use and anchor solidly and identically with every shot.

Finger-release shooters use one of two anchoring methods--anchor fairly high with the tip of the index finger planted solidly in the corner of the mouth or use a lower anchor point with the string hand under the chin and press the big knuckle of the thumb behind the chin bone.

When you release, it should be done in complete relaxation. As the arrow leaves the bow, your hands and arms should hold the same position and the bow should move very little. Lower the bow once the arrow strikes the target.

If the bow jerks violently down or to the side while practicing, then you are too tense somewhere in your form. Open or close your stance and work on your bow hand, bow arm, and string hand to eliminate the tension.

When practicing your technique, shoot with your eyes closed and focus on relaxing, remove the sight from your bow and shoot at a blank target with no aiming spot, and shoot at long distances--about 60 to 80 yards to build good follow through. Donít drop your bow arm until the arrow hits.

During your practice sessions,  also take the time to shoot slowly, shoot fast, shoot in bad weather, and shoot in all positions. When you practice in a field, shoot at tree stumps, dirt clods, and grass clumps. You can also practice shooting at 3-D targets, at trail shoots, and at 3-D tournaments. You will be shooting at animal targets, not dots.

Of course, just as it is important to practice using the bow, it is just as important to practice using a rifle, pistol, muzzleloader, or shotgun. Take some proper shells into the woods and shoot at targets or attend a gun club and practice your shooting at a range.

Hunting gear you need to acquire include boots, outerwear, tree stand, deer call, a flash or spot light, and a game cleaning kit.

Again, when selecting gear seek the advice of the salesperson that is assisting you.

The Hunt

Know your adversary, in this case, the deer. One important thing to keep in mind is the fact that deer are nocturnal. That means that they can see at night. That means that they are more active at night. With that said, it should also be noted that deer do not experience perfect sight on a very dark night. A deer spends more time looking for food rather than eating it on a very dark night. However, on a clear night lit by a full moon, a deer spends more time eating food than looking for it. Moreover, deer tend to be less active on days after a clear night because they have fed well during the night and their stomachs are full. So they are inclined to stay near where they bed until sundown. At sundown the deer will venture out to look for or eat food.

Deer venture out to feed or look for food during the last minutes of daylight and return to their bedding area in the first minutes of daylight. With this in mind, the best hunting time is from 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.

Weather also affects a deerís movements. It is said that when it is raining or snowing heavily, deer commonly stay in their bedding area. After a heavy rain, however, the deer will start moving because the rain dripping from trees and brush make a noise that disturbs them and prompts them to move. They will also move if the heavy rain or snow occurred during their feeding time. So when the storm ends, they are out looking for food. The wind also unsettles deer and incites them to move.

Finally, deer mate for about a month. In most areas, that occurs in November. Deer are very active in the middle of the day during this period called the rut.

Placement of the shot is a very important element in bagging the deer. The placement areas are called the broadside, quartering away, quartering toward, head on, rear end, and elevated stand.

For those using a firearm or bow, the best shot placement is the chest area and the front shoulder. Additional favorable areas to aim for when using a firearm are the head, neck, or center of the chest.
Choosing a time to hunt when there is snow on the ground can prove ideal for stalking a deer. The deerís mating season is the best time to track, and the best time is about dawn. That gives you an entire day to find fresh prints to follow and lead you to your goal.

It is easiest to pick up the prints in a 1 to 2-inch blanket of snow that has just stopped falling. Old tracks are covered, so there is no confusion and fresh tracks will stick out. The best territory for tracking in the snow is open woods. There is cover among in which you can hide, but you can still see a pretty good distance too. Surprisingly enough, flat terrain is not recommended and neither are areas of dense cover. The deer can see you in flat terrain; and if the deer can hear you, heís warned and can take flight in dense cover. Another interesting tip is that tracking can prove more successful in areas of low deer activity but a good buck to doe ratio. There will be a number of tracks in densely populated areas of deer, and tracking can become confusing.

The prints that have sharp edges with packed snow on the bottom are the fresh tracks. Prints that crumble along the edges with the bottom glazed with ice are probably older tracks.

Try to find the feeding or bedding areas of the deer and seek tracks along the edges of these areas.

If you have tracked deer before, you realize that you need to be patient. It may take quite awhile before you stumble on the deer that is making the tracks you are following. If you do not come across a deer after a full day of tracking, come back the next day and pick up the trail where you left off.

Finally, if you intend to stalk a deer, then you need to be prepared for a long day. Bring a backpack stuffed with a down vest, a first-aid kit, rope, toilet paper, headlamp light, map and compass, whistle, hand warmers, candle, waterproof matches, folding saw, knife, candy bars, sandwich, water, and extra wool socks.
So there you have it. Relax and be patient and most of all, have a great time.


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