It’s as old as time itself. The bow and arrow continue to be a tool to harvest animals year after year. Our equipment may have been upgraded for power and speed, but the objective remains the same—keep your scent trail downwind of your prey’s highly sensitive nose, produce enough power to penetrate the hide of that animal for a quick and clean kill, and, when necessary, track it to recover the animal. Pretty basic stuff, right? But what about the before process? I’m talking about the time leading up to the beginning of the season when you should be checking your equipment, scouting your hunting grounds and perfecting your form.

Crack Open That Case

I hear so many stories of people who finish up their whitetail season and simply put their bow away in its case for the year until a month before the next season kicks off. Then, it’s a mad scramble to replace parts and re-establish a proper form. In the midst of it all, they venture out into the field with less-than-acceptable equipment and wonder why that buck they eyed at 17 yards is bounding away unscathed. What we do to prepare is just as important, maybe even more important, than being out in the field. When you draw back and anchor, is your confidence going to be at 100% because you’ve put your time in? Are you even going to be able to draw back at all?If you don’t put time into field scouting, you’ve lost before you even step foot out the door.

If you’ve read some of my other articles, you probably know what I’m about to say! It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about dove, duck, deer, turkey or hogs. If you don’t put time into field scouting, you’ve lost before you even step foot out the door on opening morning. Just because you “know” there’s deer in the area doesn’t mean you know where they’re traveling to or from or even why. Locate those game trails or use cameras (where allowed by law) to figure out the highest activity periods in the area. Then, set your stands and blinds accordingly. Never set up directly on the trail. Provide yourself enough of a vantage point to observe a large portion of the trail and the surrounding area. Brush your ground blinds in, don’t just assume a camouflaged fabric dome is going to fool that old bruiser. Check your tree stands for stability. Replace any worn or broken straps, and clear your shooting lanes. There’s no reason why all of this can’t be performed at least a month before the season kicks off. And it keeps your scent out of the woods as well.

Never set up directly on the trail. Provide yourself enough of a vantage point to observe a large portion of the trail and the surrounding area. Brush your ground blinds in, don’t just assume a camouflaged fabric dome is going to fool that old bruiser. Check your tree stands for stability. Replace any worn or broken straps, and clear your shooting lanes. There’s no reason why all of this can’t be performed at least a month before the season kicks off. And it keeps your scent out of the woods as well.

Choosing Your Instrument

If you are new to bow hunting or if you realize that your current bow is not as durable as you’d like, it might be time to purchase yourself a new bow. Purchasing a bow may seem like a simple task, but the amount of options to consider can be overwhelming. All that said, the two main types of bows that hunters use are compound and recurve bows.

For a bow that is both accurate and simple to use, the compound bow is a great choice. If you want to step up your game, the recurve bow is your best bet. Typically, whenever I make large purchases, I look at product reviews and product blogs for information. An extremely useful and informative source is Outside Pursuits – a product review website that caters to outdoor and hunting enthusiasts. Check out their product review blog to help narrow down your options.

Pinpoint Accuracy

How many times have you visited the archery range this off-season?

We spend hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars on our archery equipment so that it can perform at its absolute best. And when the time comes to perform, that arrow is going to fly exactly where you put it. Or, so you think. If we’re not continually working to improve ourselves and properly maintaining our equipment, we can’t really expect to be in top archer shape when the moment presents itself. How many times have you visited the archery range this off-season? When was the last time you replaced those frayed bowstrings? Is your setup properly tuned? I like to drop my bow off at my local shop and let them tune everything every off-season. Is it overkill to do it every year? Maybe. But the peace of mind it provides to me is priceless.

Archery Range

From there, I start at the bottom and work my way up. Even though it comes from the shop already paper-tuned, I put it to paper myself just to make sure it’s flight is exactly the way I like it. Next, I check and recheck all of my pins and make any necessary adjustments for my field points. In the terrain I hunt, I’ll never see a shot longer than 40 yards, but you might be pushing 60 or 70 yards. So work at those distances.  Make them a priority for those just-in-case moments. When adjusting your sight and pins, it’s very important to remember that you “follow the arrow.” If you’re hitting high and to the left, adjust your sight high and to the left. Again, this method is only for adjusting your pins!

Fine Tune Your Instrument

Once you have your field points dialed in, work with your broadheads. Yes, they’re going to tear up your target faster. But, the difference in flight patterns between field points and broadheads can be very large. And the difference is not just with a fixed blade. It can affect mechanicals too. Just because mechanicals are advertised to fly like field points doesn’t mean that they actually will fly like field points. The last set of mechanicals that I used were 3” too low and 2” to the left.  It was a far cry from a field point flight. When tuning for broadheads, remember that you’re adjusting your rest, not your sight. And in so doing, you’re adjusting in the opposite direction of where your broadheads are striking. If you’re hitting low and to the right, you’re going to move your rest higher and to the left. It’s always the opposite for rest adjustment. And whenever you are adjusting your arrow rest, whether left, right, up or down, less is more. It does not take a lot of adjustment to a modern arrow rest to change an arrow’s flight path considerably. Work in small increments, you’ll be amazed at how much you accomplish with very fine tuning.

…And Stay Safe

I don’t like wearing a harness! But I also know that if anything were to ever happen, it would save my life. There is no doubt in my mind.

Finally, let’s talk about safety. I know it’s an issue that gets mentioned often. However, from my own observation, I rarely see it practiced in the field. Our goal (more so than tagging that buck we’ve had our eye on the last 3 seasons) is to ultimately come home safely to our families and friends. We owe it to them to take every precaution necessary to ensure we leave our hunting area in exactly the same condition that we entered it in. I’ll be the first one to say this. I don’t like wearing a harness!  But I also know that if anything were to ever happen, it would save my life. There is no doubt about that in my mind. So, familiarize yourself with your harness and tree strap, know what to do in the event of a fall and know how to recover from it. Use a lifeline when you climb, every time. If you’re using a climbing tree stand, take the extra time to work your tree strap up the tree as you climb and never let it take on too much slack. If you’re worried about how long it will take to maneuver up the tree with how many adjustments you’ll have to make to your strap, arrive earlier to allow yourself that extra time. There really is no excuse for disregarding your own safety.

For us bowhunters, it all comes down to just a few short seconds. Those seconds may seem like minutes or even hours as you sit there waiting for that big, mature buck to clear that brush or step past that scraggly oak. The adrenaline will be full on, your muscles will quiver and your heart will beat as though you’ve run 10 miles in record time. But all the time you’ve put in at the range and into the land and the money you spent on preparing your equipment comes down to just a few ticks of the clock. You’ve done it right up to this point, so seal the deal. Let that arrow fly and take in that beautiful “SCHWACK!” as it echoes through the woods.

Developing a sustainable lifestyle and eating truly organic, “farm-to-table” food is a rising trend all across the country. Whether people are actively trying to protect the environment or be more aware of where their own food comes from, these new hunters all know that they must cultivate their skills of growing and harvesting their own food in a correct and ethical manner in order to survive. As a result, many non-hunters have turned to hunting as their source for organic meat.
The fundamentals of ethical hunting are the backbone of a sustainable lifestyle and the key to a truly organic meat source. They can be categorized as: preparation, respect, conservation and fair chase, or simply, The Hunter’s Code. For every hunter, old or new, the day will come when their loyalty to The Hunter’s Code is tested. If, and only if, the hunter passes this “test” can they then consider themselves a true and ethical hunter.

The Fundamentals of the Hunt

A prepared hunter knows which firearm to use for different types of game and always brings the necessary equipment needed to complete the harvest. They regularly practice their marksmanship to ensure a clean shot and always exercise safety when handling and maintaining their firearm or bow. A respectful hunter uses the whole animal, whenever possible, and is considerate and clean when field dressing an animal near public roads or private property. They let an opportunity pass if a fatal or safe shot cannot be made. A responsible hunter follows the laws and regulations of the area in which they are hunting, and always maintains a sense of mutual respect for other hunters and landowners.
Sustainability goes hand in hand with conservation. Hunters who abide by conservation best practices play an integral part in maintaining the health of a herd or species and ensuring their survival. Those who do not abide the laws and poach animals out of season, without a tag or on private property without permission, are violating both the law and the unspoken code of conduct that requires hunters to hold themselves to a high standard of morality when harvesting game for their freezer. Without the constant presence of onlookers and game wardens, “fair chase” often becomes a test of morality and ethics as hunters try to stay true to The Hunter’s Code.

The Ethical Option

To hunt, process and cook your own meat is no walk in the park, and not everyone will be able to stomach the process of killing or cleaning wild game, but by cutting out the middle man you can ensure that the food on your plate was obtained ethically and is truly 100 percent organic. Factory-farming is notoriously cruel. Considering the treatment of livestock, it’s no surprise that correct and ethical hunting is often considered the perfect source for organic, free-range meat.

Sustainability on a Larger Scale

From a sustainability standpoint, hunting is a much more cost-effective option as a household meat source. When compared side by side, the cost to feed a family of three for one year (in accordance with the FDA’s required amount of protein intake) with store-bought meat is more than twice as expensive as hunting and harvesting your own meat. Fishing and hunting require an initial purchase of firearms and gear, but with proper maintenance and the purchase of yearly tags, the cost is next to nothing compared to store-bought, factory-farmed meat.
Plenty of hunters will plan their hunts in advance to make them as cost effective as possible. Consider stocking up on gear during big holiday sales or try to choose a more inexpensive option of certain products, like rimfire ammunition over a more expensive bullet with more recoil. The key to sustainability is ensuring the longevity of a resource. This not only means pursuing the most cost effective route for your own means but also actively contributing to the continued existence of a species, learning lifelong skills that provide sustenance and having a heightened respect for yourself, the world you live in and the animals that thrive off of it.
Are you a “localvore” hunter who hunts because of concern about food supply? Tell us your story!

Montana hunter education instructor Randy Allen has been an instructor for 15 years, and now he always shares this story. He says, “This is something that happened to me and my son last year that I now tell my classes about as a part of my ethics section.”

This is how I was raised to treat other people when in the outdoors. It is not about what I did—I am not tooting my own horn—but it is about the reciprocation of a kind of respectful action. Let’s face it, we have all done something right at one time or another only to have the other person ignore or disregard your kind act. The mutual respect for one another is the best thing to remember.

One September afternoon, my son and I decided to ride our motorbikes.  We like to ride dirt roads to see what we can see so I usually choose an out-of-the-way place.  One such place for us was way up Lolo Creek off the highway. We had been there in the spring and summer with hardly anyone else around.  Now this was September, when it is bow, grouse and wood season, so I half-expected for other people be around.

I like to park is down an old, unused road that crosses this neat little stream and just beyond that a short distance is a landing from an old logging operation where I usually unload the bikes.  As I pulled down there, I noticed a Jeep parked along the trail, with a shotgun-toting lady and her dog walking down the road just about at the stream.  I didn’t think much of it as in my mind, person + gun + dog = heading up or down the creek to hunt grouse, and I was only going about another 100 yards or so to park.

Well, just then a truck slowly came down the road with a load of wood on.  I pulled in behind the Jeep to let him go by; he passes her and goes by me.  I start back down the road toward the lady and her dog, and when she sees me her shoulders just drop like she is bummed, thinking, “too much traffic.”  

Seeing this, I quickly deduce that she wants to hunt up this little road instead of the creek, but she has given up and turned back to her Jeep.  I pull up alongside of her as she walks back and quickly explain that I didn’t want to mess up her hunt. I told her I had intended to only go a short ways further to unload the bikes, but since she was hunting, I would back up and go park behind her.  We would then unload the bikes and go riding, but in the opposite direction.  Her surprise and happiness at this turn of events was obvious and a heartfelt se gave me a heartfelt “thank you!”  We parted and my son and I went for a ride.

A couple of times during the ride, I thought about her, wondering if she got anything and hoping she did.  When we got back to the truck, she was gone, so we rode up where she had hunted just to look around.  I hadn’t been that direction before and it was a very pretty area, perfect for grouse. 

We rode back to the truck and loaded up.  When I got in behind the wheel and looked out the windshield, I saw something under my wiper blade.  It was a tail feather from a ruffed grouse.  I thought, “All right, she did get one.”  Then I showed it to my son, and I said, “see son, this is how it should be. She appreciated what we did for her so much that this is her way of saying thank you and ‘I got one.'”  What a great day that was!

Hunter education instructor Randy Allen with his son and the grouse feather they received as a gift.

Hunter education instructor Randy Allen with his son and the grouse feather they received as a gift.

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This is a story from Montana Hunter Education instructor Bill Smith. He is a relatively new instructor, having joined in spring 2016, but brings a great deal of enthusiasm to his classroom. This is his story.

I became an apprentice Montana Hunter Education Instructor in the spring of 2016.  I’ve enjoyed observing the passion of my fellow instructors, and the enthusiasm of the students beginning their journey as hunters and conservationists.  I’m always very interested in why the students, young and old, are interested in becoming Montana hunters.  The 2015 season repeatedly exemplified how unique hunting in Montana is, and reinforced why I hunt.

Filling the Moose License

As I normally do, I applied for every species and every license Montana has to offer.  In poring over the draw odds for each species, I noticed an area near my home offered a higher success rate for moose than the area I normally put in.  In fact, the area offered nearly three times the odds of my traditional application area!  

I was tired of accumulating bonus points.  Out of frustration, and after a little research, I applied for the new area.  When the draw results came out in June,  there it was—I had drawn the moose license!

I did my homework, and travelled to the hunting area every time I had days off from work.  I was surprised how dense the forests were.  I found moose sign every trip, but never saw a moose.  I was confident, though, that my opportunity would come, so long as I continued to put forth the effort.

My brother, Dan, joined me in moose camp during the opening week.  We continued to see moose sign, and the first night we had a bull come in to the sound of me raking brush with a scapula.  We exchanged grunts back and forth.  The bull closed in to approximately 50 yards, but remained out of sight due to the dense forest.  As daylight faded on that first night, the bull walked away without ever revealing himself. 

A couple days later, Dan and I picked up my 11-year-old son, Andrew.  I can’t express how much I enjoy hunting with my son.  

The three of us continued the hunt the next day, and again found fresh moose sign.  We decided for the evening hunt we would return to the area where the bull moose had responded to me raking the brush. 

As we closed in, I spotted a moose on the hillside.  It was a smaller bull than I was hoping for, but it was a moose.  The three of us watched the bull, who was with a cow, for a considerable time.  I could tell by the look on Andrew’s face that he would love for me to take this bull.  I had to take Andrew home the next morning, and he would be in school as I continued to hunt. 

I may never be able to articulate the significance of having my son with me when I filled this tag. After seeing the excitement on his face, and hearing it in his voice, I pulled the trigger, and with one shot the moose license I had waited so long for was filled.

bob-smith-with-son-buckHunter Apprenticeship

A nasty cold was having its impact on our family, and kept me from hunting for weeks.  I did manage to get out about 10 days after the moose hunt, and filled my 2015 bear license on a big black bear.  I got out for a couple half days of bowhunting for elk, but I just didn’t have the energy to give it an honest effort.  

With the enactment of the hunter apprentice program in Montana, Andrew was able to pursue a deer of his own.  Montana sets aside two days a week before the opening of the general rifle season for youth to hunt without the added pressure of the general season hunters. Andrew and I were able to take advantage of this opportunity by camping out both days; he filled his license on a buck the morning of the second day.

I was very proud of him, as he made many competent decisions on his own that reinforced my faith that he has been listening and learning through the years, and that he is committed to being a responsible, ethical sportsman.

Surprise Buck

With the hours spent on the moose hunt, Andrew’s hunt, and work, I really had no time to scout for the upcoming rifle season for deer and elk.  I was at a loss as to where to begin when opening day rolled around.  Traditionally, Dan and I hunt a specific area opening day.  After that, where I hunt largely depends on the clues I notice about big game activity and how they are using their respective environments.  I decided this year I would just have to put forth extra effort and learn as I went.

I hunted the season opener, and then took the second day off.  I returned to work for two days, and then had scheduled days off.  Early in the season, the days are long.  I decided I would hunt 3 different areas that first day off, in an effort to cover as much ground as possible, in hope that I could figure some things out.  Two of the hunting areas were close together, which saved me some time.  It didn’t save me any effort, though, as I hiked in and out of both areas, gaining elevation just to give it up to get back to my truck and on to the next area.

When I arrived at the third hunting spot, I figured I was about 30 minutes earlier than I wanted to be.  I was exhausted, and my legs hurt from the earlier hikes.  I wanted to take a nap in my truck, but knew I’d be even less motivated for an evening hunt if I did.  After nodding off several times and some soul searching, I reluctantly left the warm truck for the final hunt of the day.

As I worked my way into the hunting area, I checked the wind and my watch several times, forming a strategy on how to pick the area apart and give myself the best chance at success.  It was still early, and I really wasn’t expecting to see much yet. 

About a mile in, I saw a buck standing at the end of an old skid trail.  The buck’s body was partially hidden by a small pine tree.  He was standing broadside to me, motionless.  I’m still not sure what he was doing.  I glassed what I could see of his antlers, and noticed his main beams extended past his nose.  I noticed he had good mass, and at least average tine length.  Because of this, I thought he was a big 4 point and was intent on passing him up.  I watched him for at least 10 minutes.  Finally, he turned his head away from me briefly, and I saw what I couldn’t see before; he had 3 points coming off the main beam, which would make him a 5 point. This buck had an inside spread of 20 inches and good mass at the bases.bob-smith-buck

The decision to shoot was easy.  Walking up to the buck afterwards, I noticed he was a 5 point with extra points off both bases, and a small extra point between his left G2 and G3.  This buck had all kinds of character.  I actually had cellphone coverage, and quickly texted my brother a photo.  I also texted my wife, my mom, and a couple of friends.  After that, I walked out to get my game cart, then went back in to get the buck.  Somehow, this fourth hike of the day was easier than the other three!

Respect for the Hunt

I don’t use social media accounts, but gave my wife the go ahead to post a photo of the buck on hers.  We did receive one response from a friend who respectfully expressed opposition to hunting.  I truly respect her courage to do so, and her views.  Still, I wish people could see the respect hunters have for the game they pursue, and the amount of time and effort that goes into a hunt.  I wish they could experience the long hours after the shot getting the animal out and processed for the freezer.  Somehow, I think a good number of us hunters would earn a fair amount of respect if our opposition could see what they don’t see.

This year was special in a number of ways, and reinforced the passion I have for big game hunting and the respect I have for the many big game animals that call Montana home.  My wife, kids, family and friends all supported me and made sacrifices so that I could enjoy another memorable hunting season.  Once again, I am truly grateful.

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