September always turns my thoughts to deer and bow hunting. Archery season is already open in some places and about to open in many others. No matter where you hunt though, game time is imminent. 

With these thoughts in mind, I’d like to point out some common mistakes that lead to unfilled archery tags and empty freezers. While some seem obvious, I hear every year of hunters making these mistakes — and the heartache that they cause. Hopefully, this will help you avoid some and be more successful this season.

The first is so obvious, but many people fail to make sure that their archery gear and shooting form are up to par. I know several bowhunters who work on their property and scout year-round, only to head into the field with poorly maintained equipment or a bow that is shooting “good enough to hit a deer.” This is self-defeating and can be easily avoided with a little planning and practice. Think about it, what good is it to have the perfect stand setup if you can’t close the deal by making a vital shot.

Another common mistake is stand placement and setup. Many hunters put tree stands at the wrong height or shot distance, thereby making it much more difficult to get a shot or to hit the animal when a shot is presented. 

Not too close

Stand height is a subject of much debate, but a rule of thumb is to set a stand only as high as necessary to be above the animals’ line of sight and in good cover. Fifteen to 20 feet is my preferred height. Any higher begins to leads to steep shot angles and therefore, reduced vitals exposure. Also, the steep angle causes high entry holes, which generally lead to poorer blood trails.  

The ideal distance is 20 yards from where the animal will be standing at the shot. Beginning bowhunters have a tendency to set up too close or too far.  Setting up too close — under 15 yards — has a tendency to lead to high hits if you are even able to draw. At such close range, clothing noise and/or movement during the draw often leads to blown opportunities. Shooting at whitetails at distances over 30 yards leaves room for string jumping or movement by the deer, leading to poor shot placement and wounded animals.

When cutting shooting lanes, put a lot of thought into what you are doing. There is a fine line between trimming enough brush and limbs for clear arrow flight and trimming away too much cover.  Remember, you can always trim a little more, but you can’t make new growth appear quickly. A good pole saw or trimmer makes this task much easier.  Try to trim lanes that are vertically long rather than wide — since your arrow is travelling an arc — to avoid hitting limbs or alerting deer to your presence. Trim multiple lanes so that if you miss an opportunity to shoot as a deer passes through one of them, you have another chance.  

Trim your trims

A lot of hunters make the mistake of “cutting down the woods,” which alerts deer to potential danger or exposes their stand, making it hard to draw their bow unnoticed. Deer are far more perceptive than many hunters give them credit for, and mature deer quickly note any changes to their habitat. More than once, I have seen deer change their travel pattern to avoid a park-like setting caused by over-trimming of shooting lanes. Also, be sure to drag any cut limbs away from your stand.

Failure by a hunter to pay proper attention to scent control has saved the lives of many deer. Wash your clothes in scent-free detergent, and make sure to store them in an airtight container. Nothing screams, “Here sits a hunter” like household odors and human scent. If you can’t beat a deer’s nose, you’re done before you even get started.  Shower before each hunt with unscented soap, and spray down with a scent-killing product. Use carbon clothing and an ozone generator to give you every edge possible.  A whitetail’s No. 1 defense is its sense of smell, never underestimate this! Don’t hunt stands without a favorable wind or weather.  Once deer figure out you are in the area, your chances of success drop drastically.

By avoiding these mistakes, you should drastically increase your chances this season. While most of this is common knowledge, each year I hear of hunters repeating these mistakes to a bad end. Pay attention to small details, and your opportunities — and therefore, your success — will increase.