In September leaves begin to change color, game birds and animals become more active and the Minnesota woods become home away from home for 70,000 archers in pursuit of whitetail deer.
How many of that number are in the woods on Sept. 13, opening day, is hard to estimate, but early-season archers can get some of the best action of the year. For just as fish that haven't seen a lure in three months are ready to bite on opening day, deer that haven't seen or smelled hunters in nine months go about their daily routines in a much more predictable manner then a few weeks later, when hunters hit the woods and put deer on alert. This is especially true of bucks. Spook 'em once and forget about seeing them until the rut puts them on the move again.
By now bowhunters should be sighted in, have scouted their prospective hunting areas, learned deer patterns and honed their shooting skills so they can make a clean, efficient shot. For some the season ends on opening weekend. Why wait any longer if you're got a monster buck patterned? Others don't go afield until later in the season, when it's colder and the leaves are mostly down and the rut begins.
Capt. Jeff Thielen, DNR enforcement education coordinator, said prospects are good for area bowhunters.
"Stories about big bucks and fields full of deer have been coming in from all over," Thielen said. "Finding them shouldn't take too much time, but getting close enough for a shot with a bow is a different story. Whitetails are, after all, our premier big game animal."
Most bowhunters hunt to be close to nature, for the challenge and for relaxation, according to a recent national survey conducted by Responsive Management, a Virginia-based polling firm that specializes in natural resource issues. Taking a trophy animal was the least important reason for hunting. The survey also found that bowhunters go afield an average of 19 days per year and that 94 percent hunt with a compound bow.
Bowhunters should take only responsible shots at deer. For most that means 20 yards or less at deer that are broadside or quartering away. Learn your maximum effective shooting range. From what distance can you consistently place an arrow in a 6-inch diameter circle?
Whenever you climb a tree use a safety strap. Wear it in your stand, too. "Risks are greater for bowhunters who hunt from elevated positions," Thielen says. "But no archer is risk free."
It's also a good idea to get in shape before the season. You don't have to be able to run a marathon, but you should be able to walk a long distance at a fast clip without losing your breath.
"We've learned that some injuries are a result of fatigue," Thielen says. "Hunters should take time in the off season to keep their bodies prepared for the rigors of hunting. Hunting can be an extremely physical activity, especially if you are in rugged terrain or dragging a 125-pound deer. Trying to get in shape immediately before the hunting season just won't work."
Thielen adds that hunters should review their plans from the moment they leave home until they return.
"Injuries happen because we're human and forests are constantly changing environments," he said. "But most injuries are avoidable if a hunter learns to recognize risks and takes actions to reduce or eliminate them."
Always let someone know where you're hunting and when you're expected home. Consider packing a cellular telephone. Carry a whistle to signal in case you become immobile. A compass and matches or lighter are also important survival gear. Use a haul line to lift your bow and backpack to your tree stand. Climbing with either places you at unnecessary risk. Always carry broadheads in a protective quiver.
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