By Jackie Holbrook
Fall’s colors have disappeared beneath a blanket of white, and you’re feeling winter’s blues. The rut is over, too, but that doesn’t mean your archery equipment should vanish with it.
Bowhunters can enjoy many fun activities each winter. Let’s review some ideas to get you outside to sharpen your shooting skills and prepare for next season.
Hunting season’s end signals the start of the competitive archery season. Most archery shops host indoor leagues each winter. Leagues offer fun ways to stay in shooting shape and improve your skills. They typically last an hour, and are held weekly on weeknights or weekends.
The leagues’ relaxed environment also offers a great introduction to competitive archery. Tracking your scores helps you improve while learning from others. In fact, you might even meet your next hunting partner.
You can also try competing in tournaments. You don’t have to be a pro. Local and regional tournaments invite archers of all abilities. Tournaments are great for learning how to shoot under pressure, a skill essential to bowhunting. For more information, read “Bowhunters: Archery Tournaments Welcome You.”
Big-game hunting seasons might be over, but winter still provides hunting opportunities for small game. Squirrel hunting, for example, puts meat on the table and provides great shooting practice nearly everywhere deer are found.
Rabbits also make tasty targets. You can hunt them by slowly sneaking through brushy fencerows and other rabbit habitats. Bunnies hide by sitting still, so look closely. If you catch a glimpse, don’t stop and stare. Keep moving slowly while you draw, and shoot quickly after you stop.
Tip your arrows with small-game heads, which include judo, blunts and other high-impact points. Small-game bowhunters often shoot flu-flu arrows, whose big fletchings cause the arrow to fly short distances so they’re more easily found.
Predators offer a different kind of bowhunting thrill. Foxes, coyotes and bobcats are sharp, quick and cunning, making them fun and challenging to bowhunt. During winter, their fur is also at its prime.
Most states offer generous bag limits on predators. Calling can be effective for bowhunters because it draws them close. Check your state’s regulations to ensure electronic calls are legal. Archery shops can offer advice on gear and tactics.
It’s never too early to prepare for next year’s hunting season. Offseason work sets you up for success, and winter is a great time to scout. Know what sign to look for and how to interpret it, because some wildlife species spend winter away from their hunting season haunts.
If your state’s bowhunting season is open during the elk and/or deer rut, look for rubs, scrapes and wallows. Rubs reveal where a buck or bull raked its antlers against trees or brush, and “rubbed” off the bark. Fresh rubs look wet. Bucks make scrapes by pawing the ground and exposing soil. Mark these sites and other sign on your GPS unit or smartphone.
Animals need food, water and shelter to survive. Search for bedding areas and other cover where they hide. Also look for game trails leading to these areas. Winter is a great time to locate travel corridors because fresh snow reveals them precisely. Identifying these locations also helps you place treestands and ground blinds.
Winter isn’t a season of boredom. Get out and enjoy the fresh snow, with or without your bow.