Editor’s Note: Phillip Vanderpool of Harrison, Arkansas, a member of Hunter's Specialties' Pro Hunt Team, has hunted deer with his bow for 30 years and has taken over 100. In October 2006, Vanderpool took his biggest buck ever, a non-typical drop-tine buck that gross scored 201-3/8-gross score on the Pope and Young scale. He took the buck in Iowa.
If you want to find a big buck, talk to the mailman, UPS drivers, school-bus drivers, or anybody else who's on the road all the time, like these folks are. These people see big deer all over the county, every day, before the season. Not only will they remember where they’ve seen big bucks, they’ll usually know who owns the property and more than likely know whether or not you can hunt there. Once I've identified where the big bucks are located, and who owns the property, I dress neatly (not in camouflage) and knock on the door. I talk to the land owner to try and get permission to hunt the land where the big buck has been seen.
Late summer, early spring, or 2 to 3 weeks after deer season are the best times to attempt to get permission to hunt land where you know there’s a big buck. The worst time to talk to the landowner about hunting his land is a week or two before deer season starts. Most of the time, another hunter already has approached that landowner before you get there. You’ll be surprised at how many times you can get permission to hunt a big buck if you simply ask the landowner. If the owner of the property says no, just thank him, and plan to come back, and visit him the next year.
If you don’t get permission the first year, help solve some of the landowner's problems. If you help him, there's a good chance he'll be willing to help you. Be polite and willing to mend a fence, bale hay or do whatever that farmer needs help doing. I’ve always learned if you start off trying to help a farmer or a landowner, he or she will be much-more likely to give you permission to hunt his land than if you simply ask permission. A landowner will be hard-pressed to allow you to work for him and help him with some nagging problems he’s got and then not let you hunt his property. The real secret is getting to know the landowners as people make friends of them. Then, even if they don’t let you hunt, they’ll speak well of you to other landowners in the area. You never lose by helping a landowner, and oftentimes you’ll gain permission to hunt property that no one else can hunt.
Always remember that if a landowner won’t let you hunt his land, he's probably had a bad experience with another hunter. Therefore, you have to prove that you’re a good person before you can prove that you’re a responsible hunter, and the landowner will feel comfortable having you hunting his property. Try to find common ground with the landowner, and talk to him about something other than getting permission to hunt his land.
On many days, I've been granted permission to hunt by three different landowners on the same day. Then there's been other days when I knock on 10 doors and only get one landowner who will give me permission to hunt. The area that you’re wanting to hunt, whether the landowner allows his family and friends to hunt that land or not, and the landowner’s experiences with other hunters all will play major roles in whether or not you get permission to hunt that land. Too, the farmer may not be able to give you permission to hunt, if he’s leasing his land to someone else. Don’t be afraid to go back next year, and ask again. More than once I’ve been given permission to hunt where declined in the past.
How to Get Ready for Bow Season:
After I pinpoint a place to hunt, where I’m sure there’s a trophy buck, I want to get ready both physically and mentally to hunt that buck before I ever go on the property. Physically, I start an exercise program, and I begin shooting my bow. If you only shoot your bow, you’re only getting ready to take the shot. You haven’t prepared your body to go where you’ll be hunting, and possibly have to drag a deer out if you’re successful. I believe that a hunter needs to prepare for deer season by getting in good physical condition, just like any other athlete does for his or her sport.
Another good way to get in shape is to start searching for deer sign. I not only look at areas where I’ve seen deer taken deer before, but I also try to go into a new region where I haven’t hunted every year. Too, I spend time driving and spotting deer at long distances with my binoculars, especially in the Midwest where I do most of my hunting. I’ll generally see the most deer around agricultural crops this time of year in the Midwest. By practicing my shooting and hunting skills, I’ll know I can make the shot and take the buck when an opportunity presents itself. As I shoot and scout, I become confident and alert, both of which are essential to successful hunting.
I usually shoot a new bow every year. I have to become accustomed to that bow, so that bow becomes a part of me, and I become a part of the bow. I practice from a tree stand as well as on the ground. I practice shooting off my back porch, and I practice sitting down. I practice for elk season as well as for deer season. During elk season, I’ll mostly be shooting off the ground, but during whitetail season I’ll usually be shooting from a tree stand. I want to practice each shot I might have to take.
When I can, I like to go to a 3D shooting range, particularly one I’ve never shot. Even if I’m not in a tournament, I just like to shoot at deer targets at unknown distances. When I step up to take the shot at the target, I mentally estimate the range, take the shot, see where my arrow hits, and then check the distance I am from the target with a range finder. This way I can check my own ability to judge unknown distances in the woods.
You don’t ever want to practice on a range where you always know the distance you are from the target. Many times in the woods, even using a range finder, an elk or a whitetail may show up at a distance that you haven’t used a range finder to determine. Practicing your range finding skills and then checking out how well you’ve guessed is a vitally-important element for getting ready for deer season. The old adage, “You play like you practice” applies to bow hunting for whitetail just like it does to baseball, football, and basketball.