The opening day of deer season is a magical for bowhunters.  Archers sleep like children on Christmas eve with visions of reindeer-size antlers in their heads.  Deer season is less than a month away in some states and less than two months nationwide.  Opening day can be your best hunting opportunity of the year, so use these six steps to maximize the opportunity.

Start Practicing Now

Gregg Ritz used a crossbow to teach his daughter to shoot a rifle.

Archery is the most athletic of the shooting sports and you need to build muscle tone for consistent accuracy.  If you have not been shooting, begin immediately and start slow with a dozen or more shots for the first few outings.  You will probably find that your groups are larger than last fall which is due to muscle fatigue.  After about two weeks, those groups will suddenly shrink, as strength returns, and your form becomes more consistent.  Crossbow hunters should practice off-hand to develop consistent trigger pressure and upper arm strength.

Consider a Crossbow

The author took this 160+ buck with a Raven crossbow.

Hunters of all ages, men and women, are opting to hunt with a crossbow because they are legal in archery seasons in a majority of states.  Crossbows are moderately priced and easy to master such that you can be shooting proficiently in a couple of weeks without the need to tune your compound or build up your muscles for a heavy draw weight.  I have written a book that explores 14 new crossbow models for 2020 and covers additional topics about practicing, which arrows to use, broadhead benefits, and a host of other topics.  Best of all, each topic has a matching YouTube video that illustrates the point.  It’s called “Crossbow Hunting- A YouTube Quick Guide” and you can get it from Amazon for less than a McDonald’s hamburger.  For more details, click

Scout Your Area

Deer behavior is the most consistent in early season.  Deer will bed in the same area and visit the same food sources.  You need to learn these movements without tramping frequently in deer travel areas.  The new cell trail cameras are an excellent way to monitor deer movement.  Many hunters scout in August with binoculars watching food plots and agricultural fields with binoculars.  “Raking” is an old school trick in which a garden rake is used to loosen soil so that tracks are clearly visible.  It is important to locate exact field entrances so you can be ready for a close shot.

Hang or Post a Stand

This 17-foot ladder stand makes for a quick, quiet entrance and a safe effective sit.

Once you have found a pattern, put your stand up two weeks ahead of opening day.  Hang the stand and trim shooting lanes at mid-day so as not to spook game.  Allow the stand to sit outside for several days prior to hanging and post ground blinds so that the foreign scent will dissipate.  If you will be using a pop-up blind, be sure to brush it in with local vegetation and wear rubber boots and gloves when doing so.

Plan Your Approach

As difficult as it may be, not hunting your stand on opening morning may be a good strategy.  Hunting the spot in the evening may be your best bet.  Consider carefully where your deer are traveling and how you will get to that spot without spooking them.  Morning stands are usually most effective between feeding and bedding areas while stands near a food source are more successful for the evening hunt.  Follow your best scent-reduction routines, but also monitor wind direction. If your stand is optimized with a southeast wind and a front moves in with a northwest breeze, postpone the hunt for a day or two.

Execute the Plan

Whether or not you get a shot, enjoy the beauty of nature.

Allow extra time for your first hunt so that you can double check your gear.  Since you haven’t been in a stand or blind for a year, it’s easy to forget something or have to make last minute adjustments.  Make sure that you secure your safety harness immediately when hunting from a tree, use a pull-up rope, and cock your crossbow on the ground.  Range in reference objects so that you know exact distances and mentally plan the most likely shots.  Swing and draw your bow to make sure that nothing squeaks or makes noise.  With a crossbow, make sure you can swing the bow with complete limb clearance.

Finally, have fun.  You’ve waited many months for this moment so inhale the cool air and embrace the chance to be away from the crazy world you just escaped.  Hopefully, that big buck you’ve been scouting will continue its routine.  If not, take solace that you still have 100 days of hunting in your future and the peace and solitude of your post is nearly as exciting as harvesting game.