Editor’s Note: PSE Pro Rocky Drake of Huntsville, Alabama, has shot PSE bows for 15 years and has been a part of the PSE pro staff for 10 years. He hosted “Rocky Drake Outdoors,” a regional TV show in the Southeast, and several years ago, hosted season one of the “PSE Adventure Bowhunting” television series on the Outdoor Channel. He’s an avid deer hunter and has evolved throughout the different phases of deer hunting to become a master of the sport. Drake shoots the PSE Bow Madness. This week, he’ll tell us how to prepare for deer season before the season opens.
Planting Green Fields to Prepare for Deer Season
Question: Rocky, what do you like about the PSE Bow Madness?
I like the way it feels in my hand. It has a small grip, and it’s lightweight. The Bow Madness is a single cam bow, and it’s really fast. Most importantly, the Bow Madness is very forgiving. I need a bow that’s forgiving, because I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest archer.
Question: How are you preparing for deer season right now?
I’m thinking about deer season right now more than I’m working to prepare for it. Since Alabama’s bow deer season doesn’t start until mid-October, I won’t start thinking about the season and preparing for it until about mid-August. The weather’s too hot right now to do much of anything in the woods. I don’t even start planting my green fields until mid-September.
Question: What do you plant in your green fields?
I plant Mossy Oak BioLogic Green Patch Plus and Big Buck Blend, which I get from the Alabama Farmers Co-op store. Last year, I planted about a 2-acre cornfield, and the deer wore-out that cornfield. There was a pile of deer coming into that cornfield last season.
Question: If your cornfield was so successful, why didn’t you plant it again this year?
I’ve got an old barn on my property in Tennessee that I’ve been converting into a camp house, where my wife and I can stay during hunting season. Planting a cornfield takes a lot of time. You also need plenty of equipment for turning, disking, fertilizing and planting. I didn’t have the time this year to get it done. I’ve learned that to have a really good stand of corn, you have to rotate your crop every year. So, I plan to plant Mossy Oak BioLogic Green Patch Plus, because I can kill the weeds, plow the ground, fertilize it, sow it and culti-pack it just before a rain. I only have four food plots I plant, and I’ll plant two of those plots with Green Patch Plus and the other two with Big Buck Blend. I prefer to mix-up my green fields and use different types of plantings to give the deer a choice of what they want to eat.
The Green Patch Plus has some seeds in it that the Big Buck Blend doesn’t. These are my basic two plantings, and then I sweeten both those with a mix of Australian peas, ladino clover, chicory and turnips. After I’ve culti-packed the Green Patch Plus and the Big Buck Blend, then I watch the Weather Channel on TV. When I see a rain coming to the area where my fields are, I try to top sow these other seeds just ahead of the rain. If you don’t watch the weather and sow your chicory, ladino clover and turnips just before the rain, the birds will eat up all the seeds. I’ve found that one of the main ingredients for a productive green field is studying the weather to make sure you’ll have enough moisture in the soil to germinate the seeds once you’ve planted them. I’ve also learned to plant the chicory, turnips and clover seeds no more than 30-yards from where I’ll hang my tree stands, to create sweet spots on the edges of my green fields. When I’m in my tree stand, the deer have more incentive to feed in front of that tree stand. Planting a green field is a good idea, and the bigger the green field, the more deer you’ll attract. However, as a bowhunter, I don’t want to just attract deer to my green field. I want them to focus their feeding and activity on an area within bow range. So, if you’re a bowhunter and you plant green fields, make sure you have some of your best plantings within bow range of your tree stand.
How to Physically Get Ready for Bow Season
Question: Rocky, how do you get in physical shape for bow-deer season?
When you’re shooting a bow with a lot of draw weight, you have to start getting your muscles in shape earlier than the rest of us who pull less weight. I’m only pulling 65 pounds. Remember that I’ve been shooting a bow for more than 30 years. I haven’t hunted with a rifle since 1977. So, for me, getting in the physical and the mental shape to go bowhunting is much like riding a bicycle. Once you learn it, you rarely forget it. I don’t practice shooting a lot before the season. With bow season in Alabama starting in the middle of October, I don’t start shooting my bow until about the middle of August, which is when I get serious about my practice. I’ve learned that if I start shooting early in the summer, I get burned out and bored and start slacking off just before hunting season, but I want to be shooting the best during hunting season. Another big advantage I have is that PSE bows don’t change from one year to the next. I haven’t shot my bow since last deer season, but I can pick up that bow and take it out in the backyard, and it will shoot just like it has last season. If my bow needs tuning, I’ll take it to the pro shop and let the folks there tune it. However, I’ve been shooting the Bow Madness for a couple years, and I’m not doing anything to it. It stays in tune. All I have to do is pick up the bow. Many guys like to tinker with their bows. Tournament archers are always trying to get the maximum performance they can get out of their bows. But I want to be in the woods hunting. I don’t want to be fiddling with my bow. The past 2 years, once my bow’s tuned up, I haven’t done anything to it. When I get a piece of equipment that works, I don’t want to mess with it.
Question: When you get ready to start practice shooting, how many arrows will you shoot a day?
I don’t shoot a dozen arrows at a time. I shoot three arrows, come down, pull those arrows and then shoot with them again, until my form gets sloppy. Then I quit. I’ll probably shoot the bow about 36 times a day. When I’m not hitting the target the way I think I should, I quit. If I don’t quit when I know I’m shooting poorly, I’ll pick up bad habits.
Question: How much more time do you spend shooting, the closer you get to deer season starting?
I don’t increase the number of arrows I shoot each day, but I don’t stop shooting during the season. When deer season comes in, many deer hunters spend a lot of time hunting and only a small amount of time practicing. That’s a mistake. I continue to shoot as much during the season as I have prior to season. You need to be the most serious about practicing during the season. When you draw that PSE bow back, you don’t need to wonder if you can make the shot. You should know from practice that you can make the shot. I don’t hunt much in the mornings. I’m primarily an afternoon hunter. So I, take time in the mornings to shoot my bow, to be confident in my shot. I always shoot six to 12 arrows before I climb in my tree stand to hunt. I don’t just take my bow out of the back of my truck and climb into a tree stand. Instead I shoot my bow six to 12 times first. This procedure builds-up my confidence in my ability to make the shot when a buck presents a shot. Also, when I’m practicing, I always shoot out of a tree stand. If I’m hunting in the West, where I’ll have to shoot from a ground blind or off my knees, I’ll practice shooting out to 40 or 50 yards from a chair or on my knees.
PSE’s Rocky Drake Explains How to Scout for Deer During Bow Season
Question: Rocky, how do you scout for deer during bow season?
Trail cameras take a lot of the work out of scouting. A trail camera can show you the size of the deer on the property where you’ll be hunting. I generally put out four to six trail cameras on my hunting lands. In August, I put the cameras over salt licks and watering holes, because August in Alabama is really hot. Those deer need that salt. I want to know what bucks are on the property, because I want to hunt the oldest bucks.
Question: How many bucks will you generally try to hunt on the 1,000-acre property where you hunt?
Each year, I’ll see one or two bucks that I really want to hunt. I usually see more bucks than that, but I prefer to take only mature bucks. Last season, I didn’t even shoot a buck. But the year before, I took two young bucks. You can’t always pick out the buck you want to hunt, because when the rut starts, bucks will show up on your trail cameras that you may never have seen earlier. About 2-years ago, I took a wide racked buck that I never got any pictures of on my trail camera; he just showed-up one afternoon, and I took him.
Question: How do you hunt during the rut?
I set up my cameras in travel areas where I see a lot of deer activity coming into bottlenecks and pinch points. Once the rut begins, I’ll start spotting bucks that I don’t usually see on the property. I don’t really like hunting the rut, because the bucks are so unpredictable. I like to hunt before and after the rut. When I’ve watched deer during the rut, and 10 or 15 does are out on the green field, the buck may come out into that green field, pick up a doe, cut her out of the herd and take her to a thick cover area. Then I may not see that buck or doe again for 2 or 3 days. Or, a buck may be chasing a doe, and I can’t get him to stop long enough to take a shot at him. If you’re hunting with a rifle, the rut’s a great time to hunt. If you’re hunting with a bow, the rut’s a terrible time to hunt, in my opinion.
When to Hunt Trail Camera Bucks
Question: Rocky, once you decide on the buck you want to take, how do you hunt him?
That’s a hard question. About 2 years ago, I got a couple of photos of the biggest deer I’d ever seen on my property. I decided to try to hunt that buck, so I started hunting him in all the spots where I’d seen him on the trail camera. But he seemed to have vanished at the first of bow season. Then he showed up again on my property, just as the rut started. I saw the deer several times, but he’d either be chasing a doe or be out of bow range. This buck was such a nice size buck that when I saw pictures of him on my trail camera, I made the decision that I wouldn’t shoot him, unless he was at 30 yards or less.
One time I saw him at 35 yards, and another time I had him at 38. I hunted that buck the entire deer season, but I didn’t have a chance to take him until the last day of deer season. I finally closed the deal on that buck at 1:00 pm. A buck like that can get under your skin. On the day I took this buck, I saw him out in a hayfield in the warmest part of the day. Because I knew he’d return to his bedding area, I circled around in front of him, climbed beside a trail I knew he’d take and then waited for him to show up. The secret to taking the buck was hunting him at a time of day I’d never hunted him before and from a stand I’d never hunted from previously.
Young Bowhunters Don’t Need to Be Trophy Hunters
Question: Rocky, what tip about deer hunting will you give a young bowhunter who’s just getting started?
A young bowhunter doesn’t need to be a trophy hunter; he needs to shoot any buck he sees and wants to take. Don’t get caught up in this trophy hunting phase that seems to be prevalent today. Shoot as many does as you legally can take in the season. The only way you learn how to take deer is to take deer. Targets, even 3-D targets, don’t present the problems a young bowhunter will encounter when he attempts to take deer with a bow. You don’t have the pressure on you when you’re shooting a target in the backyard like you do when you’re trying to take a wild animal. Actually I’m under more pressure when I’m trying to take an older age class doe than when I’m trying to take an older age class buck. The older doe is smarter, more alert and can pick out a hunter in a tree faster than an older buck can.
Remember that the only difference between shooting an older doe and a trophy buck is the antlers on the buck’s head. You take the antlers off the old buck’s head, and you’ve got an older doe standing in front of you. Young bowhunters should take any deer they legally can take, and not worry about trophy bucks. Yes, I like to pick out one or two mature bucks on the property I hunt and take those bucks each year. But remember, I’ve taken several hundred deer. Just because I want to hunt this way doesn’t mean a young hunter should hunt this way. Bowhunters go through several phases of bowhunting. First, they need to take deer with their bows. Next, they need to take a number of deer with their bows. Then, they usually want to take big bucks. Next, they want to take a good number of big bucks. Finally, they want to identify one or two mature bucks each season and see if they can take those mature bucks. At this point, the hunt becomes more important than getting the deer.
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