The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 14, 2012

How times have changed in the bowhunting world

By Clint Ferguson
For The Register-Herald

— With another hunting season here, I can’t help but think back to past hunts. I remember how excited I got when I saw deer as a young teenager. The hunting industry has come a long way since then, with high tech hunting gadgets and lightning-fast compound bows.

You always remember your first deer with a bow. My first bow was a bear and I hunted with it for a couple years without harvesting a deer. After that I upgraded to a golden eagle bow and finally connected with my first whitetail during the 1994 archery season. I was hunting with my cousin Chad near the Scenic Highway when a deer walked under us. I tried to remain as calm as possible while drawing my bow back.  

Chad tends to hang his tree stands very high and this one seemed like it was 50 feet off the ground in a huge hemlock tree. The climb up was quite the experience. My knees were shaking as I slowly stood up and drew back my bow. Up until then, I hardly moved, as I was a little scared of heights and I had never been that high up in a tree stand. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever been that high off the ground while hunting since then.  

I settled the pin behind the deer’s shoulder and let the arrow fly. The arrow found its mark, although it hit just a tad bit back. We gave the animal plenty of time before we made the long climb back to the forest floor.

After an hour or so of searching we finally found my first bow kill lying in a laurel thicket. I’m glad I got to share that moment with my cousin and I’m glad he took me hunting that day. I still remember it like it was yesterday. There have been plenty of deer harvested since then, but that button buck is one I’ll never forget.

Back then bow hunting was just taking off. The compound bows were basic, but kept getting better and faster year after year. There were no range finders, no trail cameras, very few cover scents. I remember using fox and coon urine as cover scents back then.

There were no cams on the bows with 80 percent let off, and carbon arrows definitely hadn’t made their way on the market. I actually still shoot aluminum arrows. Expandable broadheads were unheard of and everyone shot fixed blade broadheads.

Targets consisted of hay bails with mining belt behind them for extra stopping power. Tree stands were very basic and I’m glad they’ve become better and safer over the years. I had some close calls in my early days of bow hunting with the first climbing tree stands to come out.

The new safety harnesses that are out now have made hunting from a tree stand safer, but there’s always a risk of falling when hunting from a tree. That’s why it’s critical to always wear a safety belt or harness when hunting from a tree stand. You buckle your seatbelt every time you get in a vehicle; it shouldn’t be any different when you’re in a tree stand 30 feet off the ground.

In recent years, I’ve found myself hunting out of the new pop-up ground blinds that have hit the market. Like my one buddy Bill says, “You can’t fall out of a ground blind.” Sometimes there just aren’t any good trees to get in and the ground blind is a good alternative. I’ve had deer literally stick their noses up to the blind and have no clue I was in there. The key is to have one side blocked off to keep it dark inside and wear black clothing.

And speaking of hunting clothes, there was no such thing as scent lock clothing when I first started deer hunting. It took a few years of getting busted by deer before I realized the importance of trying to cover your own stench. Now there’s soaps, shampoos, dryer sheets and scent killing sprays for that.

Despite all the new so-called scent killing implements, the direction the wind is blowing should determine how you set up.

I would have to say one of the biggest advancements in the deer hunting world would have to be trail cameras. Before, you had to look for rubs and scrapes to find an area a buck was working and even then you wouldn’t know exactly how big it was or if there was more than one buck. Sure, the size of the tree the rub was on could provide some clues as to how big the buck was, but you didn’t know for sure unless you spotted the animal on a scouting trip.

Now, the animal walks by and a picture is taken. There’s surveillance on the area you hunt 24/7. Deer, bear, coyote, foxes, raccoons, trespassers — whatever walks by you’ll see once the camera card is downloaded. By knowing what particular deer are using the area can help you hold off and wait for the biggest buck, as you know he’s there and even what time he’s coming in, as most trail cameras put the time and date for each picture taken.

My, how times have changed in the bowhunting world since I first started. The bow I’m currently shooting is over 10 years old and I’ve threatened to upgrade, but haven’t yet. Like I stated earlier, I’m still shooting aluminum arrows, which seems to be a rarity nowadays. I’m one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of guys.

Bow season started Sept. 29 and runs until Dec. 31. The leaves are changing and the cool, crisp fall temperatures are here. Have fun out there this deer season and good luck to all my fellow West Virginia bowhunters.