With the crazy fall hunting grind behind us, it’s time to begin laying the groundwork for future success.
Bowhunting gear is fairly delicate and requires maintenance, most of which we put off until about July. That sets the stage for the annual summer scramble to get everything in order by opening day. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The best time to ensure your gear is ready for next fall is actually during the immediate post season, when it’s already in front of you and you can inspect everything in a methodical fashion. We bowhunters talk a lot about shed hunting and post-season scouting this time of year but really, taking inventory of items in your kit that need fixing before next fall is just as important.
Minor gear problems, like a twisted peep, can cause aggravation and missed opportunities at filling tags. Major problems, like rusty treestand bolts, can kill you. It’s best to spot that stuff now, and nip it in the bud. Here’s a good task list to get started.
Pull Your Stands. There’s nothing fun about pulling a lock-on stand from a hot location after the season is finished (see it hanging above, just off the food plot near center?). In a way, it’s like being 7 years old and watching the Christmas Tree come down on New Year’s Day. But treestand falls are the number-one source of injury and death among deer hunters, and plenty of those falls happen because of rusty bolts, worn cables, and sun-bleached ratchet straps. Your stands and steps will last longer in dry storage, too. Protect your investment and your safety both.Empty Your Pockets. When deer season closes, I like to empty the pockets of my backpack and take stock of what’s there. I might even wash the thing, if I’m feeling ambitious. Some items I’ll just return because I know I’ll need them next fall—that can of Vienna sausages and my extra release aid, for example—but things like my ThermaCell and handheld pruning shears get transferred to my turkey vest for the upcoming spring.Stockpile “Ammo.” One time I took a trip to Texas in the late season and came home with a cooler full of venison, wild pork, and wild turkey gobbler. That is, after all, why you go to Texas. Once I got home, I should have taken stock of the various broken and bloodied arrow shafts and broadheads in my bow case, but I was too busy grilling and frying meat, and generally reveling in my success. It so happened, I was finished with bow season after that trip, and moved on to other things.
But as a new season neared—see the summer scramble referenced above—I realized I was both low on arrow shafts and replacement blades for my favorite broadheads. Just about every serious bowhunter shoots a finished arrow custom-fit to their setup—and buying replacements isn’t as easy as a late-night trip to Wal-Mart. Stock up now on extra shafts, plus components, like inserts (or outserts), broadhead blades, nocks, vanes, and glue. You’ll be glad you did when supplies run low in the fall.Stop The Stretch. Bowstrings are better than they’ve ever been, and once the string is “stretched in” on your new bow (after 50 or so arrows), you can expect a couple good seasons out of it, especially if you keep it waxed and served. Still, strings and cables all eventually stretch and as they do, all kinds of stuff on your bow gets thrown out of whack. Everything from peep sight alignment to the timing of a drop-away rest to your bow’s cam lean and timing (depending on the design) can be affected. If you begin to notice that your peep is twisting, or your groups—especially with broadheads—aren’t what they were, it might be time for a pro shop to look things over, retune with a few twists, or order new strings and cables.
Clean With Air. A can of compressed air or, even better, an air gun attachment for the compressor in your shop, is about the best thing going for cleaning the nooks and crannies of hunting equipment. The eyecups and focusing dials on your optics—especially binoculars and spotting scopes—are pits for attracting fine particles that can scratch good glass. So too are the ball bearings in release aid triggers, the trigger assemblies in crossbows, tiny springs in drop-away rests, and even the bushings between cams, axles, and bow limbs. Unlike a can of WD40 or gun solvent—which can do more harm than good on archery gear—you can’t spray your equipment too much with good, clean air. Make it a practice.Store Your Cameras With Care. For me, the mark of a good trail camera is one that’ll last for a few seasons without much hassle. But none of them last long without preventive maintenance. Leave a camera out all year, and there’s of course a good chance it won’t work next fall. But don’t just pull your cameras and throw them into storage, either. Remove the batteries and SD cards, and take a moment to clean the internal parts (again, compressed air is great). A granule of dirt dauber nest or a rusty battery connection are all it takes to put a camera out of commission.Get Your Boots Off. Good footwear is one of the most-overlooked pieces of gear a bowhunter has, particularly if you’re hunting western big game in mountainous terrain. Leather hunting boots and neoprene knee boots alike usually fail at the seams, especially where soles join to uppers. Personally, mine tend to blow out on the heels, but other buddies suffer from holes in the toes or lopsided wear to the tread. How your boots wear depends on your stride. You can prolong the life of leather boots with periodic conditioning. I use a rag to rub in mink oil or beeswax. While you’re at it, check the laces and seams. Wader patch repair kits do a pretty good job at fixing minor holes and leaks on leather boots and neoprene boots alike.Calibrate Crossbow Scopes. Yeah, your crossbow scope has a reticle marked to 100 yards—but have you ever actually fired a bolt from that distance? And do you know if the speed on your scope’s magnification dial matches how fast your bow actually shoots?
Most crossbow scopes are Second Focal Plane, meaning the reticle size doesn’t change as you zoom the scope in—but the gaps between the holdover points do because the sight picture gets larger or smaller. That’s why the magnification rings on crossbow scopes aren’t labeled 2x-5x, but 275 fps-375 fps (hypothetically). If you don’t know your crossbow’s speed with the exact arrow and broadhead combination you’re using, and haven’t paired it with your own rangefinder, your holdover points might not match what the reticle says. That probably won’t make much difference at 30 yards, but it can cause a miss at longer range.
If you really want to take advantage of your crossbow’s capabilities, you need to chronograph it and spend plenty of time on the range, tweaking the magnification dial until the scope’s holdover points match your rangefinder readings exactly.
Right now, in the off season, there’s plenty of time.