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How to be safe and successful during early big game archery season

The Southern Zone early big game archery season is set to kick off Oct. 1, and there are still plenty of last-minute details to take care of if you’re anything like the average bow bender.

At the top of the list is shooting proficiency.

“With the technology that is put into the bows on the market today, most dedicated archers are shooting great from 25 yards on out if you put your time in,” said Jeff Pippard, with Niagara Outdoors in North Tonawanda. “However, we forget that most of our shots are 25 yards and under. Your inside range is critical for a successful hunt. Some 90 percent of all archery kills are inside that distance.”

Take that close-range philosophy a step further and get your angles down shooting from a tree stand if that’s your preference for the early season. Whatever your actual field conditions are, you should be practicing that way.

“In the archery world of big game hunting, you should be shooting out of a tree stand, shooting close and knowing your trajectory inside of 20 yards,” Pippard said.

When shooting, we’ll often hear about a rising bullet or arrow. What is actually happening is that the projectile, whatever it may be, is crossing your direct line of sight.

“Everything you shoot is fired below your eye, from about chin level,” Pippard said. "You are shooting through your line of sight. A bullet will actually cross your line of sight twice.

“With archery, you are starting about 3 inches below your eye. If you are shooting out of a pop-up blind, you may not realize that the arrow is lower, and you may hit the blind if you don’t understand what’s happening.”

Pippard is a firm believer in taking plenty of practice shots — gun or bow — to learn how your hunting implement shoots. The more you shoot, the more you will gain confidence. The more confident you are, the more likely you will make a clean, ethical shot and bring meat home for the freezer.

To give you an idea of how serious Pippard is about shooting and his trajectory concerns, he was drawn for a mule deer tag in eastern Colorado this year. After practicing with his rifle here in Western New York, he took that same rifle to Montana last summer to test fire his gun at 4,000 feet elevation, simulating his Colorado hunting conditions. He will do it again in Colorado before the hunt.

On this hunt, Pippard is going for a 200-inch mulie. These large deer are available for any hunter to take, but he said a guide in Colorado told him most hunters can’t make the shot. The average shot for a trophy mule deer is 250 to 300 yards. Pippard is confident he can make that shot now under a variety of conditions. He’s put his time in.

“Whether you are hunting with a rifle or bow, you want to dispatch that animal in one shot,” he said. “One ethical shot is not just for yourself. It’s also for the hunting industry. You are representative of a large group and that should be an important consideration.”

Most archery shots are taken inside of 25 yards and that's how you should practice. (Bill Hilts, Jr./Buffalo News)

If you hunt from a tree stand, every precaution should be taken to ensure safe passage up and down the ladder or sticks. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has recognized the need for additional education when it comes to tree stand safety, especially in the hunter safety training classes. Last year, there were only five reported incidents on a tree stand, down from 12 in 2017. However, these accidents are underreported so it’s important to stay vigilant and continue pushing tree stand safety education.

In Wisconsin, a recent study documented that 91 percent of archery hunters and 84 percent of firearms hunters use some type of an elevated stand. Of those hunting segments, only 33 percent of archery hunters used safety harnesses, the study said. Firearms hunters checked in at 23 percent. We need to be much better than that.

Follow the ABCs of tree stand safety, which include remembering to always remove and inspect your tree stand before using it again for the season. Replace the straps if there is any wear and give them a good yank before sitting in them. Buckle on your full body harness every time. Connect to the tree before heading up the stand. Don’t take any chances.

Not everyone shoots from a tree stand, but practice is still necessary. (Bill Hilts, Jr./Buffalo News)

Several companies offer a rope device that can be installed from the tree stand down to the ground. The Hunter Safety Systems company offers such a device, which its calls a Lifeline System. This rope has a positive-stop slip knot that slides up and down the rope. This allows you to attach the tether to the slip knot, offering protection from ground level until you get into the tree.  When leaving the stand, the tether is attached to the slip knot for a safe climb down to ground level.

Statistics show, the majority of tree stand accidents occur while getting into or getting out of the tree stand, as opposed to falling from the stand while hunting. Of the five reported incidents last year, three happened when climbing the stand and two occurred when exiting the stand — and no one was wearing a harness. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. Be careful out there.

On a final note, keep your cell phone handy in case you need to call someone quickly. Always let people know where you will be hunting and when you plan on being back. It’s not a bad idea to keep a knife that you can open with one hand readily available.

Remember that Oct. 1 is the deadline for applying for a Deer Management Permit at a license-issuing agent. You still have a good chance at receiving a permit even though it’s late in the game. Selections are made through a random computer lottery and your odds are the same at the beginning and the end of the selection process. Any leftover permits will be released Nov. 1.

Don’t forget about the Venison Donation Coalition if you are in a giving mood. Several deer processors in Western New York will accept the donation of a deer. Through the website, you can identify where those deer processors are located and you can turn your deer over to them at no charge to you. It will be appropriately distributed to food banks and soup kitchens around the state.

Good luck and have a successful and safe hunt.

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