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Nock Out® Field Journals | Off-Season Planning with The Virtue’s TJ Unger

Episode 1 Off-Season Planning

For the first installment of Nock Out® Lighted Nocks Field Journals, we join The Virtue’s TJ Unger for a quick entry on some of his off-season planning for the 2018 bow hunting season. Bow hunting tasks never stop, not even in the dead of winter. With snow on the ground, fresh deer sign, and plenty of time until the season opens, the off-season creates the perfect time to scout and plan.

While TJ scouts the property he starts his supplemental feeding program. He explains that the recent temperatures and snowfall have created a need to start a bit earlier than March, his normal supplemental feed start date. This also helps TJ in his post-season inventory efforts. Attracting deer to the feed, a perfect opportunity is present for post-season inventory. This not only confirms which deer survived the season, but which bucks are still shedding. TJ also explains that this is in an effort to keep his number one hit-list buck on the property and away from neighboring properties that receive high hunting pressure.

With this info TJ can plan when to shed hunt, but also has more intel available to reaffirm strategies like bow hunting plots. He mentions plans for a perfect early season bow hunting plot. A 5-acre waterway that feeds from a large crop field into the small 60-acre parcel.

Stay up to date with more bow hunting tips, tactics, and info from TJ and the other Nock Out® pro staff at the In Action Blog.

 

3 Shed Hunting Observations to Apply to Bow Hunting

Shed Hunting Tips | Apply What You Learn to Bow Hunting

This winter you will get a second chance at your hit-list buck’s antlers. You already know that his antlers will be dropping anywhere from now until March. As a result, you will spend several hours and walk countless miles in search for them. While your shed hunt will be considered a success upon finding just one of his sheds, you might have failed in observing some useful information that you could employ to harvest him next fall. This shed season might be the year to finally ask yourself are you connecting the dots, taking notes, and considering the reason for the deer sign you observe?” This shed season, pay attention and look for these 3 critical observations that could provide useful tips for bow hunting your hit list buck next year.
“What information gathered during shed season could be useful for bow hunting?” If you would answer that question with none or very little”, you might be under the impression that there is a stark difference between the winter/postseason and opening day of bow season. On the other hand, you might agree that there is an abundance of information, and the majority of it would relate to the deer sign that can be observed during the winter. The assumption you’re making here is that there are similarities that connect shed hunting to bow hunting, or rather, similarities in deer patterns and behavior during two different times of the year. So which opinion is correct?

Is Post Season Scouting Information Useful?

Jotting down notes and marking deer sign on your hunting map doesn’t necessarily seem as fun as just scouring the property for sheds. Is wasting valuable shed hunting time worth it? While it always is helpful knowing where deer spend time, where they travel, where they bed, and where they are feeding…what facts demonstrate that this information will prove useful for bow hunting? The answer and these facts are actually staring at you right in the face!

First off, the most notable information you learn upon finding a shed is proof the buck made it through the hunting season. However, this one solid tidbit of information is just the tip of the iceberg. When finding a shed, or any deer sign for that matter, all you need to do is stop and logically think through the reasoning. If you do, you will quickly note that most of the information can relate to bow hunting. For a shed, ask the following.

  • Why is this shed here?
  • Why was the buck spending time here?
  • What about this location makes sense?
  • Where did he come from and where was he going?
  • What aspects of this location will carry over into fall?
These questions should be asked every time you find a shed, or any other deer sign, and your thought process jotted down for review at a later date. While the questions might vary depending on the deer sign found (shed, track, bed, scat, etc..) the end result is the same…you have useful information for next fall. Take for example the process you should use when finding a deer bed:
Deer bed is found:
What about this spot makes it a great bedding area? Is it a great vantage point over where they will travel once dusk hits? Do they have the wind to their back? Is their low pressure? Is there a clean exit route for the bedding area?
Is this a south slope? Is the sun reaching the bed? Does the bed have good side cover blocking the harsh wind, yet still allowing the sun to hit the deer?
Is it one bed, or multiple? What is the size of the bed? This will help distinguish from a buck or doe bed.
Where is the closest food source? Is the bed overlooking a path the deer will take to get to a food source? Is it close to your food plot?
Is the bed overlooking any areas you hunt? Are the deer positioned in a spot they can see you enter/exit your property or stand?
Would this same bed be here during the early or late bow season? Does the bedding area have characteristics that make it a bedding area during bow season?
This information is hard to judge, but thinking each observation out logically is the first takeaway from any deer sign. However, the most valuable thing you can do as a hunter is think through whether or not the information relates to bow season. There is a good chance any observation you make offers insight into both the late season (December-January) and the early season (September-October). The early season, late season, and shed season have 3 things that can connect almost any deer sign to bow hunting. During any time of the year deer still need to bed, travel, and feed!
While bedding areas, food sources, and travel routes may change throughout the deer season, the principle of a deer’s day remains the same…bed, travel, food, and repeat. Logically thinking through any deer sign observation can flag important takeaways that can be applied to bow hunting since these principles are always present during any part of the year.

Feeding Destinations

It’s clear why deer are here, but let’s distinguish one thing for certain…you will be shed hunting only feeding destination fields. Feeding destination fields are plots that have food all year long. You should make sure a destination feeding plot supports deer during the spring, summer, fall, and especially the winter. Besides nutritional benefits, this establishes organization for your observations. Understanding that a food plot is a destination food source from the early season through the late season can be one of the best things you do for your property. It allows you to understand where deer are going (the destination food source), what routes they use to get there (travel routes), and where they are coming from (bedding areas).
Shed hunting a destination food source also reveals the path deer prefer to take into and out of the food source. Are they passing through the edge quickly, staging downwind on a feathered edge, or hitting a smaller end of the plot? Knowing this could help you identify not only where to hang a stand, but where deer might travel in a hunting scenario to catch your wind.

Travel Routes

Destination food sources are often the best areas to start shed hunting because deer are in bedding areas during the majority of the day. This allows you to shed hunt food sources without risk of busting deer. This also allows you to spend time taking notes and plan your next move. Backtracking deer from the food source to bedding areas can be easy during shed season. If your food source is truly a destination food source that has food year round, then a deer’s travel route will also relatively stay the same. The topography or habitat diversity will steer the deer from their bedding area to that food source. Often times these travel routes will be used year round, but its important to understand why they might change.
Travel routes will change as bedding areas, other food sources (acorns, crops, kill plots, etc.), and hunting pressure shifts throughout the year. As you’re shed hunting travel routes ask yourself…why are the deer traveling here? Are they skirting around pressure? Are they taking the path of least resistance? Are they catching the dominant wind or thermals from where you normally hunt? Are they hitting staging areas/staging plots that you have put into place in order to steer their movements? If they change, where would the next likely spot be for a deer to travel?
Making logical sense of worn deer trails this time of year can reveal major travel routes you might have missed during the hunting season.

Bedding Areas

Besides food sources, bedding areas are one of the best spots to find sheds. Deer spend a large part of the day in a bedding area, as a result, sheds can usually be found in or next to a large bed. Bedding areas shift frequently depending on the property. Sunny south facing slopes of thick early successional cover, or native grass/old field habitat will be some of the best winter bedding areas to find sheds. While it can be important to observe why deer bed there, where they come from, and where they head from bedding, it is just as important to understand that these bedding areas will change throughout the year.
Sunny south slope bedding might change to thick and shaded north slope bedding during the summer and early fall. More secluded bedding areas might be selected for during fall as deer escape hunting pressure. Again, question the observation. What about this areas makes it a perfect place for a buck to bed? Where would you set a stand to encounter this buck once he moves from this bed?
Knowing the answers to these questions can help you formulate a plan for next year’s bow season.

What About Other Deer Sign?

As you comb food sources, travel routes, and bedding areas in search of sheds you will naturally come across other deer sign. While highly variable (compared to bedding areas, food sources, and travel routes), it’s important to take note of deer sign such as heavy browsing, rubs, and community scrapes. Heavy deer browse could reveal where deer stage just before entering a bedding area or food source. It could tell you that they mill around waiting for the light to fade and thermals to work towards them just before hitting a food source. This could identify where you might want to hang a stand downwind of the nearest travel route around that browsed area. Deer sign like rubs are more variable than browse or scrapes, but they at least reveal some rutting action from bucks in that area. Rubs in thickets in and around food sources or oak flats could reveal hot spots for late October and early November pre-rut hunting. Another great deer sign you could use during the pre-rut would be large community scrapes. Besides being great places to hang a trail camera, scrapes in the right locations can be used to set a buck up for a perfect bow hunting shot. If you locate a community scrape in a food plot, staging area, or travel route that lend itself to a great bow hunting ambush point be sure to take note! It’s not often that you can predict exactly where a deer will stand like you can with a scrape, allowing you to setup an easy 20 yard chip shot with a bow.
Take note of these shed hunting tips. Observing deer sign and areas where you find sheds is extremely useful for next year’s bow hunting. While weather, temperature, deer activity, and hunting pressure may shift during throughout the season, limiting what deer sign is useful. The one constant is that deer still need to sleep, travel, and eat. Take advantage of this during shed season. Scoring intel on a buck’s bedding area, travel route, feeding area, and other habits in addition to his sheds is considered the ultimate shed hunting success!

Understanding Arrow FOC and Applying it to Bow Hunting

Arrow FOC | What is It and Why is it Important?

Bow hunters know and understand arrow speed. Today’s bow manufactures market speed as one of the factors that relate to a better bow. Speed, however, is only one aspect you should be focused on as a bow hunter. More importantly, arrow FOC is a factor that affects arrow flight and penetration, which is critical for any bow hunter.

What is Arrow FOC?

Arrow FOCwhich stands for “front of center”, is the percentage of an arrow’s total weight that is located in the broadhead end of the arrow.

FOC is not as appealing as speed, but it is important when it comes to bow hunting. The more weight towards the broadhead end of the arrow, the more forward an arrow’s center of balance is and the higher its FOC will be.

FOC is a factor that comes down to balance. Arrow balance is important in bow hunting because it affects the shape of the arrow’s trajectory. Trajectory is critical for any bow shots out past 20 yards. The further your shot is, the more arrow trajectory matters. For long-range shots, or if you are using a low poundage bow, trajectory is a big factor.

High FOC arrows will shoot straight but lose trajectory (nose-dive) faster than arrows with less FOC. Shooting a low FOC arrow will gain back trajectory (flat shooting farther) but will be unstable and less accurate in flight. FOC also relates to penetration. Getting your arrow there with speed and trajectory is irrelevant if its penetration qualities are not enough to adequately take down your target. Outlining your potential bow hunting shooting scenarios helps to decide what the right FOC should be for your arrows. The most accurate arrows have a FOC range of 10 to 15% recommend by most arrow manufactures.

Calculating Arrow FOC is Easy

Unlike calculating arrow speed, which requires a chronograph, arrow FOC can be calculated with a few measurements and some simple math. You will need the following tools to calculate your FOC of an arrow; measuring tape, pencil, permanent marker, and calculator.

 

There are 5 simple steps in calculating arrow FOC.

  1. Choose an arrow that is completely put together, which means all components are attached such as inserts, broadheads, fletching, and lighted nocks.
  2. Use the pencil to balance the arrow on. Once balanced on the pencil, mark the balance point with the permanent marker so you can measure to that point.
  3. Measure from the bottom most point of the nock (the point where string touches nock) to the end of the shaft. This is measurement #1.
  4. Measure from the bottom of the nock to the balance point you marked in step number 2. This is measurement #2.
  5. Finally, calculating arrow FOC is done using the measurements and this formula: [100 X (measurement #2 – (measurement #1 / 2))] / measurement #1

 

Recommended FOC

The best FOC for hunting arrows ranges between 10-15%. Larger FOC arrows will carry with them more power and penetrate better than those with less FOC. Extreme FOC has rare hunting applications, those higher than 18% may pack a greater punch but become heavy and lose their aerodynamic properties quickly with increasing distance.

Why Arrow FOC Matters to Bow Hunters

Speed is a great thing but it only goes so far when you are a bow hunter. Speed should not be your only focus in the woods. But rather your objective as a bow hunter should be penetration and how well your arrows are set up to harvest game.

Two factors are at play when talking about penetration. The first factor is Kinetic Energy (KE), which is the energy your arrow has from being in motion. Momentum, the second factor, is the energy your arrow maintains as it meets the target. Both factors impact your arrow’s penetration ability. A lightweight arrow with low FOC has high KE but lower momentum at impact. Whereas a heavier arrow with higher FOC may have lower KE but packs more momentum, which penetrates more effectively through flesh and bone. High KE means you have plenty of energy in flight but without adequate momentum, an arrow has little ability to penetrate when meeting resistance. The higher the FOC, the more efficiently an arrow will transfer KE into momentum. Kinetic energy can be calculated by the equation below.

KE=(mv²)/450,240

M= total mass of arrow (grains)

V= velocity of arrow (fps)

So how much kinetic energy should you aim for? The table below is a general recommendation of kinetic energy by type of game

There is a tradeoff, however. You have to compromise with FOC and its ability to penetrate. For example, you can setup for extreme FOC to something like 25% with a heavy broadhead. It would pack a heck of a punch, but it would have little KE (fly slower) and have terrible trajectory past 20 yards. The other extreme is to make a super light arrow with a low FOC. The arrow would have fast speed but almost no momentum energy for penetration. Bows today have such speed producing qualities that there is room to manipulate FOC to increase penetration without sacrificing distance and trajectory.

Techniques to Raise or Lower Your Arrow Weight and Arrow FOC

Obtaining preferred arrow weight and FOC and balancing it with speed can be done a number of ways. First, you can add weight to the point end of the arrow. For example, bump up your broadhead to 125 grains if you are shooting 100-grain broadhead. Also, different inserts like the Lock-n-Load® inserts from Nock Out® can help to change the dynamics of FOC. You may be reluctant to change the business end of your arrows so another way to up your arrow FOC is to lighten up the back end of the arrow. If this throws your FOC over the ideal percentage you can add more weight to the back of the arrow by dropping in heavier fletching, heavier nock, or lighted nock.

If you are comfortable with your total arrow weight, you can adjust FOC without adding weight by switching out fletching (style, length, and material) or switching out nocks, shaving weight off of the backend of the arrow and increasing your FOC.

Video – Lock-n-Load® inserts from Nock Out®

In contrast, you can decrease your arrow FOC by reducing your broadhead size or reducing weight to the front end of the arrow. Switching to a lighted nock (adding more weight to the back of the arrow) will add a few grains that can help to achieve your preferred arrow FOC.

Focusing on FOC rather than speed is tough for most bow hunters who have been trained on the premise that faster is better. Speed has its advantages in archery but when the time comes to make that kill shot, arrow FOC is just as important. Understanding FOC, kinetic energy, and building your arrows to maximize its properties makes for a highly stable, bone and muscle splitting arrow that will drop game in its tracks.

Like this article? Make sure you check out the blog on Building Hunting Arrows and Tuning Your Bow with Lighted Nocks!