Is there anything you wish you could've done differently last hunting season?
One of my best hunting buddies says it at the end of every hunting season.
"Next year I'm not messing around. I'm going to..."
Two years ago, he finally connected on a great buck and inspired all of us to begin to actually making small changes each hunting season. We recently sat down together and talked about that buck. Although it wasn't a Kansas giant, it was a monster for northern New York public land.
We came up with a handful of things we as hunters want to accomplish to avoid regret at the end of the year. So as we look on to the 2018 hunting season, here are some new strategies we're hoping to incorporate.
1. Find new public land.
Whether it's late summer and you're getting back in the swing of things, the middle of the rut in early November or shed season in early March, you can always look for new public land. The best place to start, of course, is by finding which lands are public and which are private. One of the most helpful tools we've used the last few years is the onX Hunt map. For a very small cost, you can have access to thousands of acres of hunting property.
There are plenty of resources you can use throughout the year to hook up with more whitetail deer. During the winter months, look for old deer sign. Locating things like buck rubs, shed antlers and beaten game trails will indicate a presence of bucks and potentially the quality of deer in the area. If you're there in the spring or summer, look for heavy undergrowth and vegetation that'll provide good coverage for fawns. If a fawn has good coverage, the potential for an increased fawn recruitment could potentially mean larger deer populations. If you're hunting dead smack in the middle of hunting season, take your time and look for deer scat, food sources, water sources and any other deer sign. Scat can tell you a lot about a deer's current food source, which could help point you in the right direction.
2. Go further off the beaten path.
There's a great tale of the man who came to a "Y" in the road and chose the path less traveled. That man, when it comes to deer hunting, will often be much more successful. Most deer hunters hunt after work or on the weekends, making it hard to find time to go deeper into the woods. But those who do travel farther will find parcels of public property that act similar to private property, due to the lack of hunter activity.
3. Use technology to your advantage.
This is where longtime hunters and modern-age hunters often bump heads. I have a lot of respect for my elders, but I always wanted to ask my grandfather, who carried pellets in his inline muzzleloader, if he heard criticism from from the black-powder-and-ball hunters before him.
Items like trail cameras, ozone for scent control and modern-day camouflage can all benefit hunters. Running trail cameras is undoubtedly the best advancement to hunting success on both public and private land. I'll often run multiple cameras deep in the woods on public land where I know few hunters go. I'll also run a trail camera specifically geared toward other hunters, allowing me to monitor hunting pressure.
4. Using an E-Bike, like the QuietKat.
Many people today are stubborn in their ways of hunting. But to be successful, you have to increase the number of tools in your arsenal. I found the QuietKat to be an amazing asset, as it helped me get farther off the path on public land, while also providing a huge help around my private properties.
This fat-tire bike with a super-strong motor allows me to haul my treestands, bait for my trail cameras and other gear to and from the woods without scaring anything. It's a discrete way to get to the stand, which will almost always produce better results.
5. Introduce someone to hunting.
Introducing new hunters to the outdoors will make any hunter proud. For the past six or seven years, I've introduced at least one person to hunting every year. On top of that, I've dedicated time to ensure they learn the way of the woods, helping them locate deer and watching them successfully harvest their first. There's just nothing like shooting your first deer. To be the one who introduced someone to hunting will make you prouder than you may know.
6. Be proud of your kill and don't make excuses.
I've heard every excuse in the book for why hunters have shot young bucks and honestly, about 10 percent of them are the truth. If you want to shoot a young buck and that makes you proud, then you shouldn't be ashamed to do so. But simply stating "If I didn't kill him, my neighbor would have" or "Can't eat the horns" or "I have to hunt to provide for my family" makes you look ashamed of your hunt, and that should be the furthest from your mind.
Your neighbor probably already passed that buck up. By letting him go, you give him a chance to grow an extra year. Truth be told, you can't eat the horns, so shoot a doe. Or better yet, shoot a larger buck that sports more meat. Claiming you have to hunt to provide for your family is the worst excuse in the book. By the end of your season, after the price of fuel, tags, camouflage, gear and everything else, you could've just bought a half cow and provided for your family.
Again, I'm not saying you shouldn't shoot young bucks. Heck, last year I shot the youngest buck of my life and it was the most exciting hunt I've been on in a long time.
Just be proud of your kill.
7. Practice quality deer management
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You don't have pass on a 160-inch buck like you see Lee Lakosky do on television, but it can make you proud to just start somewhere. Quality deer management means more than passing on young bucks, though; it means bettering your hunting experience altogether. This means following the rules of the property, following the laws and leaving the land better than you found it.
Creating a habitat for deer to grow will only better your hunting experience. If you're at the point in your life where you can pass on younger bucks, I recommend doing so. However, you should be comfortable in your decision.
You can always learn more about quality deer management and becoming a deer steward by visiting the Quality Deer Management Association website. You can take the online class at your own pace and learn everything from deer behavior to property conservation, as well as all sorts of other hunter education. This may be the best educational course you could take as a beginner or a seasoned veteran.
8. Help someone other than yourself be successful.
The roots of hunting hold the tradition together. Those who learn to grow and continue to better the hunting community will be a part of something much bigger than themselves. Selfishness has no place in hunting and will only leave you standing alone in the end.
This year, try giving up your favorite hotspot to someone else. If you have the opportunity to bring others hunting or simply let your sibling sit in your favorite stand, take it. When we work as a team, hunting can be one of the most rewarding traditions out there. If we fold to the betterment of ourselves, we end up losing sight of what hunting is truly about.
9. Give up an important weekend and give to those who give to you every year.
You would think that my wife may have came up with this one, but truthfully this is my own idea of designing a deer season I can be proud of. My wife, my son and other close family members all know hunting is my way of life. If I'm not talking about hunting, I'm thinking about hunting.
Our significant others will always be the one to sacrifice date night, family gatherings, weddings and other important events for our passion for hunting. When August comes and I'm on my properties running trail camera analysis, I don't usually return to full capacity until the end of December. That's nearly 50 percent of an entire year my wife has to be without husband at full attention. So, for me, when the time comes and she really wants to do something together or spend time together, I happily sacrifice that time in the treestand and give her the time she deserves. Unless it'd during the rut, of course. She'll completely understand, right?
10. Have fun.
You'd think this would be the easiest one on the entire list. Too often we spend our time trying shoot a bigger buck, shoot more deer, shoot one with a bow instead of a gun and so on. We constantly hound ourselves to be better, stealthier, faster, slower, you name it. I've turned hunting into a job, which is both fortunate and unfortunate, yet the number one thing I continue to have to remind myself is to have fun. Hunting can be fun and really always should be. If you take something from this list and go out and have fun, there's no doubt you'll have a deer hunting season you can be proud of.