Follow this list to maximize your chances of success this deer season.
It's no secret: hunters all have their own strategies, techniques, superstitions and traditions. You may have a completely different approach to season preparation than even your best hunting buddies. Regardless, we think this is a never-fail list of ways to maximize your odds this fall. Do you agree?
Ok, so this one is a no-brainer. If you're not getting a fair amount of practice the week prior to season, your chances of a well-placed, ethical shot are significantly diminished. The goal here is not to be able to shoot 80 yards with your bow or 350 with a rifle. Rather, your goal should simply be to build confidence.
No matter the weapon or distance you're shooting, at the end of the day, your primary objective should be to know your weapon and your capabilities to the point where you won't second guess yourself when the opportunity at that trophy buck arises.
2. Take an Inventory and Organize Gear
If you're anything like me, your hunting room or closet isn't exactly the most organized. Spare arrows and broadheads here, range finder there, camo clothes, well, everywhere. But if you take the time to inventory and organize your gear, it might be the most valuable 45 minutes of preparation you do all year. Do yourself the favor.
Your system for organization doesn't matter, as long as you know the game plan. You might organize by early, mid, and late season. You may choose to organize by the regions or areas where specific gear will be used. No matter your methods, ensure you know what gear you have (as well as what you might still need to purchase) and exactly where it's located.
3. Get Your Clothes Outdoors
Few hunters will debate the critical importance of scent control. Again, strategies for this vary, but one thing is for certain: the odds of a mature old trophy buck being attracted to the mothball smell of your basement? Slim to none.
One simple way to combat this is to get your clothes and your gear outdoors. Find a safe location, away from pests, weather and your nosy neighbor, and let your gear start to accumulate the natural scent of the outdoors.
Follow this practice and other simple scent camouflage strategies, and you can save yourself a great deal of money on scent masking sprays or ozone generators.
4. Check Maps
It doesn't matter if you've hunted the same location for 10 years or are heading to a new secret spot, familiarizing yourself with the territory and landscape will yield dividends -- and it doesn't matter if you use a traditional paper map or hop on GoogleEarth.
Know your boundaries. Locate prime bedding and feeding areas. Identify the paths you'll take in and out of the woods based on different weather conditions or wind directions. All of these techniques will increase the odds of that first hunt being a successful one. The woods can be unforgiving. Sometimes, that first shot is the only one you get.
5. Pull Trail Camera Cards
Speaking of taking an inventory, why stop with your gear? Doing a little deer inventory will definitely help focus your efforts this year. Before season, deer are often still in their summer feeding patterns. Because deer are incredibly habitual creatures, this can provide a wealth of information to early-season hunters.
Pull your camera cards and pay specific attention to the trends and patterns your target bucks are showing. What time of day are they showing up? Can you tell which direction they're traveling? How often are they taking that route? Is it daily, or every 3-4 days?
If you want to take your preparation level up a notch or two, research the weather patterns that were present on the days showing the most activity. Finding similar conditions in which to hunt that location can increase your odds significantly. That is, if you can be disciplined enough to wait for the right conditions.
6. Clear Shooting Lanes
This step needs little explanation. You can't shoot what you can't see. Avoid the trap of waiting until your first sit to find out what limbs or branches are blocking your view. You're sure to ruin your first hunt if you're making a ruckus sawing limbs and breaking twigs as the sun rises. As we've already pointed out, often times, that first chance is the only one you'll get.
7. Set or Maintain Tree Stands
By now, you likely have some idea where you plan to hunt. Unless you pack in a climber each and every time, get your stands out and set early. This will eliminate one big step from your list and allow you to work on those other game plans we've been talking about.
If you're fortunate enough to have private land where you can leave your stands up all year, make sure to do some checking and maintenance. I once went to a ladder stand where the ladder itself had leveled just far enough that the top ladder portion had separated from the seat platform still high in the tree. Talk about a busted hunt.
Make sure to safety check straps and tighten any hardware. Bring out those cushion pads that you were smart enough to pull in at the end of last season. You were smart enough to do that, weren't you?
8. Truck Maintenance
Nothing could be worse than getting halfway to your set and running into vehicle issues. This is true whether you're driving two miles to your tree stand or ten hours to the hills. A quick once-over of your rig during normal preventative maintenance or upgrading to the premium service at your local shop is a very simple insurance policy for getting where you want to go this fall.
9. Zone-Map Your Key Stands
There are a few spots where I like to sit every year. I've killed more deer out of one particular tree stand than many others combined. I like to take this step if there are tree stand sets that I expect to spend a fair amount of time in during the season.
When bow hunting, it's often a challenge to quickly range a nearby deer while maintaining stealth. This is especially true during the rut or when a deer is fast approaching in response to a call. In thick timber there are even times when we won't see an incoming deer before they're within range. In order to combat this, I like to distance-map or zone-map around my key stands. This can be done many different ways.
Start by climbing into your stand and picking out specific trees, shrubs, limbs or stumps in the area around you. Ideally, you'll be able to locate a few of them that are almost exactly 20 yards, 30 yards, 40, 50, etc... Take a piece of bright string or a rattle can of white or blaze orange paint and mark the tree in a way that's visible from your stand. Two pieces of string for 20 yards, three paint lines for 30 yards, four for forty yards, and so on.
After a few minutes of doing this, you'll create a zone around your tree stand that offers a visible indication of the approximate distance you are from the wandering deer. Forget messing with your range finder in the critical moment. Watching that buck walk past a tree with three orange lines on it quickly informs you to use that 30-yard pin with no guesses or hesitation.
10. Take Your Wife on a Special Date
You laugh, but this might just be the most important item on our list. It's no lie that we ask a lot of our wives and girlfriends. They certainly put up with their share of crap from us. Even if it's clearly a passion of ours, spending ample time out in the woods away from the family during hunting season is not a simple request. Build up a little credit before season and do something special for her. Let's be honest. We do a terrible job of this and don't go out of our way often enough to make them feel special. Who knows, you might even inspire a little pre-rut action of your own.