Alright, so maybe some of you guys have procrastinated all summer, hanging out by the pool, going to baseball games, spending time with the in-laws, and that sort of thing. Maybe you haven't taken the time to prepare for the quickly-approaching deer hunting season. Don't freak out, it's not too late. But it is crunch time.
This has happened to me several times in previous years. It's usually a result of getting caught up with work or spending beautiful summer days with the family. I forget about the important steps I need to take to get ready for the opener, and before I know it, it's a couple of weeks away and I'm scrambling to check all of the boxes. In response, I made a checklist a few years and determined everything that was crucial to ensure my season's success. At first I put them in no particular order, but eventually realized some are more pressing than others. Here are the elements of that checklist with an explanation for each. Don't forget them.
Look at the Data
If you haven't checked your trail cameras steadily in the offseason, there's still time to make relevant use of the info. Bucks will slowly start to shed their velvet and start breaking apart from their bachelor groups as the season arrives. This is the time to stop drooling over velvet pictures and start patterning their daily movements. Opening day can be the best day to harvest your target buck. The deer haven't felt pressure in several months and have likely let their guard down tremendously, with a little but of rutting activity just on the horizon. This won't last long. Take advantage of this by pinpointing exactly which routes your target buck is taking and when they're taking them through vigilant trail cam research. Keep track of the weather and the wind direction at the times he shows up. If you are more tech-savvy, there are several apps that will help out with this such as Spartan Forge, Deer Lab, HuntWise, and a few others.
Knock the Dust Off Your Bow
So you were shooting fantastic last year, huh? You nailed the first buck you had a shot at, and the arrow went right through the vitals. That's great. But this isn't last year. Break your bow out and get dialed back in. After a seven to eight month offseason, there is no telling where that arrow is going to hit. I shouldn't have to tell you that you should have been practicing with your bow all summer. But the sooner you can get in some reps, the better. You'll also want to double check your settings and accessories. No one wants a bumped sight or a lack of proper form ruining an early season opportunity. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to wait until a trophy buck is at 20 yards to find out if I'm dialed in.
The same goes for a rifle, shotgun, or muzzleloader. Don't think that because you aren't drawing back a string, you don't need some quick tuning. Check riflescopes and trigger pull, and ensure you're good to go.
Glass, But From a Distance
Trail cameras are great, but they don't always tell the whole story. Just before the season, but no less than a week before Opening Day, I like to set up a few hundred yards away from my ag fields about an hour before sunset, break out my binos, and watch how the deer are behaving. This can help you find out where the bucks are coming from, how they feed, how cautious they are, and more. Glassing isn't only for big game out west, it's one of my most crucial forms of reconnaissance. Just conduct it wisely, and don't risk getting too close or disturbing things with your presence if you don't have to.
Check Your Stands
It has always amazed me when people tell me they don't check their stands before the season starts. I hunted the Kentucky opener on one of my friend's properties a few years ago. He showed me on a map where the treestand was, and explained how it was a top-of-the-line stand, in the perfect tree, with amazing cover. When I got to it I was sure all of that was true...five years prior.
As I am climbing up the tree, I notice that the straps around the climbing sticks have warped into the bark as the tree has grown around them. If that wasn't enough of a red flag, I finally sat the stand, only to realize mice had chewed through most of the seat. I sat down on the rough metal and hang my bow, and looked out into the woods. Even if a trophy buck walked by at 20 yards, I didn't have a shot due to all of the overgrown brush and limbs blocking every angle.
To say that hunt was a waste of time was an understatement. If you're someone who likes to leave their stands out all year (although I advise against this), make sure you do some offseason checkups. Not only will you want to clear shooting lanes, but you should ensure the integrity of the treestand and all its components. Harnesses are a great tool for a worst case scenario, but they shouldn't replace stable stands.
Get Organized and Have a Plan
There is nothing worse than scrambling the night before opening day trying to find your rangefinder, bow release, hunting hat, and boots. About a month before the season starts I like to get all of my gear together, organize my hunting pack, and purchase anything I might be missing that is necessary for the success of my hunt. Everything I need will be together, in a well temperature- and scent-controlled area, so that on opening morning I can easily grab everything and head to the woods.
Doing all of these things means nothing if you don't have the right strategy in place for the opener. A hunting friend of mine just called me the other day to talk about his opening day plans. He made a comment that I thought was really interesting.
"Either harvest your buck on opening weekend, or wait until the rut and pray he is still around," he said.
While this of course isn't always the case, there is still a great deal of truth to that statement. If you're after a mature whitetail, odds are your best chance of harvesting him will be opening day. But that's only assuming you are going in with a solid strategy. Use all of your offseason reconnaissance, practice your shooting while you can, and make sure you gear is in good shape for when the moment comes. If you do this, you should be in for a phenomenal opening weekend.
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