June is a usually a month spent in the shade with a cold drink in your hand, maybe fishing for bluegill, with little to no thoughts about deer hunting.
However, June can be the perfect month to reflect back at the previous hunting season and make your plans for the upcoming season. It is a great time to “look in the mirror” at what you did well and what you did not do so well pertaining to last year’s deer season. When you are honest with yourself, a hunter self-evaluation can make you a better deer hunter.
There are many aspects to look at when evaluating your performance as a deer hunter. The main factors I consider are preparation, timing, location and woodsmanship.
How well did you prepare for last year’s hunting season? Did you miss a deer because of a missed shot or a gun malfunction? One thing is for certain; you can never spend too much time on the range practicing with your hunting equipment.
You want to practice from a bench to make sure your gun is driving tacks, but also try to mimic field situations as much as possible. Shoot some free-handed shots or rest your elbow on your knee for situations where you’ll be hunting on the ground. If you use a shooting stick as a rest while hunting, take it to the range with you and practice using it while shooting at different distances. Knowing your firearm is essential, and nothing is better than actual time firing the gun you plan to shoot a deer with this fall.
Practice can be even more time consuming if you are a bowhunter because there are so many more variables involved with shooting a bow. I could write an entire article on just getting your bow tuned up and how to properly practice with it, but whether you shoot a bow or gun, it all boils down to being as prepared as you can to make that shot on a quality deer when the time counts. Practice starts in June, not a week before the seasons gets going. Practicing now can make the difference in your success level.
When talking about being prepared, we need to go ahead and think about our deer stands. Did you consistently arrive and depart from the woods undetected last fall? Did you wait until the weekend before the season to cut your shooting lanes? Did you cut a trail to your stand so that you could walk in quietly without stepping on anything or brushing up against any bushes?
When I’m hunting, I often don’t know where I’ll be sitting until I actually scout for sign and then set up to hunt. I’ll often leave out with a climber on my back the same day I’m going to hunt an area.
For situations like this, I will cut a trail during the summer through the swamp to a general area. This will get me a majority of the way through the woods without much disturbance, and I’ll navigate the rest of the way as quietly as possible. Some of my hunting locations are 500 to 600 yards from the closest road, and that is an awful long way to be walking without a trail cut and a few Bright Eyes trail markers here and there. Place those Bright Eyes this summer as you cut your trial. A GPS is helpful, but it’s not precise enough to guide through a thicket in the dark.
A little work during the summer can pay huge dividends in the fall. If you’ve never done any real preparation several months before deer season, try it this month. You may learn that it makes your hunting much more successful when the season begins.
Timing is another aspect of the hunter self-evaluation. Think about which months and which weekends you hunted last season, but also think about the actual amount of time you spent on the stand waiting on a deer to slip through the woods.
Now is the time to think about when you want to spend your time hunting this fall. If your No. 1 goal is taking a big buck, the rut is the time to do it. The GON Rut Map is an invaluable tool in determining what days in the month you should hunt.
If you’re subject to hunter burn-out, you may want to consider not hunting every weekend beginning with bow season. Schedule your hunting vacation so that it coincides with the rut. With limited hunts prior to the rut, you will be itching to get in the woods when your vacation arrives. This will also increase the hours you actually spend on the stand, versus in camp drinking coffee.
If you can hunt all day during the rut, do it. Take enough food and water to keep you satisfied because being comfortable and content are the keys to being able to sit all day.
Be sure to take the full moon into account. If it’s a full moon, you can try getting into your stand at 10 a.m. and hunting until 2 p.m. I’ve seen multiple mature bucks doing this over the years, and it is a good alternative strategy if you can’t sit there all day. Maybe you can work in this pattern during your rut vacation after hunting a more traditional morning and evening pattern for a day or two.
If I don’t know the time a particular buck is moving through an area, the only recourse I have is to sit there as much as possible. If I haven’t seen that buck after sitting in one spot a few times, I move on to another location. Don’t waste time overhunting a bad location. Make plans to be versatile this fall if you’re one of those hunters who only hunts one or two stands.
Location is often something we can’t think about often enough in our quest for trophy deer. Is the county you hunt in constantly producing quality bucks? Is the club you are hunting consistently producing quality bucks? This one personally hits me close to home and has been difficult for me as I continue my quest for taking mature bucks with my bow.
I had been a member of a great club in Laurens County for about 10 years, and I loved the club and its members. The members were great, easy going people, and we seldom ever had any problems. The problem I had wasn’t with the club, but the problem I had was with me.
In the 10 years I had been a member, I was able to take multiple trophy bucks, and one even landed me at No. 7 all time in GON’s County-by-County Bow Rankings. This was done exclusively with a bow, and I can think of three more mature bucks I could have taken had I been using a rifle.
I worked really hard to get those bucks, but as I aged, it seemed as though it was getting harder and harder to find a buck I wanted to harvest. There are a limited number of 5 1/2- and 6 1/2-year-old bucks on that club, and to be honest, I wasn’t good enough to consistently outsmart them.
On other clubs I’ve hunted that offered more diversified food sources, a 4 1/2-year-old buck may score as much or higher than the older bucks on my Laurens County club, and they would be much easier to kill.
The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred several years ago when I hunted 44 days straight in one stretch at the Laurens County club. I saw plenty of nice bucks but couldn’t find one I wanted to shoot. Maybe I was just being too selective. Again, the few that were around were simply either nocturnal or just a lot smarter than me.
The lesson in this for you is to keep in perspective your personal goals in regards to the property you hunt. If that property just isn’t helping you obtain your goals—or at least giving you a decent shot at connecting with your goals—consider looking at other clubs to up the odds. Now is the time to plan for that.
GON’s annual Hunting Land Special is coming out in the July issue. You can also go to the GON forum at forum.gon.com or the free GON classifieds at www.gon.com, and see what is available right now.
One of the more difficult aspects of a hunter self-evaluation check is to look at your woodsmanship. Woodsmanship is the little things that often can make a difference between seeing deer and not seeing deer.
Woodsmanship starts with the hunter’s mind set. When you walk through the woods, do you walk with a cadence of a human, or do you stalk like a bobcat? Do you step on leaves and sticks, or make the conscious effort to avoid them? Do you recognize deer sign, and are you able to pick the best ambush points to intercept them? Do you climb a tree slowly, or rush to your hunting height? Do you always hunt with the wind in your face, or do you try to intercept a nice buck on a cross wind? Do you try to avoid touching plants and vegetation to and from your stand so you won’t leave behind as much scent?
All of these questions need to be asked as part of the self-evaluation process, and you are the only one who can answer them. If you are trying to become a better hunter, these are the type of things you need to work on.
I have some friends who are really good hunters, but none of us are perfect. If we can recognize our imperfections and work on them, we can become even better hunters and better prepared for the upcoming season.
For me, my eyes and ears aren’t as good as they used to be, my patience has gone down, and my priorities have changed. I have to factor all that into what steps I need to take to harvest the type of buck that I want to kill.
If you want to be a better deer hunter, do a hunter self-examination and see where you are at.
You just never know, looking back may just help you going forward.