Hunting is a unique skill, that can be a challenge to learn if you didn't grow up in the lifestyle. For the vast majority of people, this is something that they learned as a child how to be a hunter while tagging along with their father and grandfather.
For the rest of us though, hunting is a bit of a foreign experience. It doesn't have to be that way though. Even adults who never learned how can become successful hunters later in life with a bit of patience, practice, and desire to learn. Anyone can deck themselves out in the latest and greatest camouflage gear and wander aimlessly around the hills looking for a deer while holding a rifle. But to successfully harvest a deer, it takes three key components: knowledge, skill, and luck.
Following are 5 tips that have served me well in all my years of hunting.
1. MAKE A LIST AND USE A TOTE
You cleaned your gun, bow and other gear and put it away after last year’s hunt, but do you know where everything is? I store my hunting gear — ammo, hand warmers, drag rope, safety harness, field-dressing gloves, knife and other essentials — in a plastic tote during the off-season.
I like to think I am organized, but sometimes a key piece of equipment finds its way out of the tote, and by the time the season rolls around I have no idea where it went.
That’s why I keep a ‘hunting ’checklist with my gear
A simple checklist will help you round up a stray gear and replace anything that got lost or broken or just plain wore out. Check off items as you put them in the tote and keep the list inside the tote.
2. USE THE WIND
Bowhunters know to pay close attention to wind direction, but many gun hunters ignore the wind and pay the price when a buck catches their scent and gives them the slip. If you are gun hunting from a stand, set it up so you are downwind or at least crosswind of where you expect to see your prey.
Still-hunt into the wind. On a windy day, you can sometimes walk right up on your prey.
If you set up a drive, place standers downwind. If you drive upwind, your prey may smell standers and circle back toward the drivers.
Cagy bucks sometimes do that even if you drive downwind, but driving upwind improves your odds.
3. DON’T STINK UP THE WOODS
Your prey can smell you from farther than they can see you. Natural odors won’t alarm them, but human odors will every time. You can’t eliminate your scent, but you can limit it and reduce the chances you will spook a buck before you have an opportunity to shoot.
Shower with unscented soap before your hunt. Use an unscented deodorant, and avoid aftershave or cologne. Keep your hunting clothes in a tote or plastic bag with a handful of dirt or leaves from the area you hunt.
If they have been washed or dry-cleaned, hang them outside to air out.
Don’t wear your hunting boots or jacket in garages, taverns or wherever they might pick up telltale odors. Walk in cow manure or deer droppings on your way to your stand.
If you have to answer nature’s call, scrape away leaves down to bare dirt, do your business and then kick leaves back over it to help cover the scent.
4. USE A TRAIL CAMERA & HUNT A SMALL AREA
The home range of most whitetails is a square mile or less. The hunter who knows one or two spots intimately will kill more game than the hunter who roams over a wide swath of country.
Pick a 40- to 80-acre area and scout it to learn where your prey beds, where they feed and what travel routes they use. Map or make a mental note of every food source, ridge, trail and escape route.
If you hunt big woods, don’t try to cover it all. Concentrate on a travel corridor or other heavily used place.
You will have to wait and figure out the locations, but a trail camera will do all of the waiting. You set it up and return in a few days to check out the film. You either have a memory card full of great pics or you don’t. If you do not, you find a new spot and return in a few more days. Rinse and repeat. It still takes practice, knowledge and skill to find the locations but it saves a ton of time. It will also reduce the spreading of your scent throughout the hunting ground.
5. COME TO YOUR SENSES
Your eyes, your ears and — yes, even your nose — can help you when you’re trying to detect your prey.
Your hearing can help you sort out the many sounds in the fall woods. A shrieking jay might mean a deer is coming your way. Learn to distinguish the hop-hop-hop of a squirrel from the scratch-scratch of a turkey and the heavier step-step-step of a deer so you won’t keep turning around every time you hear something rustling dry leaves on the forest floor.
Believe it or not, you may even smell your prey before you see it, especially a buck that’s been rutting and chasing does.
And remember this: As a hunter, your hunt starts the moment you step out of the vehicle or cabin into the prey's habitat.