by Brian Stephens
Every year I look back on the previous season and analyze how things went. As I have progressed as a bowhunter, it has been less about how many deer I harvested and more about what I have learned. This year is no different. I will begin to reflect on what happened during the last two to three seasons and evaluate what went right and what went wrong. What hunting scenarios seemed to produce the most interactions with deer, food sources, stand placement, etc.?
Here are some questions I like to ask myself:
- What did I do well in the locations I hunted?
- What areas did I shortcut or was not as thorough in?
- What did I learn about the properties I am hunting?
- What will I do differently this season or when I hunt a particular farm?
- Why do I think that buck outsmarted me?
- How will I use game cameras differently?
I think it is always healthy to critique your skills. That is the only way you will truly get better in the woods, so you see more deer and have a chance to harvest that particular buck you are chasing. So, let’s use my season as example of what I did well and what I did not execute effectively.
What did I do well last season?
I am a very detailed person when it comes to bowhunting and preparing for the bow hunt. I thought about my scent before and during the hunt. I used more aerial maps this year to better understand the property and deer movement. I practiced a lot in the off season, used good bowhunting equipment, and used resources such as our Game Forecast charts on Scoutlookweather.com and moon phases to determine when to hunt. Now, I saw a lot of deer and a number of really good bucks that I passed on. Although I only had one encounter with a really big mature deer in Georgia (150 class deer), it was a great encounter but did not work out to my advantage.
What did I NOT do well?
With all that said, I did a fair number of things right as a bowhunter. So, why did I not shoot more deer? It boils down to the details. I was not the most strategic with the wind as I went to and left my stands at certain times. My stand locations were good but not great on some of the new properties I hunted. I should have been more focused on better travel zones to and from bedding and food sources. While I did hunt these kinds of areas, looking back I would make some changes for next year. Having a proven game plan is important and following it is key. What happens if your game plan is not getting you the results you are looking for? You need to change it if you want to get different results.
What will I do differently this season?
Hunting the Wind
When you only have one stand location and the weather changes for the better, you want to get to woods ASAP. Well, what if the wind is not perfect, do you still hunt? Well, I did make the mistake several times by gambling and going hunting. I knew better, but only had a few chances to hunt so I rolled the dice. Well, the outcome was no bucks. Does it mean that because of the wind I was not able to harvest a deer? Maybe. Maybe not. I will say it sure did not help me with a bad wind. I will also be more focused on the wind as I get to my stand and will have multiple stands set up even on a small piece of property allowing me hunting opportunities based on wind direction. This takes extra work in preparing these stands in the summer, but it can pay off.
Hunt food sources based on the time of year. What are the natural food sources on your property during the early season? Do you have early season food plots such as BioLogic Lab Lab or another early season plot? Where is the water source and where is the bedding in relation to these food sources? When it is warm during the early season, deer like to travel from bedding to food source late in the day. Are you positioned to catch that deer heading to a food source or water prior to it getting dark? Most of the time during the early season, deer are going to bed downwind of a food source or water and move later in the day to that source.
Setting up in the right location is critical to your success. That’s easier said than done. So, where do you focus your efforts? I always start with food, cover and water as my primary considerations. Next, I factor in things such as part of the season (early, rut, late season), staging areas to food sources, and how I will get to that particular location. One thing I did not do as well as I would have liked this year is consider pressure on the property. I do not necessarily mean hunting pressure but “human pressure.” I hunt some suburban areas that have some human pressure that caused deer to be more nocturnal, while the property on the surface looked like deer would be all over it. The deer only moved in certain areas during the day due to this pressure. Understanding the pressure and considering how the deer will adjust to this pressure will help me have better set ups for next season.
Ariel Maps can be a huge asset in helping you better understand your property or a new piece of property you may be hunting. Identifying saddles, funnels and other key areas that deer regularly use can save time and effort in locating a good deer. Now is the time to get your cameras out in the woods to see what deer you have and to start your season hit list.
To Hunt or Not to Hunt
I have gotten more disciplined on not going into the woods when the wind or conditions are not right. It can be hard to do when you only have a few opportunities to hunt a particular piece of property. Minimizing human pressure and being there when the conditions are to your advantage can pay off big time.
Getting to My Stand
Getting to your stand without getting busted can be a real challenge especially here in the Southeast when you have so much bedding. This is especially true on our South Carolina farm that has a lot of cover and a lot of deer on it. Thinking about the wind direction as you get to the stand is key. Don’t be afraid to take the long way there or use a creek, stream, or ATV to get there.
Start scouting now and put the effort in so you can be ready to go for those early season hunts and have a game plan for the different phases of the hunting season based on what deer are doing on your properties. Good Luck!