Do you really want to harvest a deer this hunting season? This question I pose to my family and friends every summer, as I begin my preseason scouting and preparations for the upcoming deer season. Many of you will think this a dumb question to ask considering you would undoubtedly answer a resounding “YES”, however, it amuses me to no end to see these individuals traipsing through the woods each season with no apparent understanding of what degree of discipline it takes to shoot a quality whitetail.
These relatives and acquaintances can be easily spotted as they are usually seen still hunting while smoking an unfiltered cigarette, carrying a rifle that hasn’t been fired let alone cleaned in years and think that urinating in a bottle is just plain gross. By some strange twist of fate, and thereby proving that exceptions really do exist to every rule, there are rare occasions when one of these individuals somehow miraculously manages to shoot a deer. Unfortunately, these rare occurrences trick their peers into thinking sub par preparation and operation leads to success when hunting the wily whitetail.
I pass no judgment on these individuals and have too been lured by this siren song, however, when the buck of a lifetime appears this season remember that an ounce invested beforehand in preparation will save a pound of perspiration when you take that critical shot.
I am going to share with you the surprising number one secret to successful deer hunting and that is a mental preparation. It might sound strange, but if you truly believe you will shoot a deer this season there is an exponentially better chance that it will actually occur. For those of you shaking your heads in disbelief, let me remind you of the power the mind has over the body. Ask any survival expert, why some individuals perish and others live in exactly similar survival situations and they will tell you it all hinges on a persons positive mental state. In other words, if you believe you will survive in most cases you actually will.
A positive attitude is infinitely more important to an outdoorsman than scent block clothing, a high end ATV or the latest fad in ballistics. Success in the field is about the ability to remain positive despite the weather forecast, moon phase or season of the rut. A motivated individual will hunt longer, harder and through more adverse conditions then someone who is unprepared mentally to go the distance. Hunters that truly believe that “this is going to be their day”, are much more likely to be in the woods during that critical time when deer are moving.
Most individuals are already prone to invoke certain skills to allow them to sharpen their mental focus and attitude. For example, taking a deep breath to settle ones shooting hand, counting footfalls while climbing a steep incline or even pinching ones self to keep from falling asleep in a tree stand placed ridiculously high off the ground. I even have a friend, who until this past deer season had been on a seven year losing streak, who claims his recent success was due to the purchase of a rabbit’s foot! Obviously, rabbit extremities have little direct connection with success in the field, however, their indirect effect is that they instill confidence and that characteristic is the key to filing your tag.
This may seem like a no brainer but to shoot deer you have to be where they are located. You may pick out a beautiful spot for your tree stand with long shooting lanes and a beautiful lakeside view (sorry Uncle Frank) but if there are no deer signs (rubs, scrapes, tracks or droppings) then you could go the entire season without seeing a single deer.
Topographical maps and word of mouth from friends and family should only serve as a rough guide when choosing your intended hunting area. The notorious issue with these sources is that they are frequently inaccurate in their depiction and unable to reliably translate to what you will see on the ground. To find that perfect spot and increase your chances of putting a whitetail in your crosshairs this season you need to start walking.
Absolutely no replacement can be made to thoroughly and personally scouting the area(s) you intend to hunt. Maine’s subtle terrain features and the obvious physical signs of deer can only be effectively used to your advantage through intimate first hand knowledge. Pay close attention to the minute details and bring a notebook to write down GPS coordinates, prevalent wind direction, food sources, game trails, sign and location of sheltered bedding areas. Use this information to devise a plan as to where to set-up stands or still hunt.
Hunters over the years have gotten lazy with this item. Today’s highly technical clothing creates the illusion to most hunters that they can pull off miracles in body odor elimination by simply putting on specialized scent blocking apparel or using a bottled spray.
A more traditional approach relies on impeccable personal hygiene and using wind direction to gain the advantage. Every year, I advocate the use of this approach at deer camp only to find that my lamentations fall short on the ears of individuals dressed head to toe in scent blocker and chain smoking cigarettes. To be more effective this season, plan to implement using a pee bottle and no scent detergent, shampoo and deodorant. No scent hygiene products are available at your local drug store (for individuals with fragrance allergies) and are typically cheaper than at a sporting goods store. Wash hunting clothes frequently (not once a season) and seal in a plastic bag to lessen the chance for cross contamination with smells that may be lingering in your basement. If you drive to your hunting location, dress in your hunting clothes and boots when you arrive, as this will avoid the possibility of picking up odors from your car, gas station or the local convenience store.
Since Maine’s finicky weather rarely allows us to predict meteorological conditions with anything but marginal accuracy, a logical choice is to have alternate hunting locations that allow you to adapt to wind direction incase the forecasted conditions do not work in your favor.
How many hunters have missed a deer only to find after that their weapon was not shooting true to its mark? When there is a very real possibility that you may only get one good chance to take a shot all season isn’t it worth a morning practicing at the local gun range? It stuns me that a person would take the time and effort in following everything I have discussed previously to only disregard this last component.
While modern firearms and optics can make even an average shooter infinitely better, practicing in a variety of settings and conditions is the key to consistency. Shoot from a variety of positions (standing, sitting, kneeling) and remember that just because the professionals on television can produce kill shots out to 300 plus yards doesn’t mean that you can, know your personal effective range. Don’t be afraid to spend a couple bucks on a few boxes of ammo, trust me when I say it is an investment that will pay big dividends later.
Packing and Dressing for Success
Time spent in the woods is never wasted, even if at seasons end a tag is left unfilled. However, time spent in the woods wet, cold, hungry and thirsty can add up to a miserable or even dangerous situation. Maine had several days last November where within twenty-four hours the temperature changed over forty degrees Fahrenheit. On a long day outdoors, high quality clothing that insulates and keeps you dry is critical to comfort as are food and fluids that fuel the body.
Comfort is the key as the happier you are the longer you will stay in the woods and the longer you stay in the woods the better your chances at shooting a deer. My family and friends may have their “evil” ways but they also spend a huge amount of time in the woods. While considerably more sporting to be good rather than lucky, from a purely statistical point their investment of time means that eventually, even if by chance, a deer will walk past them.
When possible, pack for your day afield the evening before, as this initial preparation will save you from forgetting some crucial element. Lastly, finalize your mental preparations by believing one hundred percent that you will shoot a deer this season. So to enforce this belief, make sure to include a gutting kit (sharp knife, drag rope, dish washing gloves, paper towels and a 1 gallon zip loc bag for the heart and liver) in your pack to make it easier to field dress and bring that trophy to the tagging station.