Starting early for deer hunting success
By: Chris Viel
With the 2016 deer season only two months behind us, most hunters have not even begun to let fall 2017 enter their thoughts. Living in an area like Thunder Bay that boasts so much outdoor recreation, we routinely switch to other hobbies including ice fishing, small game hunting, trapping or other winter sports. This is one area I differ in, as both past successes and failures march around my brain constantly throughout the winter months. Consequently, I am left thinking about what my first move will be next year and how I can better prepare myself for the experiences to come. Now, although many of you will differ in your approach to hunting, whether it be style or firearm selection, this article will give you insight into my approach, and hopefully result in you taking something away from it to enhance your hunt.
Make a Plan. One of the first things I do after every big game season is take a step back and reflect upon the last three and a half months. The deer season is a grind, and too often we get tunnel vision chasing something that ends up being more of a ghost than a real animal. Pre-rut turns into the rut, and we end up trying to adapt to changing conditions. Before long, this is all behind us, and the post-rut and beginning of winter usually places a strain on the hunter as the clock winds down. I like to look back on this and make mental notes about what the deer were doing, and what I could have done differently. This begins my winter adventure as I decide where I will be going to set up my stands next August. Lately, I have been hunting private land, and putting all of my eggs in one basket. Next year, however, I will be taking a new approach where I will be monitoring three properties (one private, two public) before making the decision on where I want to be. Google Maps is a great starting point to figure out the general area, and winter allows us to travel into these regions where we usually can’t mid season. Travel corridors, food selection, and bedding areas all tell a tale of hints that could make up your story next fall. (Side note: when travelling around late winter or in areas with little snow, keep your eyes out for shed antlers as they can provide excellent insight into the deer that may have survived last years season!)
Land & Deer Management. For those of you who are lucky enough to have access to private hunting property, land and deer management can be an extremely rewarding preseason preparation. Over the years I have taken part in both of these, but it has only been in the last couple of years that I have taken things to the next level. Through my experience it seems the more time you give deer to acclimatize to their surroundings, the better. Previously, I would start trimming brush and preparing stands in the early part of the season, but now I am starting months in advance. After putting in the groundwork of the planning phase listed above, I begin to imagine how things are going to set up next fall. One important thing to keep in mind when tackling these management tasks is the difference in seasonal movement among deer. A great example of this is the property I am currently working on where the deer tend to shift their late season travel from bush line to thick cedar forest. For these reasons we will be setting up two tree stands and a ground blind. In addition to getting the hunting locations prepared, starting early gives you the opportunity to plant food plots and get away from the traditional baiting many people do. Not only will this save you from having to feed on a constant basis, it will allow you to keep your distance and spread your scent much less than traditional feed plots.
Practice Does Make Perfect. Working as a bow technician over the last four years has really opened my eyes to how little practice people can think they can get away with in order to be successful in the field. As a hunter, we have the responsibility to our quarry to ensure the most ethical and humane kill possible. Whether it is a gun or bow, both require a substantial amount of practice in order to know your effective range. Starting early allows you to get the most amount of practice in, and will allow for any gear changes before the season begins. My rule of thumb is to have all of my system tuned and static a minimum of two months before the season. This will ensure I can get all the bugs out and can test new products before deciding on my final setup. If the range is getting boring, a great way to practice in more realistic conditions is to take your gear and head afield for some small game. Species like varying hare are plentiful and give you the experience of using your equipment in the field, while honing in on your stalking skills!