Time on task is the No. 1 contributing factor to deer hunter success, yet it is that exact time quotient that often restricts most hunters from getting quality hunting afield.
If you can’t be in the woods, shooting house, or up in a tree stand, then you obviously are not going to have the opportunity to harvest a deer much less that buck you captured on your trail cam last week.
And, even if you can go to the woods, how long can you realistically stay in the stand?
In retrospect, the title of this piece should have been “wonder less,” as in how often I hear deer hunters “wondering” what went wrong with their deer season, or “what might have been” had they done something different or approached their deer hunting in some alternative ways.
True, we deer hunters have so many ties pulling us in so many different directions and varying priorities that we often get sidetracked on our hunting missions as the season unfolds. If the key to deer hunting success is indeed time spent in the stand, then let’s look at some common sense practices to take full advantage of the hunting time we can muster.
Certainly it’s important that we go hunting, but it is just as critical to stay there as long as possible. Let’s start with identifying factors that can maximize your hunting time.
First, you need to look ahead at least a month to identify impediments already scheduled that can keep you from hunting. It is a key to organizing your schedule.
Use a physical calendar or whatever technology you have to block out days you cannot hunt due to family, work, church, civic, or other duties. Then you can just as easily lock down the days that can be fully committed to deer hunting. If something else then comes up, you can politely say you already have “plans.”
“My schedules change all the time between work and home, but at least I can glance at my monthly calendar and immediately see the open days or weekends available for me to hunt,” says Gary Starke, a successful hunter from Madison. “I try to hunt as much as I can, but I have to plan out my days well in advance as much as my fluid schedule will allow.”
Have a plan in place
On days scheduled for hunting, be prepared. Such planning can also be helpful should a surprise window open.
“I try to keep a hunting bag basically packed all the time with the essentials of camo clothes, gloves, hats, ammo, hunting knife, binoculars, and other gear items,” said avid bow hunter Richard Coleman of Clinton. “That way if an opportunity pops up to hunt, I can grab the bag and go. I keep a running list of gear to take to deer camp on my desk at home to double check before I run out the door.”
One of the repeated failures of many hunters — and some in my own camp — is to arrive without some essential gear item such as a hunter orange vest. Keep a couple extras in a camp dresser drawer. But more importantly, you have to have the basic stuff you need to hunt in order to be on the stand longer and be more comfortable while you are there. Avoid rushing out to hunt without planning ahead. Keeping a running list is a prudent approach.
When you get home from a hunt, wash and repack immediately so that your hunting gear does not get lost in the shuffle of the laundry room. Be a bit “retentive” if you know what I mean. And, even if you repacked your go-to hunting camp bag, double check it again the night before you go to camp. Also, pack several redundant items such as socks and gloves just in case.
Clean or maintain important gear so it is ready to go. Clean the lenses on hunting scopes and binoculars after every weekend hunt. Fuel up the ATV and add some Sea Foam gas additive ahead of time. Try to avoid anything last second or rushed, because you are apt to forget something. This all contributes to hunting better and longer.
If we are lucky, we will have times pop up when hunting is suddenly possible. We must be ready to take advantage when those chances arrive.
“My business is in Jackson, but my hunting land is up in northwest Holmes County,” says Kerry French of Ebenezer. “Sometimes when I end a sales or installation call in North Jackson just after noon, I can run home to hunt a couple hours. I grab the chance every time I can.”
If you happen to get a spare morning or afternoon, or if a friend invites you to hunt, and the coast is clear, then go. Remember, if you are not hunting, then you are not going to see deer. Being prepared in advance can make it possible.
This may sound silly, but if you want to sit in any stand longer then get a good seat pad. Sorry tree stand and lock-on stand proponents, but most of the seats in these commercial stands are terrible for long term sitting.
Try using a Hunt Comfort gel insert hunting seat pad with a back support pad. Trust me I have tried them all and have a garage full of board flat foam cushions.
As to hunting stand comfort, the seat is just part of it. Take some foam pipe insulation and line the back support bar, armrests, and even the shooting rails on your stands. These touches increase comfort and quietness all around. Stand comfort is paramount to hunting longer.
Watch the weather reports and dress accordingly. Always pack rain gear to the stand, even if you rarely use it. Dress for wind as much as cold. In Mississippi a 40 degree day with a 10 miles-per-hour wind and 60 percent humidity can prove to be cold. Take those gloves anyway. That’s why you tote the backpack.
Is it a sunny day? Then wear a cap with a brim to keep the sun directly out of your eyes. Wear the wool stocking beanie cap on cloudy days. If you get cold feet, then insert some of the stick-in-your-shoes foot heaters. You can get better results sticking them on top of your toes.
Obviously if you get cold, or even chilled, you are not going to stay on your hunting stand for very long. Sticking out the weather usually just means layering the right clothes for the worst-case scenario of the day. You can always shed clothes you don’t need at the moment. Body comfort is essential to staying in the stand or woods longer.
Avoid negative success factors
My No. 1 rule in deer hunting is never trying to beat Mother Nature at her own game. You may fool her once in a while, but it is mostly going to be by accident. Look out the window before you go hunting as I am doing from my office right now. The trees on the lake are bent over from a northern wind blowing in front of an approaching weather front. Do you think that is a good time to hunt?
You bet, if you have time to go.
Again common sense has to prevail sometimes. Super icy cold, stiff winds, sideways rain, sleet or worse are poor conditions for deer hunting. Winter season thunderstorms with lightning are not the time to be in a tree stand if not just for safety reasons.
Deer simply do not normally move much under these conditions. That said, be ready the minute a bad weather scheme passes out of the area.
Then, deer will be up and moving.
Care for your core
Deer hunters have to take care of themselves, too. This means eating right, staying super hydrated all day, getting plenty of rest, and just staying well. This past season I contracted an upper respiratory infection that knocked me out of hunting for three weeks. Sometimes such is unavoidable, but try to take preventative measures anyway.
“Hunters can do plenty to stay well during the season,” said Dr. David Wheat, a general practitioner from Clinton. “Primary on that list is to avoid other sick people, and to wash your hands thoroughly all the time. Take your necessary medications, skip most of the deer camp junk food, and don’t stay up all night.”
Hunt peak hours
While time on task is a critical element to hunting success, exactly when that hunting time occurs can be just as important. I often wish the Farmer’s Almanac hunting times were right, but 10 p.m. is hardly an option. Even so, there is research suggesting the best times to be in the woods deer hunting. Several studies have been conducted on the primary times of deer observations. Generally these are 7-9 a.m.; noon-2 p.m., and roughly 4 p.m. until legal shooting times end.
Obviously, that is not to say you can’t harvest a deer at other times. In the final analysis, the whole idea behind successful deer hunting is standing longer, wandering less. Follow these common sense tips and maybe they will help you put in more time on the task.