From rookies to experienced veterans, all hunters make mistakes. But learning from your mistakes helps build your skillset and ultimately makes you a better hunter. However, there are several common errors that you should avoid to make the best of the hunting season.
1. Not Scouting Enough
As obvious as it might sound, if you want to hunt deer, first you must go where the deer are.
However, many hunters frequently spend more time hunting than scouting and learning the terrain. Often, it’s because they go hunting on properties or land they’re already familiar with, which can lead to complacency. Scouting ahead of time is also crucial to learn the best spots for your hunting blinds and the best entry and exit routes. It doesn’t matter how perfectly placed your blind is if you have to walk through a bedding area to get there.
Even if you’ve been to a particular property hundreds of times, don’t neglect the benefits of scouting. Learn the location of deer’s bedding spots and where the most likely feeding areas are, and check for fresh tracks, droppings and other recent signs of deer activity. Although deer sometimes follow familiar patterns, the best locations often change from season to season.
2. Hunting at the Wrong Times
Becoming impatient is not just an issue for young or inexperienced hunters. Sometimes, impatience causes hunters to become unwilling to travel to their blinds and set up ahead of time.
However, it’s widely understood that the best times of the day to hunt are in low-light conditions at dawn and dusk. Therefore, you should practice what is known as “hunting from dark to dark.”
Early in the morning, you should be inside your blind, ready to start at least 30 minutes before having enough light to take an accurate shot. Stay on-site until the very end of dusk, maximizing your chances of seeing an animal at the last minute. Another frequent mistake is to leave the blind for lunch. Although the best times for hunting are dusk and dawn, that doesn’t mean your chances of finding a buck in the early afternoon fall to zero.
Many bucks remain active between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., particularly during the rut, as bucks are less likely to move predictably then. Don’t be tempted to get out of your blind to refuel and socialize. Instead, bring snacks with you, preferably lightweight but calorie-dense food, to prevent fatigue and concentration loss. Good choices include trail mix, nuts, candy bars, granola bars, energy bars, jerky or peanut butter. And don’t forget to bring enough water for a full day!
3. Being Over-Reliant on Your Gear
Modern technology brings hunters a wealth of convenience. Trail cameras, GPS units, optics with all the bells and whistles and the latest and greatest ammunition — having access to all this equipment can make your hunt significantly easier, but the equipment is no replacement for your skills and wits.
If the trail camera doesn’t pick up anything, it doesn’t mean there are no bucks in the area. It could mean the bucks have avoided the camera’s field of view. That’s when your tracking skills are beneficial. Being glued to your GPS or mobile phone’s map application might let you know the precise coordinates of your current location, but what good is it if a deer passes without you noticing? Your tools should complement your existing skills, not make up for your deficiencies.
4. Expecting Perfect Circumstances
As hunters, we all dream of the perfect hunt, seeing the perfect trophy buck, making the perfect broadside shot, having the ideal wind conditions and so on. Humans generally want the best and strive for better, but it sometimes causes us to lose sight of the fact that, sometimes, good enough really is enough. Many experienced hunters have had moments of hesitation because of this.
Perhaps the buck was at a good angle, but you didn’t take the shot because it wasn’t a perfect broadside. Maybe you found yourself downwind, seeing a deer in front of you, seemingly unaware of your presence, but you didn’t take a shot because you were concerned about the wind carrying your scent to the deer. Take the first good shot you have. It might be the only opportunity you’ll have the whole day.
5. Neglecting Practice and Setup
Although this is less about hunting and more about marksmanship fundamentals, many experienced hunters neglect to spend some time at the range to ensure they can still print good groups and hit targets at the expected distances.
If the hunting season is approaching, take your hunting weapon to the range with you and reserve a box of ammunition for setting up. Sight in your scope with the rifle and ammunition you intend to use and don’t substitute your ammo at the last minute. Different brands may produce different groupings and accuracy out of your rifle, even if you use the same projectile weight.
6. Losing Focus
Spending between 10 and 12 hours in a hunting blind can be physically and mentally taxing.
It’s tempting to sit back, turn up the heater and relax in your comfortable blind chair, only for you to fall asleep for a few hours, potentially letting one or even multiple bucks pass right in front of you. Alternatively, you may want to use your mobile phone, watching videos or browsing social media to keep yourself awake. However, although you’ll be awake, your eyes will be focused on the screen, not outside your blind’s mesh or windows.
The best way to keep focus is to stay sharp. It’s okay to distract yourself to pass the time or stay awake, as it’s entirely possible to go several hours without seeing a single animal, but be ready to drop the distraction at a moment’s notice. Keep an eye out, and keep your gun or your bow close if an opportunity presents itself.
Mistakes are a natural part of learning and should not be viewed as a failure but, rather, an opportunity for growth. Taking steps to learn from your mistakes by researching best hunting practices, including scouting and honing your tracking skills, can prevent you from falling into bad habits and will ensure you become the best hunter you can be.