Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Post-mortem, ’22: How did your deer season go?

Winding slowly along a bumpy two-track that snaked through a state wildlife management area, I felt a strange mixture of sadness and regret that I’ve come to know unfortunately well in the past five years.

The reason for sadness was easy to identify: I knew it would be several months until I set foot on this property again, which always bums me out when a hunting trip is over.

The regret? That was a bit tougher to place, although eventually I got there: Knowing what I know now, I would almost entirely revamp the hunting strategy that I had employed during the previous five days.

I truly don’t have words for how much I detest burning a deer tag,
especially the expensive out-of-state variety. I’ve also made it a
regular occurrence on many of my out-of-state adventures. But even I
have to admit that there are few better teachers than the hunts in which
adversity lurks around every corner.

If you haven’t done it yet, I highly recommend you conduct a post-mortem
of your deer season to identify causes of both success and failure. Even
if you’re still gutting it out and chasing late-season whitetails, now
is the perfect time to assess and dissect your deer season while everything is still fresh in
your mind.

Using my abject failure of a trip as an example, here’s how I’d go about it.

Assess the game plan

One of the first things I examine is the game plan I had going into a hunt,
the strategies I planned to utilize, and the success or lack thereof
with my plan.

In my case, having hunted the property the previous year, I
had an idea of how deer utilized the property and at least had a
starting point.

My plan going in was to sit tight on funnels that deer stuck to last year
and let other hunters do the pushing for me. This worked to a point. I
could have shot numerous does and young bucks. That said, I don’t go on
out-of-state hunts to kill what I could have shot at home.

Ruminating on the game plan with hindsight, my problem was not adapting to the
lack of mature buck sightings. Had I adjusted the locations I was
hunting to funnels deeper in the cover, it could have been a completely
different ballgame.

Identify failures

Once a tag is burned, it does no good to blame anyone or anything but yourself.

The best thing we can do is recognize how or where we went wrong and try to
learn from it. It took me next to no time after the fact to realize
that my biggest mistake was a lack of scouting this year.

I dove straight into hunting, and I did little walking to determine
exactly what the deer were doing. Last year, it took me nearly a week of
hunting/scouting to have just a slight idea exactly what the deer were
doing. I went into this year thinking it would be as simple as hunting
the funnels found last year, and that would be enough.

Obviously, it got me within range of deer – just not the right deer. After several
sits with no mature buck sightings, how I wish I had started scouting
in full force. Particularly on out-of-state hunts, where time is often
limited to a week or less, every single hour of daylight counts.

There seems to be one common thread between all of the best public-land deer
hunters nowadays: They all scout much more than they hunt. Even on trips
of a week or less, some of these folks still spend the first half or more of
the trip scouting. The point is, when they finally do decide to sit,
they know they’re in the best spot.

Zoom out

For as much as I preach about seeing the big picture, I have a terrible
habit of doing the exact opposite in the heat of the moment during a
hunting trip. Two things about my last trip really stick out as boo-boos
to me. The first is something I’ve struggled with since starting to
hunt beyond Minnesota, and I still don’t have a great answer for it.

These trips can be real mind games, and the worst part is, you’re battling
only yourself. I end up constantly second-guessing and going through
what-ifs, and usually all it gets me is a headache. As it pertains to
the big picture, where I struggle is the trade-off and negative
correlation between time remaining on a trip and the feeling of needing
to hunt where I’ve already been and know the deer movement.

This can apply to a large area or it can apply to a single property. On my last trip, it was the
latter, and the closer the clock ticked to the end of the hunt, the greater the need I felt to be hunting something I at least sort of knew.

In retrospect, I really wish I’d taken a flier one day and just gone
exploring. It’s possible I may have found an even better funnel, or so
much mature buck sign in an area that it would’ve been impossible to
ignore.

The second mistake was something that should have been a glaring problem at the time, were it
not for my tunnel vision. I had forgotten one of the most important
axioms of hunting public land: You’re hunting around other hunters as
much as you’re hunting for deer.

As the week wore on, the amount of hunting pressure just kept climbing. It
was so bad one day that I watched three vehicles roll into a parking
lot at once – and nine hunters crawled out.

Why that didn’t hammer something into my noggin is a mystery.

The point is, go where they ain’t. It’s no secret deer don’t like human
intrusion, and they’re not afraid to move to find an area that’s free of
people. When I found myself in the middle of a pile of pressure, that
should’ve been a megaphone telling me to shift strategy. Even slight
moves to free myself from other hunters could’ve been the difference in
punching a tag.

Final thoughts

With most things in life, experience seems to be the best teacher. When I
fail on a trip like this past one, if I learn a handful of important
things that will improve my future hunts, I consider it a win.

Though my example focuses on a public-land, out-of-state hunt, this method can
easily be applied to your season on the Back 40. Even if your deer
season isn’t quite finished, start giving thought to where things went
right and wrong for you this year. Note specific incidents or lessons
while they’re still fresh in the brain.

Take the experience of this year and figure out how to apply it to your
hunting strategy next year. By taking time now to recollect, you’ve
already got a leg up on filling next year’s buck tag.

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