By Steve Piatt
Suddenly, it’s over. A deer season that began when the foliage was still thick and ended well after the holiday season has ended, and it’s time to put the gear away and turn to other activities. Maybe it’s ice fishing, or small game hunting, or trapping. Or just sitting by the fire and looking back on the season that was – or wasn’t.
Now is actually a great time to take a look back and make an honest assessment of your season – what went right and, perhaps, what went wrong and what you could do better in the future. What you might need to do next year, whether it’s a change of scenery, gear improvements or a more concerted effort to get out there and enjoy the season.
Here are some things to consider.
At the moment of truth, things can and often do go wrong. And that seems to especially be the case when there’s a big buck in your sights. That said, it’s up to us to lessen the odds of some kind of equipment failure – jammed clip, fogged scope, twisted peep sight, even noisy clothing or a squeaky tree stand. It’s those kind of little details that can often mean the difference between a trip to the taxidermist and a winter of nightmares about what might have been.
Some post-season – and then again pre-season details heading into the fall – can help you avoid those issues. Many times the fixes are simple; a trip to your archery shop or gunsmith, and some time doing tree stand maintenance in the summer. But it may also require a major purchase in the form of a new scope or some high-quality clothing that provides a combination of comfort and quiet.
Sure, there’s no guarantee that time in the woods equates to a filled tag, but on paper the odds tip in your favor every time out. So you need to seriously ask yourself, “did I give it my best shot this season?” Were there days I convinced myself the deer weren’t going to be moving? Did I spend too much weekend time in front of the TV watching college or pro football? Did the frustration of not seeing deer or knowing some good bucks were taken on neighboring properties break me mentally and send me into an “it’s not gonna happen for me” attitude? It happens, and we’ve all been guilty of it at one time or another.
Conversely, did I over-hunt some areas, jumping into a tree stand when the wind wasn’t quite right but taking a chance anyway? That type of hunting pressure is one of the biggest factors that often put a big buck on high alert or make them “go nocturnal.” Sometimes staying home is the right decision; or better yet, having several stand options that allow you to switch gears and still get out and hunt.
In some cases, too, there are hunters with so many options they spend the majority of their season in a frantic jump from one spot to another, never dialing in on deer movement or the prospect of a good buck. Sometimes less is more, and a narrow focus is best.
These days hunting access is often the single biggest factor in hunting success. And it’s leading to a clear division between two hunting groups – the “haves” who have the ability and have chosen to invest in hunting property, and the “have nots” who are often relegated to hunting public land which, by the way, can still be productive despite the likelihood of hunting pressure from others.
Every year it seems hunters lose access to their prime spots, some of them so productive over the years they cry real tears when it happens. We’ve all been there. Post-season and into the summer is the time to look for replacement properties, hopefully without getting out your checkbook. It’s not easy, but knocking on doors at the right time and with the right attitude and a smile can often get you back in the game and set you up for a superb hunting season. You don’t need 200 acres; you just need the right 20. Although 200 is okay, too.
Above all, deer hunting should still be about fun, and if you’re not enjoying your time in the woods maybe you need to step back and take a good look at your attitude toward this tradition. Whether you go solo, hunt with friends of even out of a bustling deer camp, you should take all the highs and lows of the season in stride. Sure, there are frustrations along the way, especially in the form of a missed opportunity on a good buck. But things could be worse; you’re out there, enjoying nature and everything it has to offer in the form of fresh air, other wildlife sightings and the occasional filled tag.
We need to celebrate the success of others along the way, even if it’s a buck we’ve had our eyes on. Example: for two straight years a good buck, including my single best ever, a 140-inch 10-point, crossed into my hunting area from a neighboring property and fell to my .270. The neighbors had plenty of trail camera images of both bucks and definitely targeted the big 10, yet they were the first to congratulate me – after a few kidding barbs – on my success. It made for an even more special day, one that I’ll not likely repeat in my hunting lifetime.
If you need a serious attitude adjustment, it makes perfect sense to take a kid or a newbie hunter afield to get their perspective and observe the deer-hunting world from their eyes. It might be the kick-start you need, and guiding them to their first ever whitetail is an experience you’ll never forget.
By Eric “Griz” Bratt
The coffee pot is now silent
The mouse traps are all set
The bunks are now empty
And all are upset.
The season is over
We gave it a go
The buck pole’s now empty
As the sun’s setting low.
We packed up our gear
We said our goodbyes
The stove has gone cold
There were even some cries.
We did hang some meat
We made many tracks
We ate pretty good
The wood pile is stacked.
The lights are all off
The floor has been swept
The outhouse is locked It is time to reflect.
We wait all year long for the season to start
But now it time for all to depart.
A handshake or two, a slap on the back
We hope that next year we’re all coming back.
Eric “Griz” Bratt lives in Cortland County and is a former president of the NYS Muzzleloaders Association.