By Mark Huelsing

As Cody reminded us last week, the hunting season isn’t over.  There is still good hunting left to be experienced.  But, for me, the season is practically over.  I’ve got a few hunts left, but for the most part I am already transitioning – assessing what worked this season, what didn’t, and what I am going to do next year.

I knew from the beginning that this season was going to be an experiment.  Sure, I was hoping to shoot a mature buck, but that wasn’t my only goal.  I took the “big picture” approach this year.  My goals for this season weren’t about this season; my goals were about the future and building better skills and experience as a hunter.  I wanted to try new tactics, get a better understanding of the land that I was hunting, and ultimately grow as a hunter.  Of course I wanted to put some meat in the freezer, too.  And fortunately I was able to do that.

A lot of articles are written about success stories, as well as tips and tricks that work well for the writer.  But today I want to take a different approach and tell you what I did wrong.  I want to learn from my mistakes, and hopefully you can too.

Don’t Hunt Pretty

Here, I’m talking about the “pretty” spots.  You know – the well-groomed plot, the perfect open oak ridge, or the active sign (scrapes, rubs, etc).  The “pretty” spots look ideal, and often they do see a good amount of deer activity, but many times that activity isn’t during legal shooting hours.  It can pay to hunt near these spots, but don’t just hunt on top of them – assess travel routes, entry/exit points, and staging areas that deer use to get to them.

You know that spot that is hard to get to, difficult to hunt in, and presents a lot of logistical challenges?  The deer are probably there, and you should be there too. Speaking of places that are hard to reach…

Don’t Take the Easy Way Out (Or In)

The route that you use to access your stand locations is unbelievably critical.  We all know this, but are we actually willing to consistently take the long or difficult route to avoid disturbing deer?  The property that I spent most of my time hunting this year has a horrible (and I mean horrible) setup in terms of entry and exit routes.  I got tired of blowing deer out on the way to my stand in the morning, and on the way back from my stand in the evening.  The solution was simple, but it wasn’t easy – I had to enter/exit this property from an adjoining property, which meant a long walk and a very steep ascent/descent in the dark.  Honestly, it was a pain.  But it proved to be worth it.

“Good Enough” Isn’t Good Enough.

Once again, I was reminded that the small details matter, especially in bowhunting.  The difference between a fatal shot and an ineffective shot is a matter of inches.  The difference between being in bow range or not is sometimes a matter of moving just one tree over.  The difference between having a clear shot opportunity or not is sometimes just a matter of one branch in the way.  Now, obviously we can’t control everything, but we should do our best to eliminate as many variables as we can control.  If you found yourself saying, “Oh, that is probably good enough…”, then chances are you are wrong!

Don’t Have Tunnel Vision

Don’t expect deer to do what they have “always” done.  Don’t expect that last year’s hot stand location is going to work this year.  You need to constantly assess your environment and do your best to adjust your tactics accordingly.  The variables that I faced this year included a record-setting drought, a dismal acorn crop, and a mild fall.  Last year’s hot spots were cold and it took me too long to adjust my game plan – which leads me to my last point…

Don’t Be Passive

Far too often I have failed to be as aggressive as I should have been.  You hear a lot of talk about spooking deer, ruining a spot, and forcing deer to go nocturnal.  These are valid concerns, but it is possible to play it too safe.  Hunting is supposed to be a pursuit; I think a lot of whitetail hunters have forgotten this fact.  Move stands.  Hunt from the ground.  Don’t just wait for the deer to come to you, go to them.  I am not advocating that you recklessly pursue them, but you also have to use some ingenuity and get aggressive.  Deer begin to expect certain behaviors and pressures from hunters – get aggressive and catch them off guard.

Mark Huelsing is a regular guy with an irregular passion for bowhunting and the outdoors.  If he is not bowhunting, then he is planning towards it, training for it, and writing about it at SoleAdventure.com