This a guest post from Andy May, a Wired To Hunt contributor and a very successful whitetail hunter from Michigan. To learn more about Andy and how he has success on highly pressured deer, check out our 2013 feature on how he gets the job done. In today’s article, Andy is sharing with us a few important tasks to work on in the off-season. The 2015 hunting season may be done for most of us, but the 2016 season has already begun. Start it off on the right foot.
By Andy May
Learn A New Tactic: There is more than one way to put a tag on a mature whitetail year in and year out. Many tactics work but we all have those tactics that we’re most comfortable with. Perhaps your main tactic is hunting near bedding areas, or planting food plots in strategic locations to intercept bucks on their way to the destination source. Maybe your favorite tactic is hunting around cold fronts or perhaps it’s hunting over a decoy in open country. The bottom line is that there are plenty of different tactics that work to put a big buck on the ground, but some of these tactics are out of our comfort zone.
What I challenge you to do this year is to choose a new tactic to learn for 2016. What I recommend doing is seeking out someone you know or someone you have heard of who is efficient at the tactic you choose and learn as much as you can about it. Perhaps they’ve written a book, articles, or participated in podcasts, or maybe they are even willing to discuss the tactic in depth one-on-one. Many successful hunters are quite willing to share what they’ve learned. The Wired To Hunt podcasts are a great place to start to learn in-depth tactics too. Becoming a more rounded hunter will allow you to be successful in a variety of situations.
Improve Your Hunting Accuracy: I personally believe this should be a focus of improvement every single off-season. Far too many hunters take their bow out of their case two weeks before the season starts and fire a few arrows before heading to the woods. I believe we owe it to the animal to be as accurate as possible to give us the best chance of a quick clean kill. When many hunters “practice” in the off-season it’s mindless arrow after arrow shooting, on solid ground, in a tee shirt not really working on anything. Remember that accuracy can and will be effected when loaded up with your hunting garments and equipment. Also, after killing many deer with my bow I can state for certain that many of your bow shots on live animals will require some sort of awkward positioning. Therefore I recommend practicing from not only comfortable positions like standing and sitting but also add some slight twisting of the trunk, bending to the knees, or tilting your upper buddy to simulate actual bowhunting shots that occur in the wild. This will allow you to learn your limitations as well as properly prepare you for shots that most likely will occur at some point.
Another overlooked thing with hunting accuracy is shot execution. In the off-season focus more on the shot execution itself than determining if it was a “good shot”. There are many guys that can shoot lasers into the bullseye all summer punching the trigger and then put terrible shots on live animals over and over. I think many archers suffer from various levels of target panic and it carries over to hunting. The key is learning the proper shot execution in the off-season and engrain it into your brain so that it carries over to high pressure situations like taking a shot at a big buck. A great drill to work on proper shot execution is blind bailing at close range. You can simply take your sight off the bow and focus on the actual execution of your shot so that it becomes automatic. Remember, punching the trigger will often lead to target panic.
Increase Your High Percentage Sits: This is one of the most important factors in my success as a bow hunter. With a family and job that doesn’t offer vacation time during hunting season my available time in the woods chasing whitetails is extremely limited. For me to have the success I want to have year in and year out I have to have high percentage hunts in areas that have the type of deer that I want to hunt. When I first started hunting 20 years ago I had one 12 acre property that I hunted. I killed a few nice bucks there over the years but success was very inconsistent. Looking back it is painfully obvious why. I essentially hunted the same one or two tree stands over and over for the entire season. I quickly educated any mature buck and my chances of success were very low after the first few hunts.
Over the next 10 years I began working hard finding good spots on various public properties as well as knocking on doors relentlessly to gain more access. Success began to increase somewhat because I could spread out my hunting pressure over several areas. To improve things further I started seeking out areas that held quality bucks and started focusing on them. I gained permission in good areas and scouted public land in areas that were known to hold older bucks. Every year I try to build on these areas. Stand locations are obviously very important. Learning the areas and stand locations that traditionally produce great action under certain conditions during various times of the season is incredibly important. My goal is to fill up an entire season of high percentage sits in good areas and in great stand locations. Instead of hoping and wishing there is a good buck in the area, I know through scouting and preparation that I am in the best locations available thus increasing my chances of success drastically.
Scout with a Purpose: Most hunters flat out don’t scout enough. Of the hunters that do spend time scouting, many don’t scout with any plan or purpose. It’s pretty simple. Every scouting trip you should be setting a goal for that scouting trip. What are you looking for exactly? What are you trying to accomplish? Some of the things that one might try to determine during a scouting mission could be: Where are buck bedding areas? Where are doe bedding areas? Where are the funnels that offer the best ambush opportunity? What are the potential food sources throughout various parts of the season? Where is the water? Where are the barrier crossings? How could I access this property with all possible winds? Can the deer see me access the property? Would access to this location spook deer entering or exiting? Where is the other hunting pressure? Do I feel as though I have a realistic chance of encountering the bucks I want on this property? I typically scout/prepare twice the amount of time as I actually hunt. For me personally this has allowed me to have the success I want on such limited time.
Master the Wind: Every hunter knows that in order to have a chance at a mature whitetail you have to “play the wind”. “Playing the wind” typically means utilizing the wind to keep your human scent out of the buck’s nose. We all know that if the buck we are after gets a whiff, it’s game over. The difficult thing about the wind is that it’s always changing. Just because the weather man says that today the wind will blow out of the north all day does not mean it will be blowing out of the north in your stand location. Elevation changes, structure, vegetation, field edges, etc. can alter the wind’s path at that particular location. Add to that thermal influences and your scent currents can get pretty complicated and frustrating. Dan Infalt, a hardcore successful bow hunter from Wisconsin turned me on to the use of milk weed as a wind indicator many years ago. I had always used the powder method prior. The beauty of the milk weed is as it glides through the wind currents you can see it very well out to long distances. Many times your scent stream will go one way from your tree stand only to turn a completely different direction as it reaches another. It gives you a very clear visual of what your actual scent stream is doing and allows you to assess how each actual wind forecast behaves at your tree. Milk weed is such a great learning tool and should be in every serious hunters pack.
So during this off season utilize your milk weed on your scouting trips. Take a mental note of the forecasted wind and test it out in different areas and stand locations to see how the terrain and structure influence the currents. Realize that things may react different without the tree cover that will be present during the earlier part of deer season. Utilizing the milk weed and learning how wind currents are affected under various conditions and locations will really help you gain a huge advantage when trying to hunt down mature whitetails.
– Andy May