By Josh Honeycutt

Unfilled tags. Empty tags. Wasted tags. I hate them. There is nothing more bothersome to a hunter than not killing a deer. I know. I’ve been there – plenty. But are unfilled tags, truly “wasted” tags?

Success is often measured by achievement. In the world of whitetails, it has become a decree by most. But let’s step back and look at what both success and achievement truly mean.

Success:  favorable or desired outcome (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Achievement:  a result gained by effort (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

So here we are, still stuck on two terms: success and achievement. You see the definitions. That’s straight out of the book and hot off the press. Now think for a moment. What do these terms mean to you? What do they mean to your life as a deer hunter?

Keep thinking.

Don’t stop now, you’re on a roll.

As the Canadians say, “Have you figured it out yet, eh?” I’m from the South and I talk like a hillbilly. So I have to take a poke back at you Northerners every once in a while.

The truth is you have to know who you are as a hunter before you can ever be successful or achieve anything. You have to know that you really want to kill that mature buck. You have to know that you want to shoot those three does for the freezer. You have to know that you want to be a steward of the land and effectively manage your herd. You have to know. Or it never will happen.

I can’t speak for anyone other than myself. But for me, success and achievement are not measured by tangible reward. Instead, I analyze success and achievement on a much simpler (sort of) scale – erudition. Now that’s a million dollar word. Have a peek below.

Erudition: impressive knowledge that is learned by studying (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Now, let’s bring this blasted thing full circle.

Just because you didn’t kill your deer, doesn’t mean your season wasn’t a success. Nor does it mean that you didn’t achieve anything. You went to the woods. You tried to kill a deer. You didn’t get it done. As my grandpa used to say, “Suck it up, wipe your face and get over it son.” Tomorrow is another day. Next season will be here soon enough.

Success and achievement are not obtained by killing a deer. They are obtained by learning, educating and becoming wiser in the area in which you are passionate. Killing a deer, well, that’s a bonus. Take the lessons you learned this season and apply them to this next fall. You’ll be a better hunter for it. Who knows, you just might bring the big one home.

“Never stop learning.” – Jeff Danker, Major League Bowhunter

Troubleshooting Empty Tags

For Those Who Didn't Kill One Photo 4

That said, there are still things you can do this next year to improve your chances of filling a tag. Every case is different. No two stories are ever completely the same. So I might be missing the mark with you. Then again, I might be hitting it on the head. Take the following for whatever it’s worth to you. Here are a few potential reasons why your tag may have remained unfilled this year, and some thoughts on how to make sure next season is different …

I didn’t put my time in. Hunting takes time. Whether your goal is a meat doe or a mature buck, you’re going to have to put your time in. If you don’t, you likely won’t succeed. If you’re having trouble finding time to hunt, clear your schedule. Hunting takes dedication.

I put my time in but I didn’t see deer. So you’re dedicated, but you’re lazy. I know, things such as overharvest, predators, EHD, CWD and a gaggle of other things take a toll on populations. But really, who are we kidding? If we want to be serious hunters and kill whitetails, it takes effort. If you aren’t seeing deer, scout other areas. And everyone has a place to hunt. Public land may not be like hunting with a manicured outfitter. But good deer hunting can be had. Go get it. Truth is, I have to tell myself this one all of the time.

The rut sucked. Yes, this year the rut did suck. It sucked worse than Ron Burgundy’s hair and pastel-colored suit. Nevertheless, we can’t ride that pony as an excuse. It took a little more effort to predict deer movement this season. But with meticulous planning and careful execution of the plan, tactical approaches on mature bucks was still a “can do.”

Other hunters messed me up. Yep. I’ve heard that one before. Others have heard me use it too. Then I remembered my grandfather’s previously mentioned saying…

Wildlife resources aren’t “owned” by anyone. Just because they use your land most of the time, or visit your corn pile more than your buddy’s, doesn’t mean it’s your deer. I’m sorry, it’s just not. I was about to pull the trigger when a neighbor walked down the property line and scared off a 6-year-old 140-inch 8-point this season. Did I cry a little? Yes. Did I keep hunting? Sure did. Capped the year off with a nice 135-inch 10-pointer about a month later.

My equipment failed me. You’re only as good as the gear you hunt with. If your stand squeaked and he busted, what can you do? If your scope got nudged enough it was out of alignment, causing you to miss, what can you do? If your scent control system wasn’t enough to keep him from smelling you, what can you do? The solution is to buy the best gear you can with the budget you have in place.

As the title suggested, this one was for those who didn’t kill one this time around. It’s one for those shaking their fists at the sky with empty tags in hand asking the good Lord why. But that doesn’t mean it has to be for you next season. It doesn’t mean you can’t put one in the back of the truck (or on the hood of the car) next year. Set down and map out your plan for next fall. Know what you are going to do beforehand and put everything you have into it. Yes, the season just ended. But fall is coming. Best be ready when it arrives.

– Josh Honeycutt