New to hunting? Lacking confidence in your abilities in the field? When you hit the woods are you just looking for a good place to ‘sit’? The reality is you can be successful and not really understand why.
Sometimes success comes from a really great location. If you are hunting corn fields in Iowa the quality of deer you shoot will most likely be better than the person hunting in the South.
What if you move from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, and have zero access to private land? Guess what – it’s a new game, with new rules. You need to know where to start.
You want to go out West? You got it, you need to learn how to hunt on your own.
Don’t worry this isn’t rocket science, but you will need to commit to learning and applying some basics. In this article you’ll find a foundation of where to begin your hunt and how to take your hunt to the next level.
If you want to consistently find and successfully take game you need to understand the four essential elements of animal behavior. Deer, elk, or turkeys all need these key factors for survival. Not only will you have to understand the basics, but you have to apply what you know or have learned.
It’s as easy as locating their food, water, bed (roost), and breeding grounds. Knowing how to identify these areas, and when to hunt those areas, will determine your success in the field.
ANIMAL BEHAVIOR AND GEOGRAPHY
Here’s the hard part – You are going to have to study your prey and the tendencies of that animal in relation to where you hunt. If you are hunting whitetails in Alabama and using tactics specific to Iowa as your hunting strategy you will be at a disadvantage. Deer in Alabama have different food sources, terrain features, and are subject to a different climate. Climate affects breeding, sometimes pushing it to a later date. Begin studying your location – now!
An easy and low impact way of beginning your search is to join a local hunting talk forum; and simply ask experienced hunters in that area what the major and secondary food sources are. If you hunt at higher elevations, get specific on where your game can be found at certain periods of the hunting season, and when breeding normally occurs. Reach out to local game wardens and biologists, they can be a wealth of knowledge and are often willing to help. You can locate their information by going to your state’s DNR site and give them a call.
The last part to this equation is going to be your own experience. Get out there and gain the knowledge necessary to be successful through experience.
While speaking with locals and state resource agencies, don’t forget to ask favorite food sources during hunting season. Once you’ve identified what is attractive to game in your area, it’s as easy as finding the vegetation on your property. A whitetail in the south will feast on acorns, while a muley out west may hit the sagebrush. Again, it’s all dependent on where you are. If you decide to go out of state you must determine where to look.
This is the easy one. Mammals have to drink water to survive. Find the water and you’ll find the game. Rivers, creeks, ponds, any of these sources will attract game. If you do not have a water source on the property you’re hunting – make one!
You can get creative and dig a hole, put a small swimming pool in the ground and fill it up. Just make sure you ask permission if you don’t own the land!
This is where things get a little more complicated. Whitetails can be found hiding in the cattails, thickets, or even behind a fallen tree. It depends on where you are at. Muley’s may be found hiding under a tree at 8,000’ or in a coulee at 4,000’. Studying your area, and time in the field cannot be understated here.
You’ll also need to know that peak feeding time occurs in the early morning or at last light. Knowing this means that at the points in between, you’ll need to know where the transition from feeding to bedding occurs. As you become more familiar with the game you’ll understand that during daylight hours going from bed to food and vice versa is where you’ll find the most success. Unless of course, it’s that special time of year.
The Rut. Two words that every hunter loves. This is the time of year where just being out there gives you a chance. You don’t have to be Daniel Boone to kill a mature animal during this time of year, but you have to be there to get it done. Also, it’s good to know where to be. This is as easy as finding the doe, cow, or hen that is READY.
During the rut, key in on food sources and get ready.
To understand travel routes between food to bed and everything in between, you will need to begin studying the basics of map reading. Learning the difference between a draw, valley, bench, saddle, etc… can tremendously boost your odds at killing game. For every property that you hunt get an aerial and topo map of that area. Put them side by side and begin doing your homework.
Once you understand the travel corridors on your property by identifying natural pinch points, bedding locations, and funnels you can bet on those areas producing year in and out. I would say that it is just as important for you to understand what you see on a map, as much as what you see on the ground. And what you see on the ground has everything to do with the land features that are present.
Deer and elk are known for their sense of smell. Playing the wind is absolutely essential and can not be stressed enough. Once you’ve identified where the food, water, and bedding is, mark those on your map. If you are going to glass or hang a treestand, mark those locations, and look at it in relation to wind direction before leaving.
Knowing which direction your scent travels will tell you how to enter and exit the area while staying undetected. Wind Thermals should also be considered. This topic is so large it deserves it’s own article. Look for that in the future.
Everyone has a different level of experience with handling firearms or archery equipment, but regardless of experience level, we all must continue to practice and educate one another on hunter safety. The first place to start is by taking a hunters safety course, either online or in person. If you are going to hunt out of a treestand, you can also stop by this site for tips on staying safe.
As you introduce new members to hunting I also encourage you not to take their level of education for granted. Before leaving the truck communicate the importance of muzzle awareness and when to load a round in the chamber. Don’t let your guard down in this area.
The last piece to this puzzle is one that has to come from within. You are not going to be successful if you don’t have a good attitude. Study your game, respect the animal, and go in with a positive attitude. If you work harder than anyone else, no doubt you will be successful. Don’t worry about lack of experience. You have just as much right to enjoy hunting as the next person.
We’ve been extremely blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy God’s creation. If you are a citizen of the U.S.A. you’ve inherited millions of acres in Federal Lands that you can hunt. Go find a place you can enjoy your heritage as a hunter.