I hunt public land in the ridge and valley province of Central Pennsylvania. Mistakes made on public land tend to be amplified given the amount of hunting pressure, annual variance in food sources, and difficulty of terrain. Success here is the result of being either very astute or very lucky (or both).This year I got to dine on a big hearty bowl of tag soup. Coming up empty-handed after putting in 60 – 70 hours of hunting time in six days is enough to make you doubt your ability – and your sanity. Here are a few lessons learned from this year’s hunt.
If you hunt from dark to dark, as I often do, pack enough food and water to keep you energized and alert throughout the day. The best way to achieve this is by eating in small quantities continuously. When you don’t eat and drink enough, you lose focus and start thinking about that nice, warm meal at home (seriously, you waited an entire year for this moment and now you want to go home and eat spaghetti?). As a result of your mental fatigue, your steps become careless and loud because you’re not committed. Next thing you know you’re watching a buck’s rear-end disappear into the thick stuff.
They’re There… Somewhere
There are deer everywhere. Even if this isn’t true, you should act like there are deer everywhere. How many improbably placed deer have you carelessly bumped while hunting and scouting? Like a million. The hardest thing is to be ready all the time.
The grass is always greener. What usually happens is that I’ll settle into a spot only to see another spot over the way that looks even better. So, I put my backpack on (noise), stand up (more noise and just about the worst thing to do in the woods), and move (more noise) to the spot that looks even better. And, of course, from this new spot I see a spot I like even more. Just stay where you are and have confidence in your decisions. If the deer are moving in your area, you’ll know it.
Prep Your Scope
Your scope is going to fog up in bad weather. Modern scopes are filled with nitrogen, which makes the inside fog-proof but not the outside. At a critical moment in the hunt you don’t want to be looking through a foggy scope. I recommend installing Butler Creek flip-open scope covers. If you’re sitting down, hold the rifle away from your body so that your body heat doesn’t fog up the scope. Your body’s warmth, not the rain, is the enemy of your scope.
From a tactical perspective, a hunter should find that sweet spot between patience and adaptation. That spot you scouted earlier in the season might be perfect… for a cold, sunny day. But now the wind is blowing and rain is coming down in sheets. What then? It’s time to adapt. Patience can be overrated. Some of the best fishermen I know are the most impatient people in the world. They don’t waste their time on something they know won’t work well. Anybody can get lucky in unfavorable conditions, but more often than not you need to take luck into your own hands.
I got skunked this year. I saw plenty of deer, perhaps more than ever, but nothing that I could legally shoot. The good thing is that I put in over 60 hours the first week of rifle season, so I have no regret – or excuses. The only bad hunting is not getting out to hunt.