Part 2: Details and Planning - Lessons Learned, Keys to Success
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that you really need to set goals at the beginning of each season and stick to them, even if that means a “tag sandwich.” Seeing the lesser buck on the wall that could have been the one you set your goal for will always leave a sore spot in the back of your mind. If your goal is a 125-class buck, that is what you need to stick to, and you just have to pass on all the 120’s. Once you have your goals set, you need to start finding that caliber deer and ask, “Is the property I am hunting capable of holding or producing that type of buck?” You aren’t going to find many 170” bucks in South Carolina on public land. You might need to start looking for a lease or public land in Illinois, Kentucky, or Kansas where that caliber buck lives. If your goal is to kill the biggest buck on the property you have access to hunt, then you need to start long range scouting in July/August, running trail cams, and getting as much intel on your farm without running the deer off your property to find the biggest buck. You need to be a sponge and listen to people that have been successful on the type of deer you are after and have the same style of hunting that you do and same type of property you hunt. It does me no good to get advice from a guy that owns 5,000 acres of private ground in Iowa with huge crop fields and small wood lots when I hunt 2,500 acres of public ground in the cutover swamps of South Georgia. You have to use common sense. If I want to know what broadhead to shoot, I need to find someone that is not sponsored by a broadhead company and shoots more than 1-2 animals per year. I need to listen to someone that is nonbiased and shoots lots and lots of the type of animals I am hunting. If I am a whitetail deer hunter in Florida with super jumpy skittish deer, it really does me no good to listen to a guy that shoots 2 elk a year in Colorado; I want that intel coming from someone in the Southeast that shoot 15+ animals a year with his bow and broadhead set up and vice versa. If I am going elk hunting in Colorado, I sure don’t need to listen to a guy in Texas that shoots hogs over feeders at 15 yards – I need to listen to someone that shoots elk in Colorado and has taken a bunch of them.
The number one key to success is scouting - scouting new areas, new farms, and the farms you can hunt. Early-season scouting and in-season scouting are huge parts of a hunter’s success. The old rule of “scout more than you hunt” could never be truer. I hunted less this year in the tree than I have in probably the last 10 years but shot 8 mature bucks. I spent a TON of time doing research, calling guys, looking at aerials, walking properties, taking out of state trips in February/March/April to scout new farms. My scouting process goes like this: February/March/April, I want to locate and walk as many new properties as I possibly can to get familiar with them and see the trials, rubs, and scrapes that were there during the fall (it’s easy to see them this time of year). You have to remember what the crops were that year as they change from year to year, so one year there is corn and the deer act one way, and the next year it is beans and they may act completely different, so you too can be on a two-year cycle on what you find. Then May, June, and most of July, I give all the properties a break and zero pressure whatsoever. Starting the end of July and the first of August, I get all my early season trail cams out on food and try to locate a mature buck to hunt early season. I also start glassing from a long-distance, large food plots and bean fields (and in certain parts of the country alfalfa). If I locate a big one this time of year from my scouting and I can hunt early season (mid-August to mid-September), I will continue to monitor that buck without letting him know I am even in the world (super long-range glassing and trail cam intel that are already in place). Once the season is open and I have the wind and thermals correct for an afternoon hunt, I will move in quickly mid-day, hang the stand and hunt that very afternoon. I never go in to hang this time of year and let the stand go un-hunted that first afternoon as I don’t want the deer to know anyone has been there if I can’t kill them. If I am not there and the buck I am after comes out and smells where I have been, if he is old and mature, he will know the game, and it will get super difficult to get him. This time of year is one of the best times to get a good buck as they have gone six to seven months with zero pressure and have let their guard down a bit. Once we get to the pre rut in October, I go off trail cam intel and my on-the-ground scouting; I have a stand on my back ready to hang and hunt as soon as I find a good sign. I also use historical scouting intel that I have learned in the past to help go in to known areas. Example: October 15th last year on this ridge in the swamp, the scrapes first started getting opened up by my target buck and he was using a SW wind to access and check these scrapes. Again, I would say I scout 75% of the season and actually hunt only 25% of it.
Probably the biggest mistake I have made whitetail hunting is not being disciplined to the wind and thermals. We will be doing a full podcast on this, but the bottom line is if the wind or thermals are not correct, you can’t hunt a certain spot - period. I used to always come up with excuses of “well maybe it will change, or maybe he will come from a different direction,” but the facts are you just have to be super disciplined when chasing big deer and not hunt the kill spots when you don’t have the wind/thermals you need. If you don’t understand thermals, that is something we will for sure be diving in to more and more. To simplify it, in the mornings when the air is warming up the thermals rise, and in the evenings when the air starts to cool the thermals drop - during both examples they can do the opposite of what a light wind is doing. It is hugely beneficial to have a basic (if not expert) understanding of thermals.
Becoming an elite level bowhunter takes careful planning, consideration, and practice. Lessons will be learned, and mistakes will be made, but in the end, it will all be worth it if you want to put your tag on a giant. The minute the hunting season is over, the planning and preparation begins again. This is not a skill that is just picked up. It is a mindset. It’s a passion. It’s a way of life.