By Steve Sorensen
Success doesn’t come by starting to think about hunting
the week before the shooting season.
If you’ve begun a winter boots-on-the-ground and trail camera scouting program described in Part 1, it’s time to take the next step.
Step 3 – Hunt for Shed Antlers
The third component to your off-season program is hunting for shed antlers. Having a shed antler from a live buck in your hands not only gets your predatory juices flowing, it tells you for sure that the buck you want is there.
Those buck bedrooms you discovered—the areas with single beds or multiple beds that were all made by mature deer? Mark ’em on your map. If there’re not all fresh, deer are using them repeatedly—maybe just one deer. And he may be a dandy buck. For whatever reason, he feels secure there. He has an attachment to the spot, and he’ll be back.
Sometimes shed antler hunting can be frustrating. You can walk for miles on trails, looking left and right, hoping to spot a shed. Why aren’t you finding sheds? You’re probably spending most of your time on doe trails. Instead, start in the buck bedding areas you’ve found. Follow the trails out to feeding areas.
Where I live in northern Pennsylvania antlers are hard to find. One reason is that we have lots of porcupines, and those rodents can gnaw an antler to nothing in as little as a day or two, recycling it for the calcium. Plus, they’re big enough to carry an antler off. Start shed hunting early—especially if there isn’t much snow—because you’re competing with nature’s recyclers.
Hunters find a set of sheds and end up killing the buck that wore them every year. That’s no accident. Shed antlers are the best clue you have that a nice buck is hanging around, and if you know he’s there and you learn more about him, the odds begin to swing your way.
Step 4 – Take a Hunter-Improvement Class
People take self-improvement classes in winter on many topics. They attend book groups, Bible studies, dance lessons and more. People get serious after the holidays with personal development programs and weight loss—so why not get serious about your development as a deer hunter? The local community college probably doesn’t offer a class, but you can start your own.
Get a half dozen good hunters together and create a course of study. Talk about the best books on deer hunting, share methods, attend seminars at sport shows, and evaluate each other’s experience. Share challenges as well as successes.
A word of caution. You may get more response if you don’t call it a “class.” Just say, “Hey—a few of us are getting together at my house to look at the new (fill in the blank) video, and I’d like you to come. I’ll provide the snacks.”
When they come, take charge. Ask what good deer hunting videos they have. Talk about your experience last season, and ask about theirs. Get them to talk about their most frustrating issues. Ask each person to give a brief post-season report. Talk about various parts of your county, about the equipment you use (trail cameras, tree stands, scents), and even ask others to bring items such as trail cameras to demonstrate and show some pictures. Make everyone feel like an important part of the group, and they’ll want to come again.
Make the class informal and spontaneous. That means no PowerPoint. The less formal it is, the more people will participate. They get enough formality in their jobs and their daily schedules. Don’t use language like reports, evaluation, analysis, study, and curriculum. Let them realize later that they’ve attended a hunter improvement class.
This is going to take some leadership, some thinking, and some planning, but in a few weeks you’ll bond and the gathering will take on more importance. The guys who are serious about deer hunting will begin to see that they can benefit from sharing success.
Putting the 80/20 Principle to Work for You
If you put this 4-step program to work for you, you’re using the 80/20 principle, a principle that extends to the most commonplace issues. Don’t get hung up on the exact numbers, but think about it. In retail sales, roughly 20% of the products account for 80% of the revenue. In volunteer fire departments, churches, and civic clubs, 20% of the members do 80% of the work. And in hunting, 20% of the hunters have 80% of the success. The reason is they work on their hunting strategies all year long.
The top 20% of hunters are not luckier. They’re successful because they take the time to develop all the tools at their disposal. They spend hundreds of hours in the field outside of shooting seasons. They are more prepared. They read more. They study more. They think more.
One thing is sure—success doesn’t come by starting to think about hunting the week before the shooting season. You need to be an everyday hunter, a hunter with the attitude that hunting season lasts 365 days. The best athletes train all year long, and work at making themselves better. For a defensive end, opening day is the first day he can sack a quarterback. For you, opening day is the first day you can make a kill.
If you haven’t killed a good buck in a while, it’s time to break that drought. Start thinking about whitetails every day. They should never be far from your mind. Invest in the hunt year ’round, and you’ll be on the path to your next mature whitetail.
About Steve Sorensen
Outdoor writer and speaker Steve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and is editor of the Havalon Sportsman’s Post. He has also published articles in Deer & Deer Hunting, Outdoor Life, and many other top magazines across the USA. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com.
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