Use this decision model to make your hunts much more productive!
Last week I talked about 4 key reasons why your hunts aren’t as productive as they should be. If you didn’t read it, you can HERE, and I highly suggest you do as it is an introduction into this week’s article. I thought about putting this information in that blog, but there was just way too much, so I had to make its own blog, and rightly so. What I’m going to share this week I call “the Hot Spot Continuum,” and it's a decision model that will greatly help you determine when, and where to hunt, and thus when and where not to. I’ve developed it over the years, and it helps guide me (over mere instinct or “gut feelings”) on exactly where to hunt for maximum success. For some, this may be common sense, others very eye-opening. Either way, it puts on paper, in a concise format, what we’re all really after when time is of the essence: a way to make crucial make or break hunting decisions. It’s a science, not so much an art, and I’m convinced you’ll see greater results, as well, when employed. So, buckle up, here we go!
First, I want to define this “continuum.” I call it this, because it is not a cut and dried hierarchy with definite cutoff points. It is, however, something you can compare your intel to, and will help you decide if you should hunt in a particular location or not. The vital first step that cannot be overlooked is GETTING INTEL (trail cam pictures, glassing observations, foot scouting, observations of fresh tracks, rubs, beds and scrapes, etc.), because without this it is impossible to use the continuum at all. So first, scout and get intel! Then, you can use the Hotspot Continuum as a decision model to help sort it out, but without it, well.. you’re just relegating your success to luck. I go with intel, and the more the better!
THE HOTSPOT CONTINUUM
1. NO CLUE: The random hunt . On this end of the continuum, you have literally no or very little scouting intel. If you hunted, you would literally just be walking into a spot and hoping you’d get lucky. Sometimes this happens, but for long term success you have to go with the numbers.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Don’t Hunt, Scout! Get out the cameras, binoculars, or get hoofing it and collecting intel. Your Goal is hot, fresh sign, so look for it!
2. DEER SHOULD: Deer should do this, be here, or travel here. In this scenario you know a little about the area, the terrain maybe, or have a guess as to how deer will use the area. That’s all though. This is a little better than a 1 on the continuum, but not much. You do not have any direct intel to go off.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Don’t hunt, Scout! This could mean an observation stand hunting a low-impact fringe to find out if you’re correct in your assumptions about the area.
3. DEER HISTORICALLY. Deer usually do this, frequent these areas, or travel here. At level 3 of the continuum you do have intel. You have a history, whether from your past observations or maybe a friend who knows the area, of how deer travel and use the land. This is decent intel, but you do not have any fresh sign or scouting to go off. This is a tricky place to be, what I would call “on the fence.”
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Hunt/Scout. The best thing to do in this position is to either plain old scout more (foot, trailcam, glass, etc.) until you get the intel you need, or hunt in an observation scenario until you get yet more intel (your goal being to confirm an active deer you would shoot is frequenting the area in hunting hours).
4. DEER ARE: Deer are currently using this area and you know so indirectly. Sign is telling you a shooter is using the area, but you do not know when or if it is during hunting hours (ex. Big rubs and scrapes, or fresh deer tracks/poop show current use, but this may be all at night. There is a level of uncertainty)
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Hunt, but possibly cautiously depending on pressure in your area. If a lot of pressure, hunt more aggressively. If not, consider hunt / scouting to gather more direct intel that a shooter is active in daylight periods, and if so when ( i.e. time of day before you put a full out assault on).
5. HOT NOW: Direct buck intel tells me my target deer is here now and using the area frequently when I can shoot him (visual confirmation, trail cam pics in daylight, etc.). This is the GOAL, otherwise consider continuing to scout or hunt/scout until you find this.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Hunt NOW, duh!
NOTE: Do NOT waste time feeling like hunting is getting you closer. This is one of the biggest pitfalls of many hunters. If you cannot find a spot that is at least a 4, hopefully a 5 on the Hotspot Continuum, then SCOUT more, HUNT less until you know when/where to hunt. Resist the urge/feeling that hunting a 1-3 spot will bring you high success, it most likely will not.
That’s the continuum. Honestly assess your intel, place it on the scale, and let it tell you where and when to hunt. It works, helps take emotional or “gut feeling” decisions out of it by using real intel, and will give you the best opportunity to bring long term success (I will say, the more hunting areas you have will give you options and let you compare them to make better informed decisions as well ). Here are a few examples of my hunts that will possibly help you to place your intel on the continuum.
A. The Saddle (Hotspot Continuum 3-4): On a property I hunt in Ohio, there is a particular saddle that usually has deer travel through it. They are going from one valley to another for food, or during the rut is a place bucks like to cruise from one area to another. This would be a #3 or 4 as deer historically travel here as a crossing, or to pick up acorns the nearby oak trees have dropped. Depending on the year, I will hunt this more or less. If I know a big buck or two is cruising the area, this is a great spot to sit. If I know does are using it quite a bit one year vs. another, again it could be a great rut spot. However, I usually do not have a lot of direct intel, so it’s a bit of a gamble. My intel usually comes from the surrounding area, and and a few sits usually tells me this. If I do not have a #5 spot, this is a good area as a Scout / Hunt, which may turn out good, but if I do have a #5, I’ll hunt that.
B. The Public Nine (Hotspot Continuum 4): This year in Michigan I took a great buck (pictured) on public land. Direct, fresh intel (but no eyeball or trailcam observation) told me a good buck was using a swamp transition to food actively. Fresh big rubs, big tracks, and a huge scrapeline coming from a field to bedding area told me to hunt immediately. This is when you definitely hunt a #4. Other hunters could move in any day and take, or drive this deer elsewhere. I hung a stand on this active scrapeline at a pinch of several trails heading back toward a bedding area, and accessed it ¾ mile from the other direction. The result, catching a trotting bruiser heading back to his bed just after daylight, a 12 yard shot, and a very long but rewarding drag.
C. The Ohio Eight. (Hotspot Continuum 5): This year in Ohio was tough. There was very little intel on 2 properties that I hunt (mainly, trailcam pictures of shooter bucks were non-existent, even at night). On the smaller property, however, I had a visual encounter with a nice 8 point the weekend prior to my November rut hunt. I determined he was a shooter, and upon checking when I returned, found he was making appearances every few days at an area trail camera. There was direct intel, and very good reason to believe the hillside transition between bedding areas was in his core area. So playing it smart, and hunting it regularly was a good bet to see him again. This is exactly what happened on the last evening of that rut hunt. I put an unadvised, but lethal, neck - lung shot on him that had him spraying blood like a firehose and crashing down in 10 short seconds. It was all due to direct intel, and hunting a #5 spot.
The Hotspot Continuum - use it, not your “gut,” to help decide when and where to hunt for much higher success in the woods!
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