Why Your Hunts Aren’t Productive as They Should Be (and what you can do about it)
Many times hunters are faced with the same challenging question, with seemingly no answer: why aren’t my hunts being productive? This is a legitimate question. The problem is, many times we cannot find the answer, or are unwilling to see it. In this article I’m going to reveal some blunt truth answers I have come to realize through years of hunting that can, and will make your hunts more productive (I’m fairly confident of this). However, there is one crucial caveat - IF you can be honest with yourself. If you can, read on, if not then just continue what you were doing ( and expect the same results).
Why Your Hunts Aren’t Productive:
1. YOU WHINE. Ok we’ve all been there, our hunting season has been poor (your buddy is killing it) and you just can’t help but whine about that. If your hunting land is all you’ve got, and your deer herd is down (could be due to over hunting, hunting pressure, disease, your bad hunting habits, etc.) you may have a hard time seeing deer. Most hunter’s natural inclination is to complain and whine when this happens. They talk about this or that, say it's the neighbors, and attach blame to anything they possibly can as to why their season has been terrible. Now some of these reasons may be true, but in reality whether these reasons are true or not does not matter. You see, many hunters stop here. They are content to complain, whine, and moan, .. and be unsuccessful as a result. This is simply a no win response, and a big reason why many hunters are not productive as they should be.
Successful hunters focus on what they can control, and do something, and do not focus on what they can’t control, and therefore lose any control to do something positive to improve their situation. The fact is we all can do something to improve our situation, and need to in order to have more productive sits. Me must resist the urge we’ve all felt to wallow in self-pity, think about how “other hunters have it better than me,” or get green-eyed jealous of the success of others. This will get you nowhere. The key is to focus on what you CAN DO to change and potentially improve your situation and success. If you say “there is nothing I can do,” you’re not thinking hard enough. The list could be long: change stand locations, find new property, change your entry/exit routes, employ a new strategy, etc. To make your hunts more productive though, one thing is for sure: you have to stop passing blame and whining, and start looking with an open mind at any possible solution. Those that do this allow the chance for success. Literally one fresh idea, one action, can take a season from terrible to terrific. You’ve got to stop whining, and start doing to get a different result and have more productive sits. So get to it!
2. YOU CAN’T LET GO: If I don’t see the sign/deer I want within 2 hunts, I know it’s time for me to move on. I need to KNOW I have a good chance of seeing/getting something I’m after each sit. I cannot stand being stuck hunting one area because it’s easy (I’m being lazy), or I “don’t have other spots.” If this is you, stop making excuses, get off your butt, and find them! If your hunting spot isn’t good, find one that is (or do the work to make yours better). Venture off on some new public land, knock on some doors, do some property management, get creative, but don’t let yourself get caught in the rut of hunting the same old spots, the same old stands out of some sense of nostalgia. Just because a spot is hot one year, does not mean it will be the next. Always be willing to try, scout, explore new areas and find ones that are, and let go of old ones. It will take more effort, but realize that’s what it may take to have productive hunts. Ask yourself, would you rather hunt a couple times and bag that big buck, or hunt most a season and not see much at all (all the while with a nagging feeling that you don’t have a chance - because deep down you know you don’t)? You have to be able to let go of the past, and take the risk of the new. Letting go, and effort - it’s the cost of having more productive hunts, but well worth it!
3. YOU GO WITH YOUR GUT: Going with your gut in hunting is one of the worst things you can do. It relegates your chance of success to luck, when it could be based on hard facts and data, which I call INTEL. Luck might be all a hunter has if they do no scouting at all and blindly walk into the woods, but this is not going to lead to productive hunts consistently over time. The main goal should be to put the odds in your favor as much as possible, and going off intel about your deer is the best way to do this. It does not mean for certain that you will have success, but it drastically increases the odds, especially over time. When I speak of intel I mean sightings, fresh poop, tracks, trail cam pictures, active rubs, scrapes, and any other observable data you have to tell your target deer are located and active. This is crucial, and all I go off. I need to KNOW, not FEEL that an area is good, and the only way is with INTEL.
This year in Ohio was a tough season for me. Trail cam pictures, and scouting did not show more than a couple potential shooter bucks on my main property. One big 7 point fell to a neighbor's arrow early in season. As the fall progressed, another potential shooter was found poached across the road. The only remaining buck I would take was a nice 9 that I only had 2 trail cam pictures of - one in September, and one in late October. He simply was not frequenting the property. Meanwhile on my other property, I had a close encounter with a nice 8, and had several trail cam pictures of
him and a wandering 10 point. I hunted this spot quite a bit, and knew I was pressuring it a bit. With just 2 days left to hunt late in my rut hunt, my “feelings” told me to hunt the property with little sign. After all, I hadn’t hunted it much, it was the rut, and something could show at any time chasing a doe (and this would take pressure off the other property). This was a hard one, but I had to be logical. On one hand I had a property with no shooters showing consistently (and neighbors telling me the same), and on the other hand had a property that had current intel of activity. So what did I do? You bet, I turned down my “gut feeling” to hunt the first property and went with the intel to hunt the second. The rest is history, as the next night I arrowed the nice 8 intel told me was frequenting the area. To have more productive sits, don’t go with your gut, go with intel!
4. YOU HUNT TOO HARD: Some people think that just hunting more, hunting harder is the key. Although there is time for this, usually this is not the case. A key example of this principal is my 2018 season. In arguably one of the most challenging states to hunt good bucks (Michigan), I had three shots on very good bucks before I was 3 weeks into the season. Let me take a moment to quantify this for people who live in big buck states (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, etc.) and may not understand. In Michigan, you can probably add about 40 inches of antler to equate to a “good buck” in these states (i.e. a 120 inch buck in Michigan would be similar to taking a 160 inch buck in Iowa - my estimation, but probably a good comparison). The pressure is so high, most deer do not make it past 2 years old, and taking a 3+ year old, especially on public land, is very rare and challenging. One of the bucks I encountered was October 5th, a near miss on a very nice split G2 - 8 point that would have gone about 130. The second was a slightly smaller 8 point I took on a different piece of public ground, and the third was my biggest yet in Michigan (27 years hunting) on public which scored 132. ALL of these shots were taken in the first sit in these locations, and only after I had a lot of intel that told me to hunt there.
In the first case (the miss), I had seen a group of bucks coming out of some overlooked CRP before season. This was in late September. On October 4th (the 4th day of season) I decided to do a non-intrusive hunt/scout that proved to be a great observation sit. I was able to confirm from a distance that the bucks indeed were still bedding in this clump of CRP, and also get some more vital info: they liked to exit the CRP to feed with the wind at their backs (I believe due to the fact they could see in front, and smell anything behind them in the CRP). This proved critical. The next night was the same wind, so I pushed across the field to a point I had seen them pass the day before, and set up. Not too long after, because of the direct and valuable intel, I had a shot at this awesome buck. The fact that I misjudged the distance is a sad one, but does not negate the fact that hard intel told me where, and when to hunt, and allowed a very productive hunt. Intel is King, and if you do not have it, you should resist the urge to hunt, and do more scouting until you know exactly where you should hunt. This is the biggest factor to making each hunt a productive one, and cannot be emphasized enough. Do more scouting, less hunting, and when you hunt you’ll have a much higher chance of success. The more you talk to high-level hunters, the more you’ll realize this crucial and overlooked fact. They scout, scout, scout, get intel, then hunt and kill. It’s a vital key to making hunts very productive, and you should do it too!
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