We recently got a new guy on our shift at the firehouse I work at, a 'rookie' as we say. And with this new addition to our shift, our family, our brotherhood, comes a great amount of responsibility. He's going to need to be watched closely, trained, mentored and shown the 'ropes'. The more senior veterans will begin the process of 'passing along the torch' of knowledge and street experience to bring this new crew member up to speed. This is not something that happens overnight; it will in fact take days, weeks, months and years for him to assume the amount of knowledge, skills and abilities required to be a good firefighter.
That's all fine and dandy, Mike, you may say, but what in the heck does this have to do with whitetail deer hunting?
Well, I got to thinking about that and the similarities between the two are pretty remarkable. The primary one that bears the most significance is the undeniable need that exists for veterans in either case, be it fighting fires or hunting whitetails, to pass along their aquired experiences, knowledge and hard-earned lessons to the younger troops just getting started. Whether its a neighbor's kid, a younger member of a hunt club, or your very own little camo-clad son or daughter, ours is the responsibility to continue passing down that 'torch' to future generations. It may not be a life or death situation, (actually, yes it can be, more on that in a minute...), but the livelihood and success of our chosen pursuit depends on it.
In light of this thinking, I have compiled a list of several of my favorite 'tricks of the trade' that I have picked up or had to learn the hard way since I have been venturing off into the whitetail woods back when I was a 'rookie'. Every single one I have found that I can ironically apply to either my work or hunting! Take one, or two, or all of them as you wish and tuck them into your toolbox of hunting strategies and tactics for future use....
1. WEAR YOUR SAFETY GEAR: It's there for you to use, and it won't do you a darned bit of good sitting in a storage container at home. Too macho or old school for all the safety nonsense? Consider this statistic: one in ten hunters can expect to have some type of accident or fall involving a tree stand. Most hunters hang their stands, either lock-on or climber, somewhere in the 20 ft. range. A fall from that distance from a misstep or falling asleep can send you for a collision with planet Earth that could kill you or leave you severely disabled for the rest of your life. Don't risk it, do it for your family at least. They need you to come home at the end of your watch.
2. KNOW YOUR AREA: The better familiarized you are with the topography and predominant winds, the better equipped you will be not only to give that mature buck on the property a decent chance of walking in front of your sight pin or crosshairs, but also to track him afterwards if you do get a shot. Getting lost and being able to find your way out or at least to water if the need arises is certainly not second in importance.
3. GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME: Time and time again I hear other hunters tell of the myriad of ways they have come up with to pass the long time on stand; reading a book, listening to music on their i-pod, playing little games on their cell phones or texting.......hey, that's all great, but you can do all that in the comfort of your home. How about paying attention to what's happening around you? When I'm on stand, I'm living every moment of it, deciphering every sound, paying attention to the wind, trying to move as carefully as possible, looking for any movement that might be an ear, leg, or antler moving through the tangle of branches, and just drinking in the fresh air and entire experience. I believe hunters either miss or spook deer way before they ever see them because of fidgeting and carelessness. The only reason I bring a cell phone to the tree with me is for emergency contact purposes, either from me or from my family. Otherwise it would stay at home. You can 'LIKE' your neighbor's posts on FaceBook every time he takes his his yellow lab out to go potty when you get back home. Right now, we're hunting deer. So pay attention, because they are!
3a. -Oh, and while I'm on the topic of cellphones, make sure if you have it with you in the tree to either adjust the ringer to 'Off' or 'vibrate' mode. Nothing's like watching a herd of white rear-ends bolting away as Waylon Jennings' 'Good Ole Boys' theme from the Dukes of Hazard rocks the autumn forest at zero hour. Yep, **sighhhh**, true story guys, happened to yours truly two years ago. So turn that thing off or down!
4. NIGHT OPS: The nature of this game puts you out in the field operating at the fringes of daylight hours. In the morning, you must be able to access, ascend, and lock your safety harness caribiner to your tree stand with minimal or no light at all. I personally do not use a flashlight, except during firearm season when I use one while en route to and from my stand in the dark for obvious safety reasons. We cannot roll the dice and expect that everyone shares the same ethics regarding shooting at noises in the dark outside of legal shooting hours, or in the daylight during legal hunting hours for that matter. During bowseason I rarely employ any lights and if I do I have a small military grade light with red LED to minimize night vision loss. Bottom line again, you should be able to access, ascend and tie any knots in the dark. Practice in the off season with your eyes closed, especially with your young hunter at home. It will pay off huge dividends.
5. HAVE A GOAL: -And stick to it! How many have heard someone you know brag about the 130 inch eight point 'management buck' -(citing a gross misuse and misconception of the term)- they passed up several times because "if you want 'em to grow, you gotta let 'em go!", only to see him come home on the last day of the season with a spike, six point, or even one with spots still on its rear end because the "freezer was empty"? When I first started out with a bow, my first kill was a five point buck which I was very pleased with, and as the years went on, and as the opportunities presented themselves, I gradually worked my way up to some of what I considered decent bow kills; nothing huge, nothing I would consider doing a shoulder mount with now today, but I was nonetheless satisfied and proud of my progressing accomplishments. Since working my way upward, I have taken several very nice deer that I have hanging on my game wall at home to show for my patience. But before I graduated to this point, I constantly had to hear it from the local 'woods-bullies' that I was killing animals that were too small and would have been a "160 inch monster" next year.
Let me be clear here: You go and set your personal goals for yourself, and make them realistic in relation to the area you hunt and your opportunity factors. And then STICK to them. It's about the honor system and the only one you will let down is yourself if you fall short by giving in and taking a lesser animal. By being realistic I mean that you should understand that with the dramatic increase in the commercialization and distortion of this sport by the various hunting television shows and personalities and the like, folks are venturing off into the deer woods with skewed, unreal expectations and disappointment when one of these 160 inch 'monsters' never shows up. I believe there has been a great disillusionment created to the younger generation by all of this hype. I cringe when I hear the term 'management buck' thrown around by inexperienced hunters in the fair chase/public and private land hunting group like myself. Again, be realistic to yourself or the kid you are mentoring. That so-called 'little' eight pointer might be the only chance he or she gets at a deer all season, and they need not be harassed or embarrassed by anyone when the tailgate drops down at the check-in station for taking him. They need encouragement and positive reinforcement to move onward and upward. Besides that, at least in my humble opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking an eight point buck of any caliber, or for that matter, ANY deer with a bow, especially for a junior deer hunter! Every individual's goals are different.
So give the Versus channel and the terms 'management buck' and 'monster' a break and let's focus on where most of us hunt; here in the real world.
6. PRACTICE MAKES YOU BETTER: Get out there and involve yourself in practicing proper shooting form and technique, whether its with your bow or firearm. Know your gear and equipment and it's limitations. Familiarity is key. Remember, the weak link in the chain is you.
7. BE A GOOD AMBASSADOR OF OUR SPORT: I touched on it earlier, but in this game, the honor system is always in place. If you hunt public land and the other guy got in the woods to your favorite spot first, well, that's just tough. If while scouting you find the perfect spot for a stand only to discover that someone has already hung a stand two trees over, those are the breaks. We never go back and steal, destroy, or worse yet, sabotage someone else's equipment. Think of the terrible consequences or injuries that could result. Sound extreme? It's not. Both scenarios have happened to me in the past. I just happened to catch the damaged straps to my climbing ladder the day prior to hunting it. And the one that got stolen would have been long gone, had it not been for the 72 full color images my trailcam captured of the individual(s) in the act. Another true story.
So be a good sport and take the high road in any situation.
Remember, as passionate as we are about hunting, it's not worth getting hurt over, or worse.
Hunting, no matter what game you are pursuing and like any sport, can be challenging enough to learn and become proficient at without mentorship. It can be very frustrating to the beginner without proper guidance and the teaching of discipline and patience. We owe it to ourselves and others to take time to pass along our experiences to the incoming carriers of our proud heritage and genuine love of the woods. I hope these few favorites of mine find themselves being helpful to someone out there just starting out. Remember, we call it hunting, not killing, so every day in the tree is a good day no matter what!
Safe hunting and good luck.