Tenderloins or Tag Soup

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This New York buck was the result of an adjustable game plan.
This New York buck was the result of an adjustable game plan.

The key to success is often doing just a little more. Sportscasters talk about it all the time. The basketball player who stays after practice and shoots a hundred extra three-point shots, the kicker who kicks a hundred more field goals in practice, the batter who hits a hundred extra balls when everyone else is in the locker room — these are the players who enjoy the most success.

Does that translate to deer hunting? My dad used to say the most successful hunters are the ones who spend the most time in the woods. I’ve thought about that through the years, and I don’t think it means just sitting in a treestand after everyone else has gone home.

In every human endeavor, the people who achieve the most are relentless. Sometimes we call them “Type-A,” but lots of negative traits can go with Type-A people. They can be ambitious in an unhealthy way. Sometimes they’re easily irritated and impatient with others. Their lives can be out of balance. Sometimes they succeed despite these or other harmful behaviors.

By contrast, a successful hunter is sometimes a loner. He does his thing, finds great satisfaction in it, and doesn’t need to thump his chest over his success. But he does put in his time.
What are the deer hunter’s equivalents to shooting those extra shots and taking those extra swings? Most hunts end without a shot, so taking practice shots might be the obvious thing, but not the productive thing. Here are a few things I think will make every hunter better.

1. Successful hunters think a little harder.

While scouting is mostly a pre-season effort and a mental aspect of the game, the successful hunter does not disconnect scouting from hunting. Hunting is a mind-game, a constant study of what’s happening in the woods. How are deer reacting to weather? When will deer bed and when will they resume feeding? When few hunters are out during midweek, how do deer respond?
Where and when deer feed and bed are always big questions, but the answers to those questions change once the shooting starts. Where do they feel most secure? Where are they going eat and sleep in order to avoid hunters? Will they be more active at night? At first light? At last light? Why? The questions you can come up with are limitless, and how you think them through is what makes the difference during the last week of the season.

2. Successful hunters stay a little longer.

Why go home at 4:00 when you can stay till 5:00? That’s “the magic hour,” as my buddy calls it. It’s a time when many deer feel secure because they haven’t encountered hunters all day, maybe even a couple of days. As they begin to move their number one priority is food. That’s when it pays off to remember where you’ve seen feeding activity. Staying a little longer means you’re in the woods when the most deer are the most active. It might mean hiking out in the dark, but remember this — other than opening day it’s the hour that makes the most difference between tenderloins and tag soup.

3. Successful hunters go a little farther.

When Dad said the most successful hunters spend the most time in the woods, he wasn’t talking about grinding it out from daylight to dark. He was talking about making the time pay off. Every hunt is an adjustable game plan. Suppose it’s late in the day and you’ve covered the ground you want to cover. Do you turn and head out of the woods? Or do you try something that may pay off, if not now, then at some future time?

That might mean walking an extra ten minutes to look down on a hillside bench. Maybe you just see a bedded doe, but next time it might be a buck. Or you decide to take a circuitous route back to your truck. You might discover a feeding area you didn’t know was there. Go a little farther enough times, and it will pay off.

So, as you close out the season, try thinking a little harder, staying a little longer, and going a little farther. It’s going to pay off for someone who reads this column. It might as well be you.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.