This year was somewhat trying for me, I spent my month in the woods, but lacked some of the preparations I normally did preceding my huge hunting trip among other things. Turns out, I can’t say that I’m mad at all over the circumstances, I was busy this summer and most of fall planning and then having our wedding. We’re DIYers by nature in our house, so that meant building an arch, making jams and jellies as favors, and doing an engagement photoshoot (thats a thing I guess). Work was difficult leading up to my vacation, which led to a week-long scramble to pack all the things that I would need to hunt all of the game I normally pursue. As there is ‘wintery mix’ in the forecast of what appears to be my last day in the field for 2016 as I write this, it looks like my freezer will go without venison for another season. With the season wrapping until Spring Turkey, it’s given me a chance to reflect on all the things that I’ve done, and what I can do better. This is what my father likes to refer to as “Shoulda Woulda Couldas”. Below is the documentation of my shoulda woulda couldas for the 2016 season.
Research Trailcam usage on public land
With terrain changing where I hunt, new tails being cut and new select-cut timber harvests changing traditional food locations for my local whitetail population I can’t afford for the first time that I’m in the woods to be a week or two before deer season. Trail cams are allowed on public land, but there are a few considerations I’ll need to keep in mind. Regulations are different in every state, and some states have stipulations as to how you can use them. I’ll need to consider things like:
- Should I protect the camera with a lock box?
- Is it worth mounting higher in the tree to keep honest people honest?
- What does the foot traffic look like in the area I’m interested in during the off-season?
- What are the time duration issues I might encounter? Can I keep the camera up in-season?
- Do I need multiple cameras?
- How often can I make the drive to check and change cards?
- What is the legality of mineral blocks or attractants, and do I even need them to inventory my deer population?
Trim shooting lanes
The problem with the property being so far away, and the fact that I am both an avid angler and hunter means that during the spring and summer I try to spend the most time on the water, and during the fall and winter I try to spend the most time in the woods. Go figure! This means that if I only have a couple days in the area during trout season, I’m trying to chase skinny blue lines on the map to find some killer trout waters. I’m not thinking much about going up to my deer stand and seeing whether the tiny saplings have taken over my dad’s stand site making cutting shooting lanes a multi-day event. For that matter, I’m only driving to and from the trout waters — zooming around forest roads that are generally not where I hunt. I’m scoping out new places to flush grouse based on clear cuts, but generally my grouse and whitetail hunting areas don’t overlap. I guess I can spend a little less time on the water if it means I can see my shooting lanes better.
Over the last few years we’ve started hunting bear in PA. Its historically been a three day season which has morphed in the last few years to a four day season that starts on a Saturday. My dad and I enjoy bear hunting, and we nearly always see a bear during our large hunting vacations — though not often during bear season. That said, the season also falls during one of my favorite times to be out in the woods, upland bird season. I adore running my dogs on pheasants and ruffed grouse, but would love for my dad to finally get his bear. Because we get tags for another season, it takes from one of my more favored hunting seasons. So prioritize. If you’re going to hunt a given game animal, focus on it, if only for a season or two. Get your bear skin rug, you know how awesome they are! Take an oppurtunity to set a window for your oppurtunity. If you don’t succeed, learn more during the off season and re-visit at another time. By focusing on Pheasant outings this year instead of Ruffed Grouse this year during small game, we had our best season ever on PA stocked birds. Our dogs are finally coming into their own and they really showed it in the field.
Check your gear
How many folks take their hunting gear out once or twice a year, have it out for the season, and then warehouse it again immediately post-season? This problem was from me getting busy this past fall and not using some spare time after work to do gear checks. This meant that things that I thought worked or were sufficient last season were definitely not in working order, or needed some work. Like most hunters who’ve been doing this for a minute, I have several large storage tubs full of gear, and essentially ‘deploying’ to the woods for a month without a washer and dryer means that I don’t have a lot of room for error when it comes to packing my kit into my truck. One change I made this year was to include a Merino Wool midlayer, having read that I could wear it over and over with limited stink coming through. You know what? It worked. On the other hand, my Filson Double Tincloth pants, while awesome — only work really well in really briar filled areas or when it’s super cold outside. I told myself that I’d use an overtime check this past year to try out the less sweat-inducing single tin pants. Didn’t. So I sweated. Profusely. Every year is different though, so leading up to your trips, make sure you’re checking the weather and adjusting your kit appropriately. You did make sure to pack those heavier long underwear right? You did consider buying a heavier winter coat after sitting on stand in the 10 degree weather keeping yourself warm only using handwarmers and expletives, right?
This past year I learned that Pennsylvania opened up their Elk season lottery to non-residents… a few years ago. It’s been a while since I’ve read the regulations cover to cover like I used to when I was a kid, but I’m going to start again when I get my license in the mail sometime in July. The chance to hunt elk in the east is just too cool to pass up for me.
Additionally, they reduced doe permits in my area this year by 5000, meaning that on day one of permit sales for non-residents there were only 75 permits left in my multi-county Wildlife Management Unit. Not cool. Streamlining your process here of having everything filled out and ready to mail in on the first day of doe permit application means that you have a better chance. You have a tiny computer in your pocket with a calendar on it right now. Put a calendar reminder in for the night before. Another pro-tip, in my area mail is processed twice a day. The permit must be post marked no sooner than the first day that you’re allowed to apply. Good thing the first mail pickup and processing at my post office is 1215AM.
So document your shoulda woulda couldas. Take a look at them on a monthly basis and see if you can’t make some progress towards your end goals. Hell, maybe take a three day weekend and drive to your hunting property and bang out some work. Yeah, it might cut into fishing season a little bit in the spring or summer, but your rewards should outweigh the costs.