Making a Preseason Game Plan for Deer Hunting

Every year, the anticipation of hunting season overwhelms people with expectations of harvesting a 30-point buck at deer camp—or at least that was that expectation in one of my favorite songs as a child. Unfortunately for almost every hunter, 30-point bucks are not all that common. So maybe it makes more sense to define your goals before the season, based on a little homework and some reasonable expectations.

First, you need to first know yourself as a hunter. Do you shoot the first antlers you see? Are you trying to fill the freezer? Is tag soup an acceptable end to your season? These are the questions to honestly ask yourself, and then plan accordingly. If harvesting the first big doe you see is what you are truly after, then be prepared to take that shot without hesitation—or the anxiousness that there could be a bigger animal coming soon. All harvests are trophies.

Second, how long do you have to hunt? If you only have three days to hunt, then those hours in the stand will go fast. Many times, a new job, kids or other priority will demand your time, which otherwise would have been devoted to deer hunting. By understanding that upfront, you will be less likely to become angry at the situation, or feel anxieties that you are missing out.

A perfect example of that was my 1998 season in graduate school, when I would sneak into the woods every moment I had. While in the stand, I would be thinking about the work I should be doing, instead of enjoying the day hunting. I had failed to prioritize correctly, and by doing so, it made my time in the field less enjoyable, and most likely the quality of my schoolwork suffered.

Next, is there a special animal in the woods you would like to harvest? Trail cameras can be a blessing, and a curse, for many hunters, as it gives you insight on the local animals, but can make you a frustrated hunter while you chase “a deer.” For this type of hunting, you need to be comfortable having an unfilled tag at the end of the season.

I fall into this category, as there has been a particular animal I have been chasing for a few years. I know he is smarter than me, but I keep hunting him, hoping that he will slip up eventually. However, last season I let two three-year-old animals pass, much to the tormenting of my friends, that have made it through and are now high-quality four-year-olds. The fear of them becoming hood ornaments on a soccer mom’s van was legitimate, but the investment will pay off for myself, or one the neighbors, in all likelihood.

Is there a new hunter in your party that needs some good-quality mentoring time in the woods? As we mentor our kids, a neighbor or friend that is new to hunting, it is important separate your investment of time in them from the pursuit of your own harvest. Having kids, the amount of time dedicated to teaching them far outweighs my own hunts, except when I can sneak out during the week to hunt alone. Understanding upfront that weekends are for the kids, keeps me from getting frustrated when that first big cold snap comes through, and I will be sitting in a blind, hoping to have enough snacks to keep everyone quiet during the hunt. Some call that parenting. I call it planning ahead.

Finally, have you collected all your tags, licenses, and is your equipment ready for your hunt? Looking for that deer tag the night before will tie your stomach in knots. Trust me, I have done it. I now have a dedicated drawer for tags and old licenses in my office. Making sure all of your equipment is ready, clothes washed, and responsibilities of home are taken care of weeks in advance will allow you to concentrate on the moment, honing your mental state, and with a little luck, making your season a success.

There is a saying, “Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” An old coach of mine said that all the time, but it truly reflects on hunting as well as team sports. Having all your distractions cleared from your mind allows you to live in the moment and reach excellence.

Putting together a preseason plan will help you be prepared, hunt efficiently, and accomplish your goal for the hunting season. Taking some time to define this will ultimately make you a better hunter.