Your job is to make the best possible decision you can with the information you have gained from your research and phone calls. Educate yourself by calling as many outfitters and references as possible. If you do, you'll greatly reduce the chance of having a "failed" hunt. What's more, you'll greatly increase your chances of tagging a trophy of a lifetime! Do your homework and good luck!
HUNTING SUCCESSFULLY WITH YOUR OUTFITTER
Now that you've gone through the process of booking a top outfitter, what are some of the things you should do to ensure that your dream whitetail hunt will be successful? For one thing, if you want to come home with a trophy buck, you'll have to hunt harder and smarter. In most regions, a trophy whitetail will be 3 1/2 to 6 1/2 years old, and he's had plenty of experience dealing with human intruders like you! Here are 16 guidelines that might aid you in making that much-anticipated trip to the taxidermist.
1) Be quiet and don't stare.
Much has been written and discussed about the deer's sense of smell, and rightly so. But don't underestimate how well those big ears can hear. A buck's sense of hearing is amazing. Any foreign noise will put him on alert. Also, never make eye contact with him. Bucks seem to have a sixth sense when being stared at. Look away if a deer is looking toward you or squint your eyes. Avoid making direct eye contact at all costs.
2) Minimize movement.
Even though a deer's eyes are on the side of its head, that buck or doe can still pick up on very slight movements that are abnormal to their environment. A deer's range of vision is much better than ours, but focused vision is not. Regardless, keeping your motions slow and deliberate will help keep you hidden. Camouflage does help, but don't rely totally on the most modern camo to save you from being pinned because you can't sit still.
3) Use adequate firepower.
Trophy bucks are usually larger in body size and have more stamina than younger deer, so you may need to think about firepower. This doesn't mean that you need to shoot a heavy-kicking magnum. Simply step up your bullet weight in your favorite deer rifle and consider using a premium bullet that has controlled expansion properties. Many shotgun slugs, muzzleloader bullets and bow setups are already inherently adequate for oversized bucks. Know your range limitations and practice often before the hunt.
4) Pass up younger bucks.
Okay, I know this is easier said than done. But if you want a real wallhanger, you must let the smaller bucks walk. Oftentimes, this may mean that you are passing on bigger bucks than you have ever had the opportunity to harvest. Before you pull the trigger, consider your goals and where you are hunting. If you think you have a legitimate chance to shoot a 150-class buck, don't be tempted by the first 135-class buck you see. This isn't like bass fishing where you can throw him back.
5) Field judging is critical.
One of hardest things about your guided trophy whitetail hunt will be assessing the size of the bucks you are seeing and hunting. Let's face it: You may have very limited mental images and recordings in your brain because you haven't hunted in trophy areas most of your life. It's very tough when the adrenaline is pumping and your eyes seem to be on 3X just like your scope. But be careful and discerning in your field judging and you will be much happier on the trip home.
6) Dress for the occasion.
Whether it's raining, snowing or just plain cold, you must be comfortable and prepared. You need not spend a fortune purchasing a closet full of new clothes, but you do need to be dressed for the occasion. A plethora of great brands and price ranges are available in adequate hunting clothing. Rainy weather requires waterproof clothing, and cold weather requires more clothes. Know your needs and be prepared.
7) Win the mental game.
Successful trophy hunting always requires above-average mental stamina and endurance. Persistence is all-important! Get plenty of rest at night and have the right attitude when you're in the woods hunting. Paying for an outfitted hunt puts a great amount of anxiety and pressure on you. Make sure you get your money's worth. Relax, have fun, be patient and enjoy your dream hunt!
8) Don't pass on the first "great" buck you see.
If you see a great buck on the first day, shoot him! Don't wait for a bigger one just because you have plenty of hunting time remaining or you'll live to regret it! And don't pass on a buck that you would shoot in the last hour before going home. Some guys in camp may brag about the caliber of buck they are going to "hold out" for, but don't listen to them. They'll probably be the ones shooting a penalty buck at the last minute!
9) Make the shot.
Waiting for a better shot or simply not paying attention can cost you a trophy deer. I know one old fellow who rested his gun across the tree stand seat while he stood and ate a sandwich. A 150-class buck walked right under the tree, totally taking the hunter by surprise. He was able to pick up his gun and follow the buck through the scope until the deer stopped broadside at 40 yards. Then the hunter missed!
You may get two or three opportunities at a nice buck on your hunt if you are lucky, but most likely you will have only one split-second chance at best. Make it count!
10) Don't guide the guide.
Don't tell the guide what to do or try to micro-manage his job. He knows the property and deer much better than you do. Outfitters cannot afford to hire incompetent guides, so listen to what your guide tells you. If the guide sets you up on a small fencerow or an old hay barn that seems to be the worst location ever, just hunt it.
Tell your guide what you are seeing and when so that he can work to provide you with the best opportunity. A guy in my camp once hunted the same ground blind for four days straight with zero deer sightings. He refused to move as the guide advised. Needless to say, he went home very empty-handed. Listen to your guide! He is in control of your taxidermy bill!
Oscar, an extremely experienced Indian guide in Saskatchewan once gave this wise and simple advice, "Go with the flow." This is great advice to heed.
11) Hunt long and hard.
My dad, while on stand, figured up how much the hunt was costing him per hour. This will make you sit in your stand or blind a little longer. If possible, sit all day. If you are not an all-day hunter, put in as much time as you can, even if the weather is not ideal. You can't kill a buck while sitting in the lodge drinking soda and watching the rain fall.
I look at it like this: That buck is out there somewhere, rain or shine. And you will be a lot closer to him in a tree stand than you will be in the poolroom at the lodge. Yes, the odds may be against you under certain weather conditions, but your monster buck can walk in front of you at any time!
12) Be alert.
Keep focused and pay attention at all times. Most big bucks only give you seconds to make the harvest. You must react quickly. I harvested a 180-class deer in three seconds on the last day of my hunt. He was trotting in thick cover over my opposite shoulder.
I yelled, he stopped, I shot and my hunt was over.
Had I been not hunting with all my senses, this buck could have very easily escaped and been nothing but a long lost picture in my mind. I use a safari-style sling that allows my gun to be with me at all times, hung around my neck like a guitar. I don't ever have to reach for my gun -- it is always ready.
13) Don't get discouraged.
Don't allow limited deer sightings and small bucks to drag you down. Both you and your outfitter have done your homework, so sit back and enjoy it. Think positive! One hunt I was on had much in the way of discouraging weather and other negative factors like trespassing issues, so several hunters left camp on the third and fourth days. The biggest bucks were harvested on the fourth and fifth days of a five-day hunt!
One hunter was so frustrated that he elected to blow his tag on a doe on the third day. There is nothing wrong with shooting a doe, but his deer tag was for one deer only and he ended his hunt without getting an opportunity to tag the type of deer he was paying for.
14) Know your goals.
Educate yourself and be aware of the size buck that your outfitter is trying to provide you with. Many outfitters today have minimums and penalties for substandard bucks. One hunter saw three-racked bucks the first two hours on the first day of his hunt. He shot the third buck, but the rack was below the required minimum. So it cost him not only in cash, but also in the rest of the hunt.
That hunter's eyes probably were amplifying his images, but his mistake was a result of bad judgment. The outfitter had explained the requirements for a minimum buck, but adrenaline and haste ruined the hunt. Set your goals in advance and know what they are .
15) Don't sweat the small details.
Many things can go wrong, or appear less than ideal. Lodging, food, transportation, dates and time schedules can become issues, but try to be patient and trust your guide and outfitter to the hilt. Don't get hung up on disorganization or administrative items, as these are the least important kinds of things when it comes to your hunt's success.
16) Make lasting memories.
Finally, take lots of pictures! Use multiple rolls of film and fill up your digital camera memory card. Take pictures featuring plenty of different poses and angles of your trophy from several different locations if possible. You won't regret it, as different lighting, backgrounds and angles greatly impact the photographic results of your harvest. Keep disposable cameras with you as backups and use fill-flash for contrasting shots. Ultimately you will have a box full of tremendous shots to remember your adventure by.