It's 3:00 in the afternoon, and time is not on my side. I skipped lunch in an attempt to get out of work early to go hunting, but the phone just keeps ringing.
More time spent with these callers means less time in my tree stand. I can almost feel my blood pressure rise as I think about the real possibility of getting to the woods too late, ruining what could have been a perfect hunting opportunity.
When I finally get to leave work, irritation and stress have me in their grasp tighter than a toddler clinging to his mother's leg around strangers.
I'm in a hurry, and a million thoughts race through my mind: Did I remember to pack my headlamp? Should I take the quickest route to my stand, or take extra time getting there by walking the periphery to avoid spooking deer? My backpack's not in the back seat — did I leave it in the trunk?
I pull into my parking spot, slam the truck door and quickly grab all my hunting equipment. I forgot my boots! Guess I'll just have to wear what I've got on and hope my feet don't freeze.
I decide I don't have the time to take the best path to my stand; I've got to take the fastest. On the way, I spot an old doe, and she blows at me like she's just spotted the Grim Reaper.
I arrive at my stand literally in lather. I'm a sweaty, fume-breathing mess. And now, I suddenly realize I forgot my headlamp in the truck. Can I get out of my tree stand in the dark and back to the road without it?
In the lexicon of deer-hunting arsenals and strategies, one constraint binds all hunters: time. Most of us don't have unlimited time to hunt. Numerous responsibilities take up our time, making the few days we do have to hunt critically important.
How many times do you find yourself in a hurry to go hunting? And what often happens when you're in a hurry? You make mistakes. Whether it's slamming a vehicle door and alerting deer of your presence or forgetting critical equipment, making seemingly minor mistakes will sabotage a lot of potentially great hunts.
"In deer hunting, it often doesn't matter what you've done right — it's what you've done wrong that changes the outcome," says Dan Perez, a successful bowhunter and co-owner of Whitetail Properties. "You can do a whole bunch of things right, but the one thing you did wrong can cost you that buck."
To avoid costly mistakes, you must properly plan each hunt, which means you have to take a few extra minutes to thoroughly prep for every hunting venture.
It's the extra 15 minutes you spend planning every hunt that will make you a local deer-hunting celebrity and help you avoid the hunting infamy that plagues so many whitetail hunters. To put it simply: Failure to Plan = Failure in the Field.
Benjamin Franklin purportedly once said that if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. This adage can be applied to many circumstances and situations, including deer hunting.
Regardless of whether you're preparing for a do-it-yourself hunting trip into unfamiliar territory or hunting on your own slice of whitetail heaven, taking a few extra minutes to properly plan your hunt will help you avoid a plethora of potential pitfalls that victimize many deer hunters.
And planning a hunt starts with knowing what you hope to accomplish.
"The best way to plan anything is to first start with understanding what a successful outcome for you would look like," explains psychologist and professional speaker Dr. Rachna Jain. "Since getting a deer isn't within your control, your successful outcome could be to stay still while you're hunting and hopefully see some deer. It also could involve feeling confident with your new hunting equipment, or having an enjoyable hunting experience with a family member."
Regardless of your personal goals, having a safe hunt should be a priority for everyone. Hunting safely involves planning for a host of worst-case scenarios that can happen on any hunt.
By devising strategies to address potential problems, you'll not only be better prepared for your hunt, but you'll enjoy your hunt more than if you just go into the field hoping good things happen for you.
"You also want to know what your limitations are, and then adjust your goals based on your limitations," Dr. Jain adds. "For example, if you have just have a few hours to hunt, a successful outcome for you will look different than if you have a week or more to hunt."
Knowing limitations also involves understanding any physical and/or psychological constraints that might affect your hunt. For example, as is true in many other states, my home state of Michigan annually holds a 2-day youth deer hunt, during which kids are given first crack at whitetails before archery season.
While planning for the hunt, I knew my 12-year-old daughter would get fidgety and wouldn't be able to sit all day. So I planned to hunt in 4-hour time blocks, with breaks in between for lunch and unwinding. I also reviewed with her the items she was bringing on the hunt to relieve boredom during periods of deer inactivity.
While I don't normally recommend hunters play games on their smartphone while hunting, kids often have much shorter attention spans than adults, making food, games and reading material necessary deer-hunting equipment.
Hunters planning for a hunt often struggle with knowing which gear to bring with them into the field. Leaving key items out of your backpack can lead to a miserable hunt, but packing too much can make it hard for you to get to your stand safely and efficiently.
Finding that sweet spot of having everything you need without weighing yourself down can be difficult.
"If it's something critical to my hunt, like my bow release, I pack two on every hunt," says Neil Dougherty, an avid hunter and wildlife property consultant at North Country Whitetails.
Make a checklist of necessary gear to bring with you on every hunt, and quickly review it before you leave home. Another strategy I use is to place my checklist on a clipboard and hang it next to the scent-free container in which I always keep my backpack.
Have your pack ready to go prior to every hunt; then return all the items you used during the hunt to your pack immediately afterwards.
It's easy to forget to put things like wet gloves or a scope cover back after you've used them, so make a habit of reviewing your checklist an hour after each hunt to make sure you've returned all necessary equipment to your pack.
Planning a hunt also involves getting to and from your stands as inconspicuously as possible. While many hunters carefully devise their entry to the stand, they often blow it on the way out.
"A big mistake I see a lot of my clients make is getting out of their stand immediately after shooting light has ended," Neil adds. "Wait 10-15 minutes before leaving your stand so you don't spook a lot of deer. And don't just take the fastest route out of the woods to get home. Choose the best one that keeps the wind in your favor and that will prevent you from bumping deer."
If it's not already apparent, properly planning each hunt will save you a lot of time, helping you get into your stand as quickly as possible. And because humans tend to be creatures of habit, build good habits into the front end of every hunt.
"Create a routine for getting ready for your hunt," Dr. Jain suggests. "Follow the same routine every time, which will enable you to go on autopilot when you're in a hurry and trying to get ready for your hunt quickly."
For example, one routine I closely follow is placing my hunting clothing in a scent-free container in the order in which I will put each item on — from base layers on the top to outer hunting jacket, hat and gloves on the bottom. Dan Perez closely adheres to a similar routine.
"I put all my hunting clothes and gear in a large Ziploc bag in my backpack, and I wear as little clothes as possible walking to my stand, so I don't get overheated," he explains. "When I get to my stand, I take a few minutes to cool down before changing into my hunting clothes. This prevents moisture from setting against my skin and making me cold later into my hunt."
It's also smart to consult a weather-information source immediately before and periodically throughout each hunt to make sure the wind hasn't turned against you. Just because the forecast calls for a southwest wind in the morning doesn't mean it will blow from that direction in the afternoon.
And nothing makes your hunt feel more like a waste of time than a wind suddenly turning unfavorable.
Another strategy to prevent a time-wasting, bird-watching venture is proper stand placement. Determining the right spot for your stand will keep you in the action and improve your odds.
"Study what the wind does in the area where you want to place a stand, making sure it doesn't blow your scent to high-deer-traffic areas," Dan notes. "And walk every trail that leads to the area you might hang your stand in, so you can put your stand in a spot that provides you with the most shot opportunities."
After hanging a stand, cut a hole through branches and foliage to provide a clear space to haul your weapon and other gear up and down. I don't know how many times I've caught my bow underneath a branch while trying to haul it up to my stand.
Carrying your weapon is unsafe and can lead to accidents. After you've created enough space for your weapon, attach a haul rope at every stand location, so you don't have to spend time getting a rope set up every time you hunt there.
Go For It
Regardless of whether you can hunt for a solid week or can squeeze in just a few hours a couple times a week, your deer-hunting time is precious. Make the most of it by spending a little extra time properly planning each hunt. Implement these time-saving strategies and you'll get into your favorite hunting spot more quickly and efficiently.
The few extra minutes you spend setting up your stands and organizing for each hunt will result in more filled tags and a much lower stress level.