August 31, 2023
Every serious hunter dreams about unlimited amounts of time in the mountains to chase elk, mule deer and other big-game animals. The harsh reality for many sportsmen is that conflicting schedules, family priorities and work obligations take precedent over our appetite for adventure. The following tips can help you stay effective, efficient and encouraged—maximizing your opportunities for success despite limited time afield.
What separates a great NFL quarterback from a mediocre quarterback isn’t how strong their arm is, but their pedigree for preparation. Pre-scouting is a hunter’s way of studying the film tape and getting ready for “any given Sunday.” There are two main ways to scout ahead of your hunt—boots on the ground and E-scouting. Both typically start out as exploratory. The benefits of breaking a sweat and physically learning country are gaining familiarity with the intricacies of the terrain and learning what animals are living in there, both of which will give you an upper hand on your quarry come opening day.
If this isn’t feasible, E-scouting can be done from the comfort of your home with a computer or smartphone and access to Wi-Fi. Utilizing one or more of the many great apps such as OnX, BaseMaps, Gaia, or Google Earth can give you a glimpse into access points, potential water sources and ideal glassing knobs so when your hunt comes around you are already familiar with the terrain and not learning on the fly. Scouting in this manner also allows you to formulate backup plans if the need to pivot arises.
When you have a limited window of time to hunt, hours expended to find game become a major factor. Eating up four hours of hiking just to access the head of a drainage seven miles from the trailhead may not be the most prudent choice. Utilizing a truck camp and spiking out daily from there might put you in a better position to punch a tag—giving you the reassurance that your decision making isn’t compromised by how “pot committed” you are to that particular drainage and permitting you to change locations unburdened. The ability to have less gear on your back will translate to you being more nimble and less disruptive getting into your desired spots.
First In, Last Out
They say “early bird gets the worm. If there’s any correlation to hunters getting the big bull or cagey buck, I highly suggest you get comfortable hiking quietly in the dark. If you are staged and nestled in where you want to be once the morning sun appears, your likelihood of seeing game and getting a shot on an undisturbed animal goes up dramatically. The same can be said for the end of the day. Many mature animals move right before last light; if you’re not prepared to wait them out and come off the hill in the dark, your efforts may be in vain. If you’d like to be even more subtle, try using the red-light feature on your headlamp (if available) as many animals such as deer are color blind or perceive certain hues differently than us.
Calories out, calories in. Rationing out your caloric intake objective into daily portions ahead of time takes the guesswork away. No more fiddling around and throwing a protein bar or two in your top lid and setting off. Is meal planning necessary? No. Can it be beneficial? Indeed. You never know what you may encounter during a day hunt or where the pursuit of an animal may take you. Having adequate food (and water for that matter) helps you hunt harder and stay focused on the task at hand. Many times, I prefer to go without a stove on day hunts. Foods that have a high calorie-to-weight ratio are optimal. Things like tuna packets with tortillas, peanut butter with bagels, and to my sweet-tooth’s delight, Skittles are some of my go-to meals. The thought process behind going stoveless is that if I get back to the truck camp late and am craving a warm pick-me-up and morale boost, it can be done there and then.
Use Pressure Advantageously
There’s a high probability that other hunters are in the same time crunch predicament you are in. Embrace that! Let their sense of urgency play to your favor. If you diligently pre-scouted, you likely know of a highly trafficked saddle or funneling pinch point. A patient hunter is a deadly one and a desperate hunter is an unpredictable asset. Double down on another hunter’s zeal getting in the way of their effectiveness by setting up an ambush on likely escape route for animals evading other hunters in the woods.
There comes a time when the calendar doesn’t line up how you envisioned. This goes for hardcore hunters and avid weekend warriors alike. Just remember, your time may be limited, but your options to combat that aren’t.