Tag Archives: scouting

The Future of Hunting: Part 2

This is Part 2 of 2 articles addressing changes in hunting in the future. In Part 1 we examined possible changes in the animals we hunt simply through the natural processes of adaptation and evolution. Not only are these animals getting smarter, but are capable of quickly adapting to new technology and modern hunting methods. What some modern-day hunters don’t realize–especially us older hunters–is that we must adapt just as quickly to our prey.

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Future hunters will either do what it takes to get a buck or fail most of the time. In nearly three decades of big game hunting I’ve observed a split–or chasm–developing between traditional deer hunters and the new super-hunters. In the future, hunters will be divided into two camps based on their willingness to adapt to modern animals. These two camps are: a) Extreme wilderness athletes (super-hunters) willing to spend tremendous resources for trophy-class animals, or b) Fair-weather hunters who spend little time afield, hunt mostly for fun rather than food, hunt mostly on weekends, and are happy with any size animal or even no animal.

The following items will separate the new hunter from the traditional hunter:

-The future belongs to the EWAs!
(EWAs = Extreme Wilderness Athletes)
EWAs find time each day to work on their health via diet and physical training. It’s might not be critical to be “extreme,” but you’ll still need to be a wilderness athlete (WA). Being a WA simply means getting yourself to the animals no matter where they are. The bigger the buck, the harder you’ll have to work for it. The biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful hunters is physical fitness. Out-of-shape hunters simply can’t drag their butts up the mountain to where the deer are. Today’s superdeer rely on hunters to only make it so far, and where the hunter stops the deer begins. I know it’s pretty obvious, but the guy riding around on the four-wheeler will have far less luck than the guy burning boot leather in the steep stuff all day.

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– EWAs scout more days than they hunt. Scouting isn’t optional; scouting IS hunting. With fewer trophy opportunities in the future, you’ll need to locate prime areas ahead of the hunting season. Scouting not only means locating game, but devising a Plan B, C, and D as well.

– EWAs don’t have to worry where the deer falls; they can always get it out. In the past, many of us refused to go too far into the mountain because we figured we couldn’t get the animal out if we got one. Not anymore. Wilderness athletes train hard enough to get anything out. And if it isn’t possible for one person, then they’ll enlist help from their friends, or have horses available. I spend about 20 – 25 day hunting deer each year. As much as I love so many days afield, I’d much rather drag a deer out after just 1 day! Whenever I catch myself making excuses for not going deep and steep, I remind myself of that it’s FAR easier (both mentally and physically) to spend a couple days dragging a superbuck out of some hell-hole than it is to hunt for days on end without success.

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– Go LIGHT! Future hunters hunt like cougars. In the cougar hath nature created the perfect deer killer. An adult cougar must kill a deer every 7-10 days to survive. No other animal kills more deer than a cougar. Whenever I want to improve my hunting skills, I look to this animal for advice. The first thing I notice is that cougars don’t carry any gear; well, aside from their powerful forearms, fangs, and razor-sharp claws. This goes hand-in-hand with my anti-gear mentality. Less gear = less weight = success. Simply put, the lighter your load the farther you can travel, and with less fatigue. Now, to survive as humans we need to carry a few basic necessities (fire, water, weapons, clothing, etc.), but there’s always room to cut weight. In places where water is abundant, I’ll carry a water filter instead of water bottles. One of the best ways to cut weight and reduce fatigue is to wear lighter footwear. Also, most bow manufacturers offer super-light bow options. In almost every crevice of your daypack you’ll find a way to reduce weight.

– Future hunters will rely on skill rather than equipment. For quite some time I’ve been warning people of the phenomenon known as “equipment-bandade-syndrome,” or EBS. EBS can occur in both men and women who suffer from prolonged hunting failure, or PHF. To conquer PHF, hunters often attempt to buy their way out by purchasing some hot, new piece of equipment to solve some inadequacy. The reasoning is simple: It’s far easier to change your gear than it is to change yourself. Unfortunately there’s a million items out there to buy, whether it’s some high-tech camo, a new speed bow, or $3000 optics. ATVs are my favorite! Not too long ago ATVs became a requisite for hunting; every serious hunter suddenly needed an ATV. I don’t own one but I love ATVs because ATV-people rarely travel very far from their machines. This keeps the competition down in the woods. People with EBS need to focus on HOW they hunt, not the equipment they hunt with.

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– Future hunters have no fear. The woods belong to the brave. All hunters–men, women, and children–must enter the woods without fear of being killed or maimed. Fear is more common than many think, and the problem with being afraid of the woods is it interferes with your focus. To be successful, 100% of your focus needs to be on the vast subtleties of your prey and the environment around you. If you’re scared of the boogie-man or a bear around every bend, then you’ll miss subtle clues such as tracks, rubs, sounds, etc., which will lead you to your prey. The woods are especially spooky when you stay out after dark. But if you wait to enter the woods when it’s light, or return to camp before dark, then your missing your best opportunity.

– Future hunters spend more days afield! To be successful you must be willing to put in the time. It used to be that one weekend was enough to get the job done. For me it was about four days. When I became serious about big bucks it stretched to a week, then two, and now it seems I’m constantly fighting free up every single day of the season. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, it’s going to take many days to locate a decent buck and come up with a viable strategy to take it. These aren’t the same animals our grandpa hunted. We need to incorporate a more dedicated strategy if we are to be successful.

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– Future hunters are invisible. We discussed this last month, but as a recap being invisible means entering the woods in a way that you aren’t detected by the deer. This means using the wind to control scent, not leaving scent in the woods for the deer to discover at night, and avoiding audible and visible clues as you move through the woods. All of this is necessary because today’s big bucks hardly ever give you a second chance. If they detect any sort of danger they’ll flee the area and your hunt is over.

Another facet of being invisible is being invisible to the public’s eyes. Each year hunting becomes increasingly frowned upon by the ignorant, general public. To protect our livelihoods, it’s sometimes necessary to keep our hunting aspirations secret. More importantly is to keep your hunting locations a secret from other hunters! It seems that every time I disclose anything about my new hunting or fishing spots, a bunch of so-called friends and family follows me into the woods and blows up the area. In today’s hunting world there’s just way too much competition. At the same time there are far less areas that hold good deer.

The first law of nature dictates that “Quantity always destroys Quality.” Our population in Utah grows by more than 40,000 people each year, yet we have a fixed amount of natural resources; a fixed amount of deer, fish, habitat, and public land. From this crux brews desperation, meaning more and more people are eager to blatantly intrude upon our secret-sacred areas. Some of the best hunters I know are reluctant to even share field photos/stories with anyone in order to protect their dwindling honey-holes. I suggest you do the same. Like many hunters, I used to put hunting stickers on my truck. After having my tires slashed in the woods, I no longer announce myself as a hunter. If anything I might put pro-Hillary or PETA stickers on my truck just to protect my vehicle and my camp from anti-hunter terrorists, or even worse, competitive hunters with no moral scruples.

Conclusion

For all of evolution, both predator and prey were forced to adapt to each other in order to survive. In today’s world, finding and harvesting a trophy animal is getting more difficult. Today’s deer are ingenious survivors capable of quickly adapting to us and evading us no matter what we throw at them.

In the near future I foresee a divide between hunting camps, and the formation of two distinctly different hunter types: a) traditional hunters hunting yesterday’s ghosts and rarely having success, and b) modern super-hunters continually adapting to their prey, dedicating their lives and livelihoods this greatest passion, and having consistent success on quality bucks.

New Year’s Goals Part 2

My brother, Russell, had some great comments regarding hunting goals. His comments and my reply are worthy of it’s own article.

Russ wrote:

“Making goals that you really set in your heart and are realistic is critical. My heartfelt goals this year were to help my daughter harvest her first big game animal. She harvested both a buck and an elk. It was awesome. I was perfectly happy with how the season went, even though I did not set any lofty goals for my own hunting, as I was concerned about the time dedication. I did manage to harvest my best buck to date, although that’s not saying much. Gotta really think about my goals this coming year. Might be time to harvest a really decent bull elk.

I think you’ll get it done in Utah this year. But i am curious, which state(s) are you going to add to your schedule that will still allow you the time you need for the Utah general hunt?”

Nate wrote :

Good points, Russ. Here’s some clarification:

Last year I set a goal to shoot a 200″ buck AND help Esther with her limited-entry hunt. Turns out you can’t do both. So really I sabotaged my goal from the start. But that’s okay; I wouldn’t trade Esther’s big bull for any buck! It’s WONDERFUL to help people. There’s nothing more noble than setting a goal to help someone with their goal, especially family.

My lofty goals are deemed ridiculous by most people; I mean, how can I expect to shoot a 200″+ buck on public land with a general tag?! Am I setting myself up for failure? Am I setting unrealistic goals? NO, because I’ve done it twice already and I know the secret recipe; unfortunately that recipe takes incredible resources, mostly time.

It’s important to realize that in setting a ridiculously high goal you must do something every day to get closer to it: physical training, shooting practice, map study, scouting, scouting, and scouting. Most importantly is to acknowledge your goal every single day. Keep it in the forefront of your mind. Format your mind to focus all possible energy and decisions on your goal, and you’ll find a way to reach it.

As for out-of-state hunts, I only have one in mind: IDAHO. I am a man of big vision and little means; a po’ folks po’ folk. For this reason I refuse to pay into the yuppie system of buying points in multiple western states, especially while Utah has such great bucks, even on publc land/general units. In my opinion the point system is evil. It might seem fair, but it really takes away opportunity from young hunters and new hunters, while catering only to the rich. Many of my archery students ask me how they can get started in hunting. They assume they can just buy a bow and an OTC tag for any game species. Imagine their surprise when I explain they must pay into the system for decades just to draw a decent tag!

I paid into the system for years, earning points for multiple species for my son. Now he has no interest in hunting. Where’s my refund? My wife’s ex-boss’ dad paid into the system for 15 years and finally drew his moose tag. It arrived in the mailbox shortly after he died of old age!

That being said, I need more opportunities, and since Idaho is one of the only states that doesn’t have a draw system, it’s my best chance at getting a tag. Also, Idaho has several general deer hunts that don’t conflict with Utah’s season.

Congrats, Russ, on your biggest mule deer last year and good luck with your big bull goals. Dream big! Remember, elk are EASY!

Second Scouting Trip: June 2015

Okay, less words, more photos:

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Esther and I hit the top of Monte Cristo over the weekend. The snow subsided enough to get above 8000 feet. We spent the first day beating the mountain to death and exploring a promising new area completely devoid of deer. Driving back to camp we spotted these bucks on a hillside.

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It’s still early, but the monsoons of May have the bucks growing promising antlers. The two bucks on the left are likely two-year-olds, and the buck on the right is a mature buck with a potential outside spread of 22 inches or more.

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The bucks didn’t stick around long for pictures, but that’s okay. Just seeing bucks in the Cache unit made us hopeful.

Here’s the lessons we learned on this trip:

  1. The Cache-Monte unit still sucks.
  2. The biggest bucks are still on lower elevations. Although we found signs of large migrating bucks, most are still lower on the mountain and following green-up up. They won’t be high until the heat and mosquitoes push them up.
  3. Promising new areas weren’t as promising as we hoped, even far off the dirt road. You have to cover many miles of empty woods just to locate a few small patches that regularly hold deer.

Just one word of caution: The high elevation roads still have patches of snow and deep mud. We almost got stuck a couple times. Not far from camp we ran into this abandoned Hummer-in-a-bog, sunk up to both axles. The poor fellas were able to winch it out the next day, but it just goes to show you, no vehicle is safe from the muddy clutches of the mountain.

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More scouting to come!

First Scouting Trip: May 2015

The Big Game Draw results are in:  unsuccessful for Mountain Goat and limited entry Deer, but successful for general Buck Deer…in my 5th choice unit.

After arrowing the infamous Droptine buck in 2010, I vowed never to hunt the Cache unit (Monte Cristo/Unit #2) again. There are simply too few bucks and hardly any trophies. But with so many hunters in Utah now, I can no longer hunt where I want to, even with a bow. For a guaranteed tag, I always put Cache as my last choice. Since no one in their right mind actually wants to hunt the Cache unit, it’s a guaranteed draw.

Well, I’ll make the most of it. And when it’s all over, I know I will be standing over a huge Pope & Young buck, but man, it’s gonna take some work. In order to succeed, I’ve already begun scouting. I’ll continue scouting this bleak unit every chance I get until opening day in mid-August.

The Cache unit is relatively HUGE. What it lacks in quality deer, it makes up for in quantity area–miles and miles of pristine forest and mountains, mostly devoid of wildlife. It takes a lot of time and effort to thoroughly scout an area this big.

A couple weeks ago, when the higher elevations were still snowed in, Esther and I scouted some obscure lower elevations. I quickly learned that you had to get at least a mile away from the dirt road to find any deer. We finally found a pod of eight deer in a steep feeding swathe between aspens.  It was too early to see antlers, but it looked like a promising new area.

Pre-season scouting doesn’t require actually seeing deer. It’s more important to look for sign:  large tracks, tree rubbings, and especially good feeding areas. Remember the old adage:  Where you find the best feed, you’ll find the best bucks. Grab a topo map and locate potential feeding areas on the east and south-east facing slopes near steep, timbered bedding areas. Bucks love to bed near feed, especially early in the year when there’s little pressure.

Successful scouting means continually seeking out new potential areas. Hunting pressure quickly pushes bucks out of prime areas, so you’ll need multiple backup areas. Be sure to scout the secondary ridges. These are the lower or middle ridges where bucks feel safe. On Monte Cristo the main roads follow the top and bottom of the mountain. But in the deep, dark middle/interior, the bucks feel safe.

Although I wasn’t inspired to pull out my camera and document our first antlerless deer sighting, I considered this trip a good learning experience. The biggest lesson was how much more area I still needed to cover. A second scouting trip was quickly planned and executed (see tomorrows post with pictures!)

Good luck on your own scouting adventures.

Pre-Season Deer Scouting

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If you put off learning your area until after the hunt has begun, then you’ll be at a serious disadvantage. As rule of thumb, you should spend at least twice as much time scouting as you do hunting. Scouting doesn’t mean just locating deer but locating crucial food and water sources, bedding areas, escapes routes, game trails, and other spoor. You don’t have to actually see a big buck to know he’s there; just watch for tracks and read the signs.

With today’s modern technologies, such as super-optics, video trail-cameras, GPS with topo maps, and 3D internet mapping, you can now scout anywhere in the country, 365 days a year, even late at night in your underpants after the wife goes to bed. But nothing beats boots on the ground. Physical scouting accomplishes two important things: first, you’ll become intimately familiar with the terrain you’ll be hunting on, and second, you’ll get plenty of crucial pre-hunt exercise while enjoying God’s natural splendors—and isn’t that what hunting is all about?

I can’t overemphasize the importance of quality optics; they are an essential part of scouting. Binoculars and spotting scopes open up the vastness of the mountain to your inquisitive eye, and quality optics will even open up the shadows during the crucial morning and evening hours when deer are likely to be out and moving. Remember, optics don’t have to be expensive, just effective.