by Chris Larsen
For deer, especially mature bucks, making mistakes is simply inexcusable. They constantly fight for survival. They fight the elements during extreme weather. They fight each other for dominance during the rut. There are a host of wild predators looking for every opportunity to take an easy meal. And of course, humans are the most efficient predator of whitetail deer. With all the odds against them, deer can’t afford to make mistakes. That’s why trophy bucks are rare. It’s difficult to dodge all of those obstacles when one misstep can lead to demise. Thankfully for us and them, deer are well equipped to elude danger.
As hunters, our mistakes can be life and death too. We carry lethal weapons, climb high into trees, and often exert ourselves more than any other time during the year. Fortunately, other than a handful of tragic cases, the vast majority of our mistakes only lead to a hunt without harvest. For most of us, an unfilled tag just means we’ll be eating chicken instead of backstraps in camp. We’re there for the camaraderie, a connection to nature, and the thrill of having an opportunity to bag a deer. Our mistakes in the field are really not as high stakes as those in nature. But avoiding simple mistakes can make your time in the field more enjoyable. Here are four gear related deer hunting mistakes to avoid.
1. Not Knowing Your Gun
There are lots of places to shoot shotguns & bows, but the loud bark of a rifle and it’s long reach limit the amount of times most hunters fire their rifle. Preseason sighting is imperative and is a given. But I like to take my preseason shooting sessions a bit further. Shooting from a bench is a great way to zero in a gun. But very few of us hunt in a situation like that. After zeroing in a weapon, stand up and take a few shots leaning up against a post. Use your sling for a few shots. Practice shooting in a situation you anticipate hunting in. Most hunters can’t consistently shoot well at more than one hundred yards without sticks. Many of them need to see this for themselves before trying it in the field. That’s what this “practice” session is for.
Another good thing to rehearse that many people overlook is using the safety. I often hunt in close quarters. Many of the deer I have taken with a rifle were well within bow range. Working the safety quietly and without looking down is necessary to avoid detection. You can practice this one in your living room.
2. Using Poor Optics
Good binoculars are literally worth their weight in gold to an outdoorsman. While I can not attest to the advantage of super premium binoculars because I have never used them, I do know the difference between cheap binoculars and very good ones. I started my hunting adventures with a pair of inexpensive hand me down binoculars. They fogged up, were difficult to focus, and due to their design, were hard to look through. When I began hunting seriously, I made what has become one of the best purchases of my life. My Nikon Action EX 12x50’s set me back about $175. But they have more than paid for themselves. They are waterproof, never fog up, easy to focus, and offer great field of vision. They are in my truck throughout the season and are used for scouting deer, ducks, and turkeys in a wide variety of settings. You can spend more to get a premium quality pair, but in my opinion these binoculars offer everything you need at a great value.
3. Buying The Wrong Treestand
I do much of my hunting from the forest floor. I enjoy being at the same level as my quarry. It’s face to face. Mistakes are more pronounced. It’s fun! But there are times when being up in a tree is the only way to go. Having the right tree stand for your application is the difference between an enjoyable hunt and being miserable. If you primarily hunt public land, a climbing stand may be the best choice. If you don’t like climbing up small foot pedals in the dark, a ladder stand is the choice for you. Think about the kind of hunting you do. If you are hunting with a gun, a front hand rail is beneficial. It would be in the way of a bow hunter. Take a look at the platform. Is there enough room to turn your body for awkward shots? Is the seat wide enough for a long day on stand? Don’t buy a stand simply for price. And don’t forget a quality fall arrest system. Your children, spouse, employer, and the government depend on you.
4. Don’t Get Lost
Some people swear by their GPS. If you hunt large tracts of land, a GPS can be an invaluable tool. 90% of my hunts are done in farmland areas with plenty of landmarks and quick access to tractor paths and roadways. Getting lost in this situation is nearly impossible. I also hunt national forests and get out to the massive, wild expanses of the Rockies when I can. Not too long ago, I carried a compass. But these days a GPS is the way to go. A few years ago, I hiked a few miles deep into the Chequamegon National Forest to hunt a mostly untouched area of the forest. When I felt assured that I was far enough in to avoid seeing another hunter, I set my stand. An hour later, the sun began to crest the eastern sky. Then I heard the sound of hounds getting closer. The truck they were riding in passed by my stand less than 100 yards away. Yes, I was a few miles from my vehicle, but just a short walk from another logging road. GPS, my friends… the wave of the present and the future.