The success rate for hunters continues to rise from the old days when a harvested buck in a small town made local headlines. A 2013 survey by the Quality Deer Management Association found that Virginia had the highest ratio, 80 percent, of harvested deer to tags sold by the state’s Fish and Game Department.
Hunters in the Southeast as a whole enjoyed a 58 percent harvest rate for deer. But those in the Midwest were only successful 42 percent of the time, while the Idaho Fish And Game Department reported a 20 percent success rate for elk hunters in 2012. These regions simply do not produce deer like southeastern habitats, which lowers the chance of a successful hunt.
Whether your game of choice is whitetail deer, waterfowl or turkeys, the success rate of your hunting excursions will depend largely on how you prepare in the offseason. These four tips will assist hunters of all experience levels.
The last thing you want to happen on your first hunt of the season is a ready, aim, “click” scenario. General firearms maintenance should be done every offseason to prevent residue build up and potential mechanical malfunctions.
Handguns should be field stripped before using a bore brush and solvent to clean the barrel. Use a nylon brush and solvent to clean the outside casing. Every gun has specific lubrication points which the owner’s manual should cover. Make certain you use only a drop or two of oil, as too much will attract fouling and quickly defeat the purpose of your cleaning job. Rifle cleaning is similar, but you’ll need a vice or some sort of makeshift mechanism to hold it in place while cleaning.
Hunting calls should be removed from their lanyards. Acrylic calls should be taken apart, cleaned with soapy water (no alcohol as it can damage the material), and completely dried before storing. The inserts and barrels should be separated on wooden calls. They should also be stored in a cool, dry place as sunlight can change the color of the wood, while water can cause shrinkage and cracks in the barrel.
Technology has made this aspect of offseason preparation easier and more fun. Aaron Milliken, of Whitetail Properties, told Outdoor Life magazine he uses Google Earth to digitally scout a property from above. Search for an area with little human access and a lot of natural food sources for deer. Look for areas with water sources and grassy fields that naturally attract deer. You can also anticipate wind patterns based on how water moves over the land.
Once you’ve drawn a map based on your virtual scouting, take a trip to your spot to scout on foot. Late March and early April are the perfect times to observe deer tracks left behind in the snow or on muddy grounds. Look for deer rubs on trees and consider hanging trail cameras from them for continued surveillance. Note the location of any tree stands already there. These will indicate both deer activity and the potential for unwanted company.
All of these factors taken together will provide a rough map of deer activity in the area.
Tags and Licenses
Federal and state governments are constantly changing the laws as they pertain to hunting. It is your responsibility to stay on top of it all. Visit your local fish and game department in the spring, and pick up any pamphlets and brochures available pertaining to current regulations. Most states require hunters to take an approved hunter education course before issuing a license. Waterfowl hunters will also need a migratory bird stamp from both the federal and state governments in most cases.
Unless you have the natural shooting abilities of the late Tom Knapp, target practice will be essential for every hunter in the offseason. Clay and skeet shooting with friends is the perfect activity for waterfowl hunters. Shoot ranges allow you to place targets at various distances to perfect your kill shot on deer, bears, and other large game. There are archery clubs for bowhunters to hone their skills as well.
Former Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Unser once said success is where preparation and opportunity meet. Hunters who live by that advice will be the most successful.