8 tips for new hunters to break the learning curve
Sitting at the bottom of a deep, dark canyon, I can remember it like it was yesterday: my first time chasing elk around with a bow. I literally had no idea what I was doing, but I was closing the distance on a small herd of cows I had been tailing most of the day. Recalling things I had read, seen or heard from either online articles or other successful hunters, I couldn't make my mind up on what to do. Sound familiar?
Over the years, I've realized that there is no “law of hunting” or any set guidelines to follow that can magically make you successful. Sure, there are some tactics that work better than others here and there, but, for the most part, anything you read that gives a tactic or tip also has an equal and opposite strategy to combat what the other suggested. Much like Newton’s Laws of Physics, there are some steadfast “rules” I have followed that have proven to be great.
1. Take every tip you hear or read with a grain of salt.
For instance, when you read an article that says to look in certain areas for bedded deer, don't ever just concentrate on those areas. There are plenty of telltale signs that can point you in the right direction, but don't put all your eggs in one basket. If you are concentrating on rocky outcroppings in search of a bedded deer midmorning, keep in mind that you should also be looking elsewhere like the high sides of tree trunks on slopes, thick brushy spots, stands of trees near water sources and things of that nature—all places that can also turn up game.
2. Quality optics go a long way.
One thing that I am sure every hunter has heard before (and truly stands the test of time) is to spend as much as you can afford on optics. You may not think it at first, but I would put money on the fact that a vast majority of successful hunters depend on their optics to find their quarry. Quality optics will help tremendously during periods of low light, evening, morning and peering into shadows to look for an ear twitch or antlers glistening in the sunlight coming through trees. I won't delve into which brands are better than others because that's a subject that has been beaten to death, but you get the picture.
3. Focus on scouting.
I can't say this enough: Scouting pays off. Going in blind can work, but, typically, only if you have time, which is a scarcity during sometimes short seasons. If you know where the animals are hanging out two to three weeks before the season starts, chances are they won't be too far away come opening day. There are always discredits to these theories, just like tip number one; however, strategies that have a 75% chance of working as opposed to a 10% chance can be the difference between notching a tag or not—and scouting is one of those strategies.
4. Boots are everything.
The other piece of gear I would suggest you splurge on is boots, particularly ones with custom insoles and footbeds. This may not seem like an important part of your hunting gear, but, trust me, when you're halfway through day one and your feet are wet and soggy from water intrusion, you'll be hating life come day four. The custom insoles will also keep your feet comfortable when otherwise you could be in some extreme pain.
5. Don’t worry about your camouflage.
Before you get picky about a pattern, focus on the materials you wear. For the most part, merino wool cannot be beaten. It helps keep you cool in the heat and retains heat better than most when wet. It also has anti-microbial properties, which, in turn, helps keep scent modest. This should be your main concern. Focus on using your wind indicator, whether it be an electronic form or the typical talcum powder in a bottle. Keeping the wind in your favor will produce results that otherwise would never be possibilities.
6. Train for your hunt.
Whether it be going to the gym or some simple at home exercises, do something that is going to make it easier on your body come season. This subject usually comes with some scrutiny and controversy. By no means will I tell a new hunter that working out and getting “jacked” at the gym will bring immediate success, but the combination of a little physical fitness and preparation will definitely help.
7. Use online research tools.
Use tools like goHUNT’s INSIDER and Google Earth to help identify areas that will attract game and won't attract people. Tools like these are virtually invaluable. If scouting an area far from home, you want to make the best of your efforts. Using mapping resources, such as Google Earth, can help identify areas with fewer roads or trails and can help you find bedding, feed and water sources that are not always identifiable via a regular map. These areas are where you want to be.
Above all, I would say this is the number one way you will be successful. Figuring out what works for you takes nothing but time. There is no other avenue to figuring out if you are good at spot and stalk, calling, ambushing or sitting treestands or ground blinds. For me, personally, I have learned that I am a terrible caller for elk. If I can use my optics to find a situation that offers a good stalk or an ambush/pinch point, I will be much better off than to try to get a bull to come to me via calling.
What you are left with here are some general tips that I wish someone would have told me years ago. Hopefully, this helps answer some questions for all the new and upcoming hunters in the world that may not have had a mentor in the beginning.