Hunting application strategies: optimize and extend your season
“I have eyes that point forward, canine and incisor teeth and my brain is powerful enough to create a strategy. My desire for fresh meat is a primitive urge that must be satiated. I am a human. I am a hunter.“ - Steve Opat
Whether you believe that we humans are derived from the hand of a creator or whether we evolved from primordial goop, you cannot deny our anthropological dependence upon a carnivorous diet—i.e. meat. Therefore, it is unnatural to be restricted to just a few months a year to satiate our instinctual urges. Some hunters compress this farther by dedicating all their energy into a single yearly hunt. We don’t want you to spend 50 weeks a year ignoring your innate drives. We want you to nurture your wild side. This savvy tag application strategy can help you do that.
This strategy helps us overcome the biggest detriments to the hunter lifestyle: time available and obstacles to success. Our time afield is often limited by our jobs, our family, our finances and by how much we value each of those three factors. Those obstacles we must overcome are endless and evolving: weather, freak accidents, disease outbreaks in the herd, work crises, wolf infestations, activist groups, etc. A multi-part plan that incorporates a rust-buster, the main event, a kicker, a weekend-warrior and/or a nightcap will help you evade obstacles and optimize all the available moments you have to be a hunter.
Step 1: The “rust buster”
The rust buster hunt occurs before any primary-focus hunts and helps re-hone our skills before we hit the trail for the main event. As with any lifestyle, hobby, art form, sport or career, hunting requires persistent practice and study to maintain efficiency and achieve excellence. If we take too much time away from the wilds, we’ll find ourselves returning to them with rust in our joints and a forgotten bag of tricks. Focus less on trophy size and more on creating as many encounters as possible. Don’t dedicate much time or money to these hunts. Focus on uncovering all your little tips and tricks and getting your gear dialed in before the main event.
If your primary focus is elk hunting in the West, find an August or early September getaway to become reacquainted with the speed of nature before those bulls start bugling. South Dakota archery antelope used to fulfill this need for my crew. It opened two weeks ahead of North Dakota deer season and both of these opportunities prepared us for the Montana elk mountains. Nowadays, I prepare for Alaska’s Dall sheep season by crawling through the tussocks pursuing caribou during the first days of August.
Step 2. The main event
goHUNT was created to help us obtain these tags. This one requires little explanation: it is the tag we’ve all been scheming to draw. With a good five-year plan, you can probably draw one of these tags every year and this is where you’ll dedicate the largest block of your sacred—and all too limited—vacation days. Make sure you’re in tune before you arrive. See tip #1.
Step 3: The kicker
With all the preparation and time away from work and family for the main event, you will undoubtedly feel pressure to bring home some meat. If the days drag on and you still haven’t harvested your quarry, a kicker tag can allow you to slay a slump-buster and release a little pressure. Furthermore, if you are suave enough to tag-out early in the hunt, a kicker tag can allow you to stay out in the wild and continue to live that primal lifestyle: meat skewered over the coals, blood beneath your fingernails, a scruffy beard, musky armpits; your skin color the perfect blend of blood, guts, soot and dirt.
Try to add a kicker to your big hunt by buying or applying for anything else available in that unit: bear, caribou, hog, wolf, javelina, antlerless deer/elk, etc. Don’t forget to consider upland birds and fish as well. Consider all options and have fun. [This also allows you to follow this mantra, “Never ignore the world-class opportunity in front of you just to grind out a hunt to satiate your ego.” As in, if the trout are rising in epic quantities, utilize your fishing license privileges and start casting. If you’re surrounded by grouse, have an epic day of bird hunting.]
Step 4: The weekend warrior
Uncover all opportunities within a short commute from your home or office. Maybe it’s small/upland game or an antlerless city deer hunt. Maybe it’s wild hogs or other nuisance animal control hunts. Be open-minded. These opportunities abound in our country if you have an open eye and an open mind. Just escape to nature in any form and for any amount of time you are given. Even if you only get an hour outside, you’ve still spent more time doing what you love—what you were genetically programmed to do—than you otherwise would have. Accept the fact that you may hear the road from your stand, see the downtown skyscrapers or have people in neon clothing walk their dogs passed you. It’s okay, you’re outside.
Nowadays, I apply for antlerless moose permits inside my town’s city limits. These grant me the ability to hunt every waking hour of September—my deck being an excellent moose hunting blind. In college, when I developed this plan, my roommates and I hit it rich when the city of Fargo initiated an archery-only deer management hunt on city park lands. Our annual venison poundage took a quick boost and we could hunt every day of the week without skipping class or work.
Step 5: The nightcap
Find opportunities that allow you to extend your hunting season into months where you would historically be dormant. This may require that dedicated predators venture into the cold to satiate their primitive desires. If you don’t draw a late-season tag, consider a warm-weather getaway. Head to Texas and chase hogs or exotics, Arizona for over-the-counter archery deer hunts, Florida for alligator hunts or Hawaii for ibex, hogs or chamois. These can be combined with a family vacation to these warm or exotic locales. This, in turn, helps moderate your time away from family and saves it for the next fall and that “main event” tag you’re ready to draw.
In Alaska, we have bison and musk ox hunts that occur during February and March. These are hard to draw, but our early winter muzzleloader only moose hunts have enticing draw odds. Archery and muzzleloader only hunts like these come to mind for other states as well. The Arizona late season archery hunts are incredibly fun as are any Texas hog hunts. Hawaii is calling me as well.
The wild card:
Any spring hunt. Period. Find something that gets you outside and exercising your hunter’s brain. Bears and turkeys are the first things that comes to mind. Again, be creative and open-minded.
Spring bear hunts are my wild card. Opportunities are plentiful and generally affordable. If I had an unsuccessful fall and my freezer is looking bare, then I tackle spring bear with a vengeance. In this instance, I consider it my nightcap. If I had a great fall, I may be more relaxed and consider the spring bear season as more of a maintenance hunt to keep me from ever getting too rusty.
There are a lot of hunters who I’d advise to look at spring bear hunts in Canada. Head north and hunt those huge boars over bait. Being surrounded by bears is a thrill. For a greater challenge, spot and stalk the faces of the Rockies or come to Alaska and work the shorelines of the South East. (That may be one of Alaska’s most affordable DIY hunts.) In fact, goHUNT just added Alaska hunt research tools to INSIDER. Be sure to check that out! With the use of Filtering 2.0, Unit Profiles and the INSIDER only articles, they can provide you with all the tools needed to successfully plan out a DIY over-the-counter hunt in Alaska.
In summary, we are encouraging you to develop a tag application strategy that allows you to embrace hunting as a lifestyle more than just a season. Take a critical look at your allowed vacation days and potential free moments. Then, orchestrate a plan that enables you to spend those available minutes in the wild outdoors, satiating one of your basic human needs. If you find that there are not enough minutes in your life, evaluate whether you can carve time away from activities you don’t actually enjoy—but that’s for a separate article.