By Jeff Stirland
Whitetail season has now ended just about everywhere across the country, and the guys who grinded all fall and winter are really feeling drained. Although it would be nice to take a rest from hunting and the whitetail world, that notion just really isn’t plausible for these serious hunters. Not only are successful hunters always paying attention to details, but they also are thinking ahead to next season at all times. If your main goal for this fall is to shoot a mature buck, then these 5 tasks will put you ahead of the game.
1.] Find New Hunting Properties
No matter how many properties you own or have access to, you can never have too many options. First, start out by looking at Platt books or tax parcel maps. I personally use Onx Hunt Maps, as it gives you landowner boundaries and information all in one place. Then, look for characteristics that will most likely hold mature deer in the fall. Swamps, oak ridges, agricultural woodlots, ponds, creeks bottoms, early successional growth, saddles, and any type of edge are all places where an unsuspecting buck may be hanging out.
After you find a decent amount of properties, get out and go knocking on doors. A good rule of thumb is that realistically, you will probably obtain permission to hunt around 1 out of every 10 properties. This number will vary depending on what state you are in, but overall this a safe estimate that will allow you to prepare for the worst case scenario.
If you are an introvert or get turned down by every landowner, the next step is to research the various public land parcels in your area. Focus on the public land areas that are far away from large cities, and try to stick with the larger parcels of land. With a larger chunk of land, you are more capable of escaping the crowds as long as the entire property is not full of easily accessible trails.
Then, look for desirable habitat that will hold large numbers of deer. Also, it is important that you take in to account hunting pressure when deciding what properties or areas to focus on. If an area is easily accessible, simply put, the deer most likely will avoid it and the average hunter will pressure it.
2.] Plan Your Yearly Habitat Improvement Projects
If your primary hunting property is one that you own and have the free reign to manipulate, then listen closely. The ability to change the habitat and limit hunting pressure will give you a huge advantage if you understand how to positively impact the deer inhabiting your property.
Start by analyzing the property in its current state. Does it have sufficient cover? Do the deer stay on the property throughout hunting season? Am I spooking deer every time I walk into the property? Asking yourself questions such as these will allow you to evaluate what you need to change and what you need to keep.
The most effective habitat management tool is often argued to be the chainsaw. Hinge cutting, timber stand improvement, and other projects will not only create sufficient cover, but will also produce a larger amount of browse for the deer. If you are looking to create a bedding area for a doe family, figure that you need to hinge cut roughly 1/2 acre to 1 acre to hold one single doe family. This will provide adequate cover and browse for the deer to sustain them throughout the year.
If you enjoy planting food plots, plan what you are going to plant and where you will plant it. If you are going to frost-seed clover over top of an old Brassica plot, then this will be the time to do it. Make sure that your soil is going to provide adequate nutrition and structure for whatever seed you decide to plant.
3.] Train for the Hunt
One of the best things you can do for your own personal gain as well as to be a more lethal hunter is to focus on your health and wellness. In order to be functioning to your highest potential, you must be fit physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
The best way to prepare your body for hunting whitetails is to lift weights. In most cases, you are sitting in a treestand, so endurance and stamina are only emphasized on the walk in. Overall strength in both your lower and upper body will help you with carrying stands and heavy packs for long distances, drawing back a bow silently even in cold weather, holding tight to trees while hanging your sticks and stand, and will boost your overall confidence as an athlete and an outdoorsman.
4.] Get Out and Put on the Miles
At this time of year, bucks are starting to shed their antlers and the sign of the rut is still visible. The best thing to do in early February is to just get out and scout. While you are walking, take note of any rubs or scrapes that you find, as well as any significant terrain features or fresh deer beds. These will be valuable locations for you when you are considering treestand locations for next fall.
Also, if you do stumble upon a shed, mark where you found it on your map. When you are scouting, try to plan ahead for next season by marking possible observation stand sites on new properties. This time spent afield will be crucial when planning your upcoming season, and will allow you to focus more on hunting and less on scouting. So basically, walk until your legs feel like falling off. It will be good for you anyway.
5.] Stay Focused
Most importantly, don’t forget to do something that will put you one step closer to harvesting a mature deer. No matter what you are doing or what time of year it is, goal setting is a crucial skill that will allow you to accomplish more specific things on a regular basis.
After you figure out what you would like to accomplish this upcoming season, write down the steps that will be required to do so. Make sure to set starting and ending deadlines, as this will guide your schedule for the remainder of the spring and summer. With proper planning and determination, you can truly make your next season the best one you have ever had before.
Now Get To It
All this advice is good and great, but in reality, it will not benefit you at all until you take action and put it into practice. The ability to turn dreams into reality is something that comes with hard work and diligence. So next time you have some down time, shut off the TV and get off of Facebook. Read a book, look at maps, hang a stand, and just work towards the things that you love the most. You will be known by the fruit of your labors, and someone who gets things done will leave a much bigger impact and be more successful than those who only dream. So for those of you who are wondering what the secret to killing big bucks consistently really is, there is only one. The pursuit never ends. Period.