Sometimes it is good to remember what not to do. Over the years, I have made many mistakes and blown it big time on big bucks.
Try to learn from the mistakes of others this season. Here are some of the classic blunders from mule deer country.
Mistake No. 9. Come in out of the rain. Bad weather can ruin a hunt or be the catalyst that brings bucks out into the open. Be prepared for anything the weather can throw at a hunter then stay out there, even if it means a quick run back to camp for a change of clothes. A sudden change of weather, a snowstorm in October for example, or a gully-washing shower can get deer up and moving.
Mistake No. 8. Slam the car door. A buck that has lived through five or six hunting seasons has a pretty good idea what it means when headlights stab through the dark. And you can bet he knows what it means when the car door slams. Trouble is coming.
Mistake No. 7. Wimp out on range time. A lot of hunters don’t practice before the season. Many more practice wrong. Tune up by dry-firing (it won’t damage a centerfire rifle) and under field conditions, offhand, kneeling, sitting and prone. With regular practice, range estimation, breath control, trigger squeeze and follow-through become a part of the routine that builds the confidence to make the shot when it counts.
Mistake No. 6. Hunt without map and compass. It is easy to get lost in familiar territory. Believe me, I know. Once, I boasted that I had been hunting this wilderness ridge enough that I wouldn't get lost. In less than two hours, I was turned around and befuddled and spent the next six hours hiking out the wrong way to a road. When I rescued a teenager in the same spot a few years later, I could empathize with her.
Mistake No. 5. Hunt too hard. Opening day is hardest. We want to see it all, to look into every canyon. The deer see us more than we see them. Instead, hunt S-L-O-W or watch from a stand and let other hunters – fresh from the city and the hustle of the workaday world – push the deer to you.
Mistake No. 4. Walk the skyline. Mule deer have an acute awareness of their surroundings. When something moves in their domain, they know it. To cross a ridge, use a tree or a terrain feature to break up your outline.
Mistake No. 3. Watch the does. Big bucks often use young bucks and does as decoys. Spook the herd and they split. The big buck goes one way, while the rest of the deer go another. It is easy to watch the does pogo-stick through the sage or manzanita, but you miss the buck, hiding his antlers in a patch of juniper or low-crawling on his belly through the bitterbrush.
Mistake No. 2. Ignore the wind. A buck may not immediately bolt at the sound of a car door or a human voice. It may not startle at a branch broken beneath a boot. It may not process the sound of a round being chambered, but it never second-guesses its nose. A mule deer's nose is at least a thousand times more powerful than our own and the human odor is an assault upon its senses.
Mistake No. 1. Move too fast. The ideal is to spot a feeding buck and watch it bed as the sun comes up. When the deer is down and chewing its cud, that's the time to make the move. There's no need to hurry. Chances are, that buck will be bedded in one place till the sun is high overhead in which case, it will stand up, feed a little bit and lay down in another patch of shade.
A lot of hunters blow it when they rush the stalk and spook non-target animals. Once the animal is bedded, glass the surroundings and make sure there aren't any other deer that might blow the stalk. Pick your path, the approach and a landmark from which a shot might be made.
Gary Lewis is the host of Frontier Unlimited and author of John Nosler – Going Ballistic, A Bear Hunter's Guide to the Universe, Hunting Oregon and other titles. Contact Gary at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.
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