As I headed out the door with bow in hand, I knew I was making a mistake. But I still went through with it. Hours later, as the rain slowed, I saw a dark shape materialize from the nearby timber. Then I saw dark, chocolate horns — rain dripping from the long mahogany tines, wrapping forward and then sky-rocketing up toward the clouds above. It was a giant buck for Michigan, and he slowly but surely made his way toward me. As he neared the edge of the food plot, my chest reverberated like a jackhammer as my heart rate raced beyond healthy levels. It seemed a shot was imminent. But then a loud snort of warning sounded and my hopes crashed to the ground. The giant and the three does that had snuck in downwind of me exploded away in a flurry of flashing white tails.
I knew the wind had been wrong for that hunt, but I couldn’t help but give it a try. And just like I knew it would, that mistake bit me in the behind at the worst moment. Like I did in that situation, most hunters know the right thing to do but still make the same mistakes again and again. If we want to improve as hunters, though, we need to change our ways. It’s only by claiming ownership of these mistakes that we can do that. As they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Here are three of those most common mistakes hunters seem to repeat, the excuses that often go with them and a few ways to work around them.
THE MOST COMMON REPEATABLE MISTAKES
In the story at the start of this article, I committed a cardinal crime — one that’s commonly repeated by hunters everywhere; hunting a stand despite a poor wind direction. We all know you shouldn’t do this, but sometimes it just happens. And this isn’t some kind of anomaly. It happens all of the time. Given all of the information available today about whitetail hunting, there aren’t many basic rules hunters don’t know about. We know we shouldn’t hunt a stand with the wind blowing toward a likely deer approach route. This is Deer Hunting 101. A whitetail’s sense of smell is unimaginably more powerful than ours, and it’s a deer lifesaver. Still, many of us get sloppy with our wind occasionally.
We know you shouldn’t over hunt the same treestand, too, right? Whitetails, especially mature ones, get savvy to repeated intrusions and will soon avoid stand locations after repeat human visits. In fact, many experienced whitetail hunters claim the likelihood of killing a mature whitetail from a stand decreases astronomically after only three sits. However, plenty of hunters will sit in the same stand five, 10 or 15 times a year.
Or how about access? How many times have you read or heard someone preach about how important it is to access and exit your stands without spooking deer? You can hardly read a magazine today without being reminded of that at least twice. However, many hunters finish hunting for the evening and walk straight across that cut cornfield to their trucks. And then they’ll go do the same thing on their way back to the stand in the morning. It doesn’t make sense, does it?
But guess what? You’ve probably committed one of these mistakes before, too, and probably more than once. So have I. Guilty as charged on every one of those mistakes and more. So why does this still happen?
WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO MAKE MISTAKES?
Why when we make a mistake or know something is wrong do we continue to do it — sometimes again and again? For example, why did I hunt that stand even though I knew the wind wasn’t quite right? I’d hunted before with bad wind directions and had seen the negative effect, yet there I was doing it again. In that case, it seemed to be the only location I could hunt where all of the other factors appeared to offer a good chance of seeing an early season buck. I had food, good access, shelter from the rain and was near a heavily used bedding area. It was a great spot … except for that pesky wind.
Staying on the topic of wind, how about when the wind changes mid-hunt? Most of us know we should move, but how often do we? It’s a royal pain to pack everything up and relocate. So more times than not, it’s just easier to stay where you’re at.
How about over hunting stands? It’s easy to do. Maybe a stand’s been great in the past, is easy to get to or offers a great view. Or maybe you just don’t have a lot of other options. You have no other properties or maybe no other good stands for the wind direction, or perhaps the stand is closest to your house. I’m sure there’s a good reason why you keep hunting the same stand again and again — right?
The dilemma of accessing or exiting stands is an easy one. It’s faster, easier and more convenient to take the path of least resistance back to your truck or house, right? Or maybe there just aren’t any other options. Maybe it’s too thick on the back side of your property, or perhaps there’s a river you can’t cross. After a long day on stand, you just want to get home, and you certainly don’t want to deal with briars, rivers or 2-mile-long walks.
I can relate. I’ve felt that way many times, and often, I’ve done exactly what I shouldn’t do. The explanations and reasons for committing these sins are many, but ultimately they’re just excuses. The excuses, in fact, are infinite, but the consequences are always the same: Fool me twice, shame on me.
That’s fine, you might say. I’ve gone ahead and made us feel pretty guilty, but what’s the point? How can we avoid making these mistakes again and again? It comes down to three things: planning, hard work and discipline. I’ll use the previously mentioned mistakes to illustrate.
How do you avoid hunting trees when the wind direction is poor? First, plan ahead and have plenty of treestand locations to pick from, allowing you to always have an option no matter the wind direction. This, of course, takes plenty of hard work, because you must invest a lot of time during the off-season setting up new locations and learning what wind directions you can hunt each from. Finally, you need to have the discipline to stick to the plan, move stands when the wind changes and not fall into the trap of taking the easy option.
The same goes for over hunting a stand. Make sure you don’t put yourself in that position. Try to gain access to numerous properties and treestand locations, and plan ahead to hunt certain stands only at certain times of the year. This isn’t easy to pull off, because it will take a lot more work than most of us would like — knocking on doors for permission, scouting public land and sweating your tail off doing work in June or July. But if you want to avoid the negative effects of over hunting a stand, you must put in the work and then have the mental toughness to not fall back into the routine of hunting the same stand over and over.
Access/exit routes are no different. It’s natural to want to take the easy way in and out, but you need to plan different options to make sure you don’t fall into that trap. Use the off-season to find other routes in and out of your stands that won’t disturb feeding or bedding whitetails, and then work to prepare these trails. Finally, you must have the guts to stick to your plan and avoid the temptation of the quick, easy walk back to the truck.
Even if those aren’t mistakes you make repeatedly, the process can be applied to make sure you’re breaking out of the cycle. Take a look at a problem, and then plan ahead to create various options. Put in the work to make these alternate options viable, and then stick to your plan.
LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
As you saw at the beginning of this story, I’ve hunted during bad winds. And I’ve certainly over hunted some stands through the years and busted plenty of deer off properties when leaving after a hunt. I’m sure there are plenty of other mistakes I’ve made repeatedly, too. It’s human nature to occasionally do something even when we know not too, but it’s also within our nature to fight back and work to avoid this fate. And although I’m sure I’ll screw up plenty in the future, I also know I’ll work hard to learn from those mistakes and will plan to ensure I don’t repeat them.
After watching that gorgeous Michigan buck hightail away from me that early October evening, I cursed my stubborn hard head, which led to me hunting there even when I knew I probably shouldn’t have. Two long months passed until I was able to find redemption.
It was December, and another evening hunt was about to unfold. It was freezing cold, and with snow piling up I immediately thought that the nicest place to hunt would be my Redneck Blind, which was just a few hundred yards from the truck and provided some protection from the cold wind. But I knew the wind direction was wrong, just as it had been that October night.
So, with that memory fresh, I decided to hunt somewhere else, where conditions were much more optimal, even though I’d need to drive farther and hike a much longer distance to access a spot without bumping deer and still have the wind in my favor. You might say I took the path less traveled, and that night it made all the difference.
You can fool me once, and I humbly admit that you can even fool me twice more often than I’d like. But sometimes, I learn from those mistakes. And that December evening, I had a 5½-year-old Michigan buck on the ground to prove it.
— Skye Goode is an avid deer hunter from Michigan.