Top Ten Hunting Mistakes
The only hunters who can say they have never made a mistake while hunting are hunters who have never gone hunting. It’s inevitable that a few mistakes will be made, even if you’ve been hunting for decades. The time between seasons gives hunters just enough time to forget at least a couple important lessons they have learned along the way. While there is no way to ensure a mistake-free hunting season, it is possible to drastically reduce mistakes by identifying which mistakes are commonly made. This article identifies 10 common mistakes that many beginner and seasoned hunters make as they venture into the woods each fall.
Going in Blind
Every year scores of hunters belly up to the bar and eat a hot, bland cup of tag soup. Going into the season unprepared plays a large role in the outcome of a hunt. As you begin to plan for this year’s hunts, I suggest tearing a page out of the Boy Scout playbook and taping it to your gun safe. The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared”. You can never be over-prepared for a hunt.
You should spend as much time as possible scouting multiple areas, using trail cams, google earth, and pouring over topo maps. You should be able to draw a map of your hunting area from memory.Take every opportunity to observe animal behavior. Learn bedding areas and feeding areas. Learn which trails animals use as they are transitioning between feeding and bedding areas. If you can physically scout an area, be there as much as possible. Knowledge of the landscape will be invaluable during your hunt. The time to learn is not during the season. Pay your tuition before the season starts and chances are it will pay off in a big way.
I recall an experience I had several years ago on a high country mule deer hunt in Colorado. I drew a tag in an area I had wanted to hunt for a long time. I had a good friend who knew the area well and gave me some key areas to focus on. I spent a great deal of time pouring through maps and learning the terrain. Before the hunt started I had memorized the terrain and noted adjoining basins, trails, and potential animal escape routes. The day before the hunt I was perched on a high peak and it wasn’t long before I had a big buck found. He was high up in a remote basin. I immediately identified a route to get above him and hopefully get a shot on opening day.
Opening day arrived and I relocated the buck in the same area. Halfway into the stalk the buck spooked and escaped over a knife ridge at 13000 ft. Because I had memorized the terrain on google earth, I knew exactly where he went, and I knew exactly how to get there. After a long hike, I had the buck found in an adjacent basin. The following day I was able to harvest this buck due in large part to preparation. Whether you are hunting whitetail, elk, mule deer or some other furry critter the principle of preparation is still the same. Know before you go!
Second Guessing Yourself
You have top of the line gear. You’ve invested time at the range and are stacking lead in the bullseye like cordwood. You have spent a great deal of time scouting and have found a handful of opening day targets.You are liking your chances. Being overconfident can get you into all kinds of trouble, however, trusting yourself and the preparations you have made are essential.
No matter how tempting it might be, don’t second guess yourself. Especially, trust your preseason scouting efforts. The phrase “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence” may apply to cattle but it doesn’t always apply to hunting. A common mistake hunters make is jumping from one area to another area, and then back to the original area, and then repeating the process. In contrast, some hunters will hunt the same area year after year despite being unsuccessful. The justification for this is behavior is, “that’s where they hunted as a kid.” I will quote myself as saying, “stick with what you know”.
If you know an area is not productive find an area that is. Opening day pressure can cause animals to change their routine, however, chances are good the animal will settle back down to normal routines once the hunting pressure is off. Stay with your game plan and chances are good, you will get your chance. Trusting in your gear, time at the range and preseason scouting are all key factors, however, trusting in your original game plan is the segway to success.Stay the course!
Failure to Practice
Many hunters spend 365 days anticipating the arrival of opening day. They make all sorts of preparations. They take time off work. They save up and purchase the best gear. They purchase a top of the line rifle chambered in their favorite round. They spend countless hours scouting and getting into shape. The time arrives, all the groceries are bought, gear is loaded in the truck and off they go to pursue the trophy of a lifetime.
After arriving at camp and getting things set up, there is the realization that the rifle hasn’t been dialed in. An empty milk jug is set up just outside of camp, and a hundred yards is paced off. Several shots are fired without connecting with the jug. Several windage and elevation adjustments are made. The hunter is getting nervous now. He has burned through a box of shells and hasn’t hit the jug.He only has one box of cartridges to get him through the hunt. Furthermore, he has likely spooked every animal within in a ½ mile of camp. A few shots later he puts one through the handle of the jug and pronounces that as good enough.
Good enough will seldom fill the freezer and provide another trophy for the wall.When the moment of truth arrives practice can very well be the catalyst for success. I have made what others would refer to as impressive shots. They weren’t impressive to me because I had made those shots before. Regardless of weapon, put the time in. Practice angled shots, longs shots. Practice taking shots in the sitting, kneeling and standing position. Throw down 30 push-ups and once your heart rate is up, cycle some field tips or bullets through your target. Shooting immediately after cardio is a great way to build confidence and prepare you mentally to make the shot when the moment of truth arrives.
Skilled shooters will tell you that their shot process is the best. In my experience, the best process is the one that produces the best groups. I think there’s a lot to learn from experienced shooters, however, their process might not get you the best results. I have been advised to slowly let my breath out through the shot process.However, I have personally found holding my breath during the shot process produces better results. The process is almost the same for me whether I’m shooting my rifle, bow or musket.
A big part of accuracy is making the shot mentally before sending the projectile to its intended destination. Yea, I know it sounds like Mr. Miyagi from the karate kid handing out mental advice to Daniel son, but half the battle is mental focus. Mental focus sharpens with practice. I still get excited when I see a trophy animal. My heart rate increases and I get a little short of breath, but during the actual shot process, I go into mental autopilot. I don’t get wound up when taking the shot. I attribute being calm to a lot of practice which ultimately builds confidence that translates into accuracy.
Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, has won a chest full of gold medals using the same habitual mental process before and during his competitions. Don’t be afraid to take advise and try different things, but ultimately stick with what produces the best groups for you. This applies to any weapon you may be using. Don’t abandon your training when the moment of truth arrives. Stick with what works!
Make sure you select hunting gear that is conducive to accuracy. This is a topic rarely addressed but is a critical part of accuracy. Bulky jackets and layers are not conducive to accuracy. I have observed hunters who resemble more the stay-puff marshmallow man then they do a hunter. I’ve witnessed on several occasions hunters missing shot opportunities because they were fiddling around with bulky jackets instead of getting into position to make the shot. I have heard many stories from archery hunters who missed easy shots because their string came in contact with bulky clothing.
I am a big fan of anatomically shaped hunting apparel. You want to wear jackets and pants that are lightweight with a fit that promotes full range of motion without extra material stacking up in areas that can prevent you from making a quick accurate shot. I’m am personally a big fan of the SKRE hardscrabble series for this reason. SKRE offers an anatomical fit in every piece they offer, and best of all it’s lightweight, rugged, and quiet.
All their pieces work together as an extreme layering system. Even when you are utilizing all the layers during cold temps, you don’t have to stress about bulky layers that can create problems when shooting a bow or a long gun.
Ignoring Principles of Scent Control
Most ungulates like deer and elk have a sense of smell that is as much as 1,000 times more powerful than a human’s. This doesn’t bode well if you are upwind from a wiley old buck. Scent is by far an animals greatest defense mechanism.The cardinal rule in hunting is to stay downwind. You can fool an animal’s vision but you will never fool their sense of smell. I have utilized many of the so called scent elimination products and even tried some of the scent elimination fabrics with varying results. While I believe these products offer some advantage, I have not found them to be as effective as staying downwind.
I still invest some time and energy into scent elimination because unfortunately, we can’t control the wind. Particularly when I’m archery hunting, I like to shower daily, when possible, using scent elimination products like shampoo and soap. I also wash all my clothes using scent elimination detergents and then store them in a scent-proof action packer bin. Lastly, I spray down with a scent elimination product for a little added security. I don’t believe these products completely eliminate human odor but I believe an animal is less weary when they get a small dose of human scent as opposed to a large dose. When they get a large dose of human scent, they are more likely to have an immediate evasive response.
I am a very big fan of Merino wool which is not only a monster at moisture management, but it’s also naturally antimicrobial. It is one of the few natural fibers that neutralizes odor more efficiently than any other fabric I have tried and believe me, I have tried them all. I buy all my Merino from SKRE gear because it is one of the highest grades of merino wool on the market, it doesn’t itch, and it has the anatomical fit I have come to expect from high-end gear. Best of all their prices are very responsible. I expect a lot out of my gear and the Merino from SKRE checks all the boxes. I highly recommend their Kaibab series and their new Kanatie hoodie.
Ignoring the Principles of Concealment
Equally important to scent control is concealment. The good news is with proper concealment you can disrupt an animals visual system so they ignore your shape as something that is commonplace. There are many types of concealment options for hunters. One of the most popular is Mimicry camouflage which is an attempt at mimicking a certain section of the habitat. One of the common problems with mimicry is it is limited to mimicking a certain type of habitat. As a hunter moves through multiple habitat environments mimicry doesn’t always provide a perfect match. Simply put, mimicry doesn’t move with you through multiple habitat environments.
Small changes in habitat, may not appear out of place to the human eye, but animals tend to notice if something looks out of place in their environment. Animals, particularly ungulates are always keenly aware of their surroundings. They have to be, as evading predation is something they are dealing with every second of every day.
Every hunter has had the inevitable stare down where an animal is locked on the hunter’s location and a long dreadful staredown ensues. This scenario usually plays out until one of two things happen. Either the animal becomes convinced the hunter is not a threat and goes back to feeding, or the animal confirms their innate visual suspicion and leaves. The stare down is an instinct built into their DNA. The stare down is a visual trigger mechanism that detects objects that looks out of place. The world we live in is made up of geometric shapes known as fractals. In contrast to Mimicry, fractal concealment uses proven algorithms that are designed to disrupt your shape and make you appear as commonplace in multiple environments.
What we attempt to do with fractal camouflage is to merge these common shapes with the correct background and then scale them to the appropriate size to properly disrupt the shape of the target. Fractal concealment is not about duplicating nature, but designing from the aspect of the target shape, size, scale, operational environment, vision science, geometrics, algorithms, static or mobile and color science. It really is rocket science. If you are serious about concealment, check out Mtn-Stealth and Summit patterns by SKRE. SKRE uses advanced and proven concealment algorithms that will allow you to take concealment to a whole new level
Giving Up Too Early
A habitual problem I had as a young hunter was a lack of patience. I suspect many hunters just like me would confess that patience is a virtue they have struggled with at some point in their life. As a young man I had a certain hunting routine, which I later called it out for what it was; a bad habit. I would usually hike up a ridge or high vantage point, glass around for a few minutes and then quickly move on. I never scrutinized the terrain with my glass before moving onto another area.The key to learning patience is by gathering the mental fortitude to wait it out long after prime time has passed, which will undoubtedly increase your chances of success.
The culprit of being inpatient takes on many forms. Boredom, or being cold or uncomfortable usually work their way into most hunters mental attitude. Honestly, some hunters are afraid of the dark and don’t want to hike back to the truck under the cover of darkness. They call it a day, during primetime dusk and dawn hours when animals are most active. Boredom, darkness and other factors are byproducts of mental focus which each hunter will have to deal with on their own, however, the elements can be dealt with by utilizing quality gear that will extend a hunter’s time in the field, thus increasing the chances of success.
A few years ago I was deer hunting with my brother in law. We awoke to rain but still made a plan to hike a long ridge that extended out a mile and then fell off into multiple drainages. These drainages held a handful of good bucks I had found prior to the season. My goal was to get my brother in law onto one of these bucks. The rain persisted as we made our way out onto the ridge. As we arrived at our destination and begin glassing, I glanced back at my brother in law and noticed he was wet and cold. He was not properly prepared with the right gear to sit out a long morning in a drizzling rain. He’d finally had enough and told me he was headed back to the truck to get warm. Twenty minutes after his departure, I jumped a big buck in one of the small drainages and put him in the salt with a well-placed shot. His gear, or lack thereof, created a missed opportunity.
That morning I was properly equipped and layered with SKRE’s Kaibab Merino Base Layers, the Hardscrabble Series, and Nebo SL Rain Gear. Being properly prepared allowed me to be warm, comfortable and dry, and ultimately played a role in me harvesting a dandy buck. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a lightweight Layering System that can conquer the elements, which is exactly why I’m a big fan of SKRE gears Extreme Bundle. It has everything I need to hunt in multiple seasons and habitat environments and is capable of dealing with large fluctuations in temperatures.
Going at it unprepared; Surviving the Elements
Many a hunter has stepped into the wilderness never to be seen again. I suspect many of these poor souls became lost, panicked, and eventually succumbed to the elements. Some of the recovered bodies have been discovered to have in their possession the basic equipment needed to survive a few nights in the wilderness. One might ask, “why did they perish?” What happened? Being lost is a very helpless feeling. It’s human nature to panic when we feel helpless.
If you ever find yourself lost, realize your greatest asset is your head. You need to be calm so you can think clearly and objectively. Water and food are the least of your worries. Even in the middle of summer, the temperature and weather in the wilderness can fluctuate drastically. You need to find shelter or construct a shelter. If you can survive the elements, chances are good that you can survive long enough to be rescued.
Whether I’m hunting from my truck with a day pack, or on a wilderness backpack hunt, I always carry a small survival kit. I know a lot of hunters who will not pack the extra weight of survival items. This is a big mistake. My personal survival kit is a little larger than a deck of poker cards. I use a plastic waterproof container to hold all my items. The total kit weighs no more than 6 ounces and contains a fire starter with tinder quick, lighter, small knife, mini light, parachute cord, needle and thread, and a mini roll of duct tape. In addition, I carry a small first aid kit with 4×4 gauze bandages, aspirin, disinfectant wipes, medical tape, and a small selection of band aides. I also carry a thermal blanket that weighs just a few ounces and takes up virtually no room in my pack. The bulk of my items are for protection against the elements and ultimately staying warm and dry.
If the elements permit, building a fire is one of the best things you can do if you become lost or injured in the mountains. A fire provides not only warmth, but also provides an element of security, safety, and is an excellent location device. I’m not a big fan of matches. They are easily damaged, and once ignited the flame is short lived. Matches also perform poorly in rainy and windy conditions. You will never find matches in my survival kit. There are dozens of better and more reliable ways to start a fire. A good old bic lighter is a fair choice but it to can have mechanical and fuel failures and can be useless if it becomes submerged in water. I usually carry a lighter as a backup fire starter.
There are literally 100’s of fire starter kits and devices to choose from and they all work to some degree, however, I have found the Spark Lite Tinder Quick Aviation Fire Starter Kit to be a cut above the rest. Yea I know, that’s a pretty big name for such a small kit. The kit comes in a small plastic box that measures about 2 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide and about a 1/2 inch deep.
The whole kit weighs less than 2 ounces. Inside the box is a small plastic shaft with a spark wheel at the top that will produce 2000 quality hot sparks and is designed for one-handed operation. Also included in the box is 8 tinder quick tabs. Starting a fire is as simple as pulling a waterproof Tinder-Quik Tab from the plastic case, fluff up the end by pulling it apart to form a puffy little cloud, and igniting it with the Spark-Lite Fire Starter. It’s scary how fast you can ignite a tab with one spark. The result is a flame that will burn for 2 to 3 minutes giving you plenty of time to ignite your kindling. It is also important to note that after submerging a tinder quick tab in water, I ringed it out like a wet shirt and it still ignited with a couple of sparks.
The Spark Lite was designed explicitly for Aviation Survival Kits and is the official U.S. Military fire starter. It has frequently received praise from independent reviewers and military personnel. Best of all, they are only $8.95. My added insurance for warmth is a Ptarmigan Super down Jacket by SKRE. This is a like having a down sleeping bag wrapped around your torso. It stuffs down to the size of a Nalgene water bottle and only weighs 14 ounces occupying very little space and weight in your pack. This is 14 ounces of warmth that could save your life should you not succeed in building an adequate fire.
Pressuring a wounded animal
Mortally wounded deer, elk and other ungulates can survive in excess of 8 hours due to poor shot placement. I’m not the ethics police, and it’s not my place to delve into a lecture on shot placement. I think we as hunters know where we need to put the projectile which results in a quick clean kill. Consequently, the human element of hunting means mistakes will be made and animals will, on occasion, be poorly hit. I hit a cow elk once behind the front shoulder. She ran up hill several hundred yards, bedded and was watching her back trail when I finally relocated her. Thankfully, I was able to see her before she saw me, and put her down for good.
Elk are very tough animals and this elk had plenty left in the tank to extend the distance if pressured. Upon field dressing, it was discovered she was hit through both lungs; a mortal shot. In hindsight, I should have given her time to expire.When archery hunting I like to give an animal at least 30 minutes to expire if I’m certain the shot placement was perfect. If I’m not confident in the shot placement, I will wait several hours. If it is determined that an animal is gut shot you may want to wait up to 8 hours regardless of the weapon that was used. Some may consider this to be unethical, however a gut shot or poorly hit animal can live 10 hours or more, and if you pressure them they can cover several miles in a short period of time decreasing the chances of recovery.
If you don’t pressure them they will bed and eventually expire not far from where you hit them. When in doubt, wait them out!
Keep Quiet & Don’t Hesitate
Deer elk and other ungulates don’t reach maturity by making many mistakes. For a trophy animal to reach maturity, is no small accomplishment. For example, a five-year-old buck has survived 1,825 days of predation by both hunters and carnivores. Let that sink in! There is a reason trophy animals are hard to come by. Most male big game animals don’t live to see their 2nd year. Mature ungulates have not only evaded predation and hunting pressure but have also survived harsh winters, drought conditions, collisions with automobiles, and even poachers. The odds are stacked against them from birth.
If a buck or bull has made it to 5 years and beyond he has evaded death at almost every turn. I point out these odds because many hunters don’t fully appreciate what it takes to match the intelligence of a mature animal. One common mistake hunters make far too often is noise. I feel almost foolish including this in this article considering it’s a common sense principle of stealth, however, I have lost track of how often I have heard hunters casually talking out loud while hunting. If their voice carries across the canyon to me, it’s likely, the ungulates in the area who have far superior hearing, have been alerted to the hunter’s presence and have left the area undetected. I have never understood hunters who believe they can get away with talking while hunting. The only chance a hunter has of harvesting one of these magnificent animals is if the hunter can remain undetected.
Additionally, wearing clothing that is quiet is especially important as you close the distance. A twig brushing up against noisy fabric can send an animal into the next county. For this reason, I love my gear from SKRE. The face fabric is quiet and has assisted me more than once in closing to within bow range. You will remember at the beginning of this paragraph, that I said mature ungulates don’t make many mistakes; well they don’t! However, on occasion, a mature buck or bull will make a mistake and if you are there to capitalize on it, chances are good you will be cutting a notch in your tag.
Another common mistake I have observed is a hunter taking too long to shoot. When you are finally in a position to capitalize on a mistake, a mature animal isn’t going to wait around until the conditions are perfect for a shot. The time for observation has passed. I’ve watched guys viewing an animal with their binos when they should be preparing for a shot or actually taking the shot. I’ve watched hunters miss big opportunities because they were fooling around with equipment or bulky jackets when they should have been executing the shot.
Those who have hunted with me have probably heard my “shoot quick lecture”. I recall an experience where I was advising one of my buddies on getting ready for a quick shot as we headed into a canyon to hunt a smart old giant buck I knew was frequenting the area. Minutes later the buck was found and I knew the shot had to be quick. I whispered to him as I pointed out the buck staring us down at less than 100 yards, “you have to shoot right now”. He promptly followed my advice, and collected the best buck of his life–a net B&C typical! The difference between getting a shot or no shot at all can be measured in seconds. This experience could have ended very differently if there was any hesitation. I don’t think we had a second too spare. The old buck had us pegged and was seconds from escaping.
Poor choice in Gear
When you consider the reasons why many hunters returned to camp early, the reasons could likely be tenfold. However, In my experience, one of the main reason hunters punch out early is they are cold, hot, or just plain tired. Heavy bulky clothing that has almost no performance qualities is going to weigh you down and prevent the process of thermoregulation to thrive. When your body is in a constant battle to maintain core temperature, you are going to quickly become exhausted.
Wearing clothing that isn’t comfortable, doesn’t provide an adequate range of motion, doesn’t breath well, or provide efficient moisture management or adequate insulation results in a massive combination of performance issues none of which bodes well for keeping you physically fresh and mentally sharp. High-performance gear, like the pieces made by SKRE, is crafted to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable during long, arduous hunts. SKRE’s proprietary technology is woven into each piece that comprises the extreme layering system
Case in point, in the Hardscrabble Series, the MTN-X2 softshell face fabric provides incredible protection from the wind and cold, but also provides breathability, quietness and excellent range of motion. Each piece in the Hardscrabble Series is treated withTeflon Shield DWR which provides an excellent barrier against moisture.
The Kaibab Merino Series uses an ultra-fine Merino wool which makes it the perfect base layer during cold strenuous hunts. Merino wool wicks away moisture and combats odor-causing bacteria while maintaining core body temperature.
SKRE also offers some life-saving core insulation layers like the 300 gsm Kaniti Merino Hoodie and the Ultralight Ptarmigan Down Jacket.
SKRE also offers accessories like the Merino Balaclava, Merino Beanie, and Deadfall gloves. I especially love the ultralight packable Nebo rain gear that is a life saver when the rains descend. Bottom line, a complete extreme layering system will keep you hunting harder and longer.
Learning from your mistakes
You have truly paid your tuition when you have committed to learn from your mistakes, particularly the ones identified in this article. Even some of the top athletes in the world experience a lapse in performance at some point in their career. When this happens, the common practice to return to greatness is to return to the fundamentals.Get back to the basics! Many of the mistakes covered in this article are truly common sense principles that most hunters are already aware of, and in most cases need only minor corrections. There is always something to learn about these magnificent creatures we are blessed to pursue about 5100.Maybe that’s why I love hunting so much. Correcting mistakes builds confidence, and success is a natural byproduct of confidence, so get after it and enjoy the journey of learning from your mistakes!