All photo credits: Anthony Wright
All photo credits: Anthony Wright
The 2020 hunting season is behind us, which means it is now time for reflection and preparation for 2021. I was fortunate enough to find success last year on the highly pressured public land here in Montana. And, as I sit with my coffee, reliving the past hunting season, there are some common variables in the equation of public land success. Here’s what I've come up with.
Something common that I used to do when heading out on the weekends would be to get discouraged immediately when I saw other parked vehicles in the vicinity of the area I chose to hunt. When rolling up to the parking area, trailhead or locked gate, don’t get discouraged. That’s part of the beauty to finding success on everyone's land. Just because there are other potential hunters in the area doesn’t mean they have the drive to go as far as you nor are they going to the same spot you’ve picked out. In the event that they are in the same area you’ve chosen to go to, take a step back, look at topography lines and think like the prey. Where would you go if pressured?
There comes a time when hunting public land where it helps to get a little “western.” Lands across the West are as diverse and as vast as we are. This means that there are more than likely areas of units that most hunters chose not to venture to due to the difficulty. This is where having a wild hair can pay off. Seek the nasty and possibly far-off lands to help increase your odds, view more game and likely see fewer people. Get to those areas that others opt out of if you can. Nothing is guaranteed in hunting, of course, but doing what others won't can certainly pay off.
I'll be the first to admit that finding a true giant on public land does take a little luck. So, when the opportunity arises for you to make the stalk and execute the shot you must know your craft. Whether it is shot accuracy, weapon familiarity, navigation, etc., you have to be proficient.
The time to fiddle with your bipod or try a new technique is not while you need to focus on the task at hand. Know your equipment before the season starts. This will improve confidence and remove any negative variables when the time comes to notch your tag. I cannot stress this one enough: become proficient prior to the season's eve.
This one is fairly straightforward: keep after it. I know first-hand the ups and downs of public land hunting — like most of you reading this — but there is also a rewarding feeling when you can find success. The easy thing to do would be to leave and head home once you find adversity, but once you get home the “what-ifs” will slowly sink in. What if I would've stayed? What if I would've hiked over the next ridge? Don’t go home with the “what-ifs.” Leave nothing to question and grind it out.
If the country that you are hunting warrants the opportunity to glass, then do so. I would recommend at the least glassing from binos off a tripod. If there is a lot of country for viewing, then let your spotter and binos do some of the walking. I'm a huge fan of glassing with binos off a tripod and it’s proven you will be able to pick apart the terrain better. It was a major advantage for me this past season. It's definitely worth the additional weight!
I'm blessed to live in a state that has plenty of land for many of us to hunt. Sure, there are some highs and lows with the pressure, but hey! That's public land. If you don’t like it, oh well! There are quality animals to be had if you're willing to put the work in. One thing that separates those who are successful versus those who are not is how hard they worked. With some sweat equity, strategy and a little bit of luck you, too, can find success.