Photo credit: Chris Neville
When we are looking for a new place to hunt, GOHUNT’s Filtering gives us plenty of data to decide where we can draw, what the harvest statistics are, public land percentages, strategies, skills and so much more. If you are like me, you probably spend hours pouring over this data in order to find a unit that feels like you could be successful. Then, you get on goHUNT Maps and plan out camps, hikes, glassing points and more just to get ready for your hunt. You shoot your bow, muzzleloader or rifle throughout the summer until you are confident, deadly and ready for your hunt. As you drive to your spot on opening day, your confidence is high and your hopes and excitement are through the roof. Sadly, this high can disappear after a few days of hunting. We can easily get discouraged and start doubting ourselves and our spot, especially if we have no success finding animals or if we are running into multiple hunters in our “secret spots.”
You truly felt as though you were doing everything right, yet you come back with tag soup instead of meat in the freezer. Once you are home, you instantly go into research mode in order to find a new unit where you will be successful the following year; however, this is not always a good idea and I would highly discourage it. I would actually encourage you to give the unit another year because the data doesn’t lie and success takes time. You might actually be better off hunting the same unit for another year or two and here is why.
The trick to hunting anywhere new starts with good research, but that comes with experience. The experience you gain and the knowledge you learn while hunting a new unit or area will be the difference between you coming home with some meat or not for the following years. Of course, some people get lucky and harvest a buck or bull their first year in a unit, but most struggle to find good spots. Changing units after just one year is like changing your college major after one semester or selling the car that you just bought yesterday; it just doesn’t make sense. Stick with that unit that you researched for a few years and you will come away with knowledge, experiences and a filled tag. A lot of success comes down to understanding where the animals are living, where the hunting pressure is and what the animals do year after year and the only way to get this knowledge is to be there.
Where the Animals Are Living
No matter how good a state’s fish and game department is they will never fully understand or publish where animals are living during specific seasons and time of year. Some states have excellent data, which includes species winter and summer ranges, migration maps and more (and can now be found on GOHUNT Maps). These are all excellent resources, but do not tell you which ridge has good deer sign, what wallow might get hit hard or what watering hole might have water year-round or be dry as a bone. Maps are great; however, they do not paint the full picture. In order to understand animal habitat during the time of year or season you are chasing them, you need to be there with your boots on the ground and your optics in your hand. Trying to find deer, elk or other game is one of the hardest parts of a hunt and can be one of the most discouraging parts as well. Sometimes, you might get lucky and get into your quarry the first day, but, often, it takes a few days — if not your entire hunt — to understand what elevation, drainage, meadow or ridge holds the animals during that given year. Once you understand where the animals want to be — or don’t want to be — you will have a better idea of where to look next year.
Hunting pressure is another finicky topic that can easily change from year to year; however, if you look closely, you can find patterns. Hunting units are huge and there is no good way to tell through e-scouting which trailhead is busy, what ridge is covered in orange or what “overlooked” basin is truly overlooked. Gathering this information takes time and also takes a hunter who is willing to take note of these changes while in the field. I have a few hunting spots that I know are overrun with hunters for the first three weeks of September; however, after the third week finishes, nearly all hunters are gone. These guys are regulars who park in the same spots, have the same trucks and hunt the same area year after year. Now that I understand this, I almost never go to that area until Sept. 21 or later. Why compete with other hunters when I could have the entire place to myself? Understanding hunting pressure takes time and a hunter who is willing to notice, adapt and overcome.
When it comes to animal behavior, there are two different types you can hunt. As a hunter, you need to decide what type of animal behavior you are going to hunt for and then capitalize off of this behavior, especially when hunting a new unit. The first category of animal behavior is their natural behavior. After years of hunting a specific unit, I have an in-depth understanding that when the hunting pressure is low, animals travel along ridge A, heading to bedding area A in the morning and then come back in the afternoon. You may also know that there is a water hole that the animals use on warm days. This type of knowledge can only come from actually watching the animals do this year after year. I also understand what snow levels are typically too much for the elk or deer in an area and what migration corridors they take if they need to find better food. When animals behave naturally you can begin to see what they want to do and then be there to intercept them with a bullet or arrow. The second type of animal behavior that you can understand after hunting a new unit is pressured behavior. If you are hunting an over-the-counter unit, it is hard to get away from pressure so you can use it to your advantage. If you can find the escape corridors for drainages and then be there on opening day, you can definitely capitalize on this in-field knowledge.
Ultimately, the main reason you should give your unit another year or two is because you have gained invaluable experience that other hunters would pay for. You may understand and have experience of where you found animals, where the most hunting pressure was and what the animals want to do or have to do if there is pressure. You may be thinking to yourself that you didn’t see enough or any animals while you were hunting so why would you go back? The answer is as long as you did your research and found a unit that has good statistics, you can be confident that there are animals there. From your bad experience, you already know where not to look for animals in that unit next year and are way better off than a hunter who is heading there for the first time. You will be able to e-scout again and ignore those drainages and mountains that did not have your intended quarry on them. When you go back to that unit this year, you will find those animals that were not where you hunted last year and come home with meat in the freezer. Success comes with time, experience and hard work so persevere in that unit one more year and you never know what might happen. Of course, if you just picked a unit out of the hat, then use Filtering 2.0 to help you find a statistically better place to hunt.