All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
By nature, we, as humans, are pretty predictable creatures. In hunting terms, we’d be easily patterned. Many of us get up at the same time every day, go to work at the same time, come home and then go to bed around the same time. Routine is comfortable for the vast majority of us. This is all good and gravy in the city, but when we hit the hills, routine and comfort zones can sometimes be a hindrance. I’ve watched folks keep doing the same thing day in and day out, knowing that there was a better way to fill their tag. They just never took the time to make the necessary change because that would have been different from what they were doing. Adaptation is a tool that is just as important as any backpack or bow. In many cases, it’s what will be the difference between tag soup and seared backstraps.
Honey hole hunting spots. I know you’ve got one. We’ve all got those magical areas that we hold so dear. I’ve got one in particular that has become special beyond words. It’s where I learned how to bear hunt. My memory bank is rich with experiences from it. This is an area that I don’t even bother to scout because I just know there are bears crawling around in there most fall seasons. I say most because I’ve been caught counting my chickens before they hatch, leaving me without chickens…or bears. In these cases, I’ve learned how to adapt in order to find where the bears actually are when the honey pot is dry. Before that, though, this area was my comfort zone. It’s where I felt the most confident. In light of that, I’d be stubborn and stay there no matter what, causing me to lose out on opportunities elsewhere.
The fact of the matter here is that you need to hunt animals where they are — not where you want them to be. Ask yourself why you aren’t seeing critters in these comfort zones you’ve built. It could be a dry year, causing them to go elsewhere. Or maybe the food is absent, causing them to be absent. Weather also has an impact on where animals may or may not be. Find the answers to questions like these and, then, act on them. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the stars to align. You might just suffocate.
Down here in Arizona, we have fairly liberal over-the-counter (OTC) archery deer seasons throughout the year. Three of them to be exact. These are hunts that I look forward to every year. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s early season velvet bucks or late season rutting bucks. I like it all and have experienced success in all of them. That success has come by way of what I call “calculated aggression,” meaning that I personally rarely wait to stalk a buck. This is a reflection of the country I hunt. With fold upon fold, it’s very easy for a deer to disappear on someone. So, the sooner I can get to a deer, the better chance I have at arrowing him. I took that logic to Colorado for high country mule deer and got served a hefty portion of humble pie. My calculated aggression didn’t match the alpine. Once I swallowed my pride and changed my ways, my pack got a lot heavier.
Certain hunting tactics are just going to shine better in certain scenarios. You may have dreams of bugling bulls charging into your calls, but if the elk aren’t talking, then something needs to change. Another case would be someone wanting to spot and stalk deer, but just can’t because of how dry it is, making the ground sound like potato chips. There just happens to be a water hole, though, that the deer are hitting every night because of the lack of water. An ambush hunt on that water would serve the hunter well. Adapting your hunting tactics to what scenario is in front of you will heighten your chances of success by leaps and bounds. Be a jack of all trades and a master at all of them.
Each year it happens. I hear about or experience someone missing an opportunity because it wasn’t perfect. It didn’t replicate their time on the range. We practice shooting our weapons in what are often considered perfect conditions with perfect form, rangefinders, etc. Once we get into the field, though, the chances of being able to replicate that is very slim. Animals aren’t going to stand there for as long as we want them to. Hail might even decide to land on your head while at full draw. Shooting scenarios are rarely perfect. Being able to adapt to what you’re given in any given scenario is what kills animals. For instance, judging yardage quickly — whether it’s with a bow or rifle. The time it takes to range something could very well be the length of your shooting window. Having the skill to judge that yardage and just come to full draw or shoulder your rifle will yield an opportunity. Of course, if you have time to range, then do it, but sometimes you just won’t. Seconds equal minutes. Adapting to things whether it’s not ranging, awkward shooting positions or timely shots will rake up the taxidermy bill for sure. Deal with the rock that may be digging into your leg and send it.
Hunting success is hard to come by. So, when we do experience it, it’s hard to let go of how that particular hunt worked out. That hunt was that hunt, though, and there will be different ones to follow it. Hunts that will throw different situations your way and force adaptation for a filled tag. In the case of the deer hunt mentioned above, it took adapting my methods to the country in order to find success. I had to go from aggression to patience. It was patience that ended up killing the buck. Take hunts as they come and roll with the punches. Having a plan is great, but things can change and, when they do, be ready to change yourself. In my experience, those seared backstraps are indeed much better than tag soup. They just involve a bit more chewing.