Why you should arrive early for rifle season

Why you should arrive early for rifle season

All photo credits: Brady Miller

Rifle hunting out West is one of those annual treks and adventures that so many people, including yourself, may take on year after year. You do your research, purchase your tag and get your days off from work. In order to maximize your hunting days, you get out into the mountains the night before your five- to ten-day rifle hunting season. You wake up on time, go to your preselected shooting nob...Yet year after year, you struggle to find consistent success. For some of you, you may even consistently be unsuccessful at finding and harvesting a buck, bull, cow, doe or another big game animal. You are in a good unit and even look at the camp down the road that has multiple animals on the ground and wonder what they are doing differently and how can you be consistently successful, too? The difference between a successful hunter and an unsuccessful hunter comes down to a lot of small things, including luck, but there is one thing that can curb success in your favor this year and in years to come. It does not matter if you are chasing bucks or bulls with a rifle this fall, you need to plan to get to camp at least two to three days before the season opens and here is why. 


The first reason you need to arrive multiple days before the season opens is to get your camp and gear set up in a non-stressful way. It doesn’t matter if you are in a camper, wall tent, small tent or sleeping in your truck, arriving the night before a hunt is a stressful way to start. No matter how organized you are, it always seems as though you are scrambling to find your headlamp, your knife, your water and multiple other things while you are trying to set up your tent and get your stuff organized. The light of the day is fading or it is already dark because it always takes longer to get there than you expected. Though it is only 5 p.m., the night is cold and the wind is blowing.

Montana rifle hunting

You have a plan for the morning, but you need to get camp set up and dinner made before you can lay down and try to catch some sleep. I understand exactly what you are going through because for many years that was me. I wanted to maximize my days off by hunting all of them instead of thinking about the experience. Now, I have changed my tactics and arrive a few days before the opener, set up my camp during the morning hours and have time to spare where I can shoot my gun, organize my pack, crack open a cold one and heat up that last home-cooked meal my wife made me take along on the journey. Having time to set up in a non-stressful way starts off the trip in a good way that transcends throughout the entire hunt. The best part is that if I forgot something like batteries or game bags, I can run into town and get it without wasting any of my hunting days. 


The second reason you need to arrive multiple days before the season is for some camaraderie. Hopefully, you have a few hunting buddies in camp with you to make the experiences more memorable and the pack outs a little lighter. Hopefully, you also like these people and enjoy hanging out with them. Arriving a few days before the season opens allows you to have some moments that are not all business. Sharing some hunting intel, spots, stories and laughs is a great way to start your hunt. In a few days, the season will be open and you will be driven to harvest an animal so much that you will wear yourself out. Enjoy the days before the hunt when spirits are highest and everyone is excited about finding and harvesting the animals you are chasing. 

Find the animals

The final and most important reason to arrive early is to find the animals before the season opens. It does not matter how good of an e-scouter you are, what happened last year or where you remember seeing animals, you need to understand that this year will be different. This is why you need to arrive multiple days before season to scout, glass and find a shooter buck or bull and have a plan in place to get after him on opening day. You can bet that other hunters are going to be out on an opening day and if you are the one that has an animal patterned you can also bet that you will be the one who gets the first shot. By arriving before the season starts and hiking out to possible spots at first and last light, you can find out if the area is good or bad and make an alternate plan. Nothing hurts your high hopes and spirits more than an opening day of the season with no animal sightings. Spend a few days before season to scout and find animals and you will be in a great position opening day. 

Montana rifle hunting

Though arriving a few days before season may lead to fewer actual hunting days it will be well worth it in the end. Setting up camp, getting your gear around and getting some time to hang out with some buddies is just part of the appeal to being there early. The biggest reason I will be heading to rifle season a few days early this year — and you should too — is to find the deer or elk before the season opens. This gives me the best chance to be successful on the season opener, before hunting pressure messes with the animals and drives them down onto private land or out of the basin I am hunting. This hunting season, try to plan on getting out to camp early and find consistent success on the season opener. 

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