Making the most out of your hunts

Roadtrip toward another hunt

When I was a young teenager my father taught me a very valuable lesson that has helped mold me into the person that I am today. My father sat me down and said "son, there are two types of people in this world: those who set goals and those who don’t." Understanding this lesson has helped me overcome some big obstacles in my life and has also directly translated into my hunting passion. 

The purpose of this article is to share how goals have helped me become a successful hunter and why I think every hunter needs to have goals. I firmly believe that successful hunters set goals prior to every hunt. Each year in December, I set my goals for all aspects of my life but being a crazed hunter I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what I want to accomplish that year as a hunter. Hunting goals help give me a roadmap of how to structure my applications each year. Here are some reasons why I feel all hunters should set goals. 

  • Application strategy: Overall, goals help me decide what hunts to select for my applications. Do I want to focus on deer or elk? Am I looking for a high country adventure or a late season hunt? Knowing my goals helps me decide when and where to apply.
  • Tough times: A goal will help me grind out a hunt when it gets tough. I have spent some very rough nights on the mountain and wanted to give up at times. Goals help me stay focused and not lose sight of what I want to accomplish. Knowing that if I quit I will not accomplish my goal has helped me grind out a few hunts. 
  • Expand horizons: Goals help me hit the bucket list hunts. I have a goal to harvest a Shiras moose. My goals have helped me find what states give me this opportunity. I am currently building points in Wyoming for moose and when money allows I apply in Idaho. 
  • Positive thinking: Goals keep me positive and mentally fit. I can be in great physical shape but as a hunter we need our minds right. Goals help us stay positive and focused. 

The hard side of sticking to goals

In 2013, I was fortunate to draw a coveted archery elk tag in my home state of Utah. With high anticipation, I hit the mountain hard. I knew this was one of the few opportunities I would have to harvest a giant bull with my bow. I set my goal very high for this hunt. I hunted hard, was faced with 18 straight days of rain and, although I hunted as hard as I could, I walked away with my tag in my pocket. I had set my goal very high for this hunt. I was willing to burn my tag in hopes of chasing a dream. In the end, I did not get a chance to harvest an elk, but knew that I did everything that I could to achieve my goal.

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Re-analyzing goals for the new hunting season

As I sat down in December of 2013 to set my goals for 2014 I knew I wanted to focus on mule deer. With my focus on mule deer, this is how I structured my 2014 season.

Quote from Kody's father on setting goals

Before I continue, I feel that I need to add a disclaimer. As a hunter, I do want to harvest mature deer and I do chase the magical 200 inch mark. With that being said, I still get excited in the field and will not hesitate to pull the trigger on a big framed muley. I decided that my goal for 2014 was to have four deer tags in four different states and harvest four 180” plus bucks. Easy, right?

Four tags, four states


Kody Smith with his Arizona Javelina

My first tag for 2014 was an Arizona over-the-counter (OTC) archery tag for January. Although this is a tough hunt, I have hunted this permit in the past and I have seen a couple of mule deer in the 180” range. I did not have to burn any points on this tag, which made this opportunity a no-brainer. I went to Arizona with both a deer tag and a javelina tag in my pocket. I made good on the javelina tag. Although I was able to locate a 180” buck I never could close the deal. I returned home with a tag in my pocket and intentions to return in the fall. 


Kody Smith's 2014 velvet mule deer buck

With maximum points in Wyoming, I knew I had a chance to draw some of the limited quota areas. I began calling biologists throughout the state to find a hunting area that would meet my expectations. As I drilled down my research I was continually drawn to a couple of nonresident general regions. As the application deadline approached, I decided with my hunting partner to apply for a general region. Many people thought we were crazy to dump our maximum points on a general area; however, we both evaluated our goals for the hunting area and the hunt. We felt that the tag we applied for would give us the opportunity to harvest a 180” plus class buck. 


Kody Smith with his 2014 Utah mule deer

Utah is my home state and I had a rifle tag for Southern Utah. Again, my goal was a 180” buck. I hunted hard for the first five days of the hunt, but I was only able to see one buck that would meet my goal for the hunt. I returned home, took care of some work, did a few honey do’s and I was able to return back to my unit for the last two days of the hunt. 

With just one day left to hunt, I glassed this buck up right at dark. I was able to slip into position and harvest a great Utah buck. Without setting my goal I would not have harvested this buck. Although he did not meet the 180” mark there was no way that I could pass on this animal due the impressive frame. 


Kody Smith with his 2014 Colorado mule deer

My fourth and final tag was a Colorado third season rifle landowner voucher. I saved throughout the year and purchased this tag for $1,500. This was the second time that I had hunted the unit and I was confident that if I hunted hard I would be given an opportunity at a buck in my goal range. On the fifth day of the hunt I was able to harvest a great Colorado buck that exceeded the 180” mark. 

Looking back

Goals do not have to be attached to inches, they can be based around family, a first time backpack hunt or even hunting with archery equipment for the first time. No one can deny that to achieve our dreams we must take the first step by setting a goal. 

When I set my goals in 2014 I actually set in motion a two year quest for mule deer. 2014 was part 1 and 2015 will be part 2. Although I doubt I will replicate a year like 2014 I am going to try like hell to get it done. Below are a few of my hunting goals for 2015: 

  • Harvest a 180” class buck in my home state of UT.
  • Hunt and harvest a 180” buck in WY.
  • Harvest a 180” class buck in CO.
  • Explore and hunt an area new to me for OTC mule deer in ID and harvest a four-year-old deer or better.
  • Harvest any buck with the AZ OTC archery tag. This is an multi-species tag and can be a Coues or mule deer. If I see a Coues deer with antlers, it is in trouble regardless of size! 


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