Many of us know a handful of “good hunters.” But what makes them good? It’s not luck. If it were, the distribution of harvested game would be a lot more evenly spread. No, they’ve learned something we haven’t.
Of course, there’s no shortcut to gaining hunting experience. However, there are ways to help fast-track yourself to becoming a better hunter.
Understanding the habitat that you are hunting in goes a long way in finding game. Maps and satellite photography certainly help, but we should have boots on the ground. Microhabitat determines where and when game spends time. Identifying plant communities, standing or running water, and well-used game trails all provide invaluable insight as to where you can find game.
Wildlife are creatures of habit. They have three basic needs – food, water and cover. Research what food they’re seeking at any given time of year, where and how they meet their local water needs, and where they can find cover from predators. Having that mental image in your mind will go a long way towards determining where to hunt or situate your blinds.
There’s no substitute for scouting. The best hunters you know likely scout all year. Scouting can identify how and where game move through the seasons and, more importantly, why. The more time you spend on the land you will hunt, the better your odds of finding game when you want to.
Rural residents often have a strong understanding of the game in their area, and most are happy to share if you ask in a respectful manner. They can tell you where game is most prevalent and when, and who owns certain parcels of land and their willingness to welcome hunters. Want to talk to the person who really knows where the game is? Ask the local school bus driver or grader operator!
Many wildlife species trust their sense of smell above all else. Good hunters always know which way the wind is blowing and hunt accordingly. When the wind direction changes, they hunt different areas or approach their stands from alternative directions. Waterfowlers should also be acutely aware of the breezes, because ducks and geese prefer to land into the wind.
Even the best hunters don’t get it right every time. If you think you’re hunting in the right place the right way, have patience. When you do see game, take your time. Plan the best strategy for getting close – more opportunities are blown by impatience than anything else. And of course, spend as much time hunting as you can. You’ll learn something new every time!