13 Ways to an Unsuccessful Hunt
We have all read articles and watched TV shows that have shown us how to do certain things to have a successful hunt. But how did the people that were handing out all that advice come to have such knowledge? All of us have been handed information in various forms on how to be successful, whether it was from our elders, television, articles, books or other sources and the information that any of us have learned at some point or another, has come from trial and error. It is those "hard lessons learned" that make us better hunters, and it is those hard lessons that are often remembered the longest, due to the fact that we dwell on those missed opportunities longer than thinking about what we did correctly for a successful hunt. We think about what went wrong, why it went wrong and what to do so it doesn't happen again, well at least I know I do.
Over the years of my hunting career which has taken me across North America and Africa, I have learned many lessons the hard way and have came up with the top 13 reasons that I and others I know to have experienced, which ended with an unsuccessful hunt. Most of us hunters are superstitious so it is really no wonder how my top reasons for being unsuccessful ended on number thirteen. Perhaps after reading these hunting blunders you can prevent yourself from falling prey to them as well.
Drop of Concentration
This is important at all times while hunting but is extremely essential while still hunting. Constant focus on the travel route you take in relation to the wind, foot placement, speed of movement and the ability to spot game can drain a person mentally and physically in a matter of a few hours. Try not to let your mind drift to other parts of your life or from your intended mission. I once blew an opportunity at a possible 140 class buck on my first trip to Maine when I bent down to examine a moose track. At that moment I heard a noise, looked up and saw a buck leap from his bed. Two jumps and he was in a cedar thicket before I could get my sights on him. Had I kept focused on what I was hunting which was deer and not moose, then perhaps I would have had a shot at that bedded buck.
High Angle Shots
While it can be a problem for rifle shots, this is more of a problem for archers. High angle shots can come from a variety of reasons such as high stand placement, stands set on steep terrain and shots at animals directly underneath a treestand. Several problems exist with such shots. Bone deflection becomes enhanced, arrow penetration is often less, especially with open on impact blades, kill zones decrease, increased possibility of a poor blood trail if a pass through doesn't take place is increased and a change in shot placement due to the extreme angle.
Put extra thought into stand setups so you can avoid high angle shots whenever possible.
Just because the animal is extremely close, it doesn't mean a sure kill. A close, high angle shot can be as bad as a shot that is too far. Granted, a spine shot can occur or any of the other variables that can end in a victorious celebration, but a poor hit animal can make a hunter nauseous and sick to his stomach when the animal is not recovered. My advice here is to hope for a better angle after the animal has passed or wait for another day and hopefully get another chance. A lost opportunity is better than a wounded or lost animal in my book.
Rainy Day Bowhunting
I'm sure we have all done this and although with ideal shot placement and other proper conditions it can turn out well. But put an animal that is either hit less than perfect, shot in dense vegetation or in an area with an abundance of high grass and the recipe for disaster is there. It is these conditions that warrant a wait for better weather. Granted, a perfectly arrowed animal will usually travel less that 60 yards before expiring, but even the best archery shooters can't 100% guarantee a perfect hit on a live animal. In my opinion it is owed to that animal that you take extra effort for a clean kill and a speedy recovery.
Another factor usually comes into play with this one, it's overconfidence in one's ability to shoot and track, is a huge factor in deciding whether or not to hunt in the rain.
As mentioned above, the overconfidence in one's shooting ability often comes into play depending on one's ego. It is extremely important to recognize your limitations in your shooting abilities and stay within those distances, even while under peer pressure or the pressures of the sight of a trophy. Never push your ability to shoot and only take shots at angles and distances that you have practiced and are proficient at.
Overconfidence is one of the hunter's enemies. It is important to remain
calm, smooth and cognizant of one's true ability when faced with the "moment of truth."
Also keep in mind that adrenaline can affect your ability at making a clean, ethical kill. It is important to remember that shooting at a target is different than shooting at something that bleeds. That adrenaline rush can affect the whole thought process just prior to the shot, as well as how your muscles react. While I have mostly overcome the effects of "buck fever" I still get those adrenaline rushes at the moment of truth.
To help myself deal with the affects of adrenaline I often run a few laps around the house, then pick up my gun or bow and then take my next practice shot. The increased heart rate and labored breathing from my short jogs is the closest thing there is to the adrenaline rush. People driving by or other guys at the range might think your nuts, but if you suffer from bad cases of buck fever this could be one more technique to help you overcome the problem.
Rushing the Shot
Ever have that feeling in your stomach just before you pulled the trigger or released an arrow to wait for a better shot? I have, and every time I had those feelings they ended with a miss, lost animal or one that required a follow up shot or an extended tracking session. Bottom line is, when in doubt, hold your fire. If you don't feel comfortable with the shot presented, you owe it to the animal not to fire. No matter how bad you want to harvest the animal.
Calls & Scents
All too much in today's hunting society there is the "sit and be quiet" crowd. While there is a time and place for this, the use of calls and scents is far too often underutilized. Unfortunately, in the process, the tactics for using them is not studied nearly enough and then often used inappropriately.
You don't have to be an expert of the usages of calls and scents. As long as some common basics are learned, you can add to your success by using them. Using estrous scents for just a few select days and using various calls throughout the hunting season can greatly add to your repertoire.
Don't be afraid to utilize calls and scents more often. Deer especially
are very vocal creatures as well as curious. Many times you can get
responses even just out of curiosity.
Every time you purchase a scent or a call, it comes with instructions and by following them you can gain this common knowledge. A little extra knowledge of basic animal biology and behavior will help as this will tell you the best times to use these scents and calls. One of the reasons for not being successful, is not using them at all.
As long as you don't go crazy with too much calling or using old or bad scents, you will be doing no harm at all. The great thing about using these items in your hunting practices, you are taking some of the luck factor out of your hunt as you are now appealing to their sense of hearing and sense of smell. This will substantially increase your chances of luring in animals that may have skirted your area otherwise.
Driving Too Close
It's been said that most hunters won't walk more than a mile to their stand and often it is less than a few hundred yards. Driving a vehicle or ATV too close to your intended hunting area can tip off wary animals and spook them onto the next property. This is especially true if the area is remote and sees very little vehicle traffic during the rest of the year. Be sure to keep vehicles a safe distance away from your hunting area and this distance will vary depending on where in the country you are hunting and what kind of activity the local animals are used to. In agricultural areas, truck and tractor activity is common and doesn't affect animals as much, but in wilderness areas the intrusion of vehicles into an area can be a real detriment to a hunt.
Over-hunting a Stand
You found a great spot to set a stand and decided to hunt it, and you hunt it day after day. You couldn't help but to spook game sometimes from either wind currents or moving to and from your stand, but you figure the more time you put on a stand, the odds are that sooner or later good things will happen. While that could happen, often you are doing more harm than good. I used to do that myself and the more I hunted a stand, the less game I saw. I will usually only hunt a stand 2 or 3 days before shifting to another stand to give that stand some "cool down" time before going back to it. I will especially shift a stand if I have accidentally spooked animals from that spot. I will either shift my stand slightly, or move to another one and then return a few days later.
This is a common screw up amongst novice hunters. They set up a stand based on the terrain and local deer sign with total disregard to how prevailing wind currents and thermals will be blowing in relation to the feeding and bedding areas. Then they wonder what went wrong with the location and often blame every other possible factor but that one. It's extremely important to place stands at key locations for various wind currents and how they flow in relation to those bedding and feeding areas. Sometimes it may be necessary to switch stands once or twice a day while other times it is best to stay in the same stand all day long. Like the song says, "The answer is blowing in the wind."
In open country, glassing is important for plotting how to make a stalk and
relate how to use the terrain with the wind. Ignore them and you will likely fail.
Entry & Exit Routes
Many times in my hunting career I have heard deer or other game animals running out of my hunting area as I walk toward my stand. As time progressed I increasingly understood the necessity for intimately knowing a piece of property and how the animals I hunted utilized that property. By knowing this, it will help you adjust the times you enter and leave the woods, and also what routes should be taken to get to those stands. Many times a hunt is ruined long before the hunter has even entered his stand. Some stands require you to enter extra early or leave well after dark to insure you don't spook early or late arriving animals into the area.
Don't Give Up
Sitting on stand for long hours without seeing any game can be one of the most disheartening things in the world. The mind keeps thinking, "what if I went to the other stand or had tried something else?" Those thoughts and others all play on a hunter's mind. Couple that with the various types of foul weather and they can make it easy for a person to call it quits and head for home. Remember, you can't have a successful hunt from the couch, so be sure to put out that extra effort and stay on stand from dawn till dusk. It only takes a moment for something special to happen. It has happened to me many times, the thought of calling it quits and then pushing myself to stick it out, with the end results of leaning over a downed animal from a successful hunt.
Too Many Stands
This is not a problem that everyone has since having many stands can be a financial burden. Having an abundance of acreage to put them on, is also becoming increasingly harder to come by. It's a good idea to have several stands to choose from, to make it possible to hunt different wind conditions and to allow other stands to "cool down" for a while before returning to them to hunt again.
However, too many stands can cause the "where do I go today?" syndrome. Placing an overabundance of stands can be good at times, like when patterns change, some stands can go completely cold without warning. But the dilemma of having many stands in place can be a double edged sword, as it can be possible to bounce around too much between stands, instead of hunting a select few on consecutive days if the proper conditions permit. Bouncing around from stand to stand makes the hunt rely more on luck, rather than in the skill of reading the conditions correctly to proficiently hunt specific stands on a particular day.
Upsetting the Pattern
Many hunts are blown even before the hunting season has begun. On my properties, I minimize the amount of intrusions onto the property throughout the entire year so that the animals feel as comfortable as possible. Mature bucks are what I term "pressure sensitive" and these are the animals that tolerate the least amount of human intrusions into their area before they move onto quieter surroundings.
Scouting sessions are kept to a minimum and even relegated to rainy days when possible. Other non-hunting or scouting related activities are totally controlled and kept to a minimum, and only allowed at certain times and locations. Even work activities on the property should be relegated to midday and not during peak feeding and movement times like in the morning and evenings.
There are many things that can ruin a hunt either during or before it even starts, but over the years it seemed like these were the 13 things that accounted for most of my blundered hunts. It is no surprise that it happened to be thirteen of them and while there may be more, it is these things that perhaps take place the most and by recognizing them early, you can remedy them before they ruin one of your hunts too.
C.D. Denmon, from Sweet Valley, Pennsylvania, is an award winning outdoor writer and wildlife photographer and currently writes for several publications throughout the country. He has been hunting for 24 years and has hunted throughout the United States, Canada and Africa and has been successful at taking many trophy class animals in the process.