Now that I have the rifle, scope, time at the Range, and various other things, it now comes time to selecting where I want to hunt.
Where is one to go? Many times this is sort of pre-determined, as certain game animals inhabit certain locations. It’s either that or there is an abundance of game and one just has to just find the game. Often, in the case of western hunting, one has to select a desired location and then put in for a lottery draw type system and cross their fingers. In this case there can be locations that are easy to get drawn for, but for various other reasons others may not desire to hunt there. This could be because the public lands are “locked” by private land around them making it a difficult task to get to these spots. It could also be because the area is a designated wilderness area and you have to either backpack in or ride horses or mules. In the case of one of my chosen areas it sees less hunting pressure due to the proximity of the Mexican border and the illegal drug traffic that goes through there.
Talking to the Game & Fish Department can help to point one in the right direction. Also conversations with other hunters that are familiar with the area can be of great benefit. I don’t expect anyone to show me their “Honey Hole” but I do appreciate being told more than just, “Go west young man;” when I’m standing in downtown St. Louis.
Maps are a hunters best friend as far as I’m concerned. It allows one to get the “lay of the land”. Another very good tool is Google Earth. It lets me see what the territory is like without having to wear out the soles of my boots and lets me locate likely areas to look at further. I wish I had been smart enough to look at maps when I was a kid instead of just walking and wearing out the soles of my boots. It’s amazing how different you look at an area when you first study a map of the area.
As one hunts more and more they will fine tune their process of hunting, if they put in the effort. Often one doesn’t see what is there. Looking for sign is an acquired skill and one that is more complicated than this little treatise can convey. If you are in a location that is known to contain your species make the effort to learn as much as you can about the area and the habits of the game species you seek. In talking with older hunters I learned that the Coues Whitetail will live it’s entire life in a one or two mile area and will often hide in cover that you would think wouldn’t hide a gnat let alone a deer. Take the time to glass an area slowly. Then go back and glass it again slower. Once on a Mule deer hunt I pulled up under a mesquite bush and looked at a hill sans optics. I concluded there were no deer there. After a drink of water I looked again, slower, much slower. I counted over seventy deer on that hill.
We are all, most of us, driven by the constraints of time and attempting to cram 28 hours in to a 24 hour day. Thus we tend to rush, be it work, play, hunting, or just running to the store for a gallon of milk. SLOW DOWN!!! One of the best hunters I ever knew took two hours to cover a quarter of a mile. He was also the guy that always seemed to see the most game. Nature has it’s own pattern and time table and nothing we do as humans to impress our time table on nature will work.
Before I end this I want to make sure that I mention the internet as a resource for new hunters and hunters new to an area. There are often local forums dedicated to specific areas and game. This too helps to eliminate the wear and tear of hiking in areas that won’t be fruitful. You still have to get out and scout and put boots on the ground. This is just another way of gathering as much information as possible to maximize your efforts. Given the time constraints that are on most of us gathering information seems to be a good thing to me.
As you learn the area you want to hunt you will hopefully begin to recognize signs of the game you seek and see those signs when you are out there scouting. I plan to hunt an area this deer season that is familiar to me but is requiring me to look at it through a different set of eyes. In the past I wasn’t looking for game animals, but rather for bovines. I have seen most of the area I want to hunt in from the back of a horse and seldom saw deer. That’s because I wasn’t looking for deer. This time I will be concentrating on deer and ignoring the bovines. I have often come across signs of game while seeking cattle, but being that my focus was elsewhere I missed seeing most game animals unless it was right in front of me.
I would encourage everyone to learn the area they want to hunt, talk with other hunters about areas to hunt, and study maps, satellite pictures, and even go on a scouting trip with someone familiar with the area if they get the opportunity. Just get out there and do it!