January 20, 2024
Similar to professional athletes, even the best bowhunters have great seasons and bad seasons. From missing a tremendous buck or bull to having hunts sabotaged by unforeseen events, some seasons simply fall short of expectations. Even if you had a banner season, don’t become compla-cent and think that you have it all figured out, because that’s how people slip off their winning streaks.
Bowhunting season 2023 wasn’t my best, nor was it my worst. Regardless, I’m looking forward to a fresh year. Even though I’ve been bowhunting for 23 years, I’m planning how I’ll become a better bowhunter in 2024 than I was in 2023.
I hope you’ll make that commitment alongside me. If you hope to make 2024 your best bowhunt-ing season ever, pick out some or all of the changes from the list below and get to work.
1. Increase Your Effective Range
Every bowhunter I know has encountered a buck or bull (or lots of them) that skirted just beyond their effective bow range. It’s happened to me many times. Though it’s highly commendable (and ethical) to pass opportunities when you aren’t 100 percent confident, it’s frustrating to log tons of hours and miles only to pass a shot because it’s 45 yards and your effective range is 40 or whatev-er the case may be.
Now, I’m not advocating for getting more people to launch long-range shots at game. I’m simply suggesting that you take your current effective range and consider how you might increase it by just 5-10 yards. For me, that entails a lot of spring and summer practice. I must be accurate at near-ly double the distance I want to shoot while hunting. It’s also about selecting high-end equipment with tight tolerances and tuning it meticulously. If you want to stretch your proficiency by 5-10 yards, you probably can, but you have to make the commitment now and start making necessary equipment changes and working on your form and shot execution.
2. Improve Your Mapping Skills
For me, consistent encounters come by knowing how my hunting area lays out. Whether I’m hunt-ing stationary or moving about, terrain and habitat knowledge have served me very well. In other words, the more time I spend map scouting, the better my knack becomes for encountering game. I specifically look for the right habitat, but I also try to devise hunting plans around the way I believe other hunters will hunt the area.
During a large portion of my free time, I spend countless hours studying my HuntStand app, utiliz-ing its many features to dissect areas I want to hunt. It’s unreal how I pick out just a little bit more detail that informs my hunting strategy each time I’m on the app. I highly suggest purchasing HuntStand Pro if you’re a big game hunter and HuntStand Pro Whitetail if you’re a whitetail hunter. It is a great way to learn more about your hunting area so that you can hunt it more effec-tively.
3. Embrace Your Individual Circumstances
“I’d kill more big bucks if I had my own land and the money to manage it,” folks often say. We’re all dealt different life cards. Some of us are blessed with time and flexibility but not a lot of money. Some work ridiculous hours and make a ton of money. Some work a ton of hours and make barely enough to scrape by.
Wishing you had someone else’s time or money will get you nowhere. Resolve to do the best you can with the time and money you have. And, if you don’t like your circumstances, perhaps you can do something about it. If that means picking up a second job so that you can fund a hunting lease or an out-of-state hunt, so be it. If it means taking a job with less pay but greater flexibility so that you can hunt more, do that rather than complain. Also, know that goals take time. Your second job might not make you enough in 1-2 years to buy hunting land, but maybe it will in 5 years.
Look at the big picture. Embrace your individual circumstances, and if you’re continually unhappy, try to work toward a goal of getting where you want to be.
4. Plan a Hunt For a New Species
For many years, I put countless hours into hunting whitetails from treestands. When I burned out on that, I intensely focused on elk hunting. I ate, slept and breathed it until I burned out on that, too. When you become a hunter, you never imagine you’ll burn out, but it happens to the best of us. When it does, planning a hunt for a new species or even just changing your tactics for the species that you’ve been hunting can reinvigorate you and bring back the fun.
5. Streamline Your Gear
The hunting industry has thousands of useful items, some of which truly elevate one’s effective-ness. However, there’s such a thing as relying too much on the “next best thing” and not enough on your skills. For example, cell cameras are game changers when they’re used correctly, but when you make your hunting decisions solely upon what walks by your camera, you might miss great opportunities to be afield.
The same goes for what you carry when you head afield. Do you really need a cumbersome back-pack hanging in the tree next to you during a half-day hunt, or will a smaller pack or no pack at all suffice and enable you to be stealthier? When it feels like your gear is holding you back or getting in the way, it probably is. Streamline your gear so that you can hunt your best.
6. Reduce Your Impact
Cell cameras obviously reduce your impact on your hunting area, but there are more ways to fly under the radar. Access is a commonly overlooked detail. Often, we use existing trails, paths or roads to access our hunting areas because they’re convenient. Consider the way that you’ve been accessing your favorite stand or the basin that always has bulls in it. Are you bumping animals? Do you consider the wind direction as you’re accessing your hunting area, or just how it will be when you get where you’re going? Maybe you need to take a different route or hunt those areas under more specific conditions.
How about noise? Where legal, an e-bike can greatly reduce your impact and get you to your hunt-ing location faster than walking. I’ve hunted with and without e-bikes, and I prefer to use them when the terrain and hunting regulations allow.
Bottom line: If you’re having little success, it’s not always because you’re hunting the wrong spots. It could be that you need to re-evaluate how you access your spots and make some changes.
7. Be More Selective
If you’ve dreamed of shooting a monster buck or bull but have always filled your tags with smaller animals or just “nice” representatives of the species, consider holding out for something truly spe-cial in 2024. You might not fill your tag, but if you continually fill your tag with lesser animals, you’ll probably never live the dream of killing a monster of the species you’re chasing.
8. Go the Distance
While success can be had close to the road, the best hunts often unfold in tough-to-reach places. Try to be in the best shape possible so that reaching the least pressured areas and then packing out your kill is within your means. Many humans gravitate toward easy routes, but routine success comes to those with some grit who rise up to challenges. I arrowed my largest whitetail ever 1 1/2 miles from the truck, and I walked nearly double that during the outing to avoid letting my scent blow into unwanted places. I went the distance, and it paid off. Try a little bit harder in 2024 and see if the extra effort makes a difference.
Whether bow season 2023 was filled with ups or downs, consider how you can improve, and then do what it takes to make 2024 a banner hunting season. Success won’t just fall out of the sky by making the changes listed above, but when you change for the better, you’re more likely to im-prove your success rate and have a solid season. I think that’s what most of us are after.