6 ways to be a better hunter
From exercise to practice to maintenance, you have to do it all to succeed
Make no mistake about it, big-game hunting is a mind game. Sure, success is determined by how carefully you’ve selected your hunting area and sighted in your gun. But that’s only part of the reason that consistently successful hunters have the unshakable confidence of a top athlete. Long before the season comes around, they practise and prepare and, in the process, spend a great deal of time thinking about the hunt, playing out the many possibilities in their minds. Like athletes, they’re confident and ready for anything—when a twist does arise in the field, they know exactly how to handle it. Here’s how you, too, can become a better hunter.
1. Shape up
Jogging and weekly sessions at the gym are great for keeping your cardiovascular system primed, but they don’t necessarily get you into shape for, say, traversing a seemingly endless stretch of blowdowns. I once had to sit out a caribou hunt because, even though I was physically in shape, my knees gave out after just two days of walking up and down the rocky terrain. Whenever possible, I now take the stairs instead of elevators and escalators-both up and down to ensure I work the different muscles in my legs.
Climbing in and out of treestands can also be physically demanding, not to mention nerve-racking. Invariably, the steps are rickety, and getting from the last step onto the platform requires the agility of an Olympic gymnast. Take the time to practise getting in and out of the stand—not only will this give you confidence so that you’re not sitting up there paralyzed with vertigo, it will also give you plenty of exercise. And for bowhunters, it gives you a chance to hone those tricky angled shots.
Summer archery practice also tones otherwise rarely used muscles. But what about the long-gun hunter? Unless you spend a fair amount of time trap or skeet shooting, chances are you’ll have trouble holding your rifle steady for an off-hand shot that counts. Throughout the summer, I exercise my arm muscles by attaching wrist weights and then aiming my hunting rifle freehand (first making triple sure the chamber is empty). I do this for about 10 seconds, 10 or 12 times. By the time the season rolls around, it’s gratifying to see how steady I can hold the gun.
2. Look sharp
Eyes tend to get lazy after months of looking at computer monitors, television screens and the tailgate of the car in front of you. Regular visits to game farms and zoos—where animals are kept in large, wooded compounds—are great ways to keep your game eyes sharp. Take the time to reacquaint yourself with the textures, shapes and mannerisms of the animals, and try to spot any game that might be bedded down in a thicket. Several of these visits really do make it easier to spot your quarry once the hunting season rolls around.
3. Shoot often
There’s no better way to build shooting confidence than by putting in time at the gun range. Just keep in mind this basic truth about ranges: two weekends before the start of the big-game season you’ll find yourself standing in queue for a bench. That’s because most hunters simply want to make sure their guns are still on target. With that in mind, be sure to visit the range at least a half-dozen times in the months leading up to your planned hunt. Yes, sighting in is critical, but pounding off two boxes of shells at the range the weekend before the season opener can instill bad shooting habits and flinching. It’s best to go more often and limit yourself to between five and 10 shots per session, taking plenty of time between shots. As well, if the range has targets at 200 yards or farther, spend a bit of time on those to improve your long shot.
4. Be prepared
There was a time when I used to pack my gear the night before heading out on a hunt. Not good. Sometimes I’d bring along the wrong calibre ammunition, or forget my wool socks. Inevitably, something would go awry. Now I have a checklist of the gear I need and, long before I head out on a big-game trip, I make sure everything is in working order—knives are sharpened, batteries are fresh and everything is in adequate supply. The items then go into plastic tubs, which are perfect for transporting gear on a drive-in trip; for fly-ins, I pack everything into soft-sided travel bags.
I also do a quick inspection of my hunting clothes about a month before the season begins. It never ceases to amaze me how hunting apparel mysteriously shrinks and develops tears in the time between the end of one hunting season and the start of another. The morning of the big hunt is not the time to find out your pants won’t fit or the zipper on your hunting jacket needs to be replaced.
5. Scout around
No matter where you hunt, things change. I’ve seen a townhouse development go up in an area I used to bowhunt for whitetails, and I’ve arrived in my moose-hunting territory only to find it had been clear-cut. Likewise, forest fires can put a damper on things, washed-out bridges can prevent access and, in farm country, a change of ownership can mean that you’re no longer welcome. If you think you know the territory well enough to dispense with pre-season scouting, you should at least visit your hunting area ahead of time. That way, if something has changed, you still have time to come up with an alternative plan. And while you’re there, inspect any permanent treestands and make repairs if needed.
6. Stay legal
Get your permits early. I once lost two days off a week-long, out-of-province whitetail hunt because the gas station in a nearby village no longer sold non-resident permits. Many provinces and states now make it possible to purchase hunting licences and the like over the Internet or by telephone, provided you apply early enough. Buying your permit early serves yet another purpose in that it forces you to locate and, if necessary, update or replace your resident hunter card in plenty of time before it becomes a panic situation. Which reminds me…
This article was originally published on October 3, 2005