Deer Season Game Plan
by Darren Choate
Put together a Game Plan to make your hunting season more successful.
Another football season has come to an end, as has the hunting season. In the NFL, the New York Giants crowned themselves Champions with their victory over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Since last April, the Giants, as well as every other NFL team has been preparing for that ultimate, final game of the season. Numerous hours were spent analyzing college players so that they could select the most appropriate individual for their team during the draft and solidify their roster. Once the draft was completed, the coaching staff changed their focus to training camp, and making certain every player was in shape for the long-haul of the football season. Over the summer months, coaches collected thousands of plays for their playbooks: bombs, blitzes, draws, screens, fakes, gadgets, and goal-line runs. As the pre-season neared, the coaching staff finalized their roster, and tested their theories during the mostly uneventful games. During the 16-week season, the teams honed their skills in practice and laid it on the line on Sundays. With everything at stake, each team took the field every week with the same goal, a Super Bowl Championship. Twelve of 32 teams kept their dream alive and made the playoffs. The culmination of all of the hard work put into the season was a scoring play executed by the Giants. With just under a minute left in the season, the Giants took advantage, and scored to crown themselves Champions.
The Giants game plan for the Super Bowl included pairing down a playbook of 1000-plus plays to the 71 that they snapped on offense and the 62 they defended on the opposite side of the ball, a total of 133. Of the 133 plays, eight were scoring plays, three by the Patriots and five by the Giants; which is only six percent of the total plays that day. With 3:46 left on the clock, and at their own 12-yard line, the Giants relied on all that they had compiled, learned, and practiced throughout the season to score the winning touchdown. Although, that winning touchdown was scored with just under a minute to play, an argument can be made that their season pivoted on one play. That play, a 38-yard bomb from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham may have been the “one chance” that every game and season seems to boil down to.
Like football games, hunting also boils down to that “one chance” during every season or on every hunt. That being said, there is something to be learned from the preparation and execution of the teams in the NFL. Have you ever thought about taking a little from the bag of tricks of professional coaches and teams, and using it to your advantage during the hunting season? If so, here’s how.
Once all of the hunting seasons are over, in early spring (about the same time as the NFL draft), it’s time to start preparing for next season. In the case of applying for hunts that are allocated through a draw system, it’s more than “the sooner the better.” Right now is the time to be thinking about what hunts to apply for out West. In fact, some state’s application processes have come and gone, at least for specific species. Don’t worry; there are still a few states with Western Whitetail, among other tags left to hand out. And, a few states still offer over-the-counter tags.
When you apply out West, put some real thought into your decision. Don’t get stuck with a hunt that is a “Ryan Leaf,” put forth some investigative research to make sure you end up on a “Peyton Manning” hunt. Before applying for a hunt, talk to others that have hunted the species and location which you are about to apply for; start a discussion on a hunting forum for a DIY hunt or talk to an outfitter’s references before committing to a guided hunt. Game and Fish websites are also a good place to research specific hunts, especially which unit(s) to apply for. If you’re up to it, call a biologist or unit manager with the state you plan to hunt, and ask for their advice.
Once you know where you will be hunting, it’s time to prepare physically and mentally for the challenges that you will face on the hunt. Preparing for a stand-hunt in Alberta, Canada is much different than a Coues deer hunt in the rugged mountains of the Southwestern deserts. Similarly, preparing for a rifle hunt is vastly different than preparing for a bowhunt. Start by getting a baseline of your fitness level and emotional state; next, set goals and create a plan to achieve those goals. Make sure the plan matches the desired outcomes.
A high-level of physical fitness is a must for most hunts in the West, but it’s not the only aspect that will affect the outcome of your hunt; put just as much or more time into practicing your shooting skills, whether that means pulling out the rifle or bow. Practice real-world scenarios by jogging up a steep hill, and then making a 200-300 yard shot with a rifle or a 30-40 yard shot with a bow. Wear the clothing you will be wearing while on your hunt, this is especially critical for bowhunts. Testing your skills and mental toughness while under duress will give you that added-edge when a similar situation plays out during the hunt. To top it all off, study the types of shots you may have to make during the hunt; make sure you know where to hold for every situation that you may encounter.
When your tag arrives in the mail, and the “season schedule” is out, it’s time to “study film;” in hunting terms, this means scouting. There are at least two steps to this process. The first can be done from the comfort of your home or office, virtual scouting. Watching TV shows of hunts similar to yours is a good way to start. Immersing yourself in magazines, books, and the Internet is another. However, moving from passive scouting to active scouting will improve your chances of success. It’s really the difference of watching game film versus applying a theory derived from film study during a practice session or a game-situation.
Active scouting requires examining the locales that will be hunted during the season. Some of this scouting can still be done virtually. One outlet for virtual scouting is Google Earth, a free aerial mapping software provided by Google. A second is the computer-based, GPS software program offered by HuntingGPSMaps.com. HuntingGPSMaps offers a full line of custom GPS maps for Garmin GPS units, including their most popular Public Land Topo maps for Garmin GPS units (BLM4GPS). Although their main focus is Western States Hunting Maps, they are starting to provide maps further east, based on recent demand. Specifically, HuntingGPSMaps shows unit boundaries, private property, public land, as well as topographic features and points of interest such as lakes, streams, springs, and cattle tanks and drinkers, to name a few. The best feature is the ability to load it to your GPS and take it with you on the hunt. In the West, this is an invaluable tool.
Scouting for a hunt hundreds of miles away is a challenge. If you don’t have time to scout prior to your hunt, at least try to take a couple extra days of vacation, and scout just prior to your hunt. If that just isn’t an option, prepare well, and scout during the hunt.
You have applied for, and drawn that coveted tag; prepared yourself physically and mentally; you know every nook and cranny of your hunt unit; and, you’ve carefully studied your quarry — you are now ready to start your season. Now that you are thoroughly prepared, it’s time to put your efforts to the test, pick the right plays for each situation, and take advantage of the “one chance” when it presents itself. It is important to know when to be offensive, when to be defensive, when to pick a gadget play or throw a bomb, and when to rely on special teams.
At this point it’s all up to you; during your preparation you’ve collected an arsenal of plays, one for every hunting situation imaginable. Choose to go on the offensive when the risk is worth the reward or when conditions are perfect. In other words, wait to stalk a deer after it has bedded, which will give you an advantage. If it’s getting late, and you don’t really have time to get to that next ridge for a shot, switch to defense, and back out so that you can have another chance. If you need a change of pace try a gadget or special-teams play; give mid-day a try, you never know what may happen.
Remember, that just like Manning’s long pass in the Super Bowl, and hunts in general, it almost always boils down to that “one chance.” Put your game plan to work, and come out on the other side as a Champion!
Darren is the Founder of Western Whitetail. Prior to his career in the outdoors, Darren served as an Airman in the US Air Force. As a freelancer, his articles have been published online and featured in magazines such as Western Whitetail, Western Hunter, Quality Whitetails, Cabela’s Outfitter Journal, Fur-Fish-Game, and Rocky Mountain Game & Fish Magazine. Additionally, Darren spent time as the Editor In Chief of Whitetail Journal, Bowhunting World, Predator Xtreme, Archery Business, and Hunting Retailer magazines with Grand View Outdoors. He is a voting member and supporter of the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA). Although he lives in elk and Coues country, Darren enjoys hunting across the country and writing about his experiences.