I’ve fully come to grips with the fact that my whitetail season is over…okay, maybe not. I still check the weather every 30 minutes and find myself staring at Google Earth map images for hours looking for pinch points and cover. I think staring at map images is the last step in grieving the end of whitetail season. To pull myself out of this downward whitetail spiral, I’ve decided to set my sights on preparing for the upcoming 2016 season as a form of “whitetail withdrawal therapy.”
There are, of course, many steps hunters take each year to get prepared for an upcoming season. Like many, the to-do list grows throughout the off-season and it feels as if there is never enough time to complete the growing checklist before the opener. This year, to save the last minute panic in late August, I’ve put together a to-do list to help get you started immediately. It seems checklists are the only way I stay on task and you might find find them helpful too. An off-season to-do list is also a great way to manage your whitetail withdrawal.
Post Season Gear Check
Your gear, aside from your strategic preparation, is possibly the most important part of any hunt. Nothing will ruin a hunt faster, or piss you off more, than faulty gear. So make sure to perform regular postseason gear maintenance to keep your gear in top form for the following season. Be sure to clean your bow (or gun), wax your strings and remove oxidation from any metal. Your clothes have taken as much abuse as you have from those rainy, cold days on stand. Wash your clothes in scent eliminating detergent, making sure all articles are thoroughly dry, and store in an airtight container to keep your clothes from becoming mildewy. Remove the batteries from your electronics and let them air dry and fully clean all battery contacts. This is especially important for your game cameras, which take a beating from exposure throughout the year. It’s inevitable gear will break, get old, or just need upgrading. Take advantage of sales this time of year and replace gear that’s been hanging on by a thread while saving some money.
Post Season Land Access
Expanding your huntable land sometime seems like a lofty goal and might feel a little out of reach. If you’re like me, you’re not a person who can afford to buy that dream tract of land in your favorite big buck state. Fortunately, there are a few ways to gain access to additional land without winning the lottery. Look into leasing as an option. This option provides a lot of flexibility through location, foliage, and terrain. Whether looking for land in or out of state, with heavy timber, or land with lots of agriculture—it’s all your choice. Leasing will still cost money, but not nearly as much as a purchasing or ownership. Some landowners will let you perform enhancements to habitat like implementing food plots, mounting cameras, etc. But be sure to have these discussions early as these details should be determined during the lease negotiation. You can look to further reduce the financial impact of leasing by splitting the cost with a hunting buddy. Next to purchasing, leasing gives you the most control over where you’d like to hunt, and choosing land that best fits your specific hunting goals.
If leasing isn’t an option you’re still in luck. Much access is still granted the old fashioned way by knocking on doors asking for hunting permission. It may take a little more work, but the payoff could be huge. And finally, if all else fails, don’t turn your nose up at public land. It can take some time and effort scouting to find the right location, but bruisers are taken from public land every year.
Post Season Land Assessment
This is probably my favorite part of the off-season to do list since it requires time spent in the outdoors. Grab your trail cameras, load them with some new batteries, and begin to analyze your post hunting season deer herd. The winter intel you collect now will be valuable next hunting season, helping determine what late season food sources the deer are hitting, and seeing if any of your target bucks from this year have made it through the hunting season. The late winter and early spring is also a great time to scout. Use this time to look for and determine where bucks are bedding, locating doe bedding areas, and examining heavily used deer highways. With the foliage at a minimum this time of year, you’ll get a much better view of stand locations and potential shooting lanes, which also makes it a great time to identify new stand locations.
Land management is also an off-season activity I enjoy. If you own your hunting land or have permission to make enhancements to a lease, determine what your land is missing that would benefit local wildlife and make your land more attractive to the game you hunt. These questions are rarely answered based on your property’s habitat characteristics alone. You’ll need to take into consideration what your property offers vs. what neighboring properties offer. If your neighbor has a large tract of agricultural land, putting a 1 acre food plot in isn’t going to all of a sudden turn your property into a whitetail buffet. To compliment your neighbor’s abundant food source, maybe your property should provide the local deer herd with more bedding and cover. Whatever the enhancement, be sure to understand the property need. Making ill-advised habitat enhancements could harm your hunting experience. Here is a link to a few of Jeff Sturgis’books which provide great insights and guidance when exploring habitat enhancements.
I know. I harp on this all the time. But being comfortable with your bow is often an overlooked aspect of the off-season to do list. Schedules get busy with work, scouting, planting food plots, or looking for land access and practicing is forgotten until summer. Join an archery club, practice in the backyard or even try hunting small game with your bow to stay in season form. Any of these will keep you connected to the sport you love, and hopefully move you one step closer toward next season’s moment of truth from the stand.
To donwnload and print the whitetail postseason to do list click Here