Year after year, as hunting seasons come to a close, there’s an agonizing activity gap for whitetail hunters. The gap isn’t all bad. Some hunters have been grinding hard for months. A break from the constant grind is good for your mind and doesn’t always have to be negative. You (and your family) could probably use the break anyway. The end of hunting season is also a good time to finish neglected chores around your home. But when the house projects and ice fishing don’t defeat the winter doldrums, there are a few whitetail-related things you can do before the spring thaw.
Hunt Small Game and Waterfowl
In many states, small game and waterfowl are the last seasons to finish up the annual hunting cycle. On those frigid days, it takes a diehard to be out there with a .22 for squirrels, or a shotgun full of steel loads for mallard ducks. But if you love to hunt you’ll wanna be out there with the best of them. As far as waterfowl is concerned, watch out—it’s addicting. Once you’ve started, you’ll find it hard to leave the blind.
Organize Your GPS Waypoints
Hunting-based GPS mapping is absolutely the best tool any hunter can employ. This type of mapping is useful for many things, but it’s crucial for marking all the sign you’ve found while scouting and hunting.
If you’re anything like me, your Spartan Forge app looks like it caught chickenpox. The pieces of land that I’ve scouted have so many waypoints that it’s often hard to see the contour lines. Now is a good time to update all your maps, combing through and deleting forgotten waypoints where necessary. (Be careful though: you marked a spot for a reason. If you think it’s worth reinvestigating, don’t delete it until you’ve gone back to check it out. In the future, take a minute to jot down some notes about the spot. It’s almost impossible to remember why you marked a place without some kind of reminder.)
Organizing your data might seem like overkill, but believe me, it will be worth it. Not only is it a good way to reminisce on the year’s scouting and hunting trips, but it will make using the information you’ve gathered so much easier. When the next hunting season rolls around, you’ll be glad you took the time.
Make a Preseason Scouting List
By the time February/early March arrives, hunters everywhere are eager to find the first shed antlers and review all the past year’s deer sign. Sometimes it pays to just drive somewhere random and start looking. Save yourself some time this spring by building a list of locations that could use further investigation. For more on post/preseason scouting check out this podcast episode 215 with John Eberhart.
When building your list, be specific on how many miles you will walk and how many hours it will take you to scout each location. Your goal is to rethink properties at this stage. A more thorough investigation will open up less obvious opportunities, which will ultimately make you a deadlier hunter.
Every year, my scouting guideline is to spend time in review on 2-4 properties, scout 1-3 new properties, and check 1-2 properties that I know extremely well. I prefer to spend at least 4-8 hours on each, pending the size of the property. After I’ve finished walking those properties, I’ll likely go back and choose a handful of trees (at least 4 with a N, S, E, W position in mind) in each spot. Trust me, you’re not going to remember the tree that “might be a good one” when it’s time to climb in the dark.
Review Journal Entries
I am aware that journals aren’t for everyone, but if you don’t keep a hunting journal you should consider it. Often, I think things like “I’ll remember how well this spot hunts on a NW wind.” But I’m usually surprised to discover that most spots tend to blend in my mind. Write it down and check your entry next year. You’ll see what I’m talking about.
Reviewing journal entries also makes patterning deer much easier. Locations that I choose to hunt will invariably benefit from improved strategies. Taking notes is one of the best ways to make that improvement possible.
Format SD Cards
No one likes deleting all those hard-earned pictures. On the other hand, no one likes to buy a ton of new SD cards either. Formatting your cards during downtime only takes a few seconds per card. There’s added benefit in formatted SD cards as they will be much more reliable in the field. Checking a camera to find only a few pictures is disappointing. Maintained cards will prevent frustration when it comes to running cameras.
Clean Your Trail Cameras
Taking time to clean all parts of a trail camera will give it a longer life. A trail camera free of bugs, dirt, moth cocoons, and cobwebs is a camera that has the potential to last many years. Check out Exodus Outdoors Gear YouTube Channel for solid information on caring for your cameras.
Keeping backup gear for certain hunting situations isn’t a bad idea, but I’ve developed the habit of yearly decluttering. Believe me when I say, decluttering makes things much more efficient. This kind of organization is worth all the time I’ve saved when packing for hunting excursions and scouting trips.
If half to an entire season goes by without my using a certain piece of gear, I’ve decided there’s no reason to keep that item as a souvenir (minus, of course, things that I need but hope I won’t have to use, like rain gear). Decluttering is a great way help you grab and go, and it will allow you to maintain an intimate knowledge of your gear. Plus, it saves you from being overwhelmed with junk you don’t need.
Tweak Gear that Needs Improvement
There are always pieces of gear to be evaluated after a season’s worth of hunting. One of the big ones for mobile hunters is climbing equipment. There are many ways to safely modify your system to meet your needs.
Ideally, you’ll want to start the process ASAP because it will be necessary to purchase things you’ll need, make the change, and test the change. The busy schedule of summer vacation is going to be here soon, and you may want those summer months to soak up time with your family.
Review and Organize Collected Intel
This year, to cover an area of about 450-500 acres, a buddy and I used about 10-12 trail cameras. On each of those cameras, there were around 1200 pictures, give or take. That’s a lot of pictures to sort through, and it’s important to spend time analyzing that valuable information.
Capitalize on the thousands of trail camera images you’ve acquired from June through December. While it’s important to know what the general deer population prefers, it’s not necessary to keep every image. Choose a few bucks that stand out and save one or two images from each event. Keep notes on time of year, time of day, weather, and wind that correspond with deer movement at each location.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a few recognizable bucks, save those images in specific folders. Hunting specific bucks anywhere is difficult, so if you’re establishing a pattern on public land, you’ve found something special.
Cook Your Family Something Delicious
Do your family a favor and take time to perfectly prepare the spoils of your hunt. You want to give your family a reason to love bowhunting too, right? Good cooking skills can go a long way. If cooking isn’t your thing, find a good cook book specifically geared to wild game and follow its instructions to a T.
If I may make a recommendation, check out Hank Shaw’s book Buck, Buck, Moose. Also, his website is an awesome resource! Find it here! Believe me, the guy knows how to cook, and I promise you’ll learn a lot. You might just become your family’s new hero come dinner time.
At the end of the day, acquiring meat is the bread and butter of why we love to hunt, and it’s one of the things that keeps pushing us to be better. Bringing home table-fare and understanding how to prepare good food will shed positive light on hunting for those in your life who didn’t grow up doing it. Who knows, showing the public that hunting involves so much more than just a kill might change how they perceive it.