The expanse of my hunting career has varied. From hunting some public land for small game to small private parcels and farms for deer, I’ve loved every minute. There’s always something to learn, and the growth has made me the hunter I enjoy being today. I can’t say that I would change much, but there are a few things I wish I knew a long time ago.
I think about how much better I might be if I knew all those things way back then. If you feel years behind the curve, don’t worry. The most experienced hunters I know still haven’t stopped learning and making mistakes.
When I think back to things I wish I would have known 20 years ago, a few things come to mind.
Public Land Doesn’t Suck
Around the time that I started hunting, media hunts began to be popular. Of course, YouTube and self-filming weren’t a thing during that time. What the public could consume was limited to the outdoor channel or DVDs. Those high-light reels never poo-pooed public land, but they didn’t promote it either. They only gave a peek into hunting. The shows were all about success and rarely displayed hardships. Food plots and ag land were perceived as the best way to kill a deer. Some hunters felt you were wasting time trying to hunt public land. The comments usually went something like “that person doesn’t know what it’s like to sit for days and not see a tail” or “there’s a rude awakening for hunters that lose permission on private land.
I hunted many small private parcels with my dad and uncle, as well as a family friend’s farm. Very few of my hunts took place on public land. I recall thinking that the effort on the public was more for watching songbirds than hunting.
Fortunately, I read a few articles by Tony Peterson and Dan Infalt on the importance of getting away from the crowd. Those guys knew how to get it done. The pieces I read were all based on the public land experience.
The more I began dabbling in public land hunts, the more I realized the amount of terrain and possibilities to encounter big bucks were endless. Public land bucks aren’t fairy tales or ghosts, and the hunting on public often rivals private land.
How to Find Buck Beds
Buck bedding has exploded since the rise of the Hunting Beast style of deer hunting. A strategy built around finding and hunting buck bedding, this style is tough to beat. If you want to learn more from Dan Infalt about buck bedding, check out this podcast!
I won’t forget the first bed I found on public land. I was shed hunting with my wife. I’d drug her through some rough mucky terrain, but her attitude was amazing. She pushed me to get us to the spot I wanted to see. We made it to the edge of a cattail swamp and could see a single tree about 40 yards from the edge. We followed a deer trail through the cattails to that tree and found one of the biggest beds I’ve seen. I still haven’t found one much bigger.
I went on to find many more beds. Although I’ve found that hunting a specific buck bed to be slow action, when there is action, it’s exactly what you hoped it would be. When the method of hunting beds clicks for you, your big buck encounters will change drastically.
Early in my hunting career, I was taught that deer cared about the wind. But I wasn’t prepared for the degree of importance. If we picked a spot to go, the decision wasn’t based on what way the wind was blowing. It was based on where we thought we’d like to hunt for the day.
The more I began planning hunts based on wind, the more deer I encountered. This led me to do more research related to using winds to my advantage. Digging deeper and deeper, I discovered thermals. Let me tell you, when you learn about thermals, it will flip your hunting world upside down a bit.
Soaking up info on thermals is overwhelming and, frankly, very confusing. Reading about them can help, but nothing beats a live “in-the-field” experience. One of my first ventures with thermals was on a snowy day while eating lunch on a ridge. My wife and I were sitting on a rock, watching a steady breeze blow a light snowfall in line with the hillside. From time to time, the draft would die off. The snow sucked straight up the mountain along with the warming air.
Since then, I’ve thrown milkweed out everywhere I scout or hunt. Thermals act differently in most places; the best way to learn them is to see them in person.
Hills are Valuable
The land I spent most of my past time hunting is primarily made of rolling and forgiving hills. Terrain-based funnels and cover are a challenge to find in those places. When I began my public land adventures, I loved seeing hiding places formed by land and terrain versus thick cover alone. I hunted those places and found that they could hide more of my mistakes. The landscape that covers entry and exit makes a setup far more reliable.
Scouting hills will reveal more options for pinch points and places to hunt. Lastly, I’ll mention that hills create their own barriers to human intrusion. The more complex the hike, the less likely you will encounter another person.
Wild Game isn’t “Gamey“
A fault of the PA-Dutch is the trend to cook food until you could use it to replace a door knocker. There was an old school thought that those wild animals were dirty because they were wild. I remember using mayo and white bread to choke down some of the venison roasts my family made. Venison was not my favorite thing on the home cooking menu.
The first deer I killed after being married, we ground entirely into burger meat. I told my wife deer was just not that good unless it was a burger. Boy, was I ever wrong! We watched Meateater for the first time together, and my world was open to proper cooking methods. I quickly learned that wild game is the best-tasting meat anyone can find. Learning to cook venison has been so much fun. On top of all that, good cooking skills bring more satisfaction to a hunt.
To learn the best ways to cook wild-game, check out these links:
Hindsight is always 20/20, but you can’t change how you hunted 20 years ago. Start recounting your memories and think about how you could have improved a particular situation. Most of your progress won’t come from someone else’s events; it will come from making changes on your own.