By now, most of you are well into the hunting season. And by the looks of social media, y’all are doing pretty good, too.
But, we’ve also been hearing a few reports from the field that this may be a season like no other. There are more hunters in the field than we’ve seen in decades and this is leading to a few changes in plan for some of you.
As with much of our lives, COVID-19 has forced us to call an audible or two. Restaurants are a wholly different experience. Thanksgiving is going to be a lot smaller. And our favorite donut shop is still closed. (Insert image of hero on knees screaming “NOOOOOO!!!!!” into the sky.)
Hunting has not been immune to these changes.
Some of the impact has been good. For example, states are seeing permit sales reaching record numbers. More people hunting means more dollars for conservation and more people who understand how important hunters are.
And some of it has been not so good. For example, public lands are becoming quite crowded in some areas by novice hunters who are still coming to terms with safety and etiquette guidelines.
So, what do you, the true Badlandian hunter, do to adapt to these new challenges? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Brush Up on Game Regulations
Never a bad idea in any year, but revisiting the regs in your area is critical this year. Why, you may ask?
Many states have shut down elk and deer check stations, moving everything to online or Telecheck. That means the conservation officers who would normally be committed to these are now able to police the hunters in the field better. And this is a good thing. Remember all those newbie hunters out there? A little extra supervision is a good thing.
But with the extra eyes on patrol, you don’t want to get popped for a trespassing violation, not having enough blaze orange, or other change in game regulations that you just didn’t know about. “I didn’t know” never works as an excuse with the spouse, it’s no more effective on a game warden.
Set an Earlier Alarm
Public lands are a hot commodity right now, and the word we’re hearing is it’s becoming a crowded space. CRP pheasant lands are starting to look like Black Friday at Badlands. Lots of people eager to fill their bag limits.
If you normally hit the field 15 minutes before sunrise, you might want to make that 45 minutes or risk your spot being occupied when you get there.
It goes without saying (like that’s ever stopped us before), but be prepared to have your sweet spot visited by other hunters. If they do roll through, resist the urge to throw that “special bottle” you keep in the treestand at them. Remember, those new folks may be the future of our sport.
Instead, do your best to let them know you’re there and what bit of earth you’re hunting. If you’re polite, odds are they will be as well.
The biggest advantage you have over the new folks is knowledge and perspective (and a 2200 pack, but you already know that). If you’re used to hiking in a mile or two to hunt, but run into a lot of new hunters, it’s time to go deep.
The rooks may think a mile hike is massive. For you, it’s a warmup. When the pressure gets higher, just walk away. Like an extra mile or two backcountry away. The farther from the trailhead or parking lot you get, the fewer newbs you’re likely to encounter.
Another in the annual “Yes, mother” reminders. Take a bunch of new hunters, pack them along with everyone else into a tight WMA. Now give them all guns and a few cases of buck fever. The result is… well… not pretty.
You’re more likely than ever to have someone stumble across your hunting area this year. This goes for the private landers, too. With this many people in the field with such little experience, it’s bound to happen.
So, you know the drill… Don’t shoot until you know your target. Think about what’s in front of and behind your target. Don’t use your riflescope to scan, that’s what binoculars (and the Bino XR) are made to do.
Check with your local meat cutter to see if there’s a backlog or if they’re even accepting deer or elk. If not, have a backup. Then a backup. Then buy some butcher’s tools.
If you have a favorite taxidermist, check with him or her. They may be booked with Roger from Accounting who just shot his first forkie!
Weekends are going to be the heaviest volume, so now might be the time to think about a weekday hunt. Yes, it may require burning some vacation time, but it’s worth it.
(Or not… check out this article for some tips on getting out of work for hunting.)
Last, but most important, just be patient.
This surge in permit sales comes at a time when a lot of state agencies were worrying about declining hunting participation. We need more people involved in our sport. It supports conservation efforts and (most importantly) it creates more and more passionate hunters who will fight hard (and vote) to protect this American pastime.
Even if we don’t fill the freezer, we all win with more hunters in the world.