Hunters across the nation are preparing food plots, tweaking tree stands and deploying cameras in hopes of gathering a host of hit-list bucks. One thing many of us accomplished way in advance was setting aside vacation time for the upcoming hunting season. In today’s media frenzied world, we have unlimited access to watch and absorb all sorts of hunting shows that pack as much big buck action and gimmicky advertising as they can into a 22-minute show. What many of us do not have is unlimited time to hunt. It is easy to romanticize deer season and convince yourself every November hunt will unfold as it does on television, until you end up getting skunked on opening night from your bow stand. If you are like me, you have commitments and events in life that require your time and energy. Then, if you are lucky, you’ll have a few days of vacation to make it happen in the deer woods. Let’s talk about how to hit it big with very few vacation days to burn.
The author’s 2014 bow kill he got during his mini-rutcation.
Set aside some time on weekends to prep stands, plant food plots and place trail cameras. Nothing is worse than knowing you aren’t well prepared and time is not on your side. Eliminating certain to-do’s early on will put you at ease and have you ready for the season at any given moment. Running cameras all summer and into the fall will let you know where you should be and when you ought to be there. However, do not ruin your chances of killing a mature buck before the opener even rolls around. Placing cameras deep in the woods and checking them too often can result in conditioning the deer to avoid the places they should feel most comfortable.
I rarely place a camera inside the woods during summer months simply because it is rather easy to capture bachelor groups of bucks as they frequent the lush fields. Preparing your sits with the aid of trail cameras ahead of time will give you the knowledge and peace of mind that you’re hunting the right spot.
Be a Weatherman
Leading up to your vacation time in the woods, diligently watch your local weather and pay attention to potential fronts moving in as well as air temperature. Nothing can kill rutting activity like warm weather and heavy fog or rain. Although deer do move in warm temperatures, typically, action will be much slower. I have never had luck during warm weather; especially during morning hunts, as fog is nearly always a factor. A light rain associated with cooler temperatures seems to garner lots of movement based on my observations. A deer’s sense of smell is much stronger during humid, wet conditions than it is during dry conditions. Deer also aren’t making as much noise on the softened leaves, which makes them feel more secure in their movements. Watching the forecast and making stand decisions based on temperature and precipitation is a great starting point when it comes to weather watching.
Many of the best deer hunters will tell you the best time to hunt is just before a storm or immediately after, which means you need to be tracking the radar from the parking lot and climbing into your stand just before it stops raining or snowing.
Observe and Move In
Observe, and then get aggressive. Setting an observation stand during the first day of your vacation can be a great strategy. Many experts talk about this typically being on a field edge, which doesn’t always need to be the case. Without question, an effective observation stand can be placed in the timber. The goal of an observation stand is to find a place where you can bank on seeing a good amount of deer movement, so you can move into the kill zone the next day.
Don’t be afraid to spend part of the day observing from a good vantage point and then moving in for a hang and hunt right after you see some action.
Two years ago, I started the first day of my vacation observing from a stand in the timber. It proved to be a deadly strategy as I harvested a great three-year-old buck. If conditions are right, you can observe and be aggressive all at the same time. During my afternoon hunt on November 2nd, since weather conditions were favorable, it made all the sense in the world for me to observe from just inside the timber. If you are observing from the woods, you must have a good exit strategy. We hear all the time you need to hunt smarter not harder, and I agree with that statement in most cases, however, when you only have a few days of hunting you need to make some bold moves. After all, what good is it preparing for over half the year if you aren’t going to take a few chances to fill a tag?
Even by being aggressive and hunting smart, many hunting vacations end unsuccessfully. Many of us are not able to spend the majority of our vacation in the woods and must accept the fact we have less than one week to get it done on stand. Coming home empty handed always has me thinking coulda, shoulda, woulda, but if you’ve taken a few chances and hunted areas aggressively, you cannot be too upset with yourself. On the contrary, if you implemented a well thought out strategy and tagged a buck, you can thank yourself for listening to your intuition when the conditions called for it.