As I write this I am currently leaving the -10 degree temperatures of central South Dakota and am flying toward Las Vegas for a work trip. As I look out the window and oversee the landscape full of crops, draws, and brushy pockets of the western prairies, I can’t help but look forward to next year. While a lot of big game hunters are still recuperating from last year’s hunting seasons, us “serious” hunters are hard at work prepping for the punching next year’s tags. Even though it is the dead of winter, especially for all of us in the northern states, there are multiple things that can be done to start your prep work for next year.
I know what you’re thinking; how is predator hunting going to help me score a giant next fall? I consider every coyote, wolf, or mountain lion roaming through my hunting grounds to be the potential downfall of the giant I’m chasing. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that there needs to be a predator-prey balance, but keeping the predators in check is a crucial step to helping our older bucks and our fawns in the spring add more time onto their life. Not only is it a population management tool, but it’s also a reason to get out and keep tabs on the winter herds. Paying attention to where they winter, how tightly they are grouped up, and the types of terrain they are hoarding to, you can learn a lot about just how stressful the winter is on the animals.
Whether it be antelope, elk, or deer, paying attention to the herds during the cold season can teach you a lot. In a lot of antelope winter areas for instance, if deep snow hits, they will often swarm towards roads where the snow will be cleared off and this can oftentimes lead to an increase in vehicle collisions.
Give a Dog a Bone
Shed hunting is not only a good way to exercise and get back into shape after a winter cooped up inside, but it can also be a useful tool for scoring your next buck. There are a lot of times when I head out and shed hunt in the spring that I find sets of antlers from deer I’ve never seen before. This fact gets me excited for two reasons; I now have a better knowledge of the herd around me and there is a chance said animal is still alive and could be bigger next year. There are places I’ve never deer hunted, but have shed hunted, and after a couple of seasons scouring the hills for bone I can tell you the three or four main genetic lines of the deer herd. Some are wide but short 3×3’s, some are long main beamed 5×5’s, there are tall 4×4’s, then there are those random ones that just end up being oddballs.
While shed hunting is fun, it is also very crucial to make sure that the excitement of looking for bone doesn’t give additional stress and pressure on the animals. If it’s a rough winter the animals are already exhausted from the loss of weight from the rut, the pressures of hunters and other predators, but now the availability of food is tough, so any more stress might just be too much for them to handle. It’s just a matter of understanding the conditions around you. When you’re out there in the spring you will also come across dead deer on occasion and finding these can also give you a feel for just how hard the winter was on the animals.
There are multiple resources out there for overviewing hunting opportunities in the west and reviewing draw odds, hunter success, and all those important details we want to know in order to best utilize our preference points and vacation days. There are ample podcasts, youtube shows, sporting shows, and a variety of other resources that are popping up everywhere this time of year that will be giving advice, reviews, and tips for the application process, strategies, and tips. My advice: Utilize as many of these as you can. Eventually, you’ll start to weed out what the “buffer” advice maybe and start to understand what types of information are going to be most beneficial to your goals and styles of hunting.
We all know Henry’s Mountains in Utah and the Arizona strip have some of the largest mule deer in the world and we know Colorado is a mule deer factory, however, it’s usually the tips from the average guys and the oddball hunts that can teach you the most. Regardless of how you want to approach it, there is an abundant amount of resources that can help you dial into your most successful season ever and we would all be fools to not be taking advantage of it.
Hit the Trail
It’s no secret that the hills everywhere are littered with trail cameras these days, we know that, but when do you decide your strategy to use them? I am already looking at different maps on OnX Maps and Google Earth to figure out the different spots and types of areas I want to drop cameras this next season. A lot of people don’t put them out until later on in the season which is understandable. It’s not until later on in the summer that you can truly identify the biggest animals in the area but in the earlier months, you will be able to identify where the concentrations of animals are and really start to dial your camera locations in.
My tactic this year on the hunting areas not close to home is to make a couple of weekend trips to go and drop cameras during the early summer and then mid to end of august I will do the same and pull them all. Once in and once out and all my information will be based on the results of these pulls. The other factor to consider during the winter months in regards to trail cameras and their usage is to make sure they all work. I will set all of my cameras up somewhere in my house and leave them for a couple of days to see just how they all work in comparison to each other. I have some units that work great and a few other ones that are slightly a little slower to react to movement even though they are the same brand and model.
There is a lot of different things that can be done to start the quest for success next fall and there is no time like the present. The second my hunting season ended in 2019 was the moment my 2020 season began. Hopefully, some of these things I’ve shared that I do in order to prep for my season will either give you ideas that help you find success or will motivate you to get rolling on it. Either way, stay warm and best of luck in the 2020 hunting seasons!