Updated: Jun 8, 2020

As the snow continues to fly in early March and the 2018 deer hunting season officially comes to an end in all of deer country, I find myself waiting for warmer days and snowless ground to begin shed hunting.

Until then, my thoughts are consumed with my most recent hunting season and ways to improve my success for the distant fall. Most of you are in the same boat, and whether your season ended with smiles and high fives or quiet February days and tag soup, there’s a lot to be learned if you take a step back and simply reflect on what led to your successes and failures, recent or past.

I’d like to share some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind, and I hope that you, too, can learn from your experiences in pursuit of that next memorable moment.

Sweet Success

The past two seasons, I’ve been lucky enough to not only fill my PA archery tag on the season opener, but also in the opening 10 minutes.

I’m humble enough to know that my skill and deer knowledge alone did not allow this to happen. But, rather, a combination of luck, pre-season scouting, and perhaps even some divine intervention all came into play at some point.

Of those three, pre-season scouting is the only thing we, as hunters, truly have control over when it comes to our season success. In fact, years when my tag remained unfilled, the first thing I can usually blame it on is lack of preparation. Simply put, I did not put enough miles on my boots, or I relied too heavily on previous season knowledge that had since changed.

Seeing deer and filling tags is nice, but it’s also what motivates me to continue learning the land I hunt and to strive for further success. Three years ago, I filled my tag on a small piece of public land close to my home in the second year of hunting it.

At that point, I could have clung to that success and climbed that same tree the next September, but while my tag was filled, I felt that I had not reached the potential of the land. I spent all of February and March on that parcel and found an abundance of overlooked sign from the very rut I just hunted. I adjusted my stands a few hundred yards and tagged out on a nice PA 10 pointer the very next season.

If you filled your tag this year, ask yourself, “What led to this success, and how can I duplicate it or even make it better next season?” Life gets busy; I get it. School, work, family, etc. can all, one way or another, keep us from putting in the time needed to see consistent success in a tree stand or ground blind, especially on public land.

Luckily for us, there are about 200 days between the end of one season to the beginning of the next to find some time to get out and find our next opportunity.

Close But No Cigar

So, you had plenty of opportunities, and if not for some minor reasons, you would have had your picture in the local newspaper or some Facebook group this fall. If this is the case, where did things go wrong? Was that buck just out of range or needed to take one more step for fate to have gone a different way?

Occasionally, you put in the time to be successful, but it just didn’t go the way you wanted it.

Now is the time to think about these spots and ask yourself what you can do to make these good spots great. While I don’t expect you to hinge cut trees on public land or spread no-till food plot seed, sometimes finding a better spot within 50 yards of where you hunt can make a difference.

Possibly you didn’t get a chance to anchor an arrow because the wind shifted and that buck winded you before taking off. I’m not saying that you should purchase the latest gear or gadget to minimize your scent, but picking out spots for various winds could re-write the ending to your season.

Another reason for failure that we often don’t want to talk about is “I missed”, or even worse, “I hit him but couldn’t find him”, and we’ve all been there. Simply put, you did everything right and were presented with a chance, but for one reason or another, the shot didn’t find its mark. If this happened because of equipment, take the offseason to determine whether the problem is apt to happen again or if it was just bad luck.

Are others having this problem? Is there any way to fix it? Is it time to change or upgrade the gear you’re using? Other questions you could ask include choice of shot selection, shot angle, overlooked obstructions, and countless others.

More than likely, though, another culprit is usually to blame for a missed shot: the classic “buck fever.” Were your nerves responsible for using the wrong pin, misjudging distance, or even skipping steps such as not having an arrow nocked?

While the simple fix is simply practicing more in the backyard when its calm and warm, sometimes its best to start shooting with a friend or trying 3D shoots at your local sportsmen club to help calm these nerves for when the big moment presents itself again.

Maybe you just weren’t prepared for a shot, so you got caught off guard and your shot window closed, or that Pope and Young beauty picked you out of the tree as you came to full draw.

Mentally preparing yourself for an opportunity and visualizing what you do before it even happens will help to boost your confidence and make closing the deal that much easier.

Where are all the deer?

Sometimes a season outcome has nothing to do with success or failure, but rather, a lack of opportunity for either. If you don’t see any deer or have very few quality sightings, then you need to get to the bottom of why.

The easy answer is to say that there are no deer or quality bucks in the area, but successful bowhunting isn’t easy, so this shouldn’t be the answer you settle for as a public land bowhunter.

Again, it often goes back to a lack of preparation and pre/post-season scouting, but there could be some other factors at play. Maybe the area you were hunting was just simply over pressured and you didn’t know it.

Try getting off the beaten path during your next scouting session and find areas that you think have been overlooked by other hunters. If it is physically impossible to hunt harder, try hunting smarter and being more strategic in where you set up your next stand. Spend your winter reading articles from quality hunting magazines or online forums and see what others are doing to find success.

Often, you can apply someone else’s experiences to your own situation and get a fresh start on familiar areas with a new perspective. If all else fails, you could always research some new spots on your favorite hunting apps and explore them this spring in pursuit of your next wall hanger.

The author with an opening day PA 6 point

In closing, take this time of year to reflect on what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, and use that reflection to motivate you moving forward. Identify what led to your success and what led to your defeat.

If you think of something that we left out or want some advice moving forward, feel free to comment or contact us so that your next season ends as a memorable one.

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