On opening day of hunting season, I usually have not slept most of the night. Somehow, the dogs know the exact date of the opener. They either have a sense of it, or they have learned to notice the signs—the guns ready, the clothes laid out, the boots repaired. The excitement is so palpable that it’s easy for me to forget any number of things. The morning of every hunt bears a similar anticipation. For many, it is filled with anxiety. Others treat it like just another day at an office. No matter how we start our day in the field, the way we do it can determine our success. Here are 5 things you can do before setting out to ensure a successful hunt.
End of the Driveway Check
There is nothing worse than travelling a hundred miles before sunrise and getting to the duck blind only to realize you left your hunting license in your other field jacket (yes, you have many field jackets, not to mention vests). Even if the item left behind is not a deal-breaker, forgetting it can ruin the hunt. A missing whistle, knife or watch can make a hunter feel unprepared or affect his or her “mental game.”
Many hunters have a pre-season checklist and perform a quality check on all of their gear. Due to the anticipation mentioned above, this is usually done sometime before the morning of opening day. It is worthwhile to do a recheck to adjust for actual weather conditions and to make sure the most obvious thing doesn’t get left behind. It never hurts to stop at the end of the driveway and do a “guns, ammo and license” check. It’s probably a good idea to see if you remembered the dog, too, if you have a dog. I have a dog.
Turn Off the Coffee Pot
Whether we make the decisions that most affect our day before we’ve had our coffee or out in the field, often they are the result of sequence thinking. For example, if we’re going to the grocery store, we focus on where we will go and what we will buy. Because we are focused on the result and the steps it takes to achieve it, we tend to skip over the small details on the way. Did we turn off the coffee pot and lock the front door before leaving the house?
“Batten down the hatches” is a nautical expression that means to prepare and protect yourself in the event of a storm. Hunting requires all of our attention. Unfortunately, I’ve been distracted in the duck blind by the thought that I didn’t turn off the coffee pot on more than one occasion. Most checklists hunters make ignore these non-hunting details, which can arise like a storm or are left to distract us later. Liabilities that might worry me later include setting up the auto-reply on my e-mail, closing the garage door, turning off appliances, or feeding the cat, if I had a cat. I don’t have a cat.
Leave Behind Unrelated Thoughts
Many people consider spending time outdoors a great escape. The environment alone provides a change of scene from the daily grind, but it’s important to leave the attendant stressors of life behind as well. If we are not fully present in the field—if we are thinking about our finances, relationships, or how we need to get back to our hectic schedules—our chances of success will suffer. I avoid unrelated thoughts about time, money or relationships when I’m in the field. Instead, I focus my attention on the hunt.
Play Your Vision
Visualization is powerful psychological tool to prepare for any number of tasks. It requires clearing the mind and visualizing not just the desired outcome, but the entire course of events that lead up to it. If there are hills to climb, weather to endure and a long wait, you can imagine how to overcome those possible hurdles.
The reason visualization gives us an edge is because it allows us to improve upon a belief in our abilities, to recognize possibilities and be prepared for them, and to create a pattern of success similar to performance.
Have a Plan B
Not having an alternative strategy when your plans go awry can ruin your day. I try not to think too much about Plan B because I don’t want to take any energy away from the original plan. But if you’ve ever not had a Plan B and showed up to your hunting spot only to find a world-wide photography event converged in the parking lot, you know you don’t want to grind too many gears in a downshift. The hours lost to re-planning the day destroys its momentum. A good back-up plan is essential.
It doesn’t matter if you’re hunting opening day or midseason, every day afield requires effort. Watching nature does not bring about the same dialog that participating in it as a hunter does. Venturing afield to hunt brings about a primal energy that does not exist in another medium. Hunting provides a sense of being alive, through all five senses. It demands our utmost attention.
There have been times in the morning, while I wait for first light, that I can see, feel, taste, and touch the same thing—ducks. Morning flights fill the air, the flats are heavy with the smell of marsh, two chocolate Labs sit alert, and my shotgun rests in my lap. It all speaks to ducks. And when the moment brings a pair of pintails cupping into a spread of decoys, there’s nothing like taking them.
Christine Cunningham is a lifelong Alaskan, author and outdoor columnist known for her contributions to outdoor magazines and her commitment to creating opportunities for women to connect and share their stories. Her first book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” profiles some of Alaska’s most outstanding female hunters. View all posts by Christine Cunningham