One of my first duck hunts found me lying on my back in the bottom of a gully, with my gun to my chest and rain coming down. My companion, standing at the top of the cut looking down at my situation, did not call off the hunt. He did not immediately clamber down to my rescue. He turned with a brief look of annoyance at the delay. As he recognized my misfortune, his face turned to a smile and then chokes of laughter as he said, “I wish you could see yourself!” I was getting no sympathy.
It took me years to learn that there are more than 5 mistakes to avoid on a hunt. Here are 5 of the most important things I’ve learned, as well as a few tips from the ProStaff at EvoOutdoors.
Wearing the Wrong Clothes (or Wearing the Right Clothes Wrong)
At best, wearing the wrong clothes can result in a miserable hunt or spooked game. The worst-case scenario is hypothermia or heatstroke and, in extreme cases, death. And there’s nothing like death to ruin a hunt.
The reason I found myself in the bottom of that gully like a turtle on its back was because I’d tightened the straps on my chest waders too tight and could not bend my knee enough to take an upward step. When I attempted to get up the side of the gully, I fell backward. Heavy, bulky or tight-fitting clothing restricts movement and also can affect your body temperature. The best way to avoid a clothing mistake is to be constantly aware and evolve your clothing system to meet the needs of the day.
When Tracy Harden, co-owner of EvoOutdoors, outfits a hunter, she takes into consideration the type and length of the hunt, the camp conditions and whether archery or a modern firearm will be used. This helps her to understand how the hunter will pack, and gives her an idea of the best weight of the fabric, type of fabric, and layering system to use.
When Sarah Fromethal tries on new camo-wear, she runs in place, squats and pretends to draw her bow. “Most importantly,” she says, “I take the material and rub it together. If doing any of these actions results in too much fabric noise, I can’t make myself buy it.” She also checks the weather forecast and packs a raincoat if there’s even a slight chance she will need it.
Andrea Haas, an avid deer and turkey hunter, learned how not to wrap a scarf when a buck she was after stepped out broadside at 25 yards and she drew her bow back. “As soon as I did, the wind started to pick up and it kept blowing part of the scarf into my face and another part in the way of the bow cams, so I opted not to shoot.” She purchased a neck gaiter shortly after.
Failure to Practice with Purpose
Elk hunting is a passion Emily Anderson shares with her husband, Troy. Hunting not only provides them with healthy meals, but it connects them to each other and the outdoors. Hunting is not just something they do. It has become a part of who they are. They are constantly learning from experience and turning that into a practice with a purpose in the off season.
When I asked Emily to share a mistake she had made in the field, she was sitting in a treestand. It was a bittersweet moment that was exactly on point: She was there because of several missed opportunities earlier in the season.
“I never want to complain about having the opportunity to hunt. I’m thankful and blessed to be in the woods right now. That is the sweet part,” Emily said. But she had missed a buck because she had worn so many layers that her bowstring hit her jacket sleeve.
It’s from mistakes like this that Emily recommends practicing shooting with the gear you wear in the field. “This is especially important if you are doing a backcountry hunt,” Emily says. “Shoot with a backpack on, practice in low-light conditions, and get comfortable shooting from different positions and not just the perfect practice setup.”
Lack of Study and Observation
Ryan Van Lew has been out in the woods hunting since the age of 5, and is always willing to learn something new as well as sharing what he’s learned with new hunters. “Every day you get into the woods you learn something new,” says Ryan.
When he was 14, he hung his first stand and shot a buck out of it. “I thought, ‘Wow, this hunting is easy.’” But then he didn’t shoot a buck for 4 years after that. “My dad sat me down and said, ‘Now, I think you know it all but after 4 years it’s time I tell you to sit back, study the woods, study the animal’s moves, and always learn when you head to the woods.’ Since that day I’ve become a better hunter and woodsman.”
Do your research, including maps, weather, weather history, game regulations and scouting.
For example, hunting moose in the spruce forest at lower elevations is a totally different hunt than hunting moose in sub-alpine terrain.
Forgetting to Breathe
Morgan Helen has experienced a wide range of hunting scenarios, from waterfowl and whitetail to red stag and fallow deer. She has learned not ever to rush a shot. “Take a deep breath … then slowly squeeze.”
A year ago, Tracy had been fighting a dislocated rib. It was difficult to find animals, and when she did get close enough, the elements were another obstacle. “To say the least, I was physically and mentally challenged,” Tracy said. “I had pushed myself to my limit.” But, she forced herself up the mountain and focused on not giving in. When she’s successful, it’s because she remembers why she’s there from sunrise to sunset, remembering to breathe.
Reflecting on the mistakes I’ve made in the field and those shared by the ProStaff at EvoOutdoors, I realize that there is a common theme. It comes down to the focus Tracy talks about. Hunting is something that goes beyond a single day afield, or even a week at camp. It is an activity that defines the sporting life. The best way to avoid mistakes is to prepare, practice and perform as a hunter year round. Regardless, we’ll still make enough mistakes, and miss enough shots so we have those stories to tell around the campfire.
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