Friday, October 5, 2018

10 Things Every New Hunter Should Know

In the last three years, the world of hunting has taken off in terms of clothing, gear, strategies, and complaints—coincidentally also the time frame when I walked into this new-to-me domain so that may not be true to anyone other than me. I blew any sense of a budget on the latest and greatest products and attire while simultaneously capping any boundary I had on time and availability.  I wondered many things, and still do, as I contemplate the complexities of each hunt but here is a list of 10 things in random order (with a couple name drops) that I would have found useful when I first crossed over to … that side.

1.         Research Your Opponent. As a former legal assistant to a trial attorney, I will be the first to tell you that a majority of pre-court time is spent in research.  It is the grunt-work of the profession to not only know the case, their client, the judge, but also the opponent.  Clearly a hunter is on the same level as an attorney, except for the one small fact that a hunter generally does not make an income from this.  It is wildly important for a hunter to know about the animal he is hunting.

Unless dumb luck has been your secret ace-in-the-hole up until now, it helps to know a thing or two about their habits, the topography of their habitat, their diet, and their distinguishing characteristics.  Start studying what you can whenever you can.  In Washington state at least, the Department of Fish and Wildlife produces a yearly synopsis of the kill counts in each GMU (also good to learn popular acronyms, i.e., Game Management Unit), how to hunt each species, etc.  I also dedicated way too much time after my kids were put to bed (early, on purpose) watching documentaries and searching for hunting advice on YouTube.

2.         Capitalism is No Stranger to Hunting Camps. I love that in America (and elsewhere) we are fortunate enough to have a plethora of options for nearly every item we could ever want or need.  My husband and I disagree greatly on what he refers to as a “need” for an exorbitantly expensive item where he could see a mole inside the eardrum of a deer 500 miles away.  While I do care if a deer has such obvious deformities, I would care more to clothe my kids.  There are limitless options if you feel like blowing paychecks, but here are my three favorite items aside from weapons that are used every hunting trip: binoculars with a pouch or strap to prevent flailing all over while hiking, rangefinder (read reviews on accuracy!), and GPS with private/public property locator (onXmaps is a personal favorite).

3.         Treat Yo’ Self. This rather new adage makes prep work better than a sugar donut with morning coffee.  For men, there are hundreds of stores and brands with 4 bajillion options for socks, gloves, hats, and everything in between.  For a typical man, it is (finally) a much different shopping experience to happily sift through all of the options, with great competition among brands to be the best.  For women, well there is the hope that more quality brands will surface.  For now, a couple I am familiar with are Cabela’s and Prois’.  Both have their pros and cons but I personally love the humor and verbiage used by Prois in their materials, it is quite endearing actually (scroll through their website and you will likely find yourself smiling).  Make sure to try it on though and practice hiking in the dressing room when it is really quiet—not for the entertainment of the staff, but so you can test out if the clothes make noise while you move because there is nothing more fun than swooshing through the forest glades when trying to be stealth.

           Evidence points strongly that most advanced hikers wear layers, it is no different than hunters.  Hunters are hikers with special skills, after all.  It would do you well to have warm weather, chilly weather, rainy weather, and straight up Arctic weather clothing options.  My experience being as cold as an ice cube in a cotton undershirt while also mastering dripping sweat down my back and experiencing a completely soaked shirt, um, not exactly pleasant. Wicking is winning, people.  Sheep are friends, go with the wool.

4.   Research to the nth degree. Again, with the research, I know--what can I say but it is in my blood.  Seriously though, know the area you plan to hunt.  We had a weekend away sans kids but could not decide where to hunt beforehand.  It certainly would have been advisable to know which mountains are overrun with bovines (and their less than pleasant fresh mound of droppings), the elevations of each (for high elevation bucks), which side the deer like to bed on, what time of day, where the water and food sources are, if there are wolf packs in that area, etc.  If you can study that ahead of time, you will be that much more prepared.

Or buy game cameras; they are the best.  If near an area you can check regularly, it is beyond handy to watch activity and track the times of day your prey are in/passing through the area you want to traverse.

5.         Patience. I should have delayed until the end of the list to add this one, but I was not able to wait. Similarly, this also creates problems when hunting because bucks are elusive little introverts.  I would imagine elk are easier as they travel in herds, I have yet to try that though. (Another example of exerting great patience until the correct season begins.) When watching a half hour long hunting show on tv, it is remarkable how I never quite picked up on it when they said they were unsuccessful for x number of days when 97/100ths of the show is killing and eating their spoils.  It is so very different when you have dedicated the time to go and realize one hunting trip may not be enough even after hiking for a good 10 hours in a given day.

6.         Quiet Food. If I were to create a brand of healthy snacks for hunting, it would be named ‘Crunch Less’ and it would be wrapped in paper towels and teddy bears, be the consistency of gummy worms, and contain the healthiness of apples.  When trying to be covert in nature, nothing but chipmunks seem as loud as a plastic baggie with trail mix.  Also, keep in mind that if your traveling companion triggers your Misophonia, you may want to avoid packing carrots because they are loud (plus, you really don’t want to be any sort of trigger happy while hunting).

7.         Attitude is Key. Now, I am not saying you cannot successfully put food on the table when you find yourself getting annoyed to exasperation. If nothing is crossing your path, even with steaming fresh pellets squishing beneath your new boots, your attitude (and knees) can make or break the rest of the hunt.  The shows on television are the highlight reels after the drudgery that no one else wants to bore themselves watching.  Not every state or area is wrought with options.  I find myself gaping sometimes that a 3x3 is passed over for a “Monster Buck”.  My reality is not that reality, and I need to be okay with that.

8.         Mathematics is over-rated.  Grocery shopping for food is essentially hunting for the best deal, $1.97/pound is a great price for chicken. Back when my husband brought home his first deer, even with the savings of us butchering it ourselves, I gave a rough calculation that it cost about $8,000/pound.  Math holds no bounds in our house—it makes homework for our kids a challenge, but with real world word problems.

Okay, kids: The hunting clothes cost $1,272.53, the licenses cost $138.87, the weaponry comes to about $3100.00. If the 92-pound buck is butchered, how much does each pound weigh?  Is it financially worth it to hunt to put food on the table?

9.         Health. Jokes abound about getting in “hunting shape” to get the “hunting body” back.  Keep in mind, this paragraph likely holds no value if you are a rifle/muzzleloader sit and shoot, blind hunter, or tree stand hunter.  For the rest of the crew, there’s an insane amount of hiking and walking involved. Not just any hiking, but vast expanses are crossed with trepidatious tip-toeing and monitored steps.  Your hunting partner will greatly thank you if you have exercised in preparation for hunting.

The first trip out ever with my husband, I thought the chipmunks were squawking to the beat of my heart pounding out of my chest.  My labored panting sufficiently hid my investigation into the matter. Just think of a mountain like a stair climber, throw 500,000 sticks and twigs on it, and poop for good measure because you want to not only look for fresh signs below but also at the wilderness around you (as well as behind to ensure a cat is not about to take out the weakest link). Don’t even get me started on the hike down the mountain after meeting exhaustion face to face, because if you had bad knees before, they will want to climb out from behind their caps and sock you across the head out of pissed off agony.

10.    Slicing and Dicing. Last but not least, prepare yourself for the possibility that your hunting trip will be fruitful.  Know what you need to do as soon as you pronounce death on your target (think tags), then think about preservation of the meat.  It helps to know what you should do first and how to do it in the field so you are not sitting there at o’dark thirty pondering if you should bathe it in water to cleanse the innards (you should not, so please refrain!), all while inviting predators far and wide to follow the scent.

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