Hunting deer and turkey in the Midwest generally involves a lot of waiting around. You set up in a tree stand or ground blind, and you try to stay as still as possible. As quiet as possible. For a long, long time. And so when I’m planning hunts, there’s always a temptation to bring something else that I need to get done, something I’m reading or supposed to be writing.
Others have suggested this to me too, because it does seem like I spend an awful lot of time out in the woods. But the thing is, I can’t bring anything else with me. Because I’m busy while I’m hunting. There’s actually a lot to do, and allow me to offer a partial list:
When I’ve established my ambush site, most of the time I’ve spent a good half hour or hour sneaking into the location. Now there’s plenty to do:
- Set up the blind. I have a pop-up blind that goes up in about two minutes. It’s the best thing ever, but getting just the right angle and position is critical. I want multiple clear shooting lanes, good visibility, and an angle that helps conceal the drawing of my bow.
- Locate and lay out equipment. I was in the Boy Scouts as a kid, and it shows in the amount of gear I bring out. I’ll have my bow and arrows handy, of course, but I’ll also want calls, cover scent, a windicator, and most importantly my hunting binoculars within easy reach.
- Find a comfortable sitting position. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s important, because I may need to sit absolutely still for hours while being ready to draw and shoot on a moment’s notice.
Most days I’m hunting mornings, which means I’ll set up in the darkness before sunrise. By the time I’m set up, the woods are in twilight, and shooting hours are approaching.
Sure, it’s light enough for me to read or something, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry:
- Looking and listening for turkey fly-downs. I’ve rarely (if ever) been able to spot birds while still on the roost, but there’s no mistaking when one flies down. Or when you bump one, for that matter.
- Visual scouting. If I’ve done my job well, there could still be game in the area. Those first few minutes of shooting light are the perfect opportunity to spot them.
- Distance landmarks. As soon as it’s light enough, I start estimating distances in my shooting lanes. I choose landmarks for 20 and 30 yards. It’s much better to do this now, when things are calm and I can constantly re-evaluate.
Keeping Busy While Hunting
So the hunt has begun, and the middle section is always the longest part. Often I’ll spend an hour sneaking in, half an hour setting up, and then at least two or three hours of, you know, waiting. Here’s how I pass the time:
- Watching the woods. It may not be obvious, but with a 270-degree view, dense woods, and variable terrain, simply watching for game is a full-time endeavor. Any flicker of movement could be important. Constant vigilance!
- Listening and locating sounds. The woods are rarely quiet, especially during daylight hours. Listening for animals walking on leaves, turkey scratching or clucking, or other signs of game keeps me busy. I also spend a lot of time wondering, what was that sound? I’ve heard some strange sounds while hunting. The ones that sound like a baby crying are just haunting.
- Calling or rattling. In Missouri, the archery permit is good for 2 deer and 2 turkeys. Between all of my deer calls for different situations, and various turkey calls, I have a lot of options. I may even try out my predator calls.
- Playing it safe. Because I hunt on public land, I need to constantly be on the lookout for other hunters, especially during firearms season. I also try to check in with “home base” when I can, by radio or cell.
As you can see, there’s plenty to keep me busy while hunting. Not that I haven’t tried bringing out a notebook or a bit of reading before. It almost always ends up being dead weight. All things being equal, I’d rather just sit and enjoy being out in the woods.