It’s a week until bowhunting season opens in Missouri. The wait has been agonizing. Already, countless things are trying to get in the way of early season hunting plans: school schedules, work events, family gatherings, and everything else.
Just as it is every year, most of us hunters won’t be able to get out into the field nearly as much as we’d like to. It occurred to me, though, that there are other ways to “hunt” when even not out in the woods. Here are a few of them.
1. Raise the flag
We hunters have a common flag that unites us. I’m not talking about stars and stripes (there are hunters in Canada, too, after all). I’m talking about camo. Wearing some of your camo when out running errands or doing family stuff is a great way to represent.
I went out apple-picking with the family last weekend, and saw plenty of my hunting brethren. I could pick them out by their camo hats or hunting boots or Bone Collector shirts. We’d share the look that says, yeah, we’re here. One week to go, right?
Vehicle stickers are another way to keep the flag raised year-round. They’re a great way to meet other hunters who live in your area. I saw that my neighbor had a buck sticker on his truck window. We got to talking; it turns out, we hunt in around the same area in north-central Missouri.
2. Study the game
At this particular apple orchard, they had all sorts of farm animals including wild turkeys. I went over to get a close look at them, something you really can’t do in the woods. Strangely, I heard the hens making this super-soft clucking noise while feeding that I’ll have to try imitating with my slate call. It was just the soft sound of birds that are really satisfied as they eat. I think that’s going to draw some other birds in, if they hear it.
We have a family of deer that lives practically in our backyard. My kids like just watching them to see what they do. Me, I study them and their behavior. I practice spotting parts of them through heavy clover. Whenever I see one, I make a quick guess at the range, and then I check to see how close I was. Little things like that will make the difference in hunting season.
3. Get the gear together
Cleaning the garage is one of my least favorite chores, but it’s got to be done a couple of times a year if we want to park the cars in there. You have to have good weather to spend hours in the garage, so that means a perfect day gets wasted cleaning it out. On the bright side, I can take that chance to locate all of my hunting gear and put it together. Over the course of several non-hunting months, my equipment tends to float around and get misplaced. While I’m getting things picked up at home, I’m slowly getting it together so nothing will be missing on opening day.
4. Gauging Distance
Estimating the distance to your target is a crucial skill for hunting, especially bowhunting. Until I cave and get myself a laser rangefinder, I’ll have to judge shooting distances myself. There are many opportunities to do this even when not at the range. I have this hallway at work that’s 32 yards long. I memorize the distance every time I walk past it. Any time I’m out walking, either to go scouting or just to get exercise, I’ll pick an object ahead, quickly guess the distance, and then pace it off. It’s a way to keep sharp and improve my ability to gauge distance quickly.
Marksmanship is about as fundamental a hunting skill as they come. Heading out to the archery or gun range is an obvious choice. I’ve been sighting in my bow and shooting targets for several weeks already. As the weather turns, I’ll get out there again, to practice shooting with heavy clothes on. There’s also the gun range: target shooting, shotgun patterning, and skeet and trap shooting all improve marksmanship. Even a pellet gun and empty beer cans can be useful.
6. Check the wind
Any time I’m outside, even if it’s just for yard work, I’m gauging the wind direction. I’m also trying to learn what I can about animals that depend on their sense of smell for survival. My dog is the best, closest example of this. He’s a border terrier, a born rodent killer, and if he smells a squirrel or rabbit, it’s obvious. I watch him, and then try to figure out how he smelled the prey and how the wind affected that.
7. Track some critters
Tracking is another hobby of mine for the off-season or off-days. I love looking for animal tracks in the yard or along the edge of a field or right under my trash cans. Sure, most of them are raccoons — those rascals are everywhere — but I can always use the practice.
When I was out scouting earlier this year, I came across a fox den under an old rotting tree. It was obvious that something lived there, and since I know my tracks fairly well (for Missouri animals, at least), I knew what it was. Tracking is fun and it never gets old.
8. Find a friend
Since the close of last year’s hunting season, I’ve found a few new guys — neighbors and people at work — who love hunting as much as I do. It wasn’t that hard, between the camo and the bowhunting stickers and the latest copy of Field and Stream, hunters are easy to pick out. Hunting is often a solitary activity, but it’s always good to have a friend or two to swap stories and talk strategy with. I’m game for it any time; just look for me on Twitter.
What Do You Do?
Let’s be honest, these are all warm-up exercises for the main event. Nothing beats heading out to the woods with bow or gun in hand. But since we can’t hunt every minute of every day, I hope you find some of these useful. What ways do you hunt when you’re not in the field?