Make the best of your gun opener
November 10, 2011 by
For most of the Midwest, firearms deer season is about to begin. In my home state of Michigan, it kicks off Nov. 15. Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin -- all will soon follow suit. Here are my top five tips for making the most of opening day:
1. In Early, Out Late: Firearms season is different than archery season and I'm not just talking about the range of the weapon. Gun seasons, in general, have much higher levels of participation. Translation: There are a whole lot more people in the woods. That can be a good thing. It can be a bad thing. What you need is the proper frame of mind. If you have high hopes of encountering natural, relaxed deer you'd better hope you're hunting on a large tract of tightly controlled property. Otherwise, you're in for a rude awakening. In my experience, you can expect about 90 minutes of normal activity before the deer realize something is amiss. To take advantage of that early action, you need to be on stand well before daylight. Sitting in the dark for 90 minutes isn't easy. But it's necessary. There will be other hunters moving around at daylight. Deer will react accordingly. Stay all day. Everyone has heard the old tales of hunters getting up for lunch and moving deer. There is truth to that. But I suspect a lot of the deer killed at noon were simply moving on normal midday patterns. So get in early and stay put.
2. Hunt Terrain, Not Sign: The very best spots for the opening day of gun season may well be completely void of deer sign. Sign doesn't matter. Terrain matters. Find the most logical route to thick cover you can hunt. Then sit there. As I said, this ain't bowhunting. This is gun hunting and the pressure will impact what deer do. When the guns start booming, deer start moving. And they will move to the place with the most security and they'll get there the fastest, most secure way possible. Anything that funnels deer into cover and isn't in the wide open is a great place to perch on the opener. You don't need to see long distances -- fields are the very worst places to sit on the opener. No respectable buck in his right mind is going to be traipsing across a field. Running full-bore? Yep. But that's not a shot I can make.
3. Shoot Before You Have To: This really should go without saying but I'm amazed at the amount of gunfire I hear the day before the opener. You have to make sure your gun is ready to rock at the moment of truth. Shooting your gun and checking for zero the day before the season is better than not doing it at all. But what is your plan if something is wrong? You won't find a gun shop that will have time on the day before the season to "squeeze you in." The majority of parts and desirable loads will be gone, purchased by guys who thought ahead. Shoot your gun. Do it now.
4. Don't Stop Shooting: I'm not trying to sound like the second coming of Charlton Heston, but you have a gun for a reason. To kill deer. So make sure they're dead. No, I'm not saying to pump every shell you have into the air. But make sure you are prepared for a quick follow-up shot. There is absolutely no reason for a deer to be in range and moving without getting a second (or third) shot at that deer. No matter how confident you are in the shot, if that deer is running you'd better try to hit it again. If the deer is clearly hit in the boiler room and soon to be down, then save the shell. But if there is any doubt, shoot again. You owe it to that animal to put it down for the count.
5. Have Some Respect: Everyone wants their opening day to be enjoyable. An unsavory encounter with a fellow hunter spoils the day for the both of you. There will be lots of guys in the woods. Plan on it. If you see someone hunting near you and they have permission to be on the property, give them some room just as you would like them to do for you. If you're hunting on public land and someone beat you to a spot, then move on. If they walk in on you, have a cordial conversation and find a solution. You're both there for the same reason -- to enjoy this great right. There's no reason to get upset or let an unfortunate situation ruin the experience. Work it out civilly. It's your reaction that will dictate the tone of the encounter. Take the high road. Move on if you have to. Then wax that buck when it walks by.