2023 has come and gone. For select states, the whitetail season hasn’t quite concluded yet, but for the rest of us... well, we’re already looking toward the 2024 seasons to come. Turkey and spring black bear will be here before we know it. However, before we start clearing out our packs to make room for a half dozen turkey calls, we need to take some time to be intentional about preparing for 2024. Gearing up and doing the same things we’ve always done is going to deliver the same results we’ve always gotten. Without a little reflection and forward-thinking, this year won’t look too much different than the last. If you consistently tag out on longbeards, big bulls, and trophy whitetails, you’re probably counting on it. But if you’re like me, you’re hoping that filling tags in 2024 will be a tad easier than in 2023. It can be, but not by hoping it into existence. We’ve got to be deliberate about filling more tags. So, how do we get intentional about it? By working on a few key things that often get overlooked.
Journaling Locks It In
Pulling out your phone or notepad to record all your observations while scouting or hunting isn’t necessarily fun, but it’s one of the best ways to see the bigger picture of what’s going on. It also helps commit it all to memory. There’s a reason teachers have students write things down in school. It helps visual learners retain information, while also providing something to reference. If you’re counting on remembering every little detail you notice from a specific trip or encounter, good luck. You may remember the bigger details, like the general bedding area you found, but not the fine details, like where the heavier trail was coming out of it, and how far up the hillside it went before passing by that tree that looked perfect for a hang-on that was 60 yards from that white oak. When we don’t record observations while afield, we’re probably not putting as many pieces together as we think.
And this doesn’t just pertain to scouting or hunting moving forward. Right now is a great time to pull out the Spartan Forge app or notebook and start recording key pieces of info you picked up from last year that you haven’t forgotten yet. All the details you remember from observations and encounters last year will better inform your scouting and hunting decisions this year. Journaling now and in the future helps you not only remember what happened, but figure out why it happened as well.
Plan To Scout More Than You Hunt
This is another one that you hear so much from every ridiculously successful hunter; and for good reason. If you’re only going to focus on one thing this year, make it scouting. It’s the single biggest deciding factor in whether or not we are consistently successful, no matter the animal. If you’re reading this, I assume you scout. But if you’re finding yourself consistently out of range, or not filling most of your tags, or not seeing the numbers you think you should, you’re probably not scouting enough. For me personally, I can spend a couple Saturdays finding turkeys or a ton of deer sign and really feel like I’m locked in and good to go. But so often, I’ve showed back up to hunt, striking out completely on multiple sits. Why does that happen?
Because animals leave sign everywhere, and they move around a lot every single day. So, finding sign is good, but it really doesn’t tell you much, other than the fact that there was some buck hanging out in an area at some point within the past week. That info alone won’t fill a tag. It takes a good amount of time and intel to figure out where that buck is most likely to be at the exact time that you’re going to be hunting. Finding enough sign, and the right sign, that paints the whole picture of why an animal would be traveling, bedding, or roosting in a certain spot is what’s necessary for consistent success. So, however much you scouted last year, plan to increase it if you can. I know it’s hard to get out and scout year-round. With family, work, and everything else, it can feel like a burden. But when you end your 2024 with more memories and less unfilled tags, you’ll be happy you put in the extra time.
Work On Woodsmanship
Woodsmanship skills are the foundation upon which successful hunts are built. Have you ever taken a new hunter to the woods? How did they shut their door when they got out of the truck? Like they were trying to shatter the glass, right? Or at least that’s what it feels like when you’re trying to be absurdly quiet on the other side of the truck. That’s a lack of woodsmanship. Or when they’re walking with you to the blind and it sounds like they’re trying to dig a tunnel by dragging their feet. These are good things to work on for newbies, but what about for the rest of us? Well, how many times last year did we get to the woods a little later than we wanted, which caused us to move faster through the woods, creating more noise? Or how painfully slow were we able to move the last 100 yards to that tree next to a bedding area? Did we go the long way to the stand when we knew our wind would bump deer by going the shorter way? These are things experienced hunters know, but may not practice consistently. Having the discipline to practice good woodsmanship is just as important as learning what it actually is. When you boil it down, woodmanship is really just the art of keeping your presence unknown. Working on that will absolutely increase your odds of filling more tags this year.
Filling a tag is difficult. It just is. There is so much that has to come together after all the time and energy has been put into getting an animal in range. The last piece of the puzzle is sending a small projectile – a bullet or an arrow – through the vitals of the animal we’re after. Hitting that release or pulling the trigger is the smallest part of a successful hunt, but it has the biggest impact on the outcome. You miss your mark, you go home emptyhanded, and all that work was for nothing – at least on that day. You hit vitals, however, and all the miles, all the sweat, and all the sleepless mornings feel totally worth it. So, when showtime finally comes, why not feel absolutely locked in? It doesn’t take 100 rounds per week or an arrow a day to increase or keep your accuracy. Shooting a dozen arrows once or twice a week during the off-season is enough to keep you locked in. Sure, more is better. But a little is better than none. And if you found yourself missing or wounding animals last year, this is the year to make practice more of a routine.
Side note: For all you archers, if you’re struggling with target panic (i.e. punching the trigger or locking low or high), this is the time to fix that; not right before the next season. And simply shooting more won’t do it. There are techniques that can help you break out of it. I struggled with target panic until I switched to a handheld release, which immediately broke me of it.
Time Is Flying By
Every season you’re looking forward to this year will be here before you know it. If you want those successful hunts to come a little easier, it won’t happen on its own. We’ve got to be intentional about it. Sticking to the basics and practicing them all year is the best route to filling more tags in 2024. Stay consistent, enjoy the process, and fill more tags. Good luck and happy hunting!
Written by Alex Killman at Southeastern Bowhunting