This blog post is written for those of us who hunt public land, primarily for whitetail deer in the midwestern states. There are some takeaways that any hunter can use, and for that matter, this is all pretty commonsense types of stuff. But, if you are like me, sometimes I need someone to point out the obvious to remind me to get going on what need's to be done.
Start figuring out where the spots are you will hunt this Fall if you do not know already. I usually do this in two phases.
In phase one, I am using the internet to get ideas on where I might want to go. I use harvest reports from the previous year, usually available from whatever entity manages game in your state. I then try to find public ground where things are looking pretty good.
We are fortunate in Missouri because there is tons of quality public land to hunt, between Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri Department of Conservation Areas, and other public options. I am therefore able to find tracts where it will be possible to get a half mile or more off any established trails or roads, and I think that is important.
I use Google Earth, along with any KMZ files available for the area (read this article for more info on using GE and KMZ files for scouting). If I like what I see from there, I order topo maps for the area and put my eyeballs on it. Despite the amazing features with Google Earth, sometimes for example it is hard to distinguish between an open field and a clear cut.
In phase two, I am on the ground in the area establishing ideas on hunting spots for the Fall. Starting this during the late Spring or early Summer may seem silly, but the better you know the area, the more productive your hunt is likely to be. Having multiple options for stands (we use climbers) allows you to adjust for changing wind and unexpected hunting pressure.
Certainly, as the season approaches, you will want to get back to the area.
Get in Shape
I am not going to suggest an exercise and diet plan for you, along with the required disclaimer that you should see a doctor before starting such an endeavor. I will say that to hunt public land successfully, requires a certain fitness level. Clearly we believe in gun safety, but there are whole lot more hunters who suffer heart attacks hunting each year than get shot. Besides, it is just a whole lot more fun when we feel good out in the field and are not huffing and puffing after we carry our stand a few hundred yards.
Practice with your Rifle or Bow
Avoid the temptation to leave your hunting rifle or bow stored away all the months you are not hunting. Set it as a goal not just to be competent, but why not become an expert marksman. Practice enough so that in all reasonable and forseeable circumstances when you raaise your weapon you have supreme confidence in your ability to execute an ethical and clean shot.
Spend some time on Maintenance and Repair
It is easy to ignore little inconveniences during the season with regard to our gear. Having it in tip-top condition just takes one worry off the table, and gives us a better chance to harvest a deer. Use your owner's manuals from your tree stand, rifle, optics, etc., to develop a plan to get everything in perfect working order. If your rifle or bow needs some tuning that is beyond your comfort level, now's the time to get it in to a gunsmith or bowshop - not the week before the season.
Get Involved with an Organization that Protects Public Land Hunting Opportunities
In recent years, the second amendment has been vigorously defended, and successfully so. For those of us who in major part need those rights protected so we can hunt, we face a new peril. At the state and federal level, well funded efforts are in play to transfer ownership of vast tracts of public lands eventually into private hands. Here in Missouri, at the state level, we have the Conservation Federation of Missouri working to protect our rights. An nationwide organization that works for these rights is Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Make sure that you and your kids and your grandkids have public land to hunt by joining and participating in one of these groups. Besides, you will get to interact and learn from likeminded outdoors men and women from your area and around the country.