Summer sucks for hunters.
Clear blue skies, sunny beaches, and smiling people. The smell of sweet smoke and spiced meat on the grill. Yeah, it’s nice, but my mind is elsewhere.
I’m slogging through mud up to my knees in a freezing rain, wind cutting through all three layers of my clothing. I feel blood trickling down my back, and it isn’t even mine. All I’m thinking about is how good a cool shower and a hot towel would feel, but for right now I’m dragging a dead deer.
Or maybe I’m inching my way across freshly fallen snow, frost forming in my beard with every breath. I’m stopping every couple of inches, wondering who will win the race between me and daylight. My tree is always so close yet so far away.
I could be sitting in a tree on a November morning, wondering how mornings like these can be so bright and sunny and yet so cold. The wind never stops blowing when you’re 25 feet off the ground. I used to hate that wind, but now I love it because the chill reminds me I’m where I belong.
Maybe I’m at that breathless moment where my heart seems to stop. Time seems to stand still. The moment is crystallized in my memory as my finger slowly (but not too slowly) applies the 2 lbs of pressure needed to drop my prey in its tracks.
That’s where I feel the most alive.
Again, Summer sucks for hunters.
I saw a deer running through a field today. My heart skipped a beat. The deer was within 100 yards, bouncing over the pasture perfectly broadside.
I knew exactly how far forward of it my crosshairs would need to be. I knew (roughly, based on experience) how far and in which direction I’d have to track it after giving it a double lung shot. Hell, I could even see the trail it was headed for.
I couldn’t do a thing. Not yet. Not until opening day.
Summer: Season of idle hands, daydreams, boredom.
A hunter’s hands don’t need to be idle during Summer.
The best use of a hunter’s time in Summer is preparation.
And enjoying Summer. That matters too, I suppose.
Check Your Stand
First and foremost, you need to check your stand.
If you don’t check over your stand until you’re climbing a tree in the dark on opening day, you’re asking for trouble.
I’ve read that there’s an average of around 5,900 injuries a year involving tree stands. A lot of hunters would scoff at that number, but I believe it. I can count off five people in a town of 9,000 off the top of my head who have died from falls.
How many more have been injured? Exactly. 5,900 a year for the whole country sounds about right.
My Dad fell two years ago and thankfully didn’t get hurt. He was lucky. You might not be.
I give my tree stand a full inspection every June, and I recommend you do the same.
If you need a new stand, I talk at length about my personal favorite here.
You might not need a new stand. You might just need to make some adjustments to yours. Find out.
It’s a simple thing to check, but it’s the most important. If you skip this step, you could die.
Just like I’m not going to tell you how to climb a tree, I’m not going to tell you what might be wrong with your particular stand. If you can’t figure it out, get someone to help you. I’m not going to be liable for you falling to your death because you figured it was “safe enough”.
A good rule of thumb: if it looks broken, it probably is. Just like you should spend as much as you can on the best tree stand you can afford, you should spend as much as you need to make sure it’s safe. Don’t be a miser, you’re talking about your life.
If anything on my stand is suspect, I remove it and replace the part.
As an example, I bent the frame of my old stand several years ago and had to jump out of it. I had to jump out of a tree. We had to climb the tree with another stand just to get my old stand down.
That’s part of the reason I use a Summit stand now. The other reason is how damned comfortable they are. Truth be told, some of my best sleep has been had 20 feet off the ground in a Summit stand.
My point is: check your stand BEFORE you hunt, preferably in the Summer. You could probably use the exercise anyway. Get your beach body climbing trees like a man.
Check Your Spots
Ideally, you’re hunting your tree farm. Tree farms are great, because you’re hunting and making money at the same time.
Granted, you’re making money very slowly. The upside is you get to enjoy a very nice hunting spot for half a decade after cutting your property.
Deer absolutely love a “cut-over”. If you sell your trees at the right time and clear cut the property, you can replant them at the right time. If you replant them at the right time, you’ll have a perfect cut-over come deer season.
Deer love a cut-over because they feel protected. The replanted trees (usually “genetically enhanced”, not “genetically altered”) will have grown up enough so the deer feels invisible. In some cases, they actually are invisible.
I took a deer last year in the cut-over pictured. Those trees were a lot smaller just a few months ago. I won’t be hunting this tree for ten years at least, because that’s the next time this part of the property is getting cut.
I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t check my spot.
If you don’t have a tree farm, you’re going to have to do your best to check your spot. Hopefully you’re hunting your own property. I don’t know what to tell you if you’re not.
I recommend you actually check the spot in person, even if you use trail cameras. Cameras are a valuable tool for the modern hunter, and I might talk about them more at a later date. I’ve used several different cameras and have my preferences.
The reason you should check your spots in person (even if you use cameras) is that your cameras can “lie”. I’ve waded through brush that didn’t seem to be in the pictures before and learned the hard way. Feel free to follow suit, just know that nothing beats first hand experience.
Check Your Sling
What? Check your sling?
Yeah, check your sling.
Well, when it breaks “unexpectedly”, you’ll figure it out.
There are signs of wear that you can catch early. A broken sling is a really simple thing to avoid on a hunt. You avoid it on a hunt by fixing it before the season even comes in!
I’m assuming you have a sling on your rifle. Let’s get this out of the way…A sling is to a rifle what a holster is for a pistol.
If you have a pistol and you don’t have a holster, you’re going to be very uncomfortable carrying that pistol. Same goes for rifle and sling. Carrying a rifle (and a stand, and a deer) out of the woods is going to be pretty awkward without a sling.
Now for the “do as I say, not as I do” part. (Or not. It’s your life, I don’t care.)
In “Hunter Education” (common sense bullshit the state made me do because I was born after a certain year) they tell you to open the action of your rifle and feed a rope through it, then use that rope to pull your rifle up into the tree. Sorry, that sounds like a shitty idea. I’d rather not have a rifle pointed at me, open action or not.
I use my sling. I put the rifle around my neck and shoulder and climb the tree that way. Don’t try this at home, kids.
Since I use my sling for…well…what it was designed for, my sling actually gets worn. My actual hunting rifle is on its third sling. I’ve yet to get more than 2 years out of a sling.
You need to make sure your sling is good to go this Summer. Attachments and adjustments need to be checked. You don’t want to drop your rifle and break it or shoot yourself. Remember, Irony Trumps Everything.
Check Your Rifle
This one you don’t really need me to tell you.
Your rifle needs to be checked. You need to clean it, for sure, and there are a lot of opinions on whether or not you should hunt with a clean barrel or a dirty one. I don’t think that matters as much as shooting it.
How much do you shoot your rifle?
Have you shot it at all since last year’s season ended? A lot of people haven’t. Hell, I haven’t.
I couldn’t even take a picture of my actual hunting rifle for this article. I’ll be getting it out later on in the week. At no point did I say I was perfect.
I do shoot rifles all year, though. The rifle pictured is the rifle I carry when I scout. It’s a lot lighter than my hunting rifle.
Even if you shoot rifles all year long, it’s a good idea to shoot your hunting rifle every other week for a few months leading up to deer season. The recoil of a pistol caliber carbine like the one pictured or an AR-15 is a far cry from the recoil of a .30-06 or similar.
You don’t want to have to adjust in the moment, you want to already have acclimated.
Another reason you want to check your rifle this Summer is to sight it in. Using the same load in the same rifle with the same scope as last year? Doesn’t matter.
It’s pretty easy to knock your scope out of whack. I’m sure there’s a better technical term for it. I’m not a super duper sniper bro, I’m just a success at what I do.
Check the New Laws
State governments love to change game laws.
It’s almost as if they’re looking for you to fuck up.
Add to that the fact that a game warden has about as much (if not more) authority than the sheriff.
For example, my state just jumped on the “deer tag” band wagon. Last year, I didn’t have to tag bucks at all and I only had to tag does if it wasn’t a “doe day”. Doe day was awesome.
On doe day, you could shoot bucks or does. On every other day, you can’t. There were only a few doe days all season long. It was like a hunting holiday.
Why would you shoot a doe? Well, an old doe that’s past her breeding years still makes hamburger meat. If you haven’t gotten any deer all season, you’ll be happy for an old doe.
Back to the point, I’m going to have to tag every deer I shoot this season. That sucks, but it doesn’t suck as much as if I hadn’t checked the laws. If I hadn’t checked the laws, I would have ended up with a poaching charge.
Go ahead and read up on your state’s hunting laws. They probably haven’t finished changing yet, but you’ll be glad to be ahead of the curve. I’m still waiting to see how much time I’ll gain with primitive weapon season.
Renew Your License
I shouldn’t have to tell you this. Don’t forget to renew your license. I’m renewing mine in early August.
This isn’t hard. Don’t make it hard. Just don’t get so wrapped up in your beach bumming that you forget to renew.
Do a Dry Run
Once you’ve checked your stand and you’re ready to check your spot, why not bring your stand along with you?
This could be considered scouting. You’re not seeing where the deer are as much as you’re evaluating the best spots to hunt this year and getting familiar with your gear again.
Take the day off. Climb a few trees and find a good vantage point. I’ll cover what to look for in a hunting spot later on this year.
You can spend the whole morning out there. Turn your phone off, or at least put it on silent. Just be in nature.
Get a feel for the natural rhythm of your hunting spot.
Work the kinks out. The first few hunts always suck because you haven’t done it in several months. When the rut gets into full swing, you’ll be glad you’re dialed in.
Yes, it’s Summer.
Yes, it’s hot.
Yes, you’ll break a sweat.
You probably needed the exercise.
Hunters get soft over the summer.
Get an edge over the neighbors and finish your summer to-do list.
Get After It.