Most of us have far less hunting time than we’d like, so most of us hunt as much as we can and assume that if we put in every available hour, that will do the trick. Maybe, but most likely not. The trick lies in managing time intelligently, and even thinking about time in unconventional ways.
You can’t hunt well all the time. In fact, if you can hunt for even one hour without a lapse, you’re exceptional. Hunting well means paying attention, and when you’ve reached the end of your attention span, you’ll overlook animals and taint coverts that might produce for you later. Stop. Rest, nibble, drink, read a paperback book. Sit where you’re comfortable and well hidden but can see promising places.
But do not assume that because you need a nap the game will also stay in bed or that noon siestas cost you no opportunities. Midday is the time to be alert if hunters are moving off their stands and stirring up deer, or if rising temperatures nudge game toward water holes.
It’s smart to figure in rest periods as well as hunting time when you schedule a day afield. For instance, if you’re climbing a ridge in the dark, include some rest time at the top to give your muscles a break, your pulse a chance to subside, and your mind a new focus. You need time to again see, smell, and hear what’s going on around you.
Take Time to Look
Take lots of time looking. Carry the best binocular you can afford and get into the habit of using it even for casual inspection up close. In timber, raise it slowly every few steps or, if you are on stand, every few minutes; and sift through that maze of twigs that might be hiding antlers. In open country, sit and brace your elbows. Read the field like a book, keeping the binocular stationary. Scan from left to right and top to bottom. Then move the binocular to the right, as if you were laying out maps, and scan again. Look first at places close by, because you may have little time to spot game there before it spots you. I once came to the crest of a hill and immediately glassed a distant cut where I expected to see elk. Trouble was, I looked right over a bull standing in the open 80 yards below me. He ran off.
Shoot Quickly, but Slowly
When you do get a shot, budgeting your time can be crucial to your success. You won’t have much time if the animal is close and aware of you or already moving. Some tips:
1. Don’t play with time, even if it seems you have plenty. Getting close enough is better than getting as close as you want because conditions may suddenly change. Should the wind shift or another animal move in front of your target, your chance may disappear.
**2. If you’re spotted, don’t try to beat game to the draw. **Stay motionless, or if the animal seems about to bolt anyway, move slowly into position for a shot. Not only will quick movement put the animal to flight, but it will also work against controlled breathing and smooth rifle handling.
3. Don’t look the animal in the eye. Eye contact will send the animal packing, even if you’re motionless and have the wind. Concentrate on the spot you want to hit.
4 . Know that your time to align the rifle is limited and that moving game may give you only one chance. Aiming too long at stationary animals is a bad idea because your muscles tire, your eyes can tear up in the wind, and your breath can fog the scope’s ocular lens.
5. Remember, however, that once you have the rifle aligned you have plenty of time for a good shot. Many shots have been bungled by hunters who, seeing their crosshairs bounce once on the ribs, have yanked the trigger. Practice beginning the shot as your sight comes onto the target. When the sight picture gets right, the trigger should already be under pressure, and when things do look right, pull that trigger!
Timing Is Everything
Knowing wheen to shoot, when to wait, and when to admit that the time for a shot is past is a skill developed with practice. Field time helps, even if you don’t shoot. I “make shots” at game I don’t want to shoot, stalking and aiming, then committing mentally to a shot and calling it without actually executing. Sometimes you learn proper timing through mistakes. I shot at a black bear once when the light was so poor I couldn’t see the sight clearly. I thought I couldn’t miss but did. I hurried another shot at a bear with an arrow because I was very close. The arrow hit a branch I could have seen in another few steps. Another time I watched a hunter miss an elk and then take another poke as the bull ran away. We spent four days trying to find that ham-shot bull.
Some of the best hunting comes when time is about to run out. First, you’ll be aware that you have few hours left, and unless you let that rattle you, you’ll become keener and more focused. And second, by the end you are an educated, practiced hunter.
When you buy a hunting license, you buy time afield. But the license won’t tell you how to spend it. Managing your time in the woods is up to you.