There are several skills that can help you to be more successful at hunting and fishing. Most of them apply to both endeavors to different degrees, with the main exception being scent control which applies exclusively to hunting. These skills are: Patience, Mental Discipline, Cover/ Concealment, Situational Awareness (Power of Observation), Noise Discipline, Scent Control, Navigation/ Map Reading and Mastering the Tools you plan to use to harvest the game or fish you are pursuing. Once you have these skills together you will have to learn to properly process the animals you take and preserve their meat (That will be a different series of articles).
Let’s talk a little about each individual skill and why I feel they are important.
Patience: Whether you are hunting or fishing, a lack of patience will cause you to become restless and distracted, both of which can be a recipe for failure. Mother Nature does not operate on your schedule, you have to make peace with accepting that you are on HER time! I try to entertain myself by observing everything that is going on near me while sitting in a stand or sitting on the bank with a line in the water. I try to get in tune with what is going on in my environment, everything from what the birds are doing, the insects and the weather. Whatever keeps you aware of the sounds, movement and rhythm of the area will help you to pass the time and increase your chances of success. Another little trick I use is to break time into small chunks and focus on passing the time five or ten minute at a time.
Mental Discipline: What I am referring to hear is the ability to be still. If you are not accustomed to doing this, it can be very difficult. Be conscious of involuntary movements (rocking, swaying, flipping your hair, rubbing your beard or whatever) and control them. Fight the urge to adjust your clothing or fiddle with your equipment. Wildlife are very sensitive to movement that doesn’t fit in with their environment.
Cover/ Concealment: This doesn’t mean that you have to go out and buy the most expensive trendy new camouflage hunting outfit, but you want to wear colors that blend in with your surroundings and eliminate anything that glares (whether it’s your skin showing or jewelry, etc). When possible, use cover or your surroundings to conceal you from view. This will also hide any movement that may become necessary.
Situational Awareness (Power of Observation): In short, Pay Attention! Be aware of how any wildlife you can see are behaving. They can alert you to your target species coming into the area if you pay attention. Listen for sounds, I’ve heard most of the deer I’ve killed long before I ever saw them. Also train yourself to pick out shapes and movement. Just yesterday I was sitting on the porch with a friend of mine. I pointed out that there were four deer in a bean field across the road (they were about 500 yards away from us). I first spotted a shape that didn’t belong and then I picked up on their movement. My friend said that he could not see anything, so we walked across our property to the road (keeping some trees between us and the deer to conceal our movement) and got within about 250 yards of them before he could see them.
Noise Discipline: Most prey animals have an outstanding sense of hearing. Walk lightly and deliberately, make sure your gear is secure and not rattling or clanking around. Watch where you are placing your feet and what your clothing may rub against. Use nature’s noises such as wind to hide any noise you may have to make. And for God’s sake turn your damn cell phone off!
Scent Control: The only sense that is stronger than an animal’s hearing is it’s sense of smell. Be aware of wind direction and use it to your advantage. If you intend to intercept an animal on it’s way from a bedding area to a food/ water source, don’t approach your stand from a direction that will allow the wind to blow your scent into the bedding area… You won’t see that animal if you do. The wind is your biggest concern regarding scent. While you can buy expensive suits, soaps and sprays to hide your scent (if you want to spend the money, that’s up to you), being aware of the wind is usually enough. For example: A couple of days ago while sighting in my new bow, I sent an arrow over my target and into a field next to the house. It’s August in the Mississippi Delta, so I was covered in bug spray and moving the brush with a walking stick to make sure I didn’t run up on a cottonmouth or copperhead while trying to find my arrow. Something moved in front of me and I looked up. In front of me, about twenty yards away was a large buck sniffing at the air like a dog trying to figure out what I was. I just stood there and watched him as he circled around behind me until he caught my scent. Once he did, he let out a snort and took off into the woods. Had he caught my scent before he entered the field, he never would have come out… and I wouldn’t know that I had a wide ten point “Boss Buck” living right here by the house (I’ll be working on him come bow season)!
Navigation/ Map Reading: Not only can these skills help you to find your stands and keep you from getting lost, but the right maps can help you to locate areas that you are likely to find animals! Being able to read a topographical map shows you where different terrain features are and most likely travel routes game animals are using. Remember, animals more often than not will take the path of least resistance unless they feel threatened. Combine topo maps with satellite photos like Google Earth and you have a great way to decide what areas you want to scout/ hunt without stepping foot in the woods and risking spooking the animals.
Mastering Your Tools: No matter if you’re hunting with a gun or bow, practice is everything. You have to be familiar with their operation so that you don’t fumble around at the “Moment of Truth” and you have to be accurate and comfortable shooting at the ranges you may have to shoot at. If you are using a climbing tree stand, you want to be familiar with how it operates as well, so that you can employ it with a minimum of noise and disturbance to the area. Anything that is going into the field with you, you should know how to use it without looking at it and without making unnecessary noise.
If you practice these skills at every opportunity, you will have increased your odds of being successful hunting or fishing exponentially. In putting this series together I have gotten a friend interested in hunting deer this year. He’s never hunted before and has agreed to let me film him in the field as well as document his success or failure here on the site, so keep an eye out for that, it should be fun!