By Mike Deming
As I scrolled through my trophy photos from the year, the gentleman I was talking to said “wow, you’ve had a really lucky year”! So, I showed him the photos from the year before and his response was the same. I agreed with the man and we parted ways since I didn’t feel I was going to convince him that it was anything more than I was, just the luckiest guy on the planet.
We all need a little bit of luck when it comes to putting our tag on a true monster. The wind needs to hold for you to get those last few yards, that buck needs to jump the fence to be on the public land you can hunt or he just needs to stand up while there is still enough daylight to make a good shot. These are those little breaks of luck that get that tag filled. However, finding the trophy and putting yourself in position has a lot less to do with luck and more to do with proper planning and hard work.
To harvest truly giant animals, you need to hunt where they live, which means applying for tags in states and areas known for consistently producing top end animals. This doesn’t always mean you will need maximum bonus/preference points to get that trophy of a lifetime. As a matter of fact, those units very often deliver a substandard hunt to a person because they felt that waiting ten years to draw was going to make it an easy hunt. Trophy quality animals are usually less than 2-3% of the overall male population, so you shouldn’t expect one around every tree when you draw those premium tags. These hard earned points usually have a lot more to do with the amount of public land available to hunt than premium trophy quality. You are much better off finding a unit you can hunt every year or at least every couple of years and figuring out where all the little haunts are.
Where do these big animals live when it’s hot and where do they go when they have human pressure? Where do they travel to when heavy mountain storms kick in and what makes them go nocturnal? You are much more likely to learn these traits in a unit you hunt every couple of years than one you will hunt once or twice in a lifetime. This knowledge will get you a long way towards putting that trophy of a lifetime on your wall.
The next step in tagging a trophy animal is becoming a better hunter. What I mean by this is, study the tactics used by people who consistently get the job done year after year. Finding big animals and getting them killed has a lot more to do with skill than luck. We have hunted a unit in Colorado for deer three years now and the first year, I never saw the deer I was interested in harvesting. I felt the unit was void of mature deer, but that just didn’t make sense and I had heard of really big deer coming from this unit. We went back the following year and changed our tactics and started turning up descent numbers of mature bucks.
They were there all along, but we needed to become a better hunter. This meant spotting deer at longer ranges (1-2 miles) with our spotting scopes and looking for them in the middle of the day instead of early morning and evening and also looking for them bedded instead of on their feet. The mature deer had evolved due to hunting pressure and we needed to do the same. This is just one example of becoming a better hunter by adapting to the specifics of the unit.
Learning to be better with your optics and being patient is a great way of being a better hunter. Guys that consistently harvest trophy animals believe there is a monster on that hill, but they just need to find him. Most hunters take a quick glance and don’t believe there is anything there and move on. I watched three bucks through the spotting scope sitting in my truck while in Colorado this year. They were bedded at 1,200 yards on a fairly open hillside in the shade of one of the few trees. One buck was 28” wide and pushing the 180” B&C mark, but was quite not what I was looking for. A group of guys pulled up behind me as I was putting my scope away and came up for a chat. They were all deer hunting and just looking for a branch antlered buck this late in the season because they were headed home at the end of the day. I asked them if they had looked the hill over that I knew had three bucks meeting their criteria. They assured me, they had just spent the last hour looking the whole area over and nothing existed on that hill. Their luck was sitting 1,200 yards away and they weren’t good enough hunters to tip that luck into their favor.
The annual migration to hunting camp for many is their ultimate vacation for the year and I truly understand this philosophy. It was how I was raised and probably why hunting is so strong in my blood today. The first night at hunting camp tends to be a major party, which usually takes several days to recover from and to get back to 100 percent. Others will hunt themselves into shape during a short season, but the majority of hunters aren’t in good enough physical condition to dedicate to trophy hunting. Being in top physical shape tips the odds in your favor. You need to be able to go hard from hours before daylight until well after dark. When you are spotting animals at several miles away, you have a long way to go when you finally locate your target. Being in good physical condition will give you the needed energy to get there when the opportunity presents itself. This means training and staying in “SHEEP SHAPE” year round.
Hunt where trophy animals live, become a better hunter and be in the best shape of your life is truly the L.U.C.K. (Labor Under Correct Knowledge) that will put more trophy animals on your wall. Good luck and happy hunting.