How was your bowhunting season?
Before spitting out a “good,” “great,” or “could’ve been better,” carefully review your season. Did you achieve your goals? Which items or strategies helped most, or which factors kept you from conquering?
Richard Fry of Roscoe, Illinois, has bowhunted for over 35 years, and evaluates every season soon after it ends. He encourages all bowhunters to reflect on their season to identify mistakes, remember highlights, and prepare for next year.
Why Evaluate Your Season
Honest self-evaluations ensure you become a better bowhunter. By reviewing what worked and what didn’t, you learn and adapt. Thinking about your season also makes you more aware of each choice you made. Increased awareness instills ownership and accountability, which ethical, responsible bowhunters respect. Thorough evaluations are also helpful, informative and nostalgic.
What was Your Goal?
Before evaluating your season, recall opening day and ask, “What was my goal?”
Fry said goals often change over time. When he was 17, his goal was killing a bragging-rights buck. After becoming a parent, his goal was to spend quality time afield with his children. When his children were grown and filming hunts became popular, he wanted to record a harvest on camera. His current goal is to mentor newcomers and film their hunts.
Whatever your goal, use it as the basis of your evaluations. If you achieved your goal, identify factors that contributed to your success so you repeat them next year. If you didn’t reach your goal, determine how you’ll succeed next time.
Consider several things when evaluating your season.
- Safety: Was your treestand harness comfortable and reliable? Did your treestands feel secure? Did you keep a first-aid kit in your vehicle or backpack? Make safety your priority. Install safe-line ropes, secure your hang-on stand with an extra ratchet strap, and carry first-aid essentials when hunting remote areas.
- Decoys/calling strategies: Did deer respond to your decoys and calling strategies? Should you practice more during the offseason? Watch YouTube videos or visit an archery retailer for calling tips. Practice your calls to ensure they sound natural and believable.
- Stand placement: Were your stands in high-traffic areas? Did you spook deer when walking to your stand? Study how and why deer use the land. Find areas with enough food and bedding cover to make deer feel at home. Hang your stands so the wind blows from deer-travel routes to your position.
- Shot placement: Did your shots pierce the deer’s vitals, or did you miss? Practice judging distances and executing shots with proper form so you consistently hit bull’s-eyes. Take archery lessons, visit a range, or join a club or league to improve your accuracy.
- Equipment: Did you have the necessary gear when you needed it? Did it work properly? Were you missing anything? Inventory your gear to learn what must be fixed, replaced or updated. Or did you bring too many items afield, and feel slowed or burdened?
- Deer sightings: Where did you see the most deer? If you found good sign but no deer, try to learn what caused them to disappear. Did hunting pressure increase, or did food sources decrease? If you can’t determine why deer vanished, scout for more reliable hunting sites.
- Deer behavior: Did you accurately read a deer’s body language? Deer often express how they feel. The better you understand their behaviors, the smarter moves you’ll make. Study deer behavior at every opportunity.
- Food sources: Did you find natural food sources or did you plant food plots? Did deer use the food sources you identified? Talk to local hunters to learn what deer eat in your area. Look up each plant online, and scout to find exact matches. Also, learn how food sources change from summer to fall.
- Camouflage clothing: Did you get cold? Are your camouflage clothes faded? Do your boots leak? Determine if your clothes handled the seasons and conditions. Buy items you need, or add them to your birthday wish list.
- Hunting pressure: Did you overhunt an area, or did others encroach on your spot? Either way, how did deer react to the increased human activity? Avoid spooking deer by minimizing your scent and presence.
- Overall enjoyment: Did you spend enough time afield? If not, plan a vacation for November or rearrange your fall to-do list. Were your hunts entertaining? If you didn’t see deer, maybe it’s time to hunt new spots. Were you comfortable walking to and from your stand, or did you tire quickly? Exercise all summer to condition your legs and lungs for fall.
Start a Hunting Log
Remembering hunts and outdoor happenings throughout the season is challenging. Fry suggests logging your hunting adventures to make the evaluation easier. He tracks weather conditions, when and where he hunts, and what he saw during each hunt. He adds trail-camera pictures to his log to thoroughly represent sightings.
Fry reviews his logs each year to identify movement patterns, ideal hunting times, and which crops deer visit throughout the year. Consider tracking your hunts next year to make your postseason evaluations more productive.
With your assessment complete, now’s the time to start planning next year’s bowhunts. Learn from your mistakes, embrace your successes, and keep growing and evolving as a bowhunter.