Success favors the prepared, and whether you’re gearing up for an opening day hunt at the back 40 or planning a do-it-yourself adventure at a new destination, an organized pre-hunt checklist is a critical foundation for every outing. Instead of wasting precious time in the field, dial in your plan ahead of time so you can spend more time focusing on the hunt and less time searching for that missing tool in your backpack or scouring the internet for clarification on a regulation.
Prepare and Scout Your Spot
The first step to a successful hunt is locating a good hunting spot. Once you’ve narrowed your search, it’s time to fine-tune it. Bowhunters with access to private land can control variables like pre-hung treestands and clear shooting lanes. While the luxury of established stand locations is nice, it requires an intrusive effort that disturbs the area, so allow plenty of time between prepping your spot and hunting it. Make the most out of your time by hanging safety lines, installing accessories like bow hangers and pull-up ropes and confirming the stand doesn’t squeak when you move around in it.
Public-land hunters are conversely limited by the amount of prep they’re able to invest into their favorite spot. Most states don’t allow shooting lanes to be trimmed on public land, and there are often limitations on when treestands can be left overnight — if it’s allowed at all. Don’t let these rules discourage you, though. If possible, scout your spot ahead of time and mark locations on a mobile mapping application. You can mark your access trail while recording your path on the app or hang tacks that glow in the dark or flagging ribbon if you prefer physical markers. Defining your entry and exit routes, especially when hunting far from the parking lot on public land, will help you hunt more efficiently and remain undetected by nearby deer.
Plan for Success
While it might sound counterintuitive, many bowhunters fail to plan for success. It’s critical to know where nearby meat processors or taxidermists are located, especially on early-season hunts when it’s warm outside or when you’re hunting an unfamiliar area far from home. Tracking dogs are another overlooked resource, so be sure to save a few phone numbers of nearby trackers if you’re hunting in a state where this service is legal. A proactive approach to identifying these resources will allow you to soak in the satisfaction of a punched tag rather than scrambling at the last minute to avoid spoiling meat.
Wash Your Clothes
An organized duffel bag or storage tote filled with clean clothes gives bowhunters the peace of mind that everything they need to hit the woods is accounted for. Keep an eye on the forecast on the days leading up to your hunt and assemble the clothes you’ll need to stay comfortable. Lay them all out individually and confirm you have everything from socks and base layers to outerwear and rain gear, just in case. Then, set items you don’t need to the side and move the rest to the laundry room where you’ll wash them in unscented soap. After washing and drying them, store them in a way that keeps everything organized. I keep items worn next to the skin, such as base layers and socks, in a separate dry bag, while I store outerwear in a large duffel bag. Whether you’re concerned about being scent-free or not, an organized storage system will help you keep tabs on your gear.
Shoot Your Bow
You’ve likely had your bow dialed for months, but few things give bowhunters a better confidence boost than sending a broadhead-tipped arrow into the 10-ring before a hunt. It’s much better to discover a bumped sight or rest on the practice range than by missing the shot at a deer you’ve been waiting on for months. Consider keeping a small, portable archery target in your vehicle during hunting season for a quick confirmation shot before you head to the stand. Be sure to shoot wearing your insulated clothing to ensure your bowstring isn’t brushing against a bulky sleeve.
Understand Licenses and Regulations
It can be tough to understand hunting laws, but there are plenty of resources available to help you hunt confidently, knowing you’re abiding by the rules. In addition to posting the latest regulations online each season, state wildlife agencies typically stock sporting goods stores with printed guides that break down laws and common questions. If you’re still unsure, don’t hesitate to call a warden. They’re always happy to help, and who knows — they might even share a hot tip about a big buck they recently saw on nearby public land.
Save Your Maps
Most bowhunters are reliant on the popular mobile mapping applications that share land ownership data in addition to detailed satellite and topographic imagery. Thankfully, these services can be used without cell service, but they need to be saved to your phone beforehand. Take some time before your hunt to save maps of your hunting area to make sure you’re not in the dark when you need to access your essential data.
Audit Your Hunting Pack
Don’t let your backpack become a melting pot of excessive hunting gear without a purpose. Start each hunting season by dumping the contents of your hunting pack, and refill it with intentional items you need to hunt effectively. Add another layer of organization to your hunting pack by using small zippered pouches that contain related items based on which phase of the hunt you’re in. For example, your kill kit might include your license, knife, game bags and gutting gloves, while your medical kit likely has wound dressings, aspirin, or even a tourniquet. Keep essential items like your headlamp or toilet paper (just in case) in an external pocket that you can access quickly.
Backups for Backups
The saying “one is none, and two is one” couldn’t be more applicable to bowhunters. A small tackle box is a perfect place to organize duplicates of critical items like your release, headlamp, knife and batteries. Keep your backup kit nearby — especially when hunting away from home. It’s the kit you hope you’ll never need, but it might save your hunt someday.
Never Go Without Snacks
Snickers ads said it best: “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” It’s difficult to focus when you’re hungry or thirsty, which makes it even more challenging to stay on stand while you’re waiting for a deer to cruise by at top pin distance. A baggie of trail mix, handful of granola bars and thermos of coffee or bottle of water goes a long way when logging hours on stand.
Share Your Plan
Most important, always share your plan with someone else. There’s no excuse to be unaccounted for in the era of smartphones, so share a pin, address or landowner information with a friend or family member, and let them know when they can expect to hear from you.
A detail-oriented approach to hunting will help you stay organized throughout the season. Repetition will eventually make your pre-hunt checklist a habitual part of every hunt, and you’ll hunt more efficiently as a result.