Hunting lottery results are steadily coming out, and there are fewer than 100 days until the archery hunting season starts in some states. Here’s how to prep for opening day.
Hunting big game is a challenge no matter the quarry. And successful hunters are often those who engage in stringent fall hunting preparation. If you’re setting out to DIY your hunts this fall, the time to start planning is now.
Whether you’re heading out of state to pursue a species for the first time or winding up to hunt big game for the first time, here are some tips to help prep for your most successful fall hunting season yet.
Take Inventory of Your Gear
I tend to be forgetful once I’ve put away all my gear after elk and deer season rolls over. But digging them back out early, I might remember a leaky boot, a lost button, or a failing zipper. It’s a lot more helpful to figure out whether something is in working order in early summer rather than when I’m zipping my gear on to head out on my first deer hunt of the season.
With plenty of time on my hands, I can send my knives to be professionally sharpened, patch up any fixable damage, re-waterproof my gear, and decide to replace if something is at the end of its lifespan. I can also find the holes in my kit, like not having lightweight, tech-savvy gloves or an outfit that allows me to sit in extreme cold for an extended period, like Sitka Gear’s new Kelvin Down series.
Spring turkey and bear hunts can also help you dial in what you’re gonna need come fall. My recent turkey hunt was a reminder that I’m cold all the time and I need a heavier jacket.
Look for Deals Online and in Stores
When you give yourself space to find what you need, you can often help your wallet out as well. Spring and summer are great times to snag deals on last year’s new hunting gear. And they’re also when other folks just happen to be cleaning out their gear closets and getting rid of the excess.
Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and online hunting forums like ArcheryTalk can be a great place to find a screaming deal on barely used backpacks, gently used clothing, archery equipment, and more. And don’t forget to check out your local pawn shop or secondhand sporting goods store.
Remember to think outside the box when it comes to extending your gear closet. You don’t need a hunting-specific jacket on cold days, but if you can find a great ski coat in a neutral color, that’ll do, and it might save you a serious handful of bills.
Break in New Boots if Needed
Ever decided to buy new boots before a big backcountry trip? If you haven’t, I highly advise against such foolishness. Even a pair of boots that fit well can rip your feet to shreds right out of the box without proper breaking in. Your own feet will run you off the mountain in that scenario. It’s not a fun time.
If you’re in the market for new boots, now’s the time to buy. Do your research and pick boots that will fit your needs in upcoming hunts. If you’re going to be in the rocky desert high country, you’ll need something stiff, supportive, and breathable. If you’re sitting in tree stands over food plots in cold, humid weather, you’re going to need an insulated boot that will keep your feet warm for hours upon hours.
And if you’re going to be hiking a ton of miles, you best put a solid 30-50 miles on those things before you head into the backcountry in summer and early fall. This is popular advice that’s dispensed often and ignored even more. But I’d be remiss not to include it.
Develop Both Your Scouting and E-Scouting Skills
The tools of the trade don’t stop in your gear shed. And you don’t need to spend 100 days out before the season to determine quality habitat anymore. (But wouldn’t it be nice if we could all do that?)
The nice thing is that physical scouting can combine some prep, all in a few outings. You can get in some hilly fitness, break in your boots, test new gear, and find solid habitat on something as simple as a day trip or as complicated as an extended backpacking trip. And if you combine e-scouting with physical scouting, you can really dial in some excellent hunting spots with a little extra effort.
Get started with e-scouting by looking up your hunting areas on map apps like Google Earth and onX Hunt. Other apps like Gaia GPS and BaseMap can also be useful. Look for water and food sources, severe elevation changes, and proximity to human activity. Figure out camping spots, routes on and off trail, and dial in a solid plan.
If e-scouting is a little intimidating, a well-known master of the art named Mark Livesay recently released a masterclass on how to scout for elk in particular. Through May 31, you can get into the class for a special rate of $79. Livesay has been featured on a ton of podcasts talking scouting; there will be a huge wealth of info there.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you’re heading into archery season, dust your bow off early. And if you’re looking to shotgun, rifle, muzzleloader, or another season specific to your taste, add the range into your schedule early and often.
Extending your ethical shooting range is the name of the game here. For many seasoned hunters, it won’t take much. But if you’re newer to hunting, getting some training in your chosen pursuit is a great way to develop consistent technique. Look up local archery shops, shooting instruction, or, if you’re lucky, ask a knowledgeable friend to help you out.
It can be daunting to figure out the tools of the trade on your own. But the more you get out and practice, the more productive you’ll be in the field.