Game On

By Jeff Wohlwend

All spring and summer we relive in our minds last years deer season. Then gradually these thoughts fade to the past and our minds turn to dreaming of the season to come. These dreams are fed by our activities of preparation; if we have them, we are tending our food plots and refreshing our mineral licks. We have set trail cameras, we are practicing shooting and we are scouting and setting new stands. Then the fall hunting products catalogs begin showing up in our mail box, pages and pages of hunting gear we just know we are going to need for the upcoming season. And to top it all off the hunting shows have begun playing their new episodes pushing our deer hunting blood pressure up and over the boiling point.

Hunting shows and DVD’s are great, I watch them all and own countless copies of DVD’s from most of today’s professionals. But we must keep in mind these folks are professional hunters. They are provided all the latest equipment, sponsorships and have access to some of the best hunting properties available. A number of these professionals own their own hunting ground and have a team of people to help them grow, identify, scout and hunt these huge bucks we see on TV each week. When not hunting their property, they are with many of the countries best outfitters, chasing huge whitetails that have been scouted for and helping them in the pursuit of putting together their TV show.

By no means am I suggesting these professionals efforts of hunting whitetails or other big game animals is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s not uncommon for them to hunt days and days before they connect and on many occasions they don’t complete the harvest. Many of these 30 minute shows take hours and hours of footage edited together, just to make 30 minutes of TV. What we have to understand, we are not seeing how hard these folks actually hunt. All the early mornings, hours upon hours in the stand, the long days of travel, the weather, I could go on and on. All we are seeing is they get in their stand and in 30 minutes they harvest some of the biggest whitetails we have ever seen. They make it look so easy, well for them it is easy, they are professionals. Every year they have countless opportunities to be in the presence and harvest some of the biggest whitetails in the country. It’s when we watch these hunts on TV every week, it feeds our Big Buck Fever and in a manner we become brain washed. When season opens we tell ourselves we are shooting nothing but a Big Buck just like what we have watched and recorded in our minds as this is how we see deer hunting. These folks are professionals and have become professionals like any other athlete because they are good at what they do. What we should be doing is watching, listening and learning how it is they are able to harvest these big bucks. Learn from their methods and incorporate them in our own efforts while hunting.

When I first started bow hunting deer, I had two friends that also bow hunted.  We didn’t hunt together, but always compared notes and shared our success with each other.
For what ever reason we and specifically me, hunted with the idea that if the buck was not a huge buck that he wasn’t worth shooting.  I hunted with this thought process for many years, letting a number of real nice bucks pass as I believed them not to meet the standard that we had all set.  Well the day came, a large heavy framed 10 pointer walked right under my stand, then stopped to freshen a scrape 15 yards away.  He never knew I was in his presences until my arrow hit him. I trailed that buck until the blood ran out, never finding him. During another season a hot doe came running through just before dark with three different bucks right on her tail. Three bucks that were not huge but very honorable and would have been easy open shots, which I passed.  Then a few minutes later on the same hot doe trail came a huge bodied deer with so much antler, I couldn’t tell what it was. I missed an easy 20-yard shot.

One could say I suffered from a bad case of buck fever or a dose of the buck aggers and completely missed that big buck. Others would say I did the right thing, let the lesser bucks walk and held out for the monster buck. Any way you look at it, what I did do was fail, at that one moment that only comes once maybe twice if a hunter is lucky in 60 days of a season. A moment that is the accumulation of all my efforts, from my preparation that began weeks before the opening day, all the way up to that split moment when a mature buck walks in. A moment that I am unable to control as I am hunting an animal that thou he is not smarter than me intellectually, but in his world he has me beat hands down. Thus when that moment presents itself I have to be able to compete immediately.

My late hunting buddy Harold Beaman used to tell me the most important part of hunting is the last 10 seconds. When that whitetail buck or tom turkey came sneaking into his grunt or yelp and he knew they were closing the distance, he would mutter under his breath “game on”. He would say, “With all the preparation there is no way for us to practice our game on”. Game on is the most important part of the hunt, no matter what we are hunting, whitetails, turkeys, pheasant etc. When that deer walks by our stand, or that rooster pheasant flushes at our feet, it’s at that moment the game is on. In order for us to be successful and harvest our query we have to complete the shot. Game on is that hopeful moment of fulfillment, the moment when all the preparation comes together, that moment we dream of.

I believe there are three parts to “Game On”, beginning with preseason preparation, each one of us at our own level or what we deem necessary. Some preseason preparation may be a year-long process, beginning at the close of the season, then running all the way up to next years opening day. Others simply freelance hunt by blazing a new trail and set up a stand in a likely location. Either way, being prepared for the final moment is what everything boils down to.

Part two – a hunter must be proficient with his or her method of hunting. This means practice shooting, practice so much that you are completely proficient. When we are proficient with our method of hunting, we build confidence, the confidence we need when the moment of “Game On” presents itself.

Part three is where I as a young hunter became confused and failed. I became caught up in the ideal that one only shoots huge bucks. I have lost count at the number of good bucks that I let walk. I can recall having certain bucks milling around under my stand for ten or fifteen minutes before wandering off. I even recall a very tall tined eight pointer that bedded down at 15 yards facing away from me for 30 minutes or longer. I wonder if I had practiced “Game On” every year, if there may be a number of fairly nice trophy’s hanging on my wall, at least the antlers. If I had practiced my Game On by harvesting some does, I would have been eating more venison versus a tag sandwich. And possibly when those two monster bucks presented themselves, they would be hanging on my wall today. The more we practice our Game On the more efficient we will become as a hunter. This is why the professionals are so good at what they do. When the animal they are hunting enters their hidden location, they complete the shot with confidence and success, because they have perfected their Game On. If you talk to some old time hunters that a very successful, you will find they have a pile of antlers, cut off those bucks that were very nice bucks, but really not a wall hanger. These have been their practice bucks, their Game On bucks; the deer that taught them how to finalize the hunt when that monster buck came into range and now hangs on their living room wall.

I was prompted to write on this topic by a young man I know named John. John is 22 years old; he lives in south central Iowa, attends college and works part time in one of our local grocery stores. When John and I begin talking deer hunting, you can hear the excitement in his voice as he plans for the upcoming Iowa bow season. He has his stands set, has been shooting with his new bow and is already planning on shooting a big buck. He has dreams of shooting a 10 pointer or bigger. I asked John, why wouldn’t you shoot a small 8 pointer or a few does. He agrees he might shoot a doe, but as for the buck, he wants a big 10 pointer or better. John admits there may be some jitters when the opportunity presents itself, but he carries the confidence that he will succeed, and confidence is good. With John’s limited years of hunting, especially with this being his first year to bow hunt deer, I hope his Game is on, when that big 10 walks past the base of his tree.

Finally, remember most states offer a program where you can donate the deer you harvest to the needy. In many cases, all you have to do is drop the deer off at a participating butcher shop and they will process the deer. I have two families that know I hunt deer and they have offered to pay for a doe tag if I would harvest them a deer, as they like venison. Also, selective harvest of inferior bucks in the breeding herd and doe harvest helps the over health of the herd and it will help assure you have a proper buck to doe ratio.

Have great season, hunt safe, remember a hunter safety system if you are hunting off the ground and get your Game On.

Jeff is a Pro-Staff member of the Iowa Sportsman and the owner of Iowa Antler Gold. If you have any questions or comments you can contact Jeff at [email protected]