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The Art of the Day Hunt
It’s getting into late season for us bow guys and if you are anything like me, you have probably burned most of your vacation and sick days. Now you’re down to maybe a free day here or there. With the limited time of a single day, you may wonder if it is even worth going out. I learned a long time ago you make your own luck and the more time you are afield the better chance you have, even if it’s only a day. A lot can happen in a day, especially if you hunt efficiently. If you make the most of your free day, it is amazing the opportunities you can have. It’s about going light, covering country and making something happen. It is the art of the day hunt.
I really enjoy having a free day to hunt and go hard whenever I have the chance. In fact, I find that in day hunting, you are uber-effective. I find you can go super light with just a day pack allowing you to cover tons of miles without the weight. I also find you get right to the point, heading to your highest percentage spot putting yourself into critters. When I do get into animals, I never hunt recklessly but I do hunt really aggressively. I know I only have the day and push to try to get into range. If there is a chance I can kill that animal, you can bet I will roll the dice.
Okay, so you are freed up for a day and looking to hit the woods but where will you go? That is always the million dollar question and is a tough one to pin down. I will go back and forth on spots until I finally commit to where I will be headed. I will choose my location based on past days hunted or even past years hunted with similar conditions. I will give a call to my buddies I hunt with and see where they have been hunting and what they have been seeing. You have to be careful with this one because it does no good to chase one of your buddies’ vapor trails in country where he has blown out all the game. I always ask, “Would you go back in there if you had a day?”
Also, you don’t have to go to that exact spot but if he was into animals, choose a close basin, similar country, or same elevation. It’s about gaining and using information not taking spots.
I am fortunate for living close to the areas I will be hunting. If I know I have a free day coming up, I will definitely be glassing around. I know that is not exactly part of a day hunt but if you have the opportunity to glass around a little bit before you hunt, it is a huge asset. I will take a drive before or after work and look around and see if I can see some critters. I will look a long way off not looking for the biggest animal, just looking for populations. This will usually trump all other information if I can see animals hanging out in a particular spot.
I collect all the information I can and then start hitting the maps and Google Earth, plotting where I think I will see animals and where I think they are hanging. I will make a plan for walking in there and where I will explore. I find the closest access point and try to find the best roll-through country. I will punch in coordinates into my GPS and have all my gear ready to go. Have your plan, knowing where you will go and what time you have to leave.
Once I know where I will be hunting, I go all in. I want to make sure when the lights come on in the morning I am up on the mountain hunting the best spot. What I mean by this is don’t be taking off from the trail head come first light, be sitting on top of the mountain come first light. Wake up hours before light and bust out the hours of trail walking through the light of your headlamp. Today’s GPS units make it easier to navigate in the dark but it is never a cakewalk. Seems I always end up in the worst deadfall or thickest cover when walking at night. The more you do it the better you will get. Everything looks different in the dark but worst-case scenario you are a few miles back and the lights will be coming on soon. This nighttime travel is key to being effective on a day hunt.
Middle of The Day
Okay after the morning hunt you have some decisions to make. Best case you spotted an animal that you want to harvest. If I know his exact position I will usually opt to stalk him in his bed. If I do not know exactly where he is, I will opt to hunt him for the evening. If neither are the case, you have to decide where you will hunt come evening. Did you see enough sign or animals to make you stay put? If you don’t think they’re in there – time to move. Plan to walk back and check out a different drainage. You can hunt and glass throughout the middle of the day but you must have a master plan for evening.
Middle of the day hunting can be productive but it needs to be low impact. I have seen both elk and mulies get up throughout the day. They get up, grab a quick bite and then bed down again. I like to hunt the middle of the day but I do not kill myself walking all over hell’s half acre. I find that if I just start covering game-rich country, I blow out more critters than I ever get chances at. I like to get vantage points looking into potential bedding spots. North timber faces are always a go to for me. I will get on the opposing ridge and glass back into it. I will sit and glass for an hour or two and then move spots again.
I don’t timber stalk in the middle of the day a whole bunch but every once in a while, under the right conditions I will. I like to have a good wind and will go hunt through bedding locations. Key here is to really slow down. Know when you are getting to good spots, use your binos, try to pick out a critter. Look for slight movements and pieces of animals. Sneak a few paces and repeat. You have to see them before they see you or the game is over.
So it’s getting late and animals will be up on their feet soon. It’s important to have the attitude of hunting until dark, then walking out with your headlamp. I can’t tell you how many times I have made something happen in the last 30 minutes of light, heck, last 10 minutes of light!
My typical evening starts by getting a good vantage point with a couple hours of light left. I pick apart the mountain to see what comes out. I hope to catch a critter coming out to feed and then make a move on him. If you haven’t seen what you are looking for and light is waning you have two choices. You can stay on the vantage or take a walk down through the country.
Staying on the master vantage is always a good bet and critters do show themselves late. Sometimes you glass late and just get the feeling nothing is in there. In that case make a hunt down through the country you think holds animals. Walk through some good-looking areas and keep your eyes peeled. You want to move at a decent pace covering country. You still have to see the animals before they see you but they will be up on their feet and easier to spot.
Day hunting can be the answer if you are running out of free time. Even if I have a couple days off, sometimes I will opt to do two separate day hunts. I lose all the weight of trying to pack my camp and can cover a ton of country. I can hunt hard in a drainage and then totally relocate the next day in a different drainage or even different mountain range. It just ensures I won’t spend the whole weekend camped where there are no animals.
Big-game trophies are tough to come by and I would say my number one asset is to be persistent. I am always out there, I am always working hard to harvest a trophy. That being said, I am like most of you guys where I have a full-time job and a family to look after. This forces me to be creative when coming up with hunting time. Day hunting for me adds a precious few more days to my season. I have found it comes down to doing the little things on a hunt and day hunting hard fits into that category. Planning your day hunts wisely can tip the odds in your favor.