Off Season to On Season

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By: Aaron Zimmerman
By: Aaron Zimmerman

My ScentBlocker gear has been washed, stored in scent-proof bags, and stored for the summer. Most folks would say storing their hunting clothes is a sign of the end of hunting season, but they would be wrong (much to the dismay of my very supportive wife). In fact, the sealing of the gear bags is simply a turning of the page to the next chapter in the life of a diehard deer hunter. Once the hunting portion of our season is over the most important success factor for future seasons is what we do between February and July. For years I have reviewed and revised my preparation process that will ultimately set me up for the highest potential of scoring on that next big buck or filled freezer.

We’ve all read the many hunting magazines out there that will provide you with a master’s degree in the amazing benefits of scent control gear, whitetail nutrition, mineral supplements, food plot planting, and the next greatest item you just have to have that will ensure a slam dunk Michael Jordan would be proud of. I’m no different than the next obsessed guy or gal and have read with great interest all the articles. I am amazed by the advancements the industry leaders have made especially in scent control with the release of ScentBlocker’s Trinity technology. Their efforts undoubtedly make my job easier than it’s ever been. Although I take this part of the hunting process seriously it’s not the preparation I’m talking about. Over time I’ve identified 5 areas of focus for my personal success that work for me. Like most “industry secrets” it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of solution, which is why I’ve had to revise my 5 step process almost annually. Like the game we hunt, we too have to be flexible in our approach.

My day job has me on the road traveling on a weekly basis providing me with a lot of time stuck in a hotel room. It’s hard not to turn on the TV and catch up on the results of the game I missed that day or catch up on the daily news but I’ve conditioned myself to utilize this time to my benefit. These first steps each year are done from the confines of my work-life prison hotel room.

Getting a lot of the legwork out of the way online is a great way to cure cabin fever and get a jump on the season
Getting a lot of the legwork out of the way online is a great way to cure cabin fever and get a jump on the season

1. What Worked / What Didn’t Work – One of the most essential tools in this planning process is keeping very detailed accounts of each and every hunt during the past season. I am extremely blessed to have the opportunity to hunt quite a few properties so I keep a notebook for each property. In these notebooks I have recorded every important detail including: date, wind direction, temp, pressure, time, deer sightings, stand locations and the list continues. It’s this detail that becomes my cheat sheet for the next season. From this information I start to develop a plan for each property that will undoubtedly require work, sweat and if you’re clumsy like me, often times blood. Typical changes I make from this information are:

  • Tree stands being removed, added, replaced (due to noise they make) or moved
  • Changes to which stands I can hunt based on wind direction
  • Which stands I spend my time on during morning vs. evening hunts
  • Which properties are best in early season or late season
  • Approach taken to stands re-looked at
  • Pressure on surrounding properties and how it affects my property
  • Does it make sense to continue hunting this property?

2. Property Search – That last question is probably the most critical in the success of my plan. Finding property to hunt is so hard any more that we as hunters tend to become property hoarders once we get that coveted permission slip signed. You may find that it is not a property conducive for your ultimate goal so why hold on to it? It may cause separation anxiety at first but trust me when I tell you it gets easier. This is the time to shed the unproductive properties and start to pursue that next property that fits your definition of a potential deer hunting paradise. The search phase is not something that starts after season but is a year round constant search. Tools I need and carry with me in my truck year round are a road map and notebook. In my free time or with a few moments to spare I will intentionally take a “wrong turn” and drive down those back roads I’ve passed a million times and never taken the time to explore. When I find a property that looks good I will write down the address if one is present and if not I will make detailed notes in my map so I can reference later. Once home I use Google Earth to look at aerial views of the property I found. If I’m still interested I will highlight the property for reference during the permission stage.

The summer months are a great time to locate a nice bachelor group of bucks. Glass fields from the safety and air conditioned comfort of a truck.
The summer months are a great time to locate a nice bachelor group of bucks. Glass fields from the safety and air conditioned comfort of a truck.

3. Gaining Permission – While in that dreaded hotel room I will pour over those property notes and start to research for landowner names, addresses and phone numbers. From your local auditors webpage you will be able to find all of this information. Not all auditor sites are created equal so chances are good you will have to play around with them at first to find the information you are seeking. Gaining permission has become extremely difficult so I don’t target just 10 new properties. Each year I am researching and pursuing at a minimum of 50 new properties and normally will top out around 80. From this, I will usually gain access to 5-7 new properties.

Once I have the contact information I need, I move forward with requesting permission. From many conversations with landowners where I was successful in gaining permission I’ve learned one primary thing, do not just stop in and knock on their door. Doing this shows them that you are willing to inconvenience them during their time at home and doesn’t make a great first impression. I have taken the approach of putting together a form letter that I will sign and mail to them. Granted, it will cost you the price of a stamp or 80 but it’s well worth the investment. My letters are professional and give me the chance to explain who I am and why I am asking for permission to hunt. Included in these letters are an invite to call me any time they need assistance on the farm, during bailing season, etc. Just being willing to earn the right to hunt speaks volumes. Undoubtedly a hand addressed envelope will be read and seldom thrown in the trash before read to its entirety. Each letter has my phone number and e-mail address included so they can contact me if they are open to my request. If I don’t hear back in 1-2 weeks I will reach out to them over the phone. At this point it’s not a cold call but one where they already know to whom they are talking. This is not a fool-proof plan but one that has worked for me.

At this time I’m officially done with the preparation that can be done while on the road. I can finally hit the woods and start visiting each of the new properties, building those vital relationships with property owners, and getting those permission slips signed. I will caution you here before you fall into the same mistake I’ve made many times which brings me to the 4th phase of my game plan.

4. Should You Choose to Accept the Challenge – This next step will potentially blow your mind and leave you staggering in a crazed stupor. Just because I gained permission doesn’t mean I’m going to hunt the property and will potentially walk away after I’ve done my homework. We all know that in order to shoot a big deer, key factors must be in place on the property. I will know without a shadow of a doubt of what I’m dealing with before sinking valuable prep time and money into a piece of ground. During my first walk on the property I will normally take several of my trail cameras to start gathering herd data immediately. I will then collect data and trail camera photos until mid-June when the final decision will be made on whether I will or will not be spending any time during the next season on the property. More often than not, I will hang at least one stand on the property but there has been a good number of properties I’ve walked away from. Deer season is too short to spend a single minute on stand where the odds are stacked against you. I understand that trail cameras will not catch every deer that calls that area home but it will show you age, health, gender numbers and quality of the herd.

Nothing will ever replace physical scouting. After every possible thing has been done online it's time to get the scent free boots a bit muddy.
Nothing will ever replace physical scouting. After every possible thing has been done online it’s time to get the scent free boots a bit muddy.

Just because I don’t catch a Boone and Crockett buck on camera doesn’t mean I will rule out a property. If I’m getting primarily doe pictures I will still hunt it but more often than not it’s reserved for those early weeks of November when bucks are cruising for does. Finding new properties to hunt is one of the greatest joys I have in my pursuit for the next buck, but I still try to be smart about it before I accept the challenge.

The last step to my madness connects all the phases together and will bring us back to where we started at step 1 when once again I’m packing up all of my ScentBlocker gear for the summer. At this point I have reviewed in great detail last season’s notes, identified and targeted new properties, gained access to new properties, and narrowed down those that I will be hunting next season. So what is the last step that will complete the cycle?

Scent control gear is a big investment. It is very important to care for it in the off season as well.
Scent control gear is a big investment. It is very important to care for it in the off season as well.

5. Strategic Stand Placement – I would say that most hunters place their stands on a new property with the expectation of scoring on a buck that first year. My way is a bit unorthodox because I’m hunting for next year on a new property, not for this year. In mid-June I will set-up my stands in extremely non-evasive locations that provide an invisible approach to and from the stands. I don’t want to pressure, push, or risk taking the chance on cluing in a good buck on my presence that first year. While in stand I will have a notebook in my hand more than my bow because I’m gathering the data that I will need in February when I start the cycle all over again. Once I have a solid foundation of deer movement on the property, I will start to note where I will need to move that stand the following year in order to capitalize on the property the following year. We start with a plan and sometimes just have to take a chance. I will take risks and push the envelope at times and have to move stands or get in close to that targeted buck mid-season. However, using this approach I feel that even my risk-taking has become strategic and not as open to failure as one might experience otherwise.

Like I said early on, this is not a one-size-fits-all plan but it’s been proven to work for me. Each season I will continue to make changes as I continue to learn from my flaws. Hunting is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. This process adds to my enjoyment of the hunt and I will continue to do it until it no longer is fun. Even if you choose not to use this plan, I would challenge you to create your own timeline and plan for success. Why do I care about your success? I care because I get to see your grip and grin pics after you’ve submitted your photos to ScentBlocker to be shared in their on line trophy gallery. God bless and happy hunting!

If you would like to submit your successful hunting pics while wearing your ScentBlocker gear, you can please go to: http://www.robinsonoutdoors.com/tech-ed/trophy-gallery/

For more please go to: Robinson Outdoor Products

For more great reading go to: Nothing Gets You Closer

Aaron Zimmerman / DeerPassion
www.deerpassion.com