A new hunting season is right around the corner, but there are still things that can be done to make it more enjoyable and successful.
Most improvements at this time of year are accomplished by better use of technology, more practice and time in the field.
Scouting is a major aspect of hunting and one that has been turned upside down by technology. There are wall-to-wall aerial photos on state hunting sites like Utah Hunt Planner, Google and Bing. State sites are not only provide maps (road and aerial) but a concise overview of the big game populations and general areas in the unit where animals are concentrated. This gives a hunter a great idea of where they are likely to be successful. Once a hunter has this information, many deploy cameras to better understand how animals use likely hunting spots.
A problem with technology used in this way is that lots of people find the same areas. In my summer hikes, I find cameras placed at many watering holes within 30 minutes of the road. These places may be great if you have a limited entry bull elk tag, but they will not be that helpful for the regular deer season. That is because once bullets start to fly, many deer and elk will move 10 to 15 miles from where they spend the summer. Don’t get me wrong, all this information is helpful, its value just drops off dramatically after opening day. The only way to know where big game goes when they are heavily hunted is by spending time in the woods.
Like scouting for deer and elk, aerial photographs can be helpful to duck hunters to detect where even hidden pockets of water can be found. Ducks redistribute quickly after the first shots are fired. That means if you hunt on public lands, you need to find areas with few hunters and lots of waterfowl. This can only be done by combining analysis of photographs with time spent in the field.
Another aspect of hunting that has changed dramatically is distance shooting — most hunters have better technology, which leads them to think they can hunt game from farther away. People’s scopes now exceed 10 power, in contrast to the fixed four power scopes that were popular when I was younger. In addition, the emergence and marketing of high-power rifles like the 6.5 Creedmoor has sold an increasing number of bullets over the last four years. But the truth is, no matter how good the optics, the gun, or the bullet, without practice, more animal will be wounded than harvested by shots taken at over 400 yards.
Technology also helps bird hunters who prefer semi-automatic shotguns. Newer weapons don’t have to be cleaned and work for low and high-power shells. They also give you more options. Forty years ago, if you wanted to change your choke, you had to have a second barrel. Now many guns allow you to unscrew the choke by hand. Yet not everybody takes advantage of this technology. The best chokes for early season are skeet or improved cylinder as they have wide patterns for closer shots. Regardless of the guns or the choke used, the only way to get better is practice. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration if you get out and shoot several rounds of skeet, trap, or sporting clays before the season starts.
GPS and cell phones are important forms of technologies for hunters. These devices help hunters be safe and locate information left behind. It is nice to have a phone search hunt unit maps or determine possession limits in the field. A GPS is a great aid in avoiding getting lost.
Just remember above all else that one of the best things about hunting is it lets one spend time in the field with friends or in solitude. The use of technology to prepare for a hunt is invaluable, but over reliance on these tools during the hunt can greatly reduce the value of the experience.