When Should You Decide NOT To Hunt?

Here are five hunting signs that you should pack it in for the day and start fresh tomorrow.

Two more sleeps and then it is off to hunting camp. I can’t wait! I’m so excited just thinking about it. I’m going to hunt all day no matter what the weather is like. I’ll be up early every day. I’m going to shoot animal even if it’s 10 kilometres from the nearest motorized vehicle!

The reality of family, work and other activities limits our time in the field. Needless to say, when we do embark on our well-earned vacations, we are extremely excited. The anticipation of heading afield is invigorating. Some years we are successful (in terms of harvest) and others not so much. With limited time to spend in the field it’s natural to want to take advantage of every minute of it. Unfortunately, there are some situations where continuing to hunt is more harmful than good. Alert animals, wacky weather, non-stop talkers and being unprepared for success or safety are all recipes for an empty-handed return home. Five situations of when you should change your hunt plan are discussed below.

1 Ambush Aware

The first situation requiring an alternative hunt plan is if the element of surprise (ambushing opportunity) has been lost. Wild animals lead a simple life — they do what it takes to survive. They have an incredible sense of smell and very acute hearing. Hunting animals that already know they are being hunted is very difficult, after all, this is their home turf and you’re the one out of your element. There are a few key behaviours that can be spotted when animals know you’re around. First of all, they’ll appear nervous and will stand with their head held high looking towards you — smelling and listening attentively. Secondly, their ears will be constantly moving like radar to hone in on the threat. Finally, they won’t be doing much else except investigating the threat. They will not be foraging, ruminating or sleeping until they know they’re safe. They’ll be ready to dash-off at any moment.

Hunting pressure can change game behaviour immensely in a few days. Some common types of hunting pressure are a lot of vehicles or ATVs and foot traffic in a general area. Animals strive to survive so they know when they are being hunted. Even repeated gunfire shots will alert animals into watchful behaviour. In highly pressured areas, animals will exemplify little patience with intruders or threats and you’ll likely push them farther into deep cover or nocturnal behaviour by continuing to hunt them.

Spotting and stalking animals such as deer, bears, moose and elk is arguably a highly efficient method of hunting if you have a plan that includes cover to get within shooting range. Ensure you have a complete plan to close the distance near the end of the stalk to make the shot, otherwise, what’s the point in investing time into a hunting plan that’ll end up with the game seeing you before you’re within shooting range? Not thinking through an entire stalking plan will usually end up in disappointment because you may not have any viable options remaining at the end of the stalk.

Forcing situations where animals are already aware of you will only cause them to be further intolerable of your presence. Don’t give them the opportunity, back out or let it be and wait for a better opportunity.

2 Wrong Wind

The wind is a double-edged sword, both an enemy and an ally for the hunter. Knowing which side of the blade your on is key for success. With high winds, both yourself and game will hear less. Additionally, both your scent-travel (downwind) and game-movement (into the wind) will be predictable.

When hunting tree stands or stationary blinds, travelling to your secret spot with a crosswind is a terrible idea. You might not hear or see any spooked game fleeing, however, you’ll see fewer animals that day than if you would have approached from a different direction. Being adamant about hunting your favourite deer stand no matter what the wind direction is a recipe for failure. It’s best to choose another ambush site with a more favourable wind direction. If you’re determined to hunt that location, still-hunting into the wind can be very effective with a strong constant wind up to 30 km/h.

Calling game in wind above 20 km/h is difficult at best. The spattering and distance of the sound waves is minimal and the one bearing they do take is right downwind from you. It’s best to choose another hunting method when the wind is howling, such as spot-and-stalk and use the wind to your advantage to mask your movement noises when creeping into range. Calling game during moderate breezes (or higher) has a low percentage chance of having an animal hear you. If, by chance, they’ve heard your plea and come to investigate, the hunter will have a very difficult time hearing them approach and will most likely be busted by the animal’s nose.

3 Lousy Weather

Moderate precipitation, such as snow, hail and rain will generally not hinder game activity all that much. In this situation, the hunter must decide whether it’s worth it or not to trek through less than ideal conditions to hunt. Hunting in damp or wet weather (usually also cold) is not for the faint-of-heart and it can be dangerous for those unprepared for the worst. Storms that bring heavy wet snowfall and pelting hail are cases where animals will take cover to wait out the weather — the hunter should do the same, or least scale back activity. Forcing yourself to hunt during stormy weather means hard work with low percentage odds of harvesting an animal. You’ll need exceptional knowledge of their deep-cover area and superior hunting skills to move into their safety range for a shot. You do get some assistance such as fresh tracks and quiet walking but the odds are you’ll come back empty handed with heavy, wet gear that’ll need to be dried out. However, what if it’s storms for three more days and you’re in a tent? You’ll need to decide what’s best for your situation so consider improving your chances by hunting after the storm when animal activity increases. Moreover, think about giving yourself an advantage during these storms by staying warm and dry, yet keeping an eye on the situation from the field instead of heading home. That way, when the storm resides and skies clear, you’ll be ready and in better position than most other hunters who opted out.

Another weather factor that warrants attention is the wind, specifically intense speed. When the wind speed reaches 40 km/h, the general rule of thumb is that game movement and activity will begin to decrease. Furthermore, as the wind speed increases, additional game will cease movement and find cover. It’s not impossible to harvest an animal during a gale force wind; however, you’ll most likely be shooting it in its bed. The hunter should consider that game will be hunkered down in some horrendous cover. Once again, remarkable hunting skills and intricate knowledge of the area will be required. One such situation where this is favourable is when an animal beds in partially open terrain, yet protected from the wind. The wind will continually carry the hunter’s scent downwind and also disguise any sounds made during an approach. Assessing the direction of both the wind and the animals field of view (if it’s not looking downwind), may present an ideal spot-and-stalk opportunity, or perhaps just another time to not hunt.

4 Over-Calling

Calling is an excellent technique to lure game into shooting range. The hunter must consider that animals coming to a call are ultra-alert and are looking for another animal. With animals approaching to investigate your sounds, the odds of getting busted increase exponentially. That being said, having a big bull come racing into your call with caution thrown-to-the-wind during the peak-of-the-rut is the ultimate experience that you’ll never forget.

Generally there are two calling styles: aggressive and passive. Passive is low key, non-confrontational communication. Aggressive calling, on the other hand, is completely different. Having heated conversations with animals, especially during the rut, can lead to some extraordinary neck-hair raising experiences. Whether passive or aggressive, over-calling can push animals to the next swamp, county or mountain — putting you back to square one. When passively calling, if the animal is coming, don’t call! Put your call down, grab your weapon and get ready. Aggressively calling sure is exciting, but ensure you know what you’re saying. Making the wrong sound can cause the already-suspicious animal to second guess you and blow the whistle on the entire situation and take off for safety. When in doubt, don’t force the situation by continually calling — be patient while staying alert and ready.

5 Safe Planning

Extreme enthusiasm to harvest that next wall-hanger can quickly turn against you if you aren’t prepared or thinking ahead. As with workplace safety messages, coming home alive is mandatory and the first key to that is to be warm and dry. Having proper clothing, shelter and common sense to stop hunting if you don’t have all the bases covered are all important. If you’re not warm and dry, you’ll be miserable hunting and eventually, if you keep at it, you’ll be in danger as hypothermia can set in quickly. Whether you’re at camp, on the mountainside or laying down on the wet ground stalking an elk — make sure you’re warm and dry. At all times, play it safe, even if it means no hunting for the next day.

Some hunters, especially bow hunters, hunt alone and they must take precautions and do some planning. First and foremost, tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Secondly, if you’re hunting big game, ensure you have a plan to process the animal in the field. If you’re going to need human help, ensure it’s lined up before squeezing the trigger.

My uncle used to say, “Don’t go ruining the hunt by shooting something.” He was right, after you squeeze that trigger, the work begins. Whether you have happened to hike over three mountain ranges or paddle across 10 kilometres of water — you’d better have a plan to process that animal within the allotted regulations which no spoiling of meat. For early season bow hunts for moose and elk, pay special attention to the time it takes to travel and the expected daytime high temperature. Anything around 12 hours needs a second look. It looks bad on all of us when meat spoils and racks get hung on the wall.

Forcing any of the above situations doesn’t necessarily guarantee failure, but you’re certainly putting the odds against you. Why not back-out, find or wait-for another high percentage opportunity? Executing low-odd situations will only make the rest of your hunting experience and time in the field harder. Hunting is hard enough, why make it harder? If you’re looking for a challenge, expand your hunting to a new area or new species. Whatever you do, live to hunt another day by always being safe and for increased success, keep in mind the low percentage situations discussed above and what to do instead.

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