Most western turkey haunts are far off the beaten path, and hunt destinations are measured in miles, not acres. If you want to stretch your legs this spring and go walk-about for a pure Merriam’s gobbler, these gear grabs are a must. Here is some great gear for western turkey hunting.

Having the right gear is crucial for all hunts, but especially in the wild West.

Having the right gear is crucial for all hunts, but especially in the wild West.

Western turkey adventures aren't easy. Be prepared.

Western turkey adventures aren't easy. Be prepared.

Many doctors declare a specialty. Most start in a general field of medicine and often opt for a particular craft like hematology, orthopedics, or hepatology. Many doctors I spoke with say they love all areas of medicine and love helping people but have found they’re better in a specific field.

I’m not comparing turkey hunting to being a medical doctor, although sometimes it feels like killing a tom might be as difficult. I want you to know that I love all types of hunting, but western turkeys are my specialty. I cut my teeth chasing western birds, Merriam’s in cedar-sprinkled canyons and rough mountain terrain. During my 20-plus years of western turkey hunting, I’ve developed a must-have gear list, and if you have hopes of pulling the dupe on a white-tipped fan this year on public ground, this gear will help you be safe, comfortable, and successful.

I’m not comparing turkey hunting to being a medical doctor, although sometimes it feels like killing a tom might be as difficult.

Turkey hunting boots: Gear for western turkey hunting

Western Turkey Hunting Boots

When hunting the West, say no to rubber boots. You’ll often walk miles in rocky, steep, unforgiving terrain. My boot go-tos are Kenetrek’s Corrie II Hiker and Zamberlan’s Baltoro Lite GTX. Yes, both are a tad pricey, but you should spare no expense when it comes to your feet, especially when hunting the West, and these boots double as great early-season fall hunt boots.

The Corrie II features lightweight Grapon outsoles to boost traction, and at 7 inches tall, these boots feel remarkable on the feet. I applaud the feather-light leather and nylon lace-to-the-toe uppers with added ankle support. Plus, they last. These boots are ready to answer the go-anywhere call every time you lace them up.

Zamberlan’s Baltoro Lite makes you feel light on your feet and provides excellent traction and remarkable ankle support. If you loved the Baltoro 1000, you’ll cheer the Lite. The boot was specifically designed for extended backpacking and hunting trips in rugged country, and the Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membrane promises a waterproof and breathable boot.

Merriam's turkeys sound different. Use calls that can mimic their accents.

Merriam's turkeys sound different. Use calls that can mimic their accents.

Western Turkey Hunting Calls

Picking the right calls to talk business to turkeys can be intimidating, and a million of them are on the market. When hunting the open West, you want the sound to carry, so having a box call you can crank up, and a powerful pot call (glass is good) that will ring is a must. The SlingBlade Box Call and Raspy Old Hen Glass Pot call from H.S. Strut are two great choices. Both are easy to master, produce excellent sound quality, and can be used to reach out and ring a gobbler’s ears and finish him when he closes the distance.

The Raspy Old Hen Glass Wild Turkey Call comes with a quality carbon striker (peg) and H.S.’s tried-and-true double-reed Raspy Old Hen Premium Flex diaphragm call, which is great for hands-free calling. I also like using purpleheart and hickory strikers with this slate. The SlingBlade features one-sided construction to ensure foolproof open and close operation, so it won’t cluck in your vest as you move down the trail.

The AvianX Jake: Gear for Western Turkey Hunting

Western Turkey Hunting Decoys

Out West, especially when hunting open locations like a sage-dappled flat, mountain meadow, or a grassless cow pasture, decoys are critical to success. I’ve had incredible luck with various decoy types and brands, but when running, gunning, and covering country, I tote Avian-X’s LCD Laydown Hen and LCD Quarter-Strut Jake. Both fakes are incredibly lifelike, collapse, and can be re-inflated via a tire-valve-like tube. Avian-X designed the Quarter-Strut Jake to be 15% smaller than an actual jake, which cuts down on weight and makes the imposter irresistible to flog, especially when he’s hovering over an LCD Laydown Hen.

If I’m bowhunting, my top decoy—and I’ve shot charging toms at less than 5 yards with this cloth fake—is Ultimate Predator Gear’s MerRio Turkey Stalker Decoy. No, I don’t use this decoy during open shotgun seasons on public ground unless I know I have a location all to myself, but even then, you should exercise extreme caution. This decoy mounts to your bow, has a shoot-through window, weighs less than 11 ounces, and folds up to an 11-inch diameter in seconds. Slap it on your bow and go looking for a fight.

Use available tools, such as HuntStand, to navigate the hunt.

Use available tools, such as HuntStand, to navigate the hunt.

Western Turkey Hunting Navigation

On any western turkey foray, I download all my maps offline on HuntStand Pro. This way, if I arrive at my hunt locale and don’t have service, I can grab my pre-marked-up maps, which are functional thanks to the app’s innovative design. The HuntStand App shows private and public borders and allows you to scout the hunt area ahead of time via its ultra-clear aerial imagery (I like 3D Map and Monthly Satellite), and the app provides accurate weather forecasts. Many turkey marker symbols like tracks, feathers, strut marks, roosting, and more make creating ahead-of-the-hunt maps and on-the-hunt maps super simple.

I have wandered more than 14 miles from a wilderness area trailhead in search of birds, and on that particular trip (and others), I’ve spent several nights in the spring woods. Be bold and backpack for turkeys, but whether you’re packing in deep or heading to a close-to-home standby, you need Garmin’s inReach Mini 2. Not only does this device allow you to stay in touch with loved ones, but it will also enable them to track your daily movements, and it’s fitted with an SOS button that sends a message to a 24/7 staffed emergency response coordinator when pushed.

How to Bow-Kill a Spring Turkey

Western Turkey Hunting Hydration

I drink a lot of water when turkey hunting. Temperatures can get warm, and your body will sweat when you move from place to place. You want to stay hydrated but avoid packing gallons of heavy water. My remedy for this is Sawyer’s Personal Water Filtration Bottle. This bottle removes bacteria, protozoa, E. Coli, giardia, vibrio, cholera, Salmonella typhi, and microplastics, so you can scoop water up in the bottle and start sipping right away. Flow rates will vary depending on how you treat the filter (clean it), and the bottle will work with Sawyer’s Squeeze Filter and MINI Filter.

What a beautiful sight that only the West has to offer.

What a beautiful sight that only the West has to offer.

Western Turkey Hunting Vests

There are many different turkey hunting vest options on the market, but Tenzing offers some of the best around. The TZ TR18 is one such product. This recliner-style vest increases comfort and makes it easier to remain still for longer, thanks to the patented spring-loaded leg system and padded fold-out seat. This vest also includes 10 compartments, five organizational pockets, and 3,200 cubic inches of total volume. It weighs 5 pounds 4 ounces and comes in Realtree or Mossy Oak camo.

How to Use the HuntStand App for Turkey Hunting

Western Turkey Hunting Camp

If you decide to stay in the turkey woods for a few days, which I highly recommend, especially if combing the Rockies, you’ll need a reliable pack and sleep system. I could write an entire article about my sleep-in-the-woods setup, which I use when hunting elk and mule deer as well, but for this article, here’s my list: Tasmanian 2-Person TentZenith 0° Sleeping Bag, and Swift Air Mat.

The prize after a well-earned western turkey hunt.

The well-earned prize after a hard-fought western turkey hunt.

Western Turkey Add-On Items

There are additional items turkey hunters can bring on their hunt that certainly have a place on the hunt. The West is oftentimes wide open spaces, making it more difficult to judge yardage. This makes a rangefinder, such as the Halo Optics XL450, essential for gun and bowhunters alike.

While not always necessary, a blind can certainly be useful, especially if multiple hunters are on the trip, or if aiding a new hunter that doesn’t sit still very well. Bowhunters also benefit greatly. In these scenarios, an Ameristep blind, such as the FieldView 3, is beneficial.

Of course, every hunter needs a good knife, and Cold Steel has that covered. The Click N Cut Hunting Kit is ideal for virtually all game animals, including turkeys. Carry the items you need for the western turkey hunt. And don’t forget face paint, seat cushion, or game cleaning kit. These have a place, too.

Few things are better than roaming the West with a shotgun or bow in hand, searching for a Merriam’s gobbler. And in most western locations, especially in the rugged Rocky Mountains, you’ll find more turkeys than turkey hunters.

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It’s February, and love-struck coyotes are looking to pass on their genes. Yes, howling works well and should be your go-to tactic. Still, coyote talk works even better when you find where February and March dogs hang out. That involves coyote hunting on cattle farms.

Just take my own recent hunt, for example. It was the fourth pair in six stands—easily the best day of howling-in song dogs I’d ever experienced. Aside from some sup-par shooting by yours truly, my hunting partner and I harvested six of the eight dogs that came into our howling efforts.

It was late February, which is peak breeding in my neck of southeast Colorado. We didn’t see single males coming to female whines, whimpers, and howls. They did respond to mating pairs, showcasing a combination of curiosity and territorial defense.

In late winter, knowing where to set up is even more important than other aspects of the hunt.

In late winter, knowing where to set up is even more important than other aspects of the hunt.

Cattle pastures are the places to be in late February through March.

Cattle pastures are the places to be in late February through March.

The Where: Cattle Pasture Is King

I could go on about the correct howling language to speak at different periods of the breeding cycle, but that topic has been beaten harder than a garage rug. Our coyote crew has developed a system, and believe it or not, that system was created after hours of studying our HuntStand maps to see where we were killing February and March dogs and reading our notes about each encounter.

What we discovered is the where mattered more than the how. Meaning, while making natural-sounding coyote talk was important, creating those sounds in areas where mating or looking-to-mate coyotes were frequenting was the key component to consistent success.

It became crystal clear that when we found cattle, we found coyotes. That statement can be confirmed many times during the year but is predominantly factual during mating season.

Keeping track of where cattle are pastured is an incredible tactic for late winter.

The Why: Easy Meals

February and March mean calving season in many western locales and other areas around the country. When calves start hitting the ground, coyotes know it. Of course, they will take full advantage of a sick calf or mama, but mostly, they eat the afterbirth. Afterbirth has a massive concentration of minerals and vitamins, which is why cattle consume the placenta at certain times. The placenta is an organ that connects the mother and baby’s circulatory systems. When they can, coyotes slip in and have a leisurely meal fit for a king.

Once you find a bunch of cows dropping babies, you can bank on the fact that there will be coyotes nearby. When food is easy to come by, paired-up coyotes can do their business, loaf, and not have to spread out in search of rabbits, rodents, or other game.

3 Great Coyote Hunting Guns: The Triple Threat

Aside from the afterbirth, it’s expected for a mama cow or two to perish either during the birthing process or after. This is especially true when you find a pasture rich with heifers. A heifer is a female cow that has not had any offspring, which makes for an increased chance of birth complications. When hunting private land or government lands leased by ranchers, I get in touch with them and find out about their herd. Most will grant you permission and be thrilled you’re on the prowl to protect their livelihood. Public and private land info is easy to access through HuntStand.

Coyotes are generally monogamous, and a breeding pair might stay together for several years. Depending on the size of the cattle-rich area you’re hunting, there may only be a single breeding pair in the area. The alpha male and alpha female will breed, but it’s common to find a pack that includes this year’s and, often, the previous year’s young.

The How: Late-Winter Coyote Calling Tactics

Our general rule of thumb is after we call around a group of cattle, we move between 3/4 and 1 mile before making another stand. Of course, we often drive long distances between pieces of property holding cattle. If we find pockets of pronghorn or mule deer at any point during our driving—which are two species common in my area—we make a stand. No, speed goats and muley mamas aren’t dropping young in February and March, but they are prey animals, and whenever we find abundant prey, we typically call a dog or two with howls.

From late February through March, our go-to howls are male howls. Our thought process is that most coyotes are paired up during this timeframe, and some pairs run a pack. Typically, the alpha male won’t tolerate a new male dog encroaching on his territory, and often drags the female along with him. We also like to use lots of whines and yelps to play on the curiosity of resident coyotes.

I advise avoiding prey sounds, especially if you’re hunting near cattle that are dropping young. The dogs in that area are getting an easy meal, and by this point in the season, most dogs have heard every call in the book, including bird, prairie dog, and other sounds that seem to work like magic during the fall months.

It’s important to remember to give February and March stands time to produce when coyote hunting on cattle farms. I’m an impatient hunter, and when using prey sounds, if I don’t have a coyote in my scope or binocular after 20 minutes, I pull the plug and move. During the breeding season, I extend my sits to 45 minutes. Sometimes it takes a while to strike the right nerve, and often, unlike screaming into a distress call, dogs come slow and methodical to the sound of a howl.

The reward after careful planning and effective execution.

The reward after careful planning and effective execution.

Case Study: Ending Where We Started

I do realize that it’s easy to lose interest if you sit down to make a stand, let out a few interrogation howls, and don’t get a response. It’s even harder to stay put if you make a few howls every three or four minutes after making those initial howls and still don’t get a response. Vocality confirms a coyote’s presence and fills us with confidence; however, lack of vocality doesn’t mean there aren’t coyotes in the area or on the way.

So, let’s go back to how this article started—the four pairs in six stands. Two pairs never made so much as a whimper, and both took over 35 minutes to come to the call. The other two pairs emerged like they were shot out of a canon and were very vocal. After our interrogation howls, males challenged, we challenged back, and they came on a run.

4 Predator Hunting Trips to Tackle This Winter

We sit in areas where dogs can’t get the high ground, sit down, and scan for the calls. Much like a bull elk coming to the sound of a bugle, a male coyote will stop, look, and leave the second he knows he should see the other noisemaker and doesn’t. If one must give up some high ground, we make sure it’s within 400 yards of the setup.

Overall, cattle are not the end-all-be-all of capitalizing on breeding coyotes. Like many things I’ve learned in hunting, it’s a tool that gives me an advantage. And when I find cows dropping calves, it’s time to howl some dogs into range and pop some pelts.

Sometimes, coyotes sit on the high ground and scan for the source of the calling sounds.

Sometimes, coyotes sit on the high ground and scan for the source of the calling sounds.

Gear Bag: Coyote Gear to Get

Every hunter has slightly different gear preferences. That includes coyote hunters. When certain items perform well, outdoorsmen and women go back to those things. They work with what they know works well. Here are some items to consider.

The Montana Decoy Song Dog Coyote is great for coyote hunting on cattle farms.

Howling season is a great time to use a coyote decoy. A trained, live dog, or a decoy like Montana Decoy’s Sitting Coyote or Song Dog Coyote, are great tools. I prefer a decoy in open country and hilly terrain where dogs get the high ground. Both decoy options are affordable, especially for the added advantage they offer. MSRP: $69.99

Cold Steel Click 'N' Cut Hunting Kit

Those searching for a great caping and skinning knife can find it in Cold Steel’s Click ‘N’ Cut Hunting Kit. This kit serves numerous purposes and offers multiple types of blades ranging from 3.5-6 inches. With it comes a 3.5-inch caper blade, 4-inch skinning blade with gut hook, 4-inch general purpose blade, 5-inch boning blade, and 6-inch bone saw. It features a textured handle and handy case. MSRP: $99.99

The HME Mantis Pro 100 is great for coyote hunting on cattle farms.

The Mantis Pro 100 by HME is an excellent e-caller. This compact, handheld option is remote controlled. It is pre-loaded with 100 sounds, including numerous calls coyote hunters benefit from. The Mantis Pro also offers 32MB internal memory and 4-inch high-output speaker with volume up to 110db. It even has an external power jack and sync connector with mounting bracket for a motorized decoy, and much more. MSRP: $119.99

The Johnny Stewart Coyote Hooker Predator Call is great for coyote hunting on cattle farms.

Those who prefer a more traditional hand-held our mouth call might consider something else. The Hunters Specialties Johnny Stewart Coyote Hooker Predator Call is one. This option from Johnny Stewart is a great for those learning to use this style of call. It implements an internal reed design and external molded membrane to easily moderate the pitch of the call. MSRP: $11.99

Coyote Hunting Tips: How to Bag More Coyotes With These 5 Effective Strategies

Getting equipped for chasing wild canines can be endless. But you don’t need to go overboard on coyote hunting gear to get a few pelts on the wall–especially if you’re a beginner.

Whether you’ve read about calling a toothy predator close, or watched it happen on video, you can already imagine it’s an incredible rush.

I’ve called bobcats, coyotes, bears, and numerous species of fox within spitting distance during my predator hunting tenure. Coyote hunting is by far the most common predator pursuit because these crafty critters have infiltrated just about every corner of the country.

Coyote hunting is challenging. Yes, social media reels and YouTube videos make it look like every time the caller is on, a hungry coyote comes streaking in, but this is far from reality. As with any hunting, weather, moon phase, breeding activity, food availability, and other factors will directly impact how successful your day of coyote calling will be. When the stars align, there’s nothing neater, but you need the right gear before you can get out there and call fur close.

Relax, I’m not going to give you a coyote hunting gear list that requires a second mortgage. You can build your arsenal over time, but there are a handful of critical items to get the predator ball rolling. As I present this coyote hunting gear kit for beginners, I’ll assume you’ve already secured a rifle in a popular predator caliber like .223 Rem., .22-250 Rem., .224 Valkyrie, or .243 Win. topped with a good scope. You can’t pop pelts if you don’t have a good predator gun loaded with good ammo. Aside from that prerequisite, let’s dive in.

Coyote Hunting Gear: Electronic Callers

Predator Hunting Kit for Beginners


I went the hand-call route for years. Damn, I wish I could have those years back. Yes, hand calls work, but they take an enormous amount of air, and it’s difficult to sound like anything other than a dying rabbit. Over the years, calls like woodpecker distress, flicker distress, pronghorn fawn distress, and turkey distress have been my go-to calls. Unless you’re a champion caller, bird and ungulate distress sounds are very difficult to emulate.

Western Rivers Fred Eichler Electronic Game Call is a tremendous electronic caller that won’t break the bank. The call sells for around $200, and you can select it with single or dual speakers. Dual speakers do up the price a tad but give you more volume, and the call comes with 80 pre-loaded sounds with 8GB of internal memory. Sound overlay means you can play two sounds simultaneously, and sound clarity is remarkable.

The more you dive into this electronic caller, the more you’ll love it. The call allows configurable preset volume levels and sequential call playback to select speakers. You’ll be set to go with all the coyote vocalizations and prey sounds available in this player.

Coyote Hunting Gear: Hand Call

Predator Hunting Kits for Beginners


While electronic coyote callers are incredible tools, they’re bound to fail you at some point. Sometimes it’s not checking the battery level; others, it’s forgetting the remote settings and panicking as a coyote comes close. During these times, when you fumble, you’ll want an easy-to-use, no-fail option. Enter Flextone’s Dying Rabbit, an easy-to-blow hand call that comes with a lanyard and gives you the flexibility to produce long-range squalls or close-range coaxing. Just squeeze and release the end for a quiet whine and release the flexible end if you want to increase your volume.

Coyote Hunting Gear: Portable Seat

Predator Hunting Kits for Beginners

If there’s a single piece of gear that accompanies me to every stand I make, it’s a lightweight, portable seat. The Folding Seat Cushion from HME makes sitting on stands more enjoyable and creates a stable shooting platform when paired with shooting sticks. From prickly cactus spines to spine-tingling snow, it sure is nice to protect your hind end and keep your head in the game.

Coyote Hunting Gear: Shooting Sticks

Predator Hunting Kits for Beginners

Don’t be the predator hunter who plans to shoot off their knee, or worse yet, offhand. Yuck! Not only will this cause you to miss more coyotes, but it’s also lousy shooting practice. Purchase a high-quality set of shooting sticks like those from BOG. I love the Havoc Bipod. It’s light, durable, and easy to adjust, and the USR yoke provides 360 degrees of shooting, which you’ll appreciate calling in cedars or dense cover when coyotes use available cover to approach downwind. Twist-and-lock legs allow for height adjustments between 21 and 50 inches, and the sticks weigh a mere 1.13 pounds.

Coyote Hunting Gear: Carcass Drag

Predator Hunting Kits for Beginners

Coyotes are just heavy enough to become burdensome when it’s time to get them back to your truck. Pull a double, or that elusive triple, you have a real chore in front of you. Throwing coyotes over your shoulder and tromping through snow and dense vegetation is zero fun, and your clothing will get quite bloody. Save yourself the hassle and mess with Big Dog Steel’s Predator Drag. It weighs next to nothing and offers extreme durability.

Coyote Hunting Gear: Mapping & More

Predator Hunting Kits for Beginners

Get HuntStand Pro and you’ll gain access to a variety of tools that are beneficial for coyote hunting. Tap into choice map layers, including public land maps and property info for private land. Get landowner information to knock on a few doors or make some phone calls and expand your coyote hunting territory. Once you’re ready to put boots on the ground, access HuntStand for weather and wind forecasts to approach every setup with an edge.

My HuntStand app is loaded with labeled indicators that are hotspots I return to every year. It has helped me find some great public-land honey holes and opened the door to loads of private permission. Many landowners don’t mind granting access to pelt poppers.

Coyote Hunting Gear: Lights

Predator Hunting Kits for Beginners


As I’ve gotten older, my interest in chasing coyotes and other predators after the sun dips below the horizon has shrunk. However, there’s no better time to kill coyotes than in the dark of night. Coyotes and other predators are more active after dark, and they get much more courageous. A coyote hanging up at 400 yards during a daylight calling session will often come shotgun-range close at night.

Good night hunting means relying on a full moon, or running thermal optics or night vision. But there’s another option that’s deadly and cost effective: lights. Believe it or not, with the right light you can illuminate your shooting field without spooking coyotes. This means better safety and more success.

Consider one of many versatile options from Coyote Light. The name says it all.

Coyote Hunting Gear: Decoys

Predator Hunting Kits for Beginners

Including a decoy in your coyote hunting setup can serve multiple purposes. The attractive nature of a decoy can bring in some coyotes on a string, especially during breeding season when males are defending their territory or females are looking for love. A decoy can also work well as a distraction to keep eyes off your shooting position. And, if you’re really crafty, you can position your decoy with an e-caller to give you a distinct advantage when playing the often downwind approach of lurking ’yotes. Montana decoy has several lightweight, packable predator decoy options in both coyote fakes and pretend prey.

These eight items will get you up and running. Put in your time and stay the course, and it won’t be long until you’re sending in hides to the tannery.

I’m not a video gamer. Never have been, and never will be. However, over the years, I have spent a good deal of time staring at a screen—while combing my need to tinker with HuntStand’s continuous updates and new features. I consider this “purposeful” screen time. There’s a big difference, and the payoffs are large. Especially when the goal is to ambush early season whitetails.

The other day, my youngest, Brody, was staring over my shoulder, watching me drop pins, decorating my Hunt Area, while planning an early-season whitetail assault.

He said, “Cool game, dad. It moves slow, but I like the village you’re building.”

I had to laugh. Brody is a “Clash of Clans” nut—a game where you “build” your village and clan. Though I wasn’t constructing my village or planting crops for a fake town, I was hatching an early-season whitetail master plan, and HuntStand Pro was helping me make it happen.

Early Whitetail HuntStand Map

Continue to add notes and observations to your HuntStand map icons, and in just a few seasons you will have an impressive log of knowledge to help you hunt smarter and more efficiently.

In 2021, on a small chunk of dirt I lease in southeast Colorado, I killed a solid buck on October 23. No, not an early season kill, but this was the earliest I’d ever killed a mature deer on this particular property. After considering all the notes I poured into my HuntStand Pro app, studying my dropped pins, and using new features like the upgraded imagery of the Monthly Satellite layer, I’m looking to score during the first two weeks of the 2022 October season.

Here are a few things to remember when planning your early season whitetail missions.

Water Wins Early

Wherever you hunt white-tailed deer in this great country during the early season, chances are good you will encounter scorching temperatures. Even in October down here on the plains, mid-day temps can crack the 85-degree Fahrenheit mark.

Jace CO Buck On Trail

Here's a trail cam image of my 2021 buck using a trail I created.

Battling Bucks

Trail cam image of battling bucks, near standing water source.

An adult deer during the early season must consume about three quarts of water per 100 pounds of body weight. When temps are hot, and a water source is close to their early-season napping grounds, they tend to slink in and slurp more often.

Start by jumping on HuntStand Pro, switch to the Monthly Satellite map layer, zoom in, and look for current water sources on the property you’ll be hunting. Rivers, streams, and creeks are great, but if you can find standing water—a dirt pond, stock tank, etc.—all the better.

The Pull Of Standing Water

Many top deer biologists believe deer prefer to drink from a non-moving water source because they can hear while they drink. Running water creates noise. Predators know that water stations can be excellent ungulate ambush spots, and if deer can listen and see (more on this soon) while they drink, that particular water source becomes king.

HuntStand Map Bedding Area

Discovering this new preferred bedding area with some boots on the ground scouting, and adding it to his HuntStand Hunt Area map, allowed the author to see the "big picture" and create an improved early season hunt strategy.

During my time in the deer woods, I’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again. I’ve watched bucks drink more from a small 50-gallon tank more than any other water source. The water inside was hot, buggy, and covered in algae, dead vegetation, and the like, but they loved it. And they chose this particular water source over a running river less than a quarter-mile away and a running canal system one half-mile away.

Manmade Waterhole Experiment

After spending oodles of time dissecting my HuntStand Hunt Area, looking at various map layers, tilting the earth in 3D mode, and zooming in and out, I took my years of in-the-field knowledge and combined that with my maps. I found a location very close to popular bedding, and an area deer use as a staging area before they head to the ag fields in the evening.

Manmade Waterhole ADD

My first attempt at a manmade waterhole used a simple plastic liner that worked, but did not prove durable.

Rubber Tub Waterhole

Planting an inexpensive rubber tub at ground level has proven to be an effective, deer-attracting waterhole.

The next day, I took a shovel, some buckets with lids, and an old piece of heavy greenhouse plastic, dug a small trough, and filled it with 50 gallons of water. That was on July 28, 2021. On July 29, 2021, at 6:43 p.m., I had a shooter buck come in and drink. Trail cameras don’t lie, and, by the way, I love HuntStand’s Trail Cam Management feature. I’m not a fan of crowding too much intel on a specific map, and when you start dropping pins for sightings, tracks, stands, blinds, etc., map clarity is reduced because of all the icons. However, with the Trail Cam feature, I can swap from my main map, and quickly add cameras to the Trail Cam map. Switching back and forth between maps takes just milliseconds.

Throughout the 2021 season, I had 11 different bucks, including three shooters, hit that tiny makeshift pond. Yes, it took some sweat equity to keep it full. But the deer loved it, and during the rut, it became a favorite water station for does, which meant bucks were often in tow.

October 23, 2021, was the first time, due to wind conditions detailed by HuntStand, that I could slip into my pond set. With light waning, my target buck—an old, wide eight-point—wandered in. Watching the warrior slake his thirst at a simple modification I’d made to my hunt ground was a nice reward. The buck had just risen from his bed, and needed a little liquid refreshment before hitting the nighttime groceries. The shot was perfect, and the buck expired quickly.

Remember With App Notes

HuntStand App Notes

Take a few seconds to add detailed notes to your HuntStand Map icons, and you'll soon have a library of info that can help you build a smart hunt plan whenever you head afield.

After the harvest, I looked back at all my HuntStand notes. Guys and gals, if you’re not taking time to enter intel into your HuntStand app at specific site locations, you’re seriously doing yourself a disservice. Enter notes and you can look back at years of helpful data. I use the Solunar, HuntZone, and Weather tabs to plug in as much detail as possible. HuntStand offers many advantages, and you can use those advantages to stack the odds of success in your favor.
Hanging New Treestand

Here I'm hanging an additional treestand in a hot location, following some historical local wind direction patterns discovered with help from HuntStand.

As good as that 2021 hunt was, I have bigger ambitions for 2022. For starters, I used days of data from HuntStand’s HuntZone to chart dominant wind directions in my area, and hung a second stand. I did this so I could spend more time in this particular early season location. In addition, I used HuntStand’s Tree Cover layer to find areas that offered a good mixture of sun and shade, so I could experiment with a possible food plot.

Another recent addition included ripping out the pond liner—it was too fragile to last—and adding a 50-gallon Rubbermaid tank. Simple and cheap. Again, it took some sweat equity, but I dug the tank into the ground rather than leaving it above ground. Why? For starters, I wanted to give the drink station a natural look. Second, my years of hunting pronghorn have taught me that speed goats prefer to slurp water at eye level and close to the ground. When an animal has to dip its eyes too low below the tank’s rim, they risk predation and know it.

Improve/Funnel Deer Travel

Trail Blocking Tree

Here's an example of using downed trees to block an existing deer trail, with a goal of funneling deer to more-huntable options.

Another early-season tip I want to point out, which will also work throughout the fall and winter months, is improving travel for local deer. Using my HuntStand Pro map layers and spring scouting, I discovered more bedding locales, and followed trails leading to and from all these bedding areas. Some trails were good but others needed brush cleared, cut, and vegetation sprayed. Doing this greatly improved travel. Also, I took the time to block several trails I no longer wanted the deer to use. I took away some options by downing trees, stacking brush piles, and the like. By doing this, I gave the deer fewer travel options, while forcing them to take the trails I had improved, and wanted them to walk. Man-made funnels work.

Don’t think for a second that I stopped with the water and trail improvement. A water source isn’t the only place I feel confident for early-season success.

Mark & Hunt Favored Crossings

If you have a river, creek, or stream where you hunt, check these areas for funnels. Running water also funnels deer movement, and locating superior crossings can be critical to early-season success.

I have one such area on my little slice of Colorado whitetail paradise. The problem: There are zero stand trees. And no matter how good I brush-in a ground blind, or how early in the summer I get a blind set, deer blow at it. The answer: I blocked that particular river crossing. Next, I did a HuntStand map study and found the best path of travel from the original crossing to one of my best rut-funnel pinch-point stands. After pinpointing the best route, I took a pair of loppers and a high-powered weed eater and cut a new trail. This created a whole new travel route from the river crossing. Even better, trail cam images show the deer are already using it. Needless to say, I will continue to monitor this trail’s use as the season draws near.

Sign Posts Lure Deer

One more quick tip, which has helped put bucks where I want them, or at the very least, stop them for an accurate shot, is “planting” a few well-placed marking posts. Don’t think for a second this is a rut-only tactic. Deer are social animals, and signing posts are just another chance for them to be social. During the summer months, I either add new cedar posts (I like to cut them myself) or go in and rough-up posts that have been in the ground for a year or two. Then I take a Hooyman saw and rough-up each post, even the ones that now have a serious hourglass shape from all the antler-rubbing action. This releases the cedar smell, which is very aromatic.

Manmade deer sign post

Here I'm doctoring a mock scrape at one of my manmade signposts, with some deer scent.

Buck Working Sign Post

Here's proof manmade sign posts can work like a charm to attract local bucks.

Next, I take some Wildlife Research Trails End #307 scent—which includes doe pee—and sprinkle it on the ground around the post. It doesn’t take long for bucks and does to start visiting the post. I’ve had bucks in velvet come up and lick the post, and even use the posts to strip their velvet. This is another excellent tactic to get early-season trail cam images, and attract early-season deer when you’re hanging in a stand 20 yards away.

October CO Whitetail Buck

Anchoring this CO buck last October helped inspire me to develop strategies for hunting my local hotspots earlier than ever.

Be sure to bury your posts deep—at least three feet—and pack them in tightly. You don’t have to use Quikrete, but it doesn’t hurt. Bucks get very aggressive with these posts during the rut, and you don’t want them wobbling or falling over completely. Later in the season, use a flagpole holder, or similar attachment device, and add a licking branch with a mock scrape under it.

Grow Your Own Or Use What’s Available

My last bit of early-season advice is food. It’s my opinion that we get too hung up on food sources. Of course, if your hunt area holds nutrient-rich, black-as-coal dirt—and you are able to plant an isolated kill plot in your timber near bedding—good things are likely to happen. However, growing lush food sources isn’t an option in my drought-stricken area. Other whitetail hunters may be in the same boat. My advice: Stop worrying about food, and focus on water and water crossings. The effort you put into, and often waste, on producing a crop that will not sprout but rather wither and die, will be better spent on other tactics mentioned in this article.

Early Bowhunter In Treestand

Hunting rut-time bucks is great, but early season patterns are among the most-consistent of the year. Fire up HuntStand Pro and build a solid gameplan for opening week.

Learn where the major feed zones are in your area, and then lean on HuntStand Pro. Use the many helpful map layers, and some boots on ground scouting, to help you figure out what routes deer use to enter and exit those food sources. Then prepare your property, and hunt strategies, around those travel routes. Give local deer things they need and want along the way, and you’ll bag more early season deer.

From whitetails to elk, antelope to mule deer, these hunting tips from Jace Bauserman will give you an edge when you’re hunting public land this fall with help from HuntStand. Of course … many of these tactics will apply equally well to private ground!



Target panic is a serious condition that affects the accuracy and success of countless bowhunters. The good news: It can be beat! HuntStand Pro Jace Bauserman offers step-by-step advice to cure target panic.


ProngRut1 900
I love chasing pronghorns with archery tackle because there are so many different tactics you can utilize to find success. When the calendar flips to September and dust trails seem to pop up everywhere on the prairie, those tactics should center on taking advantage of rising testosterone levels.ProngRut2 900There is no better time to send carbon through the lungs of a mature shooter than during the rut. A mature pronghorn will fight hard to defend his harem of girls, and rogue wanderers often start to appear out of thin air. Heeding these six proven rut tips will help you put a mature speed goat on the ground.ProngRut17 900Thirst Is A Wonderful Thing. Yes, I realize waterhole hunting has been dubbed by many as an early-season tactic. I agree, but I prefer to sit a waterhole during the rut over any other time frame. While cooler temps are typical during mornings and afternoons, it’s not uncommon for midday temperatures to rocket into the high 80s and 90s. Combine torrid heat with bucks chasing other bucks and does to and fro, and you have all the right ingredients for waterhole success.ProngRut9 900Use your HuntStand app to locate likely water sources in your area. Remember, ponds often trump stock tanks, but if drought conditions plague the area, a stock tank may be your best bet. During the rut, bucks rarely water with does, which means fewer eyes and a likely chance that a wanting-to-breed buck will ignore a newly set ground fort. B00[707:709] TT[725] (15)E:G[193:0] BV[160:0] IR[L:F:60]I do recommend not getting right on top of a water source. Trust your shooting and instead set the blind 30 to 35 yards away. Also, keep your head on a swivel when sitting water during the rut. You never know when a thirsty buck will come screaming over the horizon—and wind up right in your lap.ProngRut14 900Take The Fight To Them. Decoying is my all-time-favorite way to hunt pronghorns. The problem with using a bow-mounted buck fake, or a plastic imposter like M.A.D’s CommAndelop 2D Buck decoy, is the window to piss a buck off is ultra-short. You have to catch a buck in the right mood, and much of that mood is dictated by current testosterone levels.

When looking for the right buck to take the fight to, spend more time watching and less time figuring out how to get in position. Get a feel for the buck’s mood. Is he letting other live bucks close to his herd of girls? Is he chasing and actively trying to breed does? Does he bolt from the herd and run other bucks into the next county? You have to take the time to answer these questions. If you find a firey fighter, stay on him and wait for an opportunity to get close.ProngRut15 900My favorite tactic is to beat feet once the buck leaves his does to run off a challenger. When this happens, I move quickly with my decoy and get between—using all available cover—the buck and his does. If you can get in position, the buck will react upon his return.

The key is staying patient. If you know you’re between the buck and his does, stay put. It may take him a grip of time to wander back, but when he does, it’s game on.ProngRut3 900Let Them Bring The Fight. While this tactic will work on rut-raged pronghorn, it can help seal the deal on a buck that’s not quite ready to leave his herd of does and come at full tilt to an imposter decoy.ProngRut16 900Spend time behind the glass watching the buck you want to target. Please pay attention to exactly where the buck and his girls move throughout the day, and note specific areas they like to frequent. Mark these areas on your HuntStand map. In addition to marking them, study the landscape around these loafing areas. Look for a place you could set a buck decoy, and a locale where you could hide nearby—behind a bow-mounted doe decoy.

The following morning, long before the sun crawls into the eastern sky, put the second part of your plan in motion. The goal is to get a 2-D or 3-D decoy set in a high-frequency area. After the imposter buck is set, attach a bow-mounted doe decoy and post up no further than 20 yards from the buck decoy. If you can get some cover at your back, it will help disguise your human outline.ProngRut11 900The idea is for a territorial buck on the verge of breeding to see a buck and doe combo smack in the middle of his home range. With this tactic, you’re playing on two pronghorn habits: curiosity and aggression. At first, the buck may not pay the setup much mind. He may follow his does and skirt around, but if you stay put, he will likely work bowhunting close at some point. He will be curious, and though his testosterone level might not be off the charts, it is climbing. He won’t be able to resist.

On the other hand, I’ve used this method and had a buck come screaming into the setup right away. You never know what will flip a rutting buck’s switch, so be ready to capitalize.

Using a bow-mounted decoy is exhilarating. You are part of the scheme, and for this reason, I recommend wearing a long-sleeve white shirt over a camo one. Pronghorn have a lot of white on them, and it’s a color that seems to attract attention.ProngRut5 900The Moo Cow Connection. At some point during September, every buck in the area will have one thing on their minds. If you feel like you’ve educated your target buck—shown him one too many decoy setups or brought him in for a shot and missed—it’s time for a new approach.

I will be the first to admit I’ve had limited success with bovine decoys—both store-bought and homemade. However, they can be pure poison during the rut.

Find a herd of speed goats that share a pasture with cattle. Once you do, it’s time for some recon. Pay attention to how the goats interact with the cattle. Do they water at the same location, share salt licks, and intermingle regularly? Pay attention to the cattle as well. Are they a hair-trigger, spooky herd, or a group of seasoned mama cows that barely raise an eyebrow above the grass? It’s paying attention to these finite details that will tell you exactly how to proceed.ProngRut6 900Of course, as with any of the previous tactics, get the wind right. Then, wait until the pronghorn are close to the cattle. They don’t have to be feeding with them. However, if they’re within 150 yards of the cows, it will help.

Take your time. Move through or alongside the herd slowly, and act like a cow. Don’t be afraid to make cow sounds or stop and pretend to graze. Keep it natural. I don’t worry so much about scaring the pronghorn as I do the cows. If the cows get edgy and start to run or trot off, the game is up. If you can pique the interest of the cows—I’ve had them walk right alongside me—you can get close to the speed goats.

It may not have worked during the early season, but the dominant buck is less on edge. He’s trying to keep his does in check and watch for other bucks. His last worry is that of an approaching cow.ProngRut10 9006-Legged Horses? This tactic isn’t for everyone, but if the situation is correct, it will likely lead to the demise of your target buck. You’ll need a good horse or two that aren’t of the spooky sort. Naturally, this tactic works better when other horses are in the pasture, but I’ve had success both ways.

Tie the two horses together and have one person hold the lead horse by the halter rope where it attaches to the halter ring. This way, the leader can lead the horse without ever exposing much of his body. Your job is to squat low and use both horses for cover. To the approaching pronghorn, this looks like a pair of horses wandering about in the pasture.

Don’t go right at the pronghorn. Feed left for a bit and then wander back to the right. This is a slow-moving operation, and the more natural you can make it look, the better your chances for success.

When you get in bow range, let the horses feed and slowly step out from behind the rump of the back horse when the buck’s nose is buried in the grass. ProngRut13 900Fence Crossings Can Be Money. This isn’t the most enjoyable way to hunt rutting pronghorn, but it can be very effective and should be a tactic you don’t overlook. Pronghorn are picky about where they slide under a fence. I’ve seen bucks, does and fawns walk a fence line for a full mile before going under it.ProngRut12 900Established crossings aren’t a chore to locate. If you find yourself in an area with many bucks and does—and it seems they are constantly moving from pasture to pasture—wait for a window and investigate. You’ll know it when you find it. Hair will be found on the bottom wire, and the ground will be sunken-in and dotted with tracks. Mark the crossing on your HuntStand app and get back to the truck.

As with many of these tactics, a fenceline ambush will work better if you spend some time scouting. You know the exact location of the crossing, so spend several hours watching it. If the rut is rocking and the crossing is hot, it’s not uncommon to see three or four different bucks use the crossing over a five- or six-hour period.ProngRut8 900That night, under cover of darkness, slip in and set your blind on the fence. Set the blind no closer than 35 yards from the crossing, and if possible, use tumbleweeds, sunflowers, or whatever you can find to blend in the blind. The more time you spend with the setup, the better.

Be prepared to shoot when a buck approaches a crossing. Nine times out of 10, you’ll get your shot before the buck crosses. He will stop to investigate the crossing before squatting down and darting under the bottom wire. You want to take your shot before he crosses. Once a buck goes under the wire, it’s common for them to cover more than 100 yards before stopping.ProngRut7 900There you have it; six rut tactics you can put to practice in the coming days. Remember, when it comes to hunting pronghorn with a bow, stay flexible. It’s easy to get frustrated, but if you keep trying new things, eventually, the pronghorn stars will align.

WesternWhite 12 900The majestic white-tailed deer holds a special place in the hearts of countless bowhunters, and why wouldn’t it? Populous in piles of states across the country, this species is susceptible to a wide range of hunt tactics, and in most locales, can be hunted from September right through December. Of course, season dates vary by state, but time is a bowhunter’s best friend, and stick-and-string whitetail seasons offer it in spades.

Annually, the hardwoods of the Midwest and dense forests of the East seem to draw the most attention from the whitetail crowd, and rightfully so, but the West should also be on your radar. Overlooked in many western states—mainly due to attention placed on mule deer—most state whitetail populations are on the uptick. Plus, when it comes to western public-land hunting, parking areas typically aren’t lined with trucks. If you’re in the mood for a new whitetail adventure, I highly recommend giving the West a go.WesternWhite 5 900Score A Tag. Those accustomed to pulling into Walmart and snatching an OTC tag need to know a little about the western permit structure as it applies to whitetails. While some western states (Idaho, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and North Dakota) offer over-the-counter tags, most western destinations require hunters to apply through a draw. The good news is this process is not complicated, and in many states like Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, pulling a permit is almost a guarantee. Should the dice come up snake eyes, you will receive a preference or bonus point, which virtually ensures you’ll pull a tag the following year. Don’t forget that some states will have leftover tags, which can be purchased after the state’s primary draw. Those on the prowl for a western whitetail hunt should visit the state’s Game and Fish Dept. website, and read over the tag process. In some states, where a tag is guaranteed, you’ll need to purchase the tag by a specific date. Do your research and prepare accordingly.WesternWhite 3 900Plenty Room To Roam. A significant bonus to chasing whitetails out West is the amount of public land available to hunters, and the amount of open-to-anyone dirt seems to be growing each year. While every state has a name for its specific program, (Walk-In, Block Management, PLOTS, etc.) state wildlife agencies have done a fabulous job of partnering with landowners to open pieces of private land to public hunting. Then, of course, there are the countless acres of BLM, National Forest, State Wildlife Areas, and the list goes on. The point: If you do your research and take time to plan, you’ll find no shortage of public access.WestDeerADDPublicLands 900Simplifying this process is HuntStand’s amazing Hunting Lands map layer. When looking over possible hunt areas, simply click the Hunting Lands layer, and the map will instantly bring up open-to-the-public dirt. Better yet, a simple click on a listed public site will bring up specific intel for that location. In a matter of seconds, you can see the area’s boundaries, learn its acreage, and get hunt unit data. Pair this layer with HuntStand’s Public Lands layer, which shows federal, state, county public lands, and more, and you can start stringing together many possible hunt areas in mere minutes.WesternWhite 21 900When prospecting for a western whitetail hot zone, don’t overlook open-country areas, and by this, I mean vast tracts of CRP, rolling pastures, and sage country dotted with trickling creeks. Western whitetails have done a fantastic job of adapting to the landscape, and hunters who drop pins and put boots on the ground to investigate these areas upon arrival, will often find little honeyholes of whitetail nirvana.

With a few possible hunt destinations identified, use HuntStand’s all-new Monthly Satellite layer to get the most-recent aerial image of your area. With this new imagery, you can quickly identify likely whitetail haunts, and further fine-tune your hunt planning.WesternWhite 14 900Confirm Your E-Scouting. When you arrive at your hunt area, I recommend taking some time to investigate your promising pin drops. In more-wooded areas, you’ll find typical whitetail sign like rubs, scrapes, and pounded trails, which quickly confirm your e-scouting and help you put a plan together. Most hunters seek out these “typical” locations that include river and creek bottoms that border agricultural fields. In some places, state wildlife agencies will plant food plots, which are great, but can draw in the masses. When hunting these types of locations, look for areas that require a longer walk, and if a tough ascent or descent is required, all the better. If you can get away from the crowds, even if that means getting away from food sources, your odds of finding a transition zone, river/creek crossing, or major trail intersection that no one is hunting, go way up.WeaternWhite 2 900If your HuntStand e-scouting revealed open areas that look like they might hold deer, my best advice is to use your vehicle, get yourself a reasonable distance away and put good glass to use during the early morning or evening. Open-country whitetails don’t have lots of cover to work with and can typically be glassed on open hillsides, ridges, sage flats, and in CRP fields.WesternWhite 6 900I always have a pair of 12-power binos hanging on my chest and a quality spotting scope with a window mount at the ready. Another open country tip is to gain a vantage point during a morning or evening—use HuntStand’s Top Quad layer to identify solid elevated glassing spots—and post up for a few hours. It’ll be time well spent.WesternWhite 8 900Water Rules Out Here. If you haven’t heard, much of the western landscape has been in a severe drought for many months, putting water at a premium. Even during years when the heavens open and rain falls in my specific hunt area, I still put a ton of emphasis on water. Whitetails have to drink, and a good water hole or creek crossing can concentrate deer from the season opener right through the rut. Isolated ponds in timbered areas can be money, but don’t overlook blending in a ground blind over a well-used stock tank in a sagebrush-dappled draw.JPEG 7If your hunt area is along a creek, river, or other waterways, look for pounded crossings, and if the rut is near, place special emphasis on crossings that connect doe bedding areas. Bucks love to wander one side of a waterway checking for hot does, cross the water, and instantly be downwind of another doe bedroom.WesternWhite 17 900The Spot-And-Stalk Option. Don’t tar and feather me, and don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Chances are you’re coming West to experience a new whitetail challenge, and if you decide to get on the ground and mix it up with some western bucks, you’ll get everything you wanted and more. This tactic will work best for those hunting open to semi-open whitetail ground.JPEG 5During the early season, bucks will leave nearby food sources and seek daytime sanctuary in sage draws, weed patches, CRP, and other cover areas. They don’t need much. A small thicket of plum bushes, or sparse patch of tamarack is more than enough. Your job is to be on the glass and bed a buck (or three) down. Once you do, take your time. Early season bucks bed for most of the day, and eyeballing a buck or bucks slink into their bed is 90 percent of the task. The other 10 percent is slipping in for the kill.JPEG 8Take note of the wind and day-long forecast using HuntStand, and use your glass to identify distinguishable landmarks between you and your target. If you’re glassing from an elevated vantage point, know these landmarks will often look different when you drop in elevation, so the more distinguishable they are, the better. In addition to glassing landmarks, drop a pin where your target animal is bedded, and another at your current location. I also recommend pinning any of your specific landmarks that you can find using HuntStand’s aerial imagery. By doing this, you can easily navigate from spot to spot using your HuntStand app. This is especially beneficial if the landscape is void of suitable landmarks. If you know your current position at all times, and the position of your target animal, you can make a better stalk.JPEG 21When you get into range, patience rules as you prepare for a shot opportunity. I’m a big fan of letting a bedded target buck, or group of bedded bucks, stand on their own. In my experience throwing a rock or stick seriously increases the odds of sending flagging white tails sailing across the landscape. And if the startled buck or bucks don’t spook, they will be on high alert when they stand, which boosts their chances of dropping severely at the shot.WesternWhite 20 900Rut-Time Ground Game. If your hunt falls during the whitetail rut, one of the best methods for western success, and tagging a true gagger, is to use a 3-D buck decoy in tandem with a bow-mounted doe decoy. The idea is to set the buck imposter in an area where it’s obvious to cruising bucks. Naturally, the buck decoy will get their attention, and when they see the bow-mounted doe, it provides the illusion that the buck fake is tending a doe. If you can back yourself into some brush—sage, a cedar, or whatever—all the better. You want the setup to appear as natural as possible. With this setup, you become part of the decoy spread, and I can promise you there isn’t a more-exciting way to hunt western whitetails. If you’re looking for a good bow-mounted doe option, I heartily recommend Ultimate Predator Gear’s Stalker Doe, or the Whitetail Doe Decoy from Heads Up Decoy.JPEG 16Make Some Noise. If you snuggle into a treestand or ground blind out West, especially along a sparsely timbered waterway, don’t be afraid to make some noise. In many areas, doe populations aren’t as high as they are in the Midwest or the East, and even if they are, the local does aren’t concentrated in large timber blocks. This makes calling very effective. Low humidity combined with semi-open country allows sound to travel, and often, clanging together antlers or rattling systems, mixed with some grunting, will lure rutty bucks to your location.WesternWhite 18 900Staying Put Can Pay. This last western tactic has increased the amount of meat in my freezer more than any other, and it’s a straightforward tactic. I’ve found the range of most western bucks to be extensive. Why? The openness of the country and the lack of large timber blocks.WesternWhite 22 900Bucks out west are used to covering lots of country each day in search of hot does. If your stand or blind is situated in an area with plenty of buck sign, a dawn-to-dusk vigil can pay big. You never know when that western buck of a lifetime will wander past, but typically, haunting such sign-laden spots will pay off sooner rather than later.

Blunders5 900I’ve learned a lot during my stick-and-string elk hunting adventures. The most important thing: Elk hunting is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Those who dub elk as big, loud critters who come running recklessly in to calls likely spend their time on private ranches, or haven’t stepped into the western bowhunting woods in a few years.

It’s my opinion that killing a public-land bull elk is one of bowhunting’s most-complex challenges, and I’ve been kicked in the teeth enough over the years to prove it. My relentless drive has earned me opportunities, and I’ve been blessed to pack more than a few monarchs off the mountain, but I’ve also made throngs of mistakes. Here are seven elk blunders to avoid this year—and forever.Blunders2 900Chasing Ghosts. Social media is great, but it sucks at the same time, mostly because the images and clips you see tend to showcase only unrealistic top-end animals. Many hunters, no matter the species they’re chasing, feel the need to kill a giant. Don’t fall into this trap. My buddies and I did for a grip of time, and it was flat stupid. Learn from our shortcomings, and trust that it’s a bad idea to limit yourself to a certain caliber of bull when hunting over-the-counter public land.

I’m a slow learner, and it took me a few years to learn I wasn’t a giant killer. We were hunting over-the-counter units and trekking on pressured public-land dirt. Seeing a 300 bull was unlikely, let alone getting a shot at one. It didn’t take us long to change our tune, and that’s when we realized the pure joy of elk hunting. If you have a premium draw tag or are on a once-in-a-lifetime guided venture, I don’t blame you for holding out. If this is your first trip out West, however, or you’ve made a few trips and have yet to arrow a bull while hunting OTC public land, shoot the first legal bull you see. Get a few bulls under your belt before you start worrying about the upgrade process. If you don’t, burnout will happen, and what should be a looked-forward-to hunt will become one you never want to do again.Blunders8 900Hunting Where Elk Are Not. The HuntStand app will be your best friend when elk hunting because it offers instant options to new country. For years I made the mistake of grinding it out in areas that weren’t holding elk. If you spend a few days covering the country and aren’t finding greasy fresh poop, urine-stained beds, fresh rubs, and most importantly, elk, move on. Elk are great travelers, and when they leave an area, there are zero guarantees they will come back.

Don’t fall into the “I hunt here every year, and if I’m patient, they will be back” crowd. If elk move from your area, use your HuntStand app and find some new locations nearby. You can’t kill a bull if you can’t find a bull.

Those willing to move will find elk. It may not be in the first, second, or even third place you look, but you will find them if you keep searching.Blunders3 900Going In Too Deep. As an outdoor writer, I’m as much to blame for this as anyone, and I apologize. There was a grip of time, especially in my youth, where I beat the hell out of the, “Go deeper!” drum. Not anymore.

Never walk past great elk dirt to access ground you think will be even better. Elk are where you find them. Before your hunt, drop 10 or 15 pins in your chosen HuntStand hunt area. These should be close to an access road or near main-trail areas you can quickly pop in and out of. If you find fresh elk sign in an area, or better yet, actual elk, start hunting. The problem with getting in too deep, unless you fall smack in the middle of an elk rut fest, is that if the elk aren’t in the area, you’re going to waste several days of hunting.Blunders7 900Three years ago in Colorado, my hunting partners and I killed two bulls over a span of 22 hours, and both were killed less than a half-mile from the truck. Not coincidentally, both areas were void of pressure, and not once did we see a truck at either trailhead. If elk aren’t getting pressured and have access to food, water, and cover, they don’t care whether they are a quarter-mile off the road, or four miles further in.Blunders10 900Lack Of Patience. I’d have a lot more elk racks in my trophy room if I wasn’t so impatient. Let me explain. Public-land elk can be tough customers to call in. Too many times, I gave up on calling sessions much too soon. And yes I learned the hard way. I would put my gear in my backpack, walk 20 yards or so, and bump into a coming-in-quiet bull. Then there were those instances when my head wasn’t on a swivel. The bull I (or my hunting partners) was calling suddenly went quiet. Minutes would pass without a single stick snap or bugle, and I (we) would lose interest. Then, after just a single step or two away from my chosen hiding spot, the mountain would thunder with hoofbeats. What happened? In most cases incoming bulls had been watching me, or the general area, looking for the elk making all the calling racket. But  because my mind had moved on to other things, and negative thoughts about the bull not coming in were at the forefront of my mind, I failed to notice these wary incoming bulls.

Elk, especially early-season elk and satellite bulls that have been whooped a time or six, often come in quiet. If a bull stops answering your calls, it means one of two things: he has lost interest and has left, or two, he’s coming in quiet. Always bet on the latter, and give a quiet bull at least 45 minutes to show after his last bugle. Don’t get lazy. Keep your eyes up and keep scanning the woods.Blunders6 900 Hiding Too Much. Modern-day camo is a great thing. It works exceptionally well, so let it. On my first elk hunt, some 22 years ago, I had bull coming on a string. The area was semi-open, and I could see the bull coming from a distance through the aspens. He was rut-crazed and committed. For some reason, I felt the need to hide behind a log jam with a pair of little aspen trees in front of it. That setup cost me a shot at the bull. He got to a point where he expected to see his rival, didn’t, and simply walked away. Had I set up in front of the log jam, between the two baby aspen trees, I would have had a wide-open 36-yard shot at his lungs.

Whenever possible, set up in front of the cover. Some guys and gals like to stand, while others like to kneel. It’s up to you. If you stay still and trust your camo, it’s rare for a bull to pick you off. I had a three-point bull in Colorado a few years back step on my right foot. I was standing in the wide-open between a pair of pine trees, and he never saw me. Give yourself a chance to be successful by setting up in front of the cover, and be sure to take note of every single shooting lane.Blunders11 900Using Only ‘Classic’ Hunt Strategies. Nothing beats calling a bull in bowhunting close, but calling isn’t the only way, or maybe not even the best way, to notch your tag. Don’t be too surprised, but I highly recommend that you bring along a treestand or two on your next bowhunt, especially if you’re hunting not-too-deep-in areas. Bull elk have to drink, and they love to wallow—cover themselves in urine-stained mud while they send vegetation flying. If you discover a well-used water source or wallow, slap a trail camera on it, mark it on your HuntStand app, and get out of the area. Return a day or two later and pull the card. If elk images are found, get the wind right, hang a treestand, and wait.

Another great kill tactic is to find a herd and stay close, but not utter a sound. If you can keep the wind and thermals right and remain on elk by paralleling the herd from a distance—using available cover and terrain features—you can slip in and kill a bull without ever making a call. This is an excellent method for killing herd bulls that have lots of girlfriends with them.

In years past, I would call my guts out, and the herd bull would simply move his cows away slowly. Time after time. I wasn’t close enough to him to trick him into a fight, and cow calls proved fruitless. He had all the cows he could service. Why would he leave them to come 200 or 300 yards to look for another?

I learned that because herd bulls have cows and are in full rut, they bugle often. Herds are noisy going through the woods, and it’s relatively easy to keep tabs on them. I stay patient and wait for my moment. When a bull is preoccupied with a cow, or maybe doing battle with a satellite bull that suddenly slips in, that’s when I like to make my move.

If you can’t get any closer to the bull, let him and his girls bed. Then, slip in as close as you can, get in front of cover, make sure to have some good shooting lanes, and let out a guttural bugle. Big bulls aren’t fond of other bulls charging right in on them and stealing a lady away.Blunders12 900Hating On Decoys. You have enough gear to tote in your pack, I get that. However, those who carry along and set up a realistic deke, especially if hunting solo (or your calling partners don’t have time to drop back), will kill more bulls.

Savvy public-land elk, especially those that have been called to before, get to a point during their approach when they know they should see another elk. When they don’t, they will stand and stare holes through the timber for a grip of time, and then, they will turn and leave. However, if you’re using a bow-mounted decoy, or have a partner holding a super-portable Montana Decoy next to your position, you’re in the chips.

Regardless of what decoy I’m using, I try and show as little of it as possible—just a piece of the white rump or the side of a face—less is more. If a bull sees what he believes might be another elk, it gives him some extra incentive to keep coming and investigate.Blunders4 900When it comes to elk hunting, I’ve made plenty of blunders over the years, and I don’t mind sharing some of my shortcomings with you. Because in the end, if you can avoid some common mishaps as you head into the public-land elk woods, and eventually come out with a pack full of some of the finest game meat North America has to offer, well, for that kind of result I’ll consider throwing myself under the bus to have been well worth the trouble.

BloodTrail 12 900The opening in the plum thicket was small, but the arrow looked good. After release I’d heard a distinct plop and then watched the buck sprint over the ridge. Not 100-percent sure of the arrow’s impact, and because I couldn’t find the arrow after climbing out of my stand, I opted to give the buck six hours before taking up the trail.

There was some blood about 20 yards from the impact site—it wasn’t much; a dab here and a dot there. I was worried. My good buddy and owner of Oklahoma-based Croton Creek Outfitters, Scott Sanderford, however, was not. Scott was calm, cool, and collected. He had me climb back into the stand, and he walked through the opening where I took the shot. Together, we decided that the arrow, based on what I had to shoot at, had hit vitals. For the next three hours, I watched Scott put on a second-to-none tracking display, and then, a full 300 yards from where I took the shot, we found my Sooner State buck lying stone dead. That was the day I learned how to track hit game. Up to that point, I considered myself pretty good at it. I wasn’t. There’s a science to it, and if you follow the tips to come, you’ll find more hit animals. BloodTrail Five 900Slow Down & Replay. Bowhunting is a game of inches, and the moments after a shot can be some of the most anxiety filled of your life. They are also some of the most important. It’s during these moments that bad decisions get made. I’ve guided hunters who had a complete mental meltdown and went on a grid search before even looking for their arrow. Then there are those times I’ve shown up to help look for blood, and the hunter can’t even remember where the animal was standing. Yikes!BloodTrail Two 900If you don’t see the animal go down, even if you’re confident the shot was perfect, stay in your stand, blind, or the spot on the ground where you took the shot, for at least 30 minutes. Focus your eyes on the location where the animal went and listen intently. More than once, I’ve caught another glimpse of a hit animal sneaking out of cover, and multiple times I’ve heard timber crash as the animal toppled to the ground. This is especially true with large animals like elk. These steps are all essential pieces of the process, and will make finding the animal much easier once your search begins.BloodTrail 14 900Your next move is to visually mark in your mind, the exact spot you saw the animal disappear. Then, pull up your HuntStand hunt area and drop a pin at this exact spot.

Next, have a seat, chug some water and get a snack. Let your mind calm down for a minute before doing anything else. Now, replay the shot in your mind—over and over again. Was the animal perfectly broadside, or was the angle quartering-to or away? What was the reaction of the animal after the hit? The more data you can recall, the better. Plus, doing these things helps that critical half-hour go by all the quicker.

At this point, you’ve already done a lot, but each of the following steps will help expedite the recovery process.BloodTrail 6 900Find The Arrow. Some time has passed. You haven’t heard or seen anything. As long as it doesn’t expose you to the area the animal may be in, look for your arrow. When doing this, don’t wander about aimlessly. Go to the exact spot you think the arrow should be, and look closely. Don’t get frantic. Relax and focus your eyes on the ground. This is where a lighted nock and brightly colored arrow wraps are helpful. If you don’t recover the arrow, don’t take up the blood trail. If you do recover the arrow, scrutinize it. The type of blood on the arrow, married with what you remember about the angle of the animal, and how it reacted to the shot, will tell you how long you need to give the animal.BloodTrail One 900Bubbles are always a good thing, and indicate the arrow passed through at least one lung. This is, however, why it’s so important to be able to recall the body position of the animal. One-lung hits can be bad, and animals can go a long way. Many hunters report one-lung-hit deer living up to 36 hours and traveling miles. One time, I shot a doe from a treestand at a super-steep downward angle. The arrow caught one lung, which I later discovered while cleaning the animal. I found her 24 hours later, still alive but unable to get up. If you believe the hit to be a one-lung hit, give the animal plenty of time and keep your eyes up during the tracking process. You may have to put another arrow in the animal.BloodTrail three 900Dark-colored blood typically means the arrow passed through the abdomen. If you believe your arrow caught liver, you can take up the trail after about six hours. Traces of blood mixed with the brown smear of stomach matter mean a paunch hit, and you should give the animal even more time. The arrow will stink, and your stomach will sink, but the good news is, animals hit in this area typically bed down quickly and will die. If you slip out of the area quietly, you’ll often return to find the animal dead in its first or second bed. I like to give paunch-hit animals at least 12 hours before taking up the trail.BloodTrail 10 900Don’t Bring An Army. One of the biggest mistakes I see bowhunters make when tracking blood, and one of Sanderson’s pet peeves, is bringing an army into the field. A bunch of buddies is excellent for a grid search, but not for tracking blood. When monitoring blood for the first time, return with only one person. BloodTrail four 900I’ve seen it happen too much. A pile of guys and gals show up to track blood and start wandering this way and that. What happens is that one or more of the trackers misses a drop of blood and kicks dirt or debris over existing blood, or someone steps on a heavy track and blots the track out. More people tromping means a better chance of blood molecules getting on boots and clothing and getting spread about the landscape. What happens if a tracking dog needs to be brought in? The dog will have trouble getting on the right trail.BloodTrail 15 900When you first take up the blood trail, pull up HuntStand and mark the first blood with the app’s blood marker. Then, turn on HuntStand’s helpful Tracer feature. This feature (see image above) tracks your movements by dropping a path on the map that can be saved and color-coded. Have one person run the app while the other leapfrogs ahead, to search for the next bit of blood. The person on the app doesn’t move until the next spot of blood is found. In addition to using the app, I also recommend using flagging tape or toilet paper to mark the blood trail. Doing this, in combination with each marked spot of blood on the app, and the use of the Tracer feature, provides a great visual reference you can go back to time and time again.BloodTrail 13 900During the blood-trailing process, be sure to stay on the trail and try and stay behind the blood. If you move too fast, there is a risk of covering up blood, making it difficult for the dog if you need to use one. During the process, flip-flop the roles of blood tracker and app runner. Fresh eyes are a good thing, and often, the next man up will find a speck or fleck that was missed. Keep this process going until you find the animal, or lose blood completely.BloodTrail 9 900If Blood Is Lost. If you get to a point in the tracking process where blood can’t be found, don’t throw in the white towel. Instead, take a look back at your HuntStand app blood markers and Tracer, as well as the surrounding landscape. Many times, using this process, I’ve been able to make an educated guess about where the buck may have gone. Upon predicting a possible path of travel, I move slowly to that spot, while the app runner stays put on last blood. Often, this method will put you back on the blood, and you can resume the search.BloodTrail 8 900Other Helpful Sign. Don’t get wholly fixated on seeing only red. Pay close attention to every detail. Get a good picture in your mind of what the animal’s track looks like. Many times, especially when trailing elk, I’ve been able to stay on the track and recover the animal, or that track ends up leading me to the next spot of blood. Also, keep a keen eye peeled for pieces of stomach or gut content on the ground. Hair may also be visible. In addition, take particular interest in bushes or trees that show a new break at the body level of the animal. Disturbed grass and leaves are also tell-tail signs that the hit animal passed through.BloodTrail 11 900Take Breaks. Tracking blood can be an exhausting process. It’s hard on the body and the mind. Time spent inching along the ground on hands and knees is difficult, and your eyes, as previously mentioned, can get tired. A tired body and mind lead to shortcuts, and shortcuts lead to not finding your animal. Don’t be afraid, if temperatures allow, to abandon the search for a bit. Head back to camp and grab a bite to eat, or if you’re on the mountain, prepare a freeze-dried meal before resuming the search. More than once, I’ve returned to the scene with fresh eyes, and uncovered something I’d previously missed.BloodTrail 7 900Make A Decision. Sometimes all the blood-trailing in the world won’t be enough, and you’ll be forced to make a decision. Do you go with a dog or do a grid search? First, you need to check local game laws and make sure a tracking dog is legal. Second, if you’re leaning toward using a blood dog, you’ll need to contact the owner and check on availability and give them the 411 on the situation. If you decide to do a grid search, now is the time to bring in the army.

Pull up HuntStand and take a look at the area. Be sure to note likely places the animal may have headed, such as water sources, bedding areas, and thickets. Now, have the team fan out and start searching. Be relentless in the search. Leave no stone unturned. Never call it off until the animal is recovered, or it becomes glaringly apparent the hit wasn’t vital. Good luck out there!