Tag Soup – A Recipe for Future Success

I didn’t get a deer this year. Bob didn’t get one either. It’s not like either of us to go through an entire season without making something happen. Even if I don’t shoot a buck “up North” in the Adirondacks, I’m usually able to spend a little time in the Southern Zone of New York near my home and at least shoot a small buck (and sometimes a big one). But this year was a season of lessons rather than a season of hunting success. And while there is no buck on the wall, I’m actually glad I had the season I did, because what I gained out of this experience was well worth a dry season. Let me explain.

Bob Dunbar and I have hunted a certain area in the Adirondacks for more than ten years and we had the place dialed in. It has produced some nice bucks through the years and had little to no human pressure to speak of. Unfortunately, eventually word gets out about a place like this (it’s public land after all) and other people begin hunting it. It is just the way it works sometimes. Well, that’s basically what happened with our honey hole. Between the time we hunted there in 2016 and the dates we went and hunted it this year in late November 2017, there was significant new pressure from other hunters, many of them competent trackers. But because Bob and I didn’t go there until later in the 2017 season, we were not aware of the fact that quite a few big bucks were already taken out of the area earlier that season and late in the 2016 season as well. So when the good tracking snows came in late November, we were scratching our heads each night when we got back to camp discussing the fact that the only tracks we were cutting were smaller 2 ½ year olds. We were out there putting 10 to 13 mile days in, and did so for the four days we had good tracking snow and we were coming up totally dry. There was such a distinct absence of big buck sign that I began to think I was doing something wrong. It was very frustrating. It was not until we actually met up with some of the hunters who were hitting those mountains hard that we learned of all the pressure and the fact that the area had been “thinned out.” But here was the really difficult part – by that point, the good tracking snow had melted off and turned into a crunchy crust and crunchy leaves. As any tracker knows, you live all season for those soft quiet tracking snow days and they were now gone. To have wasted those days in an area that had seen huge pressure, really hit me in the gut. I know Bob felt just as dejected. But there was a silver lining to this situation…it forced us to seek out some new areas. In our mission to never be at the mercy of one area, we decided to scout-/still-hunt some different places for the remainder of the season.

When we were forced out of the comfort zone of the area we knew so well, we began to see that there were better places to hunt – in some cases much better! I also went on a remote hunt in early November with Dave Williams in his teepee tent which gave me a way to hunt completely away from any other hunters (the story of that remote hunt is posted on my website: www.whitetailtrackers.com/blog/). I also gained knowledge of some other areas that did not contain deer, but rather were large denning areas for multiple bears; a point of fact I filed away in my mind to use later should I set my goals on getting a nice fat boar trundling along to his winter bedroom in the future.

These were all exciting prospects for the future. Ironically, when I returned home to hunt in areas directly around my home that had always contained nice bucks, I soon discovered the same thing was happening there! I could not believe it! My honey holes were trampled with other hunters. Here too, I was forced from my routines. When it rains, it truly pours I guess. But after seeing the results of breaking the mold up North, I carried a different attitude right away. I decided to travel a bit, and I went to hunt some farmland I own a couple towns over. I hadn’t really spent much time hunting there in quite a few years and was astounded to find more buck sign there than in all the years prior. I decided then and there to invest in my property this summer and make a small Southern Zone honey hole of my own.

Like so many things in life, it’s about smashing routines. Having those hunters come in and crowd us out was the best thing that could have happened to me and Bob. I am truly looking forward to next deer season. So while we didn’t get a deer this year, I gained something much more important – adaptability!

Tracking, whitetails, whitetail, still hunting, tag soup, still hunt