Hunting season is upon us throughout the whitetail’s range. It’s a glorious time of year and one filled with excitement and opportunity. We enter deer-hunting season with different expectations and avidity levels, but regardless of where you live and hunt, I’m encouraging you to set the following five goals for this season. If you achieve them, this will be one of the most memorable hunting seasons of your life.
Hunt a New Spot
We all have our favorite stands, and for good reason. Maybe it’s where you shot your first deer, biggest buck, or where you and a parent or grandparent spent a lot of time together. Whatever the reason, keep hunting it, but be sure to hunt at least one new spot this year. And by new spot I mean scout a property you have access to (public or private), and use that information to hang a tree stand, set up a ground blind, or sit/stand by a tree you haven’t hunted before. The scouting trip is great exercise for your legs and your mind, the new scenery will be a welcomed addition to your deer stand views, and a new spot in a low pressured area can produce big results in the venison department.
Shoot a Doe
To keep deer herds healthy, we need to shoot at least as many antlerless deer as antlered bucks across most of the whitetail’s range. The national antlerless harvest has been declining, and it’s up to hunters to correct this. If you’re in a region with extremely restricted antlerless harvest opportunities, you can skip this goal. However, this doesn’t apply to the vast majority of hunters. The first year we shot more antlerless deer than bucks was 1999, and we continued that trend through 2015. Unfortunately, we’ve slipped most years since. Let’s fix that this year. Worried too many other hunters are filling too many doe tags? Don’t be. Only about 41% of hunters shoot a deer each year, and only 18% shoot more than one. You have that doe tag in your pocket for a reason – use it.
Donate a Deer (Or Part of One)
As hunters we have an incredible opportunity to feed our families and others. As of 2020, 10% of households in the U.S. were “food insecure,” meaning they didn’t have enough protein. Hunters can fix that. The average deer supplies 50 pounds of edible meat, which equates to 200 meals. Donating a deer or part of one to a neighbor, needy family, charity organization or other donation facility is a great way to help keep our deer herds healthy, help put high-quality food on another’s table, and help enhance society’s image of hunters. That’s a win-win-win.
Try a New Dish
Since we’re on the food subject, try a new venison dish this season. It may be a new cut of meat like ossobuco, a new product like summer sausage or jerky, or just a new steak, meatball or chili recipe. Grilled backstraps get the lion’s share of attention, and for good reason, but there’s a world of other opportunities ranging from bone broth to sirloin tips to round roasts just waiting for you to try.
Take Someone Hunting
I listed this one last, but it’s arguably the most important. I grew up in a world where hunting was the most natural thing to do. My father hunted, and so did my grandparents, uncles, cousins, friends, and nearly everyone else I knew. That scene is very different today. The majority of new hunters are adults who either didn’t grow up in a hunting family or didn’t have an interest during their younger years.
Only 4% of Americans buy a hunting license, and the average age is 43 years. That means we need to grow our numbers, and the best way to do so is for each of us to take someone hunting this season. I enjoy hunting with friends and family, but I always make time to mentor at least one new aspiring hunter each year. It’s amazing how some of those hunts have turned out to be my favorites for the year. I guarantee you similar experiences. If this is new for you, you’re likely looking at it as giving up a day of hunting. However, once you mentor someone, you’ll never see it as giving up anything ever again.
Alright, I gave you five goals for this season, and here’s a bonus goal. Expose someone to the National Deer Association by sharing our educational resources. It’s super easy to visit our website and get access to thousands of articles, videos, maps, charts and more. Want to learn more about how deer see, hear and move across the landscape? Check the website. Want to learn how to grow better food plots and enhance habitat for deer? Check the website. Want to learn how to hunt or how to mentor others? You know the drill. Make a plan now to check off these goals and you’re on your way to an awesome 2023 deer season. Good luck, and let me know how you make out.