Learning from rookie hunting mistakes

The sun slowly climbed above the wooded hills and it quickly dawned on me I was in the wrong place. For nearly 20 minutes I tried and failed to find a clear path into the woods I wanted to hunt on the opening day of rifle season. Each time I encountered the same roadblock, undergrowth so thick with brambles, briars, and branches it made venturing further impossible.

You can chalk this up as rookie mistake number one.

I learned that relying on Google Maps and a topographic map on my phone a few days before the hunt is not a sufficient substitute for actually going to the area and scouting for the trails I would use.

On the bright side, it was a quick adjustment to hop in the truck, drive a quarter mile up the road find another parking lot and lo and behold a clear, wide open trail up the side of the hill I wanted to hunt.

I skirted the hard edge of the woods looking for deer sign while making my way up the steep, but not altogether rugged hillside. On the way up I realized just how out of shape I was.

This would be rookie mistake number two.

Choosing to still hunt requires a good bit more cardio exercise than one might think. Two months ago I laid out a plan to hike for a few hours every weekend to get myself ready for deer season. I planned my work but didn't work my plan and on Monday paid for it stopping every 50 yards or so gasping for breath.

Aside from the burning in my lungs as I sucked in mouthfuls of air, the frequent stops were a good thing. They forced me to take in my surroundings; to really look and really listen. While I never did hear any sounds of movement I did see plenty of deer sign or more to the point, plenty of deer scat.

The most, and freshest, was in a pocket clearing connecting a couple of game trails. I set up off to one side behind a laydown and patiently waited for about an hour.

Say hello to rookie mistake number three.

The spot I sat in was too close to the trail, had poor shooting lanes, and I gotta think I ended up leaving too much human scent behind. What I should have done was a mental 360 of the area before walking in and grabbing a seat. Had I done that I would have realized all the problems listed above and moved out back across the main trail to set up with a good vantage point of the clearing.

I ended up doing just that a bit later which leads me to rookie mistake number four.

For hours I sat, well laid, staring into that clearing waiting the deer I knew was there to come walking back down the game trail. If I had to do it all over again, I would have either hiked farther up that hill looking for a way into the woods or hiked back down the hill, across the road and into the fields below. Exploring the area more would have provided me with other possible places to hunt through the day and this weekend or next.

My final mistake, and I'm not really sure it was a mistake, was to pack up and head home around three in the afternoon. Yes, there was still plenty of daylight left and I probably missed the hour or so when deer were on the move. Here's the thing though. I was growing tired and realized my focus wasn't nearly as sharp as it had been earlier in the day. With that in mind, I thought the safer move was to call it quits as opposed to pushing it and potentially taking a bad shot.

Needless to say I came home with an unfilled tag. On the other hand, my first hunt is under my belt, I learned a good deal, and sparked a desire to return to the field as soon as possible.

By the way, I’m open to any and all advice from you more experienced hunters.

*Jeff Herman is the assistant news director at WMAR | ABC2 and a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. His main passion while not at work is fishing. This column is part of a series of columns he writes for our outdoors page . You can read more of his columns here . Follow him on Twitter @JeffABC2News    and @TightLinesABC2

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