1. Leave the un-necessities at camp
Do you really need to take your gut hook and gloves to your treestand or hunting blind? Do you need two doe bleats and two buck calls? I’m a person who makes sure the bases of planning are covered, like taking a headlamp and a mini-light, but I always go through my pack before each hunt and ask myself what I need to take for this hunt. Leave the gutting gloves at camp and retrieve them after your victory shot but take the extra crossbow cocking strap so if one breaks, you can still shoot your bow.
Certain backup hunting gear is worth the carry: On a crossbow hunt years ago, my cocking strap broke when I tried to pull the bowstring at the bottom of my stand. I had to walk 25 minutes back to camp to grab my backup, making my presence infinitely known. Somehow I was still able to shoot a buck that day about two hours later.
2. Count sheep, not beers
Let’s try this scenario: You’re sitting in your treestand 20 feet above ground, it’s cold, you’re holding a loaded weapon, and you’re tired from getting only a few hours of sleep. Does that sound safe? Would you drive a car when you’re tired with a loaded gun on your lap?
Sleep keeps you safe, feeling refreshed, and allows you to stay awake so you can keep an eye on those trees 100 yards out for the latest moment. After all, you’re not out there to sleep or be dangerous—you’re out there to see deer before they see you.
How to prepare for sleep before a hunt: If you have trouble shutting it down, try melatonin spray. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body that tells your body it’s time to sleep. As we age, melatonin production decreases, making it harder for some of us to fall asleep. Do not take the pill form, as melatonin needs to be absorbed in to the body sublingually (in your mouth, not in your stomach). Just before bed, try 2-3 sprays of melatonin under your tongue, hold for 30 seconds, swish and swallow. To keep its effectiveness, I recommend using it for three days and then taking a break for three days. Oh, and it won’t knock you out like Ambien, but should relax you for sleep in about 30 minutes.
3. Stay ‘above ground’ to dry and warm
If you have to drive and get dressed at your hunting location (my property is like this in Ohio), keep a few ‘tactical’ items in your truck. Standing on cold or damp ground to get dressed is never fun and standing on a tarp or garbage bag can be noisy and collects pools of water. Find yourself an old piece of carpet to stand on. You won’t notice the raindrops on carpet and it will keep you insulated from the cold earth. You can also try a patterned outdoor rubber mat that has some depth to it so you can stand on the higher parts and let the water seek lowers levels.
Best option for warm feet for hunting: I recommend using a rubber boot tray (the kind with the high lip all the way around the edges) and put the carpet inside the tray—this will keep the carpet from getting wet underneath and double-insulate your feet from the ground.
4. If you can afford it, buy a doe and buck tag
Here in Ohio, you can choose either a Doe Tag or an Urban Tag. A doe tag allows you to shoot just that—a doe. An Urban Tag gives you’re the choice to shoot a buck or a doe—and you can wait to choose that sex up to the point you draw your arrow on a deer. Essentially, if you only by the Urban Tag and a beautiful doe passes by first, you have to make the choice to shoot the doe or wait for a buck—a choice that may never come.
Buying both buck and doe tags reduces pressure: I always buy both tags, and I do so for multiple reasons. First, the tags are not that expensive in Ohio so I can afford to buy both. Second, it takes the stress out of every hunt if a doe or buck will show up first. Third, if I don’t fill the tag, I know the money spent still goes toward wildlife funding so it can feel like I’m giving back to the hunting and wildlife communities.
5. Remember your release and other hunting gear
Have you ever walked to your tree stand and realized you forgot your scent, gloves, or even your release? Leaving just one of those behind can make the difference in being discovered, cold, or not being able to hunt at all.
A pocket or clasp for every piece: I follow a very systematic approach with my hunting gear prior to departure. Use the “kiddie clasp” on your gloves to keep them connected and always put them in the same pocket. Attach a hunter orange carabineer to your release so you can easily find it in the dark, and let it serve as a way to hook it to your jacket if needed (ever drop your release from 20 feet in the air once your settled?). Have a 1-5 system-check list of the most important things you need for every hunt and run through that list before you leave the truck.