By Brian Barney
The majority of us hunters have to balance family, work and responsibility with bowhunting. Taking off months for every season is just not in the cards for most of us. Hunting on weekends is probably not something that’s new to you, and probably doesn’t sound like cutting edge bowhunting. What is cutting edge is being more efficient to find consistent success with limited amounts of time. I am not saying I succeed every weekend trip, but if I can stack multiple weekends together, I can usually find a way to get it done.
Every year I am fortunate enough to take a couple extended trips, but after the smoke clears, I become a weekend warrior. Sleep-deprived and exhausted, it’s time to dig deep and knock down that trophy before work on Monday.
Stuck in a rut
Be willing to travel to put yourself into game. Most of the hunting units are fairly large, and in some cases with a general tag you can hunt almost the entire state. If your local spots are not producing, don’t get stuck in a rut. It seems western hunting spots are always changing and to be successful you have to change too.
I have had some awesome hunting spots for bucks and bulls that were good year after year and now have changed. Game populations get worse in some areas and better in others. Or, maybe the bulls and bucks got pressure in those spots and move to other hidey holes within the same range. Whatever the reason, it may be time to look for greener pastures.
Usually, when I discover new spots, whether in wilderness or a little out-of-the-way piece of BLM, there is nobody hunting there. The animals find a place where they can run their program without getting human pressure. Believe me, there are new public spots waiting to be discovered. Every year I find and hunt giant bucks and huge bulls with easy to draw tags. I am always searching for that next great spot in other western states as well as my home state of Montana. Trophy animals are out there, you just have to work hard to find them. Give it all you have for a long weekend and see if you can discover that new epic spot.
Get comfortable with the dark; this is where the weekend warrior does the majority of his travel. With limited days it’s all about fitting in those extra hunts. It’s about driving all night after work on Friday or staying late on Sunday, hunting the evening and then driving late into the night to make it back for work. You have to try to squeeze in as many hunts as you can, giving yourself the best chance to succeed.
Try to get to the best spots at the best times, hiking in the dark. Don’t waste your precious morning or evening hunts trying to get in and out of country. Hike in the dark and then sleep next to your prime vantage point. Stay late in the evening, giving yourself every opportunity to catch a monster, then hike out in the dark. It’s these sacrifices for extra hunting time that begin to swing the odds in your favor of arrowing a brute.
To be successful you have to have a clear mind, free from stress, problems and everyday hustle. You have to immerse yourself in the country and quarry you are hunting. All your thoughts and all your energy go into arrowing a trophy. Only having the weekend, you have to make this transition quickly. Do everything you can, then concentrate on the challenge at hand. I try to take care of all my responsibilities before I leave. I will work late, take care of family and make all my phone calls during the week so when I am out there, hunting is all I think about. When you are focused on hunting and only hunting, you push harder, make smarter plays and make fewer mistakes. So when you get there make a conscious effort to transition from everyday life to be a driven predator.
Plan, plan, plan
If you have been reading my articles, you have probably noticed my redundancy in planning. I think in every in article I have written there is a piece on planning, but for good reason. By forming a plan you create accountability to follow through with the goals you set out. This is especially important for the weekend warrior whose time is limited.
Before season starts, plan out how many and which weekends you can hunt. Remember, success with a bow is the ultimate challenge, so the more the better. Plan with your family, work and any other obligations, so everyone knows you are leaving.
Also, this is where that vacation and sick time is worth its weight in gold. Instead of taking all that vacation time at once, spread it out over several weekends. If you can add a Friday or a Monday to a weekend you add hunts and opportunities, and increase your odds of notching your tag. Spreading out your vacation time over multiple weekends is an efficient way to use your days. A bowhunter is more effective in multiple weekend trips than in one extended trip. Each weekend you return fresh, focused and enthused for the hunt. You learn from your mistakes and get better as you go.
Once your weekends are penciled in, it’s time to plan out your days. Have a plan for where you are going to be come first light and where you will look if you don’t find animals. Give an area of interest a good look before giving up on it and moving. I like to give it at least two prime-time hunts before I change spots. I think a lot of guys give up too easily on locations. Really investigate, and get to the right spots at the right times and you will see what lives there. If you can’t locate any animals, it’s time to move.
Always have a backup plan. Even if you just have a hunt or two left, change spots and go hard. When you get down to your last hunt, hope starts to fade. This is the time to make one last go, because it only takes one chance, one good hunt to punch a tag.
Each time you return from a weekend hunt you need to reflect on what went right and what went wrong. Think about where you located animals and whether or not you spooked them. At your week back at work be strategizing. Study maps for areas that produced and new areas of interest. Think about vantage points and camping locations, and what may work better. Learn from your hunting days, and come back better prepared. Think of how you can improve on past stalks and approaches on the animals. If the stalking conditions are noisy, bring back stalking shoes or wool socks. Try to address the reason you did not succeed, and find a solution.
Also learn from the animals’ habits, and how you can exploit them. Think about how the animals move through county and where they feed and bed down. Look for an ambush spot once you figure out there tendencies. By the time the next weekend rolls around you are more prepared to put yourself into bow range.
A weekend hunter has to hunt hard to earn an opportunity. You may turn up a monster in your first spot, or it may take five different spots. The key here is to keep the faith, don’t get discouraged. Keep thinking, and coming up with theories of where the game animals are. If you feel you need to make a major move, make it. Believe in yourself and the choices you make.
Push hard past fatigue to locate a trophy. Just remember as you are pushing hard, it is a fine line between being aggressive and being reckless. There is nothing worse than moving too quickly or moving at the wrong time and spooking a trophy before you ever get a chance at him. So be calculated with your hunts, planning to be at certain vantage points, and how you will move through country. Go slowly over ridges that expose new county, glassing as you go. Be driven and intelligent to catch that trophy before he catches you, giving yourself a stalk and a chance.
Once you earn a stalk, this is where you have to really slow down, you can’t force an opportunity. I stalk the same whether I have one day or ten. There are no short cuts to stalking proficiently. You must manage the wind, noise, and sight of your target animal. Look for an opportunity to get in front of them, or close while cover conceals you. The closer you get the slower you need to move. Animals pick up on movement far before anything else, so fight the urge to hurry up and see if he is there. You have worked hard to locate and then close in on a trophy, take time to move slowly and bury your fletching.
Chances are you have some weekend hunts planned for this year. Don’t get complacent – use your time wisely. You can accomplish your goals with limited amount of time. I know I am far more efficient with multiple weekends than one long trip. Like every year there will be a time crunch and a guy will be left with some tags and limited time to get it done. Be diligent, plan, focus and adapt to find success without getting fired or divorced.