I have always desired to be a competent hunter. I have grown a lot and enjoy more consistent success now than ever before. From day one, I have learned from other hunters. The true credit of any success I have experienced belongs to them. The following is a snapshot of how I have watched, listened, and grown.
As a young boy, my dad would drag me into the woods along with his brother-in-law. I was your typical awkward little boy with a pair of hand me down boots a couple sizes too big. My uncle constantly encouraged me to walk quietly and keep my eyes scanning ahead. I learned a lot about navigation from those early years—to include reading a map and maintaining a bearing throughout the day. My uncle was a pretty good caller and, being exposed to that at a young age, he made a lasting impression on my calling efforts. After several years of tagging along, I was old enough to complete a hunter safety course and hunt for myself.
During my second year of hunting, Dad took my older brother and me to Montana to hunt with his buddy, Robin. It was during this time I learned what blisters were and that you could go a whole day of hunting without stopping for snacks. Robin was a war veteran, tough as nails, and in phenomenal shape. He liked to hunt big bulls during late season hunts where he could use the snow. Robin would track a bull to his bed where he either got a shot or jumped the bull. If the bull ran, Robin pushed the bull ridge over ridge until he got a shot. Often times Robin would see something and say, "Okay kid we need to run." Other times he would say it was time to slow down and get stealthy. He would always explain his decisions and quiz me about where the truck was as we were hiking. Many of the decisions were based on the direction of tracks, the terrain, or just a feeling he had.
My third year of hunting, we went back to Montana to hunt with my dad's friend, Jeff. Jeff taught me how to react quickly. In addition to big game, he was an avid bird hunter and could have his scope on target before I could even shoulder my rifle. Throughout the days, Jeff made me practice preparedness and reaction to scenarios. I still practice his lessons today. For example, one of my favorite ways to practice reactiveness is to drop a golf ball down a PVC tube, nock an arrow, shoot, and catch the ball before it hits the ground.
During high school, I would go hunting with my best friend, Jess, and his family for blacktail deer. On these excursions, it was common to have three hunting rigs full of people. It was a great change of pace for me to learn the importance of friendship and family in hunting. Previous hunting experiences were all about the expectation of filling a tag and competition for the biggest antlers. I learned what it meant to enjoy the moment and the beauty of the wild. This group killed plenty of deer, but they were having just as much fun with one another as they were filling their freezers. I do consider filling my tag to be part of a successful hunt and a trophy class animal is a bonus, but you also need to have fun and enjoy your hunting partners.
Jess and I often liked to partner up and hunt as just the two of us. We had a similar passion for the woods and liked to hunt hard. Sometimes we got out for a short hunt after school. Other times, we convinced our parents to let us pull a sick day. Back then, Jess loved to find a great spot along a promising game trail and camp out for several hours. I was not very much into this style, but I have used this technique successfully on a few of my own deer and elk. Jess is one of the sneakiest guys I have ever hunted with. He moves well and takes considerable effort to be quiet and conceal himself. The two of us are constantly feeding off each other to improve our skill set. Today, we both hunt a little more like the other—Jess covers a lot more ground than he used to while I add in a little sit time and stealth to my style.
Moving into my college years, my dad introduced me to his friend, Steve. Steve was a traditional bow hunter and preferred staying in the same few hunting areas. He taught me the importance of learning a specific spot really well so that he could learn animal patterns. As a result, Steve knew where animals would be at certain times of the day, where they went when they got bumped, how to play the wind and thermals, and what effect the weather had on movement. Steve literally hiked, scouted, camped, and hunted all within two specific areas. This approach has paid off well for me. However, I still try to scout and hunt one new spot each year. Variables such as logging, fires, disease, and predators have a way of interfering and taking over a hunting spot. You need alternative places to go to.
I believe having a diverse toolbox at your disposal that grows each hunting season is critical to success. It takes an open mind and humility to recognize someone else is better at something than you are. Take those moments and learn.
- Danny Bell