Making the Most of Your Deer Tag

Author Higley uses a spotting scope to look for deer in open country.

by John Higley

For a long time I’ve been thinking about the so called good-old-days with regard to deer hunting in this state. I started hunting deer in the dark ages of the 1950s when the entire state was open to anyone with a tag and there were lots more deer to hunt. Really. Since the 1970s herds have diminished a lot, and while I still get a buck most years (a blacktail in the C or B zones) it’s not because there are more of them, but because I’m a better hunter, or so I think.

Back when I was young, what I did mostly was wait on migration trails in the eastern Sierra waiting for some deer to walk by, or hike my tail off all day long hoping to jump a deer with legal antlers. Today, I actually think about the patterns of deer and why they’re apt to be in a particular place at a particular time. Thus, I can put myself in the right place at the right time on a fairly regular basis.

Speaking of that, now that I have a tag in my pocket, I wonder if I’ll be able to make the most of it. Here are some questions I’ll be sure to ask myself even before putting my boots on the ground in a hunting situation.

One: What conditions will I be dealing with during the duration of my hunt? Will this be a camp out situation with a vehicle, a motel stay close to the hunting area or a primitive backpack hunt in a remote location? It all makes a difference in the type and amount of gear necessary.

Two: Is the gear I have in good condition, or does some of it need to be repaired or replaced? The time to make those fix or replace decisions is now, and not when I’m somewhere between here and nowhere.

Three: Are my optics adequate for the task at hand? Binoculars, check. Riflescope, check. Spotting scope, in case it’s big, open country, check.

Four: Have I sighted in my rifle recently with the ammo I intend to use on the hunt? No, but I promise I will. While I feel my old . .270 is still right on, a few shots to confirm that fact will be necessary. If I miss somehow during a hunt I need to know if it’s me or the rifle to blame. Come to think of it, if it’s the rifle, I’m to blame for that too.

Five: In unfamiliar country do I have the proper maps to find my way around? I know, I know, I can carry a GPS unit and computer generated maps or even aerial photos but, being old fashion, I have trouble deciphering some of them. I prefer a detailed map I can read easily regardless of the source it comes from. Personally, I want a compass in my pocket as well.

Six: Good boots are a necessity, and clothing should be thought out too. I’ll take along the layers needed for anything Mother Nature conjures up. Of course, it’s one thing to hunt from an established base camp with plenty of gear, and quite another to bivouac with the bare necessities.

Seven: What items do I need to process a deer in the field? I’ll think about that and pack accordingly. At the very least, I’ll make sure my knives are sharp enough for field dressing and skinning and that I have game bags to protect the carcass from dirt and flies. Also, I’ll have an extra pack frame in the truck – just in case some young guy comes along and insists on carrying a load of meat for me. Hey, I can daydream, can’t I?.

Eight: Most important of all, perhaps, is time allowed for pre-hunt scouting and for the hunt itself. Like a lot of other folks, I’m guilty of carrying my busy lifestyle into the field but I swear this year will be different. This year I will concentrate on the task at hand and, temporarily at least, let go of the need to be connected with any sort of electronic device. In other words, I’ll get back to basics, relax and hunt for deer because it’s fall, and that’s what I have to do. I suspect that some of you will be right behind me.

Author and writer John Higley is a resident of Palo Cedro. His articles have appeared in outdoor magazines hundreds of times and his columns appear regularly at Higley has written four books the latest of which “Successful Turkey Hunting” was published in May, 2014 by Skyhorse Publishing in New York. This hard cover, full color book is being sold at Barnes and Noble Book Stores and on Amazon. Autographed copies are available direct from John Higley, P.O. Box 120, Palo Cedro, CA 96073. Cost is $28.95 postage paid.