By Robert Hanneman, June 2013
A call I get here at The Huntin’ Fool regularly deals with a member who has successfully drawn a tag and who needs help with step two. These members have spent years trying to draw, and then all the stars aligned and they were successful in drawing a great tag. So what is the next step for a self-guided hunter? Let me tell you what I would do if it was me with the tag. After finding out I have drawn I spend a lot of time jumping around and acting crazy, celebrating my good fortune. After that I would call The Huntin’ Fool and get the Member Draw list emailed to me. This is the list of members who have drawn your tag in the past. This is a great resource. For a self-guided hunter this is some of the best information you can get. Then I would call my hunting buddy and tell him to clear his schedule!
What’s next? Maps, maps, and more maps. It may sound like overkill but not to me. I order maps from the Forest Service, BLM, and The Huntin’ Fool. I also look around for any other maps printed for my area. The thing to know about maps is that each map will have some information that the other doesn’t. An example of this is the Nevada maps from the 60’s and 70’s my grandfather gave me. I have found seasonal waterholes in Nevada that the older maps show, but they are not located on the new maps. I also order a GPS mapping chip and a Delorme Gazetteer for the state. As I am waiting for my maps I spend a lot of time on Google Earth trying to learn the unit. Google Earth can be helpful with aerial photos that can later be compared to your other maps. This is a great way to look for glassing points prior to getting into the area.
State Fish and Game websites are my next stop after ordering maps. Some states will have more information than others. I print off all the information that can be found on the website, including all of the harvest reports for the last 5 years. Some of the information you may find are harvest locations, size of animals, average age, days hunted, percentage of public land, and hunter information sheets. All of this will be helpful as you get ready to start making phone calls.
After collecting all of my maps and state information I would make a call back to The Huntin’ Fool to see if any of the consultants know anything about that area. Then I would start calling the people on the Member Draw list. The best advice I can give you is to be polite and courteous and listen to what the members have to say. Remember that these guys are doing you a favor by sharing their information, so do more listening and less talking. Have your maps laid out so you can highlight areas they recommend and take down notes about access, water, game locations, and anything else you find important. The last people I contact are the taxidermists in the area. Some of these guys can be very helpful if it is a once-in-a-lifetime type of tag.
The internet can be a very helpful tool, but the first thing you have to realize is that 75% of the information you will find online is worthless. Everyone with a computer can be a hunting expert on the many hunting forums online. I also do Google searches on the hunt that I have drawn. I go through all of the information online and print out any of it that I find useful. I can honestly say that I have found some great information online, so don’t overlook it.
Once I have a good idea about what to expect I call the biologist. Talking to a biologist can be very tricky. If you have a standard question, like where to hunt, they will give you the same answer as all the other hunters asking the same question. This is why I talk to the biologist after I have done all of my other research. I usually have the area narrowed down to a couple of spots I am thinking of scouting or hunting. By asking them detailed questions on areas you have already researched you are more likely to get more detailed information from them. I also like to ask them about how their last survey went and about the male to female ratios in the unit. Other great questions to ask are about population size, population densities, private vs. public land, average animal taken, hunting pressure, and access.
If possible, the next step is to make a scouting trip out to the unit. This is where all your hard work starts to payoff. If possible, I try to find a local pilot to fly me over the unit. This way I can get a bird’s eye view of the area. I make sure to have my GPS and video camera and mark or film anything I find useful. I am usually able to hire a pilot to fly me for a couple of hours for under $300. This is definitely worth the money, especially in the desert units of the southwest. Once I am back on the ground I spend time driving all the roads in the unit to find all of my access points. During that time I check out any waterholes that I find. As I am driving around I keep a notebook with me and take down notes on waterholes, tracks, animals spotted, and possible glassing points. Mornings and evenings will find me glassing, and the middle of the day will find me exploring the unit.
After returning from the scouting trip I always have more questions for the biologist and guys from the Member Draw list. I reconnect with them and go over the information again now that I have firsthand knowledge of the country. I have found that most biologists are more helpful to hunters who have spent time on the unit.
If I am unable to make a scouting trip, I try to get to the unit 4-5 days before the season opens. I try to accomplish the same things I had planned for the scouting trip. When the season is open it is game on! Hopefully I have a couple of animals located from scouting that will make up my hit list. Hunting public land can be frustrating as most hunters bring three to five friends to help, so plan on seeing people, especially close to the roads. Here is where you have to grind it out and hunt smarter and harder than everyone else.
We all hear people talking about being in top physical condition in order to succeed in hunting, but we rarely hear about being in top mental condition. Being in top mental condition is more important to me than being in top physical condition. If you are in top mental condition, you can handle anything thrown your way. Never give up, and hunt hard until your last day. Respect yourself for the effort you made, no matter if you harvest an animal or not.
If this sounds more demanding or involved than your schedule will allow and your tag is a once-in-a-lifetime type tag, then an outfitter may be your best option. A good outfitter will already have all the information covered in this article and will be very familiar with the unit and the animals that live there. We work with the best outfitters in the industry and can assist you in choosing the right outfitter based on what you want out of your hunt.
Good luck in the draw, and if it cannot be me drawing that great tag, I hope it is you!