By the time most of you read this, Georgia’s 2017-2018 deer season will be winding down, and we’ll have turned the calendar page on another year. Hopefully your season provided lots of great memories and a freezer full of venison. However, if your season — like mine — was less than stellar, take heart. It’s a brand new year and a brand new deer season, and we all get to start the new season with a clean slate and unlimited possibilities for the upcoming fall.
Many of us will kick off 2018 with resolutions. Some of those will include plans to eat healthier, exercise more, and hopefully weigh less. For others, it may include a promotion, a career change, or the beginning of a new business venture. Very rarely, though, do you hear any of us diehard deer hunters talking about our hunting resolutions for the new year.
Truth is, I won’t make any New Year’s resolutions. When I think about resolutions, I think about something doomed for failure; a hope long forgotten before the first Redbud tree blooms in the spring. Instead of resolutions, I prefer to set goals for the year. While some of these goals will be reserved for my career, my finances, and my health, others will be set specifically for hunting.
Yeah, I know. Setting hunting goals may sound a bit over-the-top. However, if you take your hunting seriously, and want to make the most of the hours you get to spend in the field, why not take a little time to lay the ground work for a successful season? It doesn’t have to be complicated or anything formal, but to make it worthwhile, you should take a few steps to maximize the effectiveness of your 2017 deer hunting goals.
KEEP THEM SPECIFIC
The first rule of setting any type of goals for the new year is to keep them specific. If you don’t, it will be hard to stay focused and almost impossible to know whether or not you actually hit your mark. Most of us would like to shoot a big buck next deer season, but how big? Big is a relative term, and what I consider a big buck and what you consider a big buck may be two different things. Maybe your deer hunting goal for 2018 is to kill a buck over 130 inches, or maybe you just want to kill a buck at least 3 ½ years old. Or better yet, you may just want to kill your first buck with a recurve bow. Your goals don’t have to be about the size of a buck or his antlers. In fact, it doesn’t have to be about killing a buck at all (more about that later).
Whatever goal you have in mind, keep it specific and measurable, so at the end of the season, you can look back and know for certain whether or not you hit your mark.
KEEP THEM REALISTIC
Just as important as making your hunting goals specific, is keeping them realistic. There is nothing wrong with dreaming about killing the next Georgia state record buck (I know I do!), but if your goals are consistently unrealistic, you are just going to end up disappointed and frustrated. For example, on the public lands where I hunt, it wouldn’t be very realistic for me to set a goal of shooting a 170-inch buck. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but the odds are extreme. If I set that kind of goal every year, I will eventually throw in the towel and forget about setting any goals at all. The trick is to set realistic goals and keep them high enough to make you work at it, but not so high that success is unlikely.
CREATE A WRITTEN GAME PLAN
Sitting down and giving thought to what you would like to accomplish in 2018 is the first step, but it’s not enough to really tip the odds in your favor. You need to put those goals in writing. There is something about putting pen to paper that makes it real, and it gives you something to review often. However, just jotting down a list of goals and then tucking it away in a drawer somewhere isn’t going to magically help you achieve those goals, either. That is why most New Year’s resolutions never really get off the ground; because they don’t include a game plan.
Think of your goals as a destination you want to reach, and the written game plan as your road map to get there. Without the map, you’ll end up lost and frustrated. Developing a game plan involves taking each goal for the year, and figuring out exactly what it will take to accomplish that goal. Let’s say your goal is to harvest your first Pope & Young buck this fall. To do so, you may need to find a new lease or WMA in an area better known for producing big bucks than where you currently hunt. Or you may need to practice shooting your bow more than usual, or work on your yardage estimating skills. Maybe it’s going to take buying additional trail-cameras and intensively scouting the properties you hunt. Whatever those steps may be, you need to figure out exactly what it’s going to take to make it happen and start planning when and how you will accomplish each step to reach your ultimate goal of harvesting that buck.
At a minimum, I like to break down my goals for the year into monthly tasks. From there, you can further incorporate them into your weekly and even daily to-do lists. By doing this, you can stay focused and on top of your goals, and the season won’t sneak up on you and catch you unprepared. In order to get the most out of your game plan, you will want to review it frequently to see whether you need any adjustments along the way to stay on track to accomplishing your goals.
HOW DID I DO?
No amount of goal setting and planning can guarantee success… especially when it comes to hunting! However, if done properly it will keep you focused on what you want to accomplish and tip the odds of success in your favor. If you find at the end of the year you fell short of your goals, don’t get discouraged. If you always hit your goals, that’s a sure sign you’re not setting your goals high enough. Instead, use the opportunity to reflect on how things went, exactly what went wrong, and how you can improve your game plan for the next year. Every failure is simply a stepping stone on your way to success.
4 GOALS TO GET YOU STARTED
I know I’ve been talking a lot about goals pertaining to bucks, but as I mentioned earlier, your goals don’t have to be about killing a big buck. They can be about trying something new, hunting somewhere different or possibly sharing a hunt with someone special. The possibilities are endless. If you’re having trouble getting started with your goals for 2018, here are four that should be on every deer hunter’s list.
1) Introduce Someone New. There is strength in numbers, and the number of people participating in hunting has dropped significantly over the last 25 years. Today, that number equates to about 5 percent of the U.S. population. In order to ensure a future for deer hunting, we have to reverse this trend. And by “we,” I mean each and every one of us. It is our responsibility to foster the next generation of deer hunters. If fact, I think it should be a personal goal for each of us to introduce at least one new person to deer hunting every year. It may be our child, grandchild, spouse, coworker or next-door neighbor. With the number of single-parent families today, finding a child who has an interest in hunting but no one to take them is not difficult. However, it doesn’t have to be a child. There are plenty of adults out there, as well, who would be more than willing to give hunting a try given the opportunity. All we have to do is ask.
2) Be a Good Representative for Deer Hunters.
Nothing puts deer hunters and deer hunting in a worse light than a major news story about someone poaching or engaging in some type of unethical hunting. Unfortunately, the media rarely differentiates these people from the vast majority of responsible hunters who follow the laws and hunt ethically. As I mentioned before, only 6 percent of the population hunts, but 78 percent of all Americans currently approve of hunting, and the future of hunting will be determined by how all Americans feel about what we do.
Beyond just hunting legally and ethically, it is also in our best interest to watch how we behave in public while wearing camouflage and representing hunters as a whole. That means watching our language and how we publicly discuss the events of our hunts, avoiding going into public places with blood all over our hands or clothes, and not putting our harvested game on public display in a way that would be offensive to non-hunters. I’m not suggesting that we hide or apologize for the fact that we are hunters; I’m just saying that we should respect those who aren’t, because they ultimately hold the future of deer hunting in their hands.
3) Support a Non-profit Conservation Organization.
Deer hunters greatly outnumber all other types of hunters, yet we seem to be the most divided. Amazingly, 41 percent of all duck hunters belong to a duck-hunting organization, but less than one percent of deer hunters belong to a deer hunting organization. That’s why I believe it is vitally important for all deer hunters to be a member of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). Standing united is crucial, but to effectively lobby for the white-tailed deer and deer hunters, we must be part of a larger organization that can advocate on our behalf to state agencies, legislators and other key players in the world of wildlife conservation. And that is exactly what QDMA does.
Beyond just advocating for deer and deer hunters, the QDMA also works to introduce youth to deer hunting through their Branch and national youth hunts, seeks to educate deer hunters on how to best manage their habitat for deer and other wildlife, and encourages its members to hunt safely and ethically. They are also actively involved in critical whitetail research to help us all to be better deer managers and hunters. If you don’t feel QDMA is the right organization for you, at least take the time to get involved with another non-profit conservation organization that seeks to protect our hunting heritage.
4) Find at Least One New Place to Hunt.
You can never have too many places to hunt. If you can, I’ve never had the good fortune of reaching that level of hunting access. That is why I make it a goal to find at least one new place to hunt every year. Some years those efforts have resulted in access to a new piece of private land and other years it has meant trying out a WMA I have never hunted. Either way, having an additional spot gives you new options and new opportunities. Make it a goal to get out this year and knock on some doors, network with friends, family and coworkers, or just scout out a new WMA.
With a fresh new year under way, there is no better time to sit down, pen in hand, and contemplate what you would like to achieve in 2018. While you are setting goals for your health, career, finances, and family, don’t forget to take a few minutes to consider what you hope to accomplish in the field, as well. It may be the difference between another mediocre season, and one you will never forget!