Hunting and fishing have been the primary pastimes for my family ever since I was just a boy. We all love the outdoors and the challenge. Once I started a family of my own, hunting and fishing became a way to provide food as well. These activities weren’t always fun for me though. I would sit in my uncle’s boat on the Eleven Point River and wonder what I was doing wrong. Even though I used the same lures and cast in the same spot, he caught all of the fish. I had a similar experience with hunting. My father would take me squirrel hunting and he would bag one after another while I came home empty handed.
What I quickly realized was that these are skills that have been developed over a lifetime. I look back over our photo albums and can’t count how many deer my father has bagged. Learning from watching a mentor is a wonderful experience. It develops a bond that you can’t replace. However, there are some simple tips that can help you be more successful right out of the gate. In this article we will cover tips for hunting specific types of game as well as different types of fishing. Hopefully these tips will help you have more success and fun when in the wild.
Squirrel Hunting Tips
Pick the Right Firearm: It’s important that you use the right gun for the job when dealing with game as small as a squirrel. A firearm that’s too large will destroy the animal and leave no meat for the frying pan. If you have a great deal of experience and your aim is true, a headshot from a .22 rifle is the best way to preserve your meat. If not, a 410 shotgun requires less accuracy but has a small enough shell that the meat won’t be torn up by the shot.
Walk and Wait: Like many animals, squirrels will often stay hidden when they see or hear movement. However, you need to be able to cover a decent amount of ground. Your best bet is to slowly and quietly walk about 20 paces. Then stop and wait for 10 to 20 minutes. If you don’t see or hear squirrels, walk another 20 paces.
Find a Nesting Tree: Squirrels often like to find a dead tree with holes in it and live there. They sleep there at night and use the tree for a safe shelter during the day. If you find a nest tree, squirrels will often come and go all day. Stick by that tree and you’ll be fine.
Look for the Right Kind of Trees: When looking for squirrels, try to stick to their food sources. Squirrels love hickory nuts and mulberries when they’re ripe. If you can find hickory trees or mulberry trees, you’re on the right track.
Sound Like a Squirrel: Squirrels are a curious animal. If you make the right sound, sometimes it will draw them out of hiding. By placing a few small stones in your hand and grinding them together, you replicate the sound of a squirrel chewing on a nut shell. This will sometimes get them to come into the open.
Start Early: Squirrels are most active between dawn and 10am. Get into the woods as early as you can to work the morning hours.
Rabbit Hunting Tips
Stick to the Brush: Rabbits love to hide out in thick brush about waist high. It makes them very difficult to see so be careful with your strategy. Often you can be in a brush patch only a hundred feet across and there can be dozens of rabbits hiding. A good way to hunt is to send either one hunter or a dog into the brush to flush out the rabbits. Then keep two or more hunters along the edge of the brush patch to fire when the rabbits dart into the open.
Find What They Eat: Sometimes rabbits will be right out in the open if you find their food source. One food they love to munch on is clover patches. Normally these are found in relatively short fields, so the rabbits are easy to pick off from a distance. I’ve mowed an area on my property with lots of clover and take at least a half dozen rabbits a year from 100 yards with the .22 rifle.
If They Run, Keep After Them: Rabbits don’t travel far from their homes. If you spook a rabbit and don’t get off a shot, pay close attention to where they’re headed. They often just run far enough to feel safe and then stop again. It’s not unusual for a rabbit to only run 20 or 30 yards if they find thick brush.
Turkey Hunting Tips
Find a Roost Tree: The best odds of bagging a turkey is when you position yourself within 100 yards of a roost tree. Turkeys will stay in their roost until just before dawn and then fly down to start the day. Before you plan to hunt, head to your hunting area in the evening. Listen for the sounds of wings flapping to determine where the roost might be. Turkeys have huge wings, so they make a great deal of noise. Then plan to sit about 100 yards from the roost the following morning.
Start Before Dawn: The best time to take a turkey is right after they fly down from the roost. This typically happens at first light or close to it. Make a note of where you hear them fly down from the roost then reposition yourself or your decoys based on the turkey’s exact location.
Hunt Edges of Fields: Turkeys are very visual animals. They can see another turkey from several hundred yards away. It’s good to have the cover of woods to hide your location, but also good to have a decoy out in the open so turkeys can see it. I like to sit just off the edge of the field in the woods and set up my decoys 20 to 30 yards into the field.
Stay Still and Keep Quiet: Turkeys have incredible hearing and eyesight. If you make a sound, they can actually tell your exact location from over 100 yards away. They can spot movement or an irregular shape from further than that. You should be in head to toe camouflage and don’t move unless you have no other choice. A ground blind is sometimes the best way to avoid being spotted. The only sounds should be coming from your turkey call.
Be Mobile: If you hear a turkey gobble but they don’t respond to your calls or seem to be getting closer, pick up your gear and quietly move in that direction. Often turkeys will be stubborn and simply won’t move.
Let the Turkey Come to You: Many hunters will use their call, get a response, and then keep calling. This is a mistake. If you call too often, it can make the gobbler think that the hen is coming to them. Once you get a response, sit quietly for 10 to 15 minutes. Often the gobbler knows exactly where you are and is headed your way.
Become a Skilled Caller: Because turkeys are so intelligent and have such a great sense of hearing, you must be realistic with your calls. A slate, box call, or mouth call should be able to accurately replicate a hen. Get an audio recording of hen turkeys and practice your calling. Also, don’t just call from one spot. Hen turkeys don’t stay still when they call. They walk back and forth. Call from one spot then walk 20 feet to call again.
Choose the Right Choke Tube: Often turkey hunters will need to take shots at 40 to 50 yards. To make a shot like that, you’ll need an ideal choke tube to hold your pattern as tight as possible. Once you buy your shells and choke tube, set a target at 50 yards to test what kind of pattern you’re getting. Make sure you’re happy with the pattern before hitting the woods.
Other Game Bird Tips
Know How to Lead a Bird: One of the most challenging aspects of wing shooting is getting your lead right. Based on the speed and distance of the bird, you need to know exactly where to aim. For me, the best way to practice your lead is to shoot some clays. I spent $40 and got a clay thrower for our property along with a case of biodegradable clays. I always shoot some clays for practice in advance before going hunting. You can also visit a range or shooting club to shoot clays.
Birds are Visual Animals: All birds have incredible eyesight. This is how they can see food and predators on the ground while flying high above. I’ve seen flocks of geese flying in formation high above suddenly change their direction because they see movement on the ground. When bird hunting, stay hidden and still until ready to fire.
Think About Where the Bird will Land: If you’re not hunting with a dog, it’s vital to think about where the prey will fall. If it falls in deep water or thick brush, you may never retrieve your bird. Take the shot over clear ground so your prey can easily be retrieved.
Deer Hunting Tips
Get in a Tree: Deer have eyesight that is similar to a human’s except that they have better peripheral vision. However, they have no natural reason to look above ground level. They typically don’t have any food sources or predators in the trees. Therefore, they rarely look up from the ground. You can get away with much more movement if you’re 15 to 30 feet off the ground.
Start before Dawn: Some of your best deer hunting will be right at first light. In order to avoid spooking these deer, be in your stand early. I like to get there an hour before dawn just to be sure.
Don’t Forget Evening Hunting: Morning hunts are my favorite but I’ve bagged many deer in the evening as well. I like to get to my stand two to three hours before dark. Often, the action will not happen until right before dark.
Know How to Use Calls: For deer hunting, there are two primary calls I use. A grunt call simulates the sound a mature buck would make. If a deer is walking and you want it to stop for a clean shot, a single grunt might work. I also sometimes use rattling antlers during the rut. This simulates two bucks fighting or a buck rubbing against a tree. Bucks are territorial, so it may bring them running.
Hunt the Rut: The deer rut in the fall is when does are in heat so bucks are looking to mate and to fight with other bucks. This is when they get a bit careless, which is an advantage for the hunter. Bucks and does will often ignore their own safety to go after a mate. You can view rut reports online to find out when it will hit in your area.
Look for Buck Signs: Do some scouting before you pick your hunting spot. Deer often travel the same paths to and from water, food, and bedding areas. These game trails will be obvious when you see them. This indicates a good area for deer traffic. For buck signs, you can look for rubs and for scrapes. Rubs are where bucks have rubbed their horns on small trees and you can see the bark worn off. Scrapes are where bucks have scraped away leaves and other debris on the ground to mark their territory. These are sure signs that a buck is close by.
Know How to Track: Most of the shots I have taken on deer with both bow and rifle have dropped them quickly. However, there have been a couple that travelled a great distance before dropping. Before you start tracking, sit tight for about 30 minutes. This will give the deer time to lie down and bleed out. When it’s time to start tracking, start where the deer was first shot and not where you saw them last. I like to take a roll of toilet paper or a spool of orange cordage with me to clearly mark my path. Keep your weapon handy as you track in case a second shot is needed. If it’s getting dark and you’re having trouble following the blood trail, clearly mark your location and come back the next morning. The deer will still be there once you have more daylight.
Mask Your Smell: A deer’s primary sense is smell. Deer have a sense of smell 60 times stronger than a human’s and significantly stronger than a dog’s. They can smell items that are 20 feet underground, smell fingerprints, and even smell electricity. Be wary of foods that you bring and other scents like toothpaste, soap, or deodorant. I like to wash all of my hunting clothes in a cover detergent and then put them in an airtight container. I wash with earth scent soap and use earth scent deodorant. Then before I head to my stand I spray down my whole body with earth scent. I carry apples for snacks and water to drink so there are no unnatural smells. I also use deer urine on my boots to cover my scent and draw in deer during the rut.
Don’t be Afraid of Live Bait: Often I find that experienced fishermen think that fishing with worms or minnows is childish or amateurish. Any method of fishing that catches fish is a good method. Often, I like to use worms to find out what species of fish are living in a body of water. This can tell me what lures to use.
Use Plastic Worms for Bass: My favorite type is pond fishing for bass. We have a pond on our property and catch dozens of largemouth bass each season. In my experience, I’ve never gotten better results with any lure than with a dark brown plastic worm. I just cast it out with no float or weight and reel it in with a slight jerking motion.
Make Adjustments: In my fishing experience, there have been many times that I needed to change my strategy to be successful. When I first started fishing our pond, I just couldn’t set the hook despite lots of bites. I had been placing my hook about 1/3 of the way down the plastic worm. Instead, I moved it to ½ way down the worm and started landing the hook every time. I started out using a fairly stiff rod and found that sometimes the lure was jerked out of the fish’s mouth.
When I switched to an ultralight, I landed more fish and also had more fun doing it. Finally, I sometimes found that once a big bass was hooked it would jump out of the water and get off of the hook. To compensate, I started anticipating the jump and then giving the fish some slack so it didn’t have the tension needed to get free.
In Rivers and Streams, Work the Irregular Water: When fishing in moving water, you must consider where the fish want to be. They prefer to stay out of the fast water but close enough to it to grab food as it floats by. They often will sit facing upstream behind rocks and logs that block the current. Drop your line in these spots to get some action.
Consider Your Appearance and Noise: Often fishermen think that what they do and how they look doesn’t matter because the fish are underwater. However, fish have a great sense of sight and hearing. When fishing, you should wear earth tone clothing. Bright colors will scare away fish. Keep talking and other noise to a minimum. Also, be aware of your shadow. Fish like trout will often leave the area if you cast a shadow across the water.
Don’t be Afraid of Unconventional Methods: Often I’ve found that the best ways of fishing are not using a rod and reel. With catfish in particular, jug fishing or branch fishing can be much more effective.
Stringer Your Fish Through the Bottom Lip: I often see fishermen run their stringer through the gills of the fish. This kills the fish faster which will make the meat less tasty. If you stringer through the bottom lip, the fish will often still be alive when you head home.
Know When to Fish: Mornings and evenings are always the best times of day for fishing because the dim light makes it harder to spook the fish. Bright sunny days aren’t ideal in most cases. Rain can also be a good indicator of when to fish. Right before a storm there is low barometric pressure. This makes the stomach of the fish expand and makes it feel hungrier. Just after a storm is another good time to fish. Rain will wash food sources into the water, so fish are often active right after a storm.
Fishing and hunting are a pleasant way to pass the time, but they are also important skills to have. They may one day be skills necessary for you and your family’s survival. Just like any other survival skill, they take practice. Make sure you spend time hunting and fishing before your family is relying on it for food.