A Deer Hunter's Pre-Season Checklist

Don't wait until the night before the season opens to start gathering all your hunting gear. Here's a look at how to avoid first-day glitches that could cost you a shot.

by Bob Humphrey

We've all done it at one time or another: It's the day before deer season and you've waited until the last minute to round up all the gear you'll need for tomorrow's hunt. You're nearly in a panic as you go through a mental checklist while you rummage through closets, attics and the garage.

You fill the pockets of your hunting coat and your daypack with everything you think you'll need for the next day, dust off your favorite tack-driver, and pile everything by the back door. The next morning, you're halfway to your stand before you realize you've forgotten some essential item - a facemask, gloves or even ammunition!

LEST WE FORGET . . .
Forgetfulness and haste have probably saved the lives of more game animals than just about any other hunter's gaffe you can think of. Perhaps the most frustrating part is that most of these glitches are preventable. What follows is a rundown of essential and non-essential items to help you avoid the pitfalls of poor preparation this opening day.

Batteries
It's opening morning and you head off down that long trail through the woods to your stand. Halfway there you notice your flashlight beam seems to be growing dimmer. At first you think it's just your imagination, but before long the light fizzles, and though you're only a few hundred yards from your stand, you might as well be a mile away. You won't find it now until the sun comes up.

Dead batteries top the list of common opening-day glitches. Deer hunters have come to rely on a number of battery-operated devices, including flashlights, range finders, hand-held GPS units and two-way radios, to name a few. We love them when they work, but curse them when they don't, even though it's usually our own fault.

A little preventive maintenance can save a lot of frustration. Always check every battery-operated tool before the season opens. Test each device to see if it works. If you have a battery tester, use it. If you don't, get one. One alternative is to buy batteries with built-in strength indicators. And remember this simple rule: When in doubt, throw them out. Batteries are cheap. It also doesn't hurt to keep spare batteries in your pack, just in case.

Don't wait until the last minute to gather your deer gear and verify that everything's in working order. Photo by Bob Humphrey

Guns And Bows
"It shot fine last year when I put it away" is a common lament heard at deer camps all around the country, usually after opening day misses. This is one of the most common blunders hunters make. There are hundreds of reasons why your gun or bow's point of aim could change between seasons. Maybe you, or someone else, bumped it unknowingly. A different bullet weight, a different brand, even a different batch of ammunition could make a difference. Maybe you left too much oil in the barrel when you cleaned it. Or maybe you didn't clean it and a drop of water turned the fine grooves inside your barrel into a spot of rust.

Leave nothing to chance. Make sure all the moving parts are in working order. Clean off the heavy coat of oil you applied for storage and replace it with a fine coating of synthetic lube that won't freeze or gum up. Next, check all screws for tightness, especially on scope mounts and rings. Finally, take it to the range and fire it, using whatever ammunition you'll be hunting with. Shoot enough to make sure your point of impact is correct and consistent.

If you're bowhunting, sight pins can come out of alignment. Check all cams to make sure they're turning freely and lubricate any moving parts that might make noise with a scent-free lube. When you're done sighting in with field points, shoot a few broadheads to make sure your bow is still on. (Broadheads will often shoot differently than field tips, and this is a common source of "pilot error.")

A Miscellany Of Other Items
Whether you stuff them in your pockets, hang them off your belt or put them in a daypack, there's an endless list of miscellaneous items you can take into the woods. Some are necessary; others merely make your endeavor more comfortable or efficient. First, let's take a look at the essentials.

If I had to pick one item from my daypack that I would never be without, it would have to be a compass. You may be very familiar with the area you hunt and only headed out for an hour or two, but what if you decide to pick up a hot track on your way in, or end up following a long blood trail? Good outdoorsmen never get "lost," but they sometimes get turned around. A compass will help you find the shortest route to get in and out of the woods. You can also use it to take a bearing on an animal's direction after the shot and while tracking to help in recovery.

Obviously, you'll need field-dressing supplies that are in good condition, particularly a sharp knife. I recall one opening morning when I was not so well prepared. I made a good shot and found the fallen buck easily, but my elation quickly turned to frustration when I realized I'd forgotten my knife.

I only made that mistake once, but I'd need all of my scarred fingers to count the number of times I've field dressed a deer with a dull knife. I now carry two knives, and I sharpen them before the season and after every use.

Other field-dressing supplies you may want to include are rubber gloves, a small length of cord to tie-off innards or attach your tag, and a small sealable plastic bag with some moist wipes for cleaning up your hands.

The list of what could be considered non-essential gear is limited only by your own needs or desires. Binoculars and range finders are particularly helpful in locating and judging game and accurately estimating distances.

Many hunters now use scents and calls to help draw game closer. You may need a saw for limbing or boning. If you're a tree-stand hunter, you'll need a rope to haul your bow or gun up with and something to hang them on.

You may want to include some sort of wind-checking device, such as a bottle of fine powder or tufts of silk.

Two items that could arguably be considered essential are a water bottle and a survival kit. Under moderate conditions water will help quench your thirst and in hot weather it will keep you hydrated. A survival kit is an insurance policy you hope you'll never need. But if you do have a need for one at some point, it's nice to have it.

LICENSES
A hunting license is one of those things you should take care of well before the season begins, particularly if you're traveling out of state. Every state has different license sales procedures. Some may require you to purchase your hunting license from your local town office, which may only be open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4 p.m. Others require that you apply by mail, which could take several weeks, provided nothing gets lost in transit. Even if the local license vendor is just around the corner and open 24 hours a day, leave nothing to chance. He could run out of licenses, particularly as it gets closer to opening day.

CHECK THE REGULATIONS
As I sat in my tree stand watching the forest slowly come to life, I waited anxiously for the first distant shots that would announce the opening of another deer season.

Thirty minutes after first light I still hadn't heard a shot. I suddenly began to get a very uneasy feeling that maybe I'd somehow jumped the gun. I fumbled through my pack searching in vain for the rulebook that wasn't there. It was another half hour before I finally heard the first shots that put me at ease, but that first hour was one of the least enjoyable opening mornings I've ever spent.

Since that day I've learned to take nothing for granted. Regulations often change from year to year, and though state fish and game agencies do their best to keep us informed, it is ultimately up to the hunter to know the current laws and seasons.

MAKE A CHECKLIST
Even though I always go over a mental checklist, I still manage to forget something. I finally remedied that by making a written list. That way it's all there in black and white and I don't have to rely on memories of last year's hunt to re-fit my pack.



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