September 08, 2022
It is routine for me to travel to three or four states each year to hunt. With a couple decades of whitetail road tripping under my belt, I have learned that no plan is infallible.
When preparing for a trip I naturally make every effort to be as successful as possible. That means doing my best to be prepared. Whether that's hours spent staring at digital maps and marking locations of interest or making multiple checklists to ensure I have everything for the journey. But experience has shown me, all of that planning can only take me so far. The rest will be reactionary because it's not a matter of "if" something will go awry, it's a matter of "when."
There was a time when these unexpected turns would derail me mentally. Now, I take them more in stride and know that I'm ready for just about any malady that may arise. Best of all, I've endured enough missteps and misfortune to know what I'll need to handle it. Let's try to cut the learning curve a bit and examine the overlooked details that can make or break your next whitetail bowhunting road trip.
OUNCES OF PREVENTION
Mechanical failures have ruined many a dream hunt. I would much rather spend my money on hunting licenses, broadheads and hunting gear than a shiny, flashy vehicle. Thus, I've got a 12-year-old truck that's well on its way to the 400,000-mile mark.
With that being said, I have no hesitation loading it up and heading across the country in search of a big whitetail. But I never take off without making sure I've tackled all the preventative maintenance that I can and that goes beyond a basic oil change (but you should do that as well if it's time for one). I go with a front-to-back, top-to-bottom system. I start at the front of the truck and move to the back, checking everything I can from the lights, the battery and even the wheel bearings. This doesn't take long, and watching a few quick YouTube videos can help you with your systems check.
This is the same approach I take with my bow and hunting gear. I make sure my bow strings are in good shape, that I have all the arrows and broadheads I'll need, etc. With all inspections done, I double-check that I've got the most important piece of gear I take on any trip: a well-stocked toolbox that includes assorted wrenches, sockets and drives, several sizes and varieties of screwdrivers, a small cordless impact driver and a cordless impact wrench with enough torque to make quick work of lug nuts and stubborn bolts.
I also include zip ties, duct tape, superglue and a tire plug kit as well. To top off the kit, I bring a full-size floor jack. It's not overkill. The jacks included with most vehicles are a joke and will be almost no use if you need to hoist your vehicle on anything but flat, smooth pavement.
While we spend plenty of time considering what could go wrong, it is also important to ponder what we will do should everything go according to plan. That is, what will we do should we harvest a deer? After all, that's when the work really begins and if you’ve not properly planned for your success, things can go south quickly.
I hunt alone much of the time, thus my prep and planning is adjusted accordingly. I’m almost always hunting public land which means the use of a UTV or vehicle to aid in the retrieval of downed game is not an option.
As such, my pack-out plan is relatively rudimentary. In most instances, I use a four-wheeled game cart, equipped with plenty of ratchet straps to keep the deer lashed to the cart. When hunting hilly areas or those too rugged for the cart to be of much use, I’ll butcher the deer in the field and pack it out.
Of course, you'll need to keep that meat cool. For this, I bring a pair of large coolers. One is used for food and drinks at camp while the second is reserved for game. It’s in that cooler that I store my processing gear: A couple of knives, gallon-size freezer bags, a couple jugs of water for cleanup and a package of wet wipes.
PLAN B, C, D and E
I will spend hour after hour on my laptop most evenings scouring maps and gathering pertinent area information to find the most promising spots I can prior to heading out on a hunt. Over the years I've developed a color-coded system to mark locations according to their perceived potential.
It's this system that allows me to use the hunting app on my phone to prioritize those areas I want to scout first. Oddly enough nowadays, these locations typically turn out to have the most hunting pressure. A few years ago, that wasn’t the case. However, with the advent of the internet and all the easily accessible information available there, public lands are enjoying renewed interest.
I no longer head out expecting my "Plan A" locations to produce. This is an important part of the mental game. Scouting and planning for months only to find out that your top spots are loaded with other hunters can take a serious toll on a positive outlook. Yet, so many of the folks I know that are new to the road trip game express disappointment and frustration over reaching their destination and realizing many others had the same destination in mind. Without backup locations, they're stuck.
Now, I never take off without three times as many potential locations as I think I'll need and I’m mentally prepared to abandon an area should it turn out to be crowded or otherwise undesirable. Plan B, C, D and E spots have saved the day on many, many occasions. By accepting this new reality and being ready to make a location change (even if it means driving 100 miles or more), I minimize the disappointment and feelings of panic when realizing an area isn’t what I thought it might be or the hunting pressure is simply too high to tolerate.