This is the time of year, of deer season, that I love the most.
It's not because the bucks are on their feet and each day brings crazy good action. In fact, I've hardly hunted at all thus far and, when I have, I've not seen much at all.
No, I love this time of year because everything is still possible. There is something special about hope. It is, in fact, one of the primary reasons I think so many people love to hunt. There are few activities that provide as much anticipation, as much hope, as hunting. Every time a day dawns, something special could happen.
The rut is perilously close. It is the time when even a hunter such as me can score big.
For the past three months, my evening ritual has been markedly similar. I sit in my living room, laptop resting on my legs and I scour acre upon acre upon acre of potential hunting areas. Every one of them open to public hunting.
I am a public land hunter both by choice and by necessity. I have nothing against hunting private land. In fact, I have a small lease here in my home state of Michigan and I'd be lost without it. But when it comes to hunting some of the top whitetail states in the country, I rely upon public land. Don't get me wrong. If I can gain access to private ground, I'll take it. But I'm not going to use an outfitter and a big-money lease is out of the question.
In fact, I enjoy the freedom and exploration that hunting public land offers. Is it a pain in the butt sometimes? Definitely. But I've done it long enough to know that I simply have to expect to see other hunters and to have to work harder than they do. Thus the evening ritual.
In a couple of weeks, I'll be headed to Iowa with a highly-coveted non-resident archery tag stashed in my pack. It's a tag that I've waited three years to pull. And I am doing everything I can to be as prepared as possible prior to leaving. About 15 minutes ago, I put the wraps on my "remote" scouting. Using nothing more than Google Earth, topo maps and a few tricks of the public land hunting trade that I've picked up along the way, I've honed in on three areas that I will explore.
My plan is simple: Look at each piece as quickly and efficiently as I can when I arrive. Choose the best one and spend every single minute of daylight hunting it.
What is that I'm looking for? Well, I'm not going to give away all my secrets. What's the fun in that? But I can say that I'm looking for areas that offer what is, in my opinion, the most crucial piece of the public land puzzle: Solitude.
Big bucks are old bucks. And bucks don't get old if they're easy to hunt. Thus the areas I've settled on are difficult to access, located well away from centers of human population and -- most importantly -- are chunks of land that I believe other hunters will overlook.
With three areas to choose from, I'm expecting that two of them will not be what they seem to be on the computer screen. But one of them will be just what I thought.
And it's going to be spectacular. Unless it's not. And that's why I love this part of the process so much.
Right now, all is possible . . . and I've not yet screwed it up.