Is a deer tag left unnotched a waste, or a chance to learn?
Sometimes we have good reasons for not filling tags. Other times, we just have bad excuses, like these five phrases.
1. “I didn’t put in enough time.”
Whether you’re after a trophy or just trying to fill the freezer, deer hunting requires time and effort. A lack of gumption generally translates to a bad season.
The Should’ve / Could’ve / Would’ve: You work a 9-to-5 job. A house full of kids. That’s hard to schedule hunting around. Think quality instead of quality. Hunt high-odds days.
2. “I put in the time, but didn’t see many deer.”
When we’re not seeing deer, it’s tempting to say “the population is down” due to disease, predators or overhunting. That’s occasionally true, but more often than not, we’re just not hunting the right spots at the right times. Serious hunters put effort first, regardless of the dealt hand, and kill whitetails because of it.
The Should’ve / Could’ve / Would’ve: If you aren’t seeing deer, scout other areas. Don’t use a lack of access as an excuse. Some public lands may not be like hunting private ground, but good deer hunting is available.
3. “The rut really sucked this year.”
Did the rut suck, or were your expectations too high? Rut be-danged. We can’t use that as an excuse. Tactical approaches on mature bucks are surefire way to fill tags. Plan and execute meticulously.
The Should’ve / Could’ve / Would’ve: We use the rut as a crutch. We plop down in the timber and expect a 180-inch deer to trot by screaming buck growls as he goes. Don’t do that. Use old-fashioned woodsmanship and deer patterns to create opportunities. This is the best way to consistently fill tags, regardless of the rut phase or time of season. Then, if the rut is on fire, your odds only increase.
4. “Dang it, other hunters messed me up.”
Wildlife resources aren’t “owned” by anyone. Just because deer spend most of their time on your land doesn’t mean they belong to you. Several years back, I was about to release an arrow on a dandy 150-inch 8-point, when a neighbor walked down the property line. Fella (unintentionally) scared that deer right off the property. And he had every right to. He was on his land.
The Should’ve / Could’ve / Would’ve: Did I whine to myself a little? Yes. Did I give that guy what-for? No. I kept hunting, and capped the year off with a nice 10-pointer about a month later. Keep hunting. It’s all you can do. Don’t let the negative encounter ruin your mindset, or your season.
5. “My blasted equipment failed me.”
Equipment is crucial. Squeaky stands, cheap rifle scopes and loud clothing can ruin a hunt.
The Should’ve / Could’ve / Would’ve: Buy the best gear you can afford. Wear Realtree EDGE or Timber camo. Read reputable reviews on gear before running that credit card. Save up for great gear, instead of settling for cheap gimmicks, but understand that quality gear is amassed over time. Or, purchase lightly used second-hand gear.
Are unfilled tags truly wasted? Success is generally measured by results, and maybe the number of big deer on the wall. This has almost become decree by some in the deer hunting world. But as defined by Merriam-Webster, success is a favorable or desirable outcome. Achievement is a result gained by effort. So what do those two terms truly mean to you and your deer hunting?
My opinion is that you must decide who you are as a deer hunter before you can be successful. Try to achieve goals, but avoid bad excuses when you fall short. Grow from mistakes instead.
We learn invaluable lessons when we fall short. Just think of Edison and his quest to create the light bulb: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” While hopefully it won’t take 10,000 hunts to kill a whitetail, the same concept goes for deer hunting. Success in the outdoors isn’t always measured by tangible rewards. Rather, think differently. Think of growth. Think of erudition — knowledge gained through studying, trial and error.
My 2 cents? Unfilled tags aren’t reflections of true failure. Forget the bad excuses. Learn from mistakes. And get the job done next time.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.