15 Dumb Hunting Mistakes

These are the biggest blunders even experienced deer hunters-myself included-have admitted to making, along with tips to help you avoid them.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Don't Horse Around

The Mistake: One day about 55 years ago in the Wisconsin woods, Don Kamp hid in a hollow stump and sat there watching for a buck. After a while, he saw his friend Wally still-hunting his way toward him and decided to have some fun. When Wally got within a few yards of the stump, Kamp jumped up, flailed his arms and roared like a bear. Wally fell backward in fright and scrambled for his rifle. "Don't shoot!" Kamp cried. "It's me, it's me!"

The Fix: In this case disaster was averted, but the woods are no place for practical jokes. Have fun, but don't overdo the monkey business when guns or bows are on the scene. Once he stopped shaking, Kamp promised never to do anything that stupid again-a vow he's kept to this day.

[pagebreak]Don't Drop Your Guard

The Mistake: Todd and Josh's excellent adventure began at lunchtime last November 10. The two Virginia deck painters drove by a farm they usually hunt and spotted a huge 10-point buck ambling into a woodlot. The hunters followed in hot pursuit.

Josh snuck up a ridge to see if the tall-tined rascal had dropped into the next hollow. Near the top, he heard grunting and hit the dirt. The monster lunged within 10 steps, "slobbering and crazy-eyed," Josh recalls. He reached for his .50-caliber muzzleloader-and remembered he had left it back with Todd, who was now in a pickle, too.

The 10-point rolled off the ridge within 30 yards, but Todd couldn't shoot because he didn't know where Josh was. The biggest buck either guy had ever seen got away.

The Fix: Keep your rifle or bow handy and never drop your guard. A buck is apt to pop up anywhere, at any time. Never split from a buddy without a plan. Hang tough after a screw-up, as the Virginia boys did that day.

Other bucks started coming out of the woodwork. "We said to heck with going back to work," says Todd. Before the day was over, Josh and Todd each busted an eight-pointer. November 10 can be magical north of the 35th parallel. An uncanny number of rut-crazed bucks are killed on that day each season.

[pagebreak]Don't Lose Your Stand

The Mistake: Legendary bowhunter Gene Wensel once guided another legend, golfer Jack Nicklaus. "Jack, I hung this stand myself. You're gonna shoot a monster buck there in the morning," crowed Wensel.

They arrived early in the gloom. Gene snuck around but couldn't find the stand. He told Jack to sit tight and tromped around for another hour. "Jack turned off his flashlight and I couldn't find him, either," says Wensel. By the time it got light enough to see the stand, they had run all the deer out.

The Fix: "Had I cat-eyed the trail to the tree, I would've saved the spot and a lot of embarrassment," says Wen-sel. Use silver tracks or limb wraps that reflect a flashlight beam. Space them about 10 yards apart and at eye level.

[pagebreak]Don't Ignore the Muzzle

The Mistake: One day on the plains, a high-profile hunter (who wishes to remain anonymous) shot over the back of a 160-inch 10-pointer at 200 yards. The rattled deer bolted and ran straight toward the rifleman, who fired and missed again. The buck kept approaching, and our guy finally dropped him at 60 paces.

**The Fix: **As the hunter sat wondering what had gone wrong, he checked his .270. The barrel had bulged and split! He figures that dirt must have gotten lodged in the muzzle as he crawled on a stalk the previous afternoon. His first shot at the buck cracked the muzzle an inch. Who knows where the first two bullets flew. It was a miracle he got the giant-and a second miracle he didn't get injured. "I always tape the muzzle in the snow," he says. "Now I'm sure gonna tape it every day of the season."

[pagebreak]Don'Say Too Much

**The Mistake: **My buddy John told his buddy Pete about a drop-tine buck he'd been hunting for three weeks on a lease the two shared. When John went out of town on a business trip, Pete slid in and killed John's trophy. John and Pete are friends no more.

**The Fix: **When you find a big buck, keep your mouth shut. You might get the deer-and keep a friend. (Of course, who really wants a friend like Pete anyway? Only a scoundrel will try to snooker a big buck that a friend has scouted. Casual acquaintances or relative strangers are an entirely different matter.)

[pagebreak]Don't Forget to Buckle Up

The Mistake: One day last archery season, Wyatt Pope of Holcombe, Wis., had climbed 16 feet up a tree and was heading higher when the top of his climbing stand gave way, sending the 15-year-old sprawling backward to the ground.

The Fix: The kid got lucky and fortunately only suffered having the wind knocked out of him. But he could have been paralyzed or killed. Never go up or down a tree, whether in a climber or on steps, without wearing a climbing belt. Once you're up and hunting, a four-point, full-body harness offers the best protection from a fall and will provide you with the most support should you find yourself hanging from a belt after plummeting from a stand. Tree-stand falls are among the leading causes of injuries to hunters. One thing that Pope did do right on that day? He hunted fairly close to his father, who was able to rush over and give him some help.

[pagebreak]Don't Put Things Off

The Mistake: Outdoor video producer Terry Drury hung a tree stand in an awesome funnel and made a mental note to return with a second camera stand at a later date. Three months later, he and his cameraman snuck into the spot before sunup, started climbing and nearly fell out of the tree laughing. "It would've been tough for both of us to squeeze into that one stand," he says.

The Fix: Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Hang that extra stand, shoot a few more practice arrows, sight in a new load, plant your food plots, cut your trails...you get the idea.

[pagebreak]Don't Set Up in Thick Woods

The Mistake: One day last fall, the biggest buck my friend Rick had ever seen came in 20 yards upwind of his stand and chomped acorns for 20 minutes. "Get him?" I asked. "Nah," Rick said, "too thick."

The Fix: No offense, my friend, but it's dumb to hunt where you can't shoot. Trim at least three or four shooting holes to the front and sides of your stand. Drag the cut limbs away from the lanes and your stand so they don't block a deer's approach or divert him out of range as he passes.

[pagebreak]Don't Fear Change

The Mistake: I once put a new rest on my bow two weeks before the season started. I didn't really like the finicky little thing, but I figured it would be okay. One morning a 140-inch buck tipped within 15 yards. As I drew, the arrow slid off the shelf and popped off the string, dropping almost directly on the deer. The buck hopped sideways and sauntered off.

The Fix: If you don't like your bow rest, sight or release, change it. If your rifle's trigger pull is too heavy, have a gunsmith lighten it up. Don't let a little thing cost you a buck. It's not worth it.

[pagebreak]Don't Wait Too Long to Shoot

The Mistake: One morning Outdoor Life articles editor Doug Howlett grunted at a Virginia swamp buck. When the monster stopped and swung his head around, Howlett's jaw dropped. The 10-point rack was humongous, with thick, crab-claw tips. The buck made a beeline toward him-70 yards away, then 50, 40.... Our editor devised a plan. He would hold his shotgun tight and vertically against the tree until the deer veered right or left. Then he'd lower his gun and fire. Trouble was, the deer kept boring straight in.

Thirty yards, 20, 16.... Howlett got antsy, aimed down and fired for the bottom of the animal's chest. The buck went down, but a lot of the buckshot flew high, strafing the deer's face, blowing off one crab claw and cracking a beam. "I was elated and nauseated at the same time," Howlett remembers.

**The Fix: **Take the first good, clear shot you get at a buck once it walks into gun range. "As soon as that big dude started my way, I should have leveled my shotgun on him and shot when he was twenty-five or thirty yards out," says Howlett. "I should never have let him get that close."

Fortunately, he knows a taxidermist who can work wonders with horns and hides.

[pagebreak]Don't Aim Too High

The Mistake: Wyoming outfitter Brian Beisher whispered to his hunter, "Crawl up there and shoot that buck, he's big. Aim for the heart." The guy settled into a prone position and ka-boom! The bullet zinged off a rock and kicked up dust way over the top of the deer, which took off like a frightened gazelle headed for Montana. Beisher, who was not a bit surprised, simply looked at the long-faced shooter and told him, "Let's go find another one."

The Fix: Beisher figures that at least 90 percent of his clients' misses are high. Hunters who come out there from back East, where open-country shots are less common, gawk at a buck on the sprawling plains and think he's a mile away. As a result, they aim for his spine or even hold a hair above it. "A deer is usually closer than you think," says the guide, who urges his hunters to hold low on an animal's chest. "I whisper over and over, 'Aim for the heart, aim for the heart.' It helps keep them focused."

[pagebreak]Don't Douse Yourself

The Mistake: Ohio hunter Jennell Oiler bought a bottle of buck lure, dumped it all over his clothes and hit the woods reeking like the hottest gal in town. As he eased along, he heard what he thought was a bear rumbling toward him. Suddenly, a buck busted from a thicket, running right at Oiler, grunting and drooling. The hunter jumped back as the deer charged by. The buck slipped on a muddy bank, fell into a creek and broke off an antler. Oiler has no clue what happened next. He was too busy running for the hills.

The Fix: If you lather up with eau de doe, I doubt a buck will try to breed you, but you never know. Either way, this is one good reason to keep hot doe scent off your body. The other is because there is no need to make yourself stink until you gag. It's better to soak a wick and hang it 25 yards upwind when you're bowhunting, and 50 yards or farther when packing a gun. Then if a buck gets a whiff, hitight and vertically against the tree until the deer veered right or left. Then he'd lower his gun and fire. Trouble was, the deer kept boring straight in.

Thirty yards, 20, 16.... Howlett got antsy, aimed down and fired for the bottom of the animal's chest. The buck went down, but a lot of the buckshot flew high, strafing the deer's face, blowing off one crab claw and cracking a beam. "I was elated and nauseated at the same time," Howlett remembers.

**The Fix: **Take the first good, clear shot you get at a buck once it walks into gun range. "As soon as that big dude started my way, I should have leveled my shotgun on him and shot when he was twenty-five or thirty yards out," says Howlett. "I should never have let him get that close."

Fortunately, he knows a taxidermist who can work wonders with horns and hides.

[pagebreak]Don't Aim Too High

The Mistake: Wyoming outfitter Brian Beisher whispered to his hunter, "Crawl up there and shoot that buck, he's big. Aim for the heart." The guy settled into a prone position and ka-boom! The bullet zinged off a rock and kicked up dust way over the top of the deer, which took off like a frightened gazelle headed for Montana. Beisher, who was not a bit surprised, simply looked at the long-faced shooter and told him, "Let's go find another one."

The Fix: Beisher figures that at least 90 percent of his clients' misses are high. Hunters who come out there from back East, where open-country shots are less common, gawk at a buck on the sprawling plains and think he's a mile away. As a result, they aim for his spine or even hold a hair above it. "A deer is usually closer than you think," says the guide, who urges his hunters to hold low on an animal's chest. "I whisper over and over, 'Aim for the heart, aim for the heart.' It helps keep them focused."

[pagebreak]Don't Douse Yourself

The Mistake: Ohio hunter Jennell Oiler bought a bottle of buck lure, dumped it all over his clothes and hit the woods reeking like the hottest gal in town. As he eased along, he heard what he thought was a bear rumbling toward him. Suddenly, a buck busted from a thicket, running right at Oiler, grunting and drooling. The hunter jumped back as the deer charged by. The buck slipped on a muddy bank, fell into a creek and broke off an antler. Oiler has no clue what happened next. He was too busy running for the hills.

The Fix: If you lather up with eau de doe, I doubt a buck will try to breed you, but you never know. Either way, this is one good reason to keep hot doe scent off your body. The other is because there is no need to make yourself stink until you gag. It's better to soak a wick and hang it 25 yards upwind when you're bowhunting, and 50 yards or farther when packing a gun. Then if a buck gets a whiff, hi