Deer Hunting: How Much Does Experience Matter?

deer hunting

Photograph by John Hafner

Experience matters. Applicable experience matters more. It’s also true that experience can be a hindrance.

An example. I love tournament bass fishing. I’m not very good at it but I enjoy every aspect of it and follow the top trails each season. One of my favorites is Major League Fishing. It’s a cool concept that puts the top bass anglers on a body of water that they’ve likely never had any experience with. They have no time to “practice” or find fish-holding areas in advance.

They each get 15 minutes to cruise the lake and then it’s time to catch fish. The angler that accumulates the most total weight over the course of the day wins.

Each of the anglers in that event likely has more fishing “experience” than a dozen “regular” anglers combined.

And yet in each and every event there are a handful of anglers that catch a ton of fish and battle for the top spot. And there’s almost always a group that struggles to catch a single fish.

In the top group there will be some young guns and some grizzled veterans, and the same will be true of the bottom group.
How can that possibly be?

The older guys all have a ton of experience. Some of them have been fishing for 30 or 40 years. Shouldn’t that automatically make them “experts?” Others have been in it for just 5-10 years. Shouldn’t that automatically mean they have less “experience” and thus a lesser chance of success?

Nope.

That’s the thing about experience that I feel is so misunderstood. Situational experience trumps all.

That MLF event may have taken place on a type of fishery that some anglers had more applicable experience on than others. They did well while others floundered.

The same situation applies to deer hunting.

There are plenty of folks that have more deer hunting “experience” than I do. But that experience may or may not apply to the areas that I hunt or the situations that I face, just like the experiences I have may not apply to the areas you hunt.

The first time I hunted in Kansas, I was lost. I had absolutely no idea what to do. There was so much open country that I literally thought I was being pranked. I’m not alone there.

A couple of years ago, I took one of my hunting buddies to Kansas with me for the first time. He had fallen asleep for the last 4-5 hours of the trip. When he woke up, we were very near the area I wanted to hunt.

He looked out the window, and looked at me.

“Where are we?”

“About 10 miles from the first place I want to check for sign.”

“Bullsh*t.”

He was serious. He thought I was lying to him. He saw mile after mile of empty, open ground and thought I was trying to trick him into thinking we would be hunting whitetails there.

Then he saw a 160-class buck by the side of the road.

All of my experience hunting pressured deer in farm country had almost no application in that open ground, and so I started to apply whatever experience that made sense and began to learn anew. Now, some 10 years later, I have a lot of applicable experience for that area and have started to have some consistent success.

I read and follow a number of hunters that I admire and respect from afar. They really know their stuff. Jeff Danker, of Major League Bowhunter, is one of them.

That guy is probably the best open ground whitetail hunter on the planet.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with him in the past and talking deer hunting. And I remember him saying this:

“I have no idea how you do it. I don’t know that I’d know where to start if I were dealing with that kind of hunting pressure.”

That comment made me an even bigger fan of Danker, because it showed me exactly why he’s such a good hunter: He knows that every situation is different and that every situation requires its own set of actions.

Every time I write about hunting small pieces of ground and pressured areas, I try to offer some tactic or tip that will help other hunters. To me, it’s a very satisfying endeavor. But I also know that what I write about is only applicable in certain situations.

All of this is not to say that experience doesn’t matter. It most certainly does. But every hunting situation, every terrain type, each hunting area requires its own type of experience.

You can apply experience from similar situations and that will get you started. But you will need to gather experience specific to that location and scenario to really dial things in.

That’s what makes me so excited for the deer season to come. For the first time in a long time, I’m not going anywhere new (that I know of anyway).

I’ll be hunting the same place in Ohio that I hunted last year. I learned a ton about that spot last fall and am hopeful it will pay dividends this year.

I’m hunting the same locations in Michigan. I’ll be in same areas in Kansas or Iowa (depending on the draw results).

Being able to apply experience specific to exact locations has proven to be key in successful hunts in the past. It’s rare for me to hunt a totally new area and have immediate success. When hunting public land, I usually assume that the first outing is for learning only. The second is a learning opportunity with a small chance of success. But the third time. . .it’s game on.

This season is game on from the get-go.

I can’t wait.