We all get advice. Some good. Some bad. And if you’re like me, it’s almost always unsolicited. I get it from my parents. They tell me how to raise my kids. I get it from my kids. They tell me what they think their bedtimes should be. I get it from my wife. She tells me how to dress, how to eat, and pretty much all the stuff I swear I knew how to do before I met her. But when you’re a new hunter like me, it’s quite the opposite: I actually want advice.
Over the last three years, I’ve been picking the brains of any hunter willing to take on my questions about hunting. I know I can get quite annoying. So when I think I’ve tapped out my source—usually by irritating the crap out of them—I move on to a new one.
At the start of my hunting journey, I asked a lot of questions. That’s good. But I wasn’t selective about who I asked. That was probably part of the problem.
So how can new hunters know what hunting advice is going to be good, and what’s going to turn out to be a bust? Normally, the only solution is to test out the advice your hunting buddy, mentor, or social-media friend gave you. But luckily for you, I’ve already tested out these following tips. So please allow me to share a few of the pearls of wisdom I’ve had the pleasure hearing about. Then feel free to ignore them.
Tip 1: You can’t kill ’em from the couch!
I can’t stand this phrase. Every time someone says it to me, it’s in a condescending manner. As a new bowhunter, I’ve had a hard time figuring out how deer move in inclement weather. About two years ago, I had planned on bowhunting one weekend where the meteorologist claimed there would be plenty of rain. When I turned to Instagram to ask how deer move in the rain, I was hit with a barrage of comments that challenged my commitment to deer hunting simply because I asked if I should hunt in the rain. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson, but no: I asked the same question about turkey the following spring season.
I hate to admit it, but this bad advice is true. Becoming a proficient hunter will require spending as much time in the woods as possible. I do my best to get out as often as possible. But hey, life happens. So I make sure my time in the woods is a quality experience and learn as much as possible.
Ruling: Sound advice, stupid saying.
Honorable Mention: “You’ve gotta get boots on the ground.” You will get the evil eye if I hear you spout these words.
Tip 2: Just wash your clothes in [insert popular scent-control product here] and the deer won’t smell you.
There’s a huge demand for scent-control products, and there’s no shortage of companies providing a wide range of items to choose from. You’ve got detergents, shampoos, and even body wipes. I won’t name names. But I know of a hunter who takes supplements that allegedly prevent body odor and therefore eliminate his need to wear deodorant. (As a frequent patron of New York City public transit, I can think of a few folks who could benefit from both the supplements and deodorant.)
Ungulates like deer and elk have a great sense of smell. (I’ve always wanted to use “ungulate” in a sentence—my seventh-grade English teacher would be so proud.) And all the scent-control products in the world can’t beat their noses. After a morning hunt with my mentor, we headed back to our cars. On our hike out, we came across a few does. The largest was just inside 40 yards, and I waiting on a clear shot. A large tree just off the trail kept us out of sight. But then a gentle breeze hit the back of my neck; in seconds, the doe began blowing at us. Then all the does bolted. Even with all the scent-control products I had used that day, that doe knew my scent didn’t belong in her woods. I’ve learned that a combination of scent-control products and using the wind to your advantage can be a winning combination for a deer hunt.
Ruling: It can’t hurt, but it doesn’t always help.
Honorable Mentions: “Play the wind.” More often than not, the hunters who share this tidbit neither explain what it means nor how to do it. On the flip side, you’ll also get deer hunters who tell you to “forget the wind—just hunt.” They’re not especially accomplished deer hunters, as best as I can tell.
Tip 3: You don’t need a safety harness in the treestand.
I’m cheating: This more of an observation than direct advice I’ve received, though plenty of people throw this claim around on social media. I’ve witnessed hunters not using safety harnesses when sitting in a ladder stand or even while using a climbing stand. I’ve asked those hunters why they weren’t using the much-needed safety device and the answers were astonishing. The ladder stand hunter says they don’t need it, and that most hunters in ladder stands don’t use them either. The climbing stand hunter says he’s gotten really good at using his climber and doesn’t need.
My advice? That’s like saying you’re really good at driving, so you don’t need a seatbelt. Accidents happen, and I thank God that none of these guys have gotten hurt yet. Safety harnesses are easy to get and are a must-use when hunting from a tree. In 2021, New York state saw 10 elevated hunting accidents. Nine of those happened because hunters weren’t wearing a safety harness. The tenth happened while a hunter was wearing a harness but hadn’t attached it to the tree.
Ruling: Not using a safety harness is a behavior that I will never try to emulate. My momma didn’t raise a dummy.
Even though I may have asked some of the wrong hunters for advice, I got answers. I learned what worked and didn’t work for other hunters. Then I figured out what worked and didn’t work for me. (Nope, not true—I’m still trying to figure out what’s working for me.) So take my advice…or don’t. But ask questions, figure out what works for you, and stay safe.