Planning for the Unpredictable with Aaron Zimmerman

Months of off season preparation goes in to making sure that you have everything set-up perfectly for the upcoming season. We focus on food plots, trail cameras for patterning deer, stand placement, shooting lanes, and more. We all plan for what we know occurs every year- the October lull, rut, and late season. But how much of that time is spent planning on bad weather, hunting pressure, or even home pressures? In my younger days, no time was spent on “what if” moments, but 100% on the things I knew would happen. Through life’s lessons were learned the hard way, I now spend roughly 50% of my pre-season time preparing for the unpredictable things we all will encounter each season.

Inclement Weather

Late October in Ohio is usually a mixed bag of weather conditions. We will go from low to mid 30’s in the morning, to upper 70’s in the evening. You just never know what the day will bring even if the weather man promises perfect conditions for an evening on the stand. Several years ago, in typical fashion, we had a stretch of several days where the winds climbed each day into 40+ mph range. Although we are used to inclement weather, strong winds for that long of a stretch are not very common here and, quite frankly, I wasn’t prepared.

At that time, most of my stands were placed on field edges or in pinch points catching deer moving in and out of bedding areas. Those set-ups usually work great except when the deer don’t leave their bedding area. For two straight days I looked out my window desperate to get out hunting, but allowing the wind to prevent me from doing so. On the third day I had had enough. After work that evening, I was going hunting whether I needed lead weights to hold me down on my stand or not. On the property I hunted there was a low lying bedding area overgrown with briars, foxtail, crp, and anything else you can imagine to prevent a normal sane person from entering. Luckily, years before an old stand had been placed right in the middle of that low land before it had grown up. Normal circumstances I would have never attempted to hunt out of it, as it sounded like bush hog coming through whenever you tried to slip through it.

Aaron's all smiles after anchoring this amazing buck in a very unconventional stand setup. Aaron's all smiles after anchoring this amazing buck in a very unconventional stand setup.

On that particular day, my entry noise being blocked by the wind, I slipped into that old stand and got settled in about two hours before dark. Once my safety harness was strapped on, I took a quick look around and just about fell out of the stand. No more than 60 yards from the base of my tree I could see the tops of a 170” buck’s rack. I couldn’t believe it; with all the noise and movement of getting into my stand the buck hadn’t heard or noticed a thing. For the next two hours I watched the buck stand up, walk around, and then lay back down, mere yards from where he was before. During those two hours, he had shortened the distance from 60 yards to 30 yards without giving any resemblance of a clean and ethical shot through all the trash. As is often the case, the downfall of this buck was when a young doe stepped out in front of my stand. At that point the rut was just a couple of weeks away, but it was still more than the old buck could handle. His standing up and taking two steps was all I needed and I sent an arrow through his boiler room. Thirty minutes and a short tracking job later, I was pulling my buck out of the creek where he fell.

That hunt was a wake-up call for me. To that point I had planned each hunting season for the optimum situation with no thought to crazy weather patterns that will move through on a regular basis. Now, I am prepared with a lot of pre-season prep going into making sure that I have a couple low-lying spots to get out of the wind to hunt. Most often these spots are set up with a blind when possible so that I can get out of rain, sleet, snow, or wind. However, that’s not always possible, when you get yourself into the tall weeds often times found down in low-lying creek bottoms. For those spots, a tree stand is what I revert to, but not without my ScentBlocker Triple Threat or Alpha suit layered over top of their Airbreak vest. I’ve found that combination to work best for me and has done an amazing job keeping the wind, moisture, and cold out.

Hunting Pressure

With the passing of each year, good hunting ground becomes more and more difficult to find. Die hard hunters will always find a way to hunt, which means public hunting ground more often than not. Public ground can be a goldmine for the hunter that knows what they are doing and uses other hunters to their advantage. Unfortunately, that was not me in my younger days.

In my earlier hunting days, my brothers and I during Ohio’s gun season would head south to some very large and hilly public lands to hunt the first couple days of gun season. We always had a great time, but our first few gun hunts on public land resulted in very few deer sightings with an abundance of set-ups ruined by “other good time, with no result” hunters. Hunting isn’t always all about harvesting that animal, but after several years of telling ourselves “we do it for the camaraderie instead of the meat,” we made a decision to make some changes to our approach.

Topo maps such as this are very helpful when dealing when pressured land. Topo maps such as this are very helpful when dealing when pressured land.

 

Investing in a very detailed topographic map (can be purchased from your DNR or local park services) made all the difference for us the next year. We identified the primary trails used by the other hunters and then mapped out our approach to be in position when the deer were pushed to us with the aid of unknowing deer drivers going to their spots just before sun-up. That year, five minutes into shooting light my older brother shot his buck and the day was over. For the next six hours we were focused on dragging a buck up and down hills and back out to our truck. Our plan worked great, but I never said it would be easy. Just be sure that you have an exit strategy for when you do succeed on that buck or doe on opening morning.

Deer are smart, but can be out-smarted no matter what kind of pressure you are combating, provided you put the work in beforehand and plan for those unpredictable interruptions that will undoubtedly occur while hunting public lands.

Season Changes

With eager anticipation, we are often times living for the rut each and every season. Right, wrong, or indifferent- that is the most exciting time to be in the woods for most of us. If you’re like me, you’re pouring over old notes from seasons past, moon phases, weather fronts, etc… to pin down the rut in your area. However, is this the best use of our time? Let’s face it - we can’t predict deer movement during the rut, so why not spend that time focused on the early and late season when we can predict deer movement? Seems easy, but it’s yet another lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

As mentioned before, I spent most of my earlier days in a stand, hugging wood lines or pinch points, which were great during the rut, but is that the best approach for early or late season deer hunting? This question was answered for me several years ago in a very tough way. After a very slow and unproductive early season and rut, I entered into the late season with the same game plan as I did for the early seasons. During those last few weeks of the season, I sat in my trusty field-edge stand and watched a group of does with a buck pushing the 170’s enter the field from a property I couldn’t hunt and then cross a fence-row on my side of the line each and every evening. Up until then, I had never seen a deer take that path, hence leaving me out of the game with no stand in the fence-row. At that time, I chose to throw caution to the wind and hunt them from the ground the next evening. Like clockwork, they came out that evening and came toward me on a string. Once in range, I started to draw my bow when the telltale blowing started. A doe I hadn’t seen caught my movement and alerted the entire county of my presence. That was the last time I saw that buck during the season and ultimately was taken by another hunter early the next season.

A missed opportunity at this buck taught the author an important lesson. A missed opportunity at this buck taught the author an important lesson.

 

Breaking down what I did wrong was, in this case, very easy for me to do, I wasn’t “mobile”. In the hunting industry, stands have become extremely easy to hang quickly and quietly. It makes no sense not having the ability to make adjustments to the deer movement in your area on a daily or moments notice. That evening years ago, I was busted from the ground, now I’m hunting these late season unexpected movement changes efficiently and from above, where the deer eyes seldom go.

Family Events

 

Lessons afield are often times unforgiving. A blown shot, or a misplaced stand that kept you just out of range are all tough lessons. However, those lessons don’t compare to some of the lessons we learn at home.

This past season, I had an amazing hunt at Hang’Em Outfitters in Pratt, KS and returned home to finish out my bow season having already arrowed a buck of a lifetime. Deer were still moving during the post rut and Ohio’s gun season was just weeks away. To say I was excited to end my 2014 season on a high note was an understatement. That’s where my excitement ended. Several days after returning home we very unexpectedly lost my mother-in-law to a heart-attack. Devastated over our loss and so many things to take care of on the home front, hunting season became a distant blip on the radar screen.

My season, for the most part, ended in late November with much of the deer season still to go. However, I can honestly say this was the first time in my life when the last place I wanted to be was in the woods. My place was at home with my family. That’s not to say after things quieted down a bit that I didn’t have the urge to get out there. In my stand, while hunting has always been one of the few places where the world always seems right and just makes sense to me. I made it out a few times in late January, but not without putting guilt on myself for being there and not at home with my wife.

We pursue these bucks so hard season after season and often times lose sight of everything around us including our families. We’ve all found ways out of family commitments because of that unexpected cold front moving in or that fresh coating of snow that we just know will have the deer on their feet and moving, but was it worth it? Had you asked me that question ten years ago or even a year ago I probably would have said yes. This past season was a life changing wake-up call and I have realized one thing for sure. As hunters, we need to be prepared for the unpredictable, but as a family man or woman, we always need to be prepared to put our families first and our passions for deer hunting second when the unexpected hits home.

Aaron Zimmerman

New Bearing Media

aaron@newbearingmedia.com

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