The Traveling Hunter

by Ryan Mckinney

So you want to go to the hunting place that flows with milk and honey, where there’s a 160 inch whitetail behind every tree, and the Elk never stop bugling. Now that those lies are out of the way, I’m here to help you see the real picture. I have been fortunate enough to hunt some of those places we just spoke of, and it isn’t always sugar plums and lollipops.

In the next few months, I hope to bring you informative articles that will help you plan your next trophy hunt, hunt of a lifetime, or just a great hunting vacation. I have made enough of my own mistakes. If you can learn from mine, it will help your trip go a little smoother. In this article I will discuss several subjects, such as expectations, where to go, who to go with, and the planning and preparation that should go into the trip.

Expectations play such a pivotal role on a hunting trip. They can make a huge difference in the quality of your experience. I have taught myself to focus more on the experience of the hunt than on the kill, because I’ve learned the hard way that if you put too much emphasis on the kill you leave yourself open for a lot of disappointments, and the feeling of wasted money.

First, be completely honest with yourself about your own abilities and the actual chances of taking an animal where you will be hunting. Let’s face it, if you travel to one of the southeastern states and expect to take a 150-160 inch whitetail, more than likely you will get your feelings hurt. My personal goal is to take a net 150 inch whitetail with my bow. If I want a really good chance of that happening, I will need to concentrate on one of the Midwestern states where I know plenty of them live, and I stand a good chance of seeing that class of animal.

When you finally go on that hunt that you have spent so much time and money on, never expect that you will not need to hunt as hard as you do at home. When you go to the land of the giants, most of the time you will need to hunt harder, and log more hours in the stand. You have probably spent a ton of money, so get your money’s worth. These giants that you are hunting didn’t get that way by being easy to kill.

To sum up expectations, you should expect to hunt a little harder than usual, expect some bad weather, expect that you need to hunt harder than your guide, and always expect to take a quality animal.

Where to go and with whom
Every year this is the biggest decision that I struggle with, and it all boils down to where and what you want to hunt the most. I do a lot of homework before choosing an outfitter or guide.

Where to go, depends on what you want to hunt, and if you want to encounter quality or quantity. For example, I will be going on my first, and probably my only Elk hunt this year and really didn’t care about taking a Boone and Crockett class of animal, instead I wanted to go where I would see lots of Elk and a place that would offer me my best chance of taking a decent bull. So I did my homework and decided that a private ranch in southwest Colorado would be my best choice. If I had wanted to go after a trophy animal, I would have gone to Utah or New Mexico.

Choosing a state is really an easy process except for states that issue their tags in a draw system, but choosing an outfitter or guide is the biggie. The outfitter business has exploded, and there are a lot of choices. Pike Co. Illinois for example has in excess of seventy outfitters in that county alone, and they range from guys that will take your money and set you in a telephone pole on the side of I-24, to guys who will do whatever it takes to get you an opportunity at a quality animal.

This is where you really have to take your time in deciding. Call lots of outfitters and talk with them. Ask them for references, and if they don’t give you any, then absolutely do not use them. There are some great websites that allow hunters to write in and review outfitters that they have hunted with. Take into account that a lot of the bad reviews that you will read might be from guys that are mad because they didn’t kill that elusive 200 inch buck, even though they saw ten shooters throughout the week. Also, don’t be fooled by some the places you see on the popular hunting shows and videos. Many of these places are great places to hunt, but it usually looks better than it really is. I have been in camp with some of these hunting show and video guys, and they are really catered to since they are promoting that outfitter in their finished product.

To summarize, when picking a place to hunt, call your references, do your homework, and if that little voice in your head says not to go there, then don’t. That little voice is usually right!

Planning and preparation
Planning and preparation can make or break a hunt. Good preparation can make a mediocre hunt a great hunt, while bad preparation results in the best hunt money can afford turning into a bad dream. For example, several years ago I was in Manitoba Canada on a whitetail hunt, and true to Canadian weather, it was extremely cold. Colder weather than I have ever hunted in. Although I had shot a lot of arrows that year and from every position that I could imagine, I failed to practice wearing my heavy hunting jacket. As you can probably guess, a great buck gave me the perfect twenty yard shot and I was almost pulled out of my stand when the bow string grabbed my jacket. I missed so bad that I was hoping there was another buck standing ten yards behind him. Lesson learned!

Always have an intimate knowledge of the weapon you will be using, whether it be gun or bow. Know where that weapon will shoot at different distances, and every distance in between. Also shoot from every position that you could possibly be faced with, you may be surprised to find how different your point of impact may be. In preparation for my Elk hunt this year I have sent a lot of bullets down range and found that when I shoot from the bench my rifle is dead on target, but when I go to the kneeling, prone, or sitting positions, I consistently shot to the right. Good stuff to know before pulling the trigger on a trophy animal.

When packing gear for a hunt, one on the best tools that I have found is I can get the ten day forecast and the averages for the area I am hunting. This gives me an idea of what clothing I will need to take. I generally pack for weather on the colder side of the forecast, and try to use a good layering system, so if it warms up I can just take off a couple of items of clothing instead of changing all of my gear. Also remember that if you are flying, take what you need, but pack as light as possible because the airlines are charging a hefty price for extra and overweight baggage.

I hope this article will help you and give you some things to think about when you plan your next hunt, and that you can learn from the mistakes that I have made. Until next time, remember: God gave us these opportunities, so let’s not embarrass him while were out there.