That time of year is coming!
When husbands sleep on the couch for alienating their wives by not planning out when they were supposed to be where and doing what for the holidays. In confusion, they decided to shimmy up a tree and now they’re in the doghouse! The holidays are stressful but joyous because it is the best time for hunting. Balancing work, family and religious obligation with hunting is difficult but not impossible.The best thing you can do is sit with your spouse or family, weigh out all the odds, consider all the challenges, and get an agreeable plan for when and where you’re expected to be, and when and where you’re going to hunt. Otherwise, you might be getting new pillows for Christmas so you can be comfortable on the couch!
Predict the Holidays
It may sound silly to suggest you need to predict the holidays because they fall on designated dates, but in reality, travel times, religious obligations, and the time required for shopping, cooking and entertaining vary greatly from year to year. When you make your plans for the year, know that at least one weekend in December needs to be devoted to shopping. Not every Saturday has to be spent at the mall, but consider that shopping close to Christmas eats up valuable time with the long lines and traffic.
If you’re going to travel, avoid planning to hunt the day before especially if you live more than 30 minutes away from your hunting location. You need time to bone out meat before you leave town and a half day isn’t usually enough especially if you have to drive a long distance to hunt. However, if you’re staying in town hunting the day before you’ll be entertaining is an excellent way to get time. Typically, if you can break a deal while your spouse cooks or cleans, you can sometimes have whole days for yourself if you share some of the work.
Small differences in situations can be exploited if you think ahead. Be diplomatic about sharing workloads and be good at begging.
Predicting the Rut
Predicting the rut is hard. In some places, impossible. For example, I hunt in Florida and I’ve witnessed rutting activity on Christmas morning, the last week of January, and on Valentine’s Day. All on the same property, in the same year. Deer here in Florida can keep their velvet all through winter until March. Up north, hunters can count on the rut like a kid on Christmas morning, it’s a wide world out there. Assuming you live north of Atlanta, you can reasonably expect the rut on the fourth week of November and plan to hunt around Thanksgiving as you target for the best hunting times. This is where the crux of planning to balance hunting with work and family comes in.
Know that choosing the best day of the year isn’t all that helpful if the weather takes a dip for the worst or the hunting pressure changes midway through the season and that monster buck you’ve been targeting skips town looking for love.
Don’t get wrapped up around picking the absolute best day, especially if you have other commitments. Pick the best day and hunt it as hard as you possibly can. That is the key to success.
Make Plans Early
When you set plans for hunting around the rut 99% of the time, that means hunting around Thanksgiving, black Friday, or (at the very least) the final paychecks before the Christmas season — these aren’t the times you necessarily want to be absent from your family, depend on your in-laws, or take unpaid time off work.
The two best things to do is plan early and be realistic. Planning early allows you to save some time off, save money for hunting and holiday expenses, and balance family expectations with your ambitions. I’d say no later than September 1st, you should know which weekends, afternoons, and days off work you’ll be up a tree, and which day you’ll be shopping, entertaining, and getting ready for the holidays.
Being creative on how you execute all of these can help tremendously but at the end of the day, you need to agree to a plan and stick to it early on if you’re going to be successful.
Put Your Plans in Writing!
Now, this is one of the most important points of the whole idea of planning. Put your plans in writing and have every party agree to them in advance. If you have in-laws, grandparents, aunt or uncles coming to town for the holidays, make sure they know what days you’re out hunting. Maybe even invite them along, just make sure there’s no surprises or hurt feelings. The best way to do this is to get either an electronic or printout calendar, sit with your spouse or important family, and write down exactly when you’re going where. Not just the hunting calendar but also the dates you’ll be traveling, shopping, cooking, or entertaining. This helps you strike a balance with your family and alerts you to any scheduling problems with getting ready for the season and taking days off work.
Make sure you put realistic times for packing, traveling, and taking care of game after the hunt. The last thing you want is to hunt the night before you’re set to fly out of town, bag a deer and then be boning it out 45 minutes before you need to leave for the airport! Same goes with spouses and extended family. They may say they’re alright with you leaving but if they traveled in from out of town, it might be best to skip the hunt to avoid bad situations!
Get the Family Involved
Want extra time to hunt? Entertain the family and make hunting on Thanksgiving a tradition! Many families do this down south where almost everyone hunts, but many families that are non-hunters don’t do this. It’s a shame! If you have a family member who dislikes hunting, offer to take them animal watching in an effort to do some in-season scouting. If you have a buck that is very elusive and you know there’s a slim chance of harvesting him anyway, take a new hunter along to see the rutting activity while you get to be very selective on which buck you take.
Some of my best holiday memories involved shooting, camping, and outdoor recreation. Don’t assume that just because a family member has never hunted that they aren’t interested. Many people just never had the opportunity and it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Take Days off Work
Of course, it’s best not to take time off work but you’ll inevitably have (and want) to take a step back from the rat race. Take off days strategically when you’ll be in the woods and when the family is coming to town, or you’ll be out preparing for the holidays. The days you’ll be taking off to entertain family can be used for hunting if you’re creative and driven! The day before and after the family leaves is often the best times to bargain for some time in the woods. Your family is coming and you need to buy groceries? Try and cut a deal to go grocery shopping very early, around 6:00 am. That way, you can skip every line and all the traffic, be done by 10:00 am at the latest, and you can be riding out to your stand to hunt that afternoon funnel!
Family leaving early to catch a flight back home? Volunteer to drive them to the airport and hunt after you dropped them off. Christmas shopping? Hunt before, shop in the evening.
Whole Days vs. Half Days
One of the best ways to spend more time hunting is by hunting half days. Whether it’s after a kid’s soccer game, after you run errands, or you split the chores for the days, and your spouse is willing to let you off the leash! You can scrounge up a ton of time for the woods if you adapt your tactics and are strategic with your planning:
Before the Rut
Before the rut, hunt during the evenings and afternoons. Especially before the October lull, just be on your stand about three hours before sundown. That gives you plenty of time during the day to work or get your business done, but it also gives you a lot of time to be on your post before the deer get up for their evening meal.
During the Rut
During the rut, you can pretty much hunt all day and expect action. The hard part is getting to your stand undetected. Look for windows of opportunity where you can hunt the morning. This is by far the best because the deer is up and moving from a long cold night, and that travel corridor or food plot is going to have a ton of activity.
After the Rut
Post rut hunt after church! Leave a little bit of time for deer to get used to the cold weather because they often won’t be up and moving just after the first light. Go to the sunrise service and be at your stand by 10:00 am. Hunt until late afternoon, then do your chores before you go to bed. This tactic is deadly when there’s snow on the ground and after cold snaps. These tactics also work if your boss allows you to take a half day off work here and there. You can spread out the time you’re in the woods and not have to plan whole paychecks around when you want to hunt.
Get Your Gear Ready
Your gear needs to be prepared to make sure you don’t waste valuable time. This means everything should be prepped and ready to go. It’s not a bad idea to even carry all the gear you need for a hunt in your truck 24/7 just in case the opportunity comes up for a hunt you didn’t plan! Even for the hunts you planned out months ago, you can rest easy and do other things getting ready for the holidays instead of cleaning and packing equipment. Where legal, even your rifle can be securely locked in your truck and pack all your gear stored in a weatherproof locking container in your truck’s bed. That way, you never need to pack; just gas up and go!
Don’t forget about a kit ready for after the shot — sharp knives, plastic sheeting, coolers, and butcher’s paper should all be in the garage ready to go. I like to keep all my processing equipment stored in the cooler that I am going to use to age the meat, including a tarp gloves and bleach to clean up after.
This system of gear planning and constant readiness means you don’t waste any time or ever forget anything. A huge bonus when time is essential!
Hunting around the holidays is a big balancing act. You want to fill all your tags and keep the freezer stocked. On the other hand, there are people who want to see you. Try and satisfy everyone by planning, compromising, and not wasting valuable time. At the very least, be flexible. Sometimes even the best plans don’t work out and a delayed flight, a snow storm, or a holiday mishap can mean no hunting for you. It’s far better to miss a hunt than hurt a loved one’s feelings by not being around.
Whether around the dinner table or in the woods, fall is a wonderful time of the year with lots of activities you want to tend to. Just remember, the memories you make during the holidays can never be taken back.
Bio: Almo Gregor is a firearm enthusiast, an avid hunter, and a strong lifelong 2nd amendment supporter. Outdoors, hunting and shooting were a big part of his childhood and he continues with these traditions in his personal and professional life, passing the knowledge to others through freelance writing.