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Back to Basics for Hunting Success

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

An old experienced hunter once said “animals are aware of their surroundings every moment of their life ... a modern hunter at best, is only a part time participant. “

What he meant is how can our skills and instincts as predators, match those of the game we pursue when we only head to the woods on weekends for just a few brief excursions. Our modern-day jobs are more apt to heighten our skill at chasing down a Big Mac and fries, rather than a whitetail buck.

With a passion for the outdoors and a business based on guiding and outdoor media, I had no choice but to re-educate myself in the many lost outdoor skills we once held prior to modern times. The world is full of cultures that have sustained this innate ability to commune with nature on a predator / prey relationship. Last year while up north on a moose hunt, I witnessed the tracking ability shown by our aboriginal guide. He was able to date the freshness of moose sign to within an hour and also track over thick and rocky terrain.

I have spoken to many sportsmen and heard stories of unsuccessful hunts, year after year. I have also heard from a few that have enjoyed great success every year. There are only a few fine details that determine the different outcomes between these sportsmen.


The best hunters are those that spend a lot of time in the woods. I always say ‘you can’t bag a trophy, sitting on the couch”. Learn from your experiences and study the reasons behind missed opportunities. Observation and year-round attention to game patterns can teach you a lot. I believe good hunters are lucky, but “luck is where preparation meets opportunity”.

During the winter I look for game tracks along the northern highways and make mental notes if they are in close proximity to any river or lake system. Spring is the best time to see moose and deer as they are drawn to the muddy salt pools and fresh grasses along roadways both early and late in the day.


Scouting should be the method of eliminating poor habitat areas and concentrating on the particular preferences of your desired game. Topographic maps are essential along with local knowledge of the area. Try and give up the routine of always going back to the same old cut-over where you saw a moose many years ago. Hunting is about change, adapting and making alterations to increase your odds.


Basic strategy is to take a map of your chosen hunting area (WMU) and drive into the field, marking out old roads, new lumber cuttings, and posted (no hunting ) areas . I systematically drive, quad or walk each and every road to the end, regardless if the roads washed out or covered by a beaver dam. It’s these hard-to-reach places that hold the best potential. Mark on the map what sign you find and date it - ex. spring cow moose track, summer deer track, fresh cow & calf moose track. I always mark the direction of travel from each set of tracks. Without ALL the pieces of the puzzle how do you expect to get the whole picture. These signs will start to form a pattern - are the animals moving towards a pond, river or cut- over. Is the sign repetitive - showing feeding activity exclusively in that one area. I now make my hunting decision based on the map information. I hunt each morning and scout midday, making new additions to my map. If I detect fresh sign from a location, I can use the maps travel pattern to put myself ahead of the animals intended route.


Where, What, When, How .... Answer the basics needs of your chosen quarry. Where does it live? What does it eat? When is the peak rut? How can I use its instincts to my benefit? All great questions and easily answered. In Northern Ontario the following holds true:

- peak moose rut > September 24 th

- 2nd moose rut > October 22 nd

- moose bedding areas > pines and golden grass along water edges

- moose favorite location > 3- to 5-year-old clear cuts near marshes

- moose main food source > marsh grass and sapling tips

- peak deer rut > November 12th

- deer bedding area > thickest cover within 1 mile of food source

- deer favorite location > habitat edges where forest meets fields

- deer main food source > remaining green plant life, sapling tips


Good hunters don’t dust off their rifle the night before and go hunting. Spend the time to sight in all your equipment. Use the same ammunition you are going to hunt with. Paper tests your arrow flight with broad heads and inspect all of your gear. I can’t tell you how many guys flock to my archery shop in late August wanting to buy a bow and start hunting a few weeks later. Practice makes perfect and year-round activities like skeet shooting, archery target range practice, and nature walks all help to sharpen your instincts. Hunting has the same goals as the rest of life’s activities - have fun, enjoy your time afield, and be safe. So, hone up on your instinctual skills, because if the world lost its electricity sources, we would all be forced back to hunting and gathering for our food.

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