This is a very special week for me — the opening of gun deer season. In Michigan, opening day is treated like a holiday, especially in rural areas where some kids are excused from school to go hunting, and several of my friends either spend a work vacation day or call in "sick."
For me, opening day is like Christmas morning, and the frenzy builds the day before at "deer camp." Well, it's not deer camp in the sense of spending a week at a cabin in the woods. The day before the opener (Nov. 15), I meet with a handful of guys I grew up with at one friend's barn. Everyone brings in food and we play cards, watch hunting videos and talk about our strategies for the next day. This keeps us out of the woods and gives our hunting areas a chance to settle down before opening day. We'll fret over things like the next day's weather, wind direction, the stage the rut is in and how we plan to hunt. It's no different than a group of guys sitting around talking about the next day's fishing trip during the spring when the bass are spawning.
There are many similarities. You're reading the weather, moon phase and conditions leading up to it. We study maps, look at food plot locations, and bedding areas, assessing what influence the forecasted weather will have on deer movement the next day. I don't consider myself a trophy hunter, but I put a lot of effort into it. That's another common thread between good hunters and anglers — they have that knack of noticing little things and their perception on the water or in the woods is very acute.
Just as in bass fishing, the little things make a huge difference. My buddies and I hunt land around Kalamazoo, and we'll have our cell phones in our tree stands, texting each other with things like, "See any?" or "Shot any?" That helps the day go by when the deer aren't moving. I'll pack a lunch and spend the entire day in my stand. There's something special about watching the sun come up — something a lot of people don't get to appreciate. One of the many great aspects of my job as a pro angler is I get to see the sun come up while on the water, and that special moment is never lost with me, especially when I'm in the woods. Because the land tracts are small and there are so many hunters, the deer get a lot of hunting pressure here.
Even so, we all practice quality deer management, meaning we only target the top five percent of bucks. In Michigan, a 3 1/2-year-old buck is a pretty old deer, and finding that mature buck isn't always easy. But if I do, you can bet I will put a bead on him and hope to have that story to share next week. Remember, it's all about the attitude.