On The Ridge: Opening day is upon us

Published: 11/23/2022 4:50:52 PM
Modified: 11/23/2022 4:50:40 PM

As Massachusetts deer hunters gear up for another opening day of shotgun season (Nov. 28), the stories about how opening day is your best opportunity for filling that tag begin again. Yes, there are years when that dream does come true, but the harsh reality is, especially if you’re hunting in a state like Massachusetts, most of us will come home on opening day with a tag still in our pocket. But if there’s a secret to consistently filling tags on opening day, it’s found with hunters who work at it the hardest, and are the best prepared. If you think that sounds like weak advice, think again, be honest with yourself, and answer this question: how prepared are you for this year’s opening day? Then read this scenario that may sound familiar to you.

It’s finally opening day of another Massachusetts deer season. You set your alarm three hours before sunrise with plans of getting to your “hot-spot” as early as possible. However, much to your surprise, there’s already a truck in the parking lot. And even though it’s still well over an hour until sunrise, somebody else has beaten you to it.

Suddenly, your Plan A has been tossed out the window, and you’re moving on to Plan B, which is to head for a place you’ve had success in the past. As you approach your Plan B location, you see the headlamps of two hunters who have the same idea as you, already moving in. Now you’re onto Plan C, which is usually calculating a way you can afford to purchase 60 acres of your own hunting land before the next deer season. Trust me, I’ve been there, and I know the feeling!

The point is, if there’s ever a time when you need to be flexible, it’s opening day. Whether the wind is blowing out of the wrong direction, other hunters beat you to the punch, or your truck gets a flat tire on the way, success is often found by adapting to the changing conditions while having solid backup plans in which you have the same amount of confidence as your Plan A.

Sometimes, to fill a tag on opening day you need to take a chance and maybe hunt that day like it’s the last day you’ll be able to hunt that season. Saving your best spots for the late rut, while hunting a stationary stand on opening day, doesn’t always cut it. Now, I’m not suggesting that you brush off your exclusive 20-acre property on opening day. I’m just saying that if you want to fill your tag, don’t always hunt like you have the entire season to fill it.

A common example of this would be hunting productive food sources, where we’ve seen bucks during bow season, often at last-light, but never quite in range. A typical “start-off” move when shotgun season rolls around would be to hunt these same stands in hopes that deer show up again on opening day. But it never seems to fail, as soon the shotguns begin to disrupt the solitude, you start thinking the deer have gone underground, with the perplexing, and often frustrating, question of where did all the deer go, popping up once again.

Truth is, they’re probably not as far away as you think, and patiently waiting for darkness to fall so they can feast again on the food source you left behind. Chances are, you can probably kiss this early season hot-spot goodbye, at least until the very last weeks of December.

Which brings me back around to the point that there are times when you just have to take a chance and hunt opening day like it’s your last day to hunt this year, especially if you’re looking to punch a tag. And if it doesn’t work out, you simply move on to those backup plans.

Finally, another problem that plagues all of us is we really need to become more proficient with our bows or firearms. So many bow hunters will start practicing a week or two before the season, and then feel confident enough to hit the woods on opening day. As common as this is, it’s equally as common to hear about the big one that was missed, because making that perfect shot, especially when the nerves kick in, is no easy task. But it can become manageable when shooting becomes a process of total repetition. We place so much emphasis on gear, scouting, tree stands, entry routes, and more, that it becomes far too easy to overlook other important aspects of what we do as deer hunters. And 2022 might just be your season for an encounter of a lifetime, but you need to be ready when it arrives!

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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