I spent much of my early 2020 hunting season battling more than animals when it came to hunting. I held three coveted tags which I had only a limited amount of time to fill. The time constraints were not as much self imposed as they were time away from home due to COVID restrictions with my other job. Anytime we left the county, we had to take a 14 quarantine period until we could return to work. In my home county of Monroe County, which encompasses the Florida Keys, there are zero hunting opportunities outside of iguana. I was not in a position to take short overnight or weekend trips up to the mainland of Florida to hunt other seasons areas. I had to let one of my archery tags go when I prioritized my three special tags over it.
At the beginning of August, I focused on planning for my top tags. I had an Alligator tag for St. Johns County in Florida, a Wyoming Antelope buck tag, and a Wyoming Mule Deer Buck tag. We worked through many logistical issues when it came to planning the travel, hunting, gear setups, and overall execution. Things got challenging because the antelope area was the only place I had hunted previously. Listen to our Antelope Hunt Recap Podcast Episode. The mule deer and alligator were both new hunts in so many aspects. I had never targeted those species at all anywhere. The alligator was the most obtuse to learn just because it was so foreign to me. Luckily, I met some solid friend who helped me out. With travel plans, food plans, camp plans, and hunting plans all on paper the time had come to execute these plans.
One thing you can never plan for months, weeks, and sometimes days out is the weather. You can easily look at a map the day of and decide to go or not go hunting. When you have to travel hundreds of miles, fly, drive, boat, or whatever then you often let the weather slip to the back of your logistical planning. You can consider temperatures or rain gear, but when it comes down to unusual weather patterns you need to be prepared to quickly shift gears, plan to lose some days, and be flexible. That is exactly how we performed in those three hunts. We adapted and used the weather and environment to our advantage.
We first began with the alligator hunt. Listen to our Alligator Hunt Recap Podcast Episode. This hunt was the first weekend in October and north florida had been hit with an unusually early cold front which brought rain, shifted the wind to come from the Northwest, and dropped the temperatures below 70 degrees for the four days we were hunting. The temperature was our first challenge because alligators are reluctant to feed or get out of the water when the air temps drop below. This changed our strategy of using bait to catch the alligators. The temperature also reduced the time larger alligators spent out in the open during the day. The wind raised the bar because we could not target areas of the St. Johns river we had been planning to target due to high chop on the river. Our boat could not travel to those locations safely and return with an alligator in the boat. We had to think about how we weren’t the only miserable creatures on the water.
We overcame these factors by thinking of how the alligators would react to the conditions. We would target areas that were blocked by wind first. We found several creeks off of the main river that could be holding alligators. We hit those first. Our second strategy, the one that paid off, was to focus on hunting at night in areas that are not receiving a lot of pressure. We turned to hunting the Intercoastal Waterway on our last night. We chose this location because wind was minimal on the eastern side of the unit. The water temperature was warmer because of the tidal influx from the warm ocean water. Luckily, the rain was minimal there as well. This recipe spelled well for us. We found a solid presence of alligators there and pulled off a great hunt!
One week later, I pulled into a small town in Wyoming the temps were now in the mid thirties and my body was in shock. The local deer and antelope were used to this so I had to overcome the weather myself. Luckily, I had a solid layering system thanks to years worth of accumulating First Lite products. For the animals, and my hunting buddies, the temperatures were only part of the challenge. It was also the wind, rain, and snow.
We successfully spent two days hunting antelope and then shifted gears to our mule deer tags. Simultaneously, the weather shifted gears as well. Over the next two days, two separate fronts would slowly pass through the area and drop much needed precipitation over the area. In addition to the precip, the wind would raise to 25-30 mph with guys upwards of 40-50. We heard a story of two guys returning from a morning elk hunt to find only tent stakes where their tent had been when they left.
Our plan before the weather changed had been to maximize our time afield by camping in the backcountry. We would have to travel a series of dirt roads and trails to get there. There was a concern of getting in two deep and getting the truck stuck. Also, the temperature at the elevation we e-scouted was much much colder than expected, in the lower teens, at night. We had a wood stove in our tent, but if the whole thing blew away while we were sleeping then it would not do us any good. We lost our first day of mule deer hunting to weather completely, but it gave us time to formulate a plan for the next couple of days.
Our plan was to use OnX Hunt to find ideal locations that had good habitat for mule deer, a lowered amount of pressure, and held areas that were blocked by the wind. AJ discussed the e-scouting aspect in a recent article. We had some time to drive around and look at the access points. We could then determine the hunting pressure, ease of access, and get a better look at the habitat.
This strategy, along with some good intel, led to several solid days of hunting. We were able to hike back into some chunks of public land and get into all the nooks and crannies where the deer were hiding. There were often two or three trucks at the entrance, but we were willing to hike in further than the average hunter. AJ’s dad connected with a nice buck on the second day. We also were not afraid to get out and walk around smaller chunks of BLM or state land. Sometimes these pieces are overlooked because of their size, but if they hold game it doesn’t matter the size.
I am a huge logistical planner when it comes to hunting and fishing, but often there are many aspects of the hunt that are out of your control. Be flexible, think about how those challenging factors also affect the game, and take time to adjust your plans, if needed. Even if you have just a short amount of time to hunt you can still turn a cold hunt into a successful trip.