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How Woodsmanship Can Help You In The Whitetail Woods This Hunting Season

How Woodsmanship Can Help You In The Whitetail Woods This Hunting Season
September 16, 2022

Greg Tubbs | Okayest Hunter 

"And into the woods I go. To lose my mind and find my soul!"

--John Muir

As Humans, we need to get away and find a quiet place. Nature is that place for many of us. Here are a few things to consider before venturing out. Woodsmanship is a beneficial skill in many situations. No matter your quarry or its environment. You want to be prepared! Learning how to navigate the terrain and how the game traverses it. What kind of plants the animals eat and which to altogether avoid are essential. Dressing for the conditions can lead to success or the demise of your adventure. These are three key ingredients to having a successful and safe journey. Whether you are just going on a quick scout for whitetails or a week-long trip to hunt Western Big game.

Where are you and where are you going?

Knowing where you are and where you're going is essential to returning to the truck or trailhead in today's digital world. We rely on cell phones and mapping apps to guide us through our journey. In many of the places I explore, cell service is sparse. Downloading offline maps to handheld GPS devices before your mission will help save a lot of headaches. Also, keep a battery pack and charge cord with you. Your phone will definitely use its share of battery with an app running. More battery juice can be critical in the event of an emergency. Right next to the battery pack, a compass is not a bad idea either. I always have a compass in my pack, just in case. Old school maps can be helpful but might not always be up to date. 

You need maps. Animals don't.

Animals navigate using their senses. They are hardwired to take the path of least resistance until they have a reason to deviate course. Their course is usually food, water, or bedding cover. In between these destinations, they leave some signs. These clues can give you an idea of what they are doing in that area. Learning to interpret the sign will help establish a pattern of behavior. Take Whitetails, for example. No matter where they go, they are constantly snacking on something, from maple leaves to soybeans. They are always eating! Right now (in early September), I can follow a trail from a bean field back to a bedding area just by following a browse line. They nip off anything in reach as they go down the path, to and from bedding. Occasionally, they find a low-hanging branch to rub their orbital glands and forehead. They even chew on it too! It is their way of saying, "I was here!" 

Plant knowledge could keep you from swimming in an ocean of Calamine lotion.

Knowing the Flora of the environment is beneficial in a few ways. It's crucial to understand what you are allergic to! Everyone reacts differently to plants. As we get older, we may get more sensitive to certain vegetation. After years of wandering the swamps and marshes and gaining exposure to Poison Ivy, Sumac, and Stinging Nettle, it turns out I am allergic to Sumac! Sumac grows everywhere in my area (Southeast WI). I couldn't honestly tell you how many times I've walked through that stuff with nothing to show for it until two years ago. I brought some home (unknowingly) to my lovely wife. I took my scouting clothes off and tossed them in the wash with the rest of the laundry. Two days later, She had a rash on her back. The following day my arms started to itch and burn. Little pustules were joining forces to make water blisters. "What the hell did you bring home?!" She asked. Topical creams were a temporary relief. It eventually spread to my torso and then south of the beltline! A steroid pill was prescribed, and the burn subsided.

Some plants are friendly.

Identifying edible plants can be tricky, but worth your time if you like to forage. A good resource for identifying plants is right at your fingertips. If you're old school and like books, there are many books written for different regions of the country on medicinals and foraging. Chances are the animals like whatever you find to forage. My local deer herd will eat wild grape leaves, then return and eat some grapes when they ripen. This is evident by the vines' void of leaves and lots of tracks in the dirt. I know when Mulberries are ripe by the color of the bird poop on the car windows. Many plants don't even look like food. One of the most prolific plants that provide a lot of security cover in my area is the cattail! The roots are edible (best harvested in fall) and are high in Vitamin C. The young shoots can be harvested and eaten in the spring. Pollen can be collected and made into cattail flour for baking. Its other benefits include water filtration. Getting to these plants may require a change of boots for the wet environment they thrive in.

Dress for success and comfort.

Let's face it. You're not going to wear a pair of hiking boots in the marsh. Just as you're not wearing a Tee shirt as an outer layer in the winter. The appropriate footwear and clothing allow you to spend more time in the field comfortably. Don't be afraid to invest in several types of boots for different terrains and weather conditions. Try on every brand! Your feet are the most essential component of a hike! They need to be taken care of. It starts with boots that fight you and good socks. I love Merino wool socks. They breathe well and keep your feet warm even if you get a soaker. Plus, they give enough compression to prevent falling down your ankle, like the old wool socks. Find a brand you like and buy a bunch!

Base layers made of Merino have the same characteristics: they are soft next to the skin, keep you warm even if wet, and don't hold smell. Another bonus to Merino is that it doesn't hold a scent like Cotton or Polyester. I can wear them for several days if I take them off and dry them overnight. Options are available for Spring to Winter conditions. I first learned about Merino on a duck hunt with a buddy who swore by the stuff. We got rained on, and I was shivering like a dog shit'n fish hooks! He was wet but warm. The proper outer layers would have prevented this.

Keeping the elements out.

As a woodsman, you are faced with adversity. The weather is always the determining factor in what to wear. Over the Merino base layers, there are several options for the conditions. If you are on the move looking for clues and trying to figure out movement, you don't need to dress like you're sitting in a tree stand in December. Light layers will suffice. Lightweight, packable layers are great. A puffy jacket under a light coat or sweatshirt will add insulation for when you're in the wind and can be easily stowed away when you get too warm. Hiking pants with some stretch are more comfortable than denim jeans on a walk. Just be careful in the raspberry bushes. The only thing that survives those without a scratch is the rabbits we chase in winter. Stretch-fit pants don't stand a chance unless you bring chaps. Or you come prepared with brush pants. There's always a sacrifice to be made. Safety over comfort, or heavy weight and chafing vs. lightweight and breathable.

What about the rain?

In rainy conditions, you may end up just as wet on the inside as on the outside of a rain jacket. If our creator wanted us to be wet, he would have made us frogs. I have yet to find an affordable option (under $200) that allows my superheated body moisture out and keeps the rain out simultaneously! It's not ideal to be active and wear a rain suit. Companies are making breathable rain gear, but it's not cheap! If you hunt and hike in a wet environment. It's probably worth the money! You have to make the decision. All in the name of comfort!

As you venture out into the wilderness, always do your best to be prepared for the unknown. Getting turned around has happened to the best of us! We've heard several "Okayest Hunter Moments" from our podcast listeners. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. Remember to have fun and take it all in. 

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