2022 was an incredible year of new hunting experiences and also some challenges and missed opportunities. I want to share what went well, what didn’t and what I’ve learned from it in a way that will hopefully help you on your learning journey as well.
There are a few things I know how to do really well when it comes to harvest recreation (fishing, hunting, etc) some other things that I’m okay at and still others that I’m still on the early stages of the learning journey with (such as hunting).
It’s really easy to write about the stuff I do well, because I get to just break down technique and focus on the communicating / teaching aspects of it. I get to be the expert, or at least the person on the internet who appears confident about whatever it is he or she is writing or talking about.
It’s so much harder to write about the things I’m just figuring out! Because that means writing about failure and being vulnerable…
However, one of the commitments I am serious about with what I’m doing with this blog and PNWBestLife brand is to share the journey, not just the destination. And that is because I care much more about getting you, the reader to come along on that journey, than I care about how amazing you think I am.
What motivates me, is making a difference in YOUR learning curve, and I realize that one way I can do that is to share at various stages of the learning curve instead of just at the end. One problem that “experts” have is called “expert syndrome.” When knowledge of the topic becomes so second nature, you no longer know how to present it in the way to help someone who is just starting out.
So here goes, a full on review of my 2022 hunting year and its place in my hunting learning journey!
I experienced waterfowl hunting for the first time
I started big game hunting in 2019 when I shot my first deer in NE Washington. Since then, I’ve been hooked, forgoing fishing opportunities throughout the fall to head to the woods and chase deer and elk. I always knew I would eventually make the jump to birds!
A friend who had been duck hunting his whole life invited me to come along a few weeks after opening day, saying it would be slower, with fewer birds flying around, but that sounded like a great opportunity to cut my teeth on this new hunting pursuit.
And let me tell you, waterfowl hunting is a whole different animal compared to big game hunting (pun intended)!
To repeat the kind of experience I had with my friend, I would really need to invest in scouting / finding a shallow enough pond or waterway on public land that could be accessed with waders that ducks liked to land on.
And to purchase the decoys / craft the natural blind that I could hunt out of.
Oh and then there’s learning how to do duck calls…my wife says I’m a natural at that, but let’s not go there…
Without a shallow enough waterway, I would need to find an alternate method of duck retrieval without the use of a dog ( I have a few ideas I’m considering).
I also have a dog whose breed is used as a retriever (Spanish water dog / Poodle mix)…but I’m trying to train her to find truffles right now and I don’t want to switch course to retrieving birds, but I have a feeling that’s coming at some point. She’s wicked smart so I think she could handle it.
Either way, there’s more waterfowl hunting in my future in 2023.
I had multiple shot opportunities and several “almost” opportunities on big game in 2022
When it comes to big game hunting in 2022, I spent a lot of time in the woods scouting, foraging and some actual hunting of course. With the help of a multi-season tag for deer I got to partake in hunting deer all 4 months of fall.
My hunting season started in NE Washington where I found an incredibly exciting area that had multiple nice white tail bucks frequenting it.
There were two really great opportunities on what was about a 3 day hunting trip in just an incredibly beautiful and unique part of the state.
The first was the day after opening day of muzzleloader deer season, I was hiking into my spot for the evening hunt and I jumped a nice mature 4 pt white tail buck that was just cooling off, bedded down in the shade about 1/2 mile away from what I thought was “the spot.”
I was being somewhat quiet, but hadn’t fully engaged stealth mode as I was trying to get in position and white tail deer are incredibly hard to stalk. In fact, I’ve jumped a fair number of them and rarely have they given me a shot opportunity in these encounters.
This buck ran below my position on the ridge and past me, back towards the direction I came from, where there was some heavier brush. I stood there motionless with my muzzleloader raised, somewhat lazily following his position with my barrel as he bolted through the brush.
I don’t take shots like this on running deer, but I stilled followed him with my barrel to the point where he got about 70 yards away, stopped and turned to look back at me, offering a broadside shot for about 5 seconds, before slowly walking away.
Now…had I conceived of this possibility, I would have been down on one knee in a position ready to shoot…Yes, some of you more experienced hunters probably would have taken that shot from a standing position with no rest and felt confident in it, but that’s not a shot I’ve ever even practiced, so I wasn’t about to do it in this situation.
That decision to pass up the shot still haunts me though…not gonna lie!
The second opportunity is when my hunting partner and I executed a drive through the same area, with me on the bottom of the draw and him on the ridge.
I pushed up through the draw and encountered a large family group of white tail with a 3 point buck amongst the family group. Unfortunately though, my hunting partner and I were out of sync and he was about 50 yards away from where I thought he would be, and as I pushed that herd up the ridge, he took a shot that was a bit too far out of range and sailed it over the 3 point buck.
Primitive camping for elk and an important realization that changed my life
One of the coolest experiences I had in 2022 was my backpacking / camping trip for opening day of elk season on the west side.
One of the giant curve balls of 2022 was the drought which lasted into mid October. One of the longest dry periods I can remember in all my time in the PNW. I didn’t fully account for this in my hunting plans, so much of my scouting effort was spent on some higher elevation areas that went completely dry in both water and animals as the hunting season got underway.
Incredible primitive camping / hunting experience
That included a last minute pivot to hit a different, but familiar area on opening day of muzzleloader elk season. My plan for that area? Hike in and spend the night so I could wake up on top of a ridge where I thought elk would be spending time around.
Everything in that plan went perfectly except for one extremely important detail: Water.
I filled my pack to the brim with gear that I would need to camp and hunt with, but limited how much water I was packing in because of a creek that has always had water in it being close by to my campsite that I could filter the water from.
The creek was bone dry!
I probably should have left my gear there, hiked back to the truck and got more water / gatorade, but I thought I could make it on what I had…
Speaking of hydration, I discovered (friend shared it with me), some incredibly cool hydration supplies that avoid me bringing bottles of gatorade out along with water.
I can just add these packets to my reusable water bottles and avoid consuming the sugar that often comes with gatorade. All of the flavors are great, but chocolate is probably my favorite.
Anyways, back to camping…
It was an amazing experience to sleep in a tent on a ridge by myself with the constant sounds of elk bugles and roving packs of coyotes in the valley below making all kinds of racket all night long. Talk about feeling alive and on edge! Absolutely incredible!
Had I planned better with regards to water, I could have chased those bugles around the mountain that day, but instead after a few hours of hunting in the morning, and warm weather…I knew I was running the risk of some major issues. By the time I made it back to the truck, I was cramped up, dehydrated and even though I had plenty of supplies at the truck, I couldn’t conceive of going back up the mountain at that point.
It took me a few days to recover completely from that experience and by the time I made it back in, the elk were gone from that area.
Scouting and foraging as preparation for hunting seasons
One of the things I love about hunting is all the preparation that goes into it. And part of that preparation requires being in the woods. But if you know me at this point of following the PNWBestLife blog, you know I love the opportunity to multi-task and in this case that means foraging for mushrooms while doing the hunting pre-work of scouting.
Checkout this link if you want to read about chanterelle foraging (a common fall mushroom you may encounter while out hunting)
I will try to use any excuse to spend some time in the woods. Trip to the coast for fishing or razor clams? Let’s hit a patch of public land forest on the way back!
Trip over the pass to spend some time at our place in Prosser? Let’s find a dirt road, get out scout and forage!
In fact, this year it dawned on me that I needed to make a major change in my life. You see, for most of my life I’ve been a sneakers / running shoe guy when it comes to the pair of shoes I slip on to “go out and do stuff.”
But if that stuff involves hitting the woods, I need to bring along some clunky hunting boots which for me also tends to be optimized for colder weather. And what if I’m out doing one thing and I realize “hey, I can swing by and forage or do some scouting” and I don’t even have the right shoes with me?
That’s right, I needed to convert from being a sneakers guy to a hiking boot guy as my every day shoe.
Now…for me that means that hiking boot had better be super comfortable and sleek, and not clunky. But it also needs to provide good ankle support and be water proof as the vegetation is often extremely wet that we hike through.
In that initial search for a new sole, I found these awesome Columbia Newton Ridge boots:
This part of the blog post is a paid advertisement. However, before you tune out, I need to share that I found these boots, purchased them and wore them around the house for an entire day because I thought they were so awesome and incredibly comfortable BEFORE I ever found out I could promote them and earn a small commission if you decide to purchase them with the above link. I don’t promote the stuff I don’t use and believe in here!
As you can see from the photo of my boots, they are getting some wear and I’ve completely made the conversion such that this is my every day shoe. I’ve gotta do some more truffle training with Olive today and I love that I can slip these things on and walk around my marsh of a backyard to do the training and remain dry instead of having to dig out my hunting boots and get them all laced up with all the drama associated.
These boots provide just enough ankle support without being “clunky” such that I would have no problem stomping around the woods in them off trail through some of the beautiful but hellish ravines I often find myself in.
But they still feel like a shoe you can wear everyday and be comfortable in. This isn’t hyperbole, but I really enjoy just putting these on to go do stuff!
Okay, advertisement over. Thanks for staying tuned in.
What I’m going to do differently in 2023
One more big game hunting story for you…
I finally had a day in the woods on the west side (near Mt Rainier) for black tail where I ran into multiple critters. To keep this story short given that this blog post is already a bit long, I will just share what transpired with one of these encounters that involved the only shot I took on big game all year.
It’s the late muzzleloader season and I’m hiking up a slope and onto a ridge in 1+ feet of snow, to get past a steep drainage to get to the next spot in between drainages that had a better slope that I had planned to descend down. I knew these blacktails liked to hang out in these spots because I’ve encountered them here previously.
That day though things were in my favor because even though the snow was super crunchy and loud and I was stumbling all over the place as the crap beneath the snow was sketchy as hell… It was raining. And rain on snow and just rain in general in the woods makes the woods super loud to the point that deer have a much harder time hearing me from a distance. When you bounce deer at close range, you tend to hear them move as they hear you instead of hearing you from a distance and looking at your position before you even realize they are there.
If a deer hears you, and looks at you and if they see you move and hear you make noise at the same time, they are gonna bolt and not stop. You’ve been busted.
However, if they hear you, but don’t see you, sometimes they will bolt a short distance and stop to look at the area the sound came from to attempt to discern their next move.
It’s in this exact situation that you will often have a shot opportunity. And that’s what happened in this case. The deer bolted to about 60 yards away, maybe 70. And stopped. The problem was that after the deer bolted, I immediately sat down to wait for the shot opportunity, but I had no stable shooting rest. I was on a hill as well so it was difficult to lean forward onto anything or extend a knee out to rest my elbow and stabilize my shot.
Additionally, the deer was quartering away, presenting me a small shot window. I took the shot anyways (I probably shouldn’t have). And I missed cleanly.
If you’re noticing a theme to my stories, it’s that I need to spend some time on the range taking shots from multiple platforms. I have no problem being accurate with a nice shooting rest and plenty of prep time to line up a shot.
If you plan to spend time on public land, stalking around with a muzzleloader, looking for these shot opportunities on deer and elk, you had better be prepared to take a variety of shots in several different positions and I just haven’t prepared enough for this.
That’s one of the things I’m definitely going to do differently in 2023 in addition to simply anticipating success in a bodily way so that when that buck decides to stop and look at me…he’s gonna be in my freezer instead of roaming free in the backwoods of NE Washington!