Opening day has a special place in the heart of hunters. Fond memories of first bucks, campfire, rotary in the tradition of hunting with family and friends are normally established around opening day.
In the state of Pennsylvania, the state with the most registered hunters in the country, opening day is marked by children getting the day off from school! It is great for getting kids started with hunting.
It’s arguably the best opportunity for a hunter to kill that hit list buck, target a wily ole tom, or chase a huge bull elk through the high country. Seeing as many hunting seasons are shrinking across the country, you have to make the most out of your opportunities!
How to Maximize Your Opening Day
Here’s a great crash course to prepare for and maximize your opening day:
Have a plan.
It seems odd, but the best way to ensure success in the field is to have a sound plan for how, when, and why you’ll do things.
It can be as simple as an email to your wife or family saying where you’re going and what you’re doing or as elaborate as an hour by hour schedule.
This is even more important when you come upon obstacles that you didn’t expect.
It could be that a game warden forgot to unlock the gate to the public piece of land, another hunter is too close to your stand site, or you just don’t see any deer during the morning and want to relocate for the afternoon.
Know what you are going to do in the event of rain or emergency, and have just a general idea of what to do when things go wrong. Accidents in the woods do happen; planning and backup planning cannot only make hunting safer, but also less stressful and more effective overall.
The night before opening day, make sure that you communicate these plans with people who need to know. That way, you’ll be less stressed out in the morning and need to make fewer decisions in the field.
When the plan doesn’t work out, make sure that you don’t get out of shape and let it ruin your hunt. Be flexible to the weather, the terrain, and other hunters so that you can still enjoy yourself if your plan gets ripped to shreds.
There’s so much about hunting that can’t be accounted for or plan around, and keeping that in mind will make your hunt go smoother and be more enjoyable.
The night before opening day is a particularly stressful time and having a cool head and being flexible to the obstacles that come your way will cultivate a mindset that allows you to enjoy your time in the woods.
Have your supplies ready in advance. This means having everything for groceries, to and after the shot kit, even the ice you’re going to use in your coolers, purchased ahead of time.
It may seem like a lot of logistics to get all this done, but it’s much easier to do ahead of time that it is to run around at 2 AM just hours before you are supposed to be on your stand!
From year to year, you’ll find yourself using similar equipment. This is an opportunity to create a list of everything you are going to need, including equipment.
This can save you a ton of time because you can have your surefire equipment ready, and purchase the nice to have or conditional equipment as time goes on.
To make shopping easier, make sure you write down every single list on a sheet of paper and to duplicate the lists. One is for shopping, the other is for packing. It can’t get any simpler than two paper lists that you wrote down.
Especially on things like groceries and gasoline, you want to buy them at least the day before you have to travel or two days in advance of opening day.
Smelly items like gasoline can leave fumes on your hands or your clothes and gassing up on your way to your deer lease is an awful idea!
Try and avoid shopping the night before opening day and focus rather on packing, planning, and checking weather reports. If you must go into a big box store like Walmart or Bass Pro and methodically pick through each section of your shopping list until you have everything you need.
If you have to travel more than 45 minutes to an hour to get to your hunting location, consider getting there the day before. Unless you are a road warrior and travel long distances every day, most people are not going to be well adjusted to travel early in the morning.
Especially in the mid-season and rut when it’s common to get to your stand well before dawn. Not only is it safer to travel when you are well rested, but it also gives you an opportunity to camp or enjoy the hotel closer to your hunting location.
If you can’t camp at your hunting location, find a state park within 20 or 30 minutes of your lease or club. You don’t have a trouble all the way to your hunting location just make sure that you are close enough that you don’t have to wake up abnormally early to get to your stand.
You’ll be well rested, and have time for breakfast. Fueling your hunt so that you are more effective in the woods and more likely to fill your tag!
Be set up for travel and have your stands ready at least a few days in advance. Don’t wait until the night before to get your oil changed for your truck to end up, especially if you’re traveling out of state for an opening day.
Make sure that your stands have been scouted out, shooting lanes trimmed, and all necessary safety equipment installed for staged ready to be used.
This can even go towards packing your backpack and having all of your coolers washed out and weapons functioning properly. Have your compound or crossbow cited in weeks in advance so that you can practice.
Make reservations for hotels and campgrounds, even if they are not required. There’s more logistics to hunting than most people realize. Mainly because it is a gear intensive activity, make sure all of your gear is ready.
Have all of your gear inspected and prepped several days in advance.
Preferably a week out, you already washed down all of your clothing and harnesses, cleaned and lubricated your weapon, inspected your boots, backpacks, bolts or arrows and other critical items for wear and tear, and put everything you need for your hunt in your backpack.
The last thing you want to do is scramble around the console of your truck throwing things in your backpack, in the dark, on opening day.
The night before opening day, take a little bit of time to pick through every piece of equipment you’ll be taking with you — making sure that it works and that it is returned in your backpack in the proper location.
You don’t want to be scrambling around in the dark for can of dip at the very bottom of your pack because you didn’t put things back where they belong.
Health & Sleep
Be in shape the night before opening day.
This can mean getting your flu shot in advance, making sure you have enough warm jackets and blankets for older members of the family who will be hunting, and having a good meal the night before.
Be hydrated! Even in the fall when it can be cool or downright chilling outside drinking enough water and electrolytes before during and after the hunt will keep you from having to stay in camp.
Start drinking at least three or four days before the hunt and trying to avoid caffeine. Not only does caffeine dehydrate you slightly it can kill your appetite. Putting you in a deprived nutritional state a few hours before you go hunting.
If you abstained for a few days before the hunt, that cup of coffee or can of energy drink before you climb into your stand will work so much better after a few days of not having any!
While you can’t stock up on sleep like you can with hydration, you can take measures to prevent you from being too tired to hunt on opening day.
Stemming mainly from my personal experience, sleep deprivation the night before opening day leads to the majority of hunting accidents. It is not a good idea to climb into a tree stand 30 feet above the ground if you only got two hours of sleep the night before.
Hunting is an enjoyable activity. Even if you don’t kill anything, being alone in the woods and surrounded by your friends at the camp is one of the life’s greatest pleasures.
Especially for generations of hunters that grew up around their family cherishing special dates like opening day or the Whitetail rut.
Making sure you capitalize on your opportunity to hunt on opening day and making everything go smoothly can go a long way to establishing the tradition of the opening day at your club or in your family and bring everybody closer together.
Opening day may not be the most effective day of the year to hunt, but it is certainly one of the most fun and traditional days to hunt. Don’t waste yours by waiting until the last minute to plan or prep all of your gear.