Reflecting back on hunts helps me consistently learn and grow as a hunter. When I began taking rut trips out of state, I started to notice some of my unproductive tendencies. I would spend the first few days in places where it looked like deer should be, but sightings and encounters were spotty at best. This led to frantic scouting, expanding my search, and putting pressure on myself as the end of the week neared. I'd spend the last few days moving until I found deer and got right in on them.
While reflecting on these early trips, it hit me—most encounters and filled tags happened at the end of my trip when it was down to the wire. Thus, the two-day mindset was born.
It’s not a difficult concept, and such simple approaches are often the difference makers. By approaching the entire week as if I only had two days to get it done, I didn’t linger in one place too long if the deer weren’t there. I became significantly more efficient and increased my encounters by finding the hottest sign and giving myself two-day periods in the best spots I could find. I could continue moving, stay on deer, and not resort to sitting in one spot too long by breaking down my trip this way.
Beating the Intimidation Factor One of the biggest hurdles over my years of becoming a better hunter has been getting out of my comfort zone. A large part of this struggle stemmed from resorting back to old tactics on ground I was familiar with. New places and foreign terrain can be very intimidating. I would fall into little ruts on these trips, restricting myself to one or two spots where it looked like deer should be. Setups would consist of funnels, travel corridors, or food sources, usually in relation to some sign. Now, that doesn’t sound too bad on the surface, but over-committing to these spots can be detrimental to the success of your trip.
Getting it done on a rut trip is a mental game first and foremost. The saying "analysis paralysis" is true. Don’t overthink what you’re seeing. It’s the rut, so trust what you see, trust your instincts, keep moving to find deer and the freshest buck sign. Focusing on these basic goals simplifies the entire hunt and keeps you moving toward your ultimate goal.
Don’t Get Attached You can have a great plan and prepare for every scenario imaginable, but a willingness to adapt and throw your current plan out the window at any moment is crucial. It’s important not to pigeonhole yourself into limited possibilities, especially if your initial approach is not working out. Those old tactics I commonly used around home, like setting a few stands and patiently waiting for conditions to be right, are time-consuming. Time is not something you can afford to waste on a rut trip. If you don’t see the deer you’re looking for after a sit or two, keep moving. You might only need to move a few hundred yards, or you might have to find a new tract miles away, just don’t hesitate. Don’t get caught second-guessing, playing the “what-if” game. Be deliberate and confident in your decisions.
It’s a Balance Preparing for a public land trip can be daunting. The gear checklist, where to stay, what to eat, and poring over maps to identify places to focus on can create unnecessary pressure before you even start hunting. These are important parts of the process and deserve your attention, but remember that putting yourself in a position to learn new ground, notch that tag, and have a blast while doing it is what makes traveling to hunt so special.
So much of your trip is out of your control: weather, movement patterns, daylight activity, the list goes on. It’s vital to execute the things you can control to the best of your ability. Most importantly, focus on your mindset and your thought process going into every hunt. I’m not saying you should dive in and bulldoze your way through bedding areas day after day, but continuing to move until you find where the rut is happening at that exact moment keeps you in the game. It’s not about your trip in its totality. Approach every single day as if it’s all you have, and chances are your sightings and taxidermy bills will increase.