Some final thoughts before the big day

The time has come for a few, and for others, it’s only a fraction of months that remain. That time, of course, is hunting season in New Mexico. With the weather continuing to cool down, we know that fall is right on track.

For some, it’s the excitement of the dove opener on Sept. 1. For others, it’s the thrill of the big game hunt and the opportunity to fill a freezer with amazing free-range, organic wild meat. Others anxiously await the brutally cold early-morning hours as they break the thin ice on an open patch of water, in hopes of luring flocks of ducks into a decoy setup. Then, there are those that dream of huge coveys of quail breaking right below their feet.

No matter what excites you and how you fill your freezer, there are some important things to remember before heading out into the field.

First off, if you haven’t already, scout out some locations so you know where you are going. If you already did and know where you are going, then you are in great shape. If not, go out in the field, or at least check out an online program that can help you get the lay of the land.

Speaking of shape, if you haven’t already started, make sure you get some cardio in and get that heart rate up before the big day. It’s never fun carrying all your gear and huffing and puffing your way up a mountainside.

So, hopefully, you know where you are going to hunt, but did you also check the land’s status and its particular rules about where you can and can’t go? Are there any closures? Do you know how soon before your hunt you can scout? Did you check the rules for where you want to camp? Can you have a fire at your camp? Don’t wait until you’re at your hunting area or camp spot to find out there isn’t access or you can’t camp out; give a call to the land management agency that owns the property.

Are you lucky enough to hunt on private land? Well, don’t forget to carry your written permission. If you need an easy form to have on you, then check out this link.

How is your aim? Did you get out and practice yet? Whether you are shooting a rifle, muzzleloader, shotgun or even a bow, give yourself the best odds of taking home an animal, as well as limiting the chances of wounding one. It’s your duty as an ethical hunter, and to that animal to make a clean shot.

Banner: Fall foliage in northern New Mexico. Below: Shotgun practice at the trap range.

Have you checked your gear that is buried in the back of your closet? Don’t forget to dig it all out before the big day to make sure it’s ready to go. There is nothing like forgetting to fix that coat you snagged on a tree, or the busted buckle on a backpack or that broken boot lace the night before a hunt.

If you are one of those people who enjoys the opportunity to bring your best four-legged friend on the search for quail or other upland game, is your dog prepared? Is your dog up to the task of long hikes in the heat? In some parts of New Mexico, there are a lot of stickers and mesquite, so a quality pair of dog boots would be a good investment for your hunting partner who does all that work of finding and retrieving your birds. Also, when you’re out there, make sure you have brought enough water for the both of you. It is not the time to run out of water. If you’re the type who brings your dog out on those cold mornings, blowing a duck call into the sky, does your dog need a warm vest? Is your dog in good enough shape to swim a cold waterbody? Some thoughts to consider before heading out.

Also, don’t forget the treats for all that hard work.

If you are hunting a big-game species, don’t forget your tag. There is nothing worse than getting all the way to your hunting spot and realizing you forgot your tag on the kitchen counter. You don’t want to be driving hours back home while your hunting companions are out enjoying their hunt. If you’re e-tagging your animal, don’t forget your smartphone and something you can write on and can attach to your animal.

Above: Pheasant hunting with a dog. Below: Big game tag.

Lastly, whatever hunt you are on, make sure to plan ahead for emergencies. Tell someone where you are going, bring plenty of layers of clothes, bring water and plan for any scenarios that might come up. A little preparedness and planning may mean the difference between surviving a bad situation in the wilderness if you get lost, stuck or injured.

And, as always, have fun and enjoy all that New Mexico has to offer.

About Cody Johnston

Cody Johnston is the Shooting Program Coordinator for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.