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10 Reasons You Didn’t Fill Your Tag

If you consistently end the season with unfilled hunting licenses, you need to review your approach to hunting and contemplate a change of course. The following represent some reasons you could be eating tag soup instead of fresh venison while appreciating a respectable rack on the wall.

Failure To Scout

It seems odd in this world of trail-camera scouting that you would fail to scout, but it could be the problem. Like hunting, scouting takes time and that equals time away from family activities, time away from work and time away during a time other than hunting season. If you hunting area is miles away from your domicile, that adds even more time. This is where cellular trail cameras come in handy. Now get them out so they can save you precious time by being your scouting partner while your at home.

Lack of Gear and Preparation

Bows, muzzleloaders, scents, optics, boots, treestands and a litany of other gear items have the potential to propel you toward hunting success. That propulsion only occurs by preparing gear. All these items and everything you count on for hunting success, even changing oil on your hunting vehicles, needs to be done before the season opener. It typically takes me a week or more of afternoon tasks to get all my hunting gear squared away for the season ahead, including scent elimination laundry and zeroing hunting weapons, which brings me to the next reason.

Failure To Practice

Failure to know your hunting weapon intimately ranks high on the reason many end the season with empty freezers. One hunting associate I hang with, who shall go unnamed, routinely misses or worse yet, wounds deer due to his lack of practice. Get out and zero your weapon, practice with it at the range and practice with it in the field. Firearm hunters should memorize or use cheat sheets on their buttstocks for trajectory info and archery aficionados must practice empowering muscle memory for autopilot launch.

Lack of Physical Fitness

Even if you don’t have an elk tag in hand, being in shape aids in all hunting success. Physical fitness allows you to trek farther into public lands, hunt longer hours and continue with a stalk others would abandon due to the difficulty rating. Being in decent shape also reduces the likelihood of climbing accidents while ascending into a treestand or even spraining an ankle while hiking into a coulee ambush location. Physical fitness also pertains to the next category.

Lack of Effort

Wearing out, giving up or losing confidence has to do with both physical, and mental fitness. Being in shape allows you to continue the hunt and that helps with confidence as others return to camp, and the couch. As you push onward, your mental self-assurance stays at peak level. From 10 days in grueling elk country to two weeks in a Midwestern treestand, my mental wellbeing, spurred by good physical fitness, absolutely is the driving force that oftentimes leads to success. Remember the phrase, “strong body, strong mind, strong spirit; nobody can stop you.”

Try New Stands

OK, sometimes even changing tactics fails to produce deer encounters. At that point, adapt further by changing areas. You should have a backup hunting area in place along with continued scouting. Throughout deer season, especially into the late season, deer transition to different foods and cover. Deer may seek out more secure sanctuaries, higher nutrition food and breeding opportunities for that last fling. Deer encounters may be dead in your prime location for one or another reasons, but a change in venue could spark action back into your hunt.

Not Having Realistic Goals

You likely hope to tip over a Boone and Crockett candidate, but not everyone lives and hunts where those monsters roam. Set realistic goals based on what is available on your hunting property. Although you may have caught a glimpse of a giant during scouting or the year before, base your goals on what you know to roam the area. The social media posts of friends, trophy record lists and your personal observations offer you everything you need to set a realistic goal. And when that objective steps out, fill your tag and be proud.

Lack of Adapting

The Marine’s Corps is famous for its slogan of “improvise, adapt and overcome.” Use that sound wisdom when your standard tactics fail. If you primarily hunt from a stand, try still-hunting. If you see deer moving to open country, attempt a spot-and-stalk hunt. If you never tried decoys or deer calls, now is the time. When standard operating procedures fail to succeed, leave your comfort zone and try something new. Improvise, adapt and fill that tag.

Not Enough Time

Time is money, but time is also a main factor in filling your tag. Everything may not go as planned on opening morning leaving you hunting pressured bucks in a sea of other hunters. Set aside ample time to get the job done. You need to be squirreling away vacation time, comp time and for those of you with a devious side, sick leave. And use that time wisely. Spend less time at camp or the convenience store. Arrange to use time during the midweek, while most others work. Lastly, when you cannot hunt, use your home and work time wisely to efficiently get jobs done to ensure you get back in the field ASAP.

No Long-Range Plan

Finally, you may not have a long-range plan to fill those tags. This crystal ball approach needs to consider future scouting of public lands, a long-term leasing strategy, land management objectives, purchasing preference points for hard-to-acquire tags and alternative options if disease, or winterkill affect local deer populations.

With whitetail numbers still at optimal levels in most areas of the whitetail range, failure may simply mean tagging a doe instead of a mature buck. Nevertheless, it helps to put as many failure possibilities as possible behind you with a positive analysis to ensure success.

About the Author: Mark Kayser is a prolific outdoor writer and hunting television host. Mark spends his falls chasing elk and whitetails from the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest. From solo DIY elk hunts on public land to sitting in a treestand waiting to ambush rutting whitetail bucks, Mark lives and breathes the hunting lifestyle. For more about Mark Kayser and ways to follow him on social media, visit

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