Most people would agree that, typically, wisdom and age go hand-in-hand. Over time, we naturally gain wisdom through our life experiences, affecting how we view the world around us. Whether we’re dealing with our family life, our career, or as hunters, this progressive wisdom is what we use to navigate life’s challenges more effectively.
Born and raised in the sandhills of South Carolina, most of my deer hunting experience consisted of chasing the ever-elusive “swamp donkey” bucks along the banks of the Savannah River. Success was hard-earned, but I always felt confident in my hunting ability. Eventually, I wanted to hunt somewhere new and take on another challenge. The wisdom I gained from this experience has changed how I approach hunting in new environments, and I taught myself an unexpected skill as a result.
My wife is a Midwestern farmer’s daughter. In addition to her hand in marriage, I was granted permission to hunt her family’s farm in central Indiana. I’m a lucky man! For the past 12 years, I’ve made the annual trek to try my hand at putting the hammer down on a Hoosier giant. Overall, I’ve been successful, but I learned more about hunting in Indiana than anywhere else thus far. Early on, I knew that hunting the wide-open farmland would be a different experience, but I didn’t expect what would throw me off the most. The lush habitat created by the sub-tropical climate of South Carolina was all I knew, and the muted Midwestern landscape couldn’t look any more different. During my first hunt on the farm, I quickly picked up on something my Indiana-native brother-in-law never thought about. The natural colors of this habitat. From a lifetime of hunting Indiana, he could easily spot deer in any situation, near or far. For me, spotting deer in the open was easy enough, but they were like ghosts against tree lines or in the woods. I wasn’t accustomed to the natural colors of this new environment, and this frustrated me to no end.
Coming from the thick “jungles” of South Carolina, seeing this many deer in the open was a new and exciting experience for me. The open terrain enabled me to spot deer much more easily at a distance. In fact, I’d often see more deer in a week of hunting in Indiana than in an entire season in South Carolina. South Carolina has a lot of lush green habitat that will often stay green year-round. This dense green brush provides exceptional cover for game. It really cuts down on how far you can see, but the rich green backdrop offers excellent contrast for spotting deer when they move into visible range. Comparatively, as fall transitions to winter, Indiana’s natural palette consists mainly of browns, tans, and greys. During this time, deer can disappear against tree lines, hedgerows, and dried cornstalks. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly these animals can vanish in plain sight. Truly incredible!
As hunters, we often put much effort into finding ways to camouflage ourselves to a specific environment. We’ll obsess over patterns and color combos to give us that slight advantage. No doubt, this can make a difference, but how much effort do we put into studying how these natural colors work to conceal our game? I didn’t think about this at all, but now, I couldn’t ignore it. As a hunter, I’m always looking for ways to improve my skill set. After realizing the significant role natural colors can play, I set out to train myself to see more effectively in new hunting environments. Here’s what I taught myself to better adjust.
Acclimate Your EyesIt’s only natural for our vision to be more accustomed to our home environment. When scouting a new habitat, make a conscientious effort to adjust your vision to the natural colors of your surroundings. Pay attention to the dominant colors and transitional shades during various lighting conditions. Dominant colors can change throughout the day, so it helps to know which are the most prominent during middle of the day, and during those critical low-light hours. As you walk, keep your head up and focus on the natural color shifts from full light to shade.
Burn Through the BrushOptics are awesome! A good set of glass won’t necessarily make you a better hunter. Still, there’s no denying that they’re an invaluable tool for spotting game. Besides glassing long distances, binoculars can be used effectively to scan along tree lines and through dark timber by “burning through the brush.” While looking through your binoculars, slowly adjust the focus back and forth as you scan through the brush. This will enable you to see clearly various distances within the brush. It’s a great way to spot bedded game that you might otherwise miss.
Additionally, a good set of glass will provide better color contrast to the environment than the naked eye. Oddly enough, I recently saw a video from Clay Hayes on YouTube about this exact technique. I highly recommend you watch it.
Compare and Contrast
Depending on the habitat, coat color and shade can vary dramatically. For example, many whitetail deer in my region of South Carolina are often light to a golden brown. Whereas in Indiana, deer are typically a much darker brown to greyish brown. Before your hunt, try to do some research on the most common coat colors/shades in that area. It can’t hurt, and I’ve found that local wildlife management officials are an excellent resource for this. Once you can physically see game, compare their coat colors to their surroundings. Pay attention to lighting conditions, and how it affects their ability to blend into the natural environment.
New hunting environments are exciting and challenging, but that’s why we seek them out. One of the most valuable takes from hunting is how much we can learn about the natural world. Still, it also teaches us a lot about ourselves. How you adapt to a new environment can make or break you as a hunter. Being new to an environment can be an advantage if you approach it correctly.
Often, a fresh set of eyes will be more sensitive to the subtle nuances of a foreign environment exposing details that might otherwise be overlooked by familiarity. Regardless of habitat, soak it all in and ignore nothing.
Jeff Cole is a husband, father, and hunter. Born and raised in Beech Island, South Carolina, he is a passionate outdoorsman that loves spending time in God's creation, and sharing his experiences as a hunter. Besides marrying his amazing wife, and the birth of their two beautiful daughters, the most profound experiences of his life have been in the great outdoors. For work, Jeff is a project estimator for a grading and paving company out of Augusta, GA. Encouraged by a friend, he began moonlighting as an outdoor writer and gear reviewer. Hopefully you'll find as much enjoyment reading his content as he does writing it.