At a minimum, my brain is always at least a little preoccupied with mulling over future hunt plans. Mule deer or elk? This state or that state? Apply for a tag this year or just grab another preference point? Go for an early season hunt or try a late season rut hunt? Tackle this new area or go back to where I have gotten results before? Got to remind my hunting buddy to not miss that draw deadline… On and on it goes.

In laying out a long-term hunt planning calendar, I sketched out the next 5 or 6 years of plans. It’s a crowded list and work/family-vacation schedule will dictate many of my hunting plans; however, there are certain things that exert more influence on my decision to say — hunt the 3rd mule deer season in Colorado in 2015 or 2016. One of those most important things is season dates.

Here are 4 things I’m looking at relative to how season dates can create a better situation for success in my future backcountry plans, first starting with an example from back East that I’ve seen play out numerous years in the past.

In North Carolina, it’s uncanny how a group of shooter-sized bachelor bucks can be sticking to a twice-a-day, during the daylight, almost to the minute schedule during the last week of August and through Labor Day weekend of September. It’s also uncanny how that same group of bucks will break up as velvet starts to tighten and become extremely unpredictable just a day or two before the start of archery season comes in. Obviously they have a calendar…sure does seem like it. It’s actually really intelligent management by the state wildlife agency in charge of managing the resource, a week earlier start date to archery season would create conditions where mature bucks are too vulnerable to harvest. It’s not by accident that the NCWRC starts archery season when they do – that being said, in years where archery season shifts a couple days earlier than normal, those are prime conditions to maximize chances at a still-in-his-summer-pattern archery buck.

4 examples out West:

*I don’t know the exact determinant for how season dates are set in Colorado, but it must go something like this…X season will start on the 2nd Saturday of November. Just like Thanksgiving can show up early and late in one year versus the next, so can certain states’ season dates. In 2015, the 3rd season mule deer hunt starts on October 31 and runs 9 days. In 2016, that same season starts on November 5 and runs 9 days. That is a huge difference when colder weather and proximity to the rut are the biggest contributors to a boom versus a bust year’s harvest. Lots of guys holding those PPs waiting for the season dates to roll around more in favor a big swell-necked muley buck.

*Dad is building points for a early muzzleloader tag in the areas where we OTC archery elk hunt. It’s hellacious country and we’ll recruit the help of a packer to get us in and out, but we’ll likely wait for a year where the muzzy season dates are pushed as far back into September as possible to take advantage of the peak of the rut. If the tag and season dates can align, that’s a close to a slam dunk hunt for a big bull elk that I know of.

*Several sportsmen groups pushed for Colorado’s unique early rifle hunt (usually constrained to high elevation, above timberline areas or a few of the state’s wilderness areas to be pushed back a week. Competition with archery hunters and “unfair” susceptibility to harvest by long-range hunters was enough to get those season dates pushed back. Even so, those start dates will fluctuate in coming years between the 5th or 6th of September and mid-teen dates. Similar to the NC situation, early season dates will encourage far more of those big high country mule deer to be still in velvet and still be at or above timberline before dropping into the dark timber until the November rut.

*Those are very specific situations, but here’s an example of how season date structure can positively affect a whole state’s hunt quality in certain years. Wyoming is such a state. Regardless of where the 15th or the 1st or the 10th or the whatever other date falls in terms of Monday versus Thursday versus Sunday…that’s when the season starts. This creates situations where opening day pressure can be severely inflated if the start date coincides with a weekend opener. Conversely, an opening day on Tuesday might really weed out the competition for a season opener.

Use these tips as you plan your long term hunt schedule. Many states publish 5-year plans and I’ve been using those to organize the 7 or 8 trips I want to take in the next 5 to 6 years. Just one more method to the madness!