It's an empty feeling, one every hunter has experienced.
Your heart sinks as you lower your bow from that trusty climber for the final time. It aches even more with that fleeting glimpse of deer silhouetted against the last setting sun of the season. That last gobble echoes through your head and it hurts to watch that final flyby over the pond. And after all that pain, it's one heck of a long walk to the truck.
The thrill is gone, there's no more chase and you've got the post-season blues. A particularly cruel emotion that begs the famous question: what do I do when the season is over?
Well, the first step is to recognize your hunting addiction. Don't fight it or deny it, just embrace it.
Next, come to Americanhunter.org.
In service to our fellow hunters, we will be compiling our favorite post-season activities, ways to stay in the game when it seems there's no game to pursue. Whether you're a whitetail nut, a diehard turkey hunter or someone who hunts anything that moves, we'll give you some options that might help end your half-hearted hibernation.
It's early February. The sky is grey, the air is cold and your gun safe is gathering post-season dust. The dreary days between the closing of deer season and the opening of turkey season can feel like a hunter's purgatory.
No worries, though, one of the rising trends in hunting circles can fill that void: predator hunting.
"It's usually done in the late winter or early spring, January to March," said Bob Davis, manager of the NRA's Hunter Services division and a 40-year veteran of hunting and trapping predators.
"Some states allow predator hunting year round. By hunting in the late winter, early spring period, most of the deer seasons and small game seasons are over. The only seasons that may be still open are some waterfowl. Not only is it a down time for a lot of other hunting seasons, but the fur on a predator is prime for selling the hide to a raw fur dealer or to take to the taxidermist, if you desire to get one mounted."
The timing of predator hunting isn't the only thing getting hunters off their couches.
Furbearing carnivores can be found in every U.S. state and most public and private lands are open to their pursuit, as farmers and other landowners are more than happy to let you tag a few coyotes or foxes.
Heavy restriction on trapping in a number of states has left predator populations without proper management. Coyotes stand as the most popular quarry among predators, largely because of population expansion and their ever-widening range, while foxes, bobcats and cougars remain attractive options.
No matter which predator you might be hunting, gear shouldn't be a problem.
"For the most part, you can predator hunt with a lot of the same hunting clothes and equipment you already have," Davis said. "So, this gives hunters the chance to get in the field at a time when they have usually put their firearms and camo away until spring if you're a turkey hunter, or next fall if you're not. Add a couple of calls or an electronic call box to your daypack, and you're ready to go."
Industry leaders have taken notice of the boom and are also styling products to meet the needs of the predator hunter. Products include an assortment of electronic, open-reed, closed-reed and diaphragm calls, predator rifles, scopes and ammunition.
Liberal bag limits in most states certainly don't hurt predator hunting's appeal and usually offer an action-packed day in the woods. Not to mention you can explore new areas and log any deer or turkey sign you come across. You might even pick up a shed or two in the process.
"Predator hunting is exciting," Davis said. "You do a lot of calling, move from one place to another, it's not boring. Seeing the animals respond to your set up, gets you all fired up. It's a ‘cover some ground' or ‘run and gun' type of hunt."
A great way to bridge that painful gap between hunting's most popular seasons.
"That's the beauty of predator hunting," Davis said. "It can be done when there is nothing else to hunt. Now, that will shake off the post-season blues."