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The warm summer months are a lazy stretch for deer and elk — but a good hunter doesn’t have the luxury of such down time. COURTESY PHOTOS - Dave Peecher of Hillsboro limbs-up his trails during a regular July maintenance trip to his favorite hunting grounds.

“What I do now is what helps me be successful,” said Dave Peecher, a lifelong hunter and nature enthusiast from Hillsboro. “If it weren’t for my summer preparation, my job in the fall would be that much harder.”

If you’re serious about tagging a big deer come autumn, the summer months provide the hunter the opportunity to get a leg up. The novice awaits deer season and hopes fate will lead the way, but the more advanced predator will look for an edge not only over his prey, but over his competition as well.

“It’s like anything else,” Peecher said. “You want to do whatever it takes to put yourself in the best position to succeed.”

So what does that mean? What does a better-prepared hunter do that a lesser prepared one may not?

Work. COURTESY PHOTOS - Mikaela Gates of Banks displays her trophy from a hunt last season.

Nature is unyielding; it waits for no one. So while big game and some hunters slumber, Peecher and others like him are investing time and effort, determined to enjoy the dividends in the months to come.

First and foremost, Peecher says, it’s imperative to keep your terrain accessible. If you can’t move freely around your hunting ground, your chances of sneaking up on your prey decline precipitously, he adds. The Willamette Zone, where Peecher hunts, is thick with trees and groundcover. He periodically maintains his trails by pruning surrounding trees and bushes, removing debris like fallen limbs and rocks and clearing sight lines so as to secure the best views of the property.

“I like to ensure that I can get into my location,” Peecher said. “I need to cut those trails in order to get to hot spots that I like to hunt.”

And do so quietly.

“In the fall, I can’t just stomp into those areas. I need to do so stealthily,” Peecher said. “When I get into those spots undetected, I’m in position A.”

Peecher likes to reach different areas of the land from different angles, so as to create options dependent on conditions like wind and standing water.

“I make a big circle through the property I hunt,” said Peecher. “The wind is going to carry my scent. So if I can get to my various ‘hot spots’ from downwind, it increases my odds of going unnoticed.”

Signs of movement

In addition to maintenance, hunters like Peecher observe and study hunting grounds for signs of movement. Animals, while sneaky, rarely move undetected. Although the season may be months away, now may be the ideal time to observe and study the giant you choose to chase this fall, Peecher says. Big bucks don’t get that way being careless, so scouting your hunting area for movement patterns, feeding tendencies and resting areas can be advantageous.

Mikaela Gates, a 26-year-old Banks resident who’s been hunting for almost 20 years, says she and her father — who taught her to hunt — set up trail cameras in order to track tendencies.

“My dad will set cameras well in advance,” Gates

said. “We’re not only looking for habits, but also size and

maturity of animals in the area.”

Cameras are a popular means of collecting data. If you can track deer movement patterns in the area, you’re much more likely to intercept them in the fall — which raises the likelihood of nabbing them in late autumn.

Maintenance and tracking is great, but without a working weapon they’ll likely go for naught.

Sight your rifle

Summer is also the perfect time to sight-in your rifle due to less traffic at your local ranges. Waiting until the week before the season will likely cause grief due to the amount of traffic. You should spend ample time assuring your weapon is finely tuned for the upcoming hunt.

“I like to sight my rifle at least up to 100 yards,” said Gates. “That way there’s not uncertainty when I’m in the field.”

In addition to your weapon, it’s important to prep your gear as hunting season approaches. You’re going to spend precious time and money at the sporting goods store replenishing supplies during the season if you neglect your field equipment in the off-season. The summer months are the perfect time to address issues, and chances are you’ll find there’s plenty of them.

Little is worse than heading to the woods in the fall only to find out your stand is falling apart or a mouse has a made a nest of your safety harness. That’s why it’s never a bad idea to head out to your favorite hunting spot in July or August to check all of your equipment. Also, be sure that your rangefinder has new batteries, and that your hunting knife and broadheads (for you bowhunters) are sharpened.

Does all of this work? It certainly doesn’t hurt. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you when the shot comes, but prior to that a little summer prep can only make your job easier. Dave Peecher swears by it, and says the proof’s in the pudding.

“I think my wall speaks

for itself,” he says of the

trophies displayed in his