One of the highlights of every off-season is the research, planning, and scheduling of hunts to come. Hours of cruising maps and regs with your calendar open on another screen, figuring out how many hunts you can cram into one year while staying employed and married — it's like Tetris...if Tetris was cool.
One of the opportunities that can sneak into your calendar is the chance to accompany or assist friends on their hunts. Maybe your buddy has a once-in-a-lifetime tag and wants all the help he can get. Maybe you have a friend that would love to increase his odds of success on an archery elk hunt by having a dedicated caller. Or maybe a fellow hunter just threw out the invite, figuring that if it didn't interfere with your hunts, the two of you would have a good time out there.
Whatever the reason for the request, this question forces you as the invitee to make a decision: can you sacrifice time where you could be hunting for yourself to go on a friend's hunt with him? I mean, with time being such a valuable commodity for most of us, are there good reasons (other than being a nice guy) to dedicate some of your time in the field to help your buddies?
I would argue an emphatic "yes" to that question, and in no particular order, here are some of my reasons for saying so…
YOU'LL SURELY LEARN SOMETHING
Let's start with the more "selfish" benefits before we get to the more selfless, philosophical stuff. Any time you're in the field, you're bound to learn something. Whether it's a specific tip or tactic from the person you're hunting with, or just another opportunity to observe animals in the wild and grow your understanding of their behavior and how to hunt them.
"As long as you're paying attention, there are no wasted days in the field."
When you have the opportunity to tag along on another hunt, you've been invited to learn and grow as a hunter even though you might not have a tag. It could be a new species to you or an area you've never hunted before, or it might be an incredibly familiar species and location but an additional opportunity to just get more practice behind the glass or calling bulls. Whatever the specifics are, this is an opportunity to learn. Especially if the guy inviting you is an experienced hunter, consider the invite a gift; like being invited to a master-class that will in one way or another make you a better hunter.
IT'S WHAT GOOD FRIENDS DO
I know I said that we need better reasons than "being a nice guy" earlier, but what I'm getting at here runs deeper than that argument. There are few friends like good hunting friends. The bonds that can form out in the field run way deeper than the connection you share with the guy at work who always has a good joke in the break room or the acquaintance you may golf with. The amount of time spent and adversity faced together joins hunters in ways few other pursuits can, and tagging along with your buddy on his hunt offers another opportunity to grow that relationship.
I'm sure this seems a little more relational or emotional than the typical article for a majority male audience, but let's not pretend that we don't need good friends in our lives. True friendship is, at its core, caring for someone else especially when it costs you something. In this case, it is costing some of your time. When you're willing to sacrifice your time for your friend's hunt, it actively demonstrates your selfless care for that person. If this is a semi-healthy relationship, then they'd certainly be willing to do the same for you on one of your hunts. Now we're getting into that reciprocal kind of support where you both help each other, end up spending more time together in the field, and your friendship grows stronger.
SUCCESS IS OFTEN A TEAM EFFORT
Okay, that's enough feelings for one article. Back to the practical stuff.
In a vast majority of cases, hunting as a team is more effective. Yes, there are some benefits to being solo and minimizing your noise, movement, and scent in an area, but other than that, the rest of the advantages skew in favor of the team approach. Whether it's a calling scenario and the caller can draw that bull right past the hunter, or it's a spot-and-stalk situation where the spotter can keep eyes on the buck and signal the hunter, there is a pile of situations where having a partner will be the difference between a punched tag and going home with an empty cooler.
I just had the opportunity to be a part of this reality on my buddy's Arizona Coues Deer hunt. We were backpacked into some incredible Coues country and he was on multiple stalks almost every day. He finally went after this monster buck on day 5 and I stayed back to watch and give hand signals. On his way over, he busted a group of does. They ran right past the target buck, and he fled with the does. I watched all of those does and a couple of smaller bucks bail down into a cut and come running up out of the other side, but that smart old buck never left the cut. I continued to guide my friend right to the tree on the edge of the cut where I had last seen that buck. Sure enough, he found himself standing 15 yards above this monster buck who had chosen to hide there and let the other deer run away as a diversion. A much longer story later…an arrow was sent and the buck was down.
I tell that story to make a couple of points. First, that buck would have lived to fight another day, had I not been there. Since I was able to signal that the buck was still there, my buddy knew to keep going with the stalk until he could relocate the buck. Second, that buck immediately felt like our buck, not just his buck. Yes, my buddy made the shot and punched the tag, but we both felt like we had accomplished something amazing together. Being the spotter/helper in this kind of situation gives you a taste of the excitement of hunting, but you get to do so from a comfortable glassing spot while eating Sourpatch Kids — that's a win-win in my book.
Your odds of success generally go up when you have help, and if you have a friendship where you're both willing to sacrifice for one another, you're both more likely to find success as you make time to help each other.
FIND THE TIME
I'm fully aware that there are only so many hunting seasons in a hunter's life and freezers need to be filled somehow. But, I would argue that if you haven't carved out any time in your year to help a buddy on a hunt, maybe it's time to rethink that. If you happen to be the only hunter in your friend group, maybe you should think about taking a friend with an interest in hunting who's never been. Yes, it might slow you down or complicate the hunt to bring along a greenhorn, but it's more than worth it to help introduce a new hunter to this incredible lifestyle.
Some of my favorite hunting memories are from hunts where someone else was the shooter or I didn't have a tag at all. When you have the opportunity to spend time with good friends and also contribute to their success, it's never going to feel like a waste of valuable hunting time.
Eric Voris is a passionate adult-onset hunter, the author of How to Hunt: A Total Beginner's Guide to Hunting Big Game, and the creator behind Late to the Game Outdoors. He is an accomplished writer, filmmaker, and content creator in the outdoors space, and spends his time chasing animals across the West. Eric lives in Arizona with his wife and three kids, dodging rattlesnakes and hunting together whenever possible.