What Deer Hunting Taught Me About Strategy

At the Hotel Bar

I was officially tired. From before sunup, to long after it had set, opening day of deer season 2020 had been a long one.

After 16 ½ hours of total time deer hunting I collapsed, exhausted into bed. Too tired to eat (except ice cream) and too tired to drink (except two Manhattans), I had just completed my first solo (as in by myself) deer hunt in Southwest Wisconsin at my friend Phil’s farm. (Keep reading for awesome hunt pics.)

The result was a nice doe for the freezer.  It took my longest shot (175 yard), my longest drag (½ mile uphill across hills and fields), and my first-time skinning and butchering a deer (in the dark on a tarp near the road) to make it a reality.

All by my lonesome.

As I lay down in bed pretty damn happy and satisfied, what came to mind? The similarities between deer hunting and business strategy. LOL

Competency Development – Prepare to be successful.

Deer hunting is a physical activity. From hiking to the blind with gear for a whole day (in the winter), to dragging your harvested deer out of the field, to moving the carcass around during cleaning, it takes physical strength and stamina.

It was a warm day to hunt, anything warmer than your fridge is bad because the meat starts to spoil.  Once a deer is on the ground, you can’t stop. Not until everything you want goes from the carcass to the cooler.

Prior to the hunt, I worked out hard using our Peloton subscription (bike, and mat) building cardio and core strength. The kind of thing you need to drag 120 lbs. of dead weight through fields and up hills in the dark.

But physical preparation isn’t everything.

In addition, for the first, time I was going to have to skin (self-explanatory) butcher (cut into big transportable chunks) and process the deer (cut into smaller, eatable chunks).

As a result, I read articles on technique and watched a whole bunch of YouTube videos on skinning and deer processing.

Developing the necessary competencies is also essential to successful business strategy.

If we want to be successful, we have to be honest with ourselves and our team about the competencies we’ll need. Without these competencies and the emotional, intellectual, and, yes, physical health required, we won’t be successful.

Recently, at Association Laboratory, for example, we did a mini conference on research methodologies. The goal was to make sure we all had the same base of knowledge on fundamental research concepts. By building a set of common competencies, our ability across the company to develop and explain good research was improved.

Understanding the Market – Scouting

When we hunt deer in Wisconsin, we hunt travel patterns. We try to identify how deer move between food, water, and to where they sleep (bedding).

To identify these patterns, you walk throughout the farm scouting for sign: any evidence of deer movement. You determine when and where they are moving and how many. Then you build or otherwise establish a camouflaged blind putting you in position to shoot a deer moving along these patterns.

The day before Opening Day, I spent nearly 6 hours roaming the farm. Walking along fields, examining paths through the woods and ravines. Putting myself in the mind of my quarry for the next day. I considered wind, weather, shooting lanes and water, food, and where they might bed.

After scouting, I set up three different blinds where I thought I’d have the most success. Two blinds constructed out of old logs and brush. One covering a small lake (water) and the other a known path (to food/water/bed). Finally, I set up a “pop up blind” overlooking two alfalfa fields (food) giving me clear shots into two areas where I thought deer would feed during early morning or late afternoon.

In business, understanding your market and how your market is moving is critical.

Without understanding the “travel patterns” of your market as they move from where they are today to where they think they need to be for their success tomorrow, you set up at the wrong place, at the wrong time and go hungry.

A wide variety of research tools are designed to help you understand your market in-depth and identify how they are changing over time. At Association Laboratory, we often use environmental scanning because it’s an interpretive tool designed to give us understanding of the future behavior of the market, given their environment. 

Monitoring, Adaption and Execution (Based on the Market’s Response)

To make a long story awesome, let’s consider the hunt itself, our strategy execution phase if you will.

On opening day, I woke at 5 am, showered, ate breakfast, and prepared everything I’d need for a day in the field.

I crept quietly through the dark and set up at my first stand overlooking the two alfalfa fields just after the start of official hunting time. You could legally shoot a deer from 6:30 am until 4:30 pm on opening day.

Comfortable in my stand, on a beautiful early winter day, I watched the sun rise. As often happens, you start to hear shots in the distance as other hunters cash in. To my left, I could hear more than one deer crashing through the trees. Invisible at first, they suddenly walked quickly out of the trees on to one of the alfalfa fields I had set up to cover.

A small buck, two does and a youngster. 3 takers and one too small.

I put the gun to my shoulder, put the scope over the largest one and …. let them run past.

Why you ask?

It was a long shot, at a moving deer and the odds that I’d make an ethical kill were low. That’s why it’s called hunting, not killing.

Then things got quiet. I moved to blind number two at mid-morning.

I listened to squirrels, enjoyed the birds and breeze, and didn’t so much as hear a damn deer.

After a couple hours I moved to stand number three; covering a ravine that is a common path from bed to water and/or food. More bird watching, squirrel eyeing and the deer still missing.

Clearly, wrong places at wrong times.

Finally, late in the afternoon, I shifted back to my first stand overlooking the two alfalfa fields.

With the sun dropping, in the distance, I saw a doe gingerly walk out of the woods to my right, into the far field. Her ears twitching, she started to eat. Every few steps she would drop her head to take a bite of the mild green alfalfa. Quickly, she’d raise her head, scanning every direction for threats.

With 20 minutes to go in legal hunting time, I decided to take the shot.

But the shot was a long one, the edge of my ability. I knew I couldn’t take it from a seated position. I’d need to get outside the blind, and using my backpack as a shooting rest. Take it from the prone position to increase my odds.

Now deer get hunted by things like wolves in the dark. They hear better, see movement better and have a better sense of smell than us. I had to get me, my gun, and my backpack, outside the blind and set up on the ridge line without scaring her away. And the clock was ticking.

Slowly, one thing at a time, always watching her and moving when her head went down, I crept out of the blind, resting my rifle on the backpack, sprawled in the wet alfalfa, I sighted in and, after a breath and pause, took the shot with 15 minutes in the hunting day to spare.

She dropped immediately. A successful hunt. Meat in the freezer.

Too often in business, we get married to our strategy. Set in our ways. We constantly reinforce what we’ve been doing and blind ourselves to other strategies that might be successful. Hear only what we want to hear. See only what we want to see.

Some of Association Laboratory’s most useful engagements are when we show clients something from the research that they couldn’t see because they had blinded themselves to the insight.

Never be afraid to change your strategy if it isn’t working.   If you’ve set up in the wrong place; move. If you’re using a message that doesn’t work, change it.

Moving “stands” is essential to success. Only by adapting will you be successful.

Prepare for changing circumstances and eventual success.

The following is a quick list (excluding clothes) I felt I’d need if I were successful.

·       Boot covers (for warmth)

·       Small blanket (to sit on)

·       Work gloves (for tough stuff)

·       Warm gloves

·       Blaze orange safety vest

·       Blaze orange safety hat

·       Knife (cleaning)

·       Hatchet (blind clearing, brush mgmt., etc.)

·       Flashlight

·       Headlamp

·       Small flashing light (to mark deer or possessions in dark)

·       Small Wound Trauma Kit (in case you shoot/cut yourself)

·       Safety glasses (prevents stick in eye)

·       Rifle (30-06 Weatherby bolt action)

·       Ammo (for aforementioned rifle)

·       Plastic bag (for the heart/liver)

·       Water (drink and wash)

·       Tea (drink)

·       Small flask of bourbon (for toasting theoretical end-of-day success)

·       Trail Mix (defined as peanut M & Ms with some other things)

·       Tarp (to drag deer)

·       Paracord (to tie things, like a deer, up with)

·       Phone

·       Monocle (to see with)

·       Backpack (to carry stuff)

·       Cooler (for butchered deer if successful)


I had extra clothes in case it got cold (it did). I had all the tools necessary for dragging and cleaning the deer if it was necessary (it was) and I had medical and other supplies for various potential scenarios (that I didn’t need).

I took the shot at 4:25 pm. I had to field dress the deer, drag it through the fields and up hill to the yard to skin and butcher it  on the tarp so that I could get the meat on ice.

This took me 4 ½ more hours. It was physically demanding, dirty, bloody and often frustrating. But it had to be done.

An essential component of business strategy is planning for success.

What new things will result, or will you need to do? What happens next if you are successful? How will you manage growth?

You learn by doing; not watching.

As we grow older, it’s rare that we truly learn a completely new thing. My friend and hunting mentor, Phil Puckorius has been my hunting “guide” for a bit more than 10 years. Teaching me all I know about deer hunting. As we and two other friends hunted together, he’d determine when to go out. How we might place ourselves for success and, for me, teach me how to field dress the deer.

So, while I’d been part of the tasks of hunting, I’d never had to do all of it myself.

In addition, due to COVID, the processors where we would normally take the deer for butchering and processing were closed.

As a result, I had to do it myself.

At the end of the day, you have to pull the trigger (pun intended) on your strategy and take responsibility for success.

Association Laboratory has worked with one of our clients for nearly two years conducting very sophisticated research into a revised value proposition. But now, it’s time to get into the field and see what the market thinks. Developing your team, scouting the market, and preparing yourself can only take you so far.


Enjoy the victory.

The next day, after processing the larger chunks of venison, I made a delicious meal of the tenderloins and a enjoyed a terrific Manhattan (cooking and cocktails are two other personal skillsets).

It was deeply satisfying to reflect on what I’d learned, the preparation I’d made to be successful, and the challenges I’d overcome to put some delicious food on the table, untouched by any hands but my own; from field to fork.

Make sure to reward yourself (and your team) for your efforts. There is always another hunt and not every time will it be successful.

Just some thoughts from my seat in the blind. 😊