Close isn’t always good enough

As I walked out of the woods on Saturday, I felt like I had done everything I could.

Yes, I wasn’t pulling a whitetail behind me, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.

I was close to releasing an arrow on a fine 8-point buck on a chilly 18-degree Saturday morning, but as many archery hunters know, being out of range 10 yards can be all the difference in the world. And as I watched this buck chase a doe off into the distance through the forest, I knew he wasn’t coming back.

Disappointed? Sure. But that’s the nature of the sport I fell in love with long ago. Archery hunters work in close quarters, while branches and wind direction can flub up a hunt fast.

On Saturday morning, I didn’t have anything to blame but bad luck. A buck had chased a doe out of a thicket and the pair stopped to rest about 65 yards in front of me. A few contact grunts had the pair working my direction, so much so that the doe came in to 43 yards. With the buck following by 10 yards off her tail, I thought I had a chance.

He worked a scrape, all while licking his nose as he tried to figure out who was grunting in his territory. At one point he crossed my drag rope line I had laid out that morning. I’m sure he smelled the estrous in the leaves, but he had no interest in following it to far for fear of losing his doe.

He came a few steps inside 50 yards, but when the doe saw a chance to trot off, he was right behind her. And away the pair darted into the timber.

It was fun while it lasted. It was a fantastic encounter with a buck I had on camera a few times this fall. I’ll have to settle for that and wait for rifle season.








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The chase is on for whitetail hunters

Early November – it is arguably the best time of year to hunt whitetails in Pennsylvania.

The start of the rut is in full swing this week – a phase many call the chase phase. It’s a time of year where it’s not uncommon for archery hunters to see bucks, especially young bucks, cruise through a treeline with their noses to the ground in search of a doe.

It’s also a time of year for archery hunters to break out the bag of tricks – scents, rattle bags or antlers, and grunt tubs all go into the hunting bag this week. You never know when you’ll need one or all three of these in a time of need. Personally, I’m a rattling fan, but I also use estrous bombs this time of year. I’ve rattled in a few bucks over the years, but never a giant.

I have seen my share of bucks following my drag line, though, and four or five years ago was lucky enough to make a good shot on an 8-point. It is quite rewarding when a plan comes together. More often than not the plan never fully works out.

Some hunters say they like cold mornings this time of year. A little chill seems to add to the crispness of the air and leaves, making every leaf sound like potato chips under a deer’s hoof.

In early November, my experience tells me it doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside – when the time is right the deer will be on the prowl in the wind, snow, whatever the elements. It’s easy to get discouraged sometimes when 9 or 10 a.m. roll around and there isn’t a deer to be seen.

Bad day? There is no such thing in my opinion. You’re in the woods, living the dream, I would say.

It’s early November and there’s a buck cruising just over the next ridge, searching for a receptive doe. Wait him out because chances are a deer is going to cross your path eventually and you will be ready.



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Next! Passing on deer a challenge

When the deer antler restrictions went into effect in Pennsylvania in 2002, I didn’t know how to feel about it.

I was a fan of the possibility of shooting larger-racked deer, but could it really happen? I think it’s safe to say that the biologists were right, and that antler restrictions have worked quite well.

Antler restrictions have allowed younger deer to grow older, making the possibility of shooting a Boone and Crockett deer a possibility.

Now, as a Pennsylvania hunter, I have a new dilemma, letting young deer walk. There’s been a push in the hunting community to not only shoot a legal deer, but a deer which is mature. It’s not always easy. Let’s not forget that there’s no law against shooting a 2-year-old 6-point. In fact, many deer hunters will do just that, fill their freezers and go home.

That’s just not for me.

In fact, I’ve allowed three young legal bucks to walk this season alone. Truth be told, I’m getting better at judging the age of deer not just by antler size, but by body composition as well.

I feel like I’m living in the early stages of the antler restrictions all over again, but instead of looking for a deer with three points on one side, I’m also looking for a mature deer to harvest. Maybe I’ve just doubled the challenge of being successful. Maybe this is something many hunters are already doing and I’m just a step behind.

Either way, passing on any legal buck is a learning curve for me. It’s going to take time, but I’ve already proven to myself in recent years that I’m willing to wait until the right buck crosses my path.



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Have an exit plan

One of the best pieces of advice was given to me years ago: Never let the deer know you are hunting them.

It seems so simple, but yet the concept rings so true. It’s also easier said than done.

I am guilty of educating more than one deer in my lifetime. I’ve also learned some tricks to aid in my attempt of being successful.

So many times hunters have “favorite spots” in which they love to hunt. Maybe you only have one stand which you hunt every year. For that I say, be careful in when you hunt that stand.

What are the factors to consider when hunting? First and foremost for me is wind direction. If you know the travel routes of deer, don’t hunt the wrong wind. The easiest way to ruin your favorite stand is to head to your stand and sit there for 3-4 hours with your scent blowing in their bedroom.

Another factor is entry and exit points to your stand site. Walk tree lines or creek bottoms, avoiding open areas as much as possible. If you want to ruin your favorite hunting grounds, walk through the middle of a field. Nobody’s camo is that good.

Next, think about your light. I cost myself a deer years ago due to my headlamp. I had a deer on camera headed right to me on a trail 10 minutes before first light. But because I was climbing with a headlamp on, the deer never made it to me. Turn your lights off as soon as possible.

If you are a treestand hunter, consider sitting in a fork of a tree to break up your outline. Tree branches can restrict shooting direction, but they can also assist hunters by blending into the surroundings.

If you think about the wind direction, noise, lights and line of sight, it may help you be a better hunter.






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What to do first? The laundry!

About this time every year I make a checklist. If you’re a hunter, you’ve been there.

You go through all of your gear — ropes, lights, batteries, broadheads, clothing, boots and the list goes on and on. In fact, making the list can be quite maddening.

The one item that can be easily overlooked is scent-free detergent. How is that possible? Beating a deer’s nose is the toughest task we as hunters take on each fall, and yet so many hunters ignore this basic step to deer hunting preparation. For about $10, hunters can purchase enough detergent for a couple years.

And trust me, there’s plenty of options on the market to choose from.

I toss everything into the washer that I think could benefit – hats, gloves, backpacks, coats and pants. After all of those items are washed, I like to dry my clothes and then hang them in a dry area. Don’t keep your hunting gear with your everyday clothes! Don’t toss them on a greasy workbench!

Getting into range of a whitetail buck can be difficult. Making sure your gear is scent-free may be critical to a hunter's success.

Some guys like to keep their hunting clothes/gear in large bins. That’s a fantastic idea.

Hunting deer is never an easy task. If a hunter has the advantage of being scent-free, he can walk into the woods with the confidence that he’s done all he can to make himself as scent-free as possible.







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You only get 1 shot

About 10 years ago, I had a chance at a tremendous buck.
I remember like it was yesterday. It was a big deer, big body, tall, white rack.
He ran at me so fast I barely had time to blink, yet alone hook my release to my string, aim and shoot. And just like that he was gone. I didn’t have a second to even fire an arrow.
He ran in and ran off just as fast, stopped at 50 or 60 yards out to take a last look in my direction, and he was gone.
I was so ticked off at myself that I wanted to jump out of my tree and call it a season. How on earth did I screw that up, I wondered.
Maybe you’ve been there too. Chances are, you or someone you know, has a story like that.
There is nothing that I could have done to prepare me for such an event. It was just one of those bad breaks.
But there are ways to practice other scenarios. Maybe you will have to hold 45 seconds for a shot. Maybe you will have a 3-second-window – it’s good to practice those scenarios in your back yard and see how you do.
The big test in my eyes is the one-arrow test. Start your practice session by taking one focused shot. Judge how you do on one that single shot because chances are that’s all you will get in the woods.

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2017: Let the countdown begin

You’ve felt a different feel in the air recently. The mornings are crisp.

It’s nearly that time of year – hunting season.

You’ve shot your bow a few times by now, or have taken the shotgun out of the safe for a cleaning. Whether you are an archery hunter, muzzleloader, or small game hunter, you’ve thought about what’s coming in just a few weeks.

For me, archery deer hunting is where it’s at. I’ve been tinkering with field cameras for most of the summer. Some days have been more satisfying than others. Overall, this feels like a challenging season ahead.

If I can’t find deer in the summer, I’m hoping I can locate something worth hunting during the rut. I’m not giving up yet, though.

I’ve expanded a food plot, which I started a year ago with clover. It’s a learning process for sure, but with some hard work and help from a friend, it’s looking pretty good.

I’ve also been shooting my bow this summer. Rare for me, I’m feeling OK about how I’m shooting. We’ll see how it goes if I ever get a chance to release an arrow. Memories of last year’s poor shot are still fresh in my mind.

In the next two weeks I’ll be planning stand placements, figuring in the wind direction will be key here. I’ve got swamps to hunt and not many water features to bank on for assistance.

If I can survive the bugs during my scouting, I can get past just about anything. I keep telling myself, Sept. 30 is another day closer.

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Cold has my spirits on ice

My energy level has a tendency to hit rock bottom at this time of year.

It’s cold outside. The days are short. And let’s face it, many of us have been hunting since early October.

Throw in trail camera season, summer scouting and hanging stands, and it’s a six-month hunting season.

So, by time Christmas rolls around, my excitement for the chase is dipping downward. I’ve had a good year, at least one where I can walk away satisfied knowing I gave it my best shot.

In the six-week early archery season, I many have hunted between 20-25 days. By the time Nov. 12 rolled around, I was running on empty.

The rifle season and bear seasons were active, and I killed my first black bear this fall, which was exciting. But as usual, my mind is always looking ahead to next season.

It happens all the time. I create this wish list, the plan for next year … new stand locations, plans to get in and out of the woods, and all that fun stuff.

I’m also tempted this time of year to get a camera in the woods to see what survived the season. If you are a late archery hunter or muzzleloader, I wish you well. You’ve got an extra gear that some of us just don’t have.

And if I had it, getting outside on a 10-degree morning would wilt it pretty quickly.







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My little yellow reminder

Every time I go hunting I can’t help but look.

On the side of my backpack is my untouched tag. Multiple tags actually. Buck tag. Doe tag. Bear tag. All untouched and perfectly folded in my license holder.

It’s like an ugly zit that won’t go away.

In the early archery season, I had some opportunities. Once I was picky and let a young 6-point buck walk in the hopes of a bigger deer. I also passed on a doe.

Of course Nov. 7 was the day I had a fantastic buck only to blow the shot like Shaquille O’Neal at the free throw line. I’m going to be sore about that shot for a while, as I find myself quite often reliving that moment.

The week before the bear season, my wife and I saw five bears in one morning. You know what happened during the actual bear season … zilch.

So now I’m left with these tags to fill. I’m growing desperate. This morning I saw a buck, but seeing a buck and getting a shot on one are completely different deals.

At 90-to-100 yards, the buck I saw had no intentions of slowing down for my grunt call as he was on the move. I keep telling myself I’m in the right area. I’ve seen deer. I see deer sign. And, this has been a good area in the past.

Sooner or later it’s going to happen. Right? I’m keeping positive thoughts as the days wind down, but it’s becoming increasingly harder to ignore that pouch with the little yellow tag.











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Look out for yourself first

Some days I feel like I should have my head examined.

If you’re a hunter, or a fisherman for that matter, we’ve all asked ourselves, “why did I do that?.”

There’s days where you drag yourself out of bed, or rush home from work early to get a few hours in the woods before dark. Or maybe it’s raining and you decide to give it a shot. Snow? Sure, why not?

I don’t care what you hunt, it takes an effort to have a successful hunt. You just don’t walk in the woods, or to the nearest stream or duck pond, and fire away. You’ve got to have a plan.

And if you don’t have a plan, then yes, you need to seek therapy.

That’s how I felt this morning – 26 degrees mind you –  as I headed to my tree a half mile away with 30 pounds of gear on my back. I had a plan, sorta, but I discovered this morning that after walking 20 minutes and then climbing 20 feet, I didn’t feel all that warm.

My hunting plan was OK. My self-survival plan was not. It was a little chilly. It was what I call a two-hat morning, and I had only one hat. Not good.

It was also a good morning for some hand warmers. Mine were cleverly tucked away in a bin in my basement. Not good.

It was probably a good day for a sweatshirt under my camo coat. Mr. Tough Guy went with two long-sleeve t-shirts. Definitely not good.

All of this lack of planning left me quite uncomfortable after four hours in a tree. Don’t be like me, have a better plan for the conditions, albeit cold, snow or rain and enjoy your hunt in the woods.

You’ll be glad you did.

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    Mike Kuhns

    I'm a lifelong hunter, who in the last 10 years, has found a reborn passion for archery hunting. In general, when it comes to hunting I like to listen and learn, and I think many of us can learn from one another. Hope you like the blog. Feel free to ... Read Full
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