An experiment with a positive reaction

We’ve all heard the saying, for every action there is a reaction.

It’s true for hunting tactics as well.

Yes, sometimes we hope the reactions come sooner – we use grunt tubes and rattle horns in hopes of luring a buck to investigate. We use scents to attract deer, camo to hide from them and spend endless dollars to keep us warm.

This week I did a little experiment in the hopes that my action would create a reaction. Here’s a little backstory.

Each year I hunt an area of the woods that looks outstanding. We all probably have favorite areas to hunt. My area has acorns, water, cover and open woods combined. My problem is I rarely see deer on camera in this area and I can’t understand why.

It’s not overhunted. There’s not one item to say this area is a reg flag.

I hunted this area Saturday morning. Sure enough, no deer. When I was done hunting on Saturday I tried something new – I set up an early season mock scrape. I’ve never used an early season mock scrape – my experiments with scrapes have only been during the rut, but I thought why not give it a try.

This rub was made 10 feet from a mock scrape.

With the help of a dripper and some buck urine, I hung the mock scrape in the hopes of getting a reaction. Two days later on Monday I returned to see two fresh rubs. Amazing!

My experiment worked and verified I’m not losing my mind – there really are bucks in this area. Now I only have to find one while I’m on stand.

I share my experience to say that experimenting with anything in the woods can be a positive. It’s the only way we can learn what and what not to do.


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Archery hunting on rise – and it’s no surprise

Archery hunting in Pennsylvania is bucking the trend.

While the sales of general hunting licenses continue to dip at a rate of approximately 10 percent in the last decade, the sales of archery licenses is on the rise.

Surprised? We shouldn’t be.

In 2016, the Pennsylvania Game Commission sold 612,000 licenses. Of those hunters, 327,000 purchased an archery stamp as well – or about 53 percent of hunters.

What’s the big deal?

Compared to 10 years prior in 2006, those numbers looked 681,000 and 256,000 – or about 37 percent.

The PGC has done a tremendous job with recognizing the popularity in archery hunting – invited the use of crossbows, implemented antler restrictions over a decade ago and has created a program where archery hunters can have a fair chance at tagging an animal.

In a time where state-run organizations can frustrate many, the PGC has done its homework. Here are some of the changes I think have made a difference.

1. Bear hunting. In recent years the PGC has implemented a bear archery season. At one time it trailed at the end of the deer archery season, but now overlaps together as one on Oct. 29 through Nov. 3. This week allows hunters with a bear tag to hunt both deer and bear at the same time. It’s a brilliant change by the PGC.

2. Antler restrictions. Once thought by some to be a terrible change, the three-point rule in much of the state has changed the possibilities of tagging larger and mature deer.

3. Crossbows. Another change with came with pushback – and some people still feel crossbows should not be permitted – but it’s clear through sales that crossbows have opened avenues to the field for many with disabilities or age limitations.

4. Veterans Day. Permitting hunting on the final Monday allows some hunters an opportunity time in the woods they would not normally get in years past. Another good move by the PGC.

5. Cost. A resident archery tag costs $16.90. That’s about the price of a pizza. It’s hard to complain given the amount of time allotted for hunters to head to the field in pursuit of their favorite animal to hunt.

The popularity of archery hunting continues to rise in Pennsylvania and there are plenty of good reasons why.








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More to the hunt than the kill

Hobbies, I’ve got a couple.

I fish a little and I play a little golf (not very well, mind you).

But I love to hunt. Some people may think it’s all about the kill – taking down a whitetail buck, a black bear or spring gobbler must be the highlight, right? Well, sorta.

Don’t get me wrong, having a mature gobbler circling a decoy or watching a buck with his nose to-the-ground on a urine line headed my way, is some of the most exciting moments a hunter will ever enjoy. I’ll admit, my heart still jumps at the sound of a gobbler on the roost or a buck grunting while chasing a doe.

But to me, being a hunter is more than the moment of the kill. For me, the preparation to the season is half the fun – finding the right camo, setting a stand in just the right tree or experimenting with different broadheads – that’s the part of the hunt which seldom gets told on TV.

Finding a deer to hunt I find to be some of the most enjoyable moments. Why hunt in an area where there’s few deer to chase? You wouldn’t fish in a puddle at the end of your driveway, right?

Hunters take on many projects during the summer months, too. They build food plots, plant future apple orchards, secure old stands and, maybe most importantly, assist in conservation projects. Hunters are some of the most giving people I know – they volunteer their time for the good of wildlife every year.

So is hunting all about the kill? Hardly. For me, it’s more about the people I get to spend time with in the woods. It brings fathers and sons together, and generations of families have dinners centered around hunting season. They head to camp or drive once a year to their favorite place to hunt with an uncle or neighbor.

The antlers on the wall can be an added bonus to the story. For many, hunting is the ongoing story which is told over and over again. And that’s just fine by me.





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Cameras work if you don’t pressure them

Around July 4 the photos begin the trickle in. If you’re a hunter in Pennsylvania, you know what I’m talking about. “Look at this one!” or “I wonder if this is the buck from last year?” It’s fun time in the Pennsylvania woods. It’s the time of year when trail cameras begin to shape the story of the hunting season to come. Yes, it’s over two months away, but that’s OK in the eye of a hunter. Anything to get him/her outdoors is reason enough to be excited. It’s hard to ignore the bugs of summer while marching through the woods or an old corn field, but when the photo of a trophy buck walks through the sight of a camera it makes it all worth it. In the era of antler restrictions (hopefully this era is long-lived), hunters are seeing bigger deer than ever before. Some, Pope and Young giants. And the cameras, thanks to technology, have never been better. Many companies have tapped into the business of trail cameras – and depending on how much money you’d like to spend, the wireless capabilities are endless. For me, cameras tend to shape my hunting locations. They also serve as preparation for identifying potential “shooter bucks” and bucks that I’d like to let walk another year. Easier said than done on a November morning.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years is avoiding over-checking cameras. It’s very tempting to run out to the camera once a week to check to see what it has captured. The reality is that marching down a trail once a week educates animals that something is there that isn’t normally present, and that in turn will change their pattern at some point.

Again, the practice of being patient with cameras is easier said than done. Especially, once you find a buck you would like to hunt, give it time. My experience is, if you have found deer in the summer and don’t overrun their territory, they won’t go far come October.

Stick a camera in the woods and let it rest. Your result may just pay off greatly when it counts.

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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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    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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