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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A shot at High Flier

It was Monday morning and I hopped out of bed with a little enthusiasm.

OK, it was 4:20 am, so hopped may be a stretch. Needless to say, I was anxious to hit the woods.

It’s Nov. 7 and my trail cameras are showing some daytime movement for the last week. My wife and I are hunting a pair of stands 200 yards apart on this 27 degree morning, and the rut is in full swing.

As she climbs into her stand I wish her good luck and start my trek downhill to my position. I’m dragging Code Blue estrous in the hopes that may attract a giant.

I make it to my tree and climb just like I have 10 times before, but this day is going to be different. As it starts to get light I can’t help but notice how still the air is. It’s dead quiet. You know those days.

I quietly take my bottle of Buck Bomb and give a quick blast.

I text my wife that I’m safely up the tree and the wait starts. My good buddy Jason sends me a text: ‘Don’t miss,’ it reads.

Within 30 seconds I can hear him, a buck I call High Flier lets out a grunt that sounds like a cross between a bull and a bear growl. I slowly reach for my bow and as I focus on the area of the grunt all I see are antlers.

For the second time this year I’ve seen High Flier on the hoof.

I see where he’s walking, and range an opening at 45 yards. It’s a long shot but I can make it. He hits the spot, and I let out a grunt to stop him and release the arrow.

The sound of the arrow hitting the deer has my heart pounding as he runs for 30 yards and then walks off.

I’m shaking like a 15-year-old dancing with the prom queen.

After 30 minutes I check my arrow and my heart sinks – white hair and fat. I decide to back out and wait 4 hours.

When I return I find blood, really good blood at first, but then it slows. After following 400 yards I’m forced to call it a day as the blood is tougher to find as I go.

I call in reinforcements the next day and return to the last spot of blood. We’re able to find more and before we know it, we’ve tracked nearly a mile from where the buck was hit.

He’s gone up and down hills, bedded once, but he’s moving.

After hours of searching, the trail finally stops. There’s no more sign. We circle out again, each taking a different direction, but the trail has gone cold.

My heart sinks. Not only have I lost the buck I wanted most, I’ve injured him.

This is a part of hunting no hunter likes. It makes us sick. It makes us struggle to find a way to get back to the woods and do it again.

In the worst of times I’ve heard the expression, the sun will rise again tomorrow. It will, and I’ll hope to make a better shot if I get the chance.









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It’s OK to dream big in November

If you are a hunter in northeastern Pennsylvania, the last two weeks of the deer archery season can bring some of the highest expectations.

And when those expectations aren’t met, well, that’s another feeling altogether.

Yes, the rut is in full swing here and with it comes dreams of big-racked bucks marching through swamps, forests, fields and food plots in search of a doe. A rutting buck with the right attitude can be as hard-headed as they come, ignoring every warning it has ever known in search of love.

It easy for archery hunters this time of year to get excited even after the sighting of a doe. There’s a good chance, after all, that a doe on the move in early November is walking for a reason – she’s got a buck pushing her.

You can imagine my disappointment this week when I spotted a doe sneaking up a swamp edge all by herself. Behind her I scanned, eager to pick out a buck trailing her every step. It wasn’t to be.

This time of year is also my favorite to trick a buck into thinking there’s a doe ready to mate. Hunters use estrous scents to lure in bucks, and when used properly with a drag rope, a trail can be left behind for a buck to follow. It worked perfectly for me this week, only to have a young buck following my lure left behind.

Better luck next time.

So, yes, the expectations of a November day can be some of the highest of the season. There’s a good reason for that, and it falls on the dreams of many hunters that someday they’ll cross paths with a fantastic buck seeking a doe.

I can tell you that the dream can become a reality pretty quickly, especially if you consider a buck can cover a long distance in a day of searching for a mate. So for that I say keep dreaming, keep hunting, and good luck.

Mature bucks like this one become easier to kill during the November rut as they search for a mate.











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