Final countdown

I’ve been at this archery hunt since Oct. 4. Let’s just say, I’m fully invested.

I’ve put in my time, for sure, and have let some deer “walk” because the situation wasn’t right or the deer wasn’t what I was looking for. And now there’s one week remaining on the archery deer calendar for me.

Yes, there is a rifle season which I will most likely take part in, but this archery season is where my heart lies. Taking a whitetail deer in northeastern Pennsylvania isn’t an easy task. Taking a mature buck with a bow, it may be in the single digits when it comes to success rate, but that’s just an educated guess.

There are several factors that must come together for an archery hunter to be successful. Wind direction, stand placement, scent and hunter execution are just some factors, but the ultimate factor is shot placement. Usually in archery hunting, the archer gets one shot, one chance to make an ethical and clean kill.

As I’ve written before, all those factors need to come together in one very small window. It’s the 15-(or so) second moment. Spotting the deer, drawing the arrow and releasing it.

Maybe that chance will come for me this week, and maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m OK with it, but I’m going to try. Maybe that small window will open, and if I’m lucky enough and my aim is true, it’ll be a story to share for a later time.

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History says it’s time

It’s the first week of November, oh let me soak this in a minute.

For an archery hunter this week is like the day you got your driver’s license, Christmas morning and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving all wrapped into one. Exciting doesn’t describe it.

This is the best time to be in the woods, at least recent history tells me so. Last year it was election day morning when I arrowed a very respectable 8-point. This year I’m looking for a repeat performance … if not better.

I’m hoping for better and there is some potential with a couple mature bucks still in the area on my stand. The rut is beginning now as I saw a buck on Friday, Oct. 31, cruising with his head down searching for a doe.

One common myth about the rut is that it’s weather related. Not true. Some hunters believe that it’s the cold weather which triggers the buck’s desire to breed. Not true.

The rut centers around daylight, or the lack thereof, and that is what triggers the hormones which begin the rut. The biggest factor hot or cold weather may contribute in the amount of time or distance a buck is willing to travel in search of a hot doe.

On a 65-degree November day, many bucks will wait until evening or early morning hours before going on the run. Last year one of my best trail camera photos (to the right) was of a large buck trotting by my camera at 2 p.m.

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Transition week is here

Some people say the last week of October is the unofficial start of the whitetail rut in Pennsylvania.

I view it more as a transition week. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Yes, you may be seeing some bucks moving with their noses to the ground, but let’s not put the cart before the horse – the rut is not in full-swing by any means just yet.

That’s not the say that hunters in northeastern Pennsylvania can’t start to get excited about the rut. This is a time where hunters can certainly open up some of their bags of tricks.

If you haven’t hunted with a mock scrape in the area, may I suggest you give it a try. Mock scrapes are an economically efficient way to create interest among bucks in your hunting area. A good licking branch is key, maybe 5 or 6 feet off the ground will do and create a scrape with some buck urine in the dirt below that branch.

This time of year I also like to rattle a time or two during a sit. Some hunters believe it’s too early to rattle, but I have a few times called in bucks at this point in the year with some light rattling. It’s transition week and that only means one thing, the rut is right around the corner.

 

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The mind games

It’s that time of year where a hunter’s mind can play games.

Where to hunt? Tree stand or ground blind? Are there any deer there?

For me, it’s an annual ritual. I’m constantly second-guessing the next day’s plan. New spot? Old spot? I know I’m not alone in this battle.

It’s been a tough year. Bucks I had on camera in the summer have either disappeared or shot at. I saw one fantastic deer two weeks ago and haven’t seen him since, alive or on camera.

Now the weather starts to turn colder. The rut will be picking up speed in a week or so. It’s go-time to find a big buck, or at least that’s what I’ve talked myself into this year.

I’m looking for something special, something unique when it comes to antlers. Maybe I’ll find it, maybe I won’t, but I’m going to look all while trying to avoid listening to the mind games.

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The phone call

The call came on Tuesday night, maybe 8 or 8:30. On the other end was a lady telling me her son shot a big buck.

“It’s got like 25 points,” she said. “Some of it is still in velvet.”

Immediately, I knew exactly what buck she was talking about. I had written a story in 2013 about this deer, a rare deer to say the least. Unlike many whitetails, he never lost his antlers. A hormone imbalance, I guess.

“He’s big,” she said, still very excited. “They’re trying to get it out of the woods.”

She had reason to be excited. This wasn’t just any buck, this was THE buck. A friend of mine had watched this buck for years with the help of trail cameras. He took two weeks of vacation – starting on Wednesday – to hunt for this deer.

I knew what I had to do. After I hung up the phone with the lady, I called my buddy to tell him the news.

When he picked up the phone, I got right to the point and told him I had some bad news – his buck was dead. There was a second of silence. I told him where it was shot and when and a description of the deer.

There was no doubt, it was Pegasus – that’s the name my friend had given this deer. I knew he was crushed.

Two days later I called the hunter, Mike Snyder, 48, of Sciota. He’s thrilled, and he should be. He’s got a once-in-a-lifetime deer to remember always.

Mike Snyder of Sciota shot this unique buck on Oct. 14.

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‘He’s headed this way!’

Friday morning began like so many other hunting days. A peaceful walk through the woods in the dark, find a tree to climb and get up as quietly as possible.

I sat for about three hours Friday morning, a still day with only a couple squirrels to keep me company.

To be honest, as perfect as the conditions were, I was getting a little bored.

Maybe I’ll take out my can call, I thought. And that’s what I did.

Just after 9 a.m., I turned the doe bleat call maybe three times inside 45 seconds and that’s when I got my first glimpse.

By the time I put the can in my pocket and reached slowly for my bow I looked back up and thought, “He’s coming this way!”

My first glimpse of his rack at 80 yards saw plenty of bone. He’s on a trail that runs right past my setup. And then he hits a blown over tree.

Instead of hopping the tree, he turns to his right, my left and he’s angling up a hill away from me.

Now I’ve got a great look at him in the sunlight. First impression: He’s got a big body. I mean he looks like a corn-fed deer, but there’s not a cornfield for 10 miles. He’s old, maybe 4 or 5, and he’s got an awesome bone white rack, probably 8 points.

He’s angling up the hill. I’ve got to do something. I grunt at him, and he immediately stops and looks down the hill. He takes two steps and looks.

He’s well out of range at 70 yards and continues on his path away from me.

I’m left feeling a little disappointed, but excited that my first encounter was with an awesome deer.

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What’s that smell?

On Thursday morning as I was packing up to walk into the woods, I threw something into my backpack.

Eeewwww. What’s that smell?

It’s horrible. I mean, it’s really bad. But I’ve got so much stuff in this little bag — a flashlight, ropes, a hat, gloves, an EZ hanger — I can’t leave it behind. I leave a stinky orange hat and take the rest, there’s too much important stuff to leave behind.

Now I’m left thinking, what is that smell? It rained Saturday and everything was drenched. It’s got to be something else.

I get back home and start attacking my backpack. Everything is coming out this time. My gloves smell like wet dog. And then I find the source … my drag rope. My drag rope stunk like unwashed wrestling shoes (go ask a wrestler and they’ll tell you about it).

In my haste of the preseason, I washed all my clothes, but I never checked my bag. I had no idea a rope could smell so bad.

Lesson learned and now it’s soaking in a bucket of scent-free wash. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it works.

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Opening day soaker

Soggy. Wet. Miserable.

That about covers the opening morning.

It was great to get out in the woods with my bow in hand, but Saturday morning’s opener in Unit 3D was a rainy mess. On the positive side, I did have a few friends see deer, and one even saw a nice buck but was unable to get a shot. Frustrated, he walked out of the woods without firing an arrow.

I walked out with some wet feet only to return two days later.

Monday was picture-perfect. It was in the mid-30s, still, crisp. Too bad I had the same results.

I am convinced that I had a deer or a bear close by before first light. As I walked to my stand and got to the base of my tree, I thought I heard something walking.

By the time I climbed my rapid rails, I knew I wasn’t hearing things. The animal didn’t run away, but rather walked off into the darkness.

Now I’m debating to try a new spot and give this one a rest, or test the law of averages and return to my favorite spot. It may be a last-minute decision.

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Your season boils down to 15 seconds

Fifteen seconds, and sometimes it’s less than that.

You can do all the target practice, buy the most comfortable boots, clean all of your clothes in scent-free wash — but ultimately your deer season will boil down to about 15 seconds.

Sounds unfair. Sounds impossible. Sounds … sounds like hunting.

That’s an average, of course. Last year my magic window was open for about 30 seconds from the time I spotted his antlers clearing the ridge in front of me to the point I released my arrow. The hard part can be remaining focused in that 15-second window.

To be honest, the window of opportunity in hunting and sports have a similar feel. Many coaches talk about poise in crunch time. To me, remaining poised involves making good decisions in difficult or stressful situations. Whether it’s a quarterback dropping back to pass in a tie game, or a hunter stalking an elk, it’s poise that matters most.

Some hunters can be overcome with what many call “buck fever.” The heart rate picks up, the shakes kick in, and in essence grown men shake like little boys coming off a roller coaster.

You may have seen the hunting shows where hunters can barely talk after the shot. Adrenaline has kicked in and sometimes it appears it’s all they can do just to remain upright.

If you hunt long enough, sooner or later that feeling is going to hit you. It’s like watching a 6-year-old catch their first fish. Controlling the moment before the moment isn’t easy, though.

In part, that’s why I like to use trail cameras. I’ve seen the photos of what lives on the property I hunt. That may change in the weeks to come, but ultimately I’m not going to be shocked when I see a buck I’ve had on camera walk by.

There is no doubt that I’m going to be excited. There’s no doubt I’m going to have an accelerated heart rate. There’s no doubt I’m going to need to focus and control my emotions as I draw back.

The exciting part of hunting for me is the window of opportunity. Have you ever seen a buck, but couldn’t get a shot on it? We all have, but that is part of the hunt. It can be frustrating, especially as we sit hours in the cold woods, waiting for a sighting.

At some point, we’ve all been outsmarted by the animals we hunt. They smell our scent, see our movement or they just find a way to avoid a shot. There’s a reason why the Poconos have 15-year-old bears and seven-year-old deer, they’re smart.

They know when we walk in the woods. They know that something feels out of place, and they know when something doesn’t look or smell right. If someone walked into your living room and turned around your TV, would you notice?

Chances are, they are going to notice something doesn’t look right or smell right in your 15 second window. What you do in those 15 seconds can make or break your season.

 

 

 

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The wait before the wait

The weeks leading up to the hunting season is quite exciting for me.

There is excitement in the air, as well as falling leaves as the mornings are cooler and cooler. The wait for the start of the season can be, well, long.

So much effort goes into my hunting season — scouting, purchasing new gear, target practice and hanging stands. That’s the short list. And then there is making a plan — entering and exiting the woods with as little noise as possible and figuring how to be as undetectable as possible.

I have a lot of respect for the animals I hunt. I admire how they can go undetected for so long, sometimes years without being seen. How does that happen? Now there’s a question I have no idea how to answer.

Each fall I try to answer it. Where would you go if you were that deer? Some days I figure it out. Most days, I do not.

This fall I have honed my scouting on three deer. Three. ¬†All three have different personalities, different routes of travel and movement, but all three have one key characteristic — they’re smart.

The chances of me killing one of these three deer are quite slim, and I didn’t take a statistics class in college to try and figure it out. Last year I had five deer on my list, and even passed on a respectable seven-point buck in search of one of the five. I failed pretty miserably.

This year I have on camera two or three young eight-point bucks that I’m going to force myself to, gulp, pass on. I know, I need my head examined, but I’m set on finding one of these three deer.

I’m going to do my best anyway. Until then, I’m waiting for the season to begin, and then I’ll wait some more for the right deer to cross my path.

 

 

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