Think about it. At a time when we want to spend as much time afield hunting as possible, the hours of daylight become shorter with each passing day. Robbed is the best word that describes it. Yet there’s nothing we can do about it. On second thought, maybe there is, and that’s to replace quantity with quality.
If there was one person who could squeeze an extra hour or so out of a day, it had to be my dad. No, he didn’t tack on an extra fifteen minutes or a half-hour or so on either side of starting and quitting time; he just hunted smarter all the time.
There was no going back into the truck or camp for lunch when hunting deer.
Now don’t get me wrong, he didn’t drive my brother and me into the ground from dawn to dusk. When we were together, breaks were taken, and yes, we did stop for lunch in the field.
We would occasionally take a break. As we did Dad would search his backpack for the goodies it held, but always his rifle was well within arms’ reach. Early on, he taught my brother and me to do the same. As his hands searched his pack, Dad’s eyes constantly scanned the woods near and far in every direction.
Naturally the areas chosen for lunch would be situated in such a spot that would allow us to take advantage of other hunter’s movements as they returned to a parking area or a cluster of hunting camps for lunch. Their movements would often result in pushing deer our way.
On another occasion at midday we met and sat at the edge of the woods line where we could watch the field and woods that lay beyond it. Halfway through lunch, Dad spotted a buck along the opposite edge of the field. He just smiled and told me to take the shot.
“Nope, you saw him first. If you miss, then I’ll take a crack at him,” I said. “You sure?” was his reply. “Yep,” I said, and seconds later the rifle cracked.
Even with trying to plug my ears and waiting for the shot, I still jumped from the report. Without the aid of binoculars it was plain to see the deer was down. Well placed neck shots will do that.
All too often hunters fail to slow their pace while walking. While still hunting the pace is not constant. Instead take several steps, stop, check your surroundings then repeat the process. When stopping, pause beside a tree or other object to breakup your outline. Sometimes I even like to kneel.
When stopping be aware of your feet, and when pausing position yourself and your feet in a position that facilitates shooting.
Before continuing look ahead and glance back in the direction you have just come from. There is always a chance deer could have come in behind you. Yes, the pace is slower, but when engaging in this style of hunting chances are you’ll see more deer.
But don’t look for an entire deer.
Train yourself to look for a portion of the animal. Maybe it’s an ear twitching.
Horizontal lines will often lead to seeing a deer’s back. A leg that tapers upward might reveal the lower portion of a deer leg. It’s hard to tell where a piece of a whitetail anatomy can be seen when scanning the natural camouflage of nature.
In PA, antler restrictions were set into place in 2002. Prior to that bucks that were legal to harvest only had to have two points to an antler or a spike at least three inches in length.
From 2002 to 2010, the antler point restrictions (APR) were three or four points to an antler depending on the area of the state. Starting in 2011, the 4-point area changed to three points to an antler, not including the brow tine.
The primary goal of instituting point restrictions was to increase the number of adult bucks (2.5 years of age or older) in the population. Keep in mind that prior to antler restrictions about 80 percent of bucks (a majority of which were yearlings) were harvested by hunters each year. This led to buck survival rates of less than 20 percent.
Today the number of older bucks have moved up and into the older age classes of deer.
Based on survival rates of hundreds of radio-collared bucks, yearling buck survival rates increased from less than 20 percent to 64 percent after APRs. Adult buck survival has increased as well to 36 percent.
Also today the average age of adult does has increased as well. This has been good for hunters yet counterproductive in other ways.
In years past, when a hunter would jump some deer, they would run a short distance, stop, and look back. Seldom does that occur today. And that’s only one example of how deer react to hunters.
Simply put, the deer we hunt today are the same variety of deer we hunted for decades, only smarter.
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Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net