Article contributed by Field Staff Writer J. Minich.
What a wonderful time of year to be alive! It has been a real whirlwind year for me: moving, the birth of my daughter, archery elk hunting in Idaho (sometime in the offseason I will pen that tale), and archery season back home in Pennsylvania.
With all this going on, the season really crept up on me this year. However, since I do most of my scouting in the winter and my elk hunt had my body fine-tuned for hunting, I was physically ready, just needing that spark that lights the fire. That spark, as usual, came with the first cool frosty morning in October. Something about the changing seasons and especially the sweet-musty scent of fresh fallen leaves always sends me into an archery hunting frenzy. That spark happened in the first week of the season this year as we got a nice cold front.
I hunted very carefully throughout the first couple weeks of the season. I hunt public land in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania without a food plot or agricultural field for miles. My primary strategy is to locate groups of does and nearby travel routes and hunt those areas once the rut starts. Obviously, if I over hunt these locations in the early season and pressure the does out, I am placing my later season strategy in peril. So I hunted peripheral areas, checked out some new oak flats, and generally took it easy so as to not burn out myself, my family, or my stand locations.
On Friday, October 14, I headed to one of these new areas where a nice oak stand borders a fairly recent clear-cut. I did intend to hunt this area a few times in the rut but figured an early season sit with a consistent wind couldn’t hurt. Just an hour into my evening sit, a group of 3 does walked right under my stand and I was able to make a tough-angled shot less than 5 yards from the base of my tree on the biggest one. I was thankful that my empty freezer would have some fresh venison to feed my family.
The next week, a warm front rolled through and we had several 80 degree days followed by a front that dropped about 8 inches of rain at my house and more in surrounding areas. In my experience deer just don’t move in those conditions, but you better be ready to go when the weather breaks.
This past Saturday it finally did break, albeit with 35 mph wind gusts. Regardless, I wanted to get out at least in the morning. I went to a bench near the top of a ridge on State Forest land. I’ve hunted this general area for years, but just found this particular spot last winter scouting where I located three converging trails. The wind forecast was the right direction for that setup and I hadn’t set foot in the area early season not wanting to stink it up. I anticipated rut behavior to start any day now, particularly with this cool weather.
All was pretty quiet until 8:30 AM when a doe and button buck slipped in on me. Always tougher when you can’t hear them coming, I was pinned down from the moment I saw them.
Luckily they filtered through without snorting and causing a commotion, because half an hour later I caught a glimpse of another deer sneaking up the mountain following the same trail, just 20 yards behind me. I just had that intuitive sense it was a buck so I instantly went into predator mode, grabbed my bow, caught a quick glimpse of a decent rack, and drew when his head went behind a tree all within a few seconds. He let out a grunt which was pretty cool to hear so close.
When he emerged, he was behind some laurel so I had to hold at full draw for at least a minute. I was able to analyze the buck and decided I would shoot. He looked to be a decent 8 point, and I was set to have a slam dunk shot at 10 yards. He finally walked into an open lane and I squeezed the release. I saw the arrow bury behind the shoulder and knew I had a good hit on the lungs. He didn’t even run, just casually walked 20 yards and laid down like he was going to sleep. If we could choose how we take every animals’ life this would be it; there was no struggle at all. This particular location is more than a mile hike from the truck, so I quartered the buck and packed him out with the help of my father in law.
When your season ends that abruptly, it can be a bit of a shock to the system. I was grateful to have filled my buck tag, yet certainly it feels a little bittersweet to be done this early before the rut really gets going. Nonetheless, I am grateful to have taken a nice public land buck. With only one vacation day left, and my three month old baby girl at home, I knew this was not the year to start trophy hunting. What a great season so far, and now I get to dust off the shotgun for some small game and turkey hunting!