You don’t need December for it to be magical
Saturday is the magic day for all deer hunters — the opener, the second year for the Saturday opener and the first time in recent history that there will be deer hunting on a Sunday.
By the end of the day, you will be either griping because you didn’t see a buck worth bagging or exulting over your 10-point. Much of the success or lack of it can be attributed to luck as much as anything. However, there are many more deer hunting days ahead, and we will have to wait awhile for the assessment of how the Sunday hunt went down.
I came across a fascinating book during this past year that revealed the folklore associated with many forms of wildlife. It’s called “Wildlife Folklore,” written by Laura C. Martin, and here is one of the things she says about whitetail deer.
“A Cherokee legend has it that if it weren’t for a contest long ago between a rabbit and a deer, deer would not have antlers. Since both the rabbit and the deer were fast runners with smooth heads, it was inevitable that they would have a contest to see which of them was the fastest. The other forest denizens fashioned a pair of antlers that was to be given to the winner.
“The rabbit was sneaky in asking for time to preview the course before the race. All the animals agreed the rabbit could do that. But after it seemed the rabbit was taking an awful long time surveying the course, the animals sent out someone to find the rabbit.
“They found the rabbit cheating; it was clearing out vines and other low growing brush to give himself an advantage. The animal-judges became so upset at this, they awarded the deer the antlers, and he has worn them ever since.”
So it’s all the rabbit’s fault, and I suppose it naturally follows that since the rabbit population has crashed in the last decade, so has the deer population.
After opening day, things change. Hunting becomes a bit harder each day. There are fewer deer and those deer left will be spookier than you ever thought possible. One whiff of human scent, one glimpse of hunter movement and they go into high gear immediately.
You might catch some out feeding early morning and late afternoon. I’d look for areas of fresh deer sign and post watches in such places at those times. The rest of the time I’ll spend slowly, and I do mean painfully slowly, still-hunting.
You already know deer bed in thickets and tough terrain and venture out mainly at night to feed. Most of the fresh tracks and pawings you see in the woods this week will have been made at night.
I learned years ago how to still-hunt those almost impossible thickets, and it has paid off. Years ago, a genuine old-timer told my son of a thicket he used to hunt. We knew that thicket well; it was one we always skirted around because it seemed so impenetrable. The old timer clued us in to the fact that if we would just forge into it, we would run into a network of deer trails, and if we would work our way slowly along them, we would learn how to spot deer in their beds.
It was a real revelation to both of us to see that indeed, deer do have many well-worn trails inside their thick hideouts. Obviously, they don’t crash around blindly inside these thick places but pick their way over the easiest ways and so establish regular runways. If you learn to walk so slowly a turtle could pass you up — and to lift brush up over your head so you can pass through and not allow any brush to scrape against your hunting clothes — and use compact binoculars to penetrate the thickets and show you eyes, ears, antlers etc. that you wouldn’t spot with your naked eyes, you’ll be well on the way to successful thicket hunting.
Of course, a good way to hunt this week is to have a buddy or two and all of you take turns making small, slow drives, allowing the wind to help you drive out these thickets. Drivers drive with the wind at their backs, allowing the scent to get deer up and moving. The deer will sneak out to one of the deer trails and try to circle or at least watch those who are driving. Deer often come pussy-footing along an escape trail and run right into the watchers.
The one thing that probably will not work this week is to stand for long periods watching open woods, you know, the kind of places we as hunters like to watch because we think if we can see 100 yards our chances increase. Actually, taking up such a stand generally decreases our chances because the cautious animals are not out walking around in open woods. They are hiding — plain and simple.
Also, by the end of the first day much of our hunting gear will be polluted with the various scents we have picked up over this first week. We get tired, leading us to be careless about how fragrant we are when we start out the next week, and so we need to go in clean clothes, use an extra spray of scent killers all over, including our boots, and perhaps most vital of all, put on a clean hat over clean hair. These kinds of attention to important details can yield big dividends.
This year my son, Mark, has come from Missouri to hunt with me in Armstrong County. We have been hunting buddies since he was 5-years-old, and we will reminisce for hours, no doubt. It was 10 years ago that he last hunted deer with me, and he bagged a nice buck in 2010.
I’ve often said that not many boys learn to hunt deer at their mother’s knee, but my son did.