These hunting times they are a changing
By Shirley Grenoble
For the Mirror
For sheer excitement, opening day for deer hunting is the day for sure. When we get to camp, others will be there, coffee will be on, vegetable soup simmering perhaps and the excitement of the day before deer season will be at the level I think about all year long.
The day before the season, stories fly like confetti, antlers of deer bagged in past years grow larger with each retelling, misses and other boners committed are laughed at again, as if no one ever heard of them before.
I am old enough to remember the bustling deer camps of past years, where gangs of hunters congregated to participate in large, noisy deer drives. The smells of Woolrich coats and Hoppes No. 9 gun oil will linger forever in my mind. Vivid in my memory is the comedy of being the only woman in deer camp. I slept in an attic room in the camp where my mattress was balanced between a couple of rafters and there was no electricity.
I didn’t take a shower all week, just birdie baths in that dark upstairs place, and I did not descend down the ladder in the morning until someone gave me the all’s clear signal.
The men put up with me because I was the only local, the only one who knew the game lands we hunted and so I organized the drives, posted the watchers and usually killed a buck myself in the process.
As they say, those were the days and this coming week’s hunt will be as close to that as it is possible to get these days. The nostalgia many hunters feel today is what fuels our excitement because we know deer hunting is a different game today than it was 20 years ago. We know we might go days at a time without even glimpsing a deer. But, we know that what bucks we see are going to be larger-racked than we ever hoped to see 20 years ago. And we have reason to be hopeful in Management Unit 4D, our local area.
Think about it
I read somewhere that deer hunters this year will be mainly middle-aged to older folks.
I believe that means we have to start thinking a little differently and that is so hard to do. We want to go back that first morning to our favorite deer watch, the one from which we have bagged a number of deer in years past. Perhaps it is the stand that uncle Henry used for 30 years, a traditional spot.
So out of habit, nostalgia, or lack of understanding of change, we keep going back there. But if you don’t see any deer from that favorite stand, get away from it for awhile and look around. Use a little of your hunting time to just slowly walk around and look for deer food and deer sign.
This happened to me several years ago. When I hadn’t seen a deer by noon of opening day from a stand where I’d bagged quite a few deer in years past, I began to walk around and really look at the surroundings. I took a small tour and looked at the browse line, looked at what second-growth brush there was and saw it all nipped off. What I didn’t see were any scrapes or rubs in the area. In fact, a long that whole once-teeming ridge there were no droppings or rubs or scrapes or any pawed-up spots that indicated the presence of deer.
So, I left my favorite hunting area and began looking for places where there were signs of deer. I did a lot of moving and looking and found a couple of spots that had more deer signs than my favorite place of many years. We have to be willing to do that. That even though we used to see 20 deer a day in that spot, we probably will not see that again if we notice that there is not enough food there to support them.
I really did do that. I haven’t been back to my favorite deer watch in 30 years now. One of these days I’m going to go back there and look around and see if anything has changed. Deer hot spots have changed. As a group, deer hunters have not. Maybe our grandchildren will be able to go to our favorite old deer watch and see deer but until that happens, we have to find new spots.
One more thing
Another tradition that has become almost passe is the large, organized deer drives where 15 or 20 hunters pushed deer around to each other.
These days, it’s every man — or woman — for themselves as a rule, so standing around in an area where deer simply are not spending their daytime hours, is not productive anymore. We have to get out and walk them up ourselves. It’s a different kind of hunting but deadly, once we get used to it.
Last deer season, on my last day to hunt, a beautiful six-point buck strolled right by me. I was hunting in a 4-point area and so I could not shoot, but it would have been legal in Blair County.
My hunting buddy missed a great buck on that same day. So there is always hope. Perhaps that buck will have grown another point by this year. And perhaps he will stroll by me again. I wonder what the odds are of that actually happening?
This year, with antlerless deer being hunted in the same season as bucks, the woods will be noisy, full of man smell and every deer in the woods wil be alerted to danger and on the run for safe hideaways. One place to be on watch when the sun shows up is on the edges of thickets where deer will be hoping to hide for the next few days.