Fall’s hunting decisions: bowhunting or pheasant fun?

It looks like we’ve finally entered into a fall weather pattern here in the Northeast, but the downright hot spell – it officially qualified as a heat wave by National Weather Service standards – seemed to cool off bowhunters’ enthusiasm for the Oct. 1 Southern Zone deer and bear opener.

In fact, several hunters I spoke with mentioned they were well behind in their preparation for the season. Not necessarily from a shooting standpoint; a lot of hunters here shoot the region’s 3-D circuit religiously and are dialed in all year. But as far as setting stands, checking trail cameras, getting clothing and gear around, many of us – myself included – were running a bit late.

That’s not a huge problem for me, because my fall season will ping-pong between a treestand and the pheasant fields, since our 2-year-old yellow lightning bolt Finn has shown some serious promise as a fine bird dog. I’ll have no problem grabbing the Browning instead of the Mathews Z7 and running Finn; it worked out well last season and I’m hoping she’ll continue to progress.

Also, the archery season kickoff, while a ritual that most of us like to observe, doesn’t typically lead to early success, unless you’ve patterned a buck (or doe) on a food source and decide to release an arrow early. The season generally builds to a crescendo as weather cools later in October and bucks begin letting their guard down during their search for a hot doe.

My own stand sites in Chemung County are unique in that they’re more productive in the morning than evening. That’s a product of the lay of the land; I’ve often said I wish I could flip the hill around to make the wind more conducive to evening hunting. But I can slip into either of the two stands I hunt early in the morning, then await whitetail movement from a food source (usually a corn field) across the road to their bedding area on the hillside.

The problem with a productive morning stand is that morning is also my most productive time here at the computer, and I’m often hesitant to jump out for a morning hunt and sacrifice that work time. I will from time to time, but I’m not always guilt-free as I sit in my stand, especially early in the season before the rut kicks in.

So this two-pronged approach in the fall, alternately bowhunting and running Finn on pheasants, is my norm. Paula doesn’t archery hunt, but loves to watch Finn work, and her shotgun skills are welcome in the field these days. She’s just as likely to down a bird as me, and has honed her skills with the Browning Citori at our local trap range.

Call me a “gametime decision” every day in October and into November, with a lot of factors coming into play: The prospect of finding state-stocked pheasants; whether a cold front has sent some woodcock into our hunting areas; the wind as it relates to my archery spots; and, oh yes, the pile of work on my desk.

Finn will usually weigh in; it’s amazing how she knows whether we’re heading out for birds or if she’s going to be left behind while I bow hunt. Paula, too, will have a say in the decision. As will my conscience as it relates to New York Outdoor News, since there is always another issue to produce.

It’s a great time of year, and the decision-making process is a welcome one.

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