Another deer season in the books for Pennsylvania bowhunters
Here in the southeastern portion of Pennsylvania, the archery season for both antlered and anterless deer was open for a long time, beginning in mid-September and running through the Saturday following Thanksgiving.
Although I could hunt anytime I wished, I rarely get into fall woods until the first or second week of October. It remained the same this year when I chose a warm, mid-October afternoon to lug my portable stand into a section of forest I know well. Staying near the woodland’s edge that borders a couple of small fields, I climbed a familiar tree that seems to fit my stand almost flawlessly and allows the sighting of deer movement in virtually every direction.
Early fall this year was warm on the whole, sometimes feeling like summer. And even though the calendar read that it was time, the turning of foliage color was unquestionably slow. Still, there were plenty of red and yellow hues near the tops of the tall poplar and hickory trees that dominate this section of woods, affirming I sat in autumn woods.
I was not disappointed that afternoon, for shortly after I was at my desired height and reasonably comfortable and ready, I noticed movement to my left beneath some thick, leafy, green underbrush. It was definitely a deer, slowly walking in a direction that would pass before me. Soon enough I counted four brown bodies slipping slowly through the forest bottom of short saplings and mixed bramble.
It was an adult female with two fawns, accompanied by another female that may have been her fawn from the previous season. My bow stayed hung on the tree, because I had no intent to release an arrow at any of this group. I watched them slowly pass me by, enjoying the scene of their munching on leaves and stems, oblivious to my presence.
That small group was the only deer I saw that afternoon, but they certainly made the trip worth my efforts.
I hunted one more time that week, a morning devoid of chill, the lushness of a mountaintop seeming out of place for that time of year, and held off on any more October outings. I returned at the beginning of November, knowing well from many years of experience that these woods where I now sat would be changing, not only in appearance, but that the deer living within would be changing, too.
As November began, the weather changed as on cue to welcome a different month. The air was cold at daybreak on that return, and I shivered at times as a steady northwest wind blew across a body that had forgotten the harsh sensation of a frigid morning. The forest had changed, too. Just a meager amount of leaves still clung to brown-gray branches of now open woodlands, fighting a fight they could not win against advancing winter winds.
Most significant was the change in the deer themselves. Does that fed stress-free now nervously moved their heads continuously as I watched. Their noses were constantly seeking the scent of bucks – crazed males that were chasing them, overcome with a fever to pass on their genes.
When single bucks passed me, they were rushing. Most were young warriors with broken points on their antlers, quickly moving along with noses to the ground, searching, sniffing. And although it was not an exceptional year for me seeing rutting bucks closing in on does in estrus, there were enough instances that made every trip onto the mountaintops and side hills I hunt worth every minute of my time.
And then, as it always does, the action slowed. My tag remained untouched. But at this moment, with another season of archery hunting over and added to the history of Novembers past, I’ve come to realize why I still choose — after many, many years of doing so — to carry a stand on every hunt. I love to climb trees, even using aging muscles with weakened knees, and sit quietly in woods that annually transform themselves.
I comprehend completely that I’ve been extremely blessed to have witnessed the mating ritual of whitetails. I have watched their running and jumping, smelling and seeking. It has been a yearly festival of stunning animals bent on assuring the continuation of their existence. And what may have started in youth as a mere attempt to fill a tag, my time in trees has transformed to the treasure it is now.
In reality, it is unfortunate that my hunting days are resembling late November, when the rut has just about ended, with deer slowly returning to how they live the rest of the year. I can now envision, with the uncertainty of exactly when, my own hunting’s end. I can sense my days in the woods slowly fading away, eventually moving beyond my ability to keep them from being a thing of the past.
But when that time does arrive, reflecting on my Novembers of archery will surely fill a large measure of my hunting memories, and what remains of life beyond.