Another season on the border
Summer's gone. Well, almost. It's September and now I have things to do. Get the pool ready for winter, rebuild a few treestands, put away the patio furniture and set some trail cameras, all in anticipation of archery season.
I consider myself fortunate because I live so close to the Pennsylvania border and can hunt two states. The Pennsylvania archery season opens two weeks before New York's, so once my stands in New York are in place I can give my full attention to the whitetails calling Pennsylvania home.
Every September, I begin my scouting efforts by checking the apple and acorn crops on the farms I hunt. One of my best hunting locations is in an old apple orchard located on a farm in Susquehanna County, Pa. When I discovered the spot about 30 years ago it was extremely overgrown and I could barely make my way through the grasses, vines and multiflora rose tangles that grew around the apple trees. Deer trails were everywhere and I told a friend the spot looked so good I felt confident I could kill a deer there the rest of my life. I put up two stands about 100 yards apart so I didn't hunt the same spot night after night and to give me some different real estate to look at. I had a great deal of confidence in both locations and they didn't disappoint. My braggadocio almost proved to be true and I successfully killed a buck from one or the other stand for 14 years in a row, but nothing lasts forever.
The location has since deteriorated and now I see far fewer deer. Last season, due to a late June frost, not one apple tree produced a single apple. To make matters worse, the maple, hemlock and white pine trees that were only head high have now grown taller than the apple trees and are shading them out. Many are dead and it won't be long until all may be gone.
A few years ago Pennsylvania deer numbers were out of control and the overpopulation resulted in deer browsing the entire thick understory beneath the apple trees. They ate everything, including the apple branches as high as they could reach. A dozen years ago, I could barely see 20 yards in front of me; today, I can easily see 50-70 yards through the trees. Frankly, despite the howls and protests from some Pennsylvania hunters that the Game Commission has ruined hunting in that state, things are looking up.
Last week, I took a ride to check things out and I was immediately optimistic about my chances for this coming season. Unlike last year, there was no late spring frost this year and as a result there is an abundant apple crop which I'm certain will bring the deer in to feed on the windfall fruit. I found a lot of fresh deer droppings around the trees, which means deer are already feeding on the green apples they're finding on the ground.
There are fewer deer to be sure but in my opinion the ones I see are bigger - even if there are fewer of them - and I have trail cam photos to prove it. The only problem is the big boys only showed up long after legal shooting hours last season and I never saw or even got a photo of one during daylight hours. They don't get big by being stupid. Last season, because of the trail cam photos I saw, I knew there were two beautiful bucks calling the area home and as a result I passed on two legal but much smaller deer. Result? An unfilled archery tag. I rolled the dice and lost and have no regrets.
In years past as I waked back to my truck after legal hunting hours I regularly saw up to 40 or more deer feeding in the field between me and my truck. Last season I saw none. Am I disappointed? The simple answer is no because I feel hunters became spoiled when deer numbers in the Keystone state were so out of whack. Now they actually have to hunt for them rather than just wait for one to walk past even a poorly thought-out stand location.
The successful hunters will do it the hard way and judiciously scout potential stand sites. They will evaluate the food sources and they will search for deer sign. Finally, they will place their stands and wait patiently for a deer to come through and they won't cry and whine about not seeing 40 or 50 deer in a single night. I can't wait to check my trail cameras.