I’ve spent more time bowhunting on private lands than public tracts over the past two decades, but I do enjoy getting out and putting in time on state game lands and state forests as well.
There is something about hunting these lands that are free to us all that brings a sense of pride, even if the odds of success aren’t as great as a carefully managed family-owned hunting property.
But during last year’s flintlock season, I hunted a section of a state game land that is somewhat difficult to access, and because of that, it seemed to have an abundance of deer sign. Our small hunting party saw enough tails that it prompted me to do some additional scouting throughout the year.
I located an area that looked promising and made plans to hang a tree stand for this coming archery season. Since the location I intended to hunt was more than a mile from the parking area, I found it impractical to carry a climber back and forth every time I wanted to hunt. So an inexpensive hang-on stand and climbing sticks proved a worthy alternative.
Under current Pennsylvania hunting laws, “Tree stands on state land can be placed out not more than two weeks before the first and must be removed no later than two weeks after the final deer season in that area.” Stands must also be marked with a durable and legible identification tag that specifies its owner.
Glancing at the calendar — and realizing I had limited time available to actually hang the stand prior to the season — left me with only one viable option: Bushwhack my way up the mountain and risk blowing up the place less than one week before the season opener. I didn’t like it, but that’s the only way it could happen.
Working daily throughout the week prevented me from making the 45-minute drive to the game land after work. By the time I would get there and hike all the way in, I might not have had time to actually hang the stand before dark. Even if it was doable, I thought it unwise to make a racket during primetime dusk when deer could be potentially moving through.
The previous weekend was out because our hunting camp’s annual work weekend was being held. That’s when we travel upstate to cut firewood for the winter, tidy up the cabin, and attend to camp chores. It is mandatory for members, and rightfully so.
As a result, on the weekend before opening day, my friend and I were trudging up the mountain in 90-degree temps, sweating through our shirts, pants, boots and packs, carrying five sections of climbing sticks and a tree stand.
The suppressed scent-control freak within me was screaming aloud in my head, and it was obvious there was no way I could hunt this stand next week. It will probably need a good two — maybe even three — weeks for things to get back to normal after our intrusion.
Even after spraying down, the impact we made so close to the season had to alarm the deer. There was no rain to wash away our tracks, and no way to avoid the sweat that dripped from our noses and brows as we climbed the mountain.
Under other circumstances, I never would’ve hung a stand in that heat, nor would I have even entered the area so close to the season opener. But crunched for time, and limited by this regulated window of stand placement, I had no choice but to do it when I did.
Sure, some would say I had alternatives- Hang the stand during the season (which could be even worse), or bag a day off work when the weather was cooler and there was more time for the site to settle down (not easy to do as a teacher), or make a sacrifice (which I did by staying home to hang a stand on the last weekend of summer when I could’ve gone camping instead) are all reasonable suggestions.
However, I feel an even more reasonable suggestion would be for the Pennsylvania game commissioners to consider extending the tree stand placement and removal windows from two weeks to one month prior to and following the season.
This would allow everyday workingmen and women with hectic schedules to have a little more flexibility in when we place and remove our stands or hunting blinds.
What difference will it make to have them out two to four weeks longer during the year other than to allow people to more conveniently take advantage of our public access opportunities and with less disturbance to our intended hunting areas so close to the start of the seasons?
I feel this is a proposal worth pondering.