Takeaways from Pennsylvania’s archery bear-deer seasons
Last fall, with an already filled buck tag scratched off the list and an unfilled bear tag burning a hole in my pocket, I ventured to the big woods of north central Pennsylvania to try for a prized bruin with archery tackle. While I didn’t see any glimpses of black, I did experience several encounters with large mountain bucks.
Naturally, I have yet to punch either tag this year, so I was optimistically hopeful when my brother Travis and I took a day off work and made the two-and-a-half-hour drive north to hunt the final two days (Friday and Saturday) of the concurrent archery bear and deer season.
It turned out the weather was brutal. But soaking rain and sleet, coupled with high winds didn’t’ keep us from taking to the woods. However, it seemingly did affect game movement, as our interactions with deer were sparse and neither of us saw any bears.
Regardless, it was a nice weekend in one of the greatest places in the state, and the hunt at least can be salvaged with a half-decent blog post. Therefore, I provide the following takeaways from a cold, soggy weekend in the northern tier. It is my hope that they educate, inspire and enlighten those who didn’t have the opportunity to join us in bow camp.
- Hard mast makes or breaks a location. Last year, the area I hunted was loaded with acorns. In such fashion, the deer were present, active, and sign (rubs, scrapes, droppings, etc.) was abundant. This year, that simply wasn’t the case, and we only saw one deer between the two of us. When we moved to a completely different area – one with a lot of chestnut oak acorns – sign was plentiful and our deer sightings improved.
- Adequate footwear is a must. Hunting the farm fields and rolling hills down home, I absolutely love my Muck Field Blazer boots. However, the treads are less than stellar for climbing 45-degree inclines over wet leaves and slippery rocks. I decided to wear them instead of my lace-up ankle boots simply because of the rain, but I learned my lesson when I ended up on my rear exiting the stand site Friday. On Saturday, I went with the boots specifically designed for the terrain, and they fared much better than my knee-highs.
- Crossbows have solidified their stronghold with hunters. The age of hunters in our camp ranged from mid-30s to mid-60s. Half hunted with compounds and half hunted with crossbows. In fact, of the four deer taken in camp during the week, two were shot with vertical bows and two were shot with horizontals. It is clear that crossbows are better accepted by hunters than they were several years ago, even by those who previously griped about them.
- There’s a drastically different learning curve. Coming from an archer who hunts exclusively with his compound and longbow, I learned there is a major difference in skill acquisition between two foreign weapons I got to try out for the first time this weekend. One guy in camp brought his atlatl (a spear chucking device) along for a fun competition among members. It took me 13 tries just to hit the bottom right corner of a block target from 12 yards with the atlatl. In stark contrast, it took me exactly one try to hit dead-center of the target from 35 yards with my buddy’s Ravin crossbow. One certainly cannot argue its effectiveness – even for previously inexperienced shooters.
- Seeing is not believing. Just because we didn’t see any bears, it doesn’t mean they are not present in the area. In fact, I’m positive they are there, as the proof is in the poop piles. While walking back to the truck Saturday, Travis and I spotted bear droppings that weren’t there on our walk in. At another location, I found a heaping pile of digested acorns and stepped in a second pile of scat about 200 yards farther out the path.
- No matter how hard you try, you can’t make four-pointers grow extra tines. After hunting hard all day, enduring weather extremes and climbing the mountain, I was elated to finally see a deer just before dusk. As it closed the distance, I quickly verified it as a buck. With the camera rolling and my bow in hand, I willed the deer closer to my stand. It followed the script, as it walked five yards from my tree, stuck its nose into the canister of Lowe’s Fatal Distraction estrous scent I had sitting on a nearby stump, and stood there broadside for the perfect shot opportunity. Unfortunately, as hard as I tried to make brow tines instantly appear on the fat Y-buck’s antlers, it just didn’t happen. It must’ve known it was safe by Pennsylvania standards.
As we loaded up the truck Sunday morning, crisp 34-degree temperatures greeted us. The air was still and calm. Not a drop of precipitation fell from the overcast sky. It would’ve been a great day to hunt – certainly much better than the previous two days. However, it was time to head home, return to our families and prepare for the work week ahead.
It was a tad disappointing, but not a complete failure, as time spent outdoors with my brother is a reward in itself. The leaves were colorful, the camp camaraderie was enjoyable, and I still have another week to seal the deal on a buck down home. Here’s to hoping for better weather and a shot at a buck with more than two points per antler.