Hanging up the bow, sighting in the rifle
Archery season has come and gone and it remains to be seen as to how the next few weeks will play out now that the firearms season has opened. After chasing deer with a bow and arrow in two states for over six weeks, I remain deerless. Sure, there were those two small four points I could have arrowed, and the two spikes that sparred and butted heads within bow range of my stand one evening. But the bruisers I had on camera in September were nowhere to be found, at least by this hunter. So, where did they go?
The answer, to me at least, is fairly simple. The deer were where food was most abundant, and this year the acorns reigned supreme. The two farms I hunt, one in New York and the other in Pennsylvania, are no longer what anyone would call “working farms.” The two friends who worked the land died a few years ago and they no longer plant corn, alfalfa or other crops that always attracted a small herd of deer. Adding to that, this year the numerous apple trees on both properties seemed to be suffering some sort of blight and dropped most of their apples by the middle of October. This left the deer on these properties to feed mostly on the bushels of acorns that littered the ground almost everywhere there was an oak tree.
The food was there, but the problem was trying to determine which oak tree would attract deer on any given night. I have two stands within sight of each other and take turns hunting out of each of them. Both are good, but I never know for sure which one would prove to be most advantageous on any given evening. Playing this guessing game is often frustrating because not once, but twice this past season, I choose to hunt stand “A” while a nice tall six-point showed up beneath stand “B.” To make matters worse, the night I choose to hunt stand “B” I could only watch as an eight-point fed under stand “A.”
I’ve always had the philosophy that if you find the food you’ll find the deer. This is pretty basic information to almost any bowhunter, but this preferred food source changes as the season progresses from early fall to early winter. In late summer, deer can often be seen feeding in fields of clover; in September wild apples and pears are a prime attraction; while October means deer will gravitate to the oaks. Getting between the deer and their preferred food source is a well-used strategy, but nothing seemed to work this year, at least for me. There was no clover or corn and the apples were gone, leaving only the acorns.
I have a great deal of confidence in the stands I hunt and one of my favorites is located near what most hunters would call “a funnel.” A funnel is where woods narrow down to a small neck with some type of habitat break surrounding a woodlot. To sweeten the pot even further, the stand is within 20 yards of where deer often come out of the woods and either pass by or drink at a small pond that serves as the pinchpoint.
Any deer coming out of the woods below the pond had to pass near my stand on their way to feed beneath the oak trees about a dozen yards above me. The deer that did appear kept me entertained, but as I wrote earlier, none wore the antlers I was looking for.
The bitter cold didn’t keep me out of the woods for most of the final week of bow season, but the snow and ice did. Despite taking precautions when climbing to my stand I am finally at the age where reason dictates not taking chances and the wisdom of almost 60 seasons prevails. I’ll hang up the bow for now and check the zero on my rifle; hopefully this rifle season will be more productive.