Better late than never: Pennsylvania late archery season sit pays off
Generally, I’m not a wait until the last-minute kind of guy. With writing deadlines, work projects and other important responsibilities, I strive for plenty of advanced planning, budgeting time accordingly, and finishing well ahead of schedule. It’s how I operate best.
But sometimes things, such as this very blog, come down to the wire — not because I didn’t keep my priorities straight, but because my limited free time was occupied by other duties. When that preoccupation includes butchering a late-season deer harvest that coincidentally also came down to the wire, the associated time crunch simply becomes part of the process … a glorious and completely forgivable part of the process.
While total time invested in the pursuit of Pennsylvania whitetails included 42 separate hunting days this year, and opportunities varied across the duration of three seasons, my grand tally of deer in the freezer amassed one 8-point buck, taken on the opening day of firearms season.
I initially had high hopes of securing plenty of meat for sausage, sticks, jerky and so much more with three antlerless tags and three additional DMAP tags heading into the early archery season, but that plan just didn’t come to fruition. The evening of Saturday, Jan. 15 — the second to last day of the statewide late archery season — found this determined hunter bundled up in 19-degree temperatures, still trying for deer number two.
And by bundled up, I mean layer upon layer of cold-weather gear, stuffed like the kid in “A Christmas Story.” There’s no way I was drawing my compound, so I elected to take the crossbow instead, limiting movement and the potential of being picked off by one of the 20-some deer I hoped would hit the field in daylight hours ahead of the incoming snow and ice storm forecasted for the following morning.
Earlier in the week, a brief after-work sit on this property owned by a good friend showed great potential. A lot of deer were observed, but no shots were presented before daylight dimmed to darkness. I was eager to get in and settled a bit earlier on Saturday afternoon, so by 2:30 p.m., I was already attempting to stay warm in a metal ladder stand while casually watching a red fox prance across the open field.
With little to no wind, the fox hadn’t a clue I was there — so at ease that it circled its tail and settled in for a little nap at the base of a tree just 30-yards away. Things were looking good.
Shortly thereafter, a one-antlered spike appeared low in the field, cautiously glancing over its shoulder. Then all hell broke loose. Fifteen — that’s right — 15 does came sprinting across the field, followed closely by two neighborhood mutts. One was a malamute-looking puffball, and the other was a pug-like dog with a curled tail. Both were in collars, and the deer were streaking everywhere as they gave chase down through the hollow, up the opposite hillside, and off to parts unknown.
Discouraged, I almost crawled down and went home. But with the incoming storm, and it still being early, I could only hope the deer would settle down and eventually come back out to eat around sunset. While it made for a weird hunt, I was hopeful my evening wasn’t completely ruined, so I decided to stick it out like the rest of the season to date.
It turns out, I’d only have to wait another 40-minutes for a button buck to meander under my stand and into the field. Then two does followed, with the unicorn buck nudging the smaller doe along, looking to breed. This seemingly broke the ice, as deer continued to materialize in the woodlot in various locations, all heading directly for the field. It was only a matter of time.
Patiently, I picked out a large solitary doe from the incoming herd and waited for her to offer a clear 40-yard shot in the unobstructed field. Holding steady on the stand’s shooting rail, I squeezed the trigger and watched as my bolt hit home with sign indicative of a heart shot foretelling a probable and speedy recovery. Just to be safe, I waited until darkness to crawl down and retrieve the glowing bolt, following an easy blood trail to the downed deer, which expired just inside the edge cover.
It was an impressive deer, long-nosed, stout — mature in every sense of the word. She didn’t appear to have any fetuses upon field dressing and no signs she even nursed fawns earlier this year. It was perhaps the perfect late-season deer, taken late in the game after many days devoted to the task, yet rewarding persistence with prime venison sought from the beginning.
Looking back, I may have stretched the season a tad closer to the finish line than I would’ve liked, but I still got the job done with an extra day to spare — just like this blog was turned in a day ahead of deadline.
Procrastinators would say things are better late than never. I rather prefer the creed that if you’re early, you’re on time, and if you’re on time, you’re late…
Still cut it close.