For many people hunting is life. Well, in my household it was more of a hobby that we would do every now and then. Growing up my stepfather taught me how to hunt and fish, but we would only hunt and fish for things that he thought were worthwhile. We would dove hunt maybe 3-4 times every fall and occasionally hunt rabbit or squirrel when he had the time.
My dad did not actually realize how much I enjoyed hunting and fishing. Therefore, he skipped teaching me the details behind certain animals… Details like tracks, vocalizations, fecal matter, and other things.
This post is not supposed to be a knock against my dad. He is a good man and he did teach me lessons that I plan to pass down to my children someday. But when it came to the outdoors, it was his way or the highway and no questions asked. Therefore, the lessons I learned were minimal since I could not be forward with him.
Once a year, specifically the third week of October, we would take a week out of our lives to go down south to North Carolina to go deer hunting with my grandfather and my uncle. This would be the only time of year we would actually deer hunt. We never bought deer tags in PA (where we were located) growing up because my dad would usually bag a buck in NC. In the Tarheel State baiting is the bread and butter to deer hunting. My grandfather had four separate food plots that we would use to hunt. Typically everyone would bag a deer in the first 2-3 days and the rest of week would be used for processing the deer and having cookouts along the Yadkin river.
Well, nowadays, it is quite different for me. I took a break from hunting while I was in college and during that time my grandfather hung up his boots from hunting and both my uncle and stepfather physically cannot hunt anymore. Meaning my grandfather’s food plots and our week long trips are a thing of the past. But after my graduation from school and when I started dating the daughter of probably the most outstanding outdoorsman that I have ever met, I was finally convinced to get back into hunting. Specifically deer hunting. Thinking it would be easy but sure enough I was very wrong to think that.
One thing I learned right away is that deer hunting in North Carolina versus deer hunting in Pennsylvania is a completely different ball game. I am not dissing North Carolina hunters, not everyone baits down south and if they do bait… well if they do bait I know how painful of a preparation process it is to set up a food plot and how difficult it can be to maintain, especially in southern heat. But in Pennsylvania, baiting is a big “no no”. Well actually, a hunter may lay out bait during the pre-season months but the bait has to be removed 30 days prior to the season.
Growing up and learning to hunt on baited ground kind of put me at a disadvantage. My dad did teach me some tricks behind still hunting (which is what I primarily still do) but for the most part, I was used to hunting from a raised platform over a food plot. Not being taught how to properly stalk hunt as a kid and never once installed a tree stand, you can imagine it was probably a comedy show watching me operate in the woods last year.
To give you a more clear picture of the situation that I was in last fall, imagine this. I started hunting again when I was 23. The last time I went hunting before that was when I was 17, and the last time I harvested an animal of any sorts was when I was 16. On top of this I was used to seeing deer frequently over baited ground. Basically my knowledge behind hunting at the time was equivalent to a kid half-way through high school and had minimal experience tracking anything since as a kid I was taught to “sit and wait” over a corn field.
Last year was a frustrating year for me getting back into hunting. I probably went out hunting on 30-40 different occasions, saw deer maybe a total of 4-5 times. But I did shoot a nice little 6 point and a doe in the late season thankfully. But recently I learned a tough lesson during this past rifle season…
PA Rifle season is huge. I swear you would think half of the state shuts down for it, even the school districts give students a day or two off for the start of the season. Anyways, my rifle season was interesting. Out of the two week period I was only able to hunt 6 days periodically because of work purposes. I was able to hunt opening day (which was brutal), the first Saturday, and the last four days of the season. Everytime I went out I saw deer which was very reassuring, unlike last year where I could go day after day and not see deer. But the second to last day was the most exciting day of the season for me.
I was hunting in Southwest PA on some property that I was invited to by my friend Josh. It was the second to last day of rifle season and I have yet to tag anything for the year. We got into the woods around 2:00 pm and to our stands at 2:30 pm. When I finally got settled in the ladder stand that I was in, I broke out my primos buck roar call. I wheezed then followed it with a couple fairly loud grunts. Within about 10 minutes a brave 3 point trotted up behind the stand that I was in. Believe it or not he actually had a nice spread on him to. He walked around my stand for about 5 minutes then walked away about 25 yards to the right of my stand. Now some readers may ask why didn’t you shoot the 3 point if he was right there? In PA we have antler restrictions that prohibit us from shooting bucks like him.
After about 20 minutes of watching the 3 point feed and do his thing I decided to call again. Soon after the call I saw two doe making their way to me. They were about 70 yards out behind my stand. I was waiting to get a clear shot on one of the doe but then I heard something moving in the brush about 40 yards in front of my stand. At this point in time it was 4 o’clock. Actually it was even a little past 4. Everything was darker but I could still see movement. I waited another 5-10 minutes to try and see if I could get a clear sight of vision of what was moving in the brush. Then a deer appeared out of the brush. I immediately thought that it was a hefty doe. Make it worse I do not have a scope on my shotgun because I use it for waterfowl. Why was I using a shotgun? Well my .270 is out of commission and I had no choice but to use the shotgun! Anyways, in my mind and by the naked eye I confirmed that it was in fact a doe and that this was my chance to have meat in the freezer. I raised my shotgun and put her down.
Upon reaching my doe I realized something, my doe was actually a buck… I accidentally shot a spike buck! “How is this possible” went through my brain instantly and also “oh #@!$”… Without hesitation I measured the spikes and I was so relieved to find out that the spikes were 2” in length and I could tag it with my antlerless deer tag.
Though the kill was legal, I still couldn’t figure out how I could have missed it. Did I rush my shot? How did I not see it? Those questions kept going through my head but I learned the hard way that low light can cause hunters to make rash decisions. I am happy that it was a legal kill but it was way too close in my opinion and maybe I should have waited a little longer to take my shot.
Though I was not initially happy harvesting a spike buck this year, I am grateful for the meat and for the lessons I learned from this particular hunt. Hopefully next season will bring more deer and more lessons to learn!
SPECIAL THANKS TO JOSH, ED, AND THE R.E.M. HUNTING CABIN