Things are looking up on the hunting grounds in PA. The jury is still out in New York, but at least one definite shooter has shown himself. Home ranges will shift as we near velvet peel, but for now its a lot of fun to locate bachelor bucks and capitalize on their consistent summer patterns. The dog days of summer are almost magical times for a deer hunter in that no other time of year allows you to observe mature deer in daylight with such regularity.
The shortening days cause an increase in testosterone which initiates the shedding of the velvet and also seems to trigger more reclusive behavior. Relocating that buck you watched all summer can be difficult or sometimes near impossible; he could be as close as the next property over or as far as a couple miles away. While it is probably prudent to withhold the finalization of your “hit-list” until after the bucks return to their Fall ranges, its still pretty awesome to see a handful of shooters utilizing the property you hunt during July and August. This can help provide tremendous motivation to finish the last of the summer projects, organize hunting equipment and refine your shooting. There’s certainly a chance that some of the bucks in the bachelor group you are watching are homebodies and large portions of their Summer and Fall ranges overlap. What is important to keep in mind, however, is that food sources at this time of year are rapidly changing and that only increases in September. Bean fields begin to dry up and in dairy-dense areas, corn may be harvested for silage and thus taken off before season which means much less waste grain left behind. In some areas farmers may even disc their harvested corn fields and leave them bare to take advantage of Spring snows (poor man’s fertilizer) which serve to leech nitrogen into the soil. These fields will be of little to no draw to the deer herd and so the summer patterns you were observing with regularity aren’t going to have much influence on Fall movements.
Stay open minded and adaptive to what the deer herd is doing in each season. The velvet rut is incredibly exciting and gives us all hope and fills our dreams for the next several months with that big dark antlered beast that was seemed careless and nonchalant all summer long. He will be a different beast in a few months and it will take all your off season prep to put the puzzle together and stick an arrow in him.
If you haven’t yet gotten a chance to do any summer glassing, here is some July velvet footage from NY and PA to hold you over in the meantime:
Opening day in the Empire State arrived October 1st with Pennsylvania’s opener following closely behind on the 3rd. And while the tropical storm/hurricane, which is moving up the east coast and dumping buckets of rain on us, is putting a dampener on our opening day in PA, October 1st in New York was prime conditions for deer movement.
The barometer rose north of 30.2 and the rain broke for a day between fronts. The moon was a few days past full and the Northeast wind seemed to be the last piece needed in order to align all the stars for a great hunt.
This year I decided to give up October mornings, well, at least 90% of the time anyway. I decided that there might be a few mornings that could warrant taking a chance if the access was good and trail camera pictures showed bucks on their feet in the first hours of daylight. Another exception I decided I would make if the conditions warranted it would be to hunt the morning of opening day. Since a good many positive factors aligned I headed to one of my better stands for a morning hunt. On the way, I would walk right past several trail cameras so in the darkness I swapped cards and then scrolled through the photos on my DSLR camera.
The stand I sat for this hunt was located about 75 yards from a bedding area on the adjacent parcel. I sat on the edge of a transition between thicker succession timber and a more open portion of the woods. My spot was still relatively thick, visibility of only 30-40 yards, max, and the deer felt comfortable moving in this part of the woods because it received little to no human activity all year long. The bedding is located slightly north west of my position and a Northeast wind carries scent past the bedding area where a bedded deer would not be able to detect a hunter’s presence. A deer approaching the stand from the Northwest could do so with a NE cross wind and feel secure, so I felt confident that an all day sit could produce results of either deer entering the bedding in the morning or exiting the bedding in the evening on the way to a alfalfa field further down the ridgeline.
The hunt, 10/01/2015:
I got to my stand between 5:00-5:15 AM and was situated around 5:45 AM, about an hour before daylight. For the first 3 hours of daylight I began to wonder if I had made a mistake because no deer were moving through the area. I was continuously checking the wind currents to make sure they were doing what I thought they were. The wind was coming over my back from the NE as expected, but the heavy, moisture laden cool air was causing my scent to drop more quickly than I had hoped. To exacerbate the problem, the pines behind me created an unexpected eddy-ing effect, causing the wind stream to plummet in front of me where the main course of travel was.
Even with these unexpected conditions, I knew the scenario would improve as the day progressed because of thermal activity heating the air and causing the currents to rise. I also knew that a deer would have to expose itself for a shot opportunity before it could ever catch my scent, so being quick on the draw would still allow me a chance at a buck, if one showed.
9:50 AM- A group of two adult does and two fawns traveled through my shooting lane and never stopped or indicated that they caught any intruders scent. The were headed East to West as I suspected most of the morning activity would occur.
10:50 AM- Another family group of does moved one of my other shooting lanes. This time only a doe fawn was on the trail ten yards south of me, while the two mature does were another 15 yards below her. By this time the thermal drafts had begun carrying the milkweed out farther from my stand before it was dropping to the ground below. The largest doe stood at 25 yards and continued to scent check the wind and eventually turned and walked further down hill to continue in the westward direction with the other two deer in toe.
11:50 AM- Two adult doe and two fawns walked from the East right beneath my stand and began to smell the ground where I had walked. The wind was carrying my scent over their backs, but the seemed uneasy about ground scent and moved further south along the same path as the previous deer before they continued west.
12:50 PM- A lone adult doe moved from the East to the north of my location. The wind had become unpredictable and had briefly switched from NE to SE. As the doe passed my stand she caught my scent in the swirling wind and loped off to the bedding area to the NW of my position.
2:00 PM- I saw movement on the west side of the bedding area which is located to the NW of my stand. I was nervous because the wind had more East in it than North by this time and I thought there was a good chance a deer coming past my stand from the bedding area would be able to smell me before it entered my shooting lane. The first deer I saw headed back into the thicket and then I noticed a large body moving South. It was one of those times when you didn’t need to see the headgear to know it was a buck, because it was significantly bigger than all the mature does you had been seeing up that point. It was indeed a buck, but not one of the ones I wanted to kill. This was fork horn that was a regular on trail camera. The buck had the biggest yearling body I have ever seen and I kept expecting more antlers to accompany it as he moved closer. Luckily, the wind shifted as the buck approached and I continued to put out milkweed seeds to see exactly what the currents were doing. The sun broke through the clouds and almost instantly the milkweed began to rise as the air heated rapidly. This allowed the buck to approach to 15 yards without detecting me. He stood and surveyed the area for a bit and then somehow he picked me out of the tree, even looking through a hemlock tree that was between us. He bounded off about 40 yards and the last glimpse I caught was him walking back into the bedding area casually.
3:00 PM- The wind current changed and was coming almost due East with gusts coming from the ESE. I was afraid this wind would carry my scent straight into the bedding area I was hunting over and further time in the stand would begin to do more damage than good. At 3:00 PM I packed up and quietly slipped out of the area and headed home.
What went right:
The deer are utilizing that area on a regular basis, and they aren’t afraid to move there during daylight hours, even during midday. This is a spot that can produce, but it has to be hunted right. Choosing days with the right wind, and/or saving it for high barometric pressure days during the pre-rut is going to be key. Hunted sparingly, this spot should stay good all season.
What went wrong:
I think some of the unknowns of hunting a new area of the property caught up to me during this hunt. I suspected that the Northest wind would carry my scent further down hill. However, several factors, including some of the compenents of the weather as well as the vegetation features around me inhibited the wind from doing exactly what I thought it would. While I don’t believe the wind activity hindered any deer sightings (to bust me they had to be in my shooting lane), there is just something I hate about any deer getting an education that I was/am in the area. To combat this, I picked a tree further to the south that still provides great shot opportunities and less chance of being winded. It is further from the hemlock trees and should allow for more consistent wind current and less swirling activity. Sometimes 25 yards makes all the difference in the world. The tradeoff is going to be a bit of a sacrifice of available cover, so I will have to position the stand on the back side of the tree, which will make shot opportunities more limited and filming a bit more challenging, but that’s the way its going to have to go. I will need to stay out of this area over the next 4 weeks and only return in late October to intercept a rutting buck if I haven’t already tagged out by that time (I’m usually not that lucky!).
Thanks for reading the beginning of the 2015 Common Ground Bowhunter Field Journal, I hope you will follow along this season, and I promise the following posts will be more concise.
A lot of hunting resources suggest that you should wait to hunt your best stands until later in October when the daytime buck movement begins to increase as pre-rut bucks begin to hit scrapes and search for the first estrous does. I am not necessarily in opposition to that mentality, however, I have recently been asking myself if there is ever an exception to this rule.
Some very successful hunters minimize their morning hunts through the month of October while I have read books writeen by a few where they have had success on opening weekend mornings before hunting pressure puts bucks to bed before the sun rises. I’ve always felt that I have seen more deer during morning hunts, especially if the daytime highs get above average, however, most of the bucks I have managed to take with Archery gear have been as a result of an evening hunt. So, to make a long story short, I decided to change an approach this year and hunt mornings rather sparingly through the month of October with an exception being the opening day of New York’s archery season.
As the season opener approaches, I’ve been watching the weather forecast, the moon phase and a variety of other criteria to try to determine if it would be worth making the drive and, if it was, what stand would give me the bestshot at harvesting a deer, preferably a buck. Do I hunt the fringes of the property and remain conservative, or, if the conditions are optimal do I go all in and dive into one of my best stand locations? I decided a while ago I would play it by ear and if the conditions didn’t seem to be in my favor I might not make the drive at all, instead opting to hold out for opening day of Pennsylvania and hunt the evening of the opener.
The closer we got to October 1st the better the conditions began to look for the New York property and the poorer they became for the PA opener. A tropical storm forecasted for opening weekend in Pennsylvania has my hopes low, however a break between a smaller front and the larger storm that falls on New York’s opening day has me excited. It seems like the stars might be aligning, although I feel like I am jinxing myself by writing this blog. It could be the perfect conditions to get aggressive on opening day and hunt one of my best stands. Truthfully, I don’t know if its the right or wrong call, but my gut is telling me that there are too favorable things to pass up te opportunity so I am going to dive-in and I’ll let you know the result after.
Here are the details:
Several days of rainfall are forecasted to end with a partially cloudy day on October 1st. The temperature dropped 10-12 degrees on September 29th and is forecasted to fall another 5 degrees on the 1st. This is a bit below average for the time of year and should have deer moving. To add to this, there is another front moving in on October 2nd. Deer feeding activity is often increase before and after a front, and opening day happened to be just after one front and at the beginning of another.
The barometer is between 30.1 to 30.2 for the opener, which is higher pressure for this time of year, and it will be on the rise, another positive factor.
The wind will be out of the NNE on October 1st. We don’t get too many Northeast winds on this property and this happens to be an optimal wind for one of my best stands. It can be hunted on any North wind however, a NNE wind does two things, it allows a buck to feel secure moving quartering into the wind while still being unable to detect a hunter on stand before it is too late- a nearly perfect wind scenario. The windspeed is to be about an optimal 10-15 miles per hour, which is strong enough to provide some consistency from variable and shifting currents.
The moon is just past full by a few days, which some people feel triggers more movement due to more optimal rising and setting times, and its overhead time is about 5:00 AM. This is getting fairly close to being within an hour of first light and according to many theories on the moon and how it correlates to deer movement, an overhead or underfoot moon within an hour or so of peak deer activity times (dawn/dusk) can trigger earlier movement in the evening and later movement in the morning, as well as more of it. Online solunar calendars can give you overhead, underfoot, rising and setting times for the moon for every day of the year. The jury is still out for me about the moon’s influence, but I have decided to start paying attention to it more closely this year to determine if it is a legitimate movement predictor for the deer inmy hunting areas.
Here is the stand I believe will give me the most opportunity at a buck either coming back to bed a few minutes later in the morning or leaving his bed earlier in the evening. If I am unsuccessful I believe I can get in and out of the stand with minimal impact and leave the area alone until later in October, thus avoiding any negative impact on my rut hunting in this area. Hopefully there will be good things to report from this high risk high reward early season sit.