Mark Nale | Archery hunting game has changed in past 30 years

State College - Centre Daily TimesDecember 23, 2012 

Late summer held a special anticipation and excitement for me. My first archery deer season in more than 30 years was fast approaching.

I began archery hunting in 1965 and continued through 1978. I have a knapsack full of pleasant memories from those days spent afield with my brothers and father during my formative hunting years. I carried a Ben Pearson recurve bow, with no sight. It was totally instinctive shooting that required months of practice to become proficient. Hunting was done from wooden treestands or from blinds constructed on-site from natural materials.

In those days, Pennsylvania’s archery deer season was four weeks long — ending in late October. There was no hunting during the rut, which peaks in mid-November. Compound bows were in their infancy and mechanical releases were not legal in Pennsylvania. Portable treestands and ground blinds did not exist or were not readily available. Crossbows were not even discussed.

With new equipment and the opportunity to hunt during the breeding season, archery hunting is much different today. I was anxious to get back in the game.

After much research, in November 2011, I purchased a Kodabow crossbow. Company CEO Chuck Matasic helped me sight in my crossbow, but I only had it out once to shoot during the summer. In early September, I purchased Rage mechanical broadheads of the same weight as my field points — 125 grains. The packaging description for the broadheads claimed a true flight — with impact at the same spot as field points of the same weight. The set of hunting points came with a practice head having the same weight and aerodynamics as the broadheads. I liked that feature — I did not need to ruin an expensive broadhead, nor did I rip my target to shreds from shooting it with broadheads.

I purchased a high-density crossbow target from Bass Pro Shops, and in September, I took a few shots with the practice broadhead — planning to adjust the crossbow’s sights, if necessary.

I set the target up at 20 yards and took one shot — bull’s eye! Moving back to 30 yards, I used the next lower line on my 3X-scope. Bull’s eye, again — and this was a 1 1/2-inch circle — not a 10-inch paper plate. Crossbow familiarization is required, but hours and hours of practice is not necessary. Archery hunting has changed.

In September, I also erected a basic camouflage ground blind and equipped it with a small folding chair. Hunting with a crossbow allowed me to use a smaller blind than what would be needed to shoot a recurve bow. I also placed wooden stakes in several directions at 20 and 30 yards. I had marked my shooting distances in a similar way back in the 1960s.

The big day came on Saturday, Sept. 29. I was in the blind before daybreak. The first thing that I noticed was how much warmer it seemed sitting in a ground blind, as compared to sitting in the open. There was no wind to contend with, and my body heat helped to warm the air trapped in the blind. I suspect that the blind also helped to trap my scent. Blinds can mask a hunter’s slight movements, but in turn the blind limits vision.

A raven called and I heard blue jays, crows and turkeys. At 7:54, a curious Carolina wren actually flew into my blind to investigate. I saw my first deer of the season a few minutes later — a doe and her non-spotted fawn.

I saw more deer that evening, but a doe apparently spotted my face inside the dark blind. I was not expecting that, so I wore a camo face net every day after that. Deer can be great teachers.

On Oct. 1, in the morning, three does just seemed to magically appear in front of me, as hunters know deer are somehow able to do. I watched them for 10 minutes before another deer off in the distance started to snort. This alerted the does and they left shortly thereafter.

That evening, I had two groups of deer in front of me, feeding within 20 yards. This time, with my head net, I passed the “deer-senses” test.

The month unfolded with me getting out as often as I could. I saw at least two does during every outing except one, and I continued to enjoy the entirety of the archery hunting experience. October is my favorite month to be outdoors.

Even though I had only seen does to that point, I was not disappointed. More than one archery hunter had told me — “Just wait for the rut (the whitetail’s mating period) — it is a different season.” Since it takes two to tango, I figured that if the does were here, the bucks would show eventually. A buck also made a scrape within sight of my blind — always an encouraging sign.

On the evening of Nov. 3, a lone adult doe started feeding to my left. She raised her tail as if to defecate, but she kept it raised — either straight back or off to her left side. It was a doe in estrus, hoping to attract a buck for breeding. This might be old hat to modern bowhunters, but it was the first time that I had ever witnessed this.

I was on high alert — this will be the day for a buck to appear. However, I watched the doe feed on acorns and greenery for 12 minutes to no avail. She finally moved off into the woods to my right.

On Nov. 7, I again saw a doe exhibiting signs of estrus — this deer was with four other does. That evening, I had one deer within 10 feet of the blind. She became suspicious and stomped her foot repeatedly. The deer was so close that I could actually feel the vibrations sent out by her stomping. I apparently passed her inspection, though, as she eventually stopped testing me and resumed feeding.

The final day of the fall season arrived on Monday, Nov. 12. I took my camera in the morning, with a primary goal of taking deer photos through the windows of my blind. Even though the cloudy sky provided barely enough light for photography, the deer came through. At 7:58, a doe and her fawn walked close enough to allow me to take their pictures. Even the miniscule click of the camera’s shutter is heard by a deer at 15 yards, and one of the does looked up intently.

I totally enjoyed my fall days afield, and I appreciate how bowhunting has changed. Although I am already looking forward to October 2013, more archery hunting is just around the corner for those willing to brave the cold.

A second archery deer season begins on Dec. 26, and runs through Jan. 12. I hope to be able to get out again.

 

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