Bald Eagle

A day in Centre County’s deer woods

Just minutes after Mark Nale missed his shot at an eight-point buck on Monday, his son-in-law, John Carter, connected.
Just minutes after Mark Nale missed his shot at an eight-point buck on Monday, his son-in-law, John Carter, connected. For the CDT

The air was crisp and clear and I could see hundreds of stars in the predawn sky as I walked to my spot. The frosty leaves on the forest floor were not as noisy as I would have liked, but there was no wind. All that I could hear was the soft gurgling of the nearby stream.

There was no question about where I would be Monday morning — in a treestand watching the world around me slowly turn from night into day. Yesterday morning marked my 54th opening day of Pennsylvania’s rifle deer season.

I celebrated my day by spending most of it 25 feet in the air — standing in a wooden treestand that I had built between three trees. My primitive perch gives me a 360-degree view of a wooded hollow. Although I had scouted other possible hunting areas, none looked better than my own Centre County property.

The hoarse call of a raven seemed to announce that the 6:48 a.m. legal shooting time had arrived. At 6:56, I heard the first distant shot. A few crows joined the raven and I heard the reports from more rifles. A slow start to be sure, though little did I know how exciting the morning would become.

My pencil slipped through my cold fingers and landed on the leaf litter below. I just smiled and shook my head. Over the years, I have dropped almost everything imaginable. As long as the list doesn’t include me or my rifle, I’ll survive.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being able to see full circle. At 7:06, when I turned to check down the hollow, a deer was staring right back at me. Dang — busted by the first deer of the morning.

It looked like a doe, so I kept still and scanned for other deer. I just hoped that I could escape this encounter without the deer snorting, warning every buck in a three-county area.

The stare-down lasted a good 10 minutes. Much to my surprise, the deer started moving to my left, but then turned 90 degrees and walked toward me. I pulled up the scope when the deer’s head was behind some rhododendron — it was a buck with both antlers broken off.

Five shots echoed up the hollow, and a small doe moved past my position. Seven minutes later, I spotted two does moving quickly in my direction. Then I saw the buck — nice wide antlers — I counted eight ivory points. The buck stopped — I planted my crosshairs on his chest and squeezed the trigger — CLICK! It is the sound no hunter wants to hear — a misfire.

As quickly and quietly as possible, I ejected the dud and loaded another cartridge. In the heat of the moment, I breathed on my scope, fogging it — a rookie mistake. Moments later and scope clear, I was on the buck again.

BOOM — and it disappeared. I waited for 5 minutes, confident that my shot was a good one. Disappointing news — I saw the buck and a doe move to my right, out of sight. Good news — they were headed toward John, my son-in-law.

John’s .270 cracked a few minutes later and he texted me — buck down. I happily climbed down and walked to his position for congratulations and a photo session. My misfire and miss allowed John to harvest his largest buck to date — a perfect eight-point.

Back in my perch, I saw deer three more times — for a total of 14.

Such an exciting, action-packed day — I’m fortunate to enjoy another deer season. There is nothing like it.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at