Methods change along with seasons
Archery season has now passed. The hunters that were not fortunate enough to put a tag in the ear of a Pennsylvania buck will be required to try their luck during the commonwealth’s second deer season, which is commonly referred to as buck season.
While the ultimate goal of harvesting an antlered deer may remain the same, many hunters will adjust their strategies from those that were relied upon during the six-week archery season now that they are permitted to carry a rifle into the field.
There are several factors which make hunters change the way they hunt when they switch weapons. These changes are likely only required if a hunter has options when hunting large private areas or when hunting public properties.
Those hunters that hunt small areas or only use one stand are going to obviously keep their hunting strategies the same due to limited options. This no way means they will be less successful. They just do not need to make changes to increase their chances for success.
The first switch some will make is obviously the distance one can cover when shooting. Archers prefer to get as close of a shot as possible. Stand locations in bow season are usually close to trails and in thick areas that deer travel. Rifle hunters can afford to cover more area since shooting can be done at greater distances. Instead of covering a single trail, hunters are capable of hunting areas with larger viewing opportunities.
When choosing a stand location for rifle season, affording yourself the possibility in shooting to several locations is key. There is no reason to need to see down two or three benches on the mountain or across a ridge when you cannot shoot that far in archery season. However, covering more ground with a scoped-rifle is a plan many go to in buck season.
There are many more hunters out chasing deer in rifle season. If you are not prepared to give yourself some space and move away from areas that are traditionally hunted hard, you may find yourself frustrated with hunters surrounding you and greatly limiting your chance to be successful.
In my opinion, what gun hunters need to consider the most is that deer habits change drastically once hunters start entering the woods on the first morning. In archery season, it is a lot easier to pinpoint a buck’s movement. Deer are a creature of habit, and that is sometimes their greatest fault. However, those trails they rely on to move and their safe bedding areas may be disturbed by hunters causing deer to be on their feet at time and in locations they typically would not be during the fall.
The majority of bucks killed throughout the entire season in Pennsylvania will be shot the first morning of firearms season. Obviously this has to do with having the greatest number of hunters in the field and also that a rifle is a far superior weapon than a bow, crossbow or muzzleloader.
The third reason so many bucks are killed opening mornings is because of the previously mentioned extra foot traffic. With the exception of the rut, most bucks spent very little time on their feet during the day. They are usually bedded the majority of the time the sun is overhead.
But when a hunter is crashing through the woods in the dark with a flashlight through an area that has not been disturbed all season, this displaces a lot of deer the first morning in rifle season. Many hunters bag bucks that are simply being pushed by fellow hunters.
I am not a fan of sitting all day in your treestand during archery season. I typically sit until 10 in the morning and head back out in the afternoon unless deer activity with the rut is outstanding.
However, the first few mornings of rifle season I highly recommend staying for an extended period of time. Hunters are likely to put deer on their feet while walking out of the woods just like they do while walking into their stand location. Many bucks are shot around lunch by hunters who stick it out and hope for an unintentional push from a fellow hunter.
Finally, driving deer is a Pennsylvania tradition that many other states frown upon. Trying to move deer from a specific area to awaiting standers is a very tried and true method of hunting. Many whitetails each year are taken by large gangs sending deer crashing through the woods to waiting shooters.
All hunters will do their best to try to give themselves the highest chance to harvest a buck in rifle season. Making adjustments and showing patience should help you be sharing stories of a successful outing at your cabin.
Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.