It doesn’t get much better than this. The alarm rang at 4 a.m. and I jumped right out of bed — I’m like a kid at Christmas on the opening day of deer season — and made my way downstairs to flip the switch on three coffee pots for the six other hunters who would stumble down over the next 10 minutes at F-Troop Camp.
At 5 a.m. I started down the trail, 30.06 bolt-action Remington slung over my shoulder, pulling a deer cart with one hand and pointing a flashlight with the other. A halo of faint artificial light guided my footsteps down the path in the dark and silent night.
By 6 a.m., I was up on top of my 20-foot-high boulder, after hiking two miles in and climbing 800 yards up to the whitetail escape bench I’ve hunted off and on for 20 years. I kicked away the boulder-top leaves, sat down on a hot seat, and relaxed in the pre-dawn stillness. At 7 a.m., daybreak arrived, and I loaded my rifle, stood up, and began the hunt by scanning in all directions and listening for tell-tale sounds in the dry-leaf forest.
Just before 8 a.m., my peripheral vision caught motion, and I turned slowly and saw them, two deer moving laterally into the shooting zone 100 yards uphill from my rock. The first deer was medium sized and doe-looking but the second was larger, heavychested, and majestic in its carriage and gait. I knew it was a buck before I saw antlers.
I scoped the buck and counted three-plus points on the downhill antler, moved my crosshairs forward to an opening between the trees, waited until the deer’s chest entered the opening, and squeezed the trigger. The buck collapsed in its tracks, and my 2006 deer hunt was over.
Later I dragged the deer — a fine eight-point — a half-mile east to the pair of boulders where brother Billy and nephew Tom were hunting over two sides of a steep hollow. They had both seen more than 10 deer already, and it was only 9 a.m. I sat with each of them for a time, and, while I was there, more deer appeared, including a sleek forkhorn buck, the kind we used to gladly shoot before the days of antler restrictions, that passed broadside within 20 yards.
I stayed in the woods until noon, then dragged my buck downhill to the fire trail and carted him back to the Jeep. I headed back to camp then to ice down the body cavity, since it was such a warm day, and to prepare the evening meal. Along the way I noticed several groups of orange-clad “hunters” lounging on their camp porches, having already apparently quit the hunt, probably sitting there complaining about the lack of deer in the woods.
But there was no lack of deer for our group that day. Billy shot an eight-point buck himself, but not until 4 p.m., by which time he had spent 10 hours on stand, and Tom shot a doe at 4:30 for the freezer. All told, our seven hunters reported spotting more than 125 deer on opening day, including eight or 10 different bucks, half of which were confirmed as sub-legal. That’s a lot of deer, even with some overlap among our group, which was spread out over three-quarters of a mile of ridge, bench, and valley, especially considering that we hunt wide-open public lands up north in the big woods, where many hunters say there are no deer anymore.
Todd spotted 12 during the opener, Rocky 17, Billy 27, and Tom more than 30. The rest of us saw decent numbers, too, perhaps because we scout our hunting grounds, hike back in, and hunt intensely all day.
Last year our seven hunters killed five big-racked bucks during the first two and last two days of the season. We saw moderate numbers of deer then, mostly mature bucks and immature yearlings. With last year’s mild winter, those yearlings apparently survived and produced additional fawns for this year. And maybe the fact that so many hunters have given up on the big woods — we saw far fewer hunters and hunting vehicles than we used to see five or 10 years ago — means there are that many more deer for the F-troop gang. We believe that if you get out there and hunt, you can still have a quality deer experiencebin the Pennsylvania big woods.
“The Evening Campfire” from The Herald, Dec. 3, 2006