Thousands of one-shot hunters will enter the deer woods Saturday in pursuit of a Southern Zone bow-and-arrow or Northern Zone muzzleloading whitetail.
The bowhunting season runs through Nov. 18, and the muzzleloader season ends Oct. 21, during which time a deer of either sex can be shot. Exceptions are “antlered deer only” with a muzzleloader in Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 6N, and bowhunters and muzzleloaders hunting in WMUs 3C, 3H, 3J and 3K can only shoot bucks with at least one antler with three or more points at least one-inch long. Hunters must possess a current big-game license with a bowhunting and/or muzzleloading privilege.
The Department of Environmental Conservation expects a slight increase in the overall deer harvest this year, primarily due to the hoped-for increase in antlerless harvest in the WMUs throughout central and western New York. A total of 89,855 Deer Management Permits were filled last year, 83,559 in the Southern Zone.
New hunters continue to be attracted to both muzzleloading and bow and arrow for several reasons. Both offer hunters a chance to be in the woods in what I consider to be the most pleasant and picturesque time of the year. The leaves are changing color, and the weather is generally mild, allowing lighter dress, and in my case, sitting for hours and hours in a tree stand or blind, waiting for my target.
Both hunting aproaches also offer one-shot challenges. Bows have less advantage, in terms of speed of projectile, foot-pounds (force of the bullet or arrow when it strikes the target) and distance, but the modern archer who practices faithfully and does his/her homework (scouting) prior to the season usually gets a deer.
There are several other ways to improve chances of getting a deer with the first shot. Probably the most important is learning deer habits — where and when they are moving. A hunter cannot be in the woods 24/7, but a trail camera can. This is, by far, the best eye-in-the-woods equipment available to hunters. After deer signs are found, set the camera up. If deer are using the area, the camera will reveal everything the hunter needs to know — whether bucks or does are using that trail and the time they’re using it. If a deer is coming by in the wee hours of the morning, there’s no need to set up there, but if it’s during legal shooting time, you can be more confident of seeing and getting a shot at that deer.
Fortunately for us, trail cameras have been available for a long time, and there are a number of companies marketing them at reasonable prices, depending on what you want to know. I personally don’t need a color shot or perfect photo of a big 10-pointer. Just give me a few black and whites of his body, rack and a time in legal hunting hours, and I’ll do the rest. I have seen a number of these cameras in large department stores, sporting goods stores, gun and archery shops and even on e-Bay.
An example is the Tasco Trail Cam, which retails for about $80. It’s a five-megapixel camera with infrared night vision. It takes color day and infrared night photos and runs on four AA batteries. It has 15 infrared emitters that light up the night with a 30-foot flash range, a passive infrared sensor motion activated to 45 feet and a 4GB SD card capacity (www.tasco.com).
I don’t think I have to tell bowhuters there is more to hanging a stand, climbing in it and shooting a deer. Tree stand placement and setup is critical to success. We all have stand placements we continue to use because we got shots or saw deer there, but current information is needed. Check them before using them. Deer habits change. Choosing a stand location and its setup should be based on current feeding habits from now to the rutting season next month.
Right now, we should be setting up in funnel areas that connect woodlots, saddles (low points on ridge lines) and one of the most productive places, near a crop field. The late harvest of many cornfields this year has left plenty of food for deer. I know many will set up on the edges of these fields, but I prefer to find where deer enter the field, backtrack them into the woods 50-100 yards, then set up my stand because the big bucks often hang back in the cover until it’s dark before moving out into the open field. Do not set a stand up right on the run. Move it back at least 10 yards.
There are some do’s and don’ts for stand setup. It’s important to try not to disturb surrounding area. Deer that travel these areas frequently will not change their routes unless they see or smell something different. I always try not to use a bare tree when I set up my ladder blind, usually a double-wide with a moving shooting rail. All around this rail, I attach a four-foot wide camo netting with zip ties. This not only breaks up my image (yes, deer do look up), but it also allows me to be able to stretch my legs and move my arms. It’s impossible to sit all day without moving.
One thing about ladder stands: They stand out in the woods. If other hunters can see it, so can deer. I don’t want either to see it, so I also camouflage the ladder. Usually when putting in a stand, it’s necessary to prune some branches for shooting lanes. They can easily be zip tied to the ladder from top to bottom. It works for me.
Do you know what the most common error is when shooting a bow? It’s bow-hand torque, a misalignment of the bow riser’s twist axis, which places the bow’s riser and arrow rest out of square to the most efficient nock travel. It actually results in fishtailing arrows and a high percentage of left and right misses. This can easily happen to a bowhunter in a tree stand who often has to move and/or twist to get off the shot. It also happens standing on the ground or shooting from a ground blind.
Mike Scaniffe, a Connecticut bow shop owner, has developed Square-Up, a way to recognize and correct this bow riser torque before shooting. It’s a real-time reference in the archer’s sight picture which allows correction before the shot. Mike says it will work on any bow setup, with or without a peep sight. He said he’s sold 1,700 Square-Ups, and none have been returned under his money-back guarantee. For a good video demonstration of the Square-Up, go to www.lightningbowstrings.com. The online purchase price is $65 for black and $75 for camo.
Torn between the front-loader or the bow for Saturday’s hunt, I decided to go with the muzzleloader for two reasons — one is a new MDM Buckwacka .50-caliber gun topped with one of their 1-6x 44 Illuminated Buckwacka scopes that shoots some very tight groups, and two, is my recent membership in the Kayderondack Sportsman’s Club in the southern reaches of the Adirondack Park. The club has been in existence since 1982 and is complete with a typical comfortable Adirondack hunting cabin, a conversion of two horse barns used by loggers when horses were used to pull the skidders. Add to that a new tree stand that club members Tim Breen of Wilton and Norm Bilodeau of Corinth helped me put together and set up in an area that has quite a bit of deer sign. It’s definitely the place for me to be sitting around 6 a.m. Saturday awaiting sunup, and I’ll stay there until dark, if necessary.
But Monday morning, I’ll be in a tree stand in the Southern Zone with my bow.
Saturday will officially start my Buck Tales column, so if you shoot a deer or bear with a bow or a gun and want to share the story with other hunters in The Daily Gazette, email me the following at [email protected]: Your name, city where you live, where you were hunting, what you shot, what you shot it with, were you in a tree stand or on the ground, how long was the shot, and anything else you think would add to the tale. Feel free to email me photos, but they won’t be published.
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