Fall is officially upon us, and with it comes a host of possibilities for outdoor adventure. With so many pursuit options, I find myself consulting the current Pennsylvania Game Commission’s “Hunt and Trap Summary” regularly.
Resident goose season ended Saturday for now, but will reopen soon. Wing shooters can continue to hunt doves, and duck season opens statewide on October 8.
Those with youth hunting licenses should consider the upcoming youth rabbit and pheasant hunts for a chance to take some early action. Young rabbit season runs from Saturday through October 15, and young pheasant season runs from October 8 through October 15.
Before heading out into the field in search of prey, time should be spent discussing safe weapon handling as well as some target shooting to improve accuracy. Clay pigeons are fun, but only if the shooter is able to hit them. Starting with stationary targets will build confidence, and if efficiency is shown, moving targets can be attempted.
Shooting cardboard gives hunters a good understanding of their shotgun pattern and will reveal how far a shot can be taken during a small game hunt. Those using small-bore shotguns should be prepared for a follow-up shot if necessary.
Plastic jugs filled with water are a cheap target that provide a blast that emphasizes the devastation a shotgun produces.
Gun safety is best taught to young people, and mentors need to be loud and clear about keeping the barrel pointed in a safe direction at all times. Your fingers should never be inside the trigger guard unless you are about to shoot. It is important to routinely confirm that the firearm is in the safe position; navigating through thick cover can sometimes move you into the fire position.
While the first hunt is an exciting milestone, a youngster can gain a lot by following the mentor through the regular season. I was lucky enough to be in the woods as soon as my mobility allowed and accompanied my father on countless hunts before ever carrying a gun.
Archery season for deer begins on Saturday and time is quickly running out for last minute preparations. The broad points should be razor sharp and those that have hit the ground or a deer should be sharpened. A blunt edge will push through the deer instead of cutting it, which can result in bad blood trails.
Safety harnesses and tree supports should be closely examined for any signs of damage or excessive wear and replaced, if necessary. Climbing trees and hunting from an elevated position creates additional risk to the hunter and safety must always be top of mind.
Odor control is a popular concept in the archery world and there is an entire industry built around products to cover or eliminate human odor. Washing your hunting clothes with an odorless detergent and no UV brighteners is something I find worthwhile. In general, if the deer are downwind, they will know you are there no matter what trick or product is used.
Having options for all possible wind directions will allow a hunter to hunt without alerting all the deer in the woods. In our rugged terrain, the wind can often go in a different direction than anticipated. If upon arrival at the hunting site it is determined that the wind is blowing toward the deer’s anticipated approach, it is best to retreat and wait for a better wind.
While the anticipation and excitement for opening day is high, the hunt is often marginal at the start of the season. The abundance of food and warm temperatures limit deer activity during the day, which can make some hunts slow.
Trying to fill an antlerless tag or two early in the season will add excitement and benefit the habitat and the herd. Hunters can own up to six antlerless licenses, and once one is used, another can be purchased over the counter if any are still available.
Before shooting an arrow, the hunter should have a plan for slaughtering and storing their venison, as the temperature is often less than ideal early in the season.