Editor's Note: This weekend marks the start of the Pennsylvania Rifle Season. Thousands of people will be storming the woods on Saturday, November 30th to participate in a tradition that spans multiple generations over decades. For the first time since 1963, the Monday after Thanksgiving will be the 2nd day of rifle season. Change that interrupts tradition is a hard sell for most, but sometimes, you just need to get out of the same old rut!
When I was 12 years old I couldn’t sleep. The excitement and anticipation of the opening morning of Pennsylvania’s rifle season kept me awake, well maybe it was a packed camp full of snoring relatives. I couldn’t help but stare at the ‘mountain racks’ hanging on the walls, hoping to see that minimum three-inch antler shine in the sun behind an ear the next day. I pictured those who have already filled their tag coming in to check on all the hunters after lunchtime and being able to tell them my story of killing a deer. What would it be like to have my buck on the wall back at camp? That thought would have to wait for the woods because 3:30 AM came and the alarm started going off.
I sat with my Dad that morning, along with PA’s 1,250,000 other hunters. It didn’t matter that I had to walk for an hour to the tree stand in the dark. It didn’t matter that the wind wouldn’t stop blowing. It didn’t matter that my Dad shot a buck before lunch because I couldn’t get my scope on it. It didn’t matter that I had to get out of the tree and take a nap because I didn’t sleep the night before. I didn’t shoot a buck that day, but that didn’t matter. I was in love.
I can only speculate as to what happened. Somewhere along the way, rifle season was taking a back seat. I still never missed an opportunity to hunt, but I found myself thinking, I would rather be in the stand for archery season or chasing spring gobblers. I was no longer in love. It could have been the intimacy that archery season provides, the excitement or a buck coming into a call during the rut. Maybe it was that instant rush you get from a Turkey gobbling overhead. Maybe it started feeling like a job. Set up a deer drive, push, regroup, rinse and repeat. It could have been the deer population drop in the early 2000s, followed by the hunter participation drop giving deer more room to stay put when they feel the pressure.
I was not in love.
It is so easy to get in a rut. During rifle, I would either get in a stand and sit all day or put on deer drives. This year I used the open space leftover from the lack of hunters and discovered hunting again.
I went to an area that I have never hunted before. When my boots hit the snow, I turned into a hunter again. I found an old logging road that didn’t have any boot tracks and made my way into the woods. I searched for deer sign, used the ridges to my advantage, found tracks and made a plan. When that plan didn’t produce results, I found more tracks and made a new plan. I found a group of doe below me. I felt like I was hunting again as opposed to waiting.
With one shot and one doe, I fell back in love.