For The Inter-Mountain
West Virginia big game hunters may want to have their rifles sighted in early this fall. In an effort to control growing black bear populations and to reduce the number of nuisance bears, the DNR has decided to implement a firearm bear season in September this year.
In addition to the normal December firearm bear season, there will be a firearm season beginning Thursday in four southern counties and Sept. 22 for selected area counties through Sept. 27. Although the early bear season is somewhat controversial, there will no doubt be many hunters chasing these bruins with their dogs this month.
The next opportunity for big game hunters will come Oct. 18 when archery season opens for deer and bear. Bow hunting is one of the greatest thrills in hunting; the anticipation and adrenaline rush a hunter experiences as a nice buck or bear is approaching a stand can be nerve racking. Will it wind me? Will it stop where I can make a good shot? What is the distance? These and other thoughts most hunters experience (including my usual thoughts of “calm down, breath, make a good shot and quit shaking!”) as an animal approaches and is part of the challenge and excitement of hunting with bow and arrow.
It should prove to be an interesting season this year for two reasons. First, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, the early bear season will have on the deer and bear. With gunfire and dogs chasing bear just a few weeks prior to the opening of archery season, I will be curious to see if it will disrupt the movement of deer or if they will continue to follow their normal feeding and bedding routines. Next, all the mast that hit this year, there seems to be an abundance of hard and soft mast in many areas. Cherry, oak, grape, apple, beech and just about every other food source hit very well in most places. The deer could be anywhere feeding on many different foods and will not have to move far from their bedding areas.
Early in the season, morning and evening are the best times to be in a stand. The deer will normally bed down throughout the day and get up to feed in the afternoon. Look for trails entering fields for an evening stand location especially trails that pass through some oak, cherry, apple or other food source before accessing the field. This is where the bucks will browse while waiting to enter the open at dark. Thickets border many fields and are a great place to set up in the morning or evening for deer or bear feeding on apples, berries, grapes or other soft mast because they feel safe in these tangles.
Morning stands near bedding areas can be productive as deer will feed on the way to the ridges to bed down for the day. Stands downwind of a good trail can yield results for the first few hours of daylight. Bucks, especially older bucks, typically bed down alone away from the does and can be difficult to get a look at in the morning. Mature bucks like to live in very inaccessible locations with a good view of danger approaching from any direction and they are usually there by first light, making it difficult to get into your stand without spooking them. However, all that changes once the rut starts.
Late October or early November, the bucks will start making scraps and rubbing trees in preparation for the rut. Trails near field edges and feeding areas with scraps and rubs are trails the bucks are using to advertise their presence to the does and mark their territory. These are good spots to intercept bucks as they begin to feel frisky and start searching for the first does to enter their cycle. As the mating season heats up, stands near doe bedding areas are a good bet, the bucks will start cruising around searching for does ready to mate. Mature bucks will cross downwind testing the wind for estrus females, if they can do this from the concealment of good, thick cover, all the better. Bucks will show up at any time of the day now and it can pay off to stay on stand all day, especially if the weather is cool. Bucks will be on the move driven by the instinct to mate unless it is unseasonably hot.
The rut continues into the opening of buck season on Nov. 24 when the woods come alive with hunters hoping to take a buck with a firearm. This will disrupt the deer movement and I like to focus on the thickest cover I can find that has good food sources nearby, but the most important thing is to find the does. The bucks will be on red alert but will still be driven to pass on their genes to the next generation and will be in the area keeping an eye on the does and looking out for rivals. Spots with fresh deer signs are good locations to wait for a buck to show up. If you are seeing does, a buck could show up at any time.
After the two-week buck, and weeklong antlerless and muzzleloader seasons close, archery season remains open until the end of the year. The rut has wound down and the deer will be feeding heavily trying to gain as much weight as possible.
Not many people take advantage of bow hunting late in the season, hunters may already have meat in the freezer or would prefer to bear hunt, which also lasts until the end of the year. This can be a good time to harvest a doe if you are looking for meat, some bucks may have lost their antlers after the rut but there will still be a few bucks hanging around. The weather can be miserable but on nice days, the deer will be out feeding. Acorns, grapes, crab apple thickets and field edges are good places to find deer feeding during the day late in the season and it can be one of the best times to be in the woods for seeing numbers of deer.
If you think deer season begins and ends with the firearm seasons, you may be missing some of the best hunting of the year. Archery season extends the hunting season to before and after the rut and while it can be difficult to remain calm as deer approach bow range, it is exciting.
It is a thrill that has most archers counting the days in the off-season until the weather cools, the leaves have changed, and once again, they can pursue their favorite quarry with bow and arrow.