Monday’s rifle deer opener in Pennsylvania was nearly perfect. The temperature was in the high 30s in northwestern Butler County, which made it extremely comfortable to sit on stand for an extended stretch. The few inches of snow covering the ground allowed me to see deep into the darkest creases created by the legion of hardwoods covering the hillside that my stand overlooks. It is 20 feet off the ground and fixed between three slow-growing oaks.
I sit with my back to one of the trees, facing north, and my hill pitches down to where it intersects with the slope of another hill some 200 yards away. I have a good view of anything coming from that direction, as well as what may use the heavy cover of grapevines and deadfall for protection on my far west and east. Behind me, the hillside extends just 50 yards before reaching a plateau that leads to a long cornfield. If anything is on top I can’t see it, though a large number of tracks dotting the hillside show it to be a high-traffic area.
My view isn’t unlike what a good percentage of the 700,000 hunters that hit the woods well before dawn on opening day see. We all have the same goal, whether it was to land a trophy or put meat in the freezer. I simply wanted to shoot a legal buck – which in my Wildlife Management Unit is at least three up on one beam – for the latter reason. And in my WMU it is buck only for the first five days of the season. Does aren’t legal quarry until the first Saturday, Dec. 7 this year.
Not much after 7 a.m. I heard the first shot of the day, far off to the north. I always note the first shot and usually laugh because most of the time it’s barely daylight.
What follows is a running diary of my day:
- 7:30 – Five turkeys fly down from their roost 100 yards to the north. They walk away from me and over the far ridge.
8:45 – Three does come in from my left and cross through to my right and get within 75 yards. Two more follow and hold in a thicket 50 yards in front of me. The three disappear in the brush line to my right. Another deer follows the same trail as the does, and it has its nose to the ground. I see it has antlers so I get my gun ready. I scope it and see single points coming off its main beams. I then glass it with binoculars as it closes the distance to the two does below me. I can make out one brow tine, making it a five-point, but it doesn’t meet the three-up requirement. I have a perfect broadside shot at 40 yards. The two does remain in the thicket as the buck continues trailing the three does and disappears to the east.
- 9:30 – The two does look north and minutes later run off to the east. Three does come over the ridge and stay 100 yards away and move at a fast pace from straight in front of me to the right, where the other deer went.
- 9:45 – A lone deer follows the trail of the two does but stays farther out and is silhouetted against the brush. I lose sight of it for a few minutes, then I try to find it in my binoculars. No luck. It reappears, still far out but I can’t tell if it’s a buck or a doe. I never get a good look at it as it fades away.
- 10:45 – A doe and a buck appear from the east, reversing the path of the other deer. I can’t get a good look at the buck because its head is behind a tree every time it stops. Fifty yards shy of my stand I can tell it’s at least a four-point. They quarter away to the northeast and head up the slope and over the hill, out of sight. I never get a good look at the buck because of the background blending in with its antlers. I’m pretty certain it was legal but I can’t confirm.
- 11:30 – One doe comes in from the east and lopes by within 50 yards. A minute later, two more come in at a faster clip. Based on their action I get ready, assuming there will be a buck following them.
- 11:35 – I see legs coming on their trail, then a body, then a head. It’s another doe.
12:05 – Three does move from west to the north along the ridgeline. Another deer follows the group but I can’t make it out. They stay more than 100 yards away and I never get a good look at the mystery deer.
- 12:45 – A pack of 10 deer come over the ridge to my north and hold tight to the brush line off to the east. A few venture closer, around 80 yards away, but they mostly stay out in the 100-plus yard range. I see one small buck, a spike with tiny stickers, among the group.
- 1:00 – Two non-legal bucks cruise in from the east and come as close as 50 yards. One is a three-point and the other is same forkhorn from first thing in the morning.
And that was it. The woods were quiet over the next three hours as I remained on stand until after 4 p.m., when darkness began to creep in. I walked up my hillside to the long field and began the 400-yard walk back to my vehicle. I spooked one deer along the tree line, evidenced by the lone white tail bounding through the woods.
It was the most deer I’ve seen on an opening day, and certainly the most bucks. I have yet to shoot a buck on opening day. That streak will continue until next year.