Precipitation through spring and summer have once again fostered an exceptional supply of fall foods in Penn’s Woods. Grazing grass was available in early November.
Soft and some hard mast crops have been remarkably plentiful. Cornfields have stood longer this fall than usual. Trees held their leaves longer.
These conditions have made deer movements tougher to sort out. Deer typically key on food sources within good cover. And, in the case of cornfields, they might never leave them until the corn comes down.
So, hunters are urged to confirm deer activity in areas they plan to hunt before they commit to them.
“Scouting is important to every hunt,” Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan J. Burhans explained. “Deer like to hang out where food is the easiest to obtain. But hunter pressure and other disturbances can inspire their selection.”
Deer usually make a mess wherever they eat, so it shouldn’t be hard to sort out whether they’re using an area. Hunters can look for raked up leaves, droppings and partially eaten mast for confirmation.
When setting up a hunting stand, it’s also a good idea to use the prevailing wind to your advantage. Wherever you hunt, the prevailing wind should blow from where you expect to see deer to your location. Then, you should dress for the cold and sit tight.
Hunters should remember you’re not alone while you’re afield. Other hunters also are waiting on stand, still-hunting or driving for deer in groups.
So, even if your position overlooking a feeding area fails to bring deer, the movements of other hunters might chase deer your way.
“Expect the unexpected on the firearms deer season opener,” Burhans noted. “It is hands-down that one day when you never know if or when that buck is coming.
“You must be ready to take it. Don’t let that buck of a lifetime catch you playing with your smartphone!”
Hunt Safely from Tree Stands
Wearing a full-body harness is essential to staying safe when using a tree stand, but a harness can prevent falls to the ground only if it is connected to the tree.
“That means you must wear your harness, and be sure it’s connected to the tree, at all times you’re in the stand, as well as when you’re getting into and out of the stand, or climbing or descending trees,” explained Meagan Thorpe, Game Commission hunter-education chief.
A hunter using a climbing stand should tie-in the safety rope or strap that pairs with the harness before beginning to climb.
Most safety ropes and straps have a sewn or knotted loop on one end, and the opposite end can be wrapped around the tree and through the loop, then cinched tightly.
There’s often a separate loop, many times a carabiner loop held by a prussic knot, onto which to clip your safety harness. You should consult the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper installation.
You’ll want to move the safety rope or strap up the tree first, then tighten it, each time before moving the platform up the tree.
If the rope is at or slightly above eye-level as you stand on the platform, you should have plenty of room to raise the platform to a higher standing position before moving the rope up the tree again before climbing.
“Make sure you have proper contact with the stand and tree every time you move,” emphasized Thorpe.
It takes only a little longer to climb with a rope, and if the stand fails due to breakage or a pin pulling out of the climbing band, or if a fall occurs because slippage or loss of balance, the harness and rope will prevent falling to the ground.
With pre-installed hang-on stands – and especially ladder stands – the most-practical way to stay connected to the tree is through a safety line, commonly referred to by the brand name Lifeline, that hangs to the ground from above the platform.
Because the safety line is installed above the platform, the tree must be climbed first, but other safety ropes or straps can be used along with your harness.
When installing a safety line at a hang-on stand, a linemen’s style belt can be worn while ascending the tree.
A linemen’s belt might not be an option for many ladder stands, but a separate ladder and linemen’s belt could be used to install the safety line before the ladder stand is installed.
When using a ladder stand, climbing stick or tree steps, make sure to maintain three points of contact (two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand) with each step.
The important points are to always take your time and be safe when using stands. Always put on your safety harness while you’re still on the ground, and keep it connected to the tree at all times until you’re back on the ground.