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Don Feigert

It wasn't the same as last year, when four of us went up to camp at the end of rifle deer season and took a big buck on the last Friday of the season and another one on the last Saturday. We still had a great time in the snowy north woods of Warren County this year, though, and we did spot four different bucks in two days, but the guys with eligible antlered tags could not or would not quite pull the trigger.

On Friday Rocky, Queen, Billy and I climbed straight up the steep slope behind camp before daybreak, instead of driving north to our favorite deer-hunting spots. It felt fine to just walk out the back door and march into the woods, instead of starting up trucks, stowing gear, and scraping ice and snow off windshields.

By the time we reached the top of the mountain, daylight and legal shooting time were upon us, so we all loaded up and headed for our pre-designated driving and standing locations. Unlike opening day, when we all settle in on top of large boulders along strategic whitetail escape routes and hope other hunters push deer our way, we always try to move our own deer late in the season, when few hunters occupy the big woods.

I headed south along the edge of the high ridgeline out to a certain point overlooking the Allegheny River. From there I would drive slowly through a large white-pine bedding area and Game Commission food plot toward the east and north, where the three standers would be watching and waiting. As a hunter who had filled my buck tag on opening day and was unlikely to shoot an antlerless deer this year, I was definitely a “designated driver.”

I reached the ridge-point and stopped for a few minutes, as I often do, pausing to look around and appreciate my surroundings before I started hunting. I peered down at the Allegheny nine hundred yards below through a soft white curtain of snowfall and a broken fenceline of charcoal-colored tree trunks and branches and watched the river push her swollen gray waters majestically north to south toward Tidioute, Tionesta, Oil City and beyond. I took one deep breath of cold mountain air and glanced around at the pure whiteness piled on the ground and clinging to branches and felt the deep full silence of winter in the big woods. Then I strode forward and began the hunt.

We saw nine does that day and one antlered deer. Queen spotted the buck from high on the ridge as it moved through thickets along the steep sidehill above the river, where deer often travel to avoid human traffic on the easier-to-maneuver trails and roads that sketch the segments and borders of the Game Lands. He saw decent-sized antlers right away but could not make sure of three points on a side, so he did not shoot.

Beautiful Gary arrived at camp Friday night after work, so we put five hunters into the woods on Saturday, the final day of the season. We returned to our favorite hunting grounds north of camp, where we saw dozens and dozens of deer on opening day, mature bucks, sub-legal bucks, mature does and fawns. Two years ago we sighted very few deer on the opener, while last year we saw moderate numbers, but this year we spotted numerous deer coming from all directions all day long.

The mild winter, one of us speculated, the declining hunting pressure, two others claimed. How about pure dumb luck, I suggested, and the others smiled and agreed. Regardless, that was one amazing deer-sighting day, especially in this era of a diminished state herd.

We did not see dozens and dozens on the Saturday finale, but each of us spotted six or more deer that day, and three of them were bucks. Billy pushed a forkhorn past Gary on the ridge above the fire trail, and later Gary saw a larger-racked buck angling back up over the mountain. He was pretty sure, but not entirely sure, the deer was a legal shooter, so he held his fire. The same thing happened to Queen a half-mile back along the mountaintop, where he spotted a good-sized buck at long distance.

Antler restrictions have certainly changed the way we hunt. Instead of spotting the rack and preparing to shoot right away, we have to try to count points while the buck moves quickly into and out of our shooting zone. Several years ago, when these restrictions were first announced, a friend said to me, “Wow. I’ll bet we’re going to see a lot of illegal bucks killed in the woods.” “No,” I answered. “I think we’re going to let a lot of legal bucks walk.” That, I think, is what happened to the F-Troop hunters during our annual end-of-season hunt.

Good luck out there. And have a great week outdoors.



Don Feigert is the outdoors writer for THE HERALD and the ALLIED NEWS. He can be contacted at 317-985-2870 or dfeigert@verizon.net.

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