The Bow Hunter
Why should a sportsman want to hunt with a bow when a gun offers a muck better opportunity to secure game? Granted more game can be taken with a gun. Records compiled by the State of Michigan show that one in three gun hunters can be expected to bag his deer while only one in twenty bowmen were able to accomplish this feat during the 1954 season. However, why do more and more fishermen change from heavy poles and lines to fly fishing and spinning with light tackle? The answer in part is that sportsmen are seeking more fun in their favorite sports by handicapping themselves. There is more thrill to a rising fish than to a dead one; and tomorrow the fisherman can try his skill again.
Hunting seasons are of short duration and opportunities to engage in a hunt with firearms for the larger game animals are limited to a few days in camp once a year. We work for our living and cannot arrange to be absent from our work for the period of the entire deer season, short as it is. Were more week-end periods available to us, we would have more opportunity to enjoy our favorite sport.
Sportsmen in the United States are conservation minded. Year after year we have seen our bag limits reduced and the season shortened in an effort to maintain a reasonable supply of game. Almost without exception the sportsmen have submitted without protest to what appeared to be a necessary curtailment of their days of hunting. So conservation minded have we become that efforts to reduce the deer herd where food shortages cause increasingly heavy kills has brought about serious and determined opposition when an open season has been declared on deer of either sex. What then can be done to increase the length of the hunting season so that we can enjoy more week-ends afield over a longer period of the year?
Has it been possible to increase the length of the hunting season without damaging the game crop? For the answers let us look at the record of several of the states which have a supply of big game animals, and note what these states have accomplished.
Pennsylvania legalized hunting with the bow in 1929, but did not establish a special season for taking deer with bow and arrows only until 1951. Two small preserves, each less than 1000 acres in extent were set aside for bowhunters in 1937. They were discontinued in 1955.
In Pennsylvania the bowman has been restricted to antlered deer during the special archery season. In 1954, 14,775 special archery season permits were issued and the bowmen bagged a total of 55 deer during a 12 day season in October. Restrictions on sex and the limited shooting hours are reasons advanced for the few deer bagged by the bowmen in Pennsylvania.
In 1937 Michigan established its first bow-hunting season. A total of 194 licenses were sold and 4 deer were taken. This number increased to 68 deer in 1945 with 2,010 bowhunters. In that year Michigan bowmen were allowed the privilege of hunting during a special season, and then, if they had not been able to kill a deer, of buying a regular deer license and hunting with either bow or gun. In 1954 Michigan bowmen to the number of 29,000 enjoyed a thirty-six day special archery season and a hunter’s choice, which resulted in a bag of 1500 deer.A survey made in 1945 showed that even though sportsmen were permitted to hunt in either the special or the regular deer season, only 16 percent of the bow hunters hunted in the gun season. Of those who took part in both seasons only 13 percent were bowmen who had not previously hunted with guns. Actually the survey showed that the privilege of hunting in both seasons was enjoyed mostly by sportsmen who were former gun hunters. Of the dyed in the wool bowmen who did take advantage of the second or gun season, 84 percent still used their bows as weapons.
Wisconsin has annual kill records which show that a total of 2,867 deer were taken by bowmen during nineteen years of bow and arrow deer seasons. In 1953 two seasons were established permitting a bag limit of one deer of any age or either sex: (1) A 51-day season beginning Saturday, September 26th and lasting through November 15th in all Wisconsin’s 71 counties. Bear could be taken without a bag limit while bow hunting for deer. (2) A 14-day December season beginning
Saturday, December 5th and lasting through December 18th in four special areas. Wisconsin bowmen killed 355 deer during the combined seasons, and the Wisconsin Conservation Department is of the opinion that the insignificance of the kill indicates a negligible effect on the deer populations, and ;no need of a reduced season from a game management point of view, and that the records of the past bow and arrow seasons have justified the liberal policies established by the state conservation commission. The daily hunting hours in Wisconsin are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
Michigan’s and Wisconsin’s years of experience with special archery deer hunting seasons have shown that the possibilities for recreation in the form of bow and arrow deer hunting are unlimited. Here is a form of hunting that provides plenty of fun in the chase, but is productive of very few deer in the bag. The Michigan State Department of Conservation has arrived at the conclusion that Michigan’s deer herd could stand almost unlimited amounts of hunting with the bow and arrow.
It is obvious that encouragement of archery deer hunting is not only a means of promoting a longer season of outdoor sport in the hunting field at little or no expense to the deer herd, but is a way of “eating your cake and having it too.”
The modern bow hunter differs from his brother with a gun not only in the manner of the weapon with which he is equipped but in the manner of conducting his hunt. It is customary for gun hunters to organize drives with a number of the party acting as beaters. The object is to start the deer moving in the area and drive them past companions who are placed at strategic locations, generally along runways or at deer crossings. The limitations of the bow require a bow hunter to close the distance to short range and his shooting must be done in fairly open territory. It is not only necessary to have a direct line of vision to the quarry, but the bow hunter also requires an unobstructed vertical clearance above the line of sight because the arrow travels in an arc and rises and Mis on its way to the mark for a distance which may amount to as much as 18 inches at 40 yards.The bow hunter envies the American Indian in his reputed stealth and cunning in stalking game to close quarters. This means that the bow hunter must actually outsmart a deer at the deer’s own game of moving noiselessly through the woods, and taking advantage of available cover to maneuver into position for an unobstructed shot. Reports of surveys conducted in several of the big game states show that deer are shot by the bowmen at an average distance of slightly under thirty yards. Brother, when you can stalk a deer to that distance you are a hunter. Blinds located down wind from a runway can also be used, but the bow hunter must depend on deer using the runways without being driven too closely by beaters, as an arrow is too easily deflected in flight by twigs or branches to give a bow hunter even an outside chance at a deer running through cover.
Stealth then is the primary requirement in hunting deer with the bow and arrow. Some sportsmen in discussing a possible open season for deer in advance of the regular gun season have feared that the bow hunters will cause wildness in the herd and place the gun hunter at a disadvantage later in the season. In the small game season grouse hunters in numbers far exceeding the number of bow hunters roam the deer territory and it would not be reasonable to assume that the herd would be unduly disturbed by the bow hunter. In fact in Michigan the bow hunters claim that the grouse hunters are handicapping their sport as the two seasons run concurrently in that state. The situation is comparable to the definition of a “Pothunter,” a pothunter being a still hunter who is not a member of your own hunting camp. It is not chance that has been the factor in creating a preseason for bow hunters in the various states, nor has it been to get “first shot” at the deer as is frequently assumed.
Weather has been the controlling factor. The bow hunters movements are and must be slow and deliberate if he is to have a chance or he must wait quietly in a blind for long periods of time on the chance that a deer may of its own choice travel that way. Foliage is an added advantage as it provides concealment for the bow hunter as well as the deer. The gunner with his long range weapon prefers the period of the year when the leaves have fallen. Little enjoyment could be expected in the rough weather that can be expected in many states after the close of the regular season, whereas the mild weather in the fall makes it a desirable time outdoors.
How effective is the bow and arrow for killing deer? One veteran deer hunter sums up the effectiveness of the bow with the following story: “Using a .30-30 Winchester Carbine 94 model with no grain hollow point bullets, I have hunted deer for nineteen years in Michigan and killed 19 bucks. In 1944 I became interested in archery and in that year I shot a six point buck. The shot was quartering from the rear into the stomach, the shaft entering about eleven inches. The buck fell dead after running about 20 yards. I wouldn’t have gotten that buck with the same hit with a rifle without a long chase.”An arrow used by bow hunters is tipped with a metal broad-head approximately 1 1/8 of an inch wide and weighing about 1 1/4 ounces. Unlike the bullet which depends on shocking power, the arrow does an excellent job of cutting blood vessels in entering the body of a deer. A rib is no obstacle to the broadhead and a chest shot is desirable, because it produces bleeding and frequently the lungs are punctured and collapse. A majority of the deer killed in Michigan in 1945 dropped within 100 yards of the place where they were hit and the average deer was recovered at 211 yards. Since the deer is not usually aware that the hunter is near, or of what hit him, he lies down quickly after being shot; and the bow hunter who allows a sufficient interval for the deer to bleed before going after it saves time.
Just a word about bow weights. A forty pound bow is adequate where the broadhead does not have to penetrate heavy bone. Beginners are liable to measure a bow’s worth by its weight and make the mistake of securing a bow which taxes their limit of strength to draw. Such a bow is unnecessary and a handicap to the hunter. Remember that one soon stiffens as he sits or stands in a deer blind in cold weather, and finds it increasingly difficult to draw the bow. Too, on a cold day a bow may acquire a ten percent additional drawing weight on account of the weather. Hunting bows are generally heavier than target bows, and since they are drawn infrequently, a drawing weight of 60 pounds will not handicap an experienced bowman. A novice, however, should confine his efforts to a lighter weight bow. If you have any doubts about the penetrating ability of the broadhead, I assure you that it will pass through a sack of sand when shot from a fifty pound bow, and that same sack of sand will stop a bullet from your .30-30.
The historical records of the first attempts to establish permanent settlements on the Eastern coast of the United States recount the death by starvation, disease, and Indian attacks, of more than eighty percent of the Virginia Colonists. In 1587 Raleigh established a colony of one hundred and fifty persons on Roanoke Island in what is now a part of North Carolina. Three years later no trace of the colonists could be found and today the tragic fate which befell the lost colony is still a mystery.
The first twenty years of the Jamestown settlement is referred to as the “Starving Time.” Nine out of every ten of the colonists died during the winter of 1609-10. The first chapter of the American Frontier with all its tragedies was the direct result of the failure of man to adjust himself to a new environment. All the necessities for maintaining life were in abundant supply on the Eastern Seaboard when the colonists arrived on the North American Continent and failure to adapt themselves to the changed conditions in which they found themselves resulted in a continuing struggle for survival.Actually the colonists were few in numbers in those early years and to the frontiersmen of the Nineteenth Century who colonized the West, the Virginia country would have presented no great difficulties. The region supported numerous tribes of Indians, who at first maintained friendly relations with the colonists. Deer, turkey, and small game were plentiful throughout the region and the Indian with his primitive bow was able to secure a supply of meat.
How did it happen that the colonist with his superior weapon was unable to kill sufficient game to ward off starvation during the first winters? The old records which describe the daily life and activities of the colonists contain plenty of evidence to support the conclusion that the ability to secure game was not measured by the superiority of firearms in the hands of the colonists, but by the Indian’s knowledge of game habits and his ability to stalk his game to close quarters where his bow was an effective weapon. Stealth, the art of concealment, a thorough knowledge of the habits of the game he sought, all these traits are combined in one word, hunter. Therein, if we read truly between the lines of the old records, lies the answer.
In several of our states it is reasonable to believe that the present deer concentration equals if it does not exceed the numbers of deer existing in a like area in the Virginia Colony at the time of the first settlements. With the improvements in firearms since colonial days, more and more emphasis has been placed on skill in the use of the weapon, and the term hunter has degenerated to mean anyone who carries a weapon into the hunting field in search of game.
More and more in recent years, men who each hunting season kill their buck have felt that the thrill has gone out of deer hunting for them. These men do not consciously realize that in the years they have sought the whitetail with the rifle, they have acquired through experience and by observation a thorough knowledge of the habits of the game they seek. They have become hunters in the true sense of the word. To them the pleasure of the hunt is already over when a deer is within range of their gun.
It is to hunters of this type that we owe the appearance once again in the hunting field of the man armed with a bow and arrows. Welcoming the chance to pit his knowledge of game and his skill in stalking, he roams old well-known territory. He knows the bed grounds, the trails where the deer come to drink, where, when and on what they feed. Silently he moves through the cover, his garb inconspicuous, standing quietly for long periods while he studies the terrain, working up or across the wind, and lightly shod so that he can move quietly. In fact putting into practice everything that he has learned in his years of hunting and knowing that armed as he is with a short range weapon, all the skill that he has acquired is needed to get him within range of his quarry. This hunter has turned back the pages of time. To him again comes the joy he experienced when he first started hunting. At last he is really matching his skill against the wily deer, if not on even terms, then with the advantage on the deer’s side and not on his, and that is where he wants it to be. Long ago he learned that the pleasure is in the hunt and not in the kill.
A bow with a drawing weight of forty pounds at the length of the draw for the individual and sharp (razor sharp) broad-head arrows make an adequate combination and provides an effective weapon for killing deer. A common fallacy which has influenced a number of beginners in purchasing equipment is that an archer’s standing is rated in accordance with the weight of the bow he owns. They buy bows which they can only draw by maximum effort. More accuracy will be obtained by shooting a bow which can be drawn comfortably and without undue strain. Wisconsin which has a long record of hunting deer with the bow and arrow, permits a bow weight of 30 pounds. The Wisconsin Conservation Department has this to say about arrow-crippled and unclaimed dead deer: “Unconfirmed reports of many wounded or wasted deer have made necessary a yearly inquiry directed to conservation wardens, rangers, and other personnel authorized to investigate bow hunting in all open deer counties comprising more than 4,300 square miles, or about three-fourths of the state. There is little verified evidence of a considerable number of arrow-wounded or later found dead deer. Undoubtedly, there are more crippled and wasted deer than were reported. Instances of these undesirable conditions are not as evident as the number of wasted deer resulting from other types of hunting.” The three year report for Wisconsin shows a total bow and arrow kill of 1,614 deer, 149 unrecovered wounded deer, and 51 deer later found dead.
The killing power of the broadhead is its cutting action which causes internal hemorrhages. The broadhead cuts blood vessels as it enters the body of the deer. The bowman should always seek to secure a chest shot as it not only produces bleeding but penetrates the lung cavity and causes the collapse of the lungs. Many bow hunters have had the experience of “overshooting” their deer. The heart area in an adult deer is less than two feet above the ground. Former target archers who have turned to bow hunting must bear this well in mind as they are accustomed to shooting at targets on which the center is located four feet above the ground.
This deviation from the normal will affect the target archer’s technique and can cause trouble. On broadside shots at deer, try to place your arrow at the point just back of the front leg and about one-third of the distance up from the bottom of the chest,
Over most of the deer range the deer hunter, during the month of December, is customarily garbed in heavy woolen garments and shod with suitable foot wear designed to keep the feet warm and dry. The garments are predominantly red in color. Bright colors are a recognized safety precaution when a long range weapon is carried by the hunter, and large numbers of persons are moving about in the deer country. Clothing suitable for December, or earlier in the higher altitudes, is not required or desirable during the special archery seasons earlier in the year. In the higher altitudes the early morning hours may be crisp and cold, but by midmorning the warming rays of the sun send the temperature climbing; and a light wool shirt, khaki trousers, and light weight foot wear, with the addition of canvas leggings to protect the lower limbs from the melting frost is adequate garb. In addition, a light pullover sweater may be worn in the early morning; and a rain coat made of one of the light plastics, which can be folded into a small compact package and carried in a pocket, are desirable. Since the bow is a short range weapon and the number of archers small compared to the numbers of gun hunters, the wearing of red colored garments as a safety precaution, unless they are required by law, must be weighed against dress which is inconspicuous and blends into the background. In states where the grouse season runs concurrently with the special bow season, this fact must also be taken into consideration.
With his knowledge of game habits and his skill in stalking, the Indian was able to secure a supply of meat with the bow. Stalking means more than the ability to walk silently. It embodies the art of concealment, to see without being seen, to take advantage of available cover in moving through a territory so that a hunter does not announce his coming, and most important, the knowledge which enables a skilled hunter to break through the defensive protection with which the deer is naturally endowed.
The deer depends on three of its five senses for protection: sight, smell, and hearing, and not necessarily in the order named. Frequently the statement is made that a deer has poor eyesight. I discount that statement knowing that they prefer to feed at night and in daylight can pick their way at full speed through thick cover and over uneven ground without apparent difficulty. The deer’s sense of hearing is acute, probably far better than that of a human, due to the shape and size of the outer ear. Weighing the value to a deer of sight and hearing, scent or smell is probably the most valuable of the deer’s senses. The scent of man will be carried long distances to a deer by currents of air and this factor alone makes it possible to travel through good deer territory without seeing a single deer. The hunter must pay particular attention to weather conditions when still hunting and use the prevailing conditions to help conceal his presence rather than announce his coming to the deer.
Taking advantage of the wind has been mentioned. It is, however, a thoroughly misunderstood term on the part of a great number of hunters. If the wind is blowing a good breeze so that branches and small limbs are swaying or swirls of dust rise from barren ground, scent is the least of the hunter’s troubles. His scent is rapidly and thoroughly dissipated in the air and the deer will have to be very close to wind the hunter. Under conditions such as these the deer will probably rely on sight to give notice of approaching danger. It is the movement of masses of air known as thermal currents on what we normally speak of as a still day which carry the man scent over long distances without dissipating it and give notice to the deer of the approaching hunter.The movements of these thermal currents or masses of air are influenced by the topography of the country. In our mountainous sections the morning sun strikes the tops of the ridges and warms the surrounding air. This air begins to rise as it expands from the heat. Its place is taken in turn by the colder air mass which moves up along the slopes of the ridges from the valley to occupy this space. The deer is well aware of this natural phenomena and seeks the high ground during daylight hours for his bed ground. From this vantage point he can make the best use of his sense of smell to warn him of approaching danger. In the evening this flow of air is reversed. The mountain tops cool quickly and the surrounding layer of cold air, being heavier than the warm air still in the valley, falls down the slopes and displaces the lighter warm air in the lower levels.
When you see one of our larger birds soaring gracefully near the top and parallel with a mountain range you realize that the birds too take advantage of the rising currents of air moving up the slopes in the morning hours to maintain themselves in effortless flight.
Consequently, a hunter, who would like to make a successful stalk, should work his territory from high toward low ground during the morning hours of a sunny day. He will have a chance to approach a deer concealed in a ravine if he works down hill from the head of the ravine, as the almost invisible current of air is moving up the slope at this time of day. In late afternoon the hunter will reverse the procedure and hunt up the ravine to prevent his scent from preceding him; or he may choose to occupy a stand near the mouth of the ravine and wait for the deer, which leave their bed grounds in the late afternoon and move out of heavy cover in search of food.
If the day is cloudy and overcast, these masses of air are not affected by the rays of the sun and remain at rest. The hunter’s movements then are guided solely by the direction of the prevailing wind.
Deer are accustomed to noise in the woods. Many noises are familiar to them and they apparently feel no concern about automobiles passing on adjacent highways. I have found the bedding ground of deer in a small hemlock clump, growing at the intersection of two well traveled forest roads, not more than twenty feet from the center of either road. One day in early July I was fishing for brook trout on a branch of Sinnemahoning Creek near the village of Wharton in Potter County, Pennsylvania. The sun was well up and the trout were no longer interested in the dry fly I was floating on a stretch of water near a small island in the middle of the stream. The island was about the size of an average living room and was covered with a rank growth of grass about eighteen inches in height. Desiring to fish the opposite channel I decided to traverse the island instead of walking around it in the water. As I stepped on the island I bounced a deer almost at my feet. Since I had been in plain sight for some time, I am convinced that had I stayed in the water the deer would not have moved from its place of concealment. The stream is well fished and the deer was probably accustomed to having fishermen pass close by the bed.
To a deer on high ground the voices of people conversing in the valley are plainly heard. It is surprising how far the human voice will carry on a sunny quiet morning when you are standing on a high point directly above a valley. The ordinary conversational tone employed in and around the farm home is easily heard and understood. Scampering through the dry leaves, squirrels make a terrific racket, all out of proportion to their size, and cause deer no concern; but a careless step by the hunter or any other unfamiliar sound will send the deer bounding away.On a windy, rough day the deer must place reliance for its safety on sight. Scent is dissipated quickly, and noise of a hunter’s approach becomes difficult to separate from noise caused by the wind. The nose and ears of a deer are of lesser value in warning of approaching danger under these conditions. We must concede that the deer like ourselves detect movement readily and we must take every precaution to insure the best odds for ourselves. Move quietly and slowly. Study thoroughly all the cover in sight, not once but several times. A deer may stand motionless if it believes that it has not been discovered and will be almost indistinguishable against protective background and surroundings with which the deer’s coat blends admirably. A flick of the tail or a movement of the deer’s ear may focus your attention on the animal. Suddenly the entire outline of the deer will take shape. If it is facing in your direction you will have little chance to draw your bow and shoot. At your first move the deer will be in full flight. Your one chance is to be patient until the deer turns its head away, and that, the animal will not do until convinced that you are harmless. I have closed to within thirty paces of deer and then stood quiet while they stared in my direction with their ears thrust forward. Satisfied after what seemed to me to be an interminable length of time, they resumed feeding and apparently gave no further concern to my presence. On another occasion I was standing just inside a point of woodland with my back to a large oak watching for signs of deer moving in the abandoned farm lands in front of me. I heard the pounding of hoofs of running animals to my rear. As the sound came closer the hoof beats slowed down. Not risking a sidewise glance I remained motionless. Two does walked past my left side within five feet and stopped within bow reach almost in front of me. Both animals turned their heads and surveyed their backtrail, then centered their attention on the abandoned meadow in front. After a few moments they walked slowly out into the meadow and disappeared behind an overgrown fence row which separated two of the fields.
Take advantage of background to break up your silhouette. You are much larger than the deer you are seeking and you should take every advantage of the art of concealment. Stay off of stumps; they only advertise your presence. Break up your outline by standing with a tree to your back. If you are going to watch a run or a trail, pick a location off to one side where you can observe a portion of the trail from cover or even a blind. Avoid taking a stand in the trail. The chance that a deer will enter the trail and walk toward you under such circumstances is practically nil. If the trail is unoccupied there is an excellent chance that the deer will choose to travel along the trail and pass your place of concealment.A damp or rainy day affords an opportunity to move silently through your hunting territory. On such a day the deer is forced to rely mainly on sight for protection. Although the deer will be less easily distinguished from its surroundings, such days provide plenty of opportunity for the archer to get within bow shot. On such a day the bowman will have to provide protection for the fletching on his shafts from rain and dampness. An inexpensive hood for the belt or shoulder quiver can be improvised from one of the plastic bags used to wrap food for storage in a deep freeze unit. Do not ignore small details. An alibi is small satisfaction for failure to observe ordinary precautions. Provide some means to keep the broadheads in your quiver separated so that they do not rattle when you walk.
The system of drive hunting practiced by the gun hunters offers little chance for the bowman to bag a deer with his short range weapon. However, if the woods are dry and the sound produced by rustling leaves underfoot makes it impossible to move quietly, a drive may be the only means of getting within bow shot of a deer. Little success can be expected from still hunting as the deer customarily do not move much during the daylight hours unless disturbed by hunters. The number of bowmen in the deer range during the special archery season is small compared to the number who hunt during the gun season, so that it is almost a necessity that a means of moving the deer be employed by the bowmen. Heretofore most of the new crop of bowmen have hunted alone, and their success measured by the recorded kills has been minor to say the least. Bowmen should not attempt the noisy drives practiced by the gun hunters, as shots at running deer offer little chance of success. A group of bowmen can, however, make a drive that is a modified method of still hunting and offers increased chances for success.
Selecting an area with which they are thoroughly familiar or from study of topographic maps of the area chosen for the hunt, the bowmen divide into two or, better, three groups depending on their numbers and the amount of terrain they wish to cover in the drive. The Hunt Captain allots a designated starting point for each group on the boundary line of the area to be driven. The bowmen synchronize their watches, and agree that for certain time intervals each group will act as watchers while the remaining group or groups walk slowly toward a common meeting point selected at the center of the tract. In each group every bowman on the line must keep in constant touch with the bowman on either side of him. In new territory, a compass course must be determined that will bring the groups to a common meeting point and one bowman in each group must serve as a guide. The guide must set the course by a compass, follow it, and the rest of the group must govern their direction by observing the course that the guide pursues. The line of archers which comprise a group moves slowly and covers the terrain methodically, maintains silence, and investigates every bit of cover along the line. A deer in cover will remain motionless if he judges the bowman will pass by his hiding place, particularly when the bowman is moving quietly and not shouting as the beaters do on a drive during the gun season. This method of driving may offer the drivers a shot at a deer. At a predetermined time each group in turn stops driving and acts as watchers for a certain length of time while the other groups which have been standing while our first group has been driving, now begin to move toward the central meeting point and act as drivers. If deer move out ahead of any group while the group is driving, it is highly possible that they will slip out quietly and not be frightened into running away at full speed.In this event the groups who are standing on watch at that time have an excellent chance of a shot at a deer whose attention is directed to the danger to the rear and is not aware of the bow hunter waiting in his path. When it is your time to stand watch, take advantage of cover which affords concealment of the act of drawing your bow. The deer is already alerted to danger and any movement, regardless of the quarter from which it comes, will be cause for suspicion; since the deer’s safety lies in flight, it will take off at the slightest pretext.
If the drive is made in unfamiliar territory and is planned on a study of the topographic maps of the area, it is surprising how comparatively simple it is by use of the compass to reach a common central meeting point. Using a U. S. Geological Survey Map of a forested area with which we were not familiar, my hunting companion and I laid out such a drive as I have described to cover about an area of three square miles. My companion drove me to a selected spot on a forest road. I waited there while he drove to another location and left the car. By forest road he walked to a designated point. Allowing for the time necessary for my companion to accomplish these preliminaries to the drive, I started out by compass course which we had previously determined would take me to the location of the parked car. I made my so-called drive and in due course saw through the trees ahead the hood of the auto shining in the sun. I had not seen any deer and I sat down on a log to wait for my companion. Within ten minutes I saw him approaching me through the timber. When we met he said that he had seen three deer which came toward him and must have moved out ahead of me, although I had not seen them. They were unaware of his presence and he watched them for some distance as they moved across his front.
In the State of Pennsylvania the bow hunters have not had a hunters choice during the special archery season for deer. In 1954, 14,775 special licenses were issued and a total of 55 bucks was bagged. Fifty of the successful bowmen replied to a questionnaire sent them by the Game Commission. The 50 bowmen averaged three and a half days in pursuit of deer, altogether they saw 142 legal bucks. The champion stalker saw 17 during his time in the mountains. These bowmen reported that they shot at 66 deer, killed 50 and did not cripple any. The special archery season in the State of Wisconsin is almost five times the length of that in Pennsylvania. Wisconsin does not charge an additional fee for hunting with a bow during the special season so that they do not have an accurate record of the number of bowhunters who take part in the special any deer season. A kill of 355 deer was reported for the 1953 season. The kill was evenly divided: 177 bucks and 178 does. In the State of Michigan which has a 36 day special season for the bowmen in which deer of either sex and bear are legal game, twenty-nine thousand bowmen paid an additional fee of $3.50 for the privilege of taking 1500 deer. Drawing conclusions or making recommendations from a few scattered statistics is a risky business, but it does appear that unlimited hunting with the bow is entirely feasible without any danger of damage to the deer herd. The recreational possibilities of this form of sport have been largely neglected by game management officials in several of the states which have large herds of deer.Although bow hunters consider the pursuit of big game during the special archery season the best time to enjoy a hunt, considerable numbers of the bowmen enjoy hunting small game with the bow. Small game hunting will provide excellent training in the art of stalking game. One can learn caution and patience on the small stuff and not mind paying the penalty when the game is alarmed and disappears before we can get in a shot.
We can train our powers of observation so that we can pick out small game against the protective background provided by nature. We can learn to distinguish and interpret sounds made by nature’s creatures from ordinary woodland noises. Practice will improve the ability of the bowman to discern the rabbit sitting in its nest and the squirrel sitting motionless on the limb of a nearby tree. The bowman must develop sufficient patience to outwait the woodchuck near his burrow. This weather wise gent who is supposed to take one sniff on the second day of February almost anywhere east of the Mississippi River, look for his shadow, and determine whether spring is just around the corner, or it would be better to go back to sleep for another six weeks, is a worthy antagonist. On the unprotected list in some of the states, the groundhog can be hunted any time of the year. Bowmen and riflemen who follow the sport of “hog” shooting frown on killing the animals until the young are able to take care of themselves. The young are born blind in late April or early May and in a few weeks time appear at the mouth of the burrow where they romp and play in the immediate vicinity under the watchful eye of the mother.
The success of the small game hunter will depend on his ability to locate game before it flushes from cover. Hitting a running target is a hundred to one shot for most of us. With our shot gun we tramp the cover to flush the game. We are not interested in sitting shots. We do not attempt to pick out details on the ground with our eyes. Rather we concentrate on picking up movement in the general area to our front. We depend on our skill with the gun to bag the game after it is flushed.Locating the elusive cottontail in his nest or set is an art which can be acquired. If you have learned to shoot accurately at short range with your bow, you stand a good chance of bagging your game, provided you can maneuver into position for an unobstructed shot.
It has been my good fortune to have done most of my gun hunting behind dogs. There is a pleasure in watching a good dog working at the job he loves best. Because I depended on the dog I have not learned the art of locating small game before it is flushed. On numerous occasions I have stood at the edge of a briar patch and searched carefully the area in my immediate vicinity. Convinced that it was devoid of game I have taken one additional step and to my chagrin out popped a rabbit, frequently not five paces from the place where I stood. Releasing a well placed arrow at a bunny as he zig zags through a brier patch is just wishful thinking on my part, and the shot frequently results in the loss of an arrow as my eyes continue to follow the rabbit and I fail to mark the location of the arrow or its flight as it may be widely deflected by striking a brier.
During a past small game season in Pennsylvania I was hunting with the bow in an old field which had patches of blackberry vines scattered in small clumps over the area. My bow attracted the attention of an “Old Timer” who was hunting with a long barrelled single shot 12 gauge, and he inquired about my luck. I sensed that he was a companionable sort of individual and so I explained my inability to locate a sitting rabbit.
“Don’t look for the rabbit,” said the “Old Timer” earnestly. “Look for the eye of the rabbit.” I wiped off the beginning of a smile as the old chap was serious and thought of what he had said. “True,” I mused. Every part of the rabbit blends into the immediate surroundings with one exception and that is the rabbit’s eyes. Perhaps the old chap had something. At least he had three rabbits hanging from his belt, each with the head shot cleanly off. Now I have three chinese chestnut trees growing on my land which produce a nice crop of nuts during the first days of September each year. It occurred to me that I had no difficulty spotting a chestnut on the ground under the tree at a distance of five paces and that a rabbit’s eye was somewhat similar in size and even in color. The reasoning appeared conclusive to me and I promptly proceeded to put the idea to test. Surprisingly I did see an eye before I made out the form of a rabbit sitting immovable in a set.
It is the habit of small game, especially rabbits, to seek safety by remaining perfectly still and to permit the hunter to walk past within a few feet of the place of concealment. However, game grows nervous and flushes if the bowman stops and stands quietly near by. Many small game hunters are well aware of this trait and they practice walking several paces in good cover and then stopping and standing still for an interval of time. If the game does not flush while the hunter is standing still, it invariably does as he takes his first step. This habit of game should be taken into consideration by the bowhunter in planning his movements. The bowman should move slowly and steadily through the cover. If, while walking, he spots a rabbit, the bowman should not stop and take a chance that the rabbit will not flush immediately, believing that its hiding place no longer offers security. The wiser choice is to continue walking slowly and draw and shoot. The bowman can even select the most favorable position from which to release the arrow to avoid hitting obstructions between the hunter and the game. If the bow hunter has already stopped when he locates the rabbit, the shot should be made without any further attempt to improve his position by even taking a single additional step. Too often just that one additional step will trigger the rabbit into flight. True, you have a choice and can take a chance that the game will stay put while you get into position. No rule is inviolate and game frequently escapes from the hunter by doing the unexpected. From bitter experience I now choose to take the shot just as I find it without trying to improve my shooting position.For small game shot on the ground, I prefer the broadhead. A head shot is preferable and will put the game down for keeps. It is not enough to be able to hit the game; the arrow must reach a vital area. I have seen a rabbit shot entirely through with a blunt, set off at full speed, dislodge the arrow within the first ten yards and escape.
Blunts are the choice and a necessity when shooting at treed squirrels. They are less liable to penetrate a limb from which they cannot be recovered by the bowman. The old squirrel hunter uses a trick which will improve the bowman’s chance of getting a shot at a squirrel. Walk quietly and steadily to within bow shot of a tree on which you see or hear squirrel working. Stand quietly for several minutes and if you are unable to spot the squirrel on your side of the tree toss a rock, piece of an old limb or even your hat to the far side. Any squirrel that was in the tree and did not have a hole into which it could disappear would, on seeing you approach the tree, immediately scurry around to the far side of the trunk in order to hide. When the rock or other object that you have thrown lands on the squirrel’s side of the tree, the squirrel will not think to investigate the source of the noise but will assume that you are now in position where he is visible, and will run around the trunk to your side. If, as you threw the object, you immediately started your draw, you will in all probability get a shot. The draw must be made before the squirrel puts in an appearance on your side of the tree or he will see the motion and keep right on going around the trunk.
A season or two of practice in stalking and shooting at small game during the regular small game season will enhance your chances of getting within bowshot of a buck in addition to affording you a lot of sport in its own right. If you can learn to hit a squirrel at twenty yards, then you won’t need an alibi for any deer that gets within reasonable bow shot. We learn by doing. Practice the art of stalking on the groundhog. The hog is ever alert to danger and goes quickly to ground on the slightest suspicion. Since he is not a speedy runner, the groundhog seldom wanders far from his burrow. A mis-step, a move at the wrong time on the part of the bow hunter, and the groundhog disappears. Learn to use the land as a protective screen between you and your quarry. If cover is low, don’t be ashamed to get down and crawl. Learn from your failures. You won’t feel nearly as let down when you stampede a chuck as you would be if your quarry was a deer.October, in those states favored with a forest growth of deciduous trees, is a glorious month. Pennsylvania, with its unique geographical position, has in kinds of trees native to the State; species, such as Shortleaf Pine, ordinarily a native of the deep south extends over Pennsylvania’s southern borderline, and Balsam Fir, from the far north thrives in northern portions of the State. With the first hint of frost the deciduous trees deck themselves in vivid splashes of color. Intermixed with the evergreens they present a gorgeous and eyefilling picture. Each day is a perfect day outdoors and the sunsets vie with the landscape in producing a flaming riot of color. An artist would be accused of attempting to gild the lily were he to reproduce the effect on canvas. Truly it can be said that the bowman who hunts in the fall of the year brings home a game bag filled with pleasant memories of natures wonderland at its best.
You may be one of the select few who are able to bag their deer with a bow, or you may be numbered among the thousands who have trophies of the bow season which consist of mental pictures of the days a field. Smell of wood smoke from a cooking fire, the priceless companionship of an understanding friend who knows our frailties and is willing to discount them, the crisp autumn nights, and the moon riding high and full in the heavens, all join together to erase our daily worries entirely from our minds. Deer feeding at night in the meadow lands adjacent to the highways are compensation enough for the one you are unable to locate during the daylight hours.
Grey squirrels busily engaged in filling the larder for the coming winter scamper back and forth on the forest floor, apparently oblivious to the bow hunter silently watching their antics. A ruffed grouse flies in and lands close by, so close that you can see the sparkle in its eye. You speak a word of greeting and in frantic haste he roars away in a great arc over the tops of the nearby hemlocks, demonstrating before your eyes that he does not need a running start to become air borne in a hurry. Slowly you move along, stopping at intervals to enjoy the ever changing panorama of wild life that moves across the scene. Deer materialize within your range of vision, but alas, not within range of your bow, their coats blending into the forest background so well that had they not moved you would have failed to see them. Two beavers busily engaged in building a dam in a small marsh where a brook winds back and forth apparently in a vain attempt to find an outlet attract your attention. You spend a delightful hour watching their aquatic maneuvers. Graceful swimmers and sleek in appearance when in the water, they move with an awkward gait on land. Disclosing your presence, a flat tail smacks the water and the beaver disappears beneath the surface of the water in a shower of spray. Later, screened by marsh grass, you record the same scene with the 16 millimeter movie camera for the family back home.In the early morning hours the sunlight filters down through the leaves of the tall oaks growing on the slope of the ridge above the cabin and projects an ever-changing pattern of lights and shadows on the carpet of leaves underfoot. A red fox chases a chipmunk across the woodland stage; there is one sharp squeak as they disappear into a nearby thicket, and in a short moment the fox reappears and trots up the slope and out of my sight. Another woodland tragedy has been staged in the fight for subsistence and survival. Later I pause to watch a silly looking animal crawling slowly out on a small limb of a white oak tree. It seems at first glance to be formless and without head or tail, but on closer scrutiny I finally recognize the fearless porcupine, whose whole attitude seems to portray complete indifference to your presence. Toward noon my feet have carried me into a stand of mixed oaks and clumps of beech; tell tale sign on the ground indicate the wild turkeys range. Keen of hearing and sharp of eye these wary birds can seldom be approached closely by the hunter. Fortune smiled and I stood in awe and counted 28 magnificent bronze backs walking across a sun splotched patch of the forest floor.
So vivid and priceless are these and many other scenes embedded in our memories that hitting the “Jackpot” under these conditions is almost an anticlimax. Nevertheless such was the good fortune of an acquaintance hunting in the northern tier counties of Pennsylvania, who downed a buck on the fourth day of the special archery season and on the opening day of the bear season just a month later shot a trophy black bear. Kohl was hunting with a companion in a wooded valley. It was about 9:30 in the morning and the partners were still hunting. Kohl had seen a legal buck in the previous day’s hunt but had not been able to get within bow range. This morning he had selected a stand among second growth timber in the valley where shooting conditions were favorable. Then Lady Luck tapped Kohl on the shoulder with her wand and he saw a six point whitetail walk into an open space at approximately fifty yards range. A wooden shafted, bodkin tipped arrow loosed from his fifty pound bow entered the chest cavity of the deer. The buck almost went to its knees and then recovered and ran a distance of seventy yards and went down for the last time. Kohl found trailing in the leaves extremely difficult as there were only a few drops of blood scattered at intervals along the trail. The deer was dead from internal bleeding when he finally located the animal. Kohl has been shooting a bow for about two and a half years. He has hunted fourteen years and says that he got more kick out of taking one deer with his bow than he would get if he killed a half a dozen with his rifle.
On the first day of the open season for bear in Pennsylvania, Kohl was back in the same territory. This time he was carrying his 300 Magnum equipped with a four power scope, and was one of the members of his hunting party standing on watch during the afternoon drive. Kohl’s stand was well up on the side of the mountain and he could look across the valley and command a good view of the low ridge bounding the opposite side of the valley and part of the slope of a higher ridge in the background. Other members of his party were stationed near the mouth of the valley below him. The drive was made along the mountain sides which encompass the valley. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon and the drive was well advanced when Kohl first sighted the bear travelling along the far hillside toward the mouth of the valley. Again Lady Luck intervened in Kohl’s behalf. Instead of continuing on its course down the valley, the bear, sensing some danger ahead, turned and started back up stream along the far slope of the mountain. Kohl estimated the range at 600 yards and in relating the story said that the bear, viewed at that distance did not appear to be a particularly large specimen. It turned out that the animal weighed 540 pounds hog-dressed, and while not the record for black bear taken in Pennsylvania is, nevertheless, an outstanding kill.The first shot was low and a complete miss. The bear appeared unconscious of the new danger and trotted along the side hill without changing direction. Holding higher, Kohl’s second shot apparently scored a hit as the bear suddenly increased its speed to a lope and disappeared into the valley between the ridges. Although the bear was now out of sight, Kohl could hear the animal moving on the far slope. The second shot, it developed later, had broken a hind leg and Kohl could follow the bear’s progress as it sounded as if the bear was slashing and biting at everything in its path. Several minutes passed, with Kohl wisely sweating it out, and the noise made by the approaching animal growing louder until the bear appeared on the crest of the nearer ridge and started down the slope toward the hunter. A third shot through the shoulder failed to stop the bear, but did slow its pace to a walk. Picking a small opening in the path of the oncoming bear, Kohl waited until the bear moved into the clearing and dropped it with a fourth shot through the head. When he reached the clearing the bear was dead and only then did Kohl realize what a magnificent specimen he had collected for his first bear. While by no means the largest of the carnivora which inhabit the North American continent, their presence in a state as highly industrialized as Pennsylvania is a credit to game management officials. More than 400 of these animals were taken by hunters during the 1954 open season.
Game belongs to the people. This has long been recognized in law. Hunting is a special privilege and is regulated by the States and the Federal Government. The privilege of hunting is not reserved to any special group. Every citizen who has reached the age at which he may purchase a license to hunt may take advantage of any phase of the sport. There are no exceptions to this rule. For every privilege we enjoy in life, we incur an obligation; and so every hunter is obligated to obey the law and protect and respect the rights of property owners.