Gunning for deer in close quarters presents challenges, opportunities
November 23, 2013 8:13 PM
Jake Dingel/Pennsylvania Game Commission
Recovery can be difficult in heavy brush. Taking an ethical shot is more important than ever.
By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For the deer, hiding is a no-brainer. Comfortable, routine behaviors changed weeks ago when the first does entered estrus. And in the darkness before the dawn on the opening day of the statewide firearm deer season -- as the whitetails smell, hear and see the strange two leggers entering the forest -- they know something is up.
It's no accident when you see deer sign but see no deer. They're there -- crawling under dense rose bushes, lying motionless under twisted grape tangles, smartly holed up in hemlock groves and grouse thickets so rough, so inaccessible, they're certain you won't find them there.
Under some conditions, that's exactly where to go.
"That's what we do up here" in the big woods of the Pennsylvania Wilds, said Jerry Curreri, a hunting guide and owner of Campbell Creek Outfitters and Hunt Club, a fenceless fair-chase property surrounded on three sides by State Game Land 37 in Tioga County.
A hunter with 40 years experience, Curreri suggested there's nothing wrong with traditional firearm deer hunting strategies, including conducting organized drives, posting on cuts and trails and staking out feeding areas. But in some conditions, he said, hunters should consider entering the thickest brush around to take on deer at close range.
"There are a few ways to do it, and they all can work," he said. "Sometimes these deer can be very close -- 10 yards away. I haven't shot a deer beyond 40 yards in 20 years."
Don't even think of sneaking up on a wary whitetail. You can't. Close range brush hunting involves conducting a well-orchestrated mini-drive to bust them out of heavy cover, or carefully posting inside the brush and waiting for the deer to return.
Brush hunting can be effective when the deer are holed up tight due to bad weather or heavy hunting pressure. It's a good strategy for solo hunters and those using rifles or slug guns with iron sights.
Mini-drives through brush are managed differently than traditional drives.
As always, pre-hunt scouting is vital. In addition to searching for small plots of dense cover (50 yards by 100 yards) and evidence of recent bedding, Curreri said it's important to anticipate where the deer will exit and where it's likely to run when flushed.
"In bedding areas, as soon as we find sign we back out of the area as quickly as possible," he said. "Sometimes we use binoculars to look for scrapes and footprints, then we let the area sit for two days."
Curreri notes the direction of prevailing winds and topographical or habitat features that create a funnel through which the deer are likely to think escape will be fast, easy and safe.
On the day of the mini-drive, scent-controlled hunters on post stealthily take position upwind of the brush overlooking choke points, and planning their shots for after the deer pass them -- absolutely no shooting in the direction of the drivers.
The drivers approach softly from downwind.
"If there's frost, we'll wait until after 10 o'clock when it melts so it's not crunchy," said Curreri. "We don't want to approach fast and loud [making] the deer panic. We want them to move out slowly well ahead of the drivers, thinking they're outsmarting them going through these funnel areas."
Solo hunting in heavy brush, a gunner needs to think like an archer. Personal hygiene and scent control of clothing, boot soles and all gear is important. An hour or more before sunrise, the hunter moves slowly and quietly into a thick bedding area. If the deer are there, they'll move out.
"We get in there and hang a crawler stand and wait for the deer to come back," said Curreri. "It takes patience. It might be 11 hours or more, or it might not come back for days. You've to play the wind -- a smart old deer will come back from the downwind direction trying to catch your scent. And it will be very quiet -- you might not see it until it's 12 yards away."
Hunting at close range, there's no use for telescopic sights. Curreri uses a .30-30 Winchester Model 94 with 170-grain bullets and iron sights.
"There's a whole other part of hunting in brush," he said. "Taking a good ethical clean shot. In thick cover, you really have to pick your shot. Don't just try to blast through brush. If you wound a deer in that cover, recovery is really difficult."
Campbell Creek Outfitters and Hunt Club can be reached at 908-433-8896, firstname.lastname@example.org and www.padeerhunt.com/page/page/2525173.htm.
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