Changing your tactics can make all the difference when you're hunting solo for deer
Deer can be hard to hunt when you're alone. Create advantages by thoroughly scouting before the hunt and anticipating the actions of other hunters.
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Much of the fun in hunting is the camaraderie shared with hunting buddies, including members of the family.
But these days, with some people updating resumes while their friends spend long hours on the job, it can be tough to drum up enough camaraderie to organize a decent drive.
Solo rifle deer hunting can be difficult, especially after the first shot of opening day (the statewide season starts Nov. 26). In most areas it's the height of the rut and the deer are crazy, but whitetails quickly become aware of the increased human company and can grow more skittish, or snuggle into an impassable thicket and stay put.
But with careful consideration of the actions of deer and the more predictable actions of people, solo hunters can put themselves in the best positions to get off a shot.
"It's difficult to hunt by yourself," said Frank Kane Jr., owner and chief hunting guide at Straight Shooters Guide Service in Northumberland County. "I hunt alone a lot and have learned there are ways to make it work."
The greatest disadvantage to hunting on your own involves safety. In populated areas, a hunter with an emergency is more likely to flag down some help. But in remote locales -- "like some of the state game lands out your way," said Kane -- isolation comes at a cost. Something bad happens -- a broken ankle, heart attack or worse -- and you're stuck in the woods, maybe in a cellular dead zone, maybe overnight.
"Tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back," he said. "When you're hunting by yourself, bring matches and a first-aid kit and be prepared to spend the night. Leave a little piece of paper on your dashboard with your name and an emergency number, just in case."
Biologist and outdoors writer Robert T. Hilliard of Beaver County often hunts alone. Parts of his independently published 2012 book "A Season on the Allegheny" recount his solo hunts somewhere in the 513,175-acre Allegheny National Forest.
"In this day and age, Google Earth is your best friend," he said. "Before I go out, I look at terrain, look for escape cover. Very rarely in rifle season do I bother to hunt food sources."
If you do, keep in mind that the state Game Commission reports low acorn production in Somerset County and perhaps other parts of southwestern Pennsylvania. In those areas, find pockets of mast and post yourself there before dawn.
Strangers usually don't collaborate on drives and posting patterns. But anticipating the actions of other hunters can give the advantage to a savvy solo hunter.
"I'm looking for places where deer will run to once the shooting starts," said Hilliard. "I take advantage of a place they might be hunkering down, or I'll sit on a trail or streambed."
Intentionally jumping into a drive in which you weren't invited is a breach of sportsmanship, ethics and safety. But there's nothing wrong with predicting hunter activity and posting outside a drive at an unguarded escape route. Knowing where hunters park their cars means you know the direction they'll be walking, often in groups, at the beginning and end of their hunts. That moves deer. With safety in mind, put yourself on post at a strategic position.
Kane likes to stay mobile while targeting escape cover and topographical pinch points.
"To me hunting by myself is mostly moving. I'll look for a hollow, an opening in thick brush, any exit point a deer would take if chased," he said. "I'll play the wind and walk slowly -- very slowly and more quietly than you would in a drive. Maybe I'll jump that deer. I'll walk the base of a big hill or in thickets, coming in from an angle where I'll get a shot if it runs out the other side."
Wind and wet leaves camouflage the sound of crunching footsteps, creating an advantage for a solo hunter moving slowly and quietly. In unpleasant weather, when hunters and the deer are hunkered down, keep moving among pine overhangs and grape thickets.
"When you're hunting alone, you have to use every advantage you can," said Kane. "This might sound stupid, but change your view. Get down in a squatting position while you're looking around. You'll be surprised how much it changes how you see things."
First Published November 18, 2012 12:00 am