Having just wrapped up another fulfilling hunting season at the time of this writing, I can’t help but sit at my desk and reflect upon the changes that the past two years have brought to all of our lives. We have had months of disruption, dysfunction, and chaos. Several of the trade shows we’d booked to attend have been canceled along with several hunts. Manufacturing supply chains have come to a screeching halt for the most part; and as we sheltered in place with the rest of the industry, we scram- bled to make certain that our deadlines and commitments could be met. With more downtime on my hands than normal, I set out to write my second book, and spend more time hunting locally until the travel restrictions were loosened.
Back in January, having just received the first new model crossbow of the year, I took to the field in my home state with a couple of antlerless tags in my pocket. A wet heavy snow had blanketed the landscape and a brisk wind whistled through the treetops as I slowly and meticulously made my way towards the pre-hung treestand. The slate gray afternoon sky looked ominous on the horizon as I ascended towards my perch and settled in for the two-hour hunt. Covert Scouting Cameras had revealed a large family group of antlerless deer frequenting this area. It was with great anticipation that I intended to ventilate one of them on this day.
As the first hour tarried away, I perused the local weather app on my phone and planned my next day’s hunt regardless of the outcome of the current hunt. A warm-up was forecast in the coming days and it would no doubt have the local deer up and moving during the daytime. I was down to only a hand full of days in this late-season, and my hunts had to be planned as precision strikes as opposed to picking an area and hoping for the best.
Finally, in the distance, I spotted movement. Not one, but eight does were headed in my direction in a single line. Covering the seventy-five yards took them little time as they moved with purpose towards their afternoon food source. Occasionally, one or two in the group would get sidetracked; but for the most part, they were in a steady cadence on a path that would lead them directly in front of my stand. Trying to the best of my ability to pick out an adult doe from the group that wasn’t accompanied by any offspring, I settled the crosshairs and killed my first animal of 2021.
Three days later I was back in a stand enjoying the warmer temperatures listening to the steady dripping that surrounded me as winter temporarily melted away from the landscape. I’d also hunted the previous day with no deer sightings, but my season was now down to hours instead of days. This day my thoughts had been preoccupied with a call I’d received earlier. It was now official. The Crossbow Magazine spring bear hunt in Ontario, Canada, had once again been canceled and rescheduled for the fall. I was contemplating what other options were available to fill the bear hunting void when the snapping of a twig brought me back to the matter at hand.
Shifting slightly in the stand, I positioned myself for a better view of the approaching doe as she browsed her way towards my direction. She was in range but screened by a tangle of greenbrier and goldenrod. Time was on my side; as long she continued forward, she’d offer a shot. If she turned and went back in the direction from which she came, it was game over. Finally, after many tedious minutes, the lone doe stepped clear of the brush tangle and after a 40-yard tracking job, my second animal of the year was recovered.
As the first of the year progressed, the hits kept coming. The Crossbow Magazine wild boar hunt scheduled for February in the low country of South Carolina had been canceled indefinitely because of the lingering pandemic restrictions. With product beginning to pile up for testing, the decision was made to try to get another hog hunt booked somewhere in the states ASAP. Finally, after nearly exasperating every available option, a hunt date was confirmed, and the CBM Field Gear Editor, Gene Schang, and I loaded up and headed east.
My morning hunt had been a complete bust–but what a great day it was to be in the woods with a crossbow in my hands. As the afternoon adventure commenced, Gene headed off into the bottoms as I started back towards a distant ridge top. We hadn’t been separated long when he relayed that he’d spotted a big boar headed up over the ridge behind me. I immediately reversed course, and the race was on. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it headed off as it passed by quickly following four other smaller hogs. It was game on now, and I was determined to stay in contact with the group because this had been my best opportunity.
The group kept moving, staying about 60 yards ahead of me. As long as they were moving, I could keep up the fast pace because of the noise the leaf litter created under their hooves. Finally, after about 100 yards, the group began to slow and check their back trail. I immediately slammed myself into a tree and tried to make myself as narrow as possible. It seemed to work for a time; but as I tried to close the distance on the now resting group, they spotted me, and off again they went.
The big boar had now moved to the front of the group, and he was getting into the wind in a hurry. Down the ridge, they went with me trying to keep up at almost a full run. Just as my brain started to tell me to let them go, and with the group almost out of sight, I saw them slow to a near stop once again. I slowly made my way from tree to tree until the group once again began to move. I’d cut the distance to 40 yards and when they stopped again, I was in crossbow range but the big boar still leading the group was shielded by the other smaller hogs. As I tried to move parallel to them to get a clear shot, they picked me off again and the race was back on.
Down into the valley, they went at full speed and try as I might. I couldn’t keep up with them this time. Thinking that I’d lost them for good, I watched helplessly as they approached a stream in the distant bottom. Fortunately, as soon as they crossed, they stopped to drink. Painstakingly slow, I moved towards the group as they finally seemed content and began to wallow in the mud. It was a warm sunny day and they were as tired from the afternoon jaunt as I was. As I neared the 30- yard mark once again, the big boar picked me off and began to quickly move up the opposing ridge. He was quartering away hard and about to break into a run when I threw the crossbow to my shoulder and touched it off. The arrow broke the last two ribs on his left side, completely penetrated his skull, and exited in front of the right eye. The big boar quickly went up over the ridge and out of sight spewing blood with each step.
The rest of the hogs slowly made their way up the ridge oblivious to what had just transpired. After a 15-minute wait, I took up the blood trail. I could easily follow the trail without effort. As I crested the ridge top, the boar was lying in clear view. After a deep breath, a sigh of relief, and a quick prayer, I checked my cell phone’s time and health data app. It revealed that I’d covered nearly 4.0 miles while trying to get a shot at the boar. 2021 had knocked us around a good bit, but we were far from out, and now I had a freezer full of bacon to prove it.
Back in my home state of Pennsylvania, the spring turkey season was set to commence in May. With two spring gobbler tags in my possession and several weeks of preseason scouting under my belt, the opener couldn’t arrive soon enough. Like most things in 2021, the turkey season proved to be very challenging. The opener found me in one of my favorite turkey woods, but I was surrounded by hens and Jakes this day. After working the birds in front of the blind and giving them a pass, a shotgun blast broke the serenity of the morning from the direction the flock had headed. The next two weeks continued to be a lesson in futility from uncooperative birds and interference from fellow hunters.
Once again returning to my opening day haunt two hours before daybreak, I was disappointed to find my blind had been vandalized, but not discouraged enough to abandon the hunt. Someone had removed all of the rods from the inside of the blind and stolen my chair. It had little effect on the setup. Even though the top of the blind was now sagging very low it worked out nearly perfectly because I had to sit on the ground anyway. This modified situation wasn’t nearly as comfortable on my backside, but it was far from debilitating.
As the blackness began surrendering its hold on the landscape, I could hear the hen talk begin down in the hollow. A short time later, I joined in on the conversation with my custom-made Gizzo turkey call. Not one, but two gobblers opened up within 100-yards of my position. My heart rate increased immediately, but I wasn’t convinced I was conversing with a long beard. The gobbles didn’t sound overly throaty, and they were very near the same location as the Jakes two weeks prior. Nonetheless, I played the game, and when I heard the thunderous wingbeats of at least one of the gobblers pitching down in my direction, I readied the crossbow.
First, a hen popped into view and then another. To my great surprise, a strutting long beard was following close behind. As the trio closed the distance to 20-yards, I waited for the perfect broadside shot on the strutter and then promptly sent an arrow through him. After thanking the good Lord and gathering up my feathery bounty, I began to assess my blind situation now that it was daylight. Fortunately, the dirtbag who had vandalized it was not a thief. Lying down over a small embankment behind the blind were my chair and the fiberglass rods. With every- thing properly restored, I packed up and headed out anticipating my next adventure with the crossbow.
As the turkey season continued, the spring foliage was now turning into summer bloom which called for a tactic change. I would switch from hunting the hills and hollows to the open- ness of plowed fields and green pastures. It was also during this time frame that confirmation came through that the Quebec moose hunt that I had booked for September had been permanently canceled. A few days later the Crossbow Maga- zine fall bear hunt had once again been postponed due to the border mandates. The hits just kept coming with no end in sight, but there was still some great hunting to be done locally and stateside.
Finally, towards the end of May, it came together for me once again as a very vocal, late morning, love-sick gobbler answered my every call, and spit and drummed its way into its final demise. Just like that, my 2021 spring turkey season was a wrap. Now the priority was to try to find additional hunting opportunities to fill the void created by the fall hunt cancellations. Unfortunately, as the restrictions from the Covid mandates raged into the summer, we were left with very few hunting options. So, another southern hog hunt was booked, but this time a band of merry companions would accompany Gene and me. The break from reality was refreshing, and the camaraderie was enjoyed immensely. The group found success quickly and frequently, but I’d yet to lose an arrow late into the hunt. Finally, a decent hog was spotted near a wallow during the heat of midday.
The hog’s red color blended in perfectly with the muddy banks of the water hole, and what was initially thought to be a single hog was two. Needing to close the distance to bow range, I quietly maneuvered my way through the grove of trees that sat adjacent to the wallow and set up on a downed tree within 20 yards of the now nervous hogs. While getting into position, I pondered how best to get the hogs onto their feet for the proper shot angle, but somehow they sensed something was amiss and started to hastily vacate the area just as the cross- hairs settled on the shoulder of the closest hog. The shot was true and the hog expired in the wallow, not traveling more than 10-yards.
As the dog days of summer turned into early fall, I set my sights on the upcoming Pennsylvania archery deer and bear sea- sons. With more time on my hands than usual because of the government-mandated protocols, nearly every day was spent scouting and running Covert Scouting Cameras in the vast swamps of northern Pennsylvania in pursuit of a world class black bear and in the agriculture areas of western Pennsylvania where big bucks were known to roam.
The archery deer season opened first with archery bear season following two weeks later. I had my eye on a unique 10-point that was probably the most patternable buck I’d ever encountered. He wasn’t huge by any stretch of the imagination, but he had a very unique high and narrow rack that I knew would surpass my personal 125” minimum standard. I’m typically not much of an early-season hunter, but this buck was an exception.
He was bedding nearly every day in a small brushy area that was located inside of a 20-acre cornfield. The farmer would be taking the corn off within the coming weeks so I needed to strike early because I had no idea where the buck would relocate to once the corn was gone. He was entering the field at nearly the same spot every day fifteen minutes after daybreak so the window of opportunity would be short but exploitable. The plan was to hunt the buck every time that I had a favorable wind.
As luck would have it, the opener found me set up just inside the woods off of the cornfield. Shooting light arrived at about 7:00 am, and I was perched with crossbow in hand and on high alert. I knew if it was going to happen, it would be within the next fifteen minutes. Typically, I like to drink in the dawning of a new day and all of the beauty associated with God’s creation, but this day I was in extremely focused predator mode. As the minutes ticked away, I couldn’t believe the buck had not shown itself.
Breaking my concentration, I pulled my phone from my pocket to check the time. 7:15! My thoughts scattered as I couldn’t believe the buck was a no-show. As I slowly returned the phone to my pocket and looked around, there he was. When I’d hung the stand, I was anticipating a 20-yard shot but I’d mis- calculated the killing zone and the buck was now right on top of me. I slowly eased the crossbow to my shoulder and held as low on the buck as I thought possible and touched off the shot at 8-yards. The hit was a little high but still looked good considering the downward angle. The buck spun around, ran 20-yards, and stopped to look around. Minutes later it started staggering and went down within sight. The 127” buck was my thirteenth Pennsylvania buck scoring over 125” and it was on the ground twenty minutes into the season.
I’d like to say that two weeks later I went on to kill that world- class black bear that I’d been targeting, but it was not meant to be. Not only did I not kill it, but I also never even had a single encounter with it. I did have five other bruins in bow range throughout the three-week bow season, but I was never able to get an unobstructed shot off at any of them with the exception being that of two cubs which got a pass. Regardless, bow- hunting Pennsylvania black bears is fast becoming my favorite outdoor passion. The good Lord willing, I will encounter the large bear in 2022.
As the fall of 2021 turned into winter, life had finally returned to some form of normalcy. The 2022 ATA Show went off as scheduled and manufacturers are finally able to get the much-needed materials to produce their great products. I se- cured two new model crossbows late in the year and was able to get in a successful late-season hunt with each model.
Often when we’re in the middle of a situation that’s completely out of our control it’s difficult to keep it in a proper perspective. As this past year transpired, it seemed like a complete bust as far as hunting was concerned but taking the time to reflect on what occurred, in reality, it turned out to be quite a successful season even though there were continuous disruptions. Sometimes there’s no better way to endure the present than by reflecting on the past to better understand the current situation — even when it comes to hunting.