Shortest Season Ever
When I first started archery hunting in the late '90s, there were no antler restrictions in Pennsylvania. Being new to the sport, I wanted to harvest any animal I could with my bow. I got my first taste of success with my bow in 1997 when I harvested a half-rack two-point. Archery hunting became my addiction, and I loved the rush from being so close to whitetail deer.
Wanting to spend more time archery hunting, I joined a hunting lease with some friends in 1999. The lease was in Grand Valley, Pennsylvania, and there were five hundred acres that I could hunt. My friend Tiger Biletnikoff and I would drive to the lease any chance we could to explore. We would walk for hours and mark places for treestands for the upcoming season. I enjoyed the time with Tiger and learning about the property and the terrain.
On the first day of the '99 whitetail rifle season, I chose to sit in a stand overlooking a large oak flat. Early that morning, I watched several does come in and feed on acorns. A shot broke the silence from the neighboring property, and I saw three does and a seven-point enter the oak flat.
Slowly I reached for my Ruger 30-06. Shouldering the rifle and looking through the scope, I was able to see the buck in an opening. My crosshairs floated on the front shoulder of the deer, and I squeezed the trigger. The buck disappeared from my view, and I knew I had made a perfect shot.
It didn't take long to get down from the stand and locate my trophy. The deer fell precisely where I saw him in my scope. I was excited to harvest the deer on the lease, but I wanted to shoot a deer with my bow on this new property. I would have to wait until the fall of 2000 to hunt with my bow again.
During the summer of 2000, I spent countless hours at the lease scouting deer. Tiger and I hung some new stands on the oak flat where I killed my buck in 99'. The oak trees were full of acorns, and we both agreed this would make a perfect early-season stand placement. Together we hung a lock-on stand in a cluster of cherry trees and waited for the first Saturday of the Pennsylvania archery season.
Tiger and I spent the rest of the summer shooting our bows, so we were ready for any shots that would come our way. The night before the Saturday opener Tiger and I made our final plans for our hunt the next day. We agreed that it was imperative to arrive at the lease early to climb into our stands before daybreak.
On the road at 4 am was the plan. I followed Tiger to the lease, and we both parked at the gas well. Lights from my truck bed help me pack my bow, quiver, and snacks. Tiger headed to his stand in the draw below the oak flat, and I went to my stand in the cluster of cherry trees.
The weather for the first morning was perfect! Temps in the high 40's would have deer on their feet feeding before going to bed. Acorns littered the forest floor and made it difficult to walk. At times I felt like I was walking on marbles. I was optimistic about climbing into my stand for the morning hunt.
In the darkness, I listened to the woods come alive. Birds began to sing, and I could hear the soft crunching of leaves. In the east, the first orange plumes of light broke through the treetops. Peering through the woods, I could see a few silhouettes of deer feeding on acorns.
Closely watching the feeding deer on the oak flat, I heard heavier steps in the leaves coming from behind me. Cautiously I looked over my shoulder to see what was walking towards me. I was surprised to see a single mature doe feeding all by herself without any fawns. The doe would walk a few yards and then vacuum up acorns and chew them up. I could hear the doe chewing up each delicious treat she found on the ground.
My wife wanted some fresh venison for the freezer, and I had an antlerless tag for the lease. The doe was going to be in one of my shooting lanes after taking a few more steps. While seated in my stand, I reached for my bow and turned towards my shooting lane. Taking a deep breath and drawing my bow, I found the deer's vitals in my peep.
In a flash, the arrow passed through the deer's vitals. The doe looked around and returned her attention to the acorns. I watched as blood began to pour out of the exit would. The doe kept eating and never knew she was mortally hit. I watched as the doe started to tip over and fall to the ground. My heart was racing from the adrenalin rush, but I needed to wait a few minutes to ensure the doe expired.
In the stand, I filled out my antlerless tag and then climbed down to tag my deer. I couldn't believe how quickly the hunt had taken place. Once I tagged the doe, I dragged her to the logging road. Looking at my watch, I realized it was only 8:30 am, and I didn't have to meet Tiger until noon.
As I walked back to my stand, I saw more deer casually eating acorns on the oak flat. I climbed the steps to my treestand and attached my safety harness. I figured that my chances of harvesting another deer were slim, but I was going to see if I could get lucky and shoot a buck.
Looking over my shoulder, I saw two does walking towards my stand. These two deer came close to my stand and ate acorns. The two does gorged themselves with as many acorns as they could eat. Suddenly, both of the does turned to look at something walking our way. I figured it would be another doe or a squirrel.
The two does casually moved away from my stand but kept staring in the direction of the footsteps I could hear. The steps got louder and closer, and I finally turned my head to see what was coming. Right away, I could tell the deer was a buck. My heart was in my throat as I was unprepared for the buck. The buck walked directly under my stand, and this allowed me to reach for my bow.
Composing myself, I was able to draw my bow and find the buck in my peep. Making a low grunt with my mouth, I stopped the deer in my shooting lane at 15 yards. The pin floated behind the deer's front shoulder, and I remember watching the arrow pass through the side of the buck. The deer kicked his legs and took off like a cork shot out of a bottle. I watched with anticipation as the buck began to wobble and go down.
Overcome by the shakes, I struggled to hang my bow on the hanger. Did I fill both of my tags on the first day of the archery season? I had to look to see what time it was, and my watch read 9:30 am. My Pennsylvania deer season was over for the year before 10 am on the first day. I was speechless!
Gathering all of my belongings, I slowly descended the ladder to the ground. I walked over to where the buck stood and found my arrow. The arrow was coated in bright red lung blood, and the blood trail started immediately. I didn't need to follow the blood trail since the deer was already on the ground about 80 yards away, but I wanted to practice the skill of blood trailing.
Following the bright red blood that decorated the leaves on the forest floor was easy. The buck sprayed lung blood all over the foliage. After a short tracking job, I reached my trophy. Taking off my backpack and laying my bow on the ground, I filled out my archery tag and placed it in the ear of my buck. I couldn't believe my luck for the day. I reached into my pack, grabbed my phone, and dialed Tiger's number.
The phone rang four times, and Tiger finally answered. Tiger asked if I was in danger because it was still early in the morning hunt. I asked him if he would come and help me track my deer. Tiger said he would help if I had shot a buck. I told him I hit a buck and needed help tracking. Tiger said he would come up right away and give me a hand.
Waiting patiently for Tiger to come up the draw to the oak flat was killing me. My buck died near the draw, and I knew Tiger would be heading up the hill directly towards me. I could hear Tiger's footsteps before I could see him. As Tiger closer the distance, I began to chuckle to myself. I waited until Tiger got fifty yards away before calling out to him. Tiger started walking towards me and stopped once he saw my buck.
Together Tiger and I dragged the deer towards the logging road. I made sure that we pulled the buck to where my doe was waiting. When we reached the logging road, Tiger stopped and looked at me. He asked, "Did you kill a doe?" He could tell by the grin on my face that I didn't need to answer his question.
Tiger walked back to get his camera, and I went to get my truck. We met back at the spot where my deer were and took photos. Tiger couldn't believe that I filled both of my deer tags before noon on opening morning. After taking pictures, I drove directly to the deer processor to have the deer processed into chops, burger, and jerky. I don't know if I will ever fill my tags any quicker than I did that opening day in 2000.