Even for the most skillful of spot-and-stalk hunters, getting close enough to pressured deer to take a shot can be an unrealistic expectation and a frustrating experience during the second week of Pennsylvania's firearms deer season, which closes a week from today.
For that reason, Hunter's Specialties pro-staff member Rick White suggests hunters take a page from Bowhunting 101 and use a treestand the final week of the firearms deer season. White, an Iowa native who hunts whitetail deer and represents Hunter's Specialties at seminars throughout the country, also says treestands can be effective during PA's post-Christmas flintlock muzzleloader season.
While the majority of White's seminars are designed for bowhunters, he also gets many questions from both high-power rifle and muzzleloader hunters. His advice in most cases is if rifle hunters approach a situation with the mindset of a bowhunter they will usually have a bigger advantage because they are hunting with a superior tool.
"One of the questions I'm most-often asked is how high I put my treestand off the ground, and the advantage rifle hunters have is that can go as high as a tree will support, or as low as they feel comfortable," White said. "When trying to decide how high to hang my tree stand, I look at the terrain and the foliage in the areas where I hunt.
"If I have a choice, I'd rather hang my stand about 20 feet high, but some areas won't allow you to hunt that high, especially when hunting in thick cover that you can't see through 20 feet in the air, and some places don't have trees large enough to allow you to climb that high.
"Some bowhunters believe that the higher you climb in a tree, the higher you get your scent off the ground and the less likely the deer will be able to smell you and spook. That isn't so important for rifle hunters, and you'll be more consistent with your shooting than if you climb higher."
White said that no matter how high he climbs and no matter if he is hunting with a bow or a rifle he relies on a "True Talker" grunt tube by Hunter's Specialties to stop a moving deer. He also said that even during the late seasons, when the secondary rut is a factor, he uses the call every 15-20 minutes to attract deer.
Many rifle hunters are unaware that the secondary rut, and during the pre-rut evening hunts are especially productive in feeding areas. Here again, rifle hunters can have an advantage over bowhunters because bucks in particular often use several trails to approach an area, which makes them difficult to pattern for bow range.
A common mistake often made by rifle hunters is overlooking the importance of being a scent free as possible and avoid leaving human odor by touching as little as possible. Just because a treestand is high enough to provide a long-range rifle shot over cover, it is important to remember that deer have been pressured and may approach from an unexpected direction and detect human scent.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is that even hunters who may not have done preseason scouting have been able to pattern a buck simply by observing old scrapes and rub lines while hunting. Many times, hunters will erect a stand in these areas, but a better choice may be to find newer trails or escape routes because there is a good chance a deer may have been shot at and is now avoiding its primary trails.
For that reason, climbing stands or ladder stands are usually a better choice than hunting from a permanent stand. There is no debating that using a climber or ladder stands takes a lot more time and effort than hunting from a permanent stand, but the potential rewards are also much greater.
Another important consideration is how much deer habits can change even from the second week of December, which ends the rifle season in Pennsylvania, to the end of the flintlock muzzleloader season. This year, the statewide flintlock season opens Monday, Dec. 26, and ends, Monday, Jan. 16, however, in Wildlife Management Unit the season extends until Saturday, Jan. 28.
So, for hunters looking to fill a tag next week, using a treestand could be productive.