According to Hunters' Specialties pro-staff member Matt Morrett of Harrisburg, far too many hunters take the wrong approach to the last week of Pennsylvania's two-week firearms deer season, which gets underway Monday.
Rather than review what they did in not filling a tag during the first week of the season, too many hunters keep hunting the same way the second week and put far too much pressure on themselves to get a deer. It has been his experience when hunting late in any season – including the firearms, post-Christmas archery and flintlock seasons – that those who change their tactics and slow down have the best chance of tagging a deer.
Morrett says that the same tactics that have helped him take deer in the late archery and flintlock seasons work just as well during the final days of the firearms season. And, they work in Pennsylvania just as well as they do in Kansas, South Carolina or New York.
"Late season is one of my favorite times to hunt, because during the late season, the rut is over, so, you don't have to worry about the deer moving a lot," Morrett said. "Bucks have one thing on their mind in the late season – food.
"When the weather's cold, the food is in short supply, and the deer have to move every day to find something to eat. Therefore, once a food source is located, be assured that the deer visit regularly, whether it's in open woods or around agricultural fields.
"These locations are where to set-up a tree stand or a ground blind and know there is a reasonable chance of taking deer. Most of the time, deer won't bed too far away from their feeding site.
"My favorite time to hunt is the last 1-1/2-hours before dark because that's when the deer will come to a food source to eat, and to successfully take deer don't overlook the importance of using scent-elimination products before going on stand and prepare to hunt. Even in rifle season, the biggest hindrance from being successful in the late season is if deer smell human scent before they come to the dinner table."
Morrett said one of the biggest mistakes hunters make in the cold weather is to overdress when going to their deer stand. Once they stop walking, they become cold because they sweat, which also increases human odor.
"Hunters try to stay too warm when moving to their stand," Morrett said. "In the late season, it's usually really cold, so most hunters wear all the clothing they think they'll need to stay warm in the woods.
"Then, the hunter will walk to the stand or climb halfway up a mountain, get really warm and sweaty and sit down to hunt with moisture trapped in their clothes and heat leaving their clothes, making them extremely cold. A much better tactic is to dress in layers and pack in heavy outer garments until getting on stand.
"Another good idea is to wear Medalist clothing with SilverMax, which prevents bacteria from growing to eliminate scent, keeps warm air close to the body and wicks moisture away from the skin. I'll wear a lightweight Medalist T-shirt, a heavier weight Medalist base layer, a fleece layer and finally, I'll carry a waterproof, windproof, bulky outer layer in a scent-free bag.
"I want to be cool as I walk to the stand to prevent sweating and keep my clothes dry. Once I reach the base of my tree or get inside a ground blind, I'll put on my outer layer of clothing, and this way, I stay much dryer and warmer than some hunters."
Even during firearms seasons Morrett says he showers with Hunter's Specialties Scent-A-Way soap, washed his clothes in Scent-A-Way detergent and keeps his hunting clothes in Scent-Safe bags. This is especially important when setting up close to a food source.
"I hunt 30 yards from where I expect the deer to eat, and anyone who has ever been to Texas and watched Texas hunters hunt over spin feeders, know they don't take stands on any of the four or five trails that may lead to the feeder," Morrett said. "Texas hunters position themselves so they can shoot right to the feeder, since that's where the deer come to eat.
"When I'm hunting in Pennsylvania, I want to hunt right over the food source. Then regardless of which way the deer come to the food source, I'll get a shot."