When Jeremiah Johnson – as portrayed in the film of the same name by Robert Redford – asked where he could find critters to hunt and trap, he was pointed in the direction of the Rocky Mountains.
Like the mountain men of the Fur Trade Era, today's flintlock hunters, too, think about the deer to be had in the mountains. As this year's flintlock season, which opens Thursday, Dec. 26, and runs through Saturday, Jan. 11, approaches, however, those hunters are more likely to find late-season success by focusing on pockets of deer holding in small wood lots.
With snow cover remaining in many areas, the temptation to head for the hills can be difficult to suppress. At this time of year, however, sooner or later deer are going to seek shelter in small, patches of woods.
Because of this, the results of the hunt can be especially rewarding for those who are confident enough and persistent enough to follow through on their decision to hunt small patches of woods, rather than the mountain forests. In particular, it is the wood lots near residential areas that are the most productive.
At this time of year, hunting success can also be had on many of the State Game Lands that border these areas. Most of that success is enjoyed by those who scout the travel routes of deer, who return to their mountain sanctuaries after feeding in the fields and orchards below.
Even more productive is concentrating on small patches of woods adjacent to farm fields with crops and/or residential developments. While such locations of public land are less numerous than those in such popular out-of-state destinations found in the South and Midwest, it is well worth the extra time and effort to secure permission to hunt private land.
For years, those who hunt in the Special Regulation Areas of the Southeast Region have targeted these areas. In recent years, as the population of the deer herds and the financial havoc they inflict on home owners increases, so too has the number of those giving hunters permission to hunt their property.
Throughout Wildlife Management Unit 5C, where flintlock season reopens Monday, Jan. 13, and is open through Saturday, Jan. 25, for those with tags, land access is a bigger problem than a declining herd. For flintlock hunters who have not taken a buck, they can use the back tag of their hunting license to take a buck or doe during this extended season.
While liberal antlerless allocations has resulted in a decrease of the overall deer population statewide, antler restrictions designed to prevent the taking of younger bucks has produced a better buck-to-doe ratio and an increase in the number of more mature bucks with larger racks. Many of these larger and smarter mature bucks have learned to seek safety in less-pressured areas, like the small wood lots in residential areas, and can be found in flintlock season.
For those hunting with a bow during the final week of the late archery/flintlock seasons, the safety zone is 50 yards. Flintlock hunters must abide by the 150-yard safety zone regulation for all firearms.
For those hunting with a flintlock during the final week, it is fine to recapture the spirit of the mountain men. They are more likely to fill a tag, however, by hunting like their Colonial ancestors in the wood lots near civilization.