As a member of the Hunter's Specialties pro-staff, Matt Morrett of Harrisburg has the opportunity to hunt deer from the Northeast to the Great Plains to the Deep South.
That said, one of the most enjoyable times of the year for Morrett to hunt deer is during his native state's post-Christmas flintlock muzzleloader season. This year, the statewide season opens Monday, Dec. 26, and in order to give many hunters the opportunity to take advantage of an extra day off from work and school, ends Monday, Jan. 16.
In Wildlife Management Unit 5C, flintlock hunters in possession of their buck tag are able to take an antlered or antlerless deer until Saturday, Jan. 28. Antlerless hunting for those using modern firearms is also open in 5C until January 28.
"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.
"Because 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 you can locate a food source the deer visit regularly, whether it's in open woods or around agricultural fields, you know where to set-up a tree stand or a ground blind and have a reasonable chance of taking deer.
"Most of the time the deer won't bed too far away from the feeding site. My favorite time to hunt is the last hour and a half before dark because that's when the deer will come to a food source to feed. To successfully take deer consistently, I use Scent-A-Way scent-elimination spray before I go to my stand and prepare to hunt."
Because flintlock hunters need to get closer to deer than those using modern firearms, Morrett believes scent control during the season is second only to archery season. This goes hand in hand with the way hunters dress during the season.
"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, but they try to stay too warm," Morrett said. "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 I start with a base layer of Tek-4 because its silver thread prevents bacteria from growing to eliminate scent, keeps warm air close to your body and wicks moisture away from your skin. Over that, I wear a lightweight Medalist t-shirt, a heavier weight 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, and once I reach the base of my tree or get inside a ground blind, I'll put on my outer layer of clothing. This way, I stay much dryer and warmer and get the most benefit from having showered with Scent-A-Way soap and washing my clothes in Scent-A-Way detergent."
Because most hunters use a .50-caliber muzzleloader, a 50-yard shot is realistic and 75 yards is pushing the limit for the average shooter. For that reason, Morrett uses bowhunting tactics when hunting with a flintlock.
"I hunt 30 yards from where I expect the deer to eat," Morrett said. "From watching Texas hunters who hunt over spin feeders, I've learned not to take stands on any of the four or five trails that may lead to the feeder.
"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."
And, with the challenges of flintlock season, hunters should use every tactic that gives them their best shot of filling their tag.