March 02, 2011
In heaven --- at least the one I dream about -- it's October all year long.
I know my feelings aren't universal, even among hunters. You elkaholics out there wouldn't trade September for the world, and many of my fellow whitetail junkies would gladly trade the entire month of October for one cold week in mid-November. That's all well and good. But for my part, I'll take October and all its many splendors.
Of course, I'm biased. For starters, my birthday is in October (the 14th), and though I've tried for years, I've yet to accomplish the goal of arrowing a birthday buck. This year marks my 37th. So, Lord willing, I've still got plenty of time to cross that task off my bucket list. Who knows? Maybe this is the year.
Beyond marking my arrival on God's green earth, October also happens to be the prettiest time to be outdoors in my home state of Pennsylvania. The temperature is usually just about perfect, and by the third week of the month, the hardwood ridges of Penn's Woods will be decked out in a panoply of yellow, gold, orange, red and purple. There is absolutely nowhere better to spend an October morning than 15 feet up an oak tree, with a cool breeze in your face and a rainbow of fall foliage fluttering down around you.
October also promises some of the best whitetail hunting you can imagine. Yes, November holds the peak of the rut (at least in northern locales), and I don't dispute November's No. 1 status when it comes to the sheer number of big bucks taken by bowhunters. However, late October often produces some of the greatest chasing action you'll ever see. Nothing in deer hunting gets me more fired up than the sight of a panting doe sprinting through the freshly fallen leaves below my stand, because I know it's time to grab my bow and prepare for the buck that's sure to follow.
One of my most vivid hunting memories involves just such a scenario, perhaps 10 years back. It was a crisp, breezy morning, and the wind was quickly yanking remaining leaves off the trees and showering me with them as they fell to the forest floor. The first hour or so was quiet. Suddenly, the woods came alive. I heard the action before I saw it; the unmistakable scroosh, scroosh, scroosh of running deer reaching my ears several seconds before the doe appeared with a large 8-point buck in tow. Before I could even grab my PSE Mach 8 (I loved that bow) off the hook, the pair had passed me and continued off into some thicker cover nearby.
A few minutes later, they sprinted back in my direction, making several high-speed passes without offering a shot. This continued on and off for the better part of an hour, and I got enough good looks at this buck -- which had a wide body and heavy rack well past the ears -- to work myself into quite a lather! Try as I might to bleat those deer to a halt, every time they came within bow range they just kept on going. I think I was at full draw about five times without ever touching the release.
Finally, on about the tenth pass past my perch, the doe walked down the main trail 20 yards away with buck a short distance behind. By this time, I was a jumble of raw nerves. I was shaking like a leaf and could barely yank the string back to anchor. I put the 20-yard pin on the buck's vitals, released the arrow and heard a loud THWACK as the shaft sailed right over his back and buried itself several inches into a poplar tree. Startled, the buck froze, stared back in my direction and slowly walked away. He probably stood there for 10 seconds, but I'd be lying if I told you I had it together enough to even think about reaching into my quiver for a follow-up shot.
I never saw that buck again. The errant arrow, on the other hand, was another matter entirely. There was no way it was coming out of that tree, and it served as a frequent reminder of my archery shortcomings until I stopped hunting that property several years later.
No, October isn't really heaven. If it was, I would have killed that buck. But I still think it's about as close as you can get to paradise this side of glory.
QDMA Chief Executive Brian Murphy, left, presents Humphrey with his award for Communicator of the Year.
Congratulations to BOWHUNTING Whitetails Columnist Bob Humphrey, who was recently honored as the Quality Deer Management Association's Communicator of the Year. QDMA's Signpost Award is given annually to recognize outdoor journalists who help educate the public about biologically sound deer management.
In addition to being an accomplished deer hunter, Humphrey is a trained wildlife biologist who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Massachusetts. He spent the early years of his adult life working as a technician and refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before moving into environmental consulting and outdoor writing.
"Merely to be considered€¦for this award is flattering, but to be selected is an incredible honor," said Humphrey, who received the award in July at QDMA's national convention in Kentucky. "Quality Deer Management truly is the future of deer hunting, and I am happy to do my small part in helping QDMA educate deer hunters about being good stewards of the land and all the wildlife that lives and depends on it."
I need to end with a quick clarification regarding the use of trail cameras in relation to Pope and Young Club record-book entries. Back in my July editorial, I indicated the use of trail cameras disqualifies a trophy from the Pope and Young record program. As it turns out, that is only partially true. Although Pope and Young does prohibit the use of trail cameras capable of wirelessly transmitting images, standard cameras that must be manually checked in the field are permitted. For further details, visit www.pope-young.org.