Tatum: Early archery season set to open

Although Pennsylvania’s statewide fall archery deer season doesn’t open until Sept. 29, Chester County archery hunters who have an antlerless deer license for Wildlife Management Units (WMU) 5C and 5D (as well as 2B in the western part of the state) can start hunting this Saturday, Sept. 15.

In another two weeks archers can hunt statewide for antlered or antlerless deer from Sept. 29 to Nov. 12 and during the late archery deer season, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 12.

The early antlerless deer seasons here in WMUs 5C and 5D run through Sept. 28 and again from Nov. 12-24. Bowhunters also may take both antlered and antlerless deer in these units during the late archery season, which runs from Dec. 26-Jan. 26. Legal archery gear includes longbows, recurve bows, compound bows, or crossbows.

Savvy hunters know that early season and preseason scouting is the key for a successful hunt, and the Game Commission encourages hunters to spend as much time as possible afield this fall prior to and during the hunting seasons to pattern deer movements and identify areas where fall foods are abundant.

One very popular way to do this without disrupting your hunting grounds is to use trail cameras. Of course, common sense afield should prevail with participating archers taking only responsible shots at deer. For most of us, that’s a shot of 20 yards or less at a deer broadside or quartering away. Archery and crossbow hunters should shoot at only deer that are within their maximum effective shooting range - the furthest distance from which a hunter can consistently place arrows or bolts into a pie pan-sized target.

Hunters may use illuminated nocks for arrows and bolts; they aid in tracking or locating the arrow or bolt after being launched. However, transmitter-tracking arrows still are illegal. It also remains illegal to use dogs to track wounded deer.

Tree stands and climbing devices that cause damage to trees are unlawful to use or occupy unless the user has written permission from the landowner. Tree stands - or tree steps - penetrating a tree’s cambium layer cause damage, and it is unlawful to build or occupy tree stands screwed or nailed to trees on State Game Lands, state forests or state parks.

At least 95 percent of archery hunters use tree stands placed at heights from ten to twenty feet or more. That said, it’s no surprise that the biggest safety hazard associated with bowhunting is falling from a tree stand, an accident which can result in death, paralysis, or other serious injuries. Such accidents happen each and every season, but if you’re like me, you’ll want to avoid becoming one of those statistics. This can be done by just following a few common-sense but critical safety guidelines offered by the folks at the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

First and foremost among these, always use a fall-restraint device, preferably a full-body harness, when hunting from a tree stand. Wear the device (connected to a climbing rope) from the moment you leave the ground until you return. Don’t climb dead, wet or icy trees. Stay on the ground on blustery days. Once securely up in your tree, use a hoist rope to lift your bow and backpack to your tree stand. Trying to climb with either will place you at unnecessary risk.

Here’s a handy list of other safety tips to follow when you head out to the woods this Saturday:

- Make sure someone knows where you’re hunting and when you expect to return home. Leave a note or topographic map with your family or a friend. Pack a cellular telephone for emergencies.

- Always carry a whistle to signal passersby in the event you become immobile. A compass and matches or lighter and tinder also are essential survival gear items to have along. An extra flashlight bulb also can be helpful.

- Don’t sleep in a tree-stand. If you can’t stay awake, return to the ground.

- Always carry broadhead-tipped arrows in a protective quiver.

- If you use a mechanical release, always keep your index finger away from the trigger when drawing.

- Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for all equipment and check your equipment before each use.

- Practice climbing with your tree stand before dawn on the opening day of the season. Consider placing non-slip material on the deck of your tree-stand if it’s not already there.

-Never walk with a nocked, broadhead-tipped arrow or bolt.

-Cocked crossbows should always be pointed in a safe direction. Keep your thumb and fingers below the crossbow’s string and barrel at all times.

One complaint I still hear from bowhunters about our early, antlerless-deer-only archery season here is their belief that it messes up opening day hunting for antlered deer, especially for hunters trying to outwit those old trophy bucks that quickly wise up to the fact that their territory has been invaded by camouflaged archers scrambling up into trees with the intent of flinging arrows down at them. I’ve carried a string and stick into the woods for about 40 years now, and it’s been my experience that if you expect to fill your tag on a decent buck, your best bet is the first three days of the season or the last few weeks at the end of October and beginning of November when the bucks get careless during the rut.

Deer that are bagged on opening day and in the next day or two are generally taken by archers who have staked out ambush sites between food sources and bedding areas. If their preseason scouting attempts have been discreet and not disruptive, they might just get a shot at a nice buck the first few days. But once the hunters have been in the woods for a few days and the deer see them, hear them, and smell them, mature bucks will soon start avoiding those areas and often become more nocturnal.

If your hotspot is hunted heavily for antlerless deer two weeks prior to the regular buck and doe season opener, your odds of running into a good buck when the sun rises on opening day will then fall somewhere between slim to none. Best bet when that happens? Wait for the November rut.

In any case, if you’re a bowhunter taking to the trees on Saturday, play it safe, wear that harness and safety line, shoot straight, and good luck.