Deer season is the time of year a lot of us look forward to. It’s like a holiday for hunters, whether it’s our second or 30th year chasing whitetail.
While we all have different preparations, I’d like to share my experience in the woods, how we can bring new hunters into the fold to share in this wonderful experience and why I prepare the way I do.
I’ve written about my hunting history before, but to recap, I’ve hunted most of my life. Mind you, I’m 25, so my experiences are limited compared to some folks I know. I started deer hunting in college – 2014 to be exact – when my brother introduced me to it, but after that first season, I had to take a hiatus for work and travel. Money was also an issue, as I grew out of my gear and needed new optics. So, it wasn’t until this past season I picked things back up after moving back to Morgantown from Charles Town, taking this job at The Dominion Post. Although I have very limited experience chasing deer, I’ve been around it my whole life. I took a wildlife and fisheries class at WVU where, for extra credit, we could attend a demonstration on how to field dress a deer. Also, my brother shared venison with me long before I began deer hunting, taken fresh from the deer as the fleshed out skull was fresh on his shed’s porch. A lot of my buddies in high school touted their harvests every year. I even vaguely remember as a toddler visiting my babysitter’s brother-in-law and sister in Washburn, sitting on the porch while Denver, the brother-in-law, broke down his most recent buck.
So this year, with some extra cash on hand I was able to upgrade my camouflage from Realtree to Sitka’s Subalpine Optifade pattern. Nothing against Realtree, it’s done me well, but I wanted a change and fell in love with Sitka’s engineering. For my weapon, in archery season I’ll be running a Wicked Ridge RDX 400 crossbow, which I’ll come back to the why in a moment. In buck gun season, I’ll stick to my Remington 700 with my Vortex Crossfire scope.
Where will I be going? For public land hunting, I have plenty of options around Morgantown, but after my experience at Snake Hill this past spring turkey season, I need a break from battling others for a good spot and animal. That’s why I’m looking past Monongalia County to Dolly Sods and, possibly, Canaan Valley. Using onX Hunt map, I’ve found a series of spots I can camp at in the Dolly Sods wilderness and possibly find a deer. If all goes well, I’m expecting I could spend a few days at Dolly Sods to increase my chances. If you’re hunting a WMA, I hope by now you know where you’re going, but if not, this is the time to figure that out. Put up a trail camera, find a good tree for your stand and begin planning. If you’re doing a backcountry hunt: Go out now and a few times until opening day, glass some spots that look good and get used to your equipment. You don’t want to break in your boots on opening day, and you certainly don’t want to find out that your tent needs repair or replaced on Night 1 of your three-day excursion. Through all of this, the biggest tip I can give is: Don’t blow up your spot. You don’t want too much pressure on those deer.
Now, back to the crossbow – why am I using one over a compound? Well, to be honest, I had every intention of buying my first compound bow, but TenPoint was kind enough to let me try out their RDX 400 for a year. Plus, I see crossbows as the best way, next to a rifle, to recruit new hunters.
Further, crossbow hunting is relatively new to West Virginia, and I want to be in on it. A few years ago, the only way you could use one was if you had a medical condition that limited you from drawing a compound bow. Now, a hunter who chooses to use a crossbow is bound to simple rules: It has to have at minimum a 125-pound draw weight, a working safety, and the bolts have to be at least 16 inches long with broadheads having at least two sharp-cutting edges that are 3/4 inch in width.
Sure, there’s something to be said about traditional archery hunting, but if we’re truly concerned about bringing new people into our community we need to think about the easiest ways to do so. Crossbows don’t have a kick, therefore there’s no reason for those who might be afraid of rifles to think twice. There’s also more time in archery season – three months compared to a month for gun season. While we’re on time commitment, there also isn’t the intense time requirement needed practicing with a crossbow that’s needed for training with a compound or a recurve. You still need to practice, but not as much as with other bows. There are more reasons why this is a good route to get new hunters in, which I’ll dissect over the next few months, as to save your time right now.
To end, I’d like to go back to why I choose backcountry adventures over just driving across Cheat Lake to Snake Hill or up Interstate 68 to Coopers Rock. I’m doing this for a very specific reason: I believe it’s a better experience. While public land hunts on WMAs have their bright spots, I want to live out something to its fullest extent. That means going into the wilderness and spot stalking a deer, or walking ridges to find a good ambush point. Of course, I’m still going to go home and hunt the private land I have in the last two active seasons. But there’s something special about being out there, away from people and experiencing the wild in its purest form. Go big or go home, right? I know some people may disagree, and that’s OK – we’re all different and have different practices.
I wish you luck with your preparations and the upcoming season. Please share your stories with me if you’re able.