Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

What Happened to the Ruffed Grouse?

Image: fineartamerica.com

Image: fineartamerica.com/

By Jack Kredell

I was strolling through the Dick’s Sporting Good parking lot after buying a box of eight-shot when the question popped into my head: Why aren’t there any grouse here? The question wasn’t why aren’t there grouse in Pennsylvania (there are, I presume, enough), but why aren’t there any in this parking lot right now? Lining the sidewalk were double rows of Japanese barberry, ample cover for a grouse to lay low in when not foraging the 25 perfectly groomed crab apple trees on the other side of the lot. If this isn’t ideal grouse habitat, then I don’t know what is.

That evening as I was coming home from a grouse hunt, I stopped at a friend’s farm to ask him why he thought there weren’t any grouse in town. At first he looked at me like I was crazy. Then he leaned in towards me, almost too close for comfort, and whispered, “Owls.”

“Owls?” I asked.

“And hawks,” he replied.

In a state where most people worry about the impact of coyotes and bobcats on small game, the notion that owls were behind the grouse’s decline was news to me. He then explained that the reason why grouse numbers were so high in states like Maine and Michigan was because they paid a bounty of 10 dollars per claw for large avian predators and 10 dollars per ear for quadruped predators.

“They pay per claw or per toe?”

“Per digit I believe,” said my farmer friend.

Though neither of us knew the exact number of toes an owl has, we agreed it represented a substantial monetary amount. He went on to explain that the explosion in the owl population was due to the great lemming crash of 2014, which pushed the snowy owl further south. The heavy snows of that year created a travel corridor for the snowy owl that, when combined with the weak snowfall of the following year, put Pennsylvania’s grouse in dire straits because it didn’t have any fresh powder to burrow into and avoid detection by the snowy owl (in addition to other predators). I was left wondering how anything could survive this vicious junta of predators.

But that wasn’t all. Lurking behind the snowy owls and red-tailed hawks were the Feds. The carnage went unchecked because federal restrictions made it impossible for us hunters to control the owl and raptor populations that were decimating our small game.

So the answer is that there are no grouse in the Dick’s Sporting Goods parking lot because of snowy owls.

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org/

New Year’s Hunting Resolutions

It’s time for the annual tradition of setting up unrealistic personal goals in order to thoroughly undermine them over the course of the new year. In terms of hunting, 2015 was a pretty good year for me. I gave myself ample time, hunted hard when the time came, and was fortunate enough to get a nice buck while still hunting (a first for me) during rifle season. But there is always room for improvement. Here are my five hunting resolutions for the 2016 season.

1. Go West

Image: hqworld.net

Image: hqworld.net

My grandfather was an Idaho elk hunter who died before I took up hunting. I can trace my interest in hunting and wild game to his stories of hunting the Idaho backcountry. Having hunted exclusively in the Northeast, I’ve always dreamed of going West for a backcountry elk or mule deer hunt. So this year I’m going to buy an Idaho mule deer tag and hunt the same mountains my grandfather hunted.

2. Farewell, Wood and Blued Steel

Tikka T3 Lite Stainless [Image: loomisadventures.com]

Tikka T3 Lite Stainless [Image: loomisadventures.com]

I love my pre-Garcia Sako Finnbear, but it’s nine pounds scoped and prone to surface rust during foul weather. It shoots cloverleafs all day long and has the smoothest action I’ve ever cycled. But it’s over nine pounds. One of the lightest rifles on the market, Kimber’s 84m, weighs just over five pounds. After a day of hunting with the Finnbear, I can barely lift my arms. It’s time to move on. Tikka T3 Lite Stainless, I see you.

3. Butchering

Image: guide.sportsmansguide.com

Image: guide.sportsmansguide.com

I’ve butchered deer and sent them to the butcher. The butcher charged me $70, which is very reasonable, but I didn’t get nearly as much meat as when I butchered the deer myself. While I appreciate the convenience of dropping a deer off at the butcher when you’re tired and beat up after hunting, doing it yourself yields more meat (usually) and gives you more control over how it’s processed. Butchering is also a great way to bring friends and family together. Sharpen the knives, invite some friends over, pour some drinks, and get cracking.

4. Take a Friend Hunting

Friends that hunt together stay together [Image: hdimagelib.com]

Friends that hunt together stay together. [Image: hdimagelib.com]

In 2015, I took my roommate (who had never fired a gun before) deer hunting, and he loved it. I truly enjoyed the process of sharing my knowledge with him, and in turn, was pushed to learn even more in order to better answer his questions. Maybe he’ll never hunt again, but at least now he has an understanding of the woods that he didn’t have before. My goal for 2016 is to take another friend hunting.

5. ALTADIFOY

Image: www.easttennesseewildflowers.com

Image: www.easttennesseewildflowers.com

ALTADIFOY stands for “Act Like There Are Deer In Front Of You.” I always seem to bump deer when I don’t think there are deer ahead. As everybody who hunts knows firsthand, just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. So if you act like there are deer ahead of you (pausing every couple of feet, being alert, scanning ahead of you, etc.), even when they’re not, you’ll have a much better chance at finding them when they are there. What’s to lose? If you’re out hunting you might as well be the best hunter you can be.

A Day on the Mountain

I hunt from dark to dark each day because if I climb down the mountain, I know I won’t climb back up. My feet get cold, I run out of food and water, but I tell myself it’s worth it because there are two weeks during the year when I can do this, and I can only get off work for one. I also enjoy the limitation of not being able to do anything but hunt. So I maroon myself. Two weeks ago in Maine, I put in 50 hours without seeing anything—not a single deer. I was now approaching 80 hours of hunting, and my body was feeling it. I was beginning to doubt myself as well.

As I was walked home at the end of the third day of the 2015 Pennsylvania rifle season, a Jeep stopped behind me. The driver offered to give me a ride to the bottom. We talked about what we saw that day. He was a real Pennsylvania hunter. He had his own names for all the different topographical features in the area. He also spoke with the thickest Western Pennsylvania accent I’ve ever head. My speech is a clumsy hodgepodge of all the places I’ve lived plus television influences. When he spoke, it was like listening to flute music. His name was Lewis, and I said thanks for ride.

The next day—Thursday—I decided to take my walking stick. The day before, I slipped in some mud and hit my kneecap on a tree stump. When I got home, I couldn’t bend my leg. I kept waking up in the middle of night worried that I might not being able to hunt in the morning. Then I remembered my walking stick. Walking sticks are also useful for slowing you down, which is key when you’re still hunting.

Later that day I was walking along in this manner when I heard a nearby shot. A few seconds later a small buck came running out of the brush and stopped 15 yards in front of me. I raised my rifle instinctively and peered at him through the scope. My first thought was that he was legal. I could shoot this deer if it hasn’t already been shot. But then his right leg dropped and he fell over. I watched him draw his breath through the scope. Then I walked over. His antlers were still green, meaning the deer was actively making rubs. The stringy bark of birch and maple saplings clung to his brow tines. I looked towards the shot and saw a hunter crouched behind a fallen tree. I waved him over. It was Lewis. He shot the deer open-sighted and offhand with his great grandfather’s Remington Model 14. It’s an odd and beautiful gun. The twist on the magazine tube is oddly mesmerizing. I told him congratulations and moved on.

Once I was out of sight, I sat against an oak tree and had a sandwich. I texted my friend to say the going was tough. He texted back saying, “Shoot the next buck you see.” OK.

I decided to still hunt my way over to a ridge below where there are several narrow benches that deer use when feeding and traveling. The area my course would take me through is the only part of the mountain that I haven’t spent extensive time on. The soil there is sandy and the trees, mostly birch and maple, are smaller and so tightly packed together that you sometimes have to thread your gun through them like a needle. The trees provide excellent cover and deer sign is everywhere.

By 1:30 in the afternoon, I made way through to top of the ridge. My plan now was to hunt the ridgeline until I felt it was late enough to wait out the evening above one of the benches. I bumped a group of does while waking the ridgeline and chided myself for being clumsy. Slow down.

It was then I noticed a particularly active deer trail leading down over the top and decided to go have a look. As I peered down, I saw the backend of a deer as it disappeared into some mountain laurel. I stopped and listened for movement. Something was making its way toward me from my left. The wind was in my favor, and if he kept the same direction, I’d be able to see him before long. Then i saw a flick of a tail about 80 yards below. Through my binoculars I saw a flash of white bone through the dense cover. I slowly knelt to a seated position in case I was going to have a shot. I looked through my binoculars again, and as I did, the buck walked out of the thicket. I saw three up and raised my rifle. I put the crosshair behind his shoulder and followed him until he stopped. He raised his head, and I fired.

IMG_0912

As he tumbled over, I saw the white of his belly. He kicked a few times and was gone. I lit a rare cigarette and sat against the deer to let it sink in. When I went to wipe the sweat off my brow, my hand came back full of blood. The scope had cut a nice gash on my forehead.

Tag Soup and Lessons Learned

I hunt public land in the ridge and valley province of Central Pennsylvania. Mistakes made on public land tend to be amplified given the amount of hunting pressure, annual variance in food sources, and difficulty of terrain. Success here is the result of being either very astute or very lucky (or both).

Pennsylvania public forest land during hunting season

Hunting Territory [Image: Jack Kredell]

This year I got to dine on a big hearty bowl of tag soup. Coming up empty-handed after putting in 60 – 70 hours of hunting time in six days is enough to make you doubt your ability – and your sanity. Here are a few lessons learned from this year’s hunt.

Feed Yourself

If you hunt from dark to dark, as I often do, pack enough food and water to keep you energized and alert throughout the day. The best way to achieve this is by eating in small quantities continuously. When you don’t eat and drink enough, you lose focus and start thinking about that nice, warm meal at home (seriously, you waited an entire year for this moment and now you want to go home and eat spaghetti?). As a result of your mental fatigue, your steps become careless and loud because you’re not committed. Next thing you know you’re watching a buck’s rear-end disappear into the thick stuff.

They’re There… Somewhere

There are deer everywhere. Even if this isn’t true, you should act like there are deer everywhere. How many improbably placed deer have you carelessly bumped while hunting and scouting? Like a million. The hardest thing is to be ready all the time.

Measuring big buck print in the mud

Never did catch up with this guy. [Image: Jack Kredell]

Stay Put

The grass is always greener. What usually happens is that I’ll settle into a spot only to see another spot over the way that looks even better. So, I put my backpack on (noise), stand up (more noise and just about the worst thing to do in the woods), and move (more noise) to the spot that looks even better. And, of course, from this new spot I see a spot I like even more. Just stay where you are and have confidence in your decisions. If the deer are moving in your area, you’ll know it.

Prep Your Scope

Your scope is going to fog up in bad weather. Modern scopes are filled with nitrogen, which makes the inside fog-proof but not the outside. At a critical moment in the hunt you don’t want to be looking through a foggy scope. I recommend installing Butler Creek flip-open scope covers. If you’re sitting down, hold the rifle away from your body so that your body heat doesn’t fog up the scope. Your body’s warmth, not the rain, is the enemy of your scope.

A series of tree scrapes in Pennsylvania; two are buck rubs, one is from a porcupine feasting on the bark

Two buck scrapes & leftovers from a porcupine feast [Image: Jack Kredell]

Adapt

From a tactical perspective, a hunter should find that sweet spot between patience and adaptation. That spot you scouted earlier in the season might be perfect… for a cold, sunny day. But now the wind is blowing and rain is coming down in sheets. What then? It’s time to adapt. Patience can be overrated. Some of the best fishermen I know are the most impatient people in the world. They don’t waste their time on something they know won’t work well. Anybody can get lucky in unfavorable conditions, but more often than not you need to take luck into your own hands.

I got skunked this year. I saw plenty of deer, perhaps more than ever, but nothing that I could legally shoot. The good thing is that I put in over 60 hours the first week of rifle season, so I have no regret – or excuses. The only bad hunting is not getting out to hunt.

Happy holidays and happy hunting!