Josh Crawford headshot

Josh Crawford

Every year, Pennsylvania brings their late archery season/flintlock season on Dec. 26, and runs it through Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Although it can be pretty challenging to hunt highly pressured deer directly after they have been chased with rifles for a few weeks, it is always something I look forward to doing, as it has proven to be quite challenging to get a doe inside of 25 yards. 

In fact, until this season, it had been 6 years since I had managed to take a late archery deer. Although it is legal to hunt with a flintlock muzzleloader, with a kill range of roughly 75 yards, I still choose to hunt with archery gear simply because I am a horrible shot with a flintlock and years of practice have not helped with that. Therefore, I am stuck hunting with my compound bow. 

There are a few reasons that killing a deer this time of year with archery equipment is difficult, the 1st being that they have been hunted for 3 to 4 months up to this point. The deer are practically walking around with their eyes looking up for tree stands. Another reason is that there are no leaves to help conceal yourself with when hunting from a tree. 

You literally stick out like a sore thumb, unless you are able to find a tree with a cluster of trunks, or limbs to hide in. The last reason that this time of year is tough to take a deer with a bow is because the deer are in large groups, which means you are either going to see a lot of deer, or none. 

The bad thing about seeing a lot of deer is that there are a lot of eyes watching for danger, making it nearly impossible to draw a bow without being detected.  

Over the years, I have figured out where the deer congregate on my Aunt’s Pennsylvania farm, meaning that I typically see deer, and usually lots of them this time of year. 

The problem has always been dealing with the other problems mentioned above. I have found it nearly impossible to evade the eyes of lots of deer without any cover to hide behind, which is why this season, I decided to hunt exclusively from my “tree saddle” positioning myself on the backside of large tree trunks to make myself hard to see, which seemed to work quite well. 

I went into this season with lots of ideas of where I was going to hunt and how I was going to approach each spot, but the problem was that none of those areas worked well for a westerly wind. 

Sure enough, we have had nothing but westerly winds since the season opened 3 weeks ago. To counter this, I set up in spots around the main doe bedding areas that I thought some of the deer might wander into on their way to the main feeding areas. 

Evening after evening, I watched as large groups of does entered my Aunt’s various hay fields, hundreds of yards away, and hoped for them to work their way closer without smelling me. 

This strategy was stressful, as I consider myself to be pretty aggressive, and like to hunt as close to the bedding as possible, but I knew if I got too close in this situation, every deer in the bedding areas would smell me, and their patterns would change. So I decided to stick with the passive approach. 

One evening I spotted some deer enter a hay field roughly 175 yards away, then watched as they slowly fed towards me for 2 hours. Just as they were about to enter my wind stream, I took a 30 yard shot at the closest one, and watched as she promptly “jumped the string” and ducked right underneath my arrow. 

In that situation, all I could do was shake my head and chuckle. I hunted a few more evenings, only got 1 other deer within bow range, which just so happened to be a small buck that I wouldn’t have shot even if I had a buck tag. 

On the evening of January 16, the next to last day of the season, I decided to abandon the passive strategy and dive into a place that I thought I could get close to where a group of does typically bed. 

The spot is on the side of a tall ridge, just off of the corner of a field. Below the corner, there is a bench that is grown up with saplings and brush, which is where the deer typically bed. 

Three-hundred yards to the south, there is another hay field, which the deer feed in every now and then, but not nearly as often as the one I was hunting. 

Early in the afternoon, I snuck within 125 yards of where I figured the majority of the deer were bedding, then picked a large tree to climb. As the evening progressed, snow began to fall and the wind blew all directions. Knowing that the deer might be able to smell me, my confidence began to drop as the minutes ticked away. Around 4:45, I noticed a few deer moving from the bedding area, but instead of heading my direction, they were walking toward the other hay field 300 yards to the south. 

A few minutes later, my Uncle Grant texted me and said that there were a bunch of deer feeding the field to my south, and wanted to know if I wanted him to try to push them to me. Having never done a “bow drive” before, I was skeptical, but figured we might as well try it. 

A few minutes later, deer began trotting toward me, and I was honestly surprised at how well the drive worked. 

Quite a few ran by and stopped at 30-40 yards, but I just did not want to take a shot at that distance, even though most of them stopped in shooting lanes. 

As the deer filtered past me, I thought my chances were over, but all of a sudden few more deer caught my eye. 

One lone doe was slowly walking right at my tree. As she closed the distance, I couldn’t believe that the drive was actually going to work. It did not take long for her to cross past the log that I had ranged at 25 yards, and I began to put pressure on my bow string. 

Suddenly, the doe stopped, and bedded down. I could not believe it. “Just my luck,” I thought to myself. After a few minutes, light was beginning to fade, and I decided to whistle to hopefully get the deer to stand up. Like a charm, the deer stood after my 2nd whistle, and began moving closer to me. The only problem was that she was coming directly to me, which did not present an ethical shot. As the doe got within 10 yards, she started to veer to my right, which provided a perfect broadside shot. 

When her head went behind a tree, I drew my bow, then let out a soft grunt to stop her as she stepped into an opening. I buried the pin in the crease of her shoulder, then slowly squeezed off. The arrow disappeared behind her shoulder, and I watched as she ran off and tumbled.  Although unconventional, and certainly not planned, our little bow drive worked, and I was able to fill my last bow tag of the season with a perfect shot, and a blood trail in the snow. Without having anything to hunt for the next few months, I will begin prepping for turkey season, as I have big plans for it.  o

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