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I've been a hunter all my life, long before I was legally able to carry guns and harvest game in Pennsylvania. I was a hunting companion for my Father by the age of 8, shooting guns long before that. I became hooked at an early age thanks to a dedicated teacher, mentor and best friend... my Father.

Looking back over the years, it just puts a smile on my face reminiscing the good times I had, the successful hunts, the friendships I acquired and the fact that hunting itself releases me into a world that stands still. A world I love so much.


I enjoy every minute in the woods, whether it be taking a walk, carrying a gun or bow and going "hunting", etc. I enjoy a vast majority of hunting, with my favorites being the big game that inhabit the state... deer, bear and turkey. I hunt all the seasons for deer, tag permitting of course, both spring and fall turkey, and hunt black bears during the 2 day bow season as well as the 3 day rifle season.

In the past I have found myself hunting extended bear season areas during the regular firearms season when I tagged a buck with the bow, this year was one of them. To say the least, I try and get out whenever I can... hunt many seasons for the big game out there, see and experience alot throughout the year. Add in a little small game into the mix and you got one happy individual on your hands


I know there are many others out there just like me... grew up shooting tin cans with their .22 and moved on to bagging their first buck and turkey, some even a bear. I have seen many "first days" throughout my hunting career... archery openers, turkey openers, small game openers, rifle season openers, the day after Christmas for flintlock season... there's many "first days" out there in Pennsylvania for us to enjoy. And believe me, I truly enjoy every one of them. Heck, I'll throw 2 trout season openers in there as well.

But to say I enjoy every one of them equally, well, that would be a flat out lie.


Sure, a twig snapping at first light on the first day of archery will get any true archery hunter's blood pumping... or the first gobble before daybreak within a hundred yards on the spring turkey opener. A body of a deer in the snow covered woods within 100 yards on the day after Christmas with a smoke pole in your hand, yes indeed... that will get your blood warmed up fast. How about waiting for 8am on the first morning of trout season in the spring? That's exciting. You're with your buddies, thinking of landing the "big one"... joking who will catch the first fish.

Every opener has its own place in my heart as I am sure it does in yours...


But there's that one morning that the excitement can not be measured... it's too much. The morning that comes once a year and never gets old. The feeling is the same... adult men feel like they are a child again the night before Christmas. Families and friends drive miles and miles to gather at what they call "camp"... it's been a tradition for generations. The day that close to a million hunters in Pennsylvania dream about year after year...

The opening day of rifle season...


I often wondered why I feel the way I do... I can't put a finger on it, and to be honest, most likely never will. Can it be the traditional side of the rifle opener? I have always been one for tradition and comradery. I love being around fellow hunters, talking about hunting, laughing and joking. Simply everything that goes with the opening day of rifle season here in Pennsylvania for so many of us is what I know I love, but not quite sure if that’s what produces this feeling.

Can it be that I was brought into a family of rifle hunters, a family that consisted of only rifle deer hunters? I am indeed the first archery hunter, atleast the first dedicated one. I love shooting and tagging my buck with the bow and prefer it... but still, the first in the family to knock the arrow.

But we are talking about the same family that traveled to camp for the three day bear season and back up for doe season. The same family that had a line of shotguns for pheasants and rabbits that would make any gun guru’s eye glisten.

To say the least, my family loved hunting in general. But deer season was "the time" of the year to get together and let the world stop around them. A time of the year where they could let their hair down and forget about any troubles or job in their everyday life.

After some thought, and years of experiencing the same thing, I have finally come to the conclusion it's more than just the tradition. It's more than the family and friends getting together. Surely more than grabbing the orange jacket and rifle and getting all the gear ready.

There's certainly no day in the year that makes me and many others feel the way the first day of rifle season does. Not any of the "opening days" previously mentioned, not the second day, certainly not the last. It's that opening morning when your heart is pounding, knowing close to a million other hunters are doing the same exact thing as you. The feeling of knowing at any given moment that wall hanger that haunts your dreams can show up and say hello. Sure, other openers or ordinary days in the field will get your blood pumping, but it’s almost like the blood getting pumped through your body on the opener of rifle season is a different color, a different flavor, a different tingle. Some kind of mystical "magic" is in the air every year on this day, a magic that floats from mountain to mountain, from corner to corner of Pennsylvania.

The first shot will ring out and your heart will start to race even more. The first flash of brown and you have to control your breathing and legs from shaking. A set of antlers and someone might need to call an ambulance. You know the feeling I speak of…


I have thought it was my love for the mountain I hunt, the mountain I love so much. I really thought it had some connection to hunting there on the first day of rifle season as it was the only place I was ever found on the state's holiday, the opener of rifle season. I truly believed it was that mountain, the memories and the time I spent on it that made me feel the way I do.

This year was different. Buck down in archery, no doe tags, and no extended bear season in the area I hunt. So what's a guy to do? I experienced similar situations like this before. For example, in 2003 I tagged a buck with the bow and I went into the stand waiting on a bear with an extended season here locally. Sat and soaked it all in... and once again in 2006 where I sat with no rifle with my best buddy Mike and watched him harvest his biggest buck to date. This year had a differfent splash of flavor though. With both of us being tagged out with the bow, no extended bear season, nothing to legally hunt, no buddy to “guide” or sit with… 2009’s rifle opener would certainly offer a different twist to the chapters in my book.

I had my mind made up I was going to go to the mountain I always go to, and just sit in my tree stand and "soak it all in". Just enjoy the opening morning for what it really is. A tradition, a love, an addiction...


Two days prior to the opener, I talked with a buddy heading up to his camp; in an area I spent a great deal of time on throughout some flintlock seasons, some Saturdays during rifle, etc. Located in Sullivan County, it was a hunter's dream. Camp, friends, good woods to hunt both deer and bear, etc. I have seen my fair share of deer there over the years, even took a few. Saw some bears as well. I had a hard time leaving my roots behind... the place I always hunted from the first opening morning I ever experienced to the last. I really didn't want to leave... for the fear that the "opener" wouldn't be the same.

But with a rich bear population, an extended season, friends I love to spend time with, and an area I love to visit, I decided I was making the trip. Camp was alot of fun, lots of laughs and good times with friends I don't see as much as I'd like. It was a truly fantastic time from the moment I arrived to the moment I left. I have a camp of my own, located in Tioga County, that we hunt Bear out of for the 3 day bear season. Used to hunt doe up my camp for the 3 day doe season before the seasons were combined.

But never did I leave my roots for the deer/buck opener until this year... I was fearful the opener would not feel the same, wouldn't hold the same magic it always did.

Monday morning rolled around finding me and my buddy hiking 2miles to get "back in" to a spot we always had luck at for deer. A place we thought we would have to ourselves from past experiences on the first Saturday, the last day, etc. This wasn't the case; however... as we soon found ourselves surrounded by bouncing lights in the dark. We were not alone. Knowing the area was good, we decided to stay put... more hunters isn't always a bad thing as I learned through the years, and who the heck am I to say they can't hunt there? It's a good spot, and I would share it with any fellow hunter


Still wondering what the feeling was going to be like, the feeling I yearn for year after year, daylight started approaching us. I looked up into the sky and said my annual prayer like I always do, one to keep me, my fellow hunters and friends safe. One that I say often to let me shoot straight, cleanly harvest what I am shooting and to help others do the same...

The first shot rang out behind me in the next hollow over... about 150 yards. It was rather dark yet, but I slowly raised the rifle and looked through the Leupold... I could see through it better than I could my eye. Another shot rang out, and the feeling hit me like a ton of bricks... I couldn't shoot a deer; I couldn't harvest a buck or a doe, but rather a bear. So why in the world would I be so excited? I came to the conclusion it is indeed a feeling I crave so much year after year, but what I will never understand is what creates it. I will never know... only hope you, my fellow hunter, can understand the feeling I speak of. I looked up into the sky that morning and realized it wasn’t about the kill that gets me excited… not about the location, rather, it was the opener itself. A special mix of ingredients that makes this guy crave for more.

I was surrounded by deer in no time... my heart started racing with every flick of a tail, and every set of legs or brown bodies I saw making their way through the oak flats. My heart raced just as much as it did when I was back home on the mountain like years past... and I couldn't even shoot anything other than a bear! I was out with a million hunters in the woods who were chasing whitetail deer, but I couldn't shoot one. But the feeling was the same as it always was... heart racing with every snap of a twig, every glimpse of movement, every shot ringing out.


I saw a total of 45-50 deer on those gamelands before 9-10 o’clock… not one was threatened by the 760 .308. Could I have taken any of them? Almost every one I would bet. But I felt just as successful without pulling the trigger, simply because I was out on opening morning… experiencing that same feeling I always did.

I primarily made this trip to spend time with friends and hunt an area I used to in the past... this time, for the first day. I figured if I lucked into a bear, it would be icing on the cake. I hunted 3 days in Tioga County for the 3 day bear season, and while that has a feeling of it's own I wouldn't trade for the world as I love it so much, it didn't compare to the "bear" season feeling I experienced on the opening morning of rifle season this year.


The feeling of opening morning is, and always will be, magical for me... to say it's the same as it always was would be a lie. It seems as the years pile on, the feeling becomes more intensified... the excitement of daybreak is uncontrollable these days, and I only expect it to get worse.


Tag to fill or not, I am still like a little kid at Christmas… excited for friends who are out after their trophy of a lifetime, making new memories and new friends, and learning more about the way of the woods…

In a world where there are hunters who feel the need to call a hunt successful is by the size of the buck, a world where TV hunters are behind fences chasing whitetails and other game, a world where many are not "enjoying" the opener because of low deer numbersa a world where we as hunters are becoming a dwindling breed... I hope that there are many of you out there just like me, who crave this feeling we get from opening day of deer season, no matter how it changed


From the archery opener straight through the spring turkey opener, there is no first day of a season that gives me that one of a kind feeling... like the first day of deer season. There will never be a replacement feeling in my life for this; it's unique to the point where it can be matched by none. And I don't see myself trying to diagnose it anytime soon

 

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I can tell all of this came straight from your heart, great story!
 

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I really enjoy reading your posts.You should write a book in sorta like a diary format type thingy.Bet it would be an excellent read. Keep posting we love it!!!
 

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Good post Nuge, I really enjoy reading your stuff on here, it is always something positive and incite full. I agree with you that there isn't another day in the calender year that I can compare to the opening day of rifle season.

I probably won't be in your situation for a long time since I'm not a bowhunter, but my new job will probably eliminate my chances at being out on the actual first day of rifle for a few years. I will still look forward to getting home and waiting for the "deer report" from the guys at camp. I also hope to be able to start bowhunting in an effort to extend my season.

Thanks again for another great post!
 

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GOOD STUFF Tony!!

Thanks for taking all that time to add it to the content of HPA.
 

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"You know the feeling I speak of..."
Amen brother, nothing else like it!

Merry Christmas
 

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You must be a carpenter by trade, because you hit the nail on the head once again.
Very well written, keep them coming!!!!!
 

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Thank you for saying exactly what is in my heart and memory . At 70 years old I am still afraid I may get sick and miss the opener ! Hasen't happened !
 
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