When a date stands as large on the Michigan outdoor calendar as November 15 does, it’s easy to overlook the opportunities of the days on either side of it.
Whether bowhunting as the firearm deer season opener approaches, or firearm hunting in its afterglow, your odds of success might be much better than you imagine.
“Just make sure to tell them,” urged my deer-fanatic friend Rick Craig when asked for tips to pass along, “to sit all day for a couple of days before and after November 15.”
From now until dawn on November 15 it’s madness: love-struck bucks pursue estrous does. Small game hunters tromp woods and fields for last shots at grouse and pheasants. Firearm hunters test guns, scout spots and pitch camps. Bowhunters, meanwhile, watch their hunting clocks tick down.
Those archery hunters may grumble at the ruckus in their deer woods, but most bowhunters with a few seasons on them will admit if pressed that they’ve seen some dandy bucks in this hectic period.
Okay, maybe they give up on that last day, November 14. “Too many chuckleheads,” one friend told me of the eve of gun season, “out there on quads, cutting shooting lanes with chainsaws, sighting in rifles.”
You’d think that would be the death of deer hunting.
But, the first buck at which I ever launched an arrow followed a scent line to a scrape 20 yards from my public land ground blind in the last five minutes of shooting time one November 14…
I missed him.
A couple of hours into the new firearm season, it’s easy to feel that the season’s over, odds too long, prospects too bleak.
I remember the surprise I felt one year when I studied some DNR deer hunting statistics. Sure, it showed a big percentage of the firearm harvest taking place on the first day or so of the season. But it also showed that roughly the same share of the season’s hunting taking place on these days, too.
Reversing the math, it became apparent that deer tagged per individual hunting day remained strong all season long.
It gets much better yet if you adjust your hunting strategy.
My friend Rick Craig has two chunks of Midland County land he manages for family hunting. And while opening day has its magic (nobody misses out on the chili, the stories, the fun), the hunting actually gets more serious and often more successful as the season unfolds.
One reason is that on each piece of property, Craig maintains an inviolable refuge section. Nobody but deer go in, the only exception being pursuit of a wounded animal and that at night.
The secure areas seem to fill with deer pushed in from other areas as the season deepens, and those deer wander in and out. My best Michigan buck fell just outside Craig’s piney refuge at mid-morning on the eighth day of a gun season, as it returned from some night-time foray.
You say you’re a public land owner, and can’t control the mayhem in your hunting spot? Reap similar benefits by taking a hard look at your hunting spot, and finding places so thick, distant and difficult that no one would want to go there.
That’s just what hassled deer would look for.
And although bucks are famous for hunkering down for long stays in thick cover, they do emerge.
So, whether before next Thursday’s opening of firearm season or after it, pack some extra clothes and a filling lunch. Get in early. And stay late.
Photos by Steve Griffin