Becoming immersed in nature with ‘stick and string’ in Pennsylvania

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoor Columnist

As an avid archery hunter, I’ve been asked a few times over the years why I enjoy sitting in a treestand for countless hours waiting hopelessly on a deer.

The reality is that it’s not really about hunting at all. It’s about being immersed in the natural surroundings of the wilderness.

A four-point buck walks past a trail camera Nov. 6 in Somerset County. Adult hunters in this area can only take bucks that have at least three points on one antler.

Last Thursday was one of those mornings that archers dream about all year. The dry leaves froze overnight, and the bright morning began without a cloud in the sky. The sunrise through the remaining leaves on the trees and the sounds of animals and birds is an annual experience that makes it easy for bowhunters to want to get out of bed before the crack of dawn.

While sitting in a treestand, you can become part of nature. You’re no longer an intruder who is walking through the woods disturbing the forest floor.

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Thursday morning I admired the rusty brown highlights of a fox squirrel as it and gray squirrels scampered in the leaves collecting acorns for winter. At least that’s what I was hoping they were doing and not playing mind tricks on me, to make me believe a deer was walking my way.

Brian Whipkey, Pennsylvania Outdoor columnist

The sound of a deer walking when the leaves are crisp is one of the most exciting sounds an archer can hear. The approaching trotting sound creates an adrenaline rush that can be experienced only in person.

It's also common to hear and see turkey calling to each other as they graze in picked cornfields or grab a few acorns before flying up into their roost shortly before sunset.

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Other times you may see rare animals like bear, coyotes, raccoons or fox. You never know what will walk past your perch.

More than just deer hunting

I believe most archery hunters aren't going to the woods just to fill their deer tags. It would be interesting to learn how many hours a bowhunter spends in the woods before getting a deer most years. 

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Archery hunting is more a chess game with Mother Nature than anything. The hunter has to anticipate the deer’s next move and try to be there at that exact time.

Having a mature buck walk within 25 yards of a hunter is an awesome accomplishment. These wild animals live every day of their lives avoiding predators. For a human to sneak into their home territory and get that close usually involves a lot luck, preparation and planning.

 Even when a deer walks into range, the ethical hunter may not get a shot as the deer doesn’t stop or present the right angle for a clean, quick kill.

I have a handful of motion-activated trail cameras that create excitement and disappointment for me about deer activity. For example, on Oct. 29, a beautiful 10-point walked past a camera at one of my stand locations. While it was exciting to see this beautiful animal, the images over the following days revealed he’s never been back to that area.

Deer movement can be difficult to predict. This 10-point walked past this trail camera only one time in a several week period in Somerset County.

The return on your invested time isn't there if you are only measuring success based on tags filled. If that is your goal, there are more time efficient opportunities. You can hunt during rifle season where you can take shots at 20, 50, 80, 100 or more yards and work with fellow hunters to drive deer toward your location.

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When someone decides to hunt with a stick, string and arrow, it is more than trying to get a deer. It's about blending in with the wilderness. 

It's the best way to witness nature as it actually happens and the animals are acting calm and unnerved. There’s something uniquely special about watching a deer graze on leaves or use one of her hind legs to scratch her ear just a few yards from you. It’s a peaceful, calm, stress-free atmosphere.

It's been said that a treestand puts you 20 feet closer to Heaven. On days like we just experienced in early November, it's easy to agree with that statement.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name.

Exploring PA With You as Your Outdoors Concierge!

My goal is to help others better understand what’s available in Pennsylvania and to explain what’s happening with state agencies regarding fishing, hunting and enjoying the outdoors. I’ll answer common questions that you may have regarding hunting, fishing, camping, visiting the state parks and trails and almost anything else that you can do outdoors. Twitter: @whipkeyoutdoors / Instagram: whipkeyoutdoors