Friday, October 4, 2013


Rivers cool and skies clear, breezes blow crisp air through aging leaves and thunderstorms disappear as summer slips into fall.  There’s obvious change in the air.  

The clues are reminiscent of hardwood sunrises, leaves crunching underfoot to frost fallen in the night, the intoxicating aura about the woods as the trees greet the end of their year in fiery display, slight movements of game camouflaged by forest bathed in warm light.

Those that succumb most to these allusions find it hard to remain focused as the week wanes on.  Fridays are filled with meticulous planning and visualizing.  They return home and greet the weekend with an early retirement—alarm set punctually and pertinently.  But they can’t sleep.  With the sun comes the first day of bow season, perhaps one of the most-awaited dates on the sportsman’s calendar.

This year, October 5 is that date, when thousands of such hunters will usher in the beginning of Virginia’s early archery deer season.  The season will run until November 15, overlapped slightly by the early muzzleloading season that opens on November 2 and closes with the archery season.

East of the Blue Ridge Mountains, these seasons are either-sex in full, meaning that hunters are permitted to harvest either antlerless (defined as a doe, button buck, or shed antler buck) or antlered deer all season.

Different Types of Hunters

Within those that take to the woods during bow season, there are two distinct groups—those that hunt with a bow because it allows them early legal permission to take game, and true archers. 

True archers are completely immersed in their sport.  They begin target shooting and making adjustments to their weapon promptly as the season closes in the winter, and keep at it throughout the summer, patiently awaiting the arrival of fall.

I tend to fall into the former group; for my devotion to the fish of the rivers and lakes far outweighs my desire to maintain shooting form.  However I bear a complete appreciation for the challenges set forth by the archery season opener, and can usually be seen in my front yard shooting a foam cube several weeks prior, welcoming the coming season with enthusiasm.

A Different Kind of Game

Besides the difference in gear, there are many differences between bow-hunting and gun-hunting that can fashion better hunters.  To begin, shots must be taken at much closer ranges, requiring the hunter to work within about 20 yards of game to get a safe, sure shot.  Due to the multitude of variables involved in shooting an arrow straight and accurately, extra care must be taken in maintaining proper form as well.

One of my favorite ways to hunt this season is from a pop-up or hand-made ground blind.  In forests of new growth, there are plenty of dense areas of vegetation in which to conceal yourself, where, if chosen and prepared correctly, you may find yourself at a very short distance from your quarry.  Though, at such a small distance, and at eye level with game, it can often be difficult to draw without being detected; but that is just another challenge of the bow-hunting pursuit.

Because they put hunters above the eye level of their target, treestands are unofficially the bowhunter’s best friend.  They can be bought in many different styles and heights to suit individual situations, and offer a larger, birds-eye-view of the area in which they are placed, a feature that can be appreciated in the early morning hours.  There’s nothing like watching the woods warm as the sun peeks over the horizon on a crisp fall morning, an experience that is lost in part in a ground blind.

Where to Hunt

Virginia abounds with public land, over 200,000 acres of which are managed specifically for hunting as part of the VDGIF’s 39 Wildlife Management Areas.  Particularly worthy of note, C.F. Phelps WMA in Fauquier County, Goshen and Little North Mountain WMA in Rockbridge and Augusta Counties, and Featherfin WMA in Buckingham and Appomattox Counties support large and healthy populations of deer.  Nevertheless, huntable populations of deer may be found on just about any WMA, including the Hardware River and James River WMAs close to home.

Rules and regulations differ between WMAs, so make sure to educate yourself before hunting a new property.

National Forests represent another public land opportunity for hunters.  Virginia’s George Washington and Jefferson National Forests total 1.8 million acres, one of the largest pieces of contiguous public land in the eastern US.  Such a large property offers much backcountry, and biologists continue to support that hunters’ best chance at a large mountain buck may originate from the interior of the National Forest land, if they’re willing to work for it.

Regardless of where you hunt, you are likely to find good populations of deer in Virginia.

No comments :