They say you can^t remember pain. I used to believe that until a recent opening day of the Pennsylvania deer season.
It reminded me of the time I was wishing for death to end my misery.
I had just departed Montana on the day after Thanksgiving. I had been hunting mule deer in 12 below zero temperature and found the weather both tolerable and beneficial to my hunt. However, the Pennsylvania season opened in a steady drizzle and, even though the temperature never dropped far below 40 degrees, I was cold and miserable.
The cold came from the penetrating dampness, but the miserableness came from standing in the rain knowing that my chances of killing a deer were practically nil.
I was hunting as the guest of a small group that leased a prime tract of whitetail habitat in Bradford. Year after year, the five hunters would take their bucks from their favorite stands, usually on the first or second day of the season. With this in mind, the group had adopted a rule that prohibited a hunter from moving after selecting his stand for the day.
As a guest, I had no choice but to live by these rules.
Therefore, I just stood there until lunch time hoping hypothermia would end my misery. I knew that no sane whitetail deer would be moving around in this weather.
When my voice returned in the middle of the second cup of pre-lunch coffee, I asked if anyone had seen a deer. I was sure I knew the answer before I asked. Just as I expected, no one had seen a deer, not even a doe.
"The deer are bedded down somewhere and are not going to move until this rain lets up," I stated. "Why don^t we put on a drive this afternoon?"
"We don^t like driving," one of the group replied. It was obvious that they all agreed.
"Well, I don^t like taking an all day cold shower", I remarked while trying to be pleasant with my hosts.
I must hot have hid my unhappiness as well as I thought because one of the hosts suggested that they assign me a section of the property where I could still hunt. My mental attitude improved immediately. I don^t mind hunting deer in the rain so much if I feel there is some chance of success.
I was assigned a 60 acre section marked by logging roads where I could hunt without "disturbing" the stand hunters.
I had only been in the woods about a half an hour when I found a herd of deer bedded down in a pine thicket. The trees were so close together that I had to lay down to look under the branches to see the deer.
I crawled on my belly until I was within 30 yards of a doe and fawn bedded down side by side. I knew that my chances of moving were limited. From that point I looked at eight other deer. There were three does and five fawns. I spent another half an hour looking for a young buck that sometimes herd up with does and fawns. At that moment any buck that would get me out of the rain would serve the purpose.
When I was convinced there was no buck with the herd, I started to back out of the thicket. When I did one of the deer must have seen me because there was a snort and the herd bolted from the thicket.
About two hours later, I found my buck, a six pointer bedded down in mountain laurel. All that I could see was part of his back through the thick cover. I could not identify it as a buck until it stood up. Then it was all over as I was within 40 yards.
When I met my hosts after shooting hours, only one of them had seen deer that afternoon. The hunter who was on the stand closest to my area had ten does walk under his stand and bed down in a thicket about 70 yards away. They never moved until he climbed down from his stand. It was obvious to me that they were the same deer I had spooked earlier.
The whitetails^ reluctance to move in rain has nothing to do with discomfort. Two of their most effective defense mechanisms ears and nose are practically useless in the rain.
Any hunter can walk quietly when everything afoot is wet.
What sounds they do make are muffled and do not carry well.
Likewise scent is washed out and does not carry well under rainy conditions.
Instinctively, deer seek the thickest cover they can find when it rains. They must rely on their eye sight to see the stalker before he sees them. Therefore, deer are even more alert under these conditions.
There are readers who might think hunting deer in the rain is a piece of cake. The advantage is still with the deer because you must go to him.
Still hunting is an art that few hunters have the patience to master. Still hunting in the rain takes even more patience.
The basic principal of deer hunting is to try to see the deer before it sees you. This is tougher in the rain for two reasons. First the deer is in thicker cover than usual. Second, the hunter is not going to be able to hear the deer unless its starts a rock slide while bolting off.
This means extra slow still hunting. Every bit of cover must be studied to be sure it is not hiding a deer before a hunter can move. Move short distances and study the same cover again and again.
Look for parts of deer. The ears and tails are the easiest parts to spot because they are the most likely to move. Look for the line of the back. It is one of the few things in the woods that parallels the ground.
Look low to the ground. A deer^s shoulder is only going to be three feet off the ground if he is standing. Look under bushes or tree branches for legs or other parts of deer.
Killing a deer in the rain when there are few or no hunters about to keep them moving is not an easy task. However, the hunter who goes stalks a deer under these conditions is much more likely to have success than the stand hunter waiting for the deer to come to him.
Stalking a deer in the rain is not easy, but a slight chance beats no chance by a wide margin.