When you talk to bowhunters about their best days to be in the woods, you often get a couple of days as the common responses. Halloween and Veteran’s Day often make their way to the top of the list.
However, when it comes to gun season, you don’t hear much debate over the best day to hunt. One reason could be that the early rut stages where bucks are active and covering ground have passed for the most part by the time the third Saturday in November rolls around.
If you look at the harvest data that the NYSDEC puts out, opening day has the highest number of harvested deer reported. The second day of the season often is second in harvest reports. Thanksgiving comes in at third. These three days all make sense as the top days of harvests because they have the most hunters in the woods. Add that fact to the deer have not had much human intrusions in the woods in the first week of the season, and a higher success rate makes sense.
So, the question I find myself asking is, is opening day the best day to hunt during firearm season? From a statistical standpoint, you are most likely to fill your tag on opening day. However, from an anecdotal standpoint, opening day is not MY best day to gun hunt. I have been deer hunting with a firearm for 16 years, including opening day on all those years. I can only recall filling a tag on three or four of those years. However, I recall filling a tag on the second day of the season at least five or six seasons.
This year, I started to equal out the numbers by filling a doe tag on opening day. I returned to the Finger Lakes winery where I learned most of my hunting skills as a teenager. The WMU is 8R, a unit where leftover Deer Management Permits (DMPs) have been available for the past 5 years or more. So, this year I got two DMPs when they became available on November 1 and began planning my opening day trip.
Saturday morning, I sat in a treestand named The Stone Wall, which is located along an old stone wall in the woods. The stand is located lower on the property and was sheltered from the stiff southwest winds by the topography. A little after 8 o’clock, I spotted movement to my left and was able to get my binoculars up to see a young 4-point walking through the brush about 90 yards away. While I had a few open shooting lanes, I decided to let him go and to wait for hopefully a larger buck to appear. A few minutes later, I spotted movement out in front of me across a creek. Two does had made it to the creek but decided to walk down the creekbank and head back to the north where they had come from. Then after another 15 minutes or so, I was putting my cellphone into my chest pocket of my jacket when I noticed legs moving in the brush to my left again. This time it was a group of 4 does that was cutting diagonally down the slope of the hill. I grabbed my rifle and got ready for the lead doe to walk through a shooting lane I had. When she got to it, I let out a “MMAAPP” to get her to stop. She did stop, but only after taking two more steps and with a tree blocking my shot at her vitals! As the other deer caught up to her and they all started walking again. As they made it to another lane, I tried to stop her, but she would not stop walking and I had to watch the group of deer walk away behind the stand. I stayed in the stand for another half hour before I gave in to the cold temperature.
For the afternoon hunt, I opted to return to The Stone Wall. The wind had picked up and was making hearing anything in the woods next to impossible. After a bit, a shot rang out a few hundred yards behind me. A text came a minute later from Mike, the guy I learned to deer hunt from, that he had shot a doe. Less than five minutes later, another shot and another text from Mike that he shot a second doe. The day started to fade as the sun was setting and I was starting to think opening day was going to be harvest-less for me when I thought I heard something rustle some leaves below my stand. I happened to notice the back half of a deer sticking out from a tree about 75 yards away. I stood up and turned to face the deer. I got my binoculars up to see it was an adult doe. I slowly grabbed my rifle from the hanger. After a minute of her looking in my direction and stomping, she blew like she smelled me and took two steps. This was all I needed to get my rifle shouldered and the safety off. She stopped, I put the crosshairs on her front shoulder and pulled the trigger. She dropped in her tracks. I waited a few minutes before climbing down to begin field dressing her and dragging her to my truck.
After what seemed like an unsuccessful hunt was happening, I was able to change my personal harvest numbers to being more even between opening day and the second day of the season.