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Rick Brockway

August 17, 2012

It's hard to predict exactly where the deer will be when season begins

It's hard to believe that archery season for deer opens in about six weeks here in upstate New York.

Yeah, opening day is Oct. 1.

I was in one of the larger hardware, lumber, appliance, etc. box stores on Oneonta's southside the other day. A young fellow approached me and said, "Boy, will I have a great story for you this year. I've been watching the biggest buck of my life and I have him all figured out."

Well, I wasn't born yesterday and I didn't start hunting then, either. This guy is in for a rude awakening because in just a couple of weeks or so, everything is going to change. As the food sources change, so does the deer's feeding habits.

There are loads of deer feeding out in the meadows before the sun goes down right now, but by opening day, most of them won't be there. Corn will ripen, apples will drop and any nuts in the trees will be hitting the ground soon.

Besides that, the breeding ritual also will begin. Within the next couple of weeks, antler growth will stop and the bucks will start rubbing off their velvet. As their hormones start to surge through their bodies, they'll become more aggressive and start marking their territory. Mock fights become more serious as the pecking order and dominance are established.

So will that big buck be wandering down that same trail to feed in that same meadow come October? I doubt it. And if that hunter keeps too close tabs on that buck, he'll probably scare him out of the territory. Actually, it takes very little human activity to change a buck's daily habits.

I had been seeing a small spike horn almost every day this summer. Even though we were camping nearby, he'd come down to the pond to drink both morning and night. The little guy would walk across the meadow every day and watch us as we sat outside our campers. We didn't seem to bother him.

But one day, he disappeared. I had been brush hogging the fields and got a little too close to his sanctuary. Suddenly, he changed his routine and we haven't seen him since.

When I hunted the Adirondacks, I spent a lot of time wandering the mountains and swamps to figure out where deer would be in those unbroken forests. For 15 years, I marked every deer we saw or harvested on a topo map of the area. It became obvious after just a few years that certain areas held deer and others didn't. We concentrated our hunting in those hot spots and took deer quite regularly after patterning the whole area.

There were other markings on that map. Old John (I've told you about him before) would tell me of spots where he took big bucks.

"I shot a big 12-pointer right over there one time," he'd say.

Well maybe he did, but nobody has seen a been there since. We often took John's stories with a grain of salt. He was a great man and an awesome storyteller _ some were true but others grew incredibly over the years.

I wish the fellow in the store the other day the greatest of luck. I hope that big buck wanders by his tree stand opening morning and he releases a well-placed arrow, but I really think he'll be sitting in the wrong tree.

Whitetails are creatures of habit, but they also know how to adapt to food, human behavior and their environment.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at

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