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Find an Edge for Better Hunting this Fall

October 9, 2018
By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II , Ohio Valley Outdoors

If you're like me, then white-tailed deer and deer hunting are a year-round obsession. When you're not actually physically hunting, you're either scouting, thinking about future hunts, or trying to learn all you can about deer, their habits, their preferred habitat, and the haunts where you pursue them, both close to home and further away. Seldom does a single day go by anytime throughout the year that I don't think about white-tailed deer in some way.

As a passionate hunter who always wants to improve at this perplexing art and science, I'm always looking for unusual ways to connect-the-dots to lead me to productive hunting locations.

Things the average hunter might just overlook in their day-to-day lives that may provide an unanticipated advantage. One key indicator that I've added to my hunting "tool box" through experience that many hunters have never even considered is logging trucks. You know, those large 10-wheeled or more "beasts of burden" of the timber industry that transport freshly harvested logs to the saw mill. I always keep an eye out for where logging trucks are coming from and the tell-tale mud where they pull out on the blacktop is typically a good indicator you've solved the puzzle.

Article Photos

After erecting his two-man ladder stand against a mature oak, the author surveys the landscape where he will probably spend a hundred hours this fall in pursuit of white-tailed deer, bear, coyote, and turkey. Photo by Mary S. Berrier

Deer, and many more game and non-game species, are creatures of edge. They prefer the wide diversity of vegetation available for food and cover where two habitat types come together. In agricultural areas, edge is widely abundant where woodlots intersect with cultivated fields and as powerlines and gas lines cut swaths through woodlots as they traverse the landscape.

However, where there are large unbroken expanses of forested land, often measured in 10s of square miles, like you find in Pennsylvania on many State Game Lands, State Forests, or in the Allegheny National Forest; a timber harvest creates a clearly defined edge where there was none in the past and serves as a magnet for wildlife that seek out edge habitat.

This past summer, I took time to explore some extensive public lands in northwestern Pennsylvania (sorry, I won't give a more detailed location) where I observed numerous logging trucks pulling out of in 2015 and 2016. From the public parking area, it's over a mile walk back in on the well-constructed logging road. I was more than pleasantly surprised back in July, when my son and I after walking for 25-minutes came out of the woods to see an almost 100-acre clearcut. Interspersed with some deliberately remaining oak seed trees and a few den trees for cavity-nesting species, the clearcut is a stark contrast to the surrounding mature forest, consisting primarily of oaks, black cherry, and some maple with little understory other than extensive thick ferns.

Based on the regrowth of the stump sprouts, seedlings, and annual/perennial vegetation; approximately one-third was harvested in 2015 and the other two-thirds were taken out in 2016. In early September, I took a deliberate two-hour hike circling the periphery of the entire 100-acre clearcut to learn all I could about this new potential hunting location. Fresh deer droppings were abundant everywhere, but I also saw sizeable piles of bear feces, along with coyote scat, turkey droppings, and the rather distinct scat of porcupines.

As stealthy as I tried to be, I still pushed out several deer that were either bedded amongst the extensive toppings of the clearcut area or just within the woodline. (When you walk the entire 360-degrees around an area, at some point your scent will be carried downwind to the deer.) After circling the entire clearcut and pondering my findings for days, I decided to place a stand near the end of a small forested 40-yard wide finger that protrudes approximately 70-yards out into the clearcut. (I'm not sure why the foresters decided to leave that specific small piece uncut, other than it contains a few obvious mature hemlocks.)

My wife is not a hunter, but she loves to go hiking, so back on September 23 she accompanied me when I lugged a two-person ladder stand back over a mile to the clearcut. I selected a mature black oak about 10-yards back from the edge of the clearcut to prop the stand against to avoid being silhouetted against open sky when any deer walk along the woodline. By having my wife accompany me when I position my more remote treestands, she knows exactly where I'll be hunting and where to send professionals to look for me, if I ever don't make it back out of the woods in a timely manner. (We've made it our routine that I text her whenever I get back to my truck after a hunt for her peace of mind.)

On September 29, opening day of the 2018 PA statewide archery deer season, I was up at 4 AM, out the door before 5 AM, and made the 50-minute drive to the designated parking area. I had the entire place to myself and made the silent trek by headlamp into the clearcut. I climbed up into my ladder stand before 6:20 AM and waited for first shooting light to arrive at 6:45 AM.

My opening day vigil brought six deer-total, mature does with their almost full-grown fawns. The first two were observed moving silently through before daylight. The other four didn't show up until 9:15 AM, when I caught movement about 150-yards out in the clearcut. My dependable Leupold 10x binoculars gave me an up-close perspective as these four deer worked as a team to use every bit of what limited cover was available. The largest mature doe would sneak ahead crouched down from one piece of cover to the next one maybe 25-yards away. The others would follow individually and once all four deer arrived at that piece of cover, they would stand in close proximity, each looking in a different direction, with their ears on full alert. After several minutes of looking and listening, the mature doe would lead the group to the next available cover. I watched their cautious, stealthy movements for almost 30-minutes before they bedded down amongst some thick toppings approximately 200-yards away.

While I didn't see any other deer, I'm sure there were others concealed amongst the sea of toppings spread out before me. (Besides a good pair of binoculars, I highly recommend bringing a quality range finder to determine exact ranges to various stumps, logs, and rocks. The openness of a clearcut can be deceiving and what you think at first glance is 40-yards, may actually be a much longer 65-yard shot.)

In many aspects of life, you need an edge to be successful. Finding a literal edge out in the woods where a timber harvest recently took place can give you just the edge you are looking for when it comes to hunting. I have two PA antlerless licenses for the Wildlife Management Unit where my newly found clearcut is located. That means, I have the potential to harvest a buck, two does, a bear, coyotes, and possibly a fall turkey from this one stand. I'm still looking for my first PA archery black bear and with the numerous large rocks and mountain laurel adjacent to all the toppings in the clearcut, I've come across the "black bear trifecta" as one PA Game Commission Wildlife Biologist told me years ago and I hope to utilize that diversified habitat to my advantage.

Next time, you see logging trucks rolling in your area or near where you like to hunt, keep an eye out for the exact location where that timber is coming out of. That distinct edge in the forest, between the tree line and the clearcut area, may be the edge you need to fill your tags when it comes to white-tailed deer and possibly other highly desirable game species.



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