Should have been walleye fishing

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Nowhere that I know about is it written in stone that we must go deer hunting on the opening day of the regular firearms season. To be bluntly honest, I would rather have a limit of walleye than any deer other than a huge buck. Eating the walleye would be much more enjoyable and more healthy. And dragging walleye to the truck is not much of a chore.

Monday morning I allowed the rain to keep me indoors. In the afternoon I went to the KQDC, in McKean County to pull trail cameras and hunt while walking to the trail cams. Several vehicles were parked along Route 321 between Marshburg and Willow Run. But very few were hunting off the forest roads. All of the roads where gates were open were covered in most places with snow packed to ice.

It may be that deer on large parts of the KQDC do not even know hunting season is even open. Mature bucks might still be moving.

Through the afternoon and to the end of shooting hours I did not hear any shooting.

Considering the weather and poor visibility, the KQDC deer check station at Timberedoodle Flats was a pretty lively place. About 15 adult bucks were checked in, plus a few does. Some of the heavier bucks and their ages were a 4 ½ year-old that weighed 162 pounds, a 4 ½ year-old that weighed 160 pounds, a 3 ½ year-old that weighed 158 pounds, a 3 ½ year-old that weighed 156 pounds, a 4 ½ year-old that weighed 154 pounds, a 5 ½ year-old that weighed 151 pounds, and a 3 ½ year-old that weighed 150 pounds. All of those weights were for field dressed deer.

All of the antlers on these heavier bucks were nice. There is no question that the KQDC is a special place for hunters who want to hunt big woods buck that might make the record books.

Since the KQDC was established in 2000, average weights for all age classes and both sexes have increased notably. The age of the bucks has increased a lot. Antler size improved considerably.

The last half-hour was spent overlooking a hillside where I had seen many deer tracks in past years. This is when it occurred to me that time might better be spent walleye fishing. But it was also, in my estimation, a very good time to be deer hunting.

Wednesday was my next chance to hunt. Bill Anderson met at 8:00 a.m. at my home, then he drove us to Hearts Content. This was not a good day for deer hunting. Just a little snow had fallen overnight. The temperature was down, but only a few degrees. The weasel in the hen house was the wind which increased through the morning. Neither of us so much as crossed a fresh deer track.

Then there was some new information we got from a Pellet Group Count crew with the U.S. Forest Service Northeast Research Station. It seems that the deer population in that area is down to about 8 deer per square mile. A large share of deer hunters in the 1990s would have abandoned the sport if deer density went below 30 deer per square mile.

It appears to me that the overall attitude of hunters about current deer management methods has switched from mostly opposed to mostly in approval.

Mike Stimmell and I do a fair job of checking the deer population past Hearts Content and looping around the Hickory Creek Wilderness. Although I had not thought of it, our evidence supports the low deer population around Hearts Content. Until a few years ago we would see several deer, including some nice bucks, right at the Hearts Content picnic pavilion. But now we have not seen any deer there for about three years.

The Hickory Creek Wilderness is another matter entirely. Our one-night count of the loop his an even 100 deer this fall, by about 13 the most deer we have seen on the loop. All of out highest deer counts have been in the past three years. Prior to that, normal counts were in the 40s or 50s.

This is a good lesson for scouting. I was going to suggest Hearts Content as a good place to take younger hunters hunting for does because I was not current on the deer situation.