This Monday marks the opening day of rifle deer hunting season in Pennsylvania. It also marks my maiden voyage into state game lands in search of a whitetail buck.
Growing up in the south central part of the state I never took part in hunting season. My mom, fearful of our safety, constantly warned us not to venture into the woods this time of year. Looking back, her thinking was driven in large part by a lack of understanding of hunting ethics and safety.
For my dad's part, he preferred fishing to hunting and had limited time for both back then. The only "hunting" story I ever heard involving him happened back before I was born and probably has a lot to do with why he never picked up a rifle for deer season.
As the story goes, a particularly nasty groundhog spent a great deal of time ravaging the garden my parents had in our backyard. This garden wasn't a manicured oasis of flowers, bushes and shrubs but one with potatoes, red beets and corn my parents would freeze and can to get us through the winter. Yes, we were those kind of people growing up in the rolling hills and woods of southern Pennsylvania.
Now, back to that devilish groundhog. Dad, angered that this pest continued to take food off the table, became determined to vanquish his foe. He borrowed a .22 rifle from a neighbor and began spending evenings after work with his back propped against an apple tree waiting for the varmint.
Finally one evening, the groundhog came out of hiding. Dad tensed, waited, then squeezed off a round. Then another round. And then another round. One sprayed the groundhog in a shower of dirt, another whizzed through the corn patch, and the thinking is the third ended up lodged in a tree.
To my knowledge, dad never picked up a rifle again and we never had another firearm in the house.
Fast forward 30 *cough* 7 *cough* years and we get to the summer of 2015. At the encouragement of my wife, I decided to learn the art of hunting myself. It is not something I have rushed.
Last September, after doing a good bit of internet research and talking to a number of experienced hunters, I bought my deer rifle; a Remington 700 SPS chambered in a .308 and coupled it with a Leupold VX-1 scope. A few weeks later I began taking it to the range to get comfortable with the way the rifle works and sight in the scope under the watchful eye of my friend Charley who grew up in a hunting family.
A few people who knew I was pursuing hunting as a new way to enjoy the outdoors asked me if I would be hunting during the 2015 antlered deer season. The answer remained constant. "No," I would tell them. "I need to get accommodated with the rifle first, plus take my hunter's ed. safety course."
The latter happened this past summer. Instead of spending a day in the classroom, I took the course online. As a new dad it was the way to go. I could start and stop at any time which is a huge convenience when you're keeping tabs on a four month old. After a couple of days going through the tutorials and practice tests I took and passed the final exam. Two days later I stopped off at my local sporting goods store on the way home from work and picked up my hunting license.
Sighting in the rifle happened about a month ago during a couple hours at the range near the game lands I plan to hunt come Monday. I'll be making one last trip to that range this weekend to make a few final adjustments and practice from a few different shooting positions I may encounter in the field.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I won't be up in a tree stand. One, I don't have the money for one right now. Two, I'd rather be on the ground. Still hunting or spot and stalking a deer will hopefully do a couple of things for me. First, it will immerse me more fully in my surroundings. Second, I feel it will help me learn the habits of deer more quickly.
Those assumptions may be wrong and I'm fully open to any critique, criticism, or suggestion that comes my way. I'm a novice and know I know next to nothing. With that in mind I have set a few limits on myself: I will only take a shot under 100 yards and I will only take that shot if the deer is broadside and standing still.
My goal this season is not to bag a monster buck. If Fortune smiles upon me and it happens, great. If I end up with a small shooter buck that puts meat in the freezer, that's great too. But it's also not my main goal. My main goal is to have a safe hunt, to learn something new about the world around me, to immerse myself as fully as I can in that world and ultimately hit the reset button if only for a couple of hours.
*Jeff Herman is the assistant news director at WMAR | ABC2 and a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. His main passion while not at work is fishing. This column is part of a series of columns he writes for our outdoors page . You can read more of his columns here . Follow him on Twitter @JeffABC2News and @TightLinesABC2