Newspaper column

Opening day fact and fiction

The opening of Indiana’s regular deer archery season on Oct. 1 represents the culmination of a lot of hard work and anticipation for many Hoosier hunters. But opening day doesn’t in any way resemble itself from 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.

Here are both good and bad truths about the current state of Indiana’s opening day of deer season.

Perhaps the most obvious change to our opening day is that it really isn’t opening day any more.

Hunters in the ever-expanding Deer Reduction Zones have been shooting at deer since Sept. 15. And with a bag limit of 10 deer in the zones, there is a lot of shooting to be done.

Additionally, youth firearms season and depredation hunts have already occurred statewide.

In many places, those hunts didn’t affect the deer herd or its movement. But in places where folks have been hunting before the starting gun officially goes off for the rest of us, opening day will be less fruitful and more closely resemble hunting conditions in mid-October.

Where they have been uninterrupted by people, dogs and gunshots all summer, deer will be predictable. Secluded food sources will be visited on opening day by the same does, fawns and yearling bucks that have been there nearly every evening for the past month.

Opening day does little for the hunter who is holding out for a mature or record-book buck, however.

Despite the accepted belief that the rut technically begins as soon as antlers are hard, hunters should not be fooled into thinking the rut is on. Old bucks only intentionally show themselves during the later, chasing phase of the rut.

That period usually happens after the mid-October lull in action and just before Halloween, depending on the weather and a couple other factors.

Novice hunters may be fooled into thinking bucks are preparing to mate by trail camera shots of yearling bucks sparring now, or the appearance of rubs and scrapes in the past couple weeks.

The reality is that September rubs are from velvet removal and the scrapes are from does and young bucks just going through the motions. Old deer get old by not doing any of these things in September and early October.

In fact, some mature bucks don’t rub or scrape at all.

Despite there being only a slight chance of seeing old bucks on Indiana’s opening day, it is still one of the greatest times to be in the field.

The abrupt, increased human presence in the woods and fields initially makes deer more active. For the first couple days they run and move around until they finally figure out staying still and hiding is a better survival technique.

On public ground and draw areas, opening day is nothing short of chaos. Deer move around in a panic. Sometimes the biggest issue in these places is just getting a deer to stand still long enough to take a good shot.

But despite the increased movement of does and small bucks on opening day, many Indiana hunters pass on open shots since Indiana’s season is so long. They reason there is more than enough time to harvest a deer later.

That is a mistake. Doe hunters should actually use the long season and opening day to their advantage and shoot the first doe they see.

Removing a doe from a hunting area as early as possible allows the deer pattern to return to normal over the long season.

It is a bad idea to kill a breeding age doe after mid-October if the goal is to also kill a buck in the same area. The disruption will push both bucks and does away at a time when they are establishing where they will spend the balance of the breeding season.

If a doe isn’t taken in the first week of archery season here, most good buck hunters will wait until after Christmas to try and fill the meat tag when the impact isn’t as great.

The one truth about opening day in Indiana that no one has ever changed is that it is a great time to ease back into the game and start building anticipation for more exciting hunts to come.

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Dad and I fishing the old-fashioned way.