By Rich Davenport, published January 2, 2022
The inaugural southern zone Holiday Deer Hunt is now in the books, and those hunters determined and persistent enough to extend their efforts into this new season were rewarded with a different experience, little to no snow on the ground, and some success, as deer have transitioned from breeding to feeding. Although much controversy surrounded this 7-day season while leading up to it, the hunt itself proved rewarding for some, while also showing that snow isn’t always on the ground in amounts ample to allow for snowmobile trail opening this time of year, and having hunters providing the economic stimulus proved better than no activity at all.
Make no mistake – by the time the Holiday Hunt rolled around, most hunters had cleaned their deer rifles and muzzleloaders, waxed their bowstrings in advance of a little storage time, and ushered in the New Year with hopes the world would return to some semblance of sanity not seen since the pre-covid days. Some hunters, however, donned the blaze orange a few more times, with more than a few welcoming 2022 with a bang and a final harvest of deer before the calendar turned. Whether you agree with the additional 7-day opportunity or not, whether your concerns were driven over potentially losing trail riding time, or simply enjoy the trails long after the final deer season is in the books, this new hunt showed a few things that just may warrant continuing this additional time afield into the foreseeable future. It may have also shown that perhaps adjusting the existing extended season may not be a bad idea after all.
For starters, based on first-hand experience and social media accounts, the woods during this time of year are certainly different. Most tall grasses and weeds, like switch grass and golden rod were laid down flat from snow and high winds well before Christmas. Cover took on a different form for the deer, and other wildlife, with blow downs ad tree tops from logging efforts harbored more deer than the traditional fields of late fall. What was striking was the sound of silence in the woods – no gunshots,very few chattering squirrels, no songbirds, like chickadees and pine siskens calling to each other, and except maybe for the occasional honking of flying flocks of Canada geese, or the raspy call of a murder of crows, the eerie silence of the early winter woods was eye-opening. And while deer movement during regular and the first extended season showed some haphazard movement in avoidance, the deer seemed more focused on moving to and from food sources, activities seemingly relegated to nocturnal movements just a few short weeks prior. While track seemed everywhere during the regular, deer movements became once again more predictable and concentrated once the rut had concluded, and the heavy concentration of hunters had left the field for the year.
For my part, I hit the woods on December 30 to get this new experience under my belt, and was pleasantly surprised to see several deer, and even got a shot at one, which I cleanly missed – something to address with the black powder rifle this off-season. In fact, the Doe that I had a shot at was one I walked up on, and the animal didn’t take off in full fright, which certainly surprised me. It sure seemed like the deer I encountered had all but returned to pre-hunting season activity, with preseason concerns over humans afield replaced with a half-curious, half-annoyed reaction to my presence. The only thing missing was a little snow cover and colder temperatures, not that I am complaining.
Time will tell whether this additional seven days impacted the total harvest in any significant way, but judging from the lack of hearing shots fired and encountering no parked vehicles along the roads, I would hazard a guess that participation was light, and far lower than the first extended season, which ran 9 days immediately following the close of regular season and closed on 12/21/21. Time will also tell whether the envisioned conflicts will be acted upon in 2022 with opt out rules or laws, but based on this year’s lack of snow and lack of snowmobile opportunities, perhaps those efforts will settle down.
Next year could bring heavy snow and very little hunting due to snow pack in the woods. Or, we could see another year without snow, or little snow, making once again the fear of conflicts completely moot. For this year, however, most hunters who participated in the 7-day hunt would agree that the season was fun, and will be looked forward to next year. More time is needed, a few more seasons under the belt, before judgment can be passed on the idea of this late season opportunity, but, based on the inaugural season, I would say it is a hunt worth hunting, bringing different demands, experiences and conditions that help further challenge the deer hunter. We look forward to insight into the harvest figures, both total for 2021 and for this holiday hunt as well.