Sunday, December 28, 2014

Frye: Flintlock Hunt Tough But Fun

There are different ways of keeping score in the outdoors.

Not all are good. If you get hooked up with a guy who's loud about how many more trout he has caught or pheasants he has shot, who crows about his successes and revels in your defeats, that can ruin an otherwise good time in a hurry.

But there are fun ways.

A group of flintlock hunters I spent time with back in the day used to count clicks, bangs and hits.

We'd split up, put on drives, move some deer around, then take a tally. Clicks were the times someone had pulled a trigger without getting their gun to fire, either because their powder was wet or the pan powder had fallen out or something else had gone wrong. Bangs were when the rifle fired without doing damage to the local deer population. Hits were when someone killed a deer.

It was an awful lot of fun, even if there were a lot more clicks and bangs than hits.

Some of that should have been expected. There may not be a tougher game than trying to tag a deer in the post-Christmas flintlock hunt. It started Dec. 26 and runs through Jan. 10.
Deer populations are at their lowest point of the year, the weather — always an issue when you're shooting blackpowder — is often dicey, and there are few hunters in the woods to move game.

The result is a small harvest.

That's despite a rule that, in theory, makes things easier. Hunters with a flintlock license can shoot a buck with an unused back tag, provided it has the right number of points, or a doe with a doe tag, of course. But they can shoot a doe with an unused back tag, too.

Still, according to information from Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau, hunters took just 1,800 bucks and 8,000 does last flintlock season. That was up over the previous year but still represented less than 3 percent of the total deer harvest for 2012-13.
Bucks are especially tough to come by.

Wildlife management unit 2D gave up 140 antlered deer to flintlock hunters last year — and still led the state by a wide margin. Only one other unit even gave up as many as 100.

Units 1A and 2C gave up 70 each, unit 1B 50, units 2A and 2F 40 each, unit 2E 30 and units 2B and 2G each. A couple of units, including 2H, gave up as few as 10.

That's likely a bit misleading. Hunters sometimes shoot a deer with a bald head, only to find out that it's indeed a buck but one that's dropped its antlers.

Jeannine Fleegle, a biologist with the commission, said biologists every year check bucks that lost their antlers by the regular rifle season. They continue dropping them thereafter.
“Natural variation and general health (which relates to nutrition) of a buck contribute to the timing of antler drop which occurs any time from December through March,” Fleegle said.
But maybe that's another way to keep score.

Finding a buck sporting legal antlers is one thing. Getting a shot at it is another. Actually bagging it something else altogether.

The odds aren't in your favor. But what fun it will be playing the game.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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