On The Ridge: Rules, rules, rules

Published: 10/27/2021 6:36:13 PM

Anyone who knows me (except for perhaps my dear mother who, for some reason, always seemed to refer to me as “incorrigible”) knows that I am a guy who tries to stay within the rules when it comes to hunting. Now, that doesn’t mean I haven’t stumbled once or twice in over 50 years of doing this, because I have. But I feel very safe in saying that I am not a person who knowingly attempts to find ways to break the rules.

Fair chase is very important to me in all aspects of hunting, and I have followed this path for decades now with absolutely no complaints thus far. Nevertheless, there are times when you need to consider “breaking the rules,” especially when deer hunting, just to try to make something happen. But again, I’m not talking about breaking the law, or violating game laws that all of us who take the sport seriously should be well versed in. I’m talking about some of the cardinal rules of hunting which sometimes must be broken just to give yourself an opportunity for success.

Bow season for deer in Massachusetts is really starting to heat up now with big bucks being taken all over the state. Thousands of hunters are in the woods, everywhere, waiting and hoping for their chance. And one of the cardinal rules when hunting whitetail deer, especially from an elevated stand, is to stay in the stand for as long as possible after moving there on a path that will minimize the chance of a deer sensing you. That’s a solid rule to follow. Had I not once broken that rule during a brutally cold morning in New York however — when I noticed a small group of deer slowly moving about 150 yards away — I would never have filled a tagged that morning. So as I sat in that tree stand quickly thinking through my options, I eventually decided to bail out and start moving parallel to where I thought the deer were heading while carefully keeping my distance. Once there, I buried myself into a huge maple tree, while hoping the deer hadn’t already passed by. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later, I spotted movement heading in my direction, and at about 25 yards, the largest of the three was so intent on what she was doing, that she, or any of them, never even noticed when the arrow released. So yes, conventional wisdom and rules do exist when you’re deer-hunting. But sometimes you must break from the rules in hopes of making something happen.

I’m not saying that you should suddenly forget about those rules when deer hunting. Just the opposite, as these methods are proven and work every year all throughout New England. But the key is to get into a comfortable pattern with your own ability to know when the time is right to follow the rules, or break them, even just a little bit. And remember, the more time you spend afield, and the more places you hunt, the more you will begin to recognize these special moments and opportunities as they present themselves. When they do, you’ll be able to easily make those split-second decisions… Should I stay or go? Be still or move? Go by the book, or take a chance? Break some rules or just plain go for it, and hope that everything will work out?

That’s when hunting smart, and being confident enough to trust your instincts really takes precedent over everything else. Like that bright, but snowy Thanksgiving morning, completely by luck, when I heard and then spotted two does running along a ridge below me about a hundred yards away. I was slowly moving toward a tree stand that morning, but quickly abandoned the idea when more commotion demanded my attention. I barely had enough time to move into an opening and step in front of a massive root ball that would break up my outline, before the rut-crazed 8-pointer’s head came barreling up and over the ridge directly into my view. He was hot on the trail of those does and they were on a path that would bring them straight by me at an unbelievable distance, but only if they kept on course and didn’t wind me. Again, as luck would have it, the two passed almost broadside at 11 steps away, with the buck moving steadily right behind them. And as I watched the colored fletching of my arrow speeding toward him, the buck had no idea what was happening or that I was even there.

Hunting in situations like these, where you’re suddenly forced to step outside the conventional wisdom of what you know, means staying alert, hunting smart, and not being afraid to trust your instincts when the time is right. And when the moment calls for it, breaking some rules and doing something unconventional, which means trying to make something happen, all without adversely affecting the areas that you’re hunting in. With bucks often riding the “oblivion express” during the rut, which has yet to arrive in Franklin County, these are the times when they become tone deaf to their surroundings. That makes the rut the best time to take gambles, and maybe break a few rules that won’t get you into trouble, but just may get you into some venison.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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