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Ridgerunners

Posted: March 27, 2019

Revisiting a DFB celebrity, Buck 8917

You might remember Buck 8917.  There was much drama surrounding his death.  He was likely mortally wounded in an encounter with another buck. Immediately after the encounter, he left his home range and died in a spot we knew he had visited only once 2 years prior.  

It's a cold case with no more leads. Why did he pick that spot to die? Was he born there? What was the fatal injury? Was Buck 8937 really the murderer?  A mystery that will never be solved. 

That's what makes Buck 8917 so intriguing.  We can't know more about his death but maybe we can learn more about his life like his hiding spot during rifle season. If you recall (or read the links above), before the legal hunting hours of rifle season he would head to the top of a ridge and sit there most of each day.

What is so great about this spot?  What is the habitat like? How hard is it to get there?

A few weekends ago, Lisa and the dogs decided my curiosity was a good excuse for a hike.

Here’s a map of Buck 8917's favorite place. Notice how it’s on top of the ridge on the southeast side. It also is the furthest you can get from any road. The purple circles indicate where he tended to hang out during the early morning hours.

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My plan was to climb the less steep north-facing slope and cross a small stream to reach this destination. Turns out this was not the best plan.

It’s March, it’s been wet for the past 12 months, and crossing that stream would have required hip waders!

Plan B - go a bit further west and park at a bridge. No hip waders needed.
The start was pretty good. We followed an old logging road to the east and then headed up the slope.

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Plan B was not without flaw either.  The slope got really steep. And the snow was almost ice.

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It took us about an hour to make it to the top of the ridge. As we were hiking, I was thinking that there couldn’t be any deer crazy enough to be walking up this ridge in the winter…

Of course, that would be wrong. Just as we crested the top, there was a deer track that was probably a week or so old.
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Here’s what we found on the south side of the mountain top.

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It’s not super thick with understory vegetation, but unless you have a tree stand you’re not going to see more than about 30-40 yards, at best.

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Now, how do we get out of here? I wasn’t interested in trying to slide back down the north slope, so we walked west along the ridge and then dropped down a REALLY steep section to the road. Our dogs did not appreciate the rock climbing.

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Below is a map of our path and a graph of the elevation and speed of our hike. Funny how your pace (blue line) slows as slope steepens. The total hike was 4.37 miles with an elevation change of just over 600 feet.

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The one disappointment was that we still didn't quite make it to the exact hiding spot of Buck 8917 - that was about a half mile to the east of where we broached the ridgetop.

How Do You Hunt These Deer?

Well, let’s be honest. There are many other deer in Pennsylvania much easier to hunt.

But if your goal is to harvest an older-aged buck on state forest land hunting these ridge tops might increase your odds of success.

Keep in mind that a 4.5-year-old buck is no longer a rarity on our study areas. We have documented some of the lowest harvest rates of any place we have studied deer in Pennsylvania.

So if I were to hunt this area I would do the following:

  1. Haul a climbing tree stand up before the hunting season. Probably at least a week before the rifle season because it’s clear that all deer are responding to activity prior to opening day. Running up there the day before the opener could simply alert a buck that his hiding spot is no longer a secret.
  2. Choose a position somewhere along the southern lip of the ridge top. You're not going to get there before he does, but you might catch him mid-day walking along the ridge.
  3. Don't walk to your stand in the dark. Head up the mountain at first light and plan to spend an hour hiking. Pack your warm clothes on your back because you won’t need them on the hike.
  4. Stay awake. All day.
  5. Head back down about 3:30pm because you’ll break your neck trying to get out in the dark.

Final thoughts

  1. A game camera probably won't help you. If you look at the movements of Buck 8917 in the other posts, he rarely goes up on the ridge except for rifle season.
  2. Don't expect to run into me during your hunt! I save my energy for upland game bird hunting and opt for the easier whitetails in Pennsylvania.

 

What are your odds of success? I’m not a betting man. And only you can say whether the effort is worth the payoff. Good luck!

-Duane Diefenbach

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