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Saturday, August 18, 2007

It’s Time To Go Deer Spotting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, August 18, 2007.)
Spotlighting is fun, inexpensive, and holds
the anticipation of seeing something unexpected.
One of rural Pennsylvania’s most popular summer-to-fall transitional activities is spotlighting deer. Across the state Pennsylvanians are shining lights in farm fields, counting deer and looking for the wallhanger. It’s considered by many urbanites to be a redneck activity, but you don’t have to be a fugitive from a Jeff Foxworthy joke to participate. Spotlighters might be anyone from a group of teenagers, to young family, to a middle-aged husband and wife, to a couple of retirees.

Spotlighting is fun, inexpensive, and holds the anticipation of seeing something unexpected. Besides deer, you might see coyotes, bears, raccoons, possums, skunks and more. I even saw a bobcat once.

Certain weather factors can make spotlighting a big night out. If the temperature is cool, if the air is clear, and if the ground is wet, you’re likely to see plenty of deer. Although we don’t have quite as many deer as we did a few years ago, you still might see 50 or 60 on a good night. I’ve heard stories from years past of that many in a single field.

All it takes is a powerful spotlight with a focused beam. Not many years ago, a good spotlight had maybe 300,000 or 400,000 candlepower. Today’s lights are much brighter – up to 3 million candlepower – and they’re relatively inexpensive. They take advantage of new technology both in the kinds of bulbs and in better reflector mirrors that throw a beam hundreds of yards with little apparent dissipation of the light.

If you have a good pair of binoculars with a big exit pupil and a wide field of vision, take them along. The wide field of vision helps to locate what you want to look at, and the large exit pupil maximizes the amount of light that reaches your eyes. A camera might be a good thing to have along too, in case you get a chance to snap a shot of a monster buck close to the road.

Spotlighters need to remember the rules. Foremost is automotive safety. Never block the road. Don’t stop for an extended period. Avoid shining the light at other vehicles. Make it easy for vehicles behind you to pass. Watch where the ditch is. You don’t want nighttime fun to turn into an all-night nightmare.

As for the legalities, you must never throw your spotlight on a house, a barn or on livestock. It basically amounts to harassment, and nothing bothers rural farmers and homeowners more. Don’t drive in fields either – stay off private property completely. One reason people live in rural areas is to avoid lights, traffic and various intrusions, so have respect for property owners. Don’t fixate on your rights. Instead, consider the rights of the landowners. Courtesy and common sense go a long way.

Remember that it’s against the law to spotlight with a firearm or bow in your vehicle. Even if you’re licensed to carry, it’s best to leave it home to avoid any question unless you absolutely must carry it. And you must quit at 11:00 PM – a law that protects rural residents. Think about it – even though Pennsylvania is a rural state, it has some highly populated rural areas that sometimes see plenty of traffic.

Also, it’s worth being reminded that at certain times spotlighting is illegal. For example, beginning with the Sunday evening before the firearms deer season, it’s illegal to spotlight deer until the season is over. Check the regulations.

Besides the enjoyment of seeing deer, spotlighting is a popular means of scouting. You can find where legal bucks are concentrated, and where the big ones are. But keep in mind that scouting by means of spotlighting deer is more effective during the early part of archery season. Once the bucks start chasing does, they have something on their minds besides grazing in open fields. They won’t follow a schedule and may disappear from an area completely.

As cornfields begin to be cut, as bucks’ antlers begin to harden, and as they become less reclusive, it’s a good time to turn off the Discovery Channel and discover wildlife firsthand. But stay out of trouble, stay safe, stay on the road, and stay out of the hair of landowners.


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