Public or private land: Public Land, ANF
Date: November 19, 2020
Specs: 11-point, 16-inch spread
BTR Score: 173 inches
Chris Singer, 38, loves hunting in the Allegheny National Forest. It’s tough, challenging hunting, but Singer has taken a few good bucks over the years, including a 170-inch giant last archery season.
Ralph Scherder: You’ve taken some nice bucks in the ANF, but this one is a show-stopper.
Chris Singer: It’s just absolutely amazing what the mountains have been producing anymore. With the points restriction, and, in my opinion, better habitat and cover nowadays, it produces a lot of inches.
RS: I think a lot of people overlook that aspect of it. The antler restrictions have helped, but the timbering operations are so much better, the food is better, the cover is better, deer are surviving hunting seasons and living longer, and they’re growing the racks.
Singer: Another thing I think people overlook is the amount of natural gas wells that create habitat as well. Two of my stands are near the edges of these circular-shaped gas wells. When you look at aerial photographs, they appear like a giant spider web, and they usually have that lush, fresh green grass and briar growing around them, some more than others, and that draws the deer in. Pay attention to which ones get the most sunlight.
RS: The buck you got last year, was it one that you knew was there?
Singer: I first learned of this deer in November 2019. I have one trail cam picture of him from the 13th of that month, and the time stamp on the photo was around 2:00pm. I was at work that day, go figure, that’s how it goes right! I had pulled that SD card on Thanksgiving weekend when my family and I were at my mother-in-law’s house for the holiday. As I was scrolling through the pictures my jaw dropped pretty hard when I came across him. I was sick to my stomach when I saw the time stamp, too.
I developed a relationship with this deer immediately. I spent three days last spring looking for his sheds but never found them. I looked in spring gobbler season, too. I hung trail cameras the summer of 2020 but never got another photo of him. The next time I saw him was the morning I harvested him, which was only about 25 yards from where I’d gotten the trail cam photo of him in 2019.
RS: Do you think he was living somewhere else and just using that area during the rut?
Singer: Yes, I do believe that was part of his rutting area. I have a friend who hunts the same general area and he had a picture of the buck this year about a mile and a half, maybe two miles away from where I harvested him. He got that photo around early September and the buck was still with some other bucks in a bachelor group.
As the crow flies, a mile and a half or two miles isn’t really that far away. Studies have shown that mountain bucks can travel up to five or even ten miles during the rut.
RS: Talk a little about the area where you killed this deer.
Singer: Well, it's much like the same style mountain hunting you do yourself, Ralph. I mainly hunt thicket edges and areas of new growth where logging has been done.
One of the things I key in on most is scrapes. The mountains of the ANF are such a big area, but if you can find a good, active scrape, you know a buck is eventually going to come by at some point. Some hunters believe that bucks will stop hitting scrapes when the rut is hot, but I have found this to be false based off of trail camera photos gathered over the years. I also like to hunt near small runs and tributaries. I’ve found that deer use those as travel corridors quite a bit during the rut, especially when you have a ridge on each side with a clearcut on top like this particular stand has.
One of the things that really stood out to me about the stand where I harvested this buck, too, was that it had an isolated patch of browse on the bottom side. It seemed like does were coming into this particular patch to feed quite a bit at first light. There wasn’t a lot of buck sign, but there was a lone scrape along the run that I was keying in on come first week of November, which was the first time I hunted the stand this past fall. The second time I hunted the stand was the day I tagged him.
RS: How did you find this stand?
Singer: I found this stand during gobbler season 2017. That’s when I like to do a lot of my scouting because the deer trails are very pronounced and a lot of the undergrowth, ferns and such, hasn’t filled in yet. You can really see where the deer travel and scrapes from the previous season stick out like a sore thumb.
Every year I’ve hunted this spot, I’ve moved my stand from one tree to another, within 20 yards of the last, trying to pinpoint more precisely where the deer usually pass through. This was the third different tree I’d tried, and I’m glad I re-hung it this time. A beautiful black cherry tree that will forever hold a special place in my heart.
RS: What was it about this location that really caught your eye?
Singer: The isolated browse patch was a big thing. It is a huge patch of greenbrier that had a lot of undergrowth mixed in. There are clearcuts on the tops of each ridge, one cut older than the other, but it seemed like a lot of deer trails were leading to this particular spot. There is a consistent level of the run before it descends again at this location. Deer seemed drawn to it.
There were also a lot of trails that came up out of the creek bed, and a little flat area before it went up to the next bench, and then another small bench on top after that. But this flat on the bottom of the run seemed to be where deer were likely to pass through, like a travel corridor with a fast food joint along the way.
RS: You mentioned that you hunted this stand only twice all season. Why did you stay out of the area that long?
Singer: The main reason was the wind. For that particular stand, I need a southeast wind. The wind in the mountains is a constant battle. Sometimes you need a different direction than what you might initially think to get what you actually want in a particular spot due to the way the wind cuts through the hills and valleys. At this stand, even if the wind swirled a little bit, it usually went off in the direction I walked in from as long as the forecast was SE. It is incredible to watch milkweed silk work in this fashion.
When you get into November, wind patterns start to change more. Instead of prevailing winds coming from the west or northwest, like you get all summer into October, you start to get northeastern and southeastern winds a little more frequently as seasons change. So I’m constantly watching the weather, waiting for those ideal conditions.
Human intrusion into an area is also key. I usually don’t check my cameras unless I’m hunting that stand. But the H.I. Factor is a hard game to play on public land. When I saw the conditions were going to be perfect, I told my boss that I wanted to take off the last two days of archery season. I drove up to McKean County on Wednesday night and got there around 10:00pm. It was snowing a little bit and the deer were really moving. I probably saw close to 40 deer along the highway on my way up.
RS: The morning of the hunt. How did it all go down?
Singer: I call this stand “The Snow Stand“ because every time it snows, I get multiple trail cam photos of bucks. I got in there early because I had a two-mile drive off the hard road back into the woods on a forest road, and then another mile walk to my stand. It’s not an easy place to get into, so this stand is usually an all-day sit for me. I pack a lunch because I know I’m going to be there for a long time.
On the walk in, I must have cut about 30 different sets of deer tracks under my headlamp in the snow. The deer had definitely been active throughout the night, as I had seen on the drive up. I pulled the SD card out of my trail camera so that I could look at it in the dark when I got harnessed into my stand, but the camera batteries had died at some point and all I had pictures of were a few does from the last check.
As I was sitting there taking in the quietness of the woods and saying my prayers and it started getting light, I was looking down at the ground covered in fresh snow and could see that there were two sets of deer tracks basically criss-crossing each other right in front of my stand. One set came out of the clearcuts I was facing, headed towards the other, and the other set paralleled the run. Around 7:15, this buck came out of the facing clearcut, right toward me with his nose to the ground on that set of tracks, so I’m thinking they had to have been made by a hot doe.
RS: What was it like when you first saw this buck?
Singer: When I caught a glimpse of something coming out of the clearcut down to the run, I knew it was a buck and that it had a good set of antlers. I stood up immediately as he briefly disappeared into the creekbed and grabbed my bow and got ready. When he came up the other side, he stopped and looked both ways like deer often do for a second before continuing on. That’s when I realized he was a giant shooter, and my heart really started pumping almost to the point that I couldn’t hear anything.
At that point, he was only 30 yards away. He came up on the same flat as my treestand and headed toward the base of my tree. Even when he got within 15-20 yards, I didn’t have a shot because of some beech tree canopy, which hold their leaves pretty much all winter. The leaves provided good cover between the deer and me, though, and the light breeze was right in my face. I just continued to hold my top bow cam in front of my face to break it up like I do when a shooter buck approaches.
A lot of things were running through my head at that point. I was just trying to concentrate on his body language rather than his rack and thinking, “Oh, my goodness, he's right there and I might not even get a shot at him.” But I felt like my odds were pretty good.
The buck still had his nose to the ground on the same set of tracks at the intersection point of the other deer tracks, and he started to veer to my left, headed up the run on that set towards an opening in my 11 o’clock position. That’s when it really sunk it. I told myself I needed to calm down and make this count because it was going to happen in about five seconds. And then I told myself, “You shot 1,000 arrows off your deck this summer. What’s one more? He has no idea you are here, Chris, calm down.”
So as he was stepping into the opening, still with his nose to the ground, I slowly drew back. Oddly enough, he stopped right in the opening, sniffing a spot on the ground. When he started forward again, I made a little grunt sound and he stopped and looked in my direction but not at me. At 18 yards, and in a strange state of calmness, I squeezed my shoulder blades together and released my arrow... I watched the fletchings bury behind his front shoulder. I smoked him! At that moment, I seemed to regain my hearing and my world was now 100 mph. I raised my bow in the air and pumped it as hard as I could.
The buck did a mule-kick and ran up the run a little bit, crossed, and as he was going up the other side, I realized how big he truly was and how tall the tines were. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He looked so out of place. I had never seen a buck of this caliber in the woods in person.
He stopped on the other side of the creek bank and then started walking off really slow and lethargic back to the trail that he originally came in on, up towards the clearcut. He very slowly walked out of sight, and I kept saying in my head as he went, “Go down, go down!” But he never did in view.
Even though I knew it was a good shot, I still wanted to wait at least an hour before climbing down out of my stand, just to make sure he expired without pushing him.
I shot the deer around 7:15 and then just sat there thanking God for the opportunity to shoot a deer like that and replaying every worst possible scenario and “what if” in my head. I got a little bit emotional. I do every time I arrow a buck. It’s amazing, when you think about it. There’s so much land, so much woods, and it’s such a big area up north, and this buck came to a spot that I had scouted and placed my stand. It was such a good feeling knowing that the countless hours and miles on the boots finally paid off.
After waiting for what felt like an hour, I looked at my phone again and it was only 7:26!
I climbed down at 8:15 on the button and tracked him to where he went out of sight. He only made it 25 yards back into the thick stuff before he expired, only 10 feet from where I’m assuming he slept. There was a bed with large tracks coming out of it. The buck went about 100 yards total. I stood there in awe for 15 minutes, I think, before I even touched him, again thanking the good lord for a morning like no other that I will cherish forever.
RS: It’s interesting to note that you killed this deer November 19th. Prior to the 2020-21 hunting season, archery typically ended around the second weekend of November, but this year the Pennsylvania Game Commission extended the season. How did having that extra time to hunt shape your season? If the season had ended earlier, would you have hunted that spot earlier?
Singer: A few things dictate where and when I hunt. Number one is the wind. Number two is the weather in general. And number three is time available off of work.
A very good friend of mine also has a camp up there, and we try to plan our days off around when we think the rut will be hottest. This year, we had snow the first two days we hunted the first week of November, and then it warmed up to 65 degrees for the next four or five days and we didn’t see any movement until after dark spotlighting the big timber. The weather was obviously a huge factor.
It seems like every time it snows in the mountains, bucks are on their feet no matter what time of day it is. Especially the T times between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. When I saw the weather was going to be good those last two days of archery season, I just knew I had to get up there and bowhunt God’s country.