Natural Pursuits

October Highlights a Season of Change


If September is autumn’s appetizer and November brings dessert, I would consider October the delectable main entrée in the middle of an incredibly satisfying meal.

This month is hands-down the absolute best time to be outdoors, relishing the sensory overload of Pennsylvania’s Appalachian autumn. With bold, colorful foliage setting the stage for crisp mornings and clear, starry nights, October’s refreshing transition highlights a true season of change.

To me, there is no better way to absorb the sights and sounds of fall than taking advantage of the abundant hunting opportunities our bountiful state offers in October. Archery and muzzleloader deer seasons, duck, squirrel, grouse, rabbit and pheasant, as well as fur-bearing seasons are all open for specific windows throughout this month.

Whether successful in harvesting an animal or not, the immersive experience of pursuing these game species on their home turf affords hunters a chance to really see the woods in all of their glory.

Yes – hikers, birders and mountain bikers can obviously experience nature in their own ways too, but the stealthy, quiet, cautious and observant elements of hunting really lend themselves to a closer, more intimate view through the looking glass.
Many of my “unsuccessful” hunts have lead to the most incredible encounters with wildlife in the purest form. In fact, there have been several occasions when I have witnessed animals doing  interesting acts, and they never even knew I was there. I never made a sound, moved an inch, or pulled a trigger, yet I was fortunate to become a silent audience member in one of the best shows around.

I always enjoy seeing how busy animals become this time of year. As if some sort of internal alarm sounds within them, they worry themselves with preparations for colder, darker days ahead. Gray squirrels cache away stockpiles of nuts, Canada geese join larger flocks and begin to work their way south, and white-tailed deer become more active, fattening up as their breeding season approaches.

Perhaps, the most profound encounters are those when I realize I’m not the only hunter in the woods. From archery deer stands, I’ve watched a mink scent-trail a cottontail rabbit through dense corn stubble and a red-tailed hawk snatch a chattering squirrel with its talons right out of a nearby tree.

Last year, while hunting wood ducks on a secluded stream, I observed a decent buck work his way along a hillside, then angle up over an oak flat out of sight. Minutes later, my well-trained ears acknowledged the unique “twang” of a crossbow, the crash of a deer on fallen leaves, and an excited phone call to a friend or relative to share the news that this unknown hunter had successfully filled his buck tag.

I never walked up over the ridge to meet that hunter, but I could relate to his feelings of accomplishment in that special moment. I, too, hunt for meat to help feed my family. Just like the hawk and the mink, we rely on our adaptive skills, tools and intelligence to outwit our prey.

While we don’t always attain our goals, we take great pride in the few moments when everything comes together and we are rewarded with wild, organic sustenance.  At the same time, we play a vital role in maintaining appropriate checks and balances within the ecosystem so all species can thrive.

These “successful” harvests mark the pinnacle of our days afield, but they are far from the sole measure of success. Simply being out there to witness the awe-inspiring view of an October sunrise, to be present as the forest reawakens with activity, and to be there again in the evening when the sun draws the blinds on another day is an experience that never gets old.

The cascade of colors further sweetens the pot. As our diverse assortment of deciduous foliage takes turns adding its own unique hues to the canvas, we are rewarded by its parting gifts. In one glorious swan song, it paints the landscape orange, amber, yellow, sienna, crimson, rust and tawny brown before dancing away to the forest floor.

Even the menacing poison ivy vines become beautiful, if only for a fleeting moment, before they wither away, leaving behind hairy, clinging tendrils to weather winter’s impending fury.

I love spending quiet days in the deer stand, just drawing in the colors, or hunting behind my bird-dog Cali as she lopes through the underbrush pursuing pheasants. Seeing my four-legged companion work — instinctively trailing, always searching — in such a gorgeous setting, is incredibly rewarding to witness. She was bred to hunt, and her drive is as natural as the cool breeze that sways the stalks of foxtail and goldenrod. These simple pleasures breathe new life into my soul, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

October offers a brief window to see Pennsylvania’s environment at the peak of its grandest display. From colorful foliage to dynamic wildlife, there’s no better time to be outdoors. Do your best to take it all in while it lasts because the curtains will close before we know it.