On this week's Deer Season Special Bonus episode of the Pennsylvania Woodsman we are joined by Steve Sherk Jr. from Sherk's guide service. Many of you know Steve as the public land grinder who spends 300+ days a year in the woods scouting and hunting. Steve has shared insight throughout the years via podcasts and social media for many hunters providing strategy and advice. But what goes on in a Pennsylvania public land guide service?
Steve shares stories of different clientele that have traveled from all over the country to hunt with him. He recalls big deer that hit the ground after years of pursuit. He also recalls the ones that got away, for some pretty crazy reasons too! We discuss the higher odds success of Pennsylvania rifle season and some of Steve's strategies to connect amidst the orange army. This episode meshes well with the time of year - hopefully you can learn from some of these stories if you still have a tag in your pocket!
Check out the Sportsmen's Empire Podcast Network for more relevant outdoor content!
You're listening to the Pennsylvania Woodsman Podcast Deer Season Special. These bonus episodes revolve around deer hunting stories and experiences from a host of deer hunters. These whitetail hunting BS sessions will be launched every week during the 2023 hunting season, adding fuel to your fire in the deer woods.
Be entertained and hopefully learn something along the way. The title sponsor of the Deer Season Special Series is Vantage Point Archery. Home to the toughest machined one piece broadheads made in the USA. VPA products are built to last, which is why they have a lifetime warranty. And if you're not completely satisfied, you can send it back, which I highly doubt will occur.
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The [00:01:00] Pennsylvania Woodsman is also brought to you by radox hunting home of the emcor cell camera Stick and pick camera accessories and much more. Also, brought to you by Vitalize Seed, a 1 2 planning system designed with diversity and biology in mind, making it the best food plot available. And lastly, by Huntworth Gear, quality hunting clothing at an affordable cost.
Makers of heat boost technology. This week we're joined by none other than... The other shirk himself. That's right. Steve shirks from shirks guide service is joining us this week to talk all things about his business. We're going to discuss what it's like to be a guide throughout the season when he likes to guide the most Steve's most passionate about archery, but we lead into a bigger conversation of guiding people throughout the season and what it's like to hunt in the big woods during rifle season and how some of those strategies have played out for he.
His family and mostly his clients. We're going to talk about still hunting, stand hunting, and [00:02:00] everything under the sun when it comes to hunting the big woods, the way that Steve Shirk likes to do it. So it's an all around great conversation filled with all kinds of stories of big bucks that were shot and ones that got away.
Thanks for tuning in.
Joining me today on the show, I got the other Shirk in town for Pennsylvania. Mr. Steve Shirk, how you been? Good. How about yourself? Oh, I am kicking in, kicking and rolling as much as I can. We, it's been really fun. My my two boys, I've got a three year old and a one year old and the three year old is becoming such a personality now, like he has his own personality is very reactionary stuff.
And I think the funnest thing I've had so far is. Every time we get in the truck, I always put on the country music that I like to listen to. And right now his kick is listening to Hank Williams Jr. And I love it. I'm laughing my tail
off at it. Yeah, I know just what you mean. Seems [00:03:00] like the other day my son was three and he's it's just neat to see which little avenues they take as far as, like it's suddenly when they develop a personality, what their interests, what they're starting to show an interest in and what they like and what they don't like and.
So you're in a real exciting time. So it's really cool that you're enjoying
that. I see it as like the building block years. And there's so many times I'm just like, this is such a pain in the neck, but at the same time, it's going to go by so quick and I don't want to miss it. Now your son's getting a little bit older there.
Is he starting to get to the age where he's interested in deer hunting?
He is somewhat, he's really into sports though, baseball and basketball. It's what I want to say it seems like the sports take over so much of his free time that, I probably don't get him out enough. It's certainly not a complaint on my end.
Sure. He I'm also enjoying I'm coaching a lot, the sports for him and as long as he's happy and doing things that are outgoing and good for him, that's [00:04:00] fine with me. Man,
that has to be quite the balance because you've got, between landscaping, scouting for the upcoming season, and then being a coach and dad, like, how the heck do you balance that?
It's just crazy I'm not complaining, but it's just seems like There's never a minute of my day, even in the late evening hours, that there's not something on my schedule. But I'm also not like a real laid back, sit on the couch kind of person. I like to stay busy.
So in a lot of ways, this is, this makes my life more enjoyable for me than having to think about mowing the lawn or. Weed and flower beds at the house and chores like I'd rather be doing stuff with my son and my family. So sure, definitely. It's definitely a good time in my life.
Sure. So how has the preseason scouting been going into 2023 for you?
Any different changes for you going into things or was it the still same grind that you normally do?
eFfort wise, I would say the same. I'm really starting to to really put in, a [00:05:00] lot of scouting effort right now. Luckily at least good and bad, but I'm not getting or a lot of my landscaping stuff slowing down.
A lot of it's just like maintenance and that, but I worked real hard this summer to try to get ahead. I didn't think I'd be in this position, but I only have one or two decent jobs for the rest of the year. Then I think my employees can take care of the rest for me. That being said, that's going to get me in the woods a lot more, which I'm already, like I said, getting freed up.
But as far as you know what this year is looking I think the deer numbers are really good, especially big buck numbers. buT things are a lot different this year. Like we haven't had a good acorn crop in three years. We finally seen acorns this year. We've been getting a fair amount of rain.
Early in the summer it was super dry and I was worried, but most of the summer we've got plenty of rain. Other years, past couple years, water's been an issue. It just seems like this year it just seems like it has a lot of good potential. [00:06:00] There's a lot more. Things that, that I see that get me excited and confident than other years.
You can never be for sure. I'm not going to plan or definitely make any predictions, but I just feel really good about what I'm
seeing this year. Yeah. It makes me feel good too. And it makes me like. Have a little bit more confidence just because some of the time I spent scouting, I noticed there was decent acorns in a few places that I scouted and conversing with some of my buddies in the other places that I hunt, that they were doing some legwork.
They were talking about finding acorns, which the areas that they hunted actually excited me because those are areas that I spend time bear hunting and I feel like it's been so long since we've had. Years where it's like walking on marbles through the woods and, you can't let a Laurel bush or a rhododendron bush unturned without seeing if there's a bear on the other side, which I really enjoy that and that part of the the hunting, the mass crop definitely has a huge impact on stuff.
Let me ask you, how many years has it been now since you've you've run the guide service?
wHitetail guiding is probably going on, I'd say about [00:07:00] 11 now, but I've been guiding, say guiding since literally like 19, 20 years old. I'm 37 now, but I started off, maybe you knew I might have said it before, but I started off guiding grouse.
It's a long story though, but, it just wasn't my thing. It was still really cool to be in the woods all day, get paid, take people hunting, but I'm not much of a grouse hunter. I'm I'm a, obviously a big passionate deer hunter. So I ended up switching over and doing the whitetail thing.
And like I said, it's been going really well. I'm just about all booked up. I have a few spots left, but I'm both ends of my own hunting and The way the season's looking and, the business so I'm just real excited to don't have anything real negative to say so far.
So I'm not
going to be complaining. Yeah, as a guide I've obviously I've never guided, but I've definitely been in situations hunting where, whether it's a group hunt or I'm taking a friend or family [00:08:00] member, something with me and I always, you always put pressure on yourself in a sense when you're taking people hunting, because you feel like their expectation might.
be higher than yours, so to speak. And you want to produce and stuff like that. So when you get booked up. Fully through the season, which is fantastic. Are you at the point now of doing this, as long as you have, where you have a good feel of how the seasons have the potential to go, or I'm just curious what it's like season to season.
Is it different every year as far as the highs and lows, or do you have a good sense of what the That expectation should be like, not necessarily, from, every hunting season is different, but from like client expectations and trends through seasons. I don't know if that makes sense or not.
I will say, yeah, every year is a little bit different. There's also similarities too, every human being is different and obviously that would make every hunter different. As you get new guys every year, you don't know what to expect. I'll be honest with you.
Sometimes the hunter [00:09:00] just very hard to cater to, very hard to meet their needs, may not be a good physical condition. Some of them are just, are probably aren't meant for the big woods or, mountain buck style of hunting. They think they are, then they try it, climbing up steep mountains every day and, hunting areas with low deer densities like.
When you get new clients, that's where things can really change in a hurry. Luckily, we get a lot of the same people to come back every year, too. And that's always nice because You just, you've gotten to know the hunter, you know what their expectations are, needs you, and even also they start to become familiar with the area where it's just much easier to put them in areas every year because they've been so many places already, we have hunters that if we think their spot is good again, we'll give them that spot, if we feel that, there's a good deer in the area or it just seems, like just has good numbers or dependent on their standards too.
But[00:10:00] like I said, the more people you get back to come every year, the easier it gets. And then the more new ones you get, the more of a challenge it gets. If that kind of answers your question.
Yeah, that makes sense. The, so you book through a lot of archery season and you book rifle season as well.
Do you have a favorite time that you really enjoy guiding or is the guiding itself, does that not change regardless of the phase of season?
I definitely am more into the archery part, the three, on the guide, three weeks and archery anyways. The last week of October, first two weeks of November.
But that's definitely my favorite period. I think because in gun season, there's more hunting pressure there's also not quite the same reactivity at a high level, because you're starting to get towards the tail end or maybe no rut at all. It's just more exciting when When your clients are coming back and you can, all of [00:11:00] them had a lot of action and just the rut.
Like I am, I'm not going to say everyone likes the rut the most, but that is my favorite time to be in the deer woods. So when I get to share that with a bunch of different hunters, that they're feeling the same passion as me. We're not dealing with a lot of hunting pressure at that time.
That's definitely my favorite at that time.
Yeah. And it would be my favorite too. And you've, correct me if I'm wrong, but you're on a streak here for the last few years, or you've been able to punch your tag during archery season, it's been a while since you've been gun hunting for, to fill your buck tag, right?
I honestly, I haven't even kept the number, but probably like 12 years or something like that. Okay. But also, I'm not definitely not going to say that I'm the best deer hunter. I think when I started guiding like it also made me a better deer hunter.
Plus it puts me in the woods a lot more too. And I, I don't have that [00:12:00] nine to five office job. Like I don't hunt probably as much as what some people would think, but. I definitely get out like every morning especially throughout the route, anywhere from, one to three hours or occasionally a little bit longer, I get some afternoon sits in for an hour or two, when you're able to put a lot of time and go pretty much every day I do think that has a huge impact on my success versus someone that, like I said works in a factory or whatever, and gets that one week a year that could just be in very lousy conditions.
Just not, not line up right. Definitely the guiding thing is impacted my success in a lot of ways.
And one, one way I wonder if it impacts it in a positive way, just thinking out loud, like I know for myself, when I'm trying to make a decision on what stand to sit, when to attack, if I'm going after, specific deer or just timeframe where deer like the frequent that I'm of the caliber I'm after something along those [00:13:00] lines.
Like I play the cat and mouse game. I think a lot of us do of second guessing yourself. I'm pretty sure this is my, this is what my gut tells me, something else in the back of my mind is telling me but you've got this caveat, maybe you should do this. And then of course it always seems like you make the wrong decision and you learn later that you should have.
But like, when it comes to guiding people, do you find yourself where you just Keep the logic and say, yeah, this is where you need to go. You, and, as long as you, this is fitting your I guess as a client, you probably haven't an idea or of what you want to do or how you want to do it.
But as long as it meets it from a physical standpoint, you can get there and you can hunt whether it's a pre hung or they're going to. Do a climber or whatever that might be. But if you say based on just solely on deer movement and the Calvary deer, you're going, this is what I've got, this is where you should go.
And I don't overthink it, so to speak with guiding, or do you still have that same lingering problem? Even when you guide?
nO, I actually think I, [00:14:00] I can't afford to overthink it because sometimes I got six to eight hunters at a time and it's just, it would make it too difficult, I.
Pre scalp for everyone try to get everyone on something as fresh as possible and leave it at that. You did bring up a good point though, like I usually, any time I get a new hunter I, I take it easy on them at first, like I'd rather go easy than beat someone up right off the bat as far as the terrain that they're going to have to go through to get to a spot or even I'm real easy on them as far as, I don't really force them.
I never force anyone, but sometimes if it's a guy that I know is going to hunt hard, I'll be like, man, you need to sit here three whole days in a row versus like a new hunter say, let's try this out for a day or two and sit there as long as you want. But, when you want to leave, it is what it is.
Like I'm not, I don't pressure them as much because not everyone like I will hunters like there's more hunters [00:15:00] that talk the walk, it's First anyone that I put in, six eight hour stretches in a tree stand or maybe even longer than that there's actually not a lot of hunters, especially You know that I guide that are willing to really hunt that hard.
Honestly, so You know you I've learned, this is a business and It's yeah, I want them to have success, but I more than anything want them to be comfortable and to have fun I've had guys that It just come and they're like, we only have a couple hours in the afternoon, if they obviously they pay and they want to come back year after year.
I look at it more from a business standpoint that they might hurt my success rate or whatever, but. Overall, I haven't had a lot of trouble, the past few years, especially getting people to come. I don't worry too much about the success, except, like I said, certain people, I'm like, I've had this guy for a few years, he's a [00:16:00] grinder sometimes I'll even put them in areas Where I just know based on their mindset that they can handle
You talk about guide expectations and learning from people. I have a funny story I got to share. So 2019 myself and two of my really good hunting buddies, we went on an elk hunting trip with a guide to Montana. And we go out and, this is, we, met the person through phone. I met him in person one time and there was two guides and three hunters and we wanted this hunt and we ended up killing three bulls.
It was fantastic, but early in the hunt one of the guys that we, that was hunting with us hit a bull and he, on paper it looked like he hit it perfect, but for whatever reason the bull was still alive after six hours. And we surrounded the drainage that it went into and the guide took, we all.
Positioned at certain areas and we were sneaking around trying to trying to, see if we could get eyes on it and in the process as I'm with the guide he looks down in the draw and at the same time we see this bull laying there and he's still alive and he's laying in a spot, his [00:17:00] head is behind brush but his body is in the wide open and I right away I said, how far is he?
And I knock an arrow and he goes, Oh, that's too far. And this is going to sound braggadocious. I'm not trying to be that way, but I practiced a lot that year. And that was probably the best I was ever shooting. And I like to practice long range, right? So it's a wounded elk. I'm thinking I'm going to, I'm going to try to kill him.
So I said, no, how far is it? And he finally tells me 82 yards. I said, I can kill him right there. No, it's not yours. He said we'll, we'll get the other guy over and we'll sneak in. Okay. It's not my elk. So I have a single. inside, I have it set at 82 yards, right?
And I'm just sitting there and waiting. And the other hunter comes over and he goes, what, is that it right there? I'm like, yeah, he's we could kill there. I said, I know, but they tried to sneak a little bit closer. Of course, in the process, the bull sees him, it gets up and it runs up this cliff and it gets to a spot and, exerted itself pretty hard.
And this bull was hurt and he was standing on a ledge and, in the process of him running, I'm at full draw and I'm, I just. Guess I said, it's got to be a hundred yards and I [00:18:00] put my pin where I thought it needed to be and just Left one fly and ended up I hit it in the neck I didn't hit it great But I mean it at least gave us a blood trail to follow until we got the bull then But it was you know, I arranged it afterwards.
It was like a hundred and five yards and then the guide was the guy he's focus mode, he's watching the bull where it's going. We watch it like a half mile up this draw and turn. And then when it was all done, he takes his binoculars down. He goes, how far was that? I said, I arranged it after it was 105.
You should have shot it when it was laying. I said, thank you. And then so I tell you that because he told me after the fact, he goes, I never know what to expect when hunters come in camp, he said, and to give you an idea, I called in six bulls last year for six hunters, all of them got a shot. We only.
Got three of the bulls. He said and the best shot was hit in the hind quarter, but it hit ephemeral already It died in 80 yards. He said so you never know what to expect when you're bringing a hunter in camp And I'm I was like yeah, that's a [00:19:00] perspective. I never would have thought about
totally don't you mean like we could have killed some absolute giants over the years that you know People either wounded or missed I've been with guys when I first started I would sometimes sit with a client and I've been with guys that got buck fever so bad that they couldn't even draw their boat back.
It's just, every hunter is a little bit different and until you've actually had that hunter, for at least a full stretch of a hunt, like you don't know ever what you're getting into. They can tell you anything that sounds good, but there's, I've just learned just to keep an open mind.
It is what it is.
So it is, yeah, but it's definitely, it has to make it interesting. Cause it's an avenue of hunting that I don't think about very much. So when you were just talking about that with people, yeah, it's got to just, yeah, make it interesting. One thing I was wondering over the years, you talk a lot, you've done a lot of scouting, you do a lot of trail camera [00:20:00] information you've talked about.
A lot of specific deer and how some of them stories have closed, whether it's been on other podcasts or things you've written about or posted about, and I'm curious as you've done that, have individual deer taught you things that you've noticed for the whole population dynamic, or do you still come to the point where you say every deer has different behavioral characteristics and you're never, I feel like sometimes when I'm thinking about whitetails, like sometimes it's the more I learn, the less I know in a sense, but yet you always learn something like, do you ever find yourself like with a specific deer, it teaches you more things that makes it easier in the future or for a hunting dyna. I don't know if that I worded that no, I
know. And I've asked myself that question before.
I think it's 50, 50, they all have their own different behaviors, personalities. They're all a little bit different, but they all share a lot of the [00:21:00] same things, too. And you have to to be able, you have to be able to balance when you're trying to learn from individual deer.
Okay, is this something that is more likely that it's just... Personal and, this is mainly, this deer is only doing that rather than, every other buck that you're going to hunt, especially a mature deer is not going to do it. Try to think of like an example. Try to just give me a second to think back like on some deer that I've hunted over the years.
Like the one buck there Crazy 12. I bring him up a lot. He might, the name might sound familiar to you or whatever, but. I hunted that deer, a few years in a row. But what was unique about that was really what led me to that deer was big bucks in this area prior to him, would live in that bedding area and they all did this, did the same thing.
Like in that instance, like I was seeing similarities, but I think where it, where it gets a little different from Deer to [00:22:00] Deer is not every buck is gonna rut the same they're all a little bit different when it comes to, some of them move a little more in the daytime, some of them are less spooky they all have different things outside of that, but, there's, especially with mature deer, like, when it comes to maybe certain areas that just, you might have heard this before from other people who are like, man, every year there's a big buck in this area.
thAt's where I find the similarities, because, your biggest bucks, or your oldest bucks, definitely, they're always taking advantage of the best cover, the best food sources. The most security, no hunting pressure. Like when you have those specific areas, like they all think alike, and I could go on and on about that too, but like I said, it's like 50, 50, there's certain things.
In certain situations where they act similar, then there's times when it's, wow, I would have guessed this fuck was going to do that [00:23:00] because the other one did, and night and day difference it's a tough thing to to figure out sometimes.
This whole game, I feel like is... I was talking about it with with Clint Campbell on a podcast and he's you never perfect it.
You like, you're always looking for the next best thing, even though you might cross something off the list, but you never, it's not something you never perfect. And that's so true. You were talking about like certain trends and stuff. Like it's amazing. I'm thinking back to some of the camera data that I've been pulling the last two years where my camp is.
I've got cameras in different locations. Some of them are. ridges that I think look like they're going to be really good for kind of rut movement. Sometimes it's, cover that I know is bedding, whatever it is. But I always have a couple of locations that I've noticed. I'll get one, Big woods, just giant that cruises through in the rut, and it's like they're a roamer.
It's sometime in that, mid November timeframe, but it's some of the biggest buck that [00:24:00] I get just doing their thing. And I always think to myself, what the heck do I got to do as far as, camera clustering and moving to figure out where a deer like that's roaming. How often do you run into a situation where you find a rut cruiser and can actually trace back and find maybe where he spends time, at a time of year where I'm a little bit more comfortable trying to kill that deer when they've got some type of relative pattern in October.
Yeah. I don't want to say that I do it easily, but I do get I'll be honest with you, I run so many cameras that I don't even get a lot of surprise bucks even in the rut. And leaving these, the majority of these cameras out, year round, not always on the same tree. Like right now, I'm shifting cameras a lot because we're in that phase where you're going from summer to fall patterns.
But, because I'm running so many cameras in such a widespread area, but, still pretty [00:25:00] thoroughly. It's I've really developed Good history with a lot of these bigger deer because I'm seeing where they're at the summer I'm seeing where they're at the fall, and that I've been doing this program You know having so many cameras out for so many years of the history and the data there's a real story and there's real good information with a lot of these deer so I think for me like that's been the key like running 150 170 trail cameras And well over a hundred year round that's really been the big key to figuring these things out and not getting like those surprise bucks, like, where the heck did that deer come from?
I don't really get that a lot, like I said, because I'm running so many cameras.
One thing cameras do for me is, when you watch stuff, it's so easy to get a little bit emotionally attached to a deer, just because, you find some trend, maybe you hunted one day and you left and he was on the camera right after you left or something stupid [00:26:00] like that happens and just deer gets under your skin, or maybe it's just, it's a deer that, you know, as a head turner from a head gear perspective. And I find when I've been able to. Pursue a deer like that and then close the story on him. Whether I kill him or a hunting partner, something like kills him. It's a lot more satisfying for me personally, then and this is going to sound really weird because it is a positive thing, but I've killed mature deer that I was happy about, but it was like, it was just a different story just because I didn't have the same backstory with that deer was one that just got into me like, and you've been very open about this in the past on other shows that you're looking for a mature buck.
So I guess. What my question may have been answered in a sense you talk about not finding many surprise bucks Do you feel like most of the time you've got some level of? History with a deer that, that mature buck is that he'll do. He fits the script kind of deal.
Yeah. [00:27:00] I wouldn't say fit the script especially cause most of my hunting, most of my guiding is during the rut and it's still a very unpredictable time you'll hear some people say like they get a picture of a buck every year, even in the rut, like a three to five day window, sometimes even.
Smaller than that I don't really see that a lot, but I just know that deer is most likely in that area and, we've got a lot of them that way, just. Sometimes, too, which is even better, is we'll have, we try to put clients where we know there's multiple mature deer, too. That's always better.
Oh, sure. Hunting one individual buck in the rut is super, super tough. In fact, I don't really do that a lot unless I'm getting good recent intel several pictures and in a five to seven day period in a certain spot. Then I'm, I start to see, okay, this deer is obviously coming through here consistently, we just try to, we try to stay in those areas where these deer live, but yet we don't hunt the same [00:28:00] exact trees or the same stands.
We might, a lot of our spots we'll have a spot, you might hunt it two or three times, two, three days in a row, and it never gets hunted again, but 500 yards from there, we got another spot, so we try to, bounce around pretty good, but stay in these good areas where we know there's usually an abundance of shooter bucks, and, eventually, hopefully someone connects with one.
Do you, do you have any deer that are up your crawl this year that you're really hoping you cross paths with or anything that's really in the forefront of your mind?
Oh, yeah. Jeez. I, there's 15, 20 real
good deer. It's good to have that many, because I don't have that many in my mind.
I've I have one or two.
Yeah, you run as many cameras as me. Obviously, you're going to find more. Yeah, there's definitely a pile of them. And this year may be better than most years ever. Up, up our way, we had very mild winter, early spring. Pretty low kill in a lot of areas last year.
[00:29:00] You're so wrong. Just as producing, a bumper crop for, a lot of three to some of these bucks. Honestly, I know bucks six, seven, eight years old too, but there's a lot of three and four, some five year olds this year. Even a three year old buck in the big woods up here is pretty close to a mature deer.
We're never gonna, I don't have any, size minimums at all. But even if a guy's taking a three and a half year old pretty consistently, that's a pretty good deer, even on public land. Yeah, we just got some really good numbers this year. I'm super excited to say the least.
Do you have any do you have any game plan in your mind of how you want to attack some things for yourself personally? I know guiding is your focus and you're, you put your clients first in a sense, but you still hunt and there's gotta be some kind of strategy weaving in and around that.
Yep. So what I've done this year to help myself out more is I've saved three or four areas just for myself. And a lot of these areas I'm able to put more cell [00:30:00] cameras out than usual because my problem is, and it's not a problem, but I hardly ever get to scout for myself anymore It's not I'm going out, I got six guys coming in on a Sunday, and then within a couple hours in a day, I find spots for everyone.
Sometimes I'll spend a whole day and don't find anything for anyone. The amount of time it takes to find good spots for all those people eats up my time to really, put myself in a good position. I'm running more cell cameras for myself. That way, I have some eyes in the woods.
And like I said, I don't have any time really check cameras for myself. That way, I see something hot, getting sent to my phone. I feel that's fair enough. And I can just totally focus on all the footwork and boots on the ground scouting, mainly for my clients. And, I've left a few areas just for myself and not, once again, not like the biggest bucks, nice bucks, but just areas that I'm, I have a lot [00:31:00] more confidence in that I feel should be good that way once again I don't have time to go into areas and try to figure everything out.
I'm excited too, that, someone might say that's a little bit selfish, but believe me, I love the guy and. I'm still putting in 99 percent of the work for my clients and not for
myself. I don't think it's selfish at all. And the reason I say that Steve is because let's face it.
When you're, when you talk about trophy hunting is probably one of the most selfish things that we can do. We're, it is the. Ultimate pursuit between man versus beast and most people don't want to share that in any capacity. You, on the other hand, decided to take the giant conglomerate of woods that you have in your neck of the woods and share it with people and guide them.
guide people and put people in places that you've hunted for a good duration of your life or explored. And I don't think it's selfish at all to say you're going to be putting four, three, four areas aside for yourself. Now, those areas, are you going to be pouncing on them as like a rut strategy?
Are [00:32:00] you going to piece your way through using those cell cameras?
yEah, probably mostly just what I'm seeing on the cell cameras. I do have, certain spots in those areas where I don't have cell reception and I got other. But, overall, I might sit back a little bit more and just use the cameras to monitor these areas.
That way, once again, I just don't have the time to even go in there and try to figure it out piece by piece. And it's still challenging because every season is a little bit different too. Until the season unfolds and starts to develop like you can never be for sure. But this is still a better situation than what I've been in a long time.
I'll be honest with you especially last year was a tougher run up this way. I literally, like, I even lost some of the joy of even hunting for myself because I never felt a lot of times that I was in a good spot. Like I just, I'm just getting in a [00:33:00] tree real quick somewhere.
And, maybe had some past success there, but like hardly any scouting for myself and I enjoyed that part of it. I don't want to just go sit in a tree anywhere just because it's the rut. But, so now at least having these cameras out doing a little more for me I feel like I'm a little more involved in my own personal honey.
Yeah, that's fantastic. And this would be a weird transition, but I'm just curious, you're very into archery hunting. You, it's your favorite thing. You're guiding, you already said it's your favorite thing, but I am curious what the dynamic is like during gun season. I feel like a lot of podcasts we focus on archery hunting, mature buck during the best time to kill mature buck.
But let's face it. The orange army is very real and there's people that listen to this show that enjoy that part of it. And yeah, there's more pressure and stuff, but what's it like and Shirk's guide service camp from the, from not just the aspect of the hunting with the camp camaraderie side of things too.[00:34:00]
Yeah I will say so, the guiding camp is only the second week of gun season because I always spend time at our family camp, the first week there's such a tradition and such a history there and I've been doing that my whole life that, I still guide my clients don't stay at our camp, but as far as the hunting goes I don't, I probably don't give the Rifle Hunts enough talk and enough credit because I think the success rate for Rifle Hunts is probably anywhere 50, 60, 70 percent.
There's some hammers on your page and your website that were rifle kills and that's one reason I brought it up.
Yeah, exactly. We've although I don't guide nearly as many I want to say seven or eight people last year for rifle. So the majority, I'm doing an archery and in the rut, but it's, I guess maybe not as passionate about gun and rifle, but the one good thing is.
When they do see a buck, [00:35:00] most of the time they get a shot at it. And it's a lot easier to connect with a rifle than it is, archery equipment. It's still a really, a really fun time. We, as far as strategy goes, like... Opening day is a little bit tricky. It's hard to really have a game plan as far as what the deer are going to do naturally, because you got so many people in the woods, bumping deer around we, a lot of years we don't even get anything opening day because it's just hard to predict you can know a big deer or a couple of big deer in an area, but they can get bumped out, as soon as it gets daylight or even sooner. We've had more success mid first week and late first week, things start to die back down. I also try to monitor, areas that that have been pressured a lot of times though.
Throughout the week, like I'll get out of the woods, I have my clients in stands and I'll just take rides around some areas just to see if Was there much hunting pressure here or not? But [00:36:00] the pressure is the name of the game I try to avoid that hunting pressure and try to find areas that maybe you're a little harder to Get to a little bit overlooked But when I find those non pressured areas that I've already scouted ahead of time Then I can usually get on some of those books because they're Doing things a little bit more naturally than that's when we've had most of our success.
Yeah, the past two years I've had an area up near camp where those cameras once rifle season comes just are absolutely dead because of the pressure. And then on at the same time there's other cameras that'll actually get a little bit more active into the second week. And I, I always wondered why in the second week of rifle season is not a time I've spent.
much hunting. Most of the time I'm done, the big hurrah with the group of guys is done the first week. And Lord willing, most of the time I have a tag punch, so I'm not out that time. But I do know people who spend more time the second week, and that's interesting that that you [00:37:00] say that and just because I don't think the second week is talked about a lot, like from a Pennsylvania hunter standpoint.
Yeah, no, I, like I said, when I'm not going to say things get completely back to normal. And if an area was really hunted heavily, opening week usually even by the second week, those deer are pushed out. But why I like the second week a lot is the fact that. Yes, there isn't hardly anybody hunting them.
And once I find these non pressured areas, you have them to yourself. And you're going to have a lot of success that second week with a rifle. And there's nobody... I've had areas that that, that I know, four or five big deer living in and not even within a, in a square mile area or more, and I'm confident not one hunter even passed through there the entire gun season.
So to find that kind of stuff, that's when things get real promising. And like I said I'd probably take [00:38:00] more gun hunters. The problem that I get into is, I guess it's not so much the lack of desire to gun hunt, but I also, in my landscaping business, a lot of our winter work is snow removal, snow plowing, and it's pretty tricky up my way because...
I have too many people that I have to guide and help out, and it's snowing it's hard to be in two places at once and run both businesses effectively but I honestly, the success you can have gun hunting or that we've had has been pretty
darn good. And I'm curious, is a lot of the gun hunting that you do, is a lot of that gonna be still stand hunting, or do a lot of the people actually to still have people still hunt in areas?
Yeah, no, that's a good point. It's a good mix of both. However, there's more still hunting than stand hunting. But what I try to do is give my clients like, like a math route and not to like, I encourage him like go 50 [00:39:00] yards, sit down, sit there 15, 20 minutes, go another 50, a hundred yards, sit down on this log or get up on this point and sit here for a while.
Like they're not covering a ton of ground, but they are still hunting. To and from these little micro type stand locations. But it's been a very good strategy. Also to, if as long as I'm, which I usually I'm not plowing snow too bad, but usually I take one of the clients with me and, we'll do a mix of both too, but I'll help out with still hunting and glassing.
Even just getting that person, comfortable in the right areas. A lot of times, too, if there's like a younger hunter or less experienced hunter. In a group or in camp, I'll be like, I'll take that person. If you guys don't mind, because usually they're very understanding with choice today, more assistance than some of the other, more experienced hunters.
that's good. And thinking about still [00:40:00] hunting too, because, it can be very tricky with the topography that we have in the Northern part of the state, as far as wind thermal stuff goes. So when you give people routes do I know when we've talked about this the last time you were on the show, we talked about stand location and how the wind can be so iffy when you're on stand and it's some, it's so hard to predict and you almost got to just roll with it.
You have that same thought process when you're still hunting too, or, some places if you're saying this is more of a. A south facing slope. I think you want to stay at this elevation most of the time, just because of a thermal advantage. Is there any of that thought process into that?
Oh yeah, absolutely. And I always tell the hunter that, even though I know these woods, like the back of my hand, like when it comes to wind and thermals, sometimes certain areas are no, not predictable or consistent at all. So I always tell them, keep those things in your favor. And sometimes the hunter will have to go completely against.
The game plan I gave them, they might not even be able to [00:41:00] go, into the spots that I, that I've told them, or even if it's a stand, like I can't go in there and physically check the wind and every stand, for each hunter. And this isn't Kansas, like in the mountains, just because it's calling for a West wind doesn't mean that's what it's going to do in the mountains.
They have to make those adjustments and decisions. And, I give them plan B and plan C and different options. And there's been times, too, where just the client being in the right general area, has had success. I also remember one time uh, a distant cousin of mine he brought a guy in from Buffalo.
And that was part of the deal was he he said, I'll bring this guy in, get you a client. And then you also put me in a spot for free. And I was like, yeah, sure, what the heck? The first day of gun season, I had spots for each of them, only 300 yards apart. And long story short, I think they saw a few of those [00:42:00] each the opening day, but not much.
But, they ended up switching stands. And the second day, which I didn't tell them to do that, but they decided that's what they wanted to do. And it worked out a little bit better because the buck we were hunting was this giant eight point pushing 150 inches and my client shot it out of my the stand that I put my cousin in and I actually didn't even know that they swapped but my point is even though that wasn't related to weather and anything, but there's certain situations that like that happened Steve, I know you told me to do this, but I ended up seeing something different or I did something, but a lot of it, just getting these people in the right general area is good enough for me as well.
Yeah. And it's better that way to have somebody want to deviate and do something on their own that they're happy with doing rather than saying, coming back and say this is what you told me to do and it didn't work. And, having a very negative outlook or expectation, because I'm sure you have to have that in some people who you [00:43:00] know.
Or just more difficult to cater to, that happens.
Absolutely the one buck too that I had a lot of history with I called Goliath. I remember the first time I laid eyes on that deer, it was 80 yards in front of a tree stand that my client should have been sitting in. Here, he did get uncomfortable in the stand, it's just a metal ladder stand, and he sat on a log.
It was right below the stand, but the problem is him sitting on that log, he couldn't see down the ridge like he would have been able to up in the elevated tree stand, and that giant buck was 80 yards from that guy, and he couldn't see it at all. In fact, he was so close to seeing it because I can remember peeking up over this ridge to actually walk him out.
He radioed me and said, he wanted to quit early. It was like four o'clock. Oh, geez. So when I came to get him, as soon as I peeked up over the ridge, I see [00:44:00] Goliath, I look and I'm like, why isn't why can't he see the deer? And then I didn't see the guy in the stand that I see about two inches of his orange hat.
That's all I could see over the crest of the ridge. But that's what his problem was he was down too low where he couldn't see over the bench or over the top bucks right out in front of him. So I. Little things like that, happen all the time. He was uncomfortable. He decided to sit on a log where he can only see about 30, 40 yards and big deer got away.
So many situations
like that. I was going to say, you've probably got a a story. You could probably write a chapter book on situations like that, that have happened in hunting scenarios over the years.
Yeah, I've guided so many different kinds of people and honestly, people from all over the country it's just I'm not going to say I've seen it, seen everything, but I've seen a lot of different situations and a lot of I don't want to say things that really make me angry anymore, I'm [00:45:00] a little bit more laid back about it.
I try to laugh it off more than get upset as long as it's like they're doing anything illegal, then that would be a different situation. But yeah, I've seen a lot of different bloopers. And like I said, not to brag about myself, but a lot of people talk the talk, but not many walk the walk. And I know I keep bringing that up, but that really is the case.
That's just the way a lot of deer hunters are. Once they get out there, it becomes a grind. Then... You start to weed through the, what I wanna say, maybe the novices and the , the ies. There's not as many grinders out there as what some people would think.
Yeah. And another way I've communicated that too.
And like I said, whenever you have this conversation, you can always going to, somebody's always gonna hear this through a different scope and take it into a negative aspect. And I don't mean it that way. I've always said there's hunters and there's people who go hunting. And my, my, my comparison to that was [00:46:00] I played football.
I don't really feel like a football player. Like my level of interest and knowledge of the game is not like that of some of my my, my best friends and stuff that have that interest. I played the game and had fun. And I think there's a lot of deer hunting. There's a lot of people that like to go deer hunting when it's that time of year.
But the, I guess the next level thought process, like the strategy, like the, going through the playbook and technique and stuff like that it's not as, it's, it's going to be a lesser number of people in that category, and, knowing what knowing what constitutes a hunter versus going hunting.
That's probably a conversation. We don't need to go down that rabbit hole, but there's definitely a line there, I think.
Yep. And if it was me especially being a primetime going back on the Goliath situation with my client, I would, I guarantee four o'clock being prime time, a little bit of back pain, whatever I'm gonna suck it up and sit there another 45 minutes, I don't care [00:47:00] how uncomfortable I get that's usually the fine line between someone that just loves hunting and is extremely passionate about it and then someone who just is.
Okay. I went hunting today and, I quit early, but still had a good time. That's usually, that's like the line in the sand to decide what kind of hunter that person is.
You've talked about that deer. Frequently over the years. And I'm sure that's one that's really gotten under your crawl.
There are other ones that just doesn't matter what happens from season to season. Like this specific deer is one I will always remember whether you killed them or you didn't in any capacity. Yeah.
To maybe bring up a kill, the buck I got in 2021 although I didn't have a ton of history, only like a couple of years of history with the deer, but it was like my number two deer.
That I was after, which is pretty rare. It wasn't one that I really kept for myself, but what happened was [00:48:00] It's a little bit more of a hard to get to area and, We don't have a lot of clients that are usually wanting to go way back in, rugged terrain, all that kind of situation.
But where I got lucky was I had, throughout the week, I had guys killing bucks, so I had less clients and then I had a couple, like my last two clients that week they ended up leaving early. They had some family situations that came up and they had to leave. I ended up getting two days, pretty, almost two full days, at least more than a day and a half to...
To actually hunt for myself I went in there, checked the cameras, the deer was showing up like crazy in a certain spot and that, to, to go into an area know there's a big deer in there. And like to get to hunt it for myself like that was one of the most memorable hunts of my life because once again, I just don't get those situations that much at all.
If I had those [00:49:00] guys not left early, I would have never got that deer. I wouldn't have had the time to hunt it. But I I also went in there. Pre season or post season, strategically put cameras in different locations just for that year. There was a huge process that it was going to be more for a guiding situation, but it just lined up, everything lined up for me to be able to hunt that deer.
It's just a beautiful, just awesome looking 10 point, ton of character, a big, huge brow. Just. I'm still, I still can't get over just the fact that I just don't get that situation much anymore. So it was
awesome. Yeah, those are pretty sweet. What about what about deer that you've followed along for years that you finally put a client on?
yEah, we've had, even that that big eight point, I know I brought it up a little bit. That my one client shot there in gun season, but we've, we had that deer on camera three or four [00:50:00] years. It's probably a seven or eight year old buck just a big, huge, giant big woods, eight point.
And that's the thing too, about, when you start to develop history with a deer. I don't want to say it gets easier to kill it because they're getting smarter every year or two, but like you just get so much information year after year, mainly from trail cameras that, you start to connect more and more dots.
And I'll be honest with you. I had a lot of cameras in that area and I wasn't getting much for pictures of that deer before my client shot him, but I went in there. It was like, I don't know, a few days before the season, I saw the deer with a doe, with a hot doe. And this is something, too, that I'll bring up.
I don't mean to bounce off to different topics here, but... No, please do. I saw that deer three days before gun season, locked on a doe, and it was in a doe bedding area. That's why these guys were in there. And so they shot, [00:51:00] or he shot the buck five days after I saw it, and it was locked on a doe.
And I honestly think the buck was with the same doe for five days, and you would never think that you read anything, and a doe's... Estrus cycle is like half of that time frame, but I, that's where it comes to, to not everything's written in stone, in the whitetail world and even biology that buck could have known that, okay, this is one of the last does that hasn't been bred in my area, and I'm just going to hang with her until she's willing, until she comes back and eat, but I still believe to this day that deer are.
Stayed with that same doe just it was in the same exact pretty much spot where I saw, you know With a doe that time of year. But you know having that deer On camera, like I said, for three, four years in a row, it just started to connect dots and shrink things down. That's really what led us to get that deer.
[00:52:00] Deer, you have history with, for a number of years, you do exactly what you just explained. You start to devise a plan, whether it's camera placement and stand placement and areas you hunt to try to game plan with that. The ones that you've been able to follow along for years and then connect with, whether it's yourself or a client, how often is it that, you get you kill the deer and you go, yeah, this is what I had in my mind and vision, it would be somewhere in this area or maybe timeframe or whatever, versus how many times do you have history with a deer?
And then when the. The close does happen and you kill the deer. It's that's a complete one 80 compared to what I expected. If we were able to connect with this deer, whether it's location, base or timeframe or something like that.
Yeah. I can't say we've ever killed one that was like, Holy cow, that deer was way out of his home range.
You've never had that deer over here. Although. I've had non non guided people shoot some of our biggest deer, just word them out holy cow, they shot that buck over there. But as far as [00:53:00] a guiding perspective in that situation there's been a lot of them where, we knew...
We knew that big deer was in the area. We didn't really think it was probably gonna be in that spot. That client might have hunted a different deer or might have been hunting multiple different deer, it's the rut and anything can happen. And this other big one showed up that. But we might have been more on the fringes of where we thought that deer was going to be.
But that has happened many times. I can also remember a time a couple years ago where we had a couple guys come in and in fact, the one guy came in and he hunted the last week of October. For a week and how, this is the honestly got through. The guy came and it was just brutally warm.
He never saw a deer in a whole week of hunting with us. That's pretty abnormal. It can happen, but he, instead of and that was his first time ever hunting with us. We're thinking this guy is never going to come back. He calls us towards the tail end of archery [00:54:00] season. He's would you mind if I came back?
And honestly, I think I only charged the guy like a hundred bucks. Like he had. Such a tough hunt, like I just wanted the guy to really see what it's like here. You know when it's good So he comes in Kills on his first set kills a huge nine point like a hundred and forty inch nine Here we had like multiple years of history with super old buck But we weren't Expecting that to happen in that spot once again the same general area But there was a hot doe there, and so the guy that he came with out of the same stand the next morning because that doe was still around, kills uh, like a giant freak buck, but that was a deer that we expected to be in that spot, but that's what I mean, that happens so much and once again, it's the rut, and if you're anywhere sometimes within Four or five miles of where a buck lives something could show up Easily from that far
You just spurred a thought in my mind. So I'm thinking about some of the places I hunt in Southeast Pennsylvania, when you think about where does bed, I swear some doe bedding is so consistent year to year, and I feel like it's. I actually feel like sometimes it's hard to get them to leave an area that they consistently go to, even when you bump them out.
I feel like that, they're a little bit more prone to staying in some of those areas. One of the things I was wondering is when you target doe bedding, do you see year to year similar similar areas that get used more frequently from a doe bedding perspective versus, versus bucks?
Usually pretty frequently, as long as the habitat doesn't change, especially food sources like those are always bedding fairly close to food. Exactly. That's usually the first thing I'll check. For instance, if it's in an area that you're banking on acorns being the primary food source I'm going to go to that.
To [00:56:00] where those oaks are and see if they produce and then plan on that bedding to be the same. But, if, boil it down to, to a smaller point, as long as there's not a lot of change to the habitat, I totally agree. That's what's nice about does is.
They roam very little. They, and even sometimes, like you said, a fair amount of hunting pressure, like they still seem to stick it out. And in the rutt, like if you can have consistent dough activity and pattern those doughs, and that's what's gonna bring bucks in. So that's something that we've done a lot of over the years is, patterned our doughs and especially dough bedding because.
That's where they're at most of the daytime hours anyways. That's where you can catch like, those midday cruisers as well. Yeah, that double bedding when it's consistent, man, it makes for some good red hunting.
You talked about, we. Touched a little bit talking about windows and you said you might not always see those [00:57:00] windows where a, a buck is always here every year from October 18th to the 20th or something like that in cases.
I have seen that happen. But the main thing that I notice is and I'm thinking specifically to a property close to my house here. I notice a trend that there's a window when Bucks in general just frequent this area and I believe it is because from my trail cameras, it's right around the time some of the first does come into Estrus and there's always a time frame and it's always the end of October.
It's somewhere in the last 10 days of October. I'm gonna have frequent mature buck activity, mind you, but it'll, I'll have deer cruise through this area that I don't see all year long and it's, now keep in mind it's a small area. This is not something that I've, it's not, a hundred.
A thousand, anything like that. It's a very small parcel, but I noticed with these little blocks [00:58:00] where I see similar dough movement year in and year out, that same time frame is when I start to see buck movement. Maybe not the same buck every year, but it's that. And I think it's just because of the habitual habit of those does.
And I think that's an important point when it comes to a window for me personally,
Yep. Yeah, I see. I see some similar situations. What I've found like those late October spots, generally, if you have a good core area for a buck or maybe in, in a half square mile, you might have multiple mature buck core areas.
Generally, it's those closest doe groups from those core areas that are getting hit in that later October period. I think those bucks are communicated with those does a little bit throughout the fall. And even, literally right now, bucks are shedding their velvet testosterone's building every day.
They're ready to breed does now. I know there might be some people that... [00:59:00] And you're going to hear this and think I'm crazy. I'm not saying the rut is happening now, but if a doe came into heat right now, a buck would breed her most likely. Like it's already that time of year. It's just, it's a long ongoing process for when the breeding does finally happen.
But, so these bucks, even right now, are a little bit going around checking out these doe groups. Not in a ruddy situation, but they're just scouting them out. And they're not really ranging that far. When they know it's getting close to time for those devils to come in to eat, they're getting those first ones closest to their core
I chuckle at that thought, Steve, because I have some hunting friends that I've joked around about this, but at the end of the day there's still guys. And I think if not to sound raunchy, but if you only got it once a year, you'd probably get a little rammy early too.
Yeah, that's just the way the male mindset is, for bucks.
Once once that testosterone builds, [01:00:00] they're every day, their desire increases. And that's when in the rut, like you, you've probably had it. I've had it happen. Like I've had mature bucks with a hot dough, like I can almost walk up to the buck because It's not that he doesn't know that I'm human, or he's so in the rut, he, he's all screwed up, but their desire to breathe in that situation sometimes overpowers their will to live and survive.
I, even one buck I killed two or three years ago, I was blind running, and then I had a group of does come in to the one side of me. Then here this nice buck comes in. But he came in downwind and got my scent. He spooked when he got my scent, he ran like 50 yards. Then he stops and he looks way back over at that doe group, which I was in between him and the doe group.
And this was a mature deer. I literally could read his mind. He's you know what? [01:01:00] He's I know there's a human there, but I'm going for those does anyway. He turned back around, walked right under my stand and I shot him. That's where those hormones sometimes overpower their way of thinking.
That's what also makes the road a little more exciting sometimes.
It does, and that's why people like it, because I'm definitely somebody who would love to have a buck do something that stupid all, every season for me.
Yeah, I'm not saying that happens often, but I've seen a lot of crazy things happen. I'Ve had bucks literally crossing the road, and I had one run into my truck one time, too because there was a hot dog on the other side, of the road.
They just, they kinda, they go crazy, that's for
sure. They certainly do. Man, this has been good I think that's a good point to to cut this off here. Anything else you want to leave us before before we close this one out, Steve?
Just, all the listeners wish everyone, a safe and successful season.
We're literally, what, about a month away or less from it. [01:02:00] I think part of PA will open up sooner, but down to the southern area, maybe in a couple weeks. But overall, statewide, we've got just about a month to go and it's just, like I said, I I know There's so many people that listen to these podcasts and, I don't think I say it enough, but, I truly just appreciate, people listening and enjoying what I have to say, But overall Take it for what it's worth, and more than anything, I just want people to have a fun, safe, and successful season, including yourself.
That's all that really matters to me. Yeah, I
appreciate that and that's important because I think while these podcasts are definitely informative there's more of an entertainment side of things to this, we're, as we're recording this we're leading into season. Probably about the time this drops in, we'll be a good chunk of the way through our season and I'm hoping for that very thing for us and and yeah.
But no, thanks again, Steve, for for coming on the show. Always like to have an other Shirk on the podcast. It's good to have you. And I'll we'll do this again [01:03:00] sometime.
Yeah. From one shirt to the next best of luck. And I'll look forward to the next time we can get back together talking.