Saturday is a red-letter day for whitetail deer hunters in Wilkes County and other areas of the state, as the six-week rifle season starts. The gun season runs until Jan. 1.

Mitchell Johnston, president and owner of Purlear-based Dead End Game Calls, thinks it’ll be a prime week for good hunting. “We are forecasted to have cold weather moving in, and that should kick off some daylight rutting activity,” he said.

Johnston noted that bucks in Wilkes have continued to increase in antler size and age structure over the last few years. “If cold weather lines up correct with peak rutting times, hunters should see a great chasing phase of the rut.”

As far as the mast crop for deer, Johnston explained that, as what typically happens, certain areas of Wilkes showed different results for acorns this year.

“Take the time to scout your area and know where the deer are feeding and know if you have any acorns available for the deer,” he advised. “Specifically, (look for) white oak acorns. With the rut activity beginning to increase, concentrate on areas where you have a lot of does feeding. Where the does are, the bucks won’t be far behind.”

Johnston expressed concern over a run of epizootic hemorrhagic disease that hit Wilkes and northwestern Surry counties earlier this year. “We don’t know how many deer this affected, and I don’t know that there is a way to find out a true number. I know it did kill off some deer. Many times it affects bucks more so than does.”

The mountains and foothills of Wilkes are notorious for changing wind directions, Johnston said, due to the topography of the land. “In the Midwest you can have constant wind directions at times. Here it is less frequent to have constant wind directions.”

Johnston advised that hunters remain as scent free as possible. He recommended the use of Dead End Game Calls’ OdorZONE scent elimination products, which are made in Wilkes. “We believe they are the best scent elimination products in the business. I am a firm believer in the process” of using scent elimination laundry detergent, body wash/shampoo and unscented or earth-scented sprays.

Regarding hunter safety during gun season, Johnston said to always use a safety belt or vest when hunting. “You and your family’s lives depend on it. Not only use it when you are in the tree hunting, but also use a lifeline to attach yourself when ascending or descending from the stand.”

Johnston recommends his company’s hunter safety systems. “They’re comfortable, quiet and they have an awesome lifeline system. Stay hooked up from the beginning to the end of the hunt or it could be the end to your hunting career.”

During the gun season, in addition to rifles, it’s legal to hunt with bows and arrows, crossbows, blackpowder firearms, shotguns and handguns.

A licensed hunter may take up to six deer during the entirety of the hunting season, which began in Wilkes on Sept. 12. Two of those six may be antlered deer. There is no daily bag limit.

In the Buffalo Cove Game Land of Wilkes and Caldwell counties, the gun deer season starts on Nov. 23 and ends on Dec. 12, the same as for Caldwell County proper.

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