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Week Three of Maine’s 2014 deer season begins today, and hunters who are thinking, “Heck, I have two weeks left to hunt,” should know that the days are considerably shorter now. The sun rises at 6:05 a.m. and sets at 4:05 p.m., giving us just 10 hours of daylight. It’s true that we can hunt till one-half hour after sunset but clouds, rain or even snow could steal a good portion of shooting time. Starting now it’s more important than ever for hunters to plan on getting out there early and staying all day. Ten hours sounds like a long time but if you spend the morning half in one spot and the evening half in another area the day can go by very quickly. In years past (long past, come to think of it!) I would, like most other hunters, come out of the woods and head back to camp for lunch and a snooze, but many years ago I realized the cost of a cozy break was essentially a full day of hunting time over the course of a week. Plus, it’s very easy to decide to stay in camp, belly full, warm by the fire, instead of gearing up and going back into the cold, gray woods one more time. When I was young the old-timers were usually sound asleep as I headed out the door around 2 p.m., but they often needed their rest because, most years, they’d have to come help me drag my buck out of the woods!
Now that I am an old-timer I try to avoid lunches, sofas and warm fires on a November afternoon because I know I’ll end up wasting the best time of the day for spotting a big Maine buck. For decades now I load my day pack with water, food and my trusty gas stove so I can spend the midday hours in the woods, have some tea and a sandwich, and feel good knowing that if a deer comes by I’ll be there to greet him, not lying back in camp with my wet socks steaming over the wood stove.
Staying outdoors all day is one of the best deer-hunting tactics no one ever talks about. Prime-time hunters (those who go out at dawn or dusk to take advantage of the most productive hours of the day) sometimes forget that the rut is still on and big bucks will continue their quest for receptive does essentially round the clock. About half the deer I’ve tagged in the last 50 years or so were taken between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., which gives me even more incentive to spend the entire day in the woods during this third week of November. Some say the rut is winding down now and that’s probably true, but some bucks will still be chasing some does, and if you’re not out there to intercept them your freezer may go unfilled this season. I love deer hunting, deer meat and Maine’s November woods so I have three good reasons to be there, rain or shine, hot or cold. As the song goes, I don’t want to miss a thing!
The trick is to go into the woods before daylight fully equipped for any and all weather conditions. It may be cold and still, windy and rainy, fluctuating between snow, sleet or frost or everything all at once. Sitting or walking all day can be a challenge if you’re not dressed for the occasion. I wear wool from head to toe in November, plus I carry a lightweight waterproof windbreaker in case things get really bad, but no matter what happens I don’t let it drive me out of the woods. I figure that the deer must endure the same conditions and have to be somewhere out there, but I definitely won’t see one if I shuffle back to camp to sit by the stove and fuss about the weather like everyone else.
If I’m cold I’ll walk, if I’m warm I’ll sit for a while but quit and go home? Not an option!
Of course, faced with inclement weather and a short day, it’s best to spend your time where the odds are highest for seeing a deer. This invariably means thick, lowland swamps where visibility is 40 yards or less. By now the leaves are down, the wind is whistling through the trees and the open fields and hardwoods are the last places whitetails want to be during the day. Most of the tracks and other sign you see in such places this month are being made at night; those deer are well back in the thick cover by dawn. Get into the dense evergreen cover and walk slowly, stopping often, or sit for a while and watch the edge cover where swamp meets hardwoods. Stick with it all day and don’t come out till dark – with luck and persistence you’ll get your chance.
Also, stay put especially during that last half hour after sunset. Many a nice buck is shot during the final minutes of legal shooting time; the difference between success and failure can literally be 30 seconds. It is perfectly legal to come out of the woods after dark as long as your firearm or bow is unloaded, so hold your ground till the end. My records show that 20 percent of my Maine deer were taken during the last 15 minutes of the day, and as I recall only pure determination kept me from giving up and leaving early. It’s often cold, wet and windy during those last few minutes of the day and after many hours in the woods your feet will want to head for home. I can recall shivering uncontrollably, hands and feet burning from the cold, but I willed myself to tough it out for a few more minutes and, quite often, I’d be rewarded with a nice buck or fat doe with just seconds remaining in the day.
Did I say November deer hunting was easy? Hardly! If you love to hunt, want to make the most of this season and have a chance at a trophy-sized Maine buck you’ll have to earn it. And then you can warm your toes by the fire!
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