Here we are again, the last week of Maine’s 2015 firearms deer season, and it’s a sure bet that a large percentage of hunters have yet to fill their tags. It has been a disappointing season thus far, with warm temperatures and a lackluster “rut” that seems to have gotten off to a slow start and then fizzled out altogether. Add an abundance of forage (mostly acorns) and much shorter days and you have the perfect recipe for a low harvest. When conditions favor the deer (warm, lots of food, no rut and therefore no reason for them to move around) it’s all but certain that hunters will have few opportunities.
With all that in mind, there are still a few positives for hunters to consider. For one thing, deer have no choice but to be in the woods – it’s where they live, feed, breed and sleep – which means they are out there . . . somewhere. It’s up to the intrepid sportsman to figure out where the animals are spending their daylight hours, get there undetected and be on hand when they decide to get up and move around.
The glitch is that when deer are comfortable, with warm temperatures and plenty of food, they have no need to run around the woods as much as they would if it was cold and forage was scarce. When they do move it has to be during legal shooting time, which is an increasingly smaller window each day. This week, for example, the window of opportunity is open only from 6:13 a.m. till around 4:30 p.m. We’ve lost precious hours of daylight since the season opened in September, and it’s only going to get worse.
The solution, then, is simple enough: Head for the woods early, stay all day and don’t come out till the law says you must.
Most hunters find it difficult to sit in one place all day, but there are other options. Split the day into two-hour increments, hunting in one area at dawn, another at 9 a.m., etc., so that you can be in the woods all day but not become bored staring at the same empty scenery. When I have faith in a spot where I’ve seen deer before, have found fresh tracks recently and know that there are good feeding and bedding areas nearby I have no problem sitting all day, but the last thing on my list is to head for home. I can become bored, tired or discouraged just like anyone else, but my feet lead me deeper into the woods, not back to the truck.
Bring food, water and snacks so that you can spend all day in the woods. There shouldn’t be any inclement weather this week but if it rains bring an umbrella or wear rain gear; if it snows, dress for it. Carry hand warmers and extra clothing so you can beat any weather pattern that may develop. Remember that the deer are out there and you must be, too, if you expect to put your tag on one this season.
During long days in the woods I find the most useful tool to be a good set of binoculars. I can spend quite a bit of time scanning the distant wood line, watching birds and squirrels, or otherwise keeping an eye on my surroundings, checking out all the things that look like a deer but, alas, are not. I’ll rest my eyes for a while, and then begin scanning again, moving slowly so as not to alert any incoming deer and making sure that I check and discount anything that even remotely resembles a whitetail (or any part thereof). I may spend half an hour examining a beech leaf that looks like a deer’s ear twitching in the wind, and most often it turns out to be – a beech leaf! However, I’m occupied, keeping busy and staying where I belong, which is 90 percent of successful deer hunting.
If I’ve done my scouting (remember those October bird and squirrel hunts?) I should have picked a good spot where I’d found the most fresh sign. That alone will keep my interest up because I know deer have been in the area before and, if luck is with me, they’ll be back again sometime before the end of the season.
Another important factor to keep in mind this week that, aside from opening week, Thanksgiving week is the busiest period of the firearms deer season. Most hunters will take this week off from work because it will cost them only 2 ½ days of vacation time if their employer gives them Thursday and Friday off for the holiday. Many hunters will be in the woods Thursday morning and again on Friday and Saturday, so it makes sense to be out there ahead of the crowd and wait for them to push a deer your way.
Remember, too, that hunters will be entering and leaving the woods at daybreak, noon and in late afternoon, which means there are at least six different periods when deer will be avoiding hunters. Get in early and stay late to take advantage of all that heavy traffic.
Fortunately, after more than 50 years of deer hunting I’ve learned how to be patient and optimistic. I’ve bumped into deer at dawn, at lunch time, at 2 p.m. and dusk, in fact at all hours of the day, and those memories keep me going when common sense, logic and the weather report indicate that I should be at home sitting by the fire. To be a successful hunter one must hunt – all day, every day, regardless of weather conditions. I’ve killed a few deer on bright, sunny, warm, comfortable days but, truth be told, most of my tags were filled on days when only a real numbskull would even be outdoors. Pouring rain, cold, wind, snow, frost and dry, crunchy leaves underfoot are not fun from a hunter’s viewpoint, but they make deer move, and that’s what matters most.
This is the final week for firearms deer hunting – make the most of it!