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Thanksgiving week can be a hectic time for lots of folks, especially the ones in charge of Thursday's traditional feast, but if you're a Maine deer hunter the anxiety quotient increases every day because the regular firearms deer season ends Saturday. Snuck up on you again, didn't it? Even after all that planning and pre-season hype, suddenly it's the last week of the season and . . . what, no deer yet? Time to get serious!
There is rarely anything balmy and serene about last-week deer hunts. The leaves are down, it's cold as it's been all fall and, in a lot of places, there will be snow on the ground. All this makes deer easier to find and easier to see, but they are still as difficult to hunt now as ever. There is plenty of rutting activity going on, too, so the bucks are likely to be careless and reckless for a bit longer. The challenge is to spend as much time as possible in the woods this week because your next chance won't be till next year!
Most hunters already have the necessary equipment for a good day's hunt. Who doesn't have a rifle, a knife, a warm coat and sturdy boots? If gear alone were the key every hunter out there would tag out the first week of the season! No, what you need now is a good, old-fashioned dose of perseverance, and that's not something you can buy in a store or order online.
In today's hectic world, everyone seems to think they can have whatever they want as quickly as they want it. In most cases they get exactly that, but when it comes to deer hunting, frustration is the most common denominator. You can do everything right and still not see a deer all season, but you can never know for sure unless you're out there every day to see what develops.
Complicating matters now is that legal shooting time dwindles by a minute or two every day now. We'll be down to sunsets at 4 p.m. or earlier, which is good in one way (less time you have to stay out there) and bad in other ways (less time you have to stay out there!). It is a simple matter to get into the woods now before daylight and stay there till dark - in fact the days seem to fly by with long shadows from start to finish as the sun seems to barely creep across the sky.
The good news is that there are plenty of deer out there, they will be moving to feed and breed all week, and if you put your time in you should see something to put your tag on. Again, the secret now is to just stick with it, hunt hard all day and be optimistic. I have spent many a long, hard day in the November woods thinking there are no deer here, I'm stupid for wasting all this time in the woods when I should be banking the house, deer hunting is no fun, I'm tired and . . . hey, is that a deer headed my way?
On more than one occasion I finally got my chance during the final hours of the last day of the season. It is not easy to stick with it that long and at times the minutes seem to drag by like molasses in, well, November, but it's not often that my persistence is not rewarded with at least some chance of a shot.
For example, one year I was hunting in LaGrange and found myself deep in the woods along a huge beaver bog. I couldn't see 20 feet around me and it was already well past 3 p.m. I knew I was going to have to come out via flashlight, so I just decided to stay put and let the last hour of the season come and go. I heard a few snaps and cracks in the distance but figured it was just beavers or the crackle of stressed ice on the surface of the pond. It wasn't till “it” suddenly bounded over a blowdown that I realized a nice buck had been the source of all the commotion. He stopped among the swale grass just long enough for me to direct a well-aimed bullet his way and just like that deer hunting was fun, exciting, thrilling and well worth all the effort. Never mind that it took me half the night to get him out to the road - the hard part was done!
Another year I had the great pleasure of hunting in the pouring rain all week. It was that or just stay home, and a few mornings I did just sit indoors and watch the rain pelting against the windows. But, deer season is deer season and you can't just let it go by unchallenged, so I suited up in my best water-repellent woollies and just toughed it out. Four out of five days I came home soaked and chilled to the bone, but on the last day the wind and rain let up for a few hours in mid-afternoon, and while I was standing there under a hemlock wondering (once again) why in the world I do this stuff, a fat crotch-horn buck wandered up practically to the other side of “my” tree, and I had the great pleasure of dragging another last-minute whitetail out of the woods.
Keep in mind that you can hunt through the end of this week under the firearms season rules, which include still-hunting, stand hunting, tree stands and drives. November deer don't act or react like September's nearly docile whitetails - things have changed and the deer seem to know it. But, if you stick to the plan, put in your time and don't let little setbacks discourage you, there can still be a freezer full of venison in your future.
It can happen!
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