|When the recent prolonged hot spell suddenly ended with a spate of cooler temperatures, it was amusing to see so many people looking around to realize a) it was getting cooler and b) the leaves were turning! All that heat and humidity apparently made people forget that September is just around the corner, and when the dipping temperatures and subtle splashes of red and yellow appeared a mild form of “autumn anxiety” set it. One of my acquaintances made a dash for the chainsaw and tractor and starting working on his winter's wood supply. Another canceled plans for another lazy day at the lake and started patching some holes in his roof. Another started dialing around to find the best deal on heating oil. “Gotta lock in before it's too late!” he said.
Fortunately, the avid Maine outdoorsman never puts such mundane diversions at the top of his list of things to do, especially when we're on the cusp of another great fall hunting season. For one thing, there is still time to do some last-minute fishing, and these crisp days of the waning summer are just right for spending time on a small trout pond or bass river. There is nothing like the “I just robbed the bank” feeling of catching a big brookie or smallmouth while all the neighbors are busy putting up storm windows or banking the house!
We've talked at length about the ongoing bear-baiting process. That season, which opens in a few days, can keep trophy-minded bruin hunters busy from now through the end of November. There have been some years when I decided it was a bear or nothing. I began my quest in late August and it wasn't till the last set of tracks fizzled away in a Thanksgiving-week rainfall that I realized I had best focus on something else. If not for the extra week of muzzleloader season I may never have tagged a deer that year, either!
While many hunters are going to invest their time and energies in tagging one of Maine's signature black bears, there's a “silent” contingent of bowhunters who are now gearing up for the expanded archery deer season (in selected areas), which begins Sept. 9 and ends Dec. 9. The regular archery deer season opens Sept. 28 and ends Oct. 27. Also, with a valid crossbow-hunting license, a person may hunt bears with a crossbow during the open season on bear, and may hunt deer with a crossbow during the firearms season on deer.
All of this means there are only a few days available to get ready for the many hunting opportunities that are coming up. I'd strongly recommend that archers gather their gear and start practicing now. I put my own archery tackle away last season with everything intact and nothing out of kilter, but earlier this month I went out to do some warm-up shooting and couldn't hit a deer-sized target at 10 yards! For some reason (string twist?) my arrows were hitting a good 8 inches to the right, surprising to me considering that I was able to hunt squirrels with it last winter and made several one-shot kills on deer, too.
It could be string twist, limb warping or any number of gremlins, but it made me tighten things up, adjust the sights, lube the string and cams and otherwise make some changes till I was back on target, and that is precisely what this short, cool period of late summer is all about. It's time to ease back into fall because if you wait till opening day to get this stuff done you're going to run into problems.
For example, on a recent trip to a local summer camp for kids stricken with cancer, I loaned my precious Leatherman Super Tool to a fellow counselor to cut a branch or two so his little client could make a few casts from shore. Well, in his eagerness to help out he twisted the saw blade in the wet wood and the stainless steel cutter snapped in two like a toothpick! I'd had the thing for over 20 years without trouble, but in two minutes one of the most useful blades on the tool was gone! Luckily, Leatherman guarantees its products for life, but I still had to pack it up and mail it out, and two weeks passed before I got it back. Had I waited till opening day to do something about it I'd have hunted half the season without a good limb-cutting tool, which, as most hunters know, can be invaluable for cutting shooting lanes or lopping off errant branches from around a stand or blind.
It all comes down to how you respond to the cooler days, clear skies and other signs of the changing season. I try to spend the duller days of summer chained to the yard-work wagon, but as soon as I start seeing those startling red, yellow and pastel green leaves in the hardwoods I shed the mantle of responsible labor and head for the gun closet!
There is much to do in anticipation of the 2006 hunting season and you can't do any of it with a paintbrush, weed whacker or rake in your hand. In fact, it always amazes me to be in the woods in search of birds in October or deer in November and hear some poor soul off in the distance struggling with his chainsaw as he works on his woodpile. I'm not saying anyone should forget about firewood, heating oil or the leaks in their roof, but don't forget to set aside some time to get your gear and clothes ready for fall. Make sure you have everything, repair what needs it and replace what's broken or worn. Do it a little at a time now or suffer the consequences. If you've ever spent the Friday night before deer season in a long checkout line at the local department store you know what I mean!