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With only a week to go before the Maine firearms deer season opens (only five days for resident hunters), it’s getting to be past time to make your last-minute adjustments. If you don’t already have your license, orange clothing, new boots or hand warmers, now’s the time to go to the store and take care of such things. If you weren’t happy with your rifle, sights, ammunition, knife or other gear last year, you’ll barely have time to replace them before opening day, so quit procrastinating and get to it!
As always, there are two primary reasons hunters don’t fill their tags each year. It would be easy to say that Maine doesn’t have many deer but, sadly, the numbers show otherwise. There is, in fact, at least one legal-sized whitetail for every licensed hunter, which more or less means your deer is out there if you want to do what it takes to get it. Which leads us to the first reason most hunters don’t score: They simply don’t go! Hunters avoid opening day because there are too many other hunters out there, which for some reason translates to “it’s too crowded.” Well, not if you’ve done your pre-season scouting.
The trick is to find the places where other hunters won’t go and start your hunting there. In general, this means thick cover including swamps, alder patches, clear-cuts and the like. Deer are experts are hiding from hunters especially when the leaves are gone and there is snow on the ground, but the closer you get to dense habitat the more tracks and trails you’ll find. Get in there and find a spot that suits you!
Even if you know a dozen good spots (and our area of Maine is ripe with them) they do you no good if you aren’t there. Kick yourself out of bed every morning and spend the first hour or two of the day in the woods. In truth, the elapsed time between seeing and shooting a deer is about 15 seconds in most cases – which means if you are where you should be at daylight you can have your deer down, tagged and hanging in the shed before work! Few hunters can be in the woods all day every day, but if you want to fill the freezer you need to plan on being out there whenever you have an hour to spare. Go when it rains, when it’s cold, when it’s windy and when it’s none of the above – remember that the deer are out there year-round and the only way to get near them is to be out there, too! I have spent some pretty miserable days huddled under a hemlock somewhere, but sooner or later I get my chance and, as they say, success changes everything. It’s easy to tolerate the cold, wet and wind when you’re spending your time dragging out a nice buck or fat doe.
Save the excuses, procrastination, laziness and “better things to do” for some other time. It’s deer season and the time to go is now!
Error No. Two is failing to properly sight in your rifle. You may spend all season out there and get but one fleeting chance to fill your tag – why in the world would you trust your season to a rifle you haven’t sighted in or ammunition you’ve never tested? It happens every year – lots of shooting and cursing but not much meat. Any modern rifle will shoot into a 3-inch circle at 100 yards, which is more than plenty for the average Maine whitetail. And, standard factory ammo designed for thin-skinned big game (which really means “deer”) will at least equal that – in fact, most name-brand cartridges will print even smaller groups if you are up to the challenge and spend some time at the range tweaking your stock screws and sight adjustments.
To get it done quickly, shoot a group of three shots at 25 yards, adjust your sights and shoot some more, continuing to shoot-adjust till your bullets dead on at that distance. Now, back off to 100 yards and shoot again. In a dead wind with tight screws and a steady rest, your bullets should hit around 3 inches high at 100 yards. Most .30-caliber “deer rifles” will then be capable of hitting a deer behind the shoulder out to 250 yards. This will vary when using such calibers as the .30-30 or .44, .444 or .45-70, in which case you should fire test groups at 150 and 200 yards to see where your bullets fall. Get all you can out of your rifle but never exceed its capabilities. In my experience the .44 is good for about 100 yards maximum, the .444 and .45-70 are good for 150 yards and the .30-30 is good for a tad more – maybe 175 yards. Find out what your gun does and don’t ask for more than it can handle.
So, let’s say you’re in the woods next week and your rifle is dead-on. When you see your deer (and odds are you will), don’t fool around with trick shots, risky shots or iffy shots. Wait for a clean, standing broadside shot and aim halfway up behind the shoulder. Remember, your rifle will be able to hit that deer out to 200 yards or more, so wait (talk to yourself if you must) for a clean shot at the heart-lung area. Hold steady and squeeze the trigger. If you’ve done your job you will soon be dragging your 2006 whitetail out of the woods.
If you’re one of those hunters who routinely ignores similar gems of wisdom each year, always missing your chance, give these simple directions a try. I hear from hunters each year who tell me that, for once, they were going try the sensible approach (spending more time hunting and making sure their rifles were sighted in) and, what do you know, their seasons were a success. None of this is rocket science, hocus-pocus or magic tricks: Time in the woods and a well-aimed shot are all it takes to put you in the winner’s circle. Make a vow to try it this season and be sure to let me know how it goes!
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