|Maine’s 2007 archery deer season is set to open next week and will run through Oct. 26. If you want to experience a quality deer hunt under peak conditions with room to roam and none of the hubbub of the rifle season, this is the hunt for you.
Bowhunters are a secretive bunch, always dressed in full camouflage, creeping quietly through the woods and often coming and going unnoticed without leaving so much as a bent twig to mark their passing. The reason, of course, is that most bow-shot deer are taken at 25 yards or less (about the length of the average mobile home), and if you know anything about the senses and response time of the average whitetail, you know that the odds are definitely not in the hunter’s favor. In fact, last year some 15,000 licensed bowhunters took 1,652 deer statewide, but only 384 during the October archery season. Most of the bow-killed deer fell during the Expanded Archery Season held in selected areas of the state where high human populations and tight firearms restrictions create special problems for deer managers.
Even though 90 percent of the bow-killed deer are taken by Maine residents, some 90 percent of hunters go home empty-handed, Expanded Archery Season or not! Some hunters take two or more deer under special permits, which means the actual hunter success rate is probably more like 7 percent, which it has been for decades.
So, what’s the incentive for gearing up for an October bowhunt? For me, it’s just the chance to be out there during the prettiest time of year, when the air is crisp and cool, the leaves are turning and the woods are at their sparkling best. Also, the deer are still in their pre-rut mode, which means you’ll often see herds of does, fawns and bucks traveling together, most of them acting as if they hadn’t a care in the world.
The challenge is how to get within bow range (25 yards or less) and, while it’s somewhat easier when the leaves are still on the trees and the deer are less stressed by the rigors of mating and the busy firearms season, much can go wrong and often does!
One of the biggest challenges facing bowhunters is that taking a shot, even with a modern compound bow (which allows the hunter to draw and hold his bow at the ready for several seconds), a good deal of movement is required to come to full draw. Even the most practiced archer can’t draw and aim an arrow without some arm and body motion, and anyone who has hunted deer knows that the first thing those pretty brown eyes can detect is movement. And, if a whitetail stops 35 yards out behind some brush with the least inkling that something is amiss, you won’t get a shot at him. Rifle hunters can often thread a bullet through thin brush, twigs or saplings for a good hit, but try that with a 30-inch arcing arrow and see what happens!
In most cases, the archer has to wait even longer to take his shot (sometimes waiting till the deer is closer than 10 yards) or simply abort the mission and let the whitetail walk on by. Hunters using recurve or longbows (true traditionalists) must draw and shoot quickly when a deer appears because few hunters can come to full draw with a 60-pound-pull recurve and hold it in shooting mode for more than a few seconds. Back in the days when Maine’s bow season was held prior to the advent of compound bows, the hunter success rate was down around 2 or 3 percent!
What can be done to improve those odds? Hunting from a blind can help, although blinds must be built prior to the season to give the deer time to get used to their presence, and the blind must be constructed to allow the hunter room enough for himself, his gear and that 30 inches of draw space. Not an easy task! Most ground hunters utilize natural sites as blinds (blow downs, fallen trees and the like) and do well, but the majority of modern hunters opt for tree stands, which offer several advantages (and a few disadvantages) that can turn the tide in their favor.
Of course, the biggest advantage to tree stands is that deer do not expect danger from above. Most bowhunters will get anywhere from 10 to 30 feet in the air so they can’t be seen or smelled by approaching deer, and it’s not unusual for a big buck to walk right under a tree stand and gawk around as if nothing were out of the ordinary. It’s probably safe to say that tree stands have been the single biggest reason for the increase in archery deer harvests since they became popular 20-plus years ago, but there is a serious down side to their use.
Unfortunately, each year dozens of hunters nationwide are killed due to falls out of tree stands, and many more are injured or permanently crippled due to injuries sustained in falls from tree stands. Most tree stands are relatively safe, but none are completely safe. All tree stand manufacturers recommend the use of safety harnesses when climbing into or using tree stands, but, sadly, most hunters ignore those cautions.
I think the worst case I’ve heard of is a crossbow hunter who climbed into his stand while his crossbow was cocked and loaded! He made a mistake, the crossbow discharged and the arrow went through the hunter’s back and neck, leaving a wife and three kids to ponder the wisdom of his haste. NEVER enter or leave a tree stand without first lowering your firearm or bow to the ground. The risks are simply too high!
For more on Maine’s 2007 archery deer-hunting seasons, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/hunting/archery.