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All the talk is about “fall” now, with its cooler temperatures, bright blue skies and shorter days. There is much to think about with another Maine winter approaching (not to mention the major holidays of the season), but the advantage of being a Maine sportsman is that we don’t have to clutter our minds with the practical or the necessary — only with things that truly matter!
This week, for example, leaves only a week to get ready for the annual Maine upland hunting season, which, in most of our area, means partridge, woodcock and snowshoe hares. Some areas of the state may include a smattering of pheasant hunting in the mix, but for the most part it’s brown birds and bunnies.
It’s often the way that having too much of a good thing makes one complacent, and it’s not often noted that Maine has one of the longest and most generous upland hunting seasons in the East. We can shoot four hares per day from Oct. 1 through March 31 (six full months) and the partridge season runs from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 with a daily bag limit of four birds. In most states the season ends in October or November and the limit is one or two birds — paltry by comparison.
Another advantage we presently have in Maine a generous trespass law that allows hunters to look for birds on any land that is not posted. Though the battle continues to rage over public access to private lands, it’s still possible to set out for a day’s hunt and just keep on walking, never worried about boundaries, ownership or fences. Also, fortunately, there is plenty of prime upland cover available, so finding birds or game is rarely a problem.
The real issue now is getting ready for the season opener. There are licenses, guns, shells and clothes to be bought, dogs to train and vacation time to schedule. The first two weeks of the season can be challenging because of thick leaf cover (which makes it tough to see fast-departing birds) and warm temperatures, which take their toll on out-of-shape dogs and hunters alike.
If you’re planning to head for the uplands on opening day, the best plan is to dress lightly, keep extraneous gear to a minimum and plan on walking long distances all day. In early fall the birds will be traveling in family flocks, which means plenty of birds available but likely with longer distances between shots. Later, when the birds scatter for survival, you’ll jump birds in various places throughout the woods, but usually only one or two at a time.
Most hunters have their own secret hotspots, but if you’re new to the sport you can’t go wrong simply walking old gravel lanes where traffic is minimal and there is plenty of sapling cover nearby. If there are apple orchards, swamps and birch-covered knolls interspersed, hang onto your hat! Partridge, rabbits and woodcock love that kind of cover and the odds are good that you will encounter plenty of them along the way.
Some hunters like to walk the roads in the afternoon and shoot their birds as they peck for gravel, which is perfectly legal in most cases. However, the sporting aspect of ground-swatting grouse (legal or not) makes some sportsmen cringe. They believe a bird should be flushed and allowed to fly before taking a shot, which, of course, means they’ll get fewer opportunities (and birds) for sure. In fact, estimates run as high as 14 shots per bird, which can run into some money at today’s high prices! In my heyday as a grouse hunter I brought home over 30 partridges per season. Most years I’d average under three shots per bird.
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