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Today marks the beginning of the final week of Maine’s deer-hunting season. For those who can’t get enough of with woods with rifle in hand, this is it. Actually, what’s left to us now is the second week of the annual muzzleloader season in the Southern Zone, which includes most of our area generally on an east-to-west line marked by Route 16 from Bingham over to Milo and beyond.
The prognosis for the season has been grim to say the least, with the annual harvest down by 50 percent going into Thanksgiving week. Of course, it always depends on where you hunt, how often you hunt and what kind of luck you have (such as seeing only does when you don’t have a doe permit!). Most of the hunters I’ve spoken to have seen deer, the majority of them could have shot one and those who didn’t blame conditions or the lack of a doe permit for their failure to score.
Be that as it may, I highly recommend hunting the second week of the muzzleloader season for a couple of reasons. For one thing, hunting pressure will be down to a bare minimum. Few non-residents will be out there, even fewer resident hunters will take to the woods this week, and that means the deer have a chance to settle down and get back to their normal routines. Between the rut and the traditional firearms season, our whitetails have been run ragged over the last few weeks. The does had to dodge amorous bucks, hunters, coyotes and stray dogs, and the bucks just kept themselves running out of the inescapable urge to procreate. I’d say their November is equivalent to how we feel three days before Christmas and the tree isn’t even up yet!
So, the two-week muzzleloader season is a good break for them. There was some interest in the first week of the season, and from most reports (in areas where there was snow on the ground from that Thanksgiving weekend storm that blew through) there are still plenty of deer around. (Indeed, it’s always an eye-opener to go into the snowy woods after a fruitless deer season to find tracks all over the place, particularly in areas where the local experts had said the deer were all gone. Not gone, just not available!)
I have so much faith in this second week that I am going to be out there, Encore in hand, staking out a swampy thicket in hopes of seeing a nice buck. The area I hunted over Thanksgiving week had plenty of deer in it but they were already hanging back in the impenetrable swamps and fir thickets, likely in anticipation of another long winter. No one in the group saw a deer in open cover all week, but we all jumped deer (or saw those wretched does!) in the evergreens.
Two weeks later, the deer are probably not going to spend much time in the open, at least not during the day, so I’m going to bet my season on them being either on the high ridges (where they can soak up the sun) or down in the swamps where they can get out of sight and avoid the wind.
Most of the deer we saw two weeks ago stayed close to the thick cover and came out only near dawn and dusk, and it was often just at quitting time that we saw any whitetails at all. I’m betting that this week will be the same, with few deer moving about during the day and most of them waiting for the low light periods before leaving the safety of the dark places.
One of the things I’ve harped on all season is for hunters to sight in their rifles and to make sure all their gear is in order. Sad to say, three of the five hunters I was with over Thanksgiving missed easy shots at deer and all three admitted that they hadn’t taken the time to target their rifles. With muzzleloaders, all you get is one shot, so it’s critical that hunters take the time to sight in. The process only takes 30 minutes and yet it could be the most important preparatory thing you do all season.
Be sure your muzzleloader is dead on or a tad high at 100 yards, as one of my buddies painfully failed to do. His buck was across a swamp and winding through some alders. When he got his shot, he aimed low behind the shoulder and saw the slug slap into the mud about six inches below the deer, which, of course, skipped away into the evergreens.
The reason for his miss is simple enough: blackpowder slugs are slow and heavy, and if you don’t allow for the greater distance the bullet will drop like a stone before it gets to the target. In general, muzzleloaders are great out to 80 yards or so, but then gravity and ballistics take over and the arc of trajectory tends to look like a rainbow.
To avoid all this, sight in your muzzleloader for 100 yards. Then, if you take care to aim at a point halfway up the deer and directly behind the shoulder, you won’t have to come home with a sad story to tell!
There’s not much more to say except spend all the time you can in the woods. Pack a lunch and plan to be out there all day, because “day” is very short now. It gets light around 6:30 a.m., and it’s time to quit at around 4:15 or so. (Check the 2008 hunting rulebook for specific shooting times). Believe it or not, 10 hours go by pretty quickly, and 30 minutes after the sun goes down on Saturday it’s all over for another year.
For details on this year’s muzzleloader season, rules and regulations, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at www.maine.gov/ifw. Everything you need to know about hunting in Maine, licenses and current regulations may be found there.
Give it one good last try – there’s still plenty of time for Christmas shopping!
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