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There are only two weeks to go before Maine’s 2009 hunting season opens on all species near and dear to our hearts. On Oct. 1 it will be legal to hunt everything from woodcock to whitetails under the general rule, and the time to get ready is now!
First on the list is purchasing your 2009 hunting licenses, stamps and tags. The list is long and varied, ranging from bear permits, waterfowl stamps and blackpowder licenses (all costing money) and HIP permits (essentially a questionnaire that allows us to hunt migratory game –in exchange for completing the survey, which, so far, is free).
All of your 2009 permits may be purchased online by logging onto http://www.maine.gov/ifw/licenses_permits/index.htm with the exception of the federal waterfowl hunting stamp ($15 this year, $25 next year), which may be purchased at any local post office.
If you’re going to focus on archery deer hunting, which opens statewide Oct. 1, you’ll need to examine your bows, arrows, broadheads and peripheral gear, repair or replace items as necessary and then head to the hay bales for some serious shooting practice. I have been hunting hard with a crossbow in various states lately and had done very little compound bow shooting, so when I got my PSE out of its case a few days ago I was amazed to find that I’d pretty much lost all the “skills” I’d honed just a few years ago. I was rusty, shaky and wobbly the first few dozen shots, but it wasn’t long before the old “form and follow though” came back and I was making 10-ring hits time after time.
I even gave my old take-down recurve (a custom bow built for me by Val Marquez of Shapleigh about 10 years ago) a run through. I found, as always, that I’m quite deadly out to 20 yards. Beyond that . . . I need more practice.
I went over all my arrows and found that several of them had fletching problems due primarily to glue failure. I guess you can’t expect glue to last forever, but I’m glad I looked because re-fletching takes time and with luck I should be able to get it done by opening day.
Speaking of glue problems, be sure to check your arrow inserts to make sure they are still secure. I tried to install some new broadheads the other day and the insert turned freely inside the shaft, indicating glue failure, likely due to weather, time and wear.
Check every arrow carefully for dings, dents and bends, and replace any that are questionable. Some hunters like to use the same arrow to kill their deer or bear year after year, and lucky archers can often get three or four trophies with the same shaft, but arrows take a beating after the shot, so check each one carefully before you add it to your hunting quiver.
If you haven’t touched your bow since last fall, it may be a good idea to take it to a local shop for a tune-up. Moving parts will eventually wear or fail, so get it done soon. You may not be the only one whose gear needs work and there are only two weeks left to this off-season.
Many hunters will be going afield with shotguns or rifles, most of which have also not been touched since last season. Give each gun a routine check: look for rust, smooth operation and function, broken sights or other parts, cracked stocks and loose screws . . . anything that needs attention now.
Be sure to tighten all your sight and scope screws, and then head for the range to sight in. I did just that last weekend and was amazed to find how far off my rifles were shooting this year even though I tend to baby my guns. It only took a few shots to get my .22, .243, .30/06 and .375 H&H Magnum back on target, but some of them were off enough to miss a deer at 100 yards, which is not something you want to discover on opening day!
The simplest way to sight in is to set a target at 25 yards. From a solid rest and aiming at the bull’s eye, fire three slow, careful shots and see what kind of group you have. At that range all your shots should be touching. If a helper is available, hold the rifle on target again and have him move the crosshairs till they are on the bullet holes you’ve just made. Shoot three more shots and you should be dead center. Sighted in this way, most standard deer calibers are about two inches high at 100 yards and a few inches low at 250 yards, more than good enough for any Maine whitetail. Always test fire your rife at 100 yards just to make sure. If it’s two or three inches high and over center, you can feel pretty confident about tagging any buck you see in the woods of central Maine.
If you’re going to do a lot of shotgun hunting this fall for upland game, ducks or geese, head for the range and do a little practice shooting. Start out at the patterning board, firing one shot at a time at separate targets till you are sure your gun is centered and on target. Then, have someone toss a few clay targets for you. Vary the angle, speed and direction of the “birds” so you can practice on the tough shots that are so commonly encountered while hunting.
If you have a particular shot that is a weak point, come back to it several times until you can master it. My toughest shot is the straightaway bird. I tend to slow shoot way above and behind the bird, so I spend lots of extra time in practice till I can smoke 9 out of 10 from that angle.
There is plenty to do between now and Oct. 1, so get started today! Odds are you’ll forget something anyway, but I’ve started your list for you here. Check your boots, hats, coats, knives and gloves, be sure you have plenty of fresh orange clothing so you’re “legal.” Take a few minutes to make a list of other necessities that you can take care of well before it’s time to head into the woods again.
The Maine hunting season is short and it’s just around the corner. Make the most of it by being ready to go when the opening gun sounds!
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