|A week of Maine’s 2009 firearms deer season is over now, and close to half of the hunters who will venture afield this year are finished chasing whitetails. Except for a spurt of activity during Thanksgiving week, the woods will be relatively quiet from now on, and that’s great news for sportsmen with the time and ambition to keep at it till the end.
There was a time when I was a one-week hunter, too, taking my precious vacation time during the last week of the season because a week off only cost three vacation days. I’d often have to trade summer weekends and plenty of nights and Saturdays year-round in order to “earn” my three days off, but I only missed two Novembers in the last 45 years the Marines had other plans for me!
I became an all-season hunter years ago when I figured out how to work a full shift and still hunt all day. I spent long nights working in factories, prisons and various other pursuits but managed to make a run for the woods for at least part of every day, invariably dawn or dusk, those short hours when deer are most active during legal shooting hours.
My theory has always been that if I spend the maximum amount of time in the woods I’ll have the highest odds of getting a shot. I have never been able to watch a November day go by without at least wishing I was out there, and most of the time I give in and head for the cedars, rain or shine, hot or cold, windy or still. Being there means something could happen not going guarantees that I’ll see no deer that day.
While we all plan and hope for bright, frosty mornings and evenings, but November is an interesting month for deer hunters. Any given day can feature sun, rain, snow, sleet, wind or perfect calm or all of the above! The highest odds are with the guy who hunts in spite of the conditions, braves the worst that Mother Nature can put out and comes home raring to go again tomorrow.
According to my hunting records (a notebook kept current since 1963), I have shot about a dozen deer on opening morning (or the first day I was able to get out), but by far the majority of my whitetails have come after days, even weeks, of hard, determined hunting. My best hunting buddies have gone home without me, my friends think I am crazy to keep at it and more than one wife has worried that I was lost or dead in the woods because I didn’t come home till well after dark. To me, that’s the minimum it takes to be successful at Maine deer hunting, especially when you’re going alone and hunting on public land or in places where anyone and everyone can go.
I have “hunted” high-fence operations, private lands and even over bait (legally), and still I end up having to put in more time and more effort than most hunters. I have had game wardens, landowners, guides and good buddies come looking for me because, as they all eventually said, “Anyone with half a brain would have been back to camp by now!”
My records show, however, that those folks and many others have come out looking for me (thinking me lost or in dire straits) only to have to grab onto a nice buck and help me drag him the rest of the way home. In fact, one game warden, thinking I was staying a bit late on stand, crept in on me and found me struggling with a buck that weighed over 200 pounds! He volunteered to carry my rifle out for me (a Browning M78 single-shot rifle that weighed about 9 pounds!), and actually ended up trading placed with me dragging that buck in six inches of snow was easier than lugging that heavy old rifle!
One year while hunting alone I wandered back into the Boyd Lake area late on a rainy afternoon and crossed paths with a 9-pointer that made the mistake of pausing to make a scrape just 20 yards from my perch on a stone wall. The drag out was easy enough along smooth logging trails covered with wet leaves, but I didn’t get home till after 10 p.m., and a crowd had gathered at my house to begin the search for my body!
My circle of acquaintances is quite used to my November wanderings and rarely pay much heed when I’m the first one out the door and the last one in at dusk. I’ve spent several nights in the woods in the last few years, having gone too far too fast without leaving time enough to get back to the car or camp at a reasonable hour. I carry a Space Blanket, a small stove, water and a few other basic supplies so if I do end up staying the night, I have a basic shelter, food and water to last me till morning. Spending an hour or more walking out of the woods each night seems like wasted effort to me, especially when I find some good sign that will have me back again in the morning. To me, it’s logical and sensible to just huddle up in my Space Blanket, brew up some hot tea, down a handful of raisins or apricots and settle in for the night. At dawn, I’ll be where I want to be and, with luck, have a nice buck to drag out while everyone else is working their way into the woods. Who knows, I may run into someone who will take pity on me and help me drag my buck back to the truck!
The point, obviously, is to encourage one and all to keep going, keep hunting, and don’t give up till the law says you must. It may take all day, all season or just five minutes for you to fill your tag, but you can’t do it if you’re not out there!