| It’s getting somber in the woods now, very dark and colorless, and it’s much colder out there, too. Even so, for some reason I like deer hunting during Thanksgiving week more than any other time. I like the look of the woods, the ambience (cold and still) and the knowledge that some of the biggest deer I’ve ever shot were taken during this last week of the regular firearms season.
The advantages of hunting this week are many. If we’re going to have any snow that sticks it will be this week, and even if that doesn’t happen it should be colder and quieter in the woods, making it easier to hear whitetails approaching. The leaves are all but gone now, so deer will be easier to see, too, although they blend in so well it’s difficult to tell if it’s a buck or doe until the animal moves its head.
In fact, even with snow on the ground it’s a tough sell. Back when the first bucks-only season was declared in Maine, I spent one morning hunting in a small patch of woods along Sebasticook Stream in Dexter. The area was little more than an endless alder patch, thick and tangled the perfect place to find a wandering buck. Nothing was moving and I was actually preparing to leave when I noticed movement about 40 yards away, head down and staring at me. At first I thought it was a dog, then I thought it was a doe (and I didn’t have a doe tag), so I just stood there and gawked at the animal, which was covered with ice and snow as if it had just fallen into the stream.
We stared at each other for some time, and I slowly raised my rifle to have a look through the scope. The deer stood there, dead still, while I eased the stock into my shoulder and ducked my head for a look. Well, clever me, I had been standing there all morning on a cold, snowy day, and had put the rifle scope under my arm pit to keep it free of falling snow. When I tried to look at the deer, all I could see was a blur! Frost covered the ocular lens of the scope and I couldn’t see a thing out of it! I slowly raised my thumb up and scraped some frost off the lens and looked at the deer again, but it had not moved. It still looked like a brown blob in the scope, so I risked wiping off the lens again.
Something resembling a deer finally came into view after several attempts, but for all I could tell the deer was a doe no antlers that I could see.
I was about to put the rifle down and walk away when the deer finally picked its head up and a good chunk of the alders moved with it! All I knew for sure was that it was a buck with several points, so I centered the crosshairs behind his shoulder and fired one shot. The buck bolted out of sight with snow falling off the trees all around him, and I was left standing there wondering what I had.
Of course, the trail was easy to follow in the fresh snow, and when I got to the deer I was amazed to find a nice 8-pointer with a 14-inch spread, one of the better deer I’ve shot in my career. With all the snow, branches and brush around him I could not tell he had antlers till he moved.
Things like that will happen during Thanksgiving week. Back in 1974, I was hunting in Orneville the day after a major snowfall hit Piscataquis County. Snow hung like cotton from every twig and limb, and the quiet in the woods was such that I could hear the blood rushing in my ears! I cut several deer tracks and was hot on the trail of the biggest buck print I could find when I stopped to get a drink out of a local brook. I stood still for the longest time, just staring into the cedars and hoping a deer would cross my path.
I was probably there for a good 20 minutes, just looking and staring, and for some reason I decided to look behind me. It rarely happens when you expect it, but often deer will stand and let a hunter walk on by and then will cross a road or trail right behind him.
I turned and looked over my shoulder and saw the back half of a big deer standing no more than 20 yards away! Short firs and cedars were between us and all was covered with light, fluffy snow, so I knew the deer didn’t know I was there. I turned as slowly as possible, raised my rifle and aimed at a spot just behind the deer’s shoulder. At the shot the snowy woods exploded as the animal bounded away. He went no more than 30 yards and rolled over, a perfect shot!
It happened that my little sister, a pre-teen at the time, was in camp with us, so I went back to get her and show her a Maine deer. Well, when we got to the place where I shot the deer, she started to stumble, and when we reached the animal she simply keeled over backward and passed out! I guess the sight was more than she could stand, so I ended up having to half-carry her back to camp and then dragged the deer out to the road on my own.
A year later I was back in that same spot on Thanksgiving evening, standing in the snow and lamenting what looked like another lost season. Out of nowhere a nice 6-pointer came creeping through the swamp, and seconds later I was putting my tag on him.
Such is deer hunting in Maine in late November. You never know where or when you might see a deer, but your odds increase every time you go. Don’t let the dark woods, threat of snow or frosty cold keep you indoors this week. It’s now or never and November 2010 is a whole year away!