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Fleeting though it may be, October is the month of memories for anyone with a penchant for early mornings, shotguns and random ramblings through the woods. It’s common for hunters these days to specialize in just deer, just bear, just ducks or just birds, but those of us who are old-school trained know there’s more going on out there than that. Trained in the old “put it in the truck” philosophy, we just went hunting – where we went or what we shot was secondary. Being out there is what really mattered.
Even after close to 50 years of wandering the woods and waters, I still enjoy grabbing a shotgun or .22 and spending my October days roaming around with no particular goal in mind. As long as I have a pocket full of shells, my tea pot and some water, I can leave the house before dawn and not come back till past dark. What’s great about October in Maine is that every small game, upland bird and waterfowl species that’s allowed to be “reduced to possession” may legally be pursued for at least the next several weeks. If you manage to ramble through the right cover, you can come home with four grouse, four rabbits, three woodcock, six ducks and four squirrels. Of course, no one needs to kill that much game in a day (not even to “feed the family,” as the popular saying goes), but on a good day under the best of circumstances you can certainly fill a hole in the freezer – and that doesn’t include sea ducks, geese or rails (on which the limit is 25 per day!); raccoons (great eating!), pheasants or quail. This also does not include your fall turkey (one per hunter) nor any of the unprotected species such as woodchucks, red squirrels and porcupines (lousy eating), starlings (black birds baked in a pie, let’s say) nor wild pigeons – the “under the bridge” variety.
All of the basic small game species and birds may be hunted under the regular hunting license. Waterfowl and pheasant hunting requires various stamps and/or permits. All of this legal stuff is best taken care of at the town hall or online at www.maine.gov/ifw. For the minimalist, a Maine resident small game hunting license (good for everything except deer, bear, raccoon, bobcat and wild turkeys) will set you back a mere $14 – absolutely the best deal going if you consider that you may hunt something every legal day all year (don’t forget those pesky varmints including coyotes, crows and such). Boiled down to the bottom line, this means you can go hunting in Maine from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 (except Sundays – the day reserved for people who like to hike and picnic and stuff) for less than five cents per day! There is nothing you can do (except breath or get into trouble) for a nickel a day – not even if you save up and be bad just once a week!
Looked at another way, you can put at least 21 tasty, legal game critters into the freezer every day for under five cents. If you think about it, the 21 rounds of ammunition you expended to take al that game (pretty much one box of low-end shotgun shells) cost you at least $6. Sounds like the old hunting license is still one of the top bargains around for what you can get out of it.
Cost-per-pound isn’t my top priority when I go on my October ramblings, however. I thoroughly enjoy the privilege and make sure I’m out there part (if not all) of every day. Ideally, I start out the door at sunrise with my little backpack containing water, a few granola bars, a tin cup, my pocket-sized stove, a compass and a flashlight. I may carry binoculars with me just to observe something interesting in the distance, but I try to travel light – no 40-pound packs for me!
There usually is no itinerary on these trips. Go out and come back, that’s about the extent of my plan. I expect to get my feet wet, I expect to get tired and I expect to be mighty hungry by the time I get home. With just a little bit of luck I should have a bird, rabbit or squirrel to roast over the coals that night. I rarely plan on getting a shot at something (that’s always been a jinx for me) but if I happen to bump into something with fur or feathers on it, I might take a crack at it.
I do make it a point to wander through the places these common critters would be; swamps and field edges, alder runs and birch-infested hillsides. I am always on the lookout for apple trees where grouse like to spend their October afternoons, and if there’s a bit of cedar swamp nearby I might kick around in there in hopes of seeing a rabbit or partridge.
I always include the highest oak ridges in my trek in case there are some squirrels rooting around for acorns, and there’s always a beaver pond or flowage on the list so I can chase a few woodcock around while I wait for a few wood ducks, black ducks or mallards to come winging past just before sunset.
Fortunately, every hunter in central Maine has access to all of this, and more, no matter where he lives. Park the car and strike off into the woods from most any point in the region and you will find water, high ground, swamps, orchards, alders and all the other ingredients for a great October hunt. You can spend an hour, all morning or all day out there and never have to run through the same patch of woods twice. If you only have time for a quick trip, find a small brook (size does not matter) and follow it for as long as you have time. The alders, birches and cedars along the waterways in our area have everything the October partridge or rabbit needs to survive, and the odds are good that if you get in there early or late in the day you will find something furred or feathered to shoot at. Whether or not you hit what you shoot at is up to you!
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