|Today is the first day of Maine’s 2010 firearms deer season, without a doubt the most important day of the sporting year. The flurry of activity that occurs just prior to this day is comparable to that of Halloween and Christmas combined. The hustle and bustle, the planning, the scouting, the shopping, the shooting, the gathering of gear and equipment . . . all in hopes of bringing home a fat Maine whitetail.
In recent days my yard has been full of friends and relatives getting ready for the big day. There were old men and boys, women and girls, new guns and old, untested boots and gloves and orange hats and jackets, all tied together with a buzz of excitement over who was going to hunt where and which of us was going to shoot the biggest buck this year. We spent several hours carefully shooting at targets, adjusting sights, changing positions and making jokes about each other’s chances in the woods . . . all in anticipation of what might happen this very morning!
For weeks my hunting pals and I have been roaming the woods in search of sign, the rubs and scrapes, tracks and trails, beds and nipped maple shoots that tell the story of deer that have gone this way in recent days. We have kept track of the size, number and frequency of tracks made in the garden, along the woods road and across the stream, trying to find a pattern in what we’ve found and tweaking it all down to where we would be standing when the sun came up this morning.
Statistically, opening day hunters have the highest odds for success. By the end of the week, the odds are down to the single digits. There’s a peak on Saturdays and over the Thanksgiving holiday (simply because more hunters will be in the woods on those days), but it’s opening week that produces the most deer each season.
I think getting ready for opening day is as exciting as the day itself. There are new guns and gear to attend to, old equipment to refurbish and small items to find and buy that aren’t available (or important) at any other time of year.
Most years I am able to find everything I need well in advance, but, this year there was one key item that I could not find. It just wasn’t on store shelves as it had been in the past. One of my little traditions while hunting is to fire up my pocket-sized camping stove to boil water for tea or hot chocolate around midday. I was surprised to find that the 8-ounce canisters of isobutane (or whatever they call it) that were once so easy to find were unavailable almost everywhere I looked. With only a few days left till opening morning and down to just one full canister and one partial can, I was getting desperate.
Day after day, the shelves remained empty and the retail chant was the same: “They are on order. We should have them in any time now.” After many phone calls and miles of fruitless searching, I finally found a supplier and bought a case of the stuff. I was not going to risk running out of stove gas during the season, and I definitely did not want to spend any of my hunting days driving around looking for stove gas.
This year it was gas, last year it was chemical handwarmers . . . every year it’s something. Those who shoot oddball calibers in their deer rifles know how difficult it can be to find a full box of .351 Winchester or even .32 Special ammunition this close to opening day. One store I know had half a box of each left on his shelves and expected to sell no more than five rounds all season. One year I searched the entire state for a plain orange hat with no logos on it (still a difficult order to fill), but I finally managed to come up with a supplier and bought all they had. One day I’ll wear the last of them out and have to renew my search. I can’t wait!
Some of my routine hunting stuff can wait till the last minute, such as tea bags, instant coffee, oatmeal and hot chocolate (I buy the kind that’s instant and comes in single-serving packages), but on my Saturday-before-deer-season shopping trips I’ll see the inevitable gaggle of excited hunters gathered around the sporting goods, some buying guns, others buying ammunition or clothes or boots, and I have to laugh. Buying a gun the night before you need it may be acceptable for bank robbers or poachers, but if you don’t take the time to sight it in you may as well throw rocks at the deer. And, if you’ve ever walked all day in brand-new leather boots, you know how many big, fat blisters you can get. Miss a deer, get a blister on opening day and that’s pretty much your season. If you want to go out more than once (and you should even in the best of years only 10 percent of hunters fill their tags) you need to be prepared and opening morning is too late for that!
Of course, it is possible to go into the woods with nothing more than a rifle, a couple of shells and a knife and come out with a deer. One year I had my vehicle packed with all my gear and had stopped at a diner to eat. When I came out my rear window was broken and all my stuff was gone! All that was left was my rifle (which was under the seat), one set of hunting clothes, a box of shells and my knife. Stubborn, stupid or a combination of both, I continued on to camp anyway. With little food, no sleeping bag and most of my gear lost, I was anticipating a truly miserable week, but the first morning I shot a nice buck and was on the way home before noon the next day.
Plan well, plan poorly or don’t plan at all, but do go hunting this season. Somewhere out there is the biggest buck of your life, but you can’t get him if you don’t go!