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Fewer folks each year remember the significance of this day in history, but it’s worth mentioning that a president was killed and the world as we knew it turned upside down – nothing has been the same since. Paraphrasing Gordon Lightfoot, “I don’t know where we went wrong but the feeling’s gone and we just can’t get it back.”
The ruination of America is hardly on the minds of deer hunters today. This is the final week of the regular firearms deer season, and unless you plan on purchasing a Muzzleloading permit ($13 at your town office or online at www.maine.gov/ifw), this is it for 2010.
It is the never-ending goal of this column to help readers find more game and enjoy their time outdoors to the maximum, and so it is with great enthusiasm that I encourage one and all to get out there this week and fill those hard-won buck and doe tags. Discounting opening week, this is the most productive period of the deer season. While attendance may be down slightly compared to the traditional first week, the woods will be full of orange hats through Saturday thanks to the long holiday weekend coming up. Thanksgiving is Thursday, of course, and most folks will have at least that day and Saturday off to hunt. The luckier ones will have Wednesday afternoon and Friday as well, while some will take advantage of the paid holiday setup and take three vacation days to enjoy six all told. Figure it any way you can, but plan to be out there this week. The odds for success will never be any higher.
The reason, of course, is the number of hunters that will be in the woods, plus the tactics they are likely to use. Driving, in which multiple hunters “push” a section of woods in hopes of driving deer to waiting gunners, is a popular Thanksgiving week tactic. Most last-ditch hunters won’t have time to go and sit all day in hopes that a deer might walk by, so they join forces with friends and family in an effort to fill as many tags as possible in the short time they have available. When you see a long line of orange vests lined up on a logging road somewhere it’s natural to feel sorry for the deer, but fear not – our resident whitetails are more than up to the challenge of eluding predators as slow and clumsy as we are. Some deer will certainly be taken by sharp-eyed standers, but many more will double back and squeeze through the drivers, often without being seen. How they do it when every hunter is in sight of the next, but they do, and you have to admire them for that.
This brings me to my first bit of end-game advice. When you see a line of hunters going into the woods, stay out of their way and let them conduct their drive. Wait about 30 minutes and then walk right in behind them! The reason for this is simple – most of the deer they jump will find a way to dodge the line of drivers and some of them will sneak through the line and actually find refuge behind them! I learned this little trick while bear hunting in Pennsylvania (where only still-hunting or driving is legal). In some cases there will be dozens of drivers strung out along a road, all headed in a giant pincer movement toward some distant valley, where shooters are assigned positions to wait for bears running ahead of the drivers. Well, one old-timer I was hunting with elected to sit back and let the drivers go on. When the last orange hat was long out of view, we snuck through the woods behind them. Sure enough, about an hour into the hunt my buddy saw a nice bruin sneaking back through the line, and we spent the rest of the day dragging his 280-pound trophy out of the woods! The same trick can work for deer this week, just be sure you know when the last of the drivers is out of sight and walk very slowly behind them. Don’t interfere with their efforts, but be on hand to profit from the wit and wisdom of the whitetails that elude them.
Another way to take advantage of the number of hunters in the woods this week is to simply bring extra water and snacks with you and plan on staying all day. Some hunters will be able to hunt in the mornings, others in the afternoons, and some will come out around 10 a.m. for lunch before heading back in for the rest of the day. All this activity disturbs deer, and disturbed deer don’t sit still. They keep track of who’s walking, who’s talking and who’s breaking branches along the way, and they avoid them. Avoiding other hunters often means they will stumble into a sport they didn’t know was out there. I routinely stay put from dawn till dark, but especially so this week. I do see a lot of hunters, of course, but when they see me they move on, and that often means another deer will be pushed my way. Be patient, stay alert, stay in the woods all day.
One final tip will be worth its weight in gold to some reader who decides to ignore it. I will say with absolute certainty that at least one reader of this column is going to see a nice buck this week and he’s going to shoot at it two, three, maybe even four times and not touch a hair! This happens every season, and the saddest part is that it could be avoided. If you can put three shots into the bull’s-eye at 25 yards, you can kill any deer you see in Maine out to 250 yards. Sight in now and you will have a great story to tell the guys back at camp. When they ask, “Did you shoot?,” be the one who says, “Yeah, and I got him, too!”
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