| We’re halfway through the 2012 firearms whitetail season. Have you got your deer yet? Statistics show that 90 percent of the hunting effort occurs in the first two weeks of the season. As the weather turns colder and other responsibilities get in the way (though I don’t know what those might be!), hunters’ enthusiasm dwindles. There will be a spike in participation on Saturdays and Thanksgiving weekend, but for the most part any hunter still in the woods this week will have little competition to worry about.
That is unfortunate because Maine’s renowned big bucks are still very active this week even as the primary breeding period winds down. There are always receptive does to discover and dominant bucks will leave no stone unturned in performing their duties as perpetuators of the species. Those spotted fawns you may have seen recently were products of a late rut last year, proof enough that it’s worth being in the woods during this generally quiet week of the season.
My goal in these November columns is to help every avid reader tag his buck (or doe). Going into the woods for a few hours on Saturday or cruising the back roads after work can often produce a deer, but the odds are heavily against you. Lightning does occasionally strike and meteors do fall, but most hunters don’t have that kind of luck.
The most successful deer hunters spend the maximum amount of time in the woods and they spend that time in places where deer are most likely to be found. By now the leaves (and the temperatures) are down. The places deer were seen in early October (pastures, fields and open woods) are generally empty now. The whitetail world revolves around the comings and goings of the mature does in the herd, and they know that their survival depends on remaining vigilant and staying in the thickest cover they can find.
Want to increase your odds for success in the next two weeks of the season? Spend more time in the woods and spend it near swamps, clear-cuts and other areas of dense habitat where a long shot may be 30 yards. I realize that some hunters believe if they can see hundreds of yards around them that they will see more deer, but in my experience the only thing that inhabits open, leafless woods are song birds, squirrels and wild turkeys. Deer don’t like to expose themselves, not even those distracted breeding bucks that are still out there chasing does. They will follow the females and go where they go, and that usually means sticking close to thick cover, at least during daylight hours.
For me, the ideal place to spend these mid-November days is at the edge of a swamp where the open hardwoods meets the evergreens. In many places there is a defined plateau or ridge where the higher elevation meets the lowlands. Deer use this edge-cover corridor to travel and feed because it provides them with plenty of browse plus a quick escape route should danger threaten.
It’s true that you can’t see more than 30 or 40 yards in these places, but that is exactly what makes them the perfect place to find a whitetail en route to its bedding or feeding destination. For example, I shot a deer every year for 15 years in just this kind of cover till loggers came and removed all the trees. About five years later, once the cover had a chance to regenerate, I was back in business, and that area is still producing nice bucks every season.
Because we are not allowed to hunt on Sunday in Maine, that is the ideal day to get out and scout some of the thicker cover where you plan to hunt. Study a topographic map that clearly shows elevations and ground details, and then go where the streams and swampy areas are most abundant.
Wear your rubber boots and don’t be afraid to venture into the thickest, wettest places you can find. Even in the deepest swamps there are small islands of high, dry ground where deer like to spend their days. Find the places where few hunters ever go and make them your target area.
Pay attention to the rubs, scrapes and trails you encounter as you look around. There is a pattern to all of these and the deer will continue to use the same areas until they are pushed out or tagged by some other intrepid hunter.
In very thick cover, look for places where two or more trails converge. This is where a tree stand or blind can be very effective or simply snip a few twigs to create a shooting lane and set up a stand downwind 30 or 40 yards away so the deer will continue to use these travel ways.
Focus your efforts on the thick cover this week and stay in the woods all day if you can. The days are getting shorter now so a stint from dawn till dark is not really that long. Legal shooting hours this week are generally from 6 a.m. till 4:35 p.m. not a long day at all, even shorter when it’s cloudy, raining or snowing.
Be sure that your rifle is on target, bring plenty of water and snacks and plan to make a full day of it.
Time is slowly running out and every hour that’s spent doing something other than hunting cannot be recovered. Sooner or later the season is going to come to an end. Deer hunting is never easy but in Maine it’s even more challenging because we have fewer deer and more difficult hunting conditions than most of the states around us. To succeed here requires your best effort every day, including during weeks like this when you may very well be the only hunter in the woods.
Head for home each day knowing you put everything you had into it. And remember, you can never get those lost hours back!