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This week is the last hurrah for Maine deer hunters. The muzzleloader season remains open in the southern half of the state, and the border is not so far from Rolling Thunder readers. For example, Wildlife Management District 17 is generally south of Route 16) and includes Parkman, Atkinson, Dover-Foxcroft, Dexter, etc. This means area hunters who have not tagged their whitetail this season have one last chance to make it happen.
Those who may think the rut is over with may be surprised to find that bucks are still chasing does in many parts of the central and southern regions of the state and are being just careless enough to make hunting them this week a worthwhile prospect.
The basic recipe for success is the same as always: Sight in before you go, spend as much time in the woods as possible and hunt the thickest cover you can find. All sorts of things can happen when it comes to December deer hunting, but if you are out there, prepared and paying attention the results should be memorable at the very least.
I like hunting this last week of the season just because it’s fun to be out there and knowing that I am probably the only one roaming the thickets. I suspect that the cold, empty, open woods discourage a lot of hunters, but if you turn your focus to the dense evergreens and swamps you are likely to come away with a different viewpoint. Hunting where you saw deer in August or September is probably not the best idea because whitetails are shy and reclusive critters, particularly after the leaves have dropped, and it’s a rarity to see them in places where visibility is good, except at night.
My hardwoods trail cam images now show 10 times more deer activity during the hours of darkness, with only a few pictures being made during daylight. What this tells me is that I shouldn’t be wasting my hunting days watching vast, empty oak and maple stands. Instead, I will head for the swampy, alder-choked thick cover. It’s nearly survival time for Maine deer now, and they are already spending more of their time tucked away from the wind and cold, leaving the dense evergreens only occasionally (and at night) to browse and travel.
Because legal shooting time is around 6:50 a.m. or so this week and ends at 4:30 p.m., you have less than 10 hours of daylight each day. For this reason I highly recommend staying in the woods all day. It’s not as tough as you think if you have a plan and enter the woods equipped for a long stay.
I use two sets of hand warmers each day, one in the morning and then, around noon, I fire up a second set to last me till dark. Most chemical hand warmers claim to last 10 hours or more, but I don’t have that kind of luck! If I get five good hours out of them I am happy.
I also plan to eat in the woods so I prep my pack the night before a hunt with three or more bottles of water, several granola bars, a few apples and a couple of boxes of raisins. Pack whatever works for you.
I also bring my butane stove, tin cup and a selection of tea, instant soups and hot chocolate. It’s amazing how a hot drink can warm things up and improve one’s perspective, especially after long hours of waiting and watching in the cold and wind. If I can keep myself out there till 1 p.m. I’m good for the remainder of the day.
If it’s extremely cold or my morning spot hasn’t produced any action I’ll consider my options and pick a new location for the afternoon hunt. I decide where to go, move slowly through the woods to the new position and have my lunch there. Sometimes a change of scenery, a hot drink and a brisk walk are all it takes to renew my enthusiasm and optimism.
One costly trend I see among hunters these days is the use of cell phones, video games, books and other distractions brought along to make the long hours easier to endure.
The trouble with these diversions is that they take your concentration and focus away from hunting. Successful hunting is, believe it or not, hard work; requiring long hours of careful study of every sound and movement that occurs. What you thought was a squirrel could be a big buck walking past, or that vague movement back in the cedars could easily be a whitetail sneaking by. Many of the deer I have seen while hunting showed up silently, slipping by like shadows. If I hadn’t been watching intently many of them may have gotten past me. In many cases (such as during periods of snow or rain) I’d never have known they were there. This has happened to me often enough over the last 50 years that I sit, look, listen and pay attention. I would hate to look up from a book or game and see the tail end of a big buck disappearing into the swamp!
Two important considerations this week: Get in early and stay late. As long as your muzzleloader is unloaded (uncapped) you can carry it into the woods before legal shooting time. Get where you want to be as early as possible and cap your muzzleloader as soon as the law allows. Also, keep your rifle capped till the end of legal shooting hours, and only then should you leave the woods. Many a nice buck has been taken in the first or last minutes of the day, but you can’t shoot one if you aren’t there, loaded and ready for action.
It’s do or die time, but a week can be time enough if you spend your hunting hours in high-use areas. Get in there, move slowly and check out every sight and sound. Someone will shoot a nice buck on the very last afternoon of the season and it may as well be you!
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