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There’s just a week left before Maine’s traditional hunting seasons open. We’ve already seen bear and expanded archery deer hunters afield, and properly permitted moose hunters will be in the woods starting today in Wildlife Management Districts 1-6, 11 and 19 (generally the northern sections of the state).
On October 1 most small game in the state will be legal to pursue including waterfowl, grouse, rabbits and squirrels. On Oct. 3 the regular archery deer season will open, which leaves very little time to prepare for another active, productive and enjoyable hunting season.
Just like that it’s the end of September, time to get organized, gather gear and start thinking about where, when and how to spend those precious days off. Hunting licenses and permits may be purchased online so that’s a snap. Just log onto www.mefishwildlife.com and start clicking on the appropriate links. Trappers will have to print out a license application and mail that in, and waterfowlers will need to pick up a federal duck stamp ($15) at the post office, but most other licenses are available over the Internet.
Not so easy this year is finding ammunition for sighting in and hunting. The shelves at most retailers are desperately thin – I had a heck of a time finding .22 Shorts, .410 shotshells and some rifle cartridges, but if you roam from store to store you can find what you need. I contacted a couple of ammo manufacturers who told me they just ran their normal production totals but it was sold out almost immediately. By the way, it’s not “the government” who’s buying up all the ammo, it’s shooters and hunters who seem to fear there’s going to be a dearth of ammunition for one reason or another. There’s plenty out there, you just have to find it!
Probably the most ignored advice I give every year is to make sure scoped rifles are sighted in. Tighten all mount and sight screws, sight in from a steady rest and make the necessary adjustments before you go hunting – sound good, I know, but many hunters ignore this basic step and end up missing their big buck, bear or other game because they failed to apply it. I run into this every season and yet the following year they are right back out there not doing what they should have done. Hear me now: Sight in before you go!
More great advice that’s routinely ignored is to do your pre-hunt scouting. Things change quickly in the woods from season to season and the time to discover those changes is before opening day. For example, one of my favorite spots was clear-cut last spring and, had I not gone out there looking around a few weeks ago I would never have known that there isn’t a tree standing in what was dense forest last fall. I’m all for clear-cutting and the great habitat it produces down the road, but if I had waited till deer season to check it out I’d have wasted at least one hunting day in the process.
Also, animals change their patterns from time to time and they may not be hanging around in the same areas they were last year. It doesn’t take much to divert them – a new road, a new snowmobile trail, a little bit of cutting or bush-hogging – subtle changes often create noticeable differences. It’s better to know all this stuff before the season opens so you can make your own changes and adjustments ahead of time.
Most experienced hunters use the same gear over many seasons. I have used the same knife, compass, rope and deer rifle since 1965, and that’s about all I ever took into the woods for decades. Lately, however, I’m enjoying my hunts more by bringing a small pack filled with water, tea, a small gas stove, binoculars and a few other minor items that help me stay in the woods all day. I cook instant oatmeal, soups or hot chocolate for lunch along with some granola bars, fruit or a sandwich, and I keep a Space blanket tucked away in case the wind comes up or it starts to rain. I hate to leave the woods just because I’m cold, hungry or tired, so I bring the necessities with me so I can tough it out all day. I have shot a multitude of deer between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so it’s easy to convince myself to stay put even when the wood stove back at camp is calling my name. Being able to brew up a nice, steaming cup of tea definitely helps, too!
I think the one most important ingredient for a successful hunt is the one hunters neglect most: time. Sunday hunting is still illegal in Maine so that gives you just a few hours per day before and after work and, if you’re lucky, all day (or half a day) on Saturday to get out and enjoy your favorite fall pursuits. When we set the clocks back next month Saturday is the only option other than taking time off, which really puts a crimp in some hunters’ season.
The only solution is to be prepared and go when you can spare an hour or two. Most of the excitement in hunting takes place at dawn and near dusk, so plan to be out there when the odds are best. Keep your gear stashed in your vehicle and make the most of every minute you have available. I have had some stellar hunts that took place in an hour or less, but they would not have happened if I hadn’t been in the right place at the right time with all the right gear. I have taken deer, bear, ducks, grouse, rabbits and squirrels on short hunts on the way to or from home, work or meetings. It can get a little bit hectic (I’ve showed up at more than one school event with mud on my boots!) but even hunters with a busy life can participate if they plan ahead.
Don’t procrastinate any longer – get your licenses, gather your gear and let’s get out there!
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