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Today’s the day hunters all over the state of Maine have been waiting for since last fall. This is the traditional opening day of the firearms season on deer (residents-only day was Saturday), which means anyone with a valid big game hunting license can venture into the woods in search of a big buck and-or a supply of venison. If enthusiasm and desire counted for anything we’d all have our wish granted but, alas, less than one in five hunters will be successful this season. If you weed out the hunters who meant to go but didn’t or couldn’t, there’s still a sizeable portion of sportsmen who made the time, made the effort and still did not put a tag on a Maine whitetail.
As has been my goal these past 25 years, I’m hoping to impart some of my own hard-earned knowledge and experience so that hunters who aren’t sure, never done it or forgot how can increase their odds for a successful hunt. Aside from a liberal dose of luck there are things one can do to tip the odds in the hunter’s favor regardless of the weather conditions, length of day or the number of deer in a given area. Master a few simple techniques and I guarantee that you will have a better, more satisfying deer-hunting season in 2014.
The first thing every hunter should do is sight in his rifle. It matters not if it was dead on last year or last summer, you want it to be ready this season and the only way to be sure is to head for the range. Simply set up a target at 25 yards, shoot three-shot groups from a steady rest and make your sight adjustments until you are in the black every time. With most modern deer rifles this will put you three inches high at 100 yards and three inches low at 250 yards – more than accurate enough for any deer you see in Maine this month. Every year I meet hunters who missed the buck of a lifetime and most admit that they did not sight in before heading into the woods. One such encounter is usually enough to educate a hunter, but why learn the hard way? Sight in – you’ll be glad you did.
The next bit of advice is easy enough to follow: Hunt every chance you get. If all you have to spare is a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon, get out there and hunt. If you can only afford to go during your lunch hour, head for the woods. November days are short, sure enough, but there is plenty of time to tag a deer. There is no telling when a whitetail is going to show up but you won’t see anything if you don’t get into the woods and look. Remember, deer are killed from first light on opening day till the last minutes of the closing day. You can be first, last or in between but you can’t compete if you’re not in the woods where the deer are.
Whenever possible, plan to stay in the woods all day. Hunters moving about at dawn, noon and dusk will move deer in all directions, many of which no one sees or hears because whitetails are that good at evasive tactics. If you make it a point to be on hand from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset you are more than likely to bump into a deer that doesn’t know you are there. I’ve shot dozens of deer that were tip-toeing away from other hunters who, after I shot, were kind enough to help me drag my trophy out to the road. I learned this lesson early enough in my hunting career that I make it a point to stay put no matter how cold, wet, windy or dreary it may be.
The hunter’s final most important tool is enthusiasm. It seems that the majority of hunters hit the woods in high gear on opening day but by the middle of the first week they’ve had enough. They get bored, tired or discouraged and let the entire season get away from them. I’ve had good days and bad days in the woods but I always head out and come back with the same level of optimism, day after day, all season long. I know there are deer out there and I know if I hunt long and hard enough I will see one. Sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes it takes all season but you won’t get anything if you give up and stay home.
Last season, for example, I hunted hard all through October and November and didn’t get the shot I wanted, so I headed out on the first day of the December muzzleloader season and, by 9 a.m., had filled my tag. The two years before that I didn’t get a shot till the last Saturday morning of the season. Even after more than 50 years of hard hunting I still enjoy my time in the woods and head out eagerly each morning with the same positive attitude I’ve always had. I love the atmosphere and ambience of Maine’s November woods and I also love the anticipation of knowing I’ll see deer when I least expect it. These elusive animals have a knack for showing up at the most unpredictable times and places but you will never see them if you aren’t out there with them.
Being anywhere in the woods is better than not being there at all. Keep your spirits high, force yourself to keep going and don’t surrender till the last minute of the last day. I’ve shot many a nice buck in the closing minutes of the season and not once was I disappointed that I’d gone the extra mile. Truth be told, if I were able to control such things I’d want to hunt every day the entire season and not take a shot till the season was about to end. That way I would be able to hunt the maximum amount of time, enjoy all the sights, smells and sounds of the November woods and still end up coming home with a nice trophy.
Write your own deer hunting script this year but make sure it includes plenty of time spent outdoors and ends with a single shot, well made. Don’t let yourself be included in that disappointed 85 percentile!
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