Already we are into the second week of Maine’s 2016 firearms season on deer. In most areas of the state the leaves are down and brown thanks to some late October storms that brought inches of rain and blustery winds, even measureable snow in some locales.
Despite what some would consider good to excellent hunting conditions, the woods were rather quiet, with occasional shots heard throughout the day but nothing like the typical opening week barrage. The first week of the season is usually the most productive statistically, and even though the final tally for opening week will not be available for some time it’s safe to say that hunters who were lucky enough to fill their tags last week were lucky, indeed.
By now the woods are barren and bare, the deer are in their November mode (more alert and suspicious than ever) and weather conditions are likely to deteriorate as time goes on. Hunters will have until mid-December to put a supply of venison in the freezer but now they are going to have to earn their provender.
As always, the goal of this column in November is to help more hunters get their deer. I purchased my first Maine hunting license in 1963 (the first year I was required to have one) and have spent part of every November in the woods. My records (yes, I kept a record of my hunting exploits when I was 12!) show that there were only two years that I did not tag a deer, and both years I was preoccupied with building a house or immersed in a job that allowed me no time to hunt. Not every whitetail was a monster buck (some were, but most were not), but I’m an old-school meat hunter and can’t taste the difference between a tenderloin from a yearling or that of a 6-year-old buck.
I would like to infer that I am as brilliant a hunter as the legendary Larry Benoit and his clan, but in my opinion the only “brilliant” thing I’ve ever done is go into the woods every day, stay all day and don’t give up till the last minute of legal shooting time. I learned long ago, schooled by a group of WWII veterans, that you can’t kill a deer while sitting in the living room. The deer are in the woods and that’s where you need to spend your time.
I will admit that spending long, cold days sitting on an even colder stump is about as much fun as it sounds but if you want a deer that’s the best way to do it.
The simple “trick” to successful deer hunting is to spend as much time in the woods as your schedule allows and plan on spending the entire day there. Bring water and snacks, a sandwich and something dry to sit on and just tough it out, rain, cold, wind or drizzle notwithstanding. In my early years I’d literally just stand there all day, getting soaked and knee-knocking cold, but I always got my deer. Now I have a comfortable seat and even bring a portable umbrella to keep the rain and snow off me, but I’m out there still, waiting and hoping that a nice buck will wander by. Of course, I’m not about to pass up a nice, fat doe, and have taken plenty of them over the years, but if the big boy should appear any time between now and the end of muzzleloader season I’ll happily put my tag on him.
Actually, the last few years I’ve held out till the very last day of the season and was thrilled to go home with a plump doe. After five weeks of steady hunting without the first sighting of a deer I was not about to let the only legal whitetail in the woods get by me. And, as I said, a last-day doe tastes much better than no deer at all.
In the next few weeks we’ll talk about all sorts of deer-related topics including where to hunt as the season wears on and how to endure those last, bone-chilling days of muzzleloader season, but for now hunters need to develop a do-or-die mindset that will put them in the woods as often as possible and for as long as the law allows. Deer hunting used to be “easy” in Maine, but sometime around the 1970s it became increasingly difficult to find, let alone kill, a whitetail. As new restrictions developed (bucks only, for one thing) and our deer herd dwindled, the annual harvest all but fizzled. In recent years we’re down to about 20,000 whitetails a year, less than half what it was in the 1960s and early 1970s, when a Saturday hunter could reasonably expect to take a long walk down a logging road in November and find his deer. Now, the challenges are in finding a place to hunt amidst all the posted signs and finding a deer in places where they were once abundant. It’s all about time spent in the woods, so dress for the day, bring plenty of provisions and don’t come out till the law demands it.
There will be plenty of days when hunters head for the woods fully equipped and mentally prepared to stay from dawn till dark and no deer are seen, but that is why we call it hunting. When the going gets tough the only real resources a hunter has is his own level of persistence and perseverance. If you give up or give in the deer win, it’s as simple as that. It may be more comfortable back at camp but as we’ve seen, you can’t kill a deer while sitting by the wood stove. Don’t let the cold wind and rain discourage you. Just think about how warm you’re going to be when you start dragging that hard-earned buck back to the truck!