By now most Mainers are focused on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and other peripheral matters, but the state’s avid hunters won’t be worried about such things until the firearms deer season ends Saturday. There are any number of reasons why hunters have had to take it down to the wire, but this is the week that’s do-or-die for anyone who wants to put some sweet, lean venison in the freezer.
Conditions this week are at once miserable and yet perfect for deer hunting. If it’s going to be cold and frosty in the mornings this is the week for it, and if there is going to be early snow this is the week to expect it. Cold weather seems to make deer move more often, which is good for hunters, and with snow on the ground it’s an easy matter to see where the deer have been, how big they are and where they are most abundant. It is always amazing to me to see how many deer tracks show up in the snow, particularly in areas where I would have sworn there were no deer a week ago. Always alert, elusive and evasive, deer know how to avoid hunters, especially in balmy weather on bare ground. The cold and snow gives hunters a slight advantage, but sometimes that’s all the advantage a persistent hunter needs.
Another good thing about hunting Thanksgiving week is that many sportsman routinely take the week off from work, or at least take advantage of the long weekend, which means there will be more hunters in the woods. This causes the deer to move around more often, and with all that traffic something good is bound to happen. My records show that over half the deer I’ve killed in Maine were taken during this final week of the season and most of them came to me as a result of other hunters moving or shooting at them over some distant knoll. It makes sense, then, for hunters to be on high alert if they hear noise or shooting nearby – a deer may come by at any time as it works to avoid other hunters, providing an easy opportunity for the one hunter the animal did not expect to bump into.
Of course, this is not the week to pin all your hopes on a random encounter with a fleeing whitetail. The cold and snow also make deer spend more time moving about and feeding. This is the time when whitetails will be spending more time gleaning all those acorns that littered the ground in recent weeks. I’m not sure why they find them so appealing now but there’s no question that they are increasingly fond of them as other food sources dwindle. Last season, for example, I found huge areas that were dug up by deer seeking acorns under the frozen leaves, and ended up filling my tag in just such an area. If you know where acorns are abundant spend some time looking for signs of deer feeding on them. When you find a resource that shows considerable deer activity it only makes sense to spend more time in those areas especially at dawn and dusk.
For the most part the rut is over or winding down and bucks will be less adventurous. They will, however, be found with does and fawns during the late season, perhaps more for safety purposes than anything else. For this reason I’ll let does and young deer walk by in hopes that they are accompanied by a slow-moving buck. That’s not always the case but it is worth waiting a few extra seconds to see if a nice buck is lagging behind. If not, a healthy doe tastes just as good on the grill!
The one key to success that all hunters share is time spent in the woods. Considering that the days are at their shortest now (only 10 hours of daylight), temperatures are lower, the real possibility of snow and increased hunter activity it only makes sense to get out there and stay put for as long as possible.
There may be areas that are best in the morning, such as feeding areas and travel routes, while other areas, such as thick, green bedding areas, are best in the evening. This gives the hunter a chance to move around a bit, spending the morning in one area and then moving to denser cover in the evening in hopes of catching deer coming out of their bedding areas to feed. The trick is to stay in the woods as long as possible and spend that time in areas where deer are most likely to be.
It can be difficult to sit still for hours on end when it is cold, windy and threatening bad weather, but if the deer can do it so can we. I pack extra food and water, hand warmers and extra socks and make sure I have my gloves, face mask and warm knitted hat (orange, of course) for long stays in the woods. To increase your odds for success it’s important to spend maximum time on stand, so plan ahead, pack the necessities and don’t allow yourself to become bored or disinterested. Remind yourself that there are deer all around you and convince yourself that they will begin moving any time. Any encounter with a deer is over with in mere seconds but you want to be there when it happens. More deer survive because hunters get cold, bored or discouraged and go home. Be prepared, be ready and be persistent.
It may also be a good idea to sight in your rifle again one last time especially if you have carried it all season but haven’t fired it. Make sure it is dead-on and fully functional. We’re down to the wire now with only a few days left to fill our tags. Eliminate any and all possible glitches because it’s a long wait till next season!