At long last it’s October. While there is every reason to appreciate all seasons in Maine there is nothing quite like October. Clear blue skies, cool temperatures, little or no humidity and the most colorful foliage in North America combine to create an atmosphere that cannot be ignored. Topping it off is that Maine’s general 2017 hunting season begins today as well – all game is legal and all seasons are will soon be open, giving sportsmen their choice of activities ranging from squirrels to deer, waterfowl, turkeys, bears and pretty much anything else that qualifies as huntable game in the state.
I’ve often mentioned here that it is possible, though challenging, to hunt all of our state’s most popular birds and animals in a given day, and I’ve done it many times. However, from a practical standpoint it’s nearly impossible to accomplish such a goal in the short period of time from one-half hour before daylight to one-half hour after sunset. Considering that most of the best action occurs within an hour or two of those time limits, it’s no wonder that even the most ambitious hunter would be hard pressed to bag a “grand slam” of all of Maine’s huntable wildlife in one day. Deer, bear and (for lucky permit holders) moose hunters find their chosen quarry to be challenging enough and may take days, even weeks, to fill their tags. Considering that in October it is also legal to hunt grouse, turkeys, pheasants, snowshoe hares, gray squirrels, woodcock, snipe, ducks and geese, bobcat, fox, raccoon, coyotes, skunks and opossums in addition to red squirrels, porcupines and ground hogs, and it’s easy to see that going after everything at once is liable to result in a lot of fruitless walking, waiting, paddling and standing.
In years past I have maxed out on big game, small game, birds or furbearers but completing the list of all Maine’s game species will likely forever elude me. I have put my tag on all of these critters during the course of a season but in one day? Not likely!
After decades of trying I’ve come to the conclusion that it is more productive (and enjoyable) to focus on one species at a time and enjoy the full experience rather than try to do it all and fail miserably. These days I’ll spend my October mornings in the woods calling turkeys, waiting for squirrels or focusing on deer or bear near an orchard or some other natural food source. Most days I’ll at least see one or all of these critters, which in my mind counts as a successful hunt even if I don’t fire a shot. In the afternoons I’ll go for ducks and geese, rabbits or grouse, and maybe spend the last hour or so of the day back in the orchard hoping a fat buck or bruin will wander into range. The odds for success on such multiple fronts are dismal at best but on a good day when conditions are right and luck is with me I’ll come quite close to my goal. Even when I don’t there’s always tomorrow.
Most folks might find it wasteful to spend an entire day sitting under an acorn-laden oak tree hoping that a squirrel, grouse or deer might come by, but after a long summer and early fall of household chores I’m more than ready to “waste” time in the woods again. Completing a long day of chores is satisfying in an industrious sense but nothing beats a day in the woods, rifle or shotgun in hand. I’ll brew up a cup of tea now and then, enjoy a Cortland, Fuji or Macintosh apple and listen to the chickadees fuss in the distance, happy to have earned the time off away responsibility and obligations. I consider sitting in the woods in October as my reward for a year’s worth of dutiful endeavors. Now it’s my time and I plan on spending every available moment where my heart yearns to be year-round. I call it “hunting” but I don’t always fire a shot and I don’t always come home with meat for the table – those are benefits, not requirements. All I need to do is be there to have a successful day afield. Everything else is frosting on the cake.
One might consider such long days in the woods to be boring but those who know the different species and their habitats also know that one must move frequently in order to take advantage of the various opportunities that exist in October. For example, a high hardwood ridge is a great place to find squirrels but if you want waterfowl you’ll have to find some wetland habitat. Turkeys are most likely to be found in open hardwoods and mowed fields while deer (and rabbits) will be in thick, brushy edge cover through most of the day. Maine has all of this and more but it takes some footwork, knowledge and experience to find the right game in the right places. The places where woodcock are most abundant attract few squirrels, and the areas where pheasants are most likely to be found have little appeal for grouse, bears or moose. Find the habitat to find the game – it’s really as simple as that.
The final, perhaps most important element to a successful October hunt is time. Hunting is not shopping, nor is it akin to picking up the dry cleaning or dropping off a package at the post office. The more time you spend in the woods the higher your success rate will be. If your hunting time is limited be sure to be in the woods early (just before sunrise) or stay late (one-half hour after sunset) because most game species are most active during these periods. Waterfowl, small game and deer are among the most common last-minute meanderers. Plan to be on hand just before and after sunset and don’t quit hunting till the law demands it. The days are getting shorter literally by the minute so spend every spare moment you have in the woods. See you out there!