All Outdoors Steve Carpenteri
As we enter the second week of Maine’s 2017 firearms season on deer, arguably one of the most-anticipated sporting traditions in the state, hunters need to be aware that subtle changes in habitat and deer behavior make this the week to be in the woods, no excuses.
For one thing, most of the leaves are now down and off the deciduous trees and plants that deer have used for protective cover all summer and fall. This improves visibility 10-fold, giving hunters that extra edge as they try to find, observe and evaluate deer that, just a few weeks ago, would have been obscured by thick, green foliage.
Surprisingly, this does not mean that deer now stand out like beacons in the woods. In fact, as fall wears on the animals begin to develop a thicker, darker coat that actually blends in with the various blacks and browns that dominate the landscape. Many a big Maine whitetail has escaped notice by simply standing still and watching as intrepid hunters walk by, unaware that the object of their November quest is just a few feet away.
This is why our tip for the week is to slow down, move slowly and less often, and spend more time looking, watching and really seeing what’s around you. Most hunters spend their time walking on established trails, logging roads, snowmobile trails and other pathways that offer easy access to the woods. In a way it makes sense to walk where there is less forest debris, fallen branches and other clutter, but these “human highways” are well known to deer, which are content to stand off to the side and let anxious hunters pass right by. It’s only when a hunter stops for a moment to scan his surroundings that a deer will react by moving nervously, running or bounding away.
For this reason the best tactic a hunter can use this week is controlled patience. Once a hunter enters the woods there is no timetable for arrivals and departures – it’s not necessary to get anywhere or be anywhere at any given time. Instead, hunters will see more game and get more opportunities to fill their tag if they walk slowly a few paces (10 yards is more than enough) and then stop, look and listen for at least 10 minutes before moving another few yards. This is the same pace used by deer, bears and predators whose lives depend on seeing rather than being seen.
Consider deer hunting as a monumental game of chess; you move, the deer moves, you move . . . back and forth it goes until an encounter occurs. At that point the win goes to the player that is most alert, patient and observant. Truthfully, the deer come out on top most of the time, but when a hunter decides to slow down, pay attention and really focus on the job at hand, he will at least see deer before they see him. Whether or not he wants to tag that particular deer is another issue, but he will score points for having seen the animal before it saw him.
Another very important plus for hunters during these early weeks of November is that the annual breeding season is or about to be under way. There is probably no greater weapon in the hunter’s arsenal than the whitetail’s own need to procreate. The highly-anticipated “rut” practically drives the entire deer-hunting industry and for good reason – this is the only time of the year when Maine’s biggest, most coveted bucks make mistakes. Normally reclusive, furtive and anti-social throughout the year, for a few days in November Maine’s bucks become love-struck idiots, taking risks, exposing themselves to danger and otherwise violating every rule of self-preservation all for the sake of perpetuating the species. These single-minded deer literally run wild through the woods night and day in search of receptive does, and their quest may take them 20, 30 or more miles from their home range. There will be thousands of rut-randy bucks roaming the forest over the next few weeks, going places they shouldn’t go and doing things they normally wouldn’t do. Imagine the odds for success for a hunter who still-hunts patiently, slowly and observantly in the midst of all this activity.
Because deer activity these next few weeks will be random, rampant and unpredictable, it’s important that hunters give their full attention to the sights and sounds around them because any cracking branch, snapping twig or rustle of leaves could be a precursor of exciting things to come.
In most cases the first deer to come into view will be does running ahead of the persistent, pestering buck. There may also be small bucks running with the does or lingering in the shadows, but the wise hunter will ignore these lesser deer in hopes that a real trophy will be coming along behind them. It is not an easy thing to do, but those who seek Maine’s biggest bucks must have the discipline to pass up subordinate bucks that, hopefully, will grow and be much bigger next year.
Hunters should keep in mind that the most intense rut activity lasts only a few days, gradually building up and then fizzling out during this early part of November. Crazed bucks may be encountered at any time over the next month or so but the peak of the breeding season is upon us. Now more than ever hunters should plan to spend all of their spare time in the woods, particularly at dawn and dusk. Rutting bucks will be on the move throughout the day, so if the only chance you get to hunt is on your lunch hour get out there and see what happens. A quick hunt can often reap great dividends – it’s all a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
As the saying goes, you can’t win if you don’t play. Find a way to put yourself in the great Maine woods these next few weeks. I hope to see you out there!