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With all the interest in late-season fishing, bears and whether or not it’s the end of summer (it’s a tie at the moment!), we’re forgetting one important event that has come and gone practically without notice for decades. Maine’s September archery deer season has advanced over the years from a novelty hunt (meaning having no real effect on the deer herd or the coffers of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in particular and Maine tourism in general) to a serious sport that is the only real option available to wildlife managers in controlling runaway deer herds in the urban, coastal and southern areas of Maine.
Bowhunting is one of the more interesting consumptive sports in Maine. Hunters are normally dressed in full camouflage, use equipment that is silent and accurate (but only out to 35 yards and maybe a tad more), and they rarely move around enough to be seen by the ordinary passerby except when coming and going into the woods. Thousands of bowhunters take part in Maine’s September bowhunting season, thousands more are out there in October, and the fun continues well into December under the Extended Archery Deer Season rules. Even so, I’d be willing to bet you can count on one hand the number of bowhunters you’ve actually seen in the woods in the last 20 years.
Archery deer hunting is definitely a sport for the truly dedicated. There are advantages that gun hunters won’t have in November (thicker woods, less pressured deer, more comfortable weather) but the odds are still impossibly against success. At last calculation, Maine bowhunters were enjoying a relatively meager 10 percent success rate, which is not particularly spectacular considering they have the woods to themselves, can dress in camouflage clothing and have little or no competition in most corners of the woods.
The “draw” of bowhunting (a pun if you know archery terms at all!) is all of those things, plus the fact that bowhunters may take a buck or doe without any special permits or additional expense or added bureaucratic hoop-jumping prior to the season. You buy an archery hunting license, practice and go. Simple!
Aha! There’s always a catch. Buying a license is easy enough (money is all it takes), but “practice” is a big word when it comes to bowhunting. The goal is to be able to put a razor-sharp broadhead into a target the size of a pie plate every time. You may be able to do this at 10 yards, 20 yards or even 30 yards, but if you can’t do it 9 out of 10 shots, you need to move closer and keep practicing until you can. Though a modern broadhead hunting point will kill the biggest Maine deer with ease, it won’t do any good if you can’t place it where it needs to go, and that is behind the shoulder and through the heart-lung area which, on most deer, is an area the size of...a pie plate!
When I first started bowhunting back in the 1960s, I used a Bear Kodiak Magnum recurve bow and could hit the plate every time at 15 yards. That meant I had to be able to get to within five long steps of my target. It’s actually not that difficult to do – during bow season. The leaves are thick, the deer are not yet used to being harassed by hunters and the early fall woods are rather wet and quite compared to the frosty crunchiness of the leaves and twigs in November.
You can have some great hunting experiences during the archery season and still not come home with any meat. That’s just part of the game, but those enjoyable moments are the impetus for doing it all over again next season.
I had some of my most memorable bowhunts in the small patch of woods behind the Dexter town garage, in fact the area between there and the FayScott building. A few local hunters knew that that area was full of deer in fall, and come archery season I had a favorite apple tree that, on most afternoons, would attract at least one deer and the chance for a shot.
On one of my first hunts there I got into position early and was ready to shoot well before the sun started to set over the western horizon. With plenty of sunlight left a small buck came out of the FayScott bog and straight in to my apple tree. My vision has not been the best over the years or I might have seen what was coming, but it looked like a go to me as the buck paused under the tree and started munching on fallen apples. At just 20 yards, it should have been an easy shot, and when I released the first arrow I figured I had him. Should have! I watched the first arrow fly straight and true, but just as it arrived it struck a pencil-thin sapling I could not see from my position. The arrow spun and dropped harmlessly at the buck’s feet, and he ignored it!
Incredulous, I nocked another arrow and tried again. Same result. Another arrow, same result. I shot (calmly and deliberately, I might add) all five of my arrows, and not one hit the mark! The buck finally became unnerved at the sudden rain of arrows and skittered away, leaving me to pick up my arrows and go home.
Another time, I got set up just as a heavy rain began, so I thought I’d be real smart and take cover in one of the concrete culvert pipes that the town crew had stashed behind the garage. I was feeling pretty smug about my cool, dry hideout until, to my everlasting surprise, a nice 6-point buck came up the trail beside me and stopped not six feet from my position! What an opportunity! The rain was pouring down and the buck had no idea was there. All I had to do was raise my bow and stick an arrow into him – who could miss at that range?
The situation was textbook for success except for one little detail – the culvert was not big enough for me to draw the bow! Even with the short Kodiak bow and from a kneeling position, I could not get enough “draw” to accurately release an arrow. So, I got to sit there and watch the buck walk away down the trail. In fact, he walked around the town garage, under the locked gate and out toward the Dexter Shoe Factor parking area!
Not every bowhunt goes quite that way, but I’d be willing to bet that every bowhunter has at least one such story to tell. Give it a try this season and see what strange and interesting things happen to you!
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