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Maine sportsmen tend to be a last-minute bunch, procrastinating right to the end when it comes to getting ready for the sporting season they’ve waited months for. It’s only two weeks from Maine’s general hunting season, and I’ve heard several long-time bird, rabbit and deer hunters tell me they haven’t gotten around to getting a license or gathering their gear. One of the true mysteries of life is where the time goes, but time is running out if you plan to be ready for the most celebrated day in Maine outdoor circles. The list of things that need to be done before the first shot is fired is long and sometimes elusive, and if you wait until the night before the season opens on October 1, you’re going to be doing some serious, and possibly fruitless, running around.
The first thing you need to do is get your licenses, stamps and permits taken care of. I don’t know why it is, but not all licensing agents have all the tags and stamps you need, which means you may have travel far and wide in search of them all. Local agents and town clerks usually have licenses and regulations handbooks (and don’t forget to study the rules, too), but it may be difficult to find the various other stamps you need to participate in archery, waterfowl or muzzleloader seasons. A simple solution is to travel to Augusta and take care of it all at once at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife offices on State Street, but that will likely tie up and entire morning or afternoon, and who can afford that? Begin your search now, and save the last-minute drive to Augusta as a last resort. With some scouting around, you should be able to pick up all the necessary permits over the next two weeks. For the federal duck stamp, simply call (800) 852-4871 or online at www.duckstamp.com, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will put one in the mail in time for the season opener. So try to pick up your stamp at the nearest post office first. Remember that you need both the state and federal waterfowl stamps to hunt any migratory gamebirds in Maine this season.
With your paperwork all in order, it’s time to dig all your hunting equipment out of the closet for inspection, repair and cleaning. I like to carry all my stuff in a heavy-duty canvas vest made by Filson, and I hunt pretty much every day from early fall until the end of the spring turkey season. It just amazes me to find how much odd junk I find in my vest pockets when I clean it out for the new season. I’ll find empty shells, piles of feathers, squirrel tails, acorns, apples and half-eaten sandwiches, plus crushed soda cans, two or three hats, and at least one grocery list I forgot to fill. I always start the season with everything in its place for birds, squirrels and rabbits, but the way our seasons run together in October and November, I often end up taking everything I own just in case. Things really get complicated when I switch from birds to ducks, because you can only possess non-toxic shots while waterfowl hunting, which means I have to remember to take all the lead shotshells out of my vest prior to hitting the marshes. Then, I have to reverse the situation when I go back out for grouse, woodcock and rabbits.
I have to remind myself to pick up my wool hunting pants from the cleaner, and I have to hunt all over the house for my flannel shirts, which also get used during fishing season and on trips to the coast in late summer, when the temperature is cool enough to require something more than ordinary beach wear. I always have the best of intentions as far as keeping all my hunting stuff together, but it’s a good thing I allow a couple of weeks before the season for last-minute scavenging.
I use my canoe quite a bit for fall duck and deer hunting, so I have to spend some time getting it ready after a long summer of fishing. I have to find and refurbish the camouflage PFDs and paddles, bang out the river-running dents in the aluminum skin, and make sure I have plenty of gas mixed up for the outboard.
The last thing I get to is the gun cabinet. First, I switch the shotgun chokes from full (for spring turkeys) to improved cylinder (for October partridge). Then I dig through my shell collection to be sure I have my light upland loads separated from my heavy duck and goose shells. I also make sure I have at least two boxes of cartridges for my deer rifle, because the next stop is the rifle range, where I find out if my scope has been knocked out of kilter somehow since I put the old deer rifle away last November.
With all this going on, there’s still knives, rope, compasses, boots, belts and game calls to find and repair, and I still have to get into the woods to do some scouting before the season opens. With only two weeks to go, there's hardly time to get it all done, and I still haven’t spent enough time giving the dog its refresher course in find, fetch and heel. Now if I can only remember what I did with the leash and collar after last hunting season!
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