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This is the time of year when the average outdoorsman just can’t keep up with all that’s available and legal to do in the Maine woods. In just a few days the annual upland bird, waterfowl, archery deer and small game seasons will open, bear season is already in full swing and in a few weeks the deer gun season and the trapping and hound hunting seasons also begin. A guy could wear himself out trying to keep up with it all, and I’ve written here before that, while it’s possible to participate in all the open seasons, you’d have to make appointments to keep up with it all.
One year I had the entire month off and decided to make the most of it. I hunted everything that had an open season and, toward the end of the month, got a few traps out as well. To say I was busy (chasing deer, bear, ducks, geese, partridge, woodcock, rabbits and raccoons) would be a laughable understatement. Put it this way: Just before opening day I went down to Freeport and bought a pair of L.L. Bean’s famous rubber-bottomed Hunting Shoes, and I kept them on every day from dawn till dark. I am not exaggerating when I say that, by the end of the month, I had worn those boots out! The tread was gone and the rubber was cracked and full of holes. I wouldn’t doubt that I put close to 10 miles a day on those boots, and when I finally hung them up at the end of deer season there wasn’t enough left of them to resole. I was definitely tired and had definitely seen some country, but the freezer was full and I had enough great hunting pictures in my files to last five years.
I wouldn’t recommend trying to do that much hunting in one month (those boots are expensive!), but it just shows that you can keep yourself busy no matter which sport you choose. I think if I had to narrow it down, I’d pick bird hunting as my fall addiction. If you have a bird dog and have been goofing off all summer thinking October would never come, now’s the time to dust off the old canine and start getting him (and yourself into shape). It’s cool enough in the evenings to justify a 20-minute session of “find the bird,” and if you spend just a few minutes per day over the next two weeks you should have most of the kinks out. I always kept my bird dogs ready for action year-round, only because they liked to be outdoors and would turn any training session into a game of faster-better!
My upland dog of choice back then was a Labrador retriever, and our off-season training was so intense and so serious that I almost didn’t need a gun once we took to the woods! At least twice I recall sending my dog into an orchard on opening day only to have the Lab come back out with a partridge in her mouth – no shots were fired in the making of this great memory! It may be that an experienced Lab is no match for a young-of-the-year grouse in a first-of-the-season encounter, but those are the kinds of experiences that make picking your October poison much easier.
I don’t always get a month off to hunt, but most years I’ll save a week in October and November for my outdoor addiction. I try to plan my October outings to include the overlap of the grouse, woodcock and waterfowl hunting seasons. When this happens, I plan a day that begins on a local pond or a secluded river bend in hopes that some wood ducks, mallards or geese will happen by. At mid-morning, I’ll spend some time in the nearby alders in search of woodcock, and after a lunch break among some hilltop russets or Wolf Rivers, I’ll spend the last hours of the day chasing partridges around the orchard. This kind of hunting is varied and exciting enough to make it easy to get out of bed each day, and before long a very short week is over.
To be successful next month, however, you need to spend some time right now in preparation for the hectic and all-too-fleeting seasons ahead. Get your licenses, permits and stamps now; pick up some extra ammunition; work the dog at least three times per week and walk a mile or two every day in order to be in shape for what you know is ahead. It is a challenge to get through an alder patch no matter when you do it, but the first few days of the season can be punishing if your idea of getting into shape involves watching another outdoor video. Your dog will need some exercise and so will you – make it a habit to do both at once by walking before and/or after work during the next few weeks.
Many hunters never bother, but a few practice sessions at the shotgun range can do wonders when it’s time to swing on a fast-flying partridge clattering by just below the alder tops. Early-season shooting is all about point-and-pull: you aren’t going to have much time to find, track and shoot when the leaves are still thick and green. A good way to practice is to hang several targets (plastic bottles work fine) from tree limbs, step back 20 yards and turn around facing away from the bottles. At the count of three, turn, shoulder the gun and shoot at a specific bottle as quickly as possible. In most cases you’ll have about 2.5 seconds from the time to hear a partridge take off to the last chance for a shot, so don’t expect to have time to look around, find the bird, aim and squeeze the trigger. For this kind of hunting you need to pull the trigger as soon as the stock hits your shoulder. Hesitate, delay or reconsider and you may as well just close your eyes and shoot at the moon.
All this might sound like too much work, but spend one day in the uplands without practicing and you’ll quickly understand the logic behind pre-season preparation!
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