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Only three days to go before the traditional opening of Maine’s fall hunting season, and there’s a lot to do if you expect to be ready for it all. There was a time when Oct. 1 was the only “other” opening day in Maine, the competition being, of course, the opening day of the firearms season on deer (which is still a month away).
There are two primary schools of sporting thought as we look to the October opener. Many thousands of hunters will focus on the statewide archery deer season, primarily because it is a great time of year to be in the woods, conditions are conducive to close-range hunting and a hunter may take a buck or doe without all the permit application, lottery and transfer complications that go hand in hand with the gun season permits. The avid bowhunter can simply head for the woods, bow and license in hand, and kill himself a meat doe or a trophy buck.
To be more accurate, the bowhunter can try to put his tag on an October whitetail. I have mentioned in recent columns some of what goes on in the process that leads up to a successful archery deer hunt, but the ubiquitous low success rate (usually under 10 percent) suggests that it’s not as easy as buying a license and wandering the woods till you bump into a deer. There are 101 things that can go wrong with a typical archery deer hunt ranging from not seeing any deer (not likely but possible) to flat-out missing an easy 20-yard shot in open woods (likely and possible). Arrows don’t always fly straight, the “clear” shot you thought you had might include just one little twig you did not see (and that’s all it takes to miss) or the deer might “jump the string” at the last instant, letting the arrow fly high or low but missing nonetheless. You would not think that a whitetail could hear, cringe and dodge an arrow flying in excess of 200 feet per second, but it happens over and over every season. Just about every hunter of experience will be able to tell you at least ONE story about deer jumping the string and even with today’s complicated compound bows the same events take place. (Knowing this, most hunters compensate for possible string jumping by aiming low, but the x-factor is that not all deer jump the string. So, when you aim low you risk missing low when that one deer in 100 decides not to jump the string – there are no guarantees in this business!).
I think my all-time favorite bugaboo of bowhunting is setting up with all signs pointing to a deer coming in from the east only to have a buck sneak in from the west! It doesn’t matter if you’re hunting from the ground, in a tree stand or behind a blind, it seems that deer have a knack for approaching from your blind side, often in a classic broadside approach that would be a chip shot from any direction but that one!
I hunted a cedar thicket in Bradford one season where, day after day, the deer came down a particular trail leading out to an apple orchard. I had seen the deer travel that trail day after day through the September bear season and into the October bird season, so when I gathered up my archery gear and headed for the thicket I was all but sure that I’d get a shot at a nice buck if I just sat near that trail and waited.
Well, the deer did come down the trail as usual, but wouldn’t you know it, just as they stepped into range they decided to go LEFT around a big cedar tree instead of RIGHT, as they usually did. This put them not only out of range but out of sight, because the remaining woods were dense jack firs, cedars and alders. I could only watch as the deer slipped right past me and headed into the orchard. The wind was right and I was well concealed, so the deer never knew I was there. The worst of it was that, come dark, I had no choice but to barge right into the orchard and spook the entire herd – never got a shot at them that season or any time afterwards!
You may choose to hunt with a “stick bow” (a homemade bow such as the Native Americans used), a recurve or any of the modern compound bows, but the key to successful bowhunting now and forever will be PRACTICE! If you can’t walk out to the back yard after work and put your first arrow into a fist-sized target at 20 yards, odds are you are not going to be able to put your archery tag on a Maine whitetail. Even if you can hit the bull’s-eye after 20 or 30 practice arrows, that is not the same as having spent hours behind a blind or in a stand and suddenly having a deer show up when you least expect it. You are going to be tired, sore, achy and distracted when your big opportunity comes – are you going to be able to make a good hit? Once you learn the mechanics of operating your bow and can, with practice, hit the target shot after shot, this is the time to put the bow away till tomorrow and then, after a hard day’s work, go out and take one carefully aimed shot. If you can hit an apple at 20 yards, you are ready for deer and, just maybe, will be among the lucky 10 percent who tags a Maine buck in October.
The advantages and pleasures of Maine’s October archery season are many – great weather, cooperative whitetails, plenty of room to roam. But, keep in mind that you are limited to shots under 35 yards in most cases, and more than one buck will stroll right by at 40 yards and never offer a shot. You will experience some enjoyable days in the Maine woods next month, and every one will have a story to go with it.
Be ready, be careful and make the most of one of Maine’s most enduring fall sporting traditions. The fun begins Oct. 1 – don’t miss out!
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