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These final two weeks of the Maine deer-hunting season are what it’s all about for hunters throughout the Northeast. Odds are it’s going to be cold, windy, perhaps rainy and almost certainly snowy at times, perhaps all at once, between now and the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It takes a particular kind of “nut” to spend long hours in the woods during this last half of November. Some days seem almost inhospitable from a hunter’s perspective, with every sort of inclement weather pattern lurking behind the clouds.
Of course, all hunters dream of fresh tracking snow at dawn and enough time to make good use of it, but that only happens on the rarest of occasions. Even then, it’s not always a guarantee that you’ll have your buck on the game pole at the end of the day. For example, one November while working the night shift, I came home just after daylight and saw a monster buck cross the road not a mile from my house; I hurried home, changed, grabbed my gun, some water and a few boxes of raisins and vowed to stay on that track till I tagged that buck. It had stopped snowing only minutes before daylight, and it was deep and cold enough that I could stay on that track all day and not lose it.
Well, I started out just down the road from Anna King’s store in North Bradford and just followed the tracks as they paralleled the Maple Road in Atkinson all the way to Philpot Ridge in Orneville, a distance of some six miles. Those were not easy miles, by the way, and just after noon I’d been on the track for about five hours. I’d still not seen the buck, but his big, splayed tracks in the snow told me that he was still going and still catchable if I didn’t give up. He walked straight as an arrow headed more or less north-northwest. I expected him to veer or stop or circle somewhere along the line but, by the time I got to the McCorrison Road and Alder Stream he was still headed north at a strong, steady walk.
We passed dozens of other deer tracks, beds and beaten trails along the way, and a couple of times I noted where the buck stopped to munch on a bit of mushroom. His antlers left marks in the snow that were 20 inches apart, which did wonders for my enthusiasm!
The buck veered east and walked through a misery of alders along Alder Stream nearly to the Lyford Road, when he again turned north and headed for the Piscataquis River. I figured he would cut east or west and head for either Milo or Atkinson, but that would only have been good for me. As it turned out, I reached the river about 3 p.m. only to find the buck’s track end in a slurry of snow and water at the river’s edge. Far across the river, I could see the tracks continuing north as they cut through a small meadow on the other side. As far as I know, that buck was headed for Sebec and probably made it in great shape. It rained the next day and melted the snow so there was no hope of picking up his tracks and going on.
It was a great adventure and a nice long walk, but in late afternoon I had to walk out to Route 11 and hitchhike all the way back to Bradford – not an easy thing to do since I was dressed in hunting garb and carrying a rifle, too! Fortunately, in those days it was not considered a threat to pick up a hunter after dark, and in fact one of my neighbors, Barbara Dugan, happened to be coming back from Milo and drove me the whole way home.
That little jaunt cost me a full day of hunting and I had nothing to show for it but sore feet and a serious case of over-tiredness. Such is the way things go for hunters during the latter part of November, but there is no other alternative if wild venison on the table is your goal.
I should mention that I continued to hunt that year and, after two solid weeks of braving rain, snow, rain and a constant cold wind, I finally put my tag on a nice, fat 9-point buck late on the afternoon after Thanksgiving. By that time I’d been hunting all day every day for over three weeks, and I was as tired and worn as a person could be in the name of having “fun,” but the season ended well and I would not have traded a moment of it.
As long as the season is open there is just cause for additional study, planning and enthusiasm. You might get lucky and tag your buck on the first morning of the season, or you might have other sorts of luck and have to keep at it right through the closing bell. The deer are out there the entire time and anything can happen, so keep your knife sharp, your rifle oiled and your spirits high. It’s not over till it’s over and if you’re prepared, your chance will come.
There have been many years when I have been tempted to just give it up and let the season pass without trying one last time, but one dark November day in 1970 I promised myself I’d never miss another hunting season, so I stick to my promise, gear up and get out there whenever I can. I have shot nearly as many deer late in the season as I have during the first week, enough to remind me that any day could be “the one.”
Sure, it’s cold, rainy, windy and maybe even snowing, but it’s all part of the challenge that is deer hunting. I have taken some big Maine bucks on some pretty miserable days, but I can tell you from experience that a successful hunt makes it all seem worthwhile. Find the time and find the will to get out there one more time this season. You won’t regret it no matter how the day turns out!
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