|There are any number of Maine hunters (and their significant others) who are more than glad that the 2004 firearms deer season is over. One common lament was the unseasonably warm weather toward the end of the season, especially the fabled “peak of the rut,” when the state’s big (and small) bucks generally act like idiots and get themselves killed over the promise of a receptive female. Bucks chasing does are notoriously absent-minded, to the point that they are often found standing stock still in a logging trail or just lope along with little or nothing on their minds than where the next hot doe might be. In fact, I know more than one lucky hunter who has taken big bucks year after year as the deer stood in a dopey daze beside the road as the hunter stopped, crossed the road, loaded up and more or less walked right up to a winter’s supply of meat. Most of those mounted deer you see on den walls, in bars and in basement rec rooms literally lost their heads in this way, and there is good reason why hunters plan their vacations around that all-important peak week of the rut.
So, what happened this year? Most of Maine was stuck in a stalled weather system that included warm, cloudy days and even rain. It’s believed that cold, dry weather is needed to trigger the breeding response in deer (true or not, that’s what hunters believe), and the last two weeks of the season were anything but cool or dry. I hunted an area of Maine that is reputed to have “too many” deer, and in a week of dawn-to-dark roaming saw no deer, few tracks and little sign. In fact, on Sunday I marked every rub I found with a knife cut, and by the following Saturday I had found a total of zero new rubs! I don’t claim to be the best hunter of all, but there were eight other long-time whitetail chasers in camp and they didn’t see any deer that week, either! No sign, no deer we didn’t even jump any deer going in or coming out. Yes, we tried standing, still-hunting, driving and calling, but nothing worked.
I heard similar stories from everywhere in the Northeast down through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Of course, some hunters had great luck and took home very nice bucks for their efforts, but if I had a dollar for every hunter who said he’d seen no deer all week, I could buy a feedlot’s worth of beef and never have to hunt again!
Is there good news in all of this? Of course! Today is the first day of the Maine black powder deer season, and that means all hunters statewide can hunt for two more weeks using any black powder arm. The rules are the same as for firearms deer hunting (orange required, bucks only unless you have a doe permit), but the important point is that you have to believe Maine will see some cooler weather and some semblance of a real rut before we get into the middle of December.
It’s worth the time to get out there this week or next and hunt the same areas you hunted earlier in November because, like it or not, those bucks are going to have to do their intended duty if there’s going to be a deer herd in Maine in the future. This means they’ll have to get moving, get going and get into trouble if there are hunters out there to take advantage of the extra season length.
In most years, the best black powder-season technique is to take a stand near a known feeding area or, when there’s snow (which there should be in December!), pick a big track and stay on it till the hammer falls. This year, it might be better to find those rub lines and scrapes and post nearby because, if the rut is late as we all suspect, December’s bucks will be acting like mid-November deer.
Another technique that can work (and this I know from my magazine work) is that calling can be a seductive alternative for taking December’s love-sick bucks. Last year, for example, five of the top bucks taken in the Northeast (state records or nearly so) fell to hunters using one of those odd little “can calls,” which sound like the bleat of a love-hungry doe. Some of those bucks had been shot at and missed, yet they returned to the call in the ultimate fatal attraction. I would think one such incident might be a fluke, but when five world-class bucks come to the tagging station in the same way, it makes you wonder. Plus, last season I loaned my own can call to two other hunters who, they swear, took dominant bucks lured in with two or three plaintive bleats. I don’t know if this call will work on Maine bucks in December where you hunt, but it’s definitely worth a try!
And, this seems to be the year of the grunt call. Most hunters are familiar with these calls and have seen them used on outdoor videos and TV shows, but when “real” hunters use them and have good luck, that seems like a sign to me. My lifelong hunting buddy, whom I’ve known since the early 1960s, is a prime example. Wayne has killed nothing but button bucks and does for over 40 years, but this year he decided to try a grunt call and, just this week, lured in the buck of his dreams a massive 12-pointer that came running in to less than 10 yards! I know this guy very well (even carried him into the woods when, as a kid, he suffered from mononucleosis and wasn’t supposed to go), and he is so enthusiastic about the grunt call that there’s no way it didn’t happen just as he said.
Wayne deserved and earned his chance at that buck and, if you don’t give up and hunt the black powder season during the next two weeks, so will you!