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Now we are into the second week of Maine’s annual deer season and several things have happened that will affect the hunt from now on. For one thing, the opening-week excitement has subsided (resident’s-only day, opening day and the thrill of that first week). Many lucky hunters have already tagged their buck for the year and are finished, but that leaves the majority of hunters who not only had no luck all last week but who now wonder what to do because their great, long-anticipated master plans did not bear fruit.
Hunters spend a lot of time planning their trips and have all sorts of ideas as to where the deer should be at any given hour of the day, but what happens to all that enthusiasm when, with a week gone by, there’s nothing to show but a lot of walking back and forth to stale stands in the woods? There comes a point when the woods seem to be empty of deer, nothing is moving and even old tracks become too familiar. This is when the casual hunter becomes discouraged, loses interest and hangs it up for the season. Throw in some bad weather or the pressure of the coming holidays (gotta get the wood in!), and suddenly the throng in orange noticeably dwindles.
One thing I have learned in 45 years of deer hunting is that you can’t predict what will happen one minute to the next. I have had great days when I’ve walked to my spot, got set up and shot a deer in the first five minutes (oh, what a genius I thought I was!) and I have had seasons where nothing I did bore fruit. I’ve walked endless miles in heavy boots through clinging swamps, sat bored to tears in big, open beech stands, staked out prime apple orchards and “guaranteed” stream crossings, and all I had for my effort was the thrill have having spent another day in the forest thinking I should have been home splitting firewood or banking the house.
Even so, somewhere between opening morning and the closing afternoon there is always the possibility that a deer will come by, and many a lost season was suddenly saved only because I had the gumption to go out there one more time, find a spot that looked good to me and stay there till closing time. Granted, it is not easy to generate the kind of enthusiasm it takes to spend a full day in the woods when you’ve lost faith in a spot, but the bottom line is that the deer are always out there and any number of things will move them around over the course of the day. One thing is for certain: you won’t get a shot if you aren’t out there with them!
Also, from now on the weather will be unpredictable and (usually) unbearable, but cold, rain and snow work to the hunter’s advantage by keeping deer on the move, so it behooves every one of us to get out there no matter what’s rattling at the windows when we wake up at 4 a.m. Rain is probably the worst condition to endure in November – there’s nothing colder than a late fall rain, and I have spent more than my share of time out there shivering and shaking like a blender while cold water ran down the middle of my back. But, just often enough to keep me going, I’ve seen deer under such conditions, and while they seem as miserable as I am to be exposed to the wet and cold, I cheer up in a hurry when I have to put my tag on another big Maine buck.
We can also expect wind and snow in the next couple of weeks. Nothing will drain the heat out of your body like a relentless November wind. Because the sun barely tops the trees at midday now it’s not likely that you’ll enjoy even a brief chance to bask in the sun, especially if you are hunting in the darker swamps and evergreen stands. Along with the wind comes the noise of blowing leaves and clattering limbs, and all of that can hide the sound of a deer approaching. But, if the only day you have to hunt is a windy one, get out there and do it! Several of my best Maine bucks were downed when it was windy enough to blow my hat off, but my view of the day changed considerably when I walked over to claim another nice deer on a day when, truthfully, I thought very hard about staying in bed.
From now on the real solution to finding deer is to hunt in and near thick cover. As the leaves disappear so do the deer – but only from sight! They are still out there (drive by at night and you’ll see eyes reflecting back at you from every field edge). Before dawn the animals will have faded back into the thick cover of swamps and clear-cuts because they know being exposed in open woods or fields during the day is suicidal. Sure, visibility is low (10 yards or less in many places), but if you want a deer now you have to go where they are.
If I had to choose one place to spend the rest of the season it would be in a dense cedar swamp. It’s cold, wet and still in those places but deer love the security of such places. Get into the swamp before daylight and stay there till legal shooting time ends. November deer may not move much during the day unless they are pushed, but when they do move it’s usually just at dawn and dusk. Nothing livens up the woods like the approach of a deer in the twilight – you know it’s coming your way and you just know it has to be a buck! I have forced myself to stay in the woods from dawn till dark many times, and there have been plenty of occasions when I was tempted to pull out 30 minutes sooner just to have some light on the outgoing trail. But, when I stayed put and tough it out till the end, I have had some great opportunities that I would never have experienced had I left early out of impatience, boredom or disgust.
This week’s handy hunting tip is simple: Keep going, stay put, don’t get discouraged. If you put in your time you will get your opportunity. Just be sure to keep a list of your lazier buddies on hand for help in dragging your big buck out of the woods!
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