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It’s hard to believe that it’s mid-August already. Some sportsmen are busy preparing baits for the up-coming black bear hunting season (set to open next Monday), and the Expanded Archery Deer Season, set to open Sept. 6. Both groups have been busy long before now, the bear hunters eagerly setting and checking baits, the deer hunters just as eagerly checking their archery gear, practicing at the range and at competitions, and in general just fooling around with stuff in anticipation of another great fall hunting season in Maine.
It’s hard to tell who’s the most excited, the bear hunters, who want to get first crack at the biggest, fattest bruins in the state before the hound hunters and deer hunters step in; or the bowhunters who are hoping that some big, wide-racked buck is going to make a mistake early in September, long before the regular archery season opens in October or the most effective season of all, rifle season, opens Nov. 3.
For bear hunters, the excitement seems to come in the last minutes of the day. Somewhere before gray dusk the smaller bears, sows with cubs and yearlings, will come in to the bait site and rattle around in the donuts, bread, honey and dog food for a while, but just as legal shooting time winds down the “little bears” will scuttle away and, for just a few thrilling moments, hunters all over the state will be tensing up for what they hope is “the big one,” coming in on the heels of darkness to clean up what the other bears have left behind.
Of course, the bigger bears come in last for a good reason: They know that daylight means danger whenever humans are involved, so they linger in the shadows, often watching the other bears feed, waiting patiently for any sign of trouble. The wise hunter will stay on stand as long as the law allows, and he’ll leave, lucky or not, in silence, because somewhere out there is a big bear, watching, waiting, wondering, and if he sees or hears anything unusual he’ll never return to that site.
I learned this long ago, before baiting as we know it now became the rage. I used discarded horse parts, frozen fish, apples and other stuff as bait, set up near an apple orchard or berry barren near my home. Night after night I’d go out and see small bears come skipping in to feed, but I could see those big, dark shadows in the distance, moving about, hulking and hovering, but never quite showing themselves. Next day my baits would be destroyed by those bigger animals, so I just kept baiting, kept quiet and bided my time.
After several days of shadowy hide and seek, a cloudy evening left the woods quieter than usual earlier than usual and the bear made his mistake. It took me most of the night to get that 290-pounder out of the woods, but I wasn’t the least bit tired, angry or upset. Since then, I’ve hunted bears over bait throughout the East and Canada, and I always am the last one into camp each night. Most of the time, my week-long trip will end with a bigger bear taken in the last minutes of legal shooting time, but that more than makes up for the endless hours I’d spent swatting flies and sweating inside my “bug proof” jacket!
The same goes for early deer hunting. At this time of year both bucks and does may be seen in the distant corner of succulent fields, no trace of the stress and angst that will come when the November rut kicks in. The deer often come out early to feed, well before sundown, and if they are undisturbed they will continue to come out in the same places night after night.
The trick is to get there first, sit tight and wait. Archery hunting means short range shots, generally under 40 yards and of course the deer seem to know it stay out there just 60 or 70 yards away, close enough to see clearly but too far for a shot.
Frustrated hunters will chunk an arrow out there just to see what may happen, or others will stand up and spook the animals just to see where they run to, planning to be there tomorrow instead of here! Of course, whitetails are masters of that game and will quickly make a fool of you – here today, gone tomorrow is the most likely ending.
I’ve been in this fix many, many times, but for me the solution has been to stay put, trust my scouting results and just wait, wait, wait for the shot I want. In many areas you may bowhunt from Sept. 6 through Oct. 31, some 55 days of opportunity. There is no rush, certainly, so don’t let impatience steal your shot. I have found that even though I may spend several days watching deer feed placidly only to have them walk out of the field 100 yards away, I have had great luck when I just waited for that one time when a distant dog barking, a rumbling motorcycle passed or some invisible “something” spooked the deer and, at last, made them stick to their original pattern of escape. The fawns and yearlings will bounce quickly away, the does flagging behind them, but the bucks tend to linger, staring into the distance and walking stiff-legged as if they are too cool, to important to run from danger.
Of course, this trait presents the patient archer with a nice, clean, open shot at an animal standing broadside just inside the field’s edge. If your pre-season practice was honest, you will make the shot with ease, and what a great season this will have become!
Whatever you have been waiting for all summer, get out of the chair now because cooler weather is here and, from the looks of things, it’s time!
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