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It’s hard to believe another fall is upon us and October 1, the more or less official opening day for most game species, is only days away. I’ve been running the woods for close to 50 years now and I still get a kick out of “opening day,” when I can head into the woods and test my skills against big and small game, even waterfowl, species that are readily available in the woods and marshes of central Maine.
This is the busiest time of year for me because I try to take advantage of every possible season that’s open, which can run a hunter ragged in no time. I try to schedule dawn and dusk bowhunts for deer, morning hunts for partridge and woodcock in the orchards and then a quick float down a local river for ducks. With luck and good timing I can do it all, and then when the trapping season kicks in I’ll run some steel around my favorite hunting areas so I can check traps as I go.
If this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right! In fact, one season I purchased a pair of “Bean boots,” the famed rubber-bottomed hunting shoe, and completely wore them out by the end of deer season. The tread was gone, the rubber was cracked and leaking and the stitching was coming apart. I hunted and trapped every day that season and figured I’d gotten my money’s worth out of those boots.
The truth be known, October 1 is a trifle early for good bird and upland game hunting, just as April 1 is really too early for the trout season to open. But, the game is out there and it’s legal to pursue them, so I do my best. The foliage in the orchards is still summer thick, so even if I flush a good number of birds I’m not likely to see (or shoot) many. I’ll hear them go and feel good about that, but it can be frustrating. The trick is to hunt with a partner (dogs included) and cover the best spots from two sides. At least one of you should get a shot, or at least see the bird go!
Duck shooting (which actually opens today) can be good on foot or from a boat. There are several beaver ponds in the area I hunt and most will hold a few wood ducks or black ducks in the early season. The same goes for coves and backwaters on our local streams. You can walk a stream border and flush grouse, woodcock and ducks all in the same morning, so it’s worth a try. Keep in mind that if you are going to target ducks you may only carry non-toxic shot with you, even in your vest. This is fast, short-range shooting in most cases, so standard loads of No. 4 or No. 6 steel work fine. I would let woodcock get out as far as you can before shooting them with steel shot, because the hard shot’s normally tighter patterns will rip them to shreds at short range.
Busy as these days may be, I really look forward to the last hours of the afternoon when I finally end up in a stand with my bow in hopes of seeing a deer or bear in a secluded corner of the orchard. These October evenings are incredible, always cool and bright and blue, and you just know the deer are going to be out just before dark.
In fact, my favorite spot is a trail between a standing cornfield and an old orchard. At this time of year the deer tend to stay in the corn all day, and why not? It’s cool, safe and thick in there, and they can disappear from sight in one bound. I’ll get set up at a corner of the field where tracks and other sign tell me the deer have been crossing, and wait it out till the end of shooting light.
It pays to stay on stand until the last minute because you never know when a deer will show up. On one October hunt a few years ago I quit just a few seconds earlier than normal and lay my bow down in the grass to get my gear organized for the walk out of the woods. Sure enough, as I was buckling on my backpack a nice little buck walked out of the corn, hesitated a second and then dove into the orchard, snorting and thumping all the way! Normally, I would have been focused on that little opening between the corn and the orchard and would have had an arrow on the way the instant the deer paused to look around, but not this time!
If you want to try trapping fox and coyote during the early season (opens October18) or muskrats (opens October 25) you still have time to get your license and gear ready. To make the most out of your October outings, set your trap line in the area you plan to hunt birds, ducks or deer and simply check your traps as you enter or leave the woods. Canine traps are best checked in the morning, but muskrats are active throughout the day, so you can check them more than once per day if you have the opportunity.
If you’re like most folks, you’ll likely focus on one species and go after it in they spare hours you may have. There is nothing wrong with that, and if that’s what gets you out of the house and into the woods, go for it! October’s game populations will be at their peak, so go as often as you can and make the most of your time off. Remember, a long, hard winter is looming just around the corner (according to Poor Richard’s Almanac, another bad one!), so take each October day as the gift it is and don’t waste even one of them.
Get your wood in now – it’s time to go hunting!
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