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Here it is, mid-October, and already people are saying, “Where did the summer go?” Frost and the constant threat of snow means winter is around the corner again and we must be ready for it! Just like that it’s time to get the wood in, till the garden one last time and exchange the light summer outfits for your woolies, hats and gloves.
But, before you do all that necessary stuff, there’s the matter of archery deer season to get out of the way, and the time to go is right now! The general bowhunting season has been open since Oct. 1 and it ends Oct. 30, just a couple of weeks from now. This is the perfect time to get out there with the intention of arrowing a nice buck or bear. Conditions are perfect for both species, and you can actually hunt them from the same blind or tree stand because their primary focus at this time of year — food — lures them into the same areas this month.
To up your odds for a combination deer-bear adventure, look no farther than the nearest overgrown apple orchard. Central Maine is overrun with these little stands of fruit trees planted generations ago when the region was recovering from the travails of the Civil War. If you want to make a true adventure out of it, swing by the town office and ask to look at some old plat maps, especially those showing ownership of the land back in the early 1900s. Find a homestead on a gravel road in the back corner of the county and you’ll find the remnants of old apple orchards and even some new growth where deer, bears, grouse and other game gather for sustenance in October.
There is hardly an orchard in our area that does not contain a plethora of deer tracks and bear sign. Many of these orchards have been utilized by game for decades. They already know where they are and may even have their favorite trees picked out — from the looks of some of the trees, every bear in town stops by for a meal! The choicest trees (yellow transparents, McIntosh and Romes) have broken branches and claw marks all over them, obvious signs that bears, especially, are fond of their fruit.
The challenge here is finding a place to stand that offers a clear shot at an approaching buck or bruin but that is obscure enough to avoid alerting the animals as they approach at dawn or dusk. These days, tree stands are the rage, and rightly so. If you can find a tall, straight tree within 30 yards of the target apple tree you are in business. Simply climb up, sit still and wait. The prevailing thermals should waft your scent away from approach trails at least long enough for you to set up and take a shot. It’s a good idea to monitor these wind patterns and be ready to move your stand site of the scent trail is going to give you away.
There’s nothing like seeing a nice buck or big bear come in and, just as he enters your shooting lane, seeing him disappear because an errant gust of wind sent your scent to him. Play the wind and you’ll have much better luck!
The same goes for ground blinds. If the wind is right you will have no trouble finding a good place to sit, but you’ll want to use cover scents to keep your “pool” of human odor to a minimum.
Speaking of shooting lanes, it’s a good idea to create these before you get settled into your tree or blind. It’s a simple matter of selecting the most likely approach trails and then trimming the major (and minor) twigs and limbs out of the way with pruning shears. You don’t need (or even want) to open the woods up like a parking lot because these animals don’t like to be overly exposed, but a judicious nip here and there will make enough room for your arrow to arc through and hit the intended target.
The real key to October orchard hunting is to be patient, be quiet and spend as much time in the stand as possible. No animal comes to the same place every day for weeks on end, but ripe fruit is hard to resist and they will come in eventually. Get set up early (3 p.m. is not too soon) and stay put till dark. If an animal comes in but doesn’t offer a shot, just wait for it to leave on its own, because if you spook it you’ve just taught the animal that the place can’t be trusted and, in most cases, he won’t come back to that spot till well after dark!
Patience is paramount when bowhunting, and it’s not often easy to relax and wait when you know a buck or bear is nearby. I once had to wait for a bear to enter the orchard, walk completely around me, move in under a tree and then, a good hour later, and finally climb up into the apple-laden branches. Even then, I had to wait some more while the bear jiggled around to find the best gorging position. It was almost dark when he finally presented a shot, but when it hit the ground, branches breaking all around, it was well worth the wait!
Deer can be just as nerve-wracking when they come in one careful step at a time and pause to stop and sniff the air every 10 seconds. One archery buck I shot years ago appeared at the far end of the orchard, just his antlers visible above the dying goldenrod, and for nearly two hours he just stood there staring off to my left. When he finally did move, he disappeared without a sound for several minutes. When I was just about to give it up for the day he stepped out right in front of me and offered one of the easiest shots I’ve ever had. Somehow he’d moved to within 10 yards of me and I never saw or heard a thing!
If you’re a true hunter, this is exciting stuff. Stop reading about my exploits, get out there and make some fond memories of your own!
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