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If the first week of deer season ended with no buck on the meat pole, it’s time to get serious about your hunting strategy. Opening week is the most popular one for most hunters, but they are gone now and the woods are yours till the next peak participation period, which will be Thanksgiving week. That gives you two full weeks to put your skills to the test. Barring long periods of inclement weather (wind and rain are the worst), you should at least expect to see a deer if you spend enough time out there.
Aside from the occasional bird or rabbit hunter, you probably won’t see many humans in the woods during the week. Saturdays will be more crowded, and of course Thanksgiving week will show more orange in the woods than we had during the peak leaf season, but if you are ambitious enough to walk just one-half mile away from the road you will have your piece of the woods all to yourself.
The trick is to get up and out the door every day and be in the woods at daylight, not just because deer are most active at dawn (and dusk) but because starting today, and for the rest of the season, the available daylight hours will continue to dwindle. Sunset will be around 4 p.m. by the end of the season, with sunrise coming at about 7 a.m., which means there will be just 9 hours of legal hunting time available. To me, nothing is more crushing to the spirit than those last few minutes of the season when I stop and calculate how many hours of hunting time I’d wasted doing other, more responsible things. It’s then that I realize I can still work on wood, I can still work on buttoning up the house but, woe of woes, I can’t hunt deer again till next year!
If you want a deer badly enough, the choice is obvious: go hunt! We are presently at or near the peak of the Maine rut, which means those reclusive old bucks will throw caution to the wind as they roam for miles in search of receptive does. The chase goes on day and night and may take a buck 20 miles or more from his home range. That is a lot of roaming, but with every buck of breeding age engaged in the throes of procreation, it’s easy to see why your odds of putting your tag on one increase dramatically if you can spend all day, every day, in the woods with them.
There are a lot of hunters who enjoy the “at camp” ambience of deer hunting. They start the day with a monumental pre-dawn breakfast, head out the door just before daylight and stay in the woods till about 10 a.m., when they come back to camp for lunch, a nap and a chance to warm up before heading out again at around 2 p.m.
All of that is great fun and makes spending a week at deer camp a more pleasant experience, but let’s take a look at the math. If you hunt this way, you are out of the woods for four hours each day, or 24 hours each week. That amounts to three full days of hunting time! If you were to hunt this way all season, you will be throwing 12 or more days of hunting time out the window!
This struck me with a vengeance years ago when I went along with the out-to-camp routine all season and hadn’t seen the first deer. Toward the end of the last day I was standing in a cold, snowy swamp lamenting all those lost hours and desperately wishing I could have them back. Since then, I go into the woods at dawn prepared to spend all day, and until or unless I have some meat in the freezer, I don’t come in till the law requires it.
When I was in my teens I’d spend a long, miserable day in the woods wearing green, department store rubber boots, denim jeans, a T-shirt and a red-checked flannel shirt. No food, no water, no soft, cushy seat. I shot deer every year but, boy, did I ever suffer for it! Aside from my rifle and ammunition, my greatest weapon was my stubborn determination to hunt. Without it, I doubt I’d still be doing it! Many times I shot deer due to no other great skill other than pure hard-headedness. I’d be cold, wet and shivering from head to toe; hungry, thirsty and bored, but some small spark of enthusiasm would keep me focused long after everyone else had given up and headed back to the warmth and comfort of the camp stove.
Of course, there were many, many days when my only reward for my steadfastness was cold feet and a dose of hypothermia, but just about every season I’d get my shot and come back to camp looking for volunteers to help recover my deer. The look on their faces when I came in after dark and plopped a still-warm heart or liver on the table was priceless! Nothing perks up a gathering of hunters than having to bring a buck out of the woods, and nothing’s more satisfying than when it is yours!
Deer hunting is hard work, no doubt, and there are going to be days when the last thing you want to do is trade a warm bed for wet feet and a sore backside, but a successful hunt is not a gift – you have to earn every whitetail you tag. It may not be possible to spend every day in the woods, but make it a point to get out there at every opportunity. It may take you five minutes to kill your buck or it may take all season, but nothing good will happen until you shoulder your rifle and start down the trail. Success awaits you somewhere out there, but nothing will happen till you take that first step!
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