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At this end of September there’s no doubt that things are looking a good bit “fallish” out there. Even those who were claiming that the swamp maples were turning color due to “stress” are resigned to the fact that summer, such as it was, is over.
No bad news here for Maine sportsmen, of course. October is less than a week away and even without retailers hawking their fall goods and big sales, the fever is catching. Bear and moose hunters have already shown themselves this month, but when the official archery deer season opens Saturday there will be plenty of vehicles parked along back roads giving away the bowhunter’s precious hotspot.
Those who have never been hunting but would like to try it could do worse than gear up for an October deer hunt. There are two very good reasons that so many bowhunters look forward to the season – pleasant conditions and a chance to be the first ones to hunt deer statewide. Early fall whitetails are generally placid, easy-going animals that are primarily concerned with food. October, in hunter’s parlance, is considered pre-rut, which means the bucks are not going to be chasing does all over the woods and the does won’t be running all over the woods trying to get away from them! There is a short period of calm for the first two weeks of the month, but near the end of October the whitetail’s dynamic changes and things become unpredictable if not entirely out of control.
The beginning archer can do well during either period but early October is perhaps the most pleasant time to be in the Maine woods of all. Cool days, beautiful foliage, relaxed deer and quiet woods combine to make this season impossible to complain about. Even if no arrows are released the satisfaction that comes with being there and seeing deer still in their early fall mood is priceless. On a good day one might see a dozen deer, bucks and does, yet not get a decent shot opportunity from any of them. Enjoyable, yes, but October deer hunting comes with no guarantees. In fact, Maine’s army of archery deer hunters bring home about 2,300 animals each season, which translates to about 1 deer per 200 square miles! Not exactly a high success rate, but spend one October day in the woods and you’ll understand why they do it, success ratios notwithstanding.
To participate in the October hunt one must, of course, buy a archery deer-hunting license. New archers must successfully complete an archery hunter education course or show proof of having bowhunted as an adult at some time (and in any state) since 1979.
Because the October season is archery-only, no orange clothing is required. However, hunters who plan to continue to bowhunt during any firearms season on deer must wear the minimum amount of orange required for that season – usually a vest and hat will satisfy the law on that score.
Generally, bowhunters may kill a buck or doe but in areas where no any-deer permits are issued archers are restricted to bucks-only hunting.
Because longbows, compound bows and crossbows (which may be used during the firearms season on deer and bear) are short-range implements (30 yards or less except in extreme circumstances), bowhunters do their best to increase their odds by wearing camouflage clothing from head to toe including gloves, face mask and hat. Deer will spot you eventually no matter how much camo you wear, but a well-matched outfit will keep you out of sight at least till the deer is in range. Practice long and hard before you go so that “in range” can mean out to 40 yards or so if the cover is open and there are no obstacles between the bow and the deer.
The best places to find deer in October include the far distant corners of secluded hay fields, pastures and croplands or hidden apple orchards. Expect to see deer most often in early morning or late evening, but hunt as often as you can because whitetails do as they please and someone, somewhere will shoot a big buck that shouldn’t have been in that place at that time of day doing what he was doing. Though we try to make hunting an exact science it is truthfully far from it. Every year someone will shoot a deer that defies every “rule” of hunting and whitetail behavior known to man. The trick is to be ready for any and all events by getting out there whenever you have the time.
In nearly every case bowhunting is an individual pursuit in which the archer sneaks in to his pre-determined spot and stands or sits quietly (tree stands, ground blinds and commercial blinds are all helpful for bowhunters) till time runs out or a deer shows up. Make no noise, move slowly (or not at all) and stay alert to the sounds of deer moving along the edge of a field or orchard. Big as they are, whitetails can be extremely quiet while moving into their feeding areas, so any and every sound should be investigated. Assume it is a deer until you discover otherwise. Odds are you will see a lot of squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and other non-target species while you are hunting, but the one time you ignore a snapping twig is likely to be the time a big buck walks out and stares at you. The success rate for bowhunters tends to fizzle following such encounters!
If there’s a down side to bowhunting it’s that the season comes and goes too quickly. Suddenly it’s November and firearms season; cold and frost, maybe even snow takes over to make it difficult to sit still for any length of time. October is the time to go if you want to enjoy the best of Maine’s fall hunting season.
There is still plenty of time to get the licenses, training and gear you’ll need for a successful October deer hunt. If you wait till November, there will be 2,000+ fewer deer in the woods, and one of them might be yours!
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