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The recent cold weather certainly had folks talking, but those who roam the woods in search of Maine’s big bucks were more than a little excited. Cold and snow already? Sounds bad for the oil bill but great for hunters.
Most outdoorsmen know that this first half of November is the peak of the rut for deer. Non-hunters have no clue what that means, but think of it as Christmastime for sportsmen. This is the time of year when whitetails create next year’s fawn crop. Our normally reclusive, elusive bucks put caution to the wind as they chase receptive does all over the landscape, driven by the urge to procreate. Not only do these animals need to breed in a short span of time, they also must compete with other bucks (large and small) that may travel as much as 30 miles in their quest to mate. There is a lot of posturing, threatening, fighting and other displays of aggressive behavior among whitetail bucks in early November, which keeps them quite busy day and night. In fact, there are cases every year of bucks attacking humans sometimes killing them, and they also injure and kill each other during their battles for dominance. Not quite the story Disney told!
Hunters know all this and make every effort to be in the woods during this important period. Suffice it to say that if you want to put your tag on a trophy-sized Maine whitetail (meaning a buck weighing over 200 pounds), you must plan to be in the woods for at least the next week – and stay out there all day, too!
I have been an all-day hunter for decades, and in my younger days there were many times when I would head into the woods at dawn with nothing but my knife and rifle, sticking it out through rain, snow, cold and wind all day. No water, no snacks, no coming in at noon for a hot meal and a nap. During the rut, especially, I would be on my stand before daylight and not leave the woods till legal shooting time ended. I might not get home till an hour or more after sunset, but I wasn’t about to waste even a minute of precious hunting time.
After 50 years of hunting I have become a little more sensible about how I spend my hours in the woods. I’m still out there all day every day but now I pamper myself by bringing a small butane stove so I can make tea or hot chocolate when the pangs of hunger hit around 10 a.m. or so. My stove is small enough to fit into a pocket, and its accompanying canister of fuel is about the size of a small apple. Quiet and efficient, my stove can boil a cup of water in under a minute. That’s quite an improvement from the old, heavy and leaky hot beverage bottles we used to bring into the woods. Years ago those bottles had thin glass liners that were prone to breakage – drop one on the ground getting out of your truck and you’ll see what I mean! Today’s Thermos bottles are much tougher but heavier and eventually their contents turn cold. Nothing beats a freshly boiled cup of tea or coffee on a frosty November morning!
Another staple of my hunting day is instant oatmeal or soup that can be mixed in my tin tea cup. I just boil some water, toss in the mix and enjoy a quick, satisfying meal, all while sitting on a convenient rock or log in the woods.
Speaking of sitting, while I spent many years sitting directly on the ground (and getting soaked in the process), I now bring a small, collapsible seat that keeps me dry and comfortable all day. I can sit still for hours on end, and that’s a good thing for any deer hunter to do. Make noise and move around too much and you won’t see many deer!
If wind, rain or snow is a possibility I just bring a Space Blanket with me, which can double as a seat when the weather is good. If it starts raining I’ll just cover up and sit tight through the day. The blanket folds to the size of a Kindle and weighs just a few ounces. Wrap that around you with your back to the wind and you can stay warm and dry in the woods all day.
Another gadget that would have been worth its weight in gold 40 years ago is an umbrella that attaches to a tree or stump. Today’s hunting umbrellas are camouflaged and very lightweight, plus they are wide enough to protect me, my pack and my rifle from the wet weather. I have shot several deer while sitting out the rain under my umbrella and can truthfully say that I might not have tagged some of those deer without it. Being cold is bad enough but wet and cold – that’s torture!
All of this stuff fits into my day pack with plenty of room left for additional food, binoculars, a camera and whatever else I think I will need. I want to be sure I’m on hand when that big buck shows up, and these few amenities keep me in the woods long after everyone else has gone back to camp because they got cold or hungry during the day.
In fact, I depend on impatient, cold or bored hunters to push deer to me when they leave the woods during the middle of the day. Like everything else in life, I had to learn this the hard way.
One of the reasons I stay in the woods all day is because, years ago, I was one of those guys who came out of the woods at noon for lunch. One day I jumped a nice buck on the way back to the car and another hunter shot it. If I had stayed put another 20 minutes I would have had a shot, but instead I ended up dragging out what should have been my deer!
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