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This third week of November is probably the period when the fewest deer hunters are in the woods. Opening week is a big favorite (and the bulk of the season’s whitetail harvest occurs during the first six days of the hunt). There are some hunters who stay on track during the second week of November because it’s the tail end of the rut, when big bucks lose their sense of mortality and run willy-nilly through the thickets looking for any, all and the last of the receptive does. There will be another, shorter rut period early in December, but it’s nothing like what went on last week.
In a fast-paced 10-day period I saw over a dozen nice bucks running the woods like holiday shoppers. One little 4-pointer ran past me several times, eyes glazed, drool dripping from his jaw, and it was obvious that not even the threat of a broadhead through the vitals was going to slow him down. One cool morning I heard two larger bucks fighting, breaking branches and clattering their antlers just like you’d see on TV! One big 8-pointer came flying out of the pines almost upside down, and then out stepped a much bigger buck that waggled his antlers at the younger deer and stomped off like a big-time wrestler who’d just tossed his opponent out of the ring. Very interesting and entertaining and, of course, it all took place out of range!
This week is the orphan week of the deer season. It’s not opening day, it’s not the peak of the rut and it’s not Thanksgiving week (when more hunters can find time to be in the woods). It’s a rarity to see any trucks parked along the roadside or orange hats in the distance. It’s quiet in the forest and the deer are not being pursued with any great intensity, all of which adds up to this being the perfect time to be out there with them!
My theory has always been that you can’t tag a deer if you don’t go after them, so I will be in the thickets this week looking for a buck that hasn’t heard it’s a slow week in the Maine woods. Mathematically, there’s at least one deer shot somewhere in Maine every hour of every legal hunting day, which means it could happen to you – but only if you take the time to get out and hunt. Sure, we’re expecting rain or wind or snow or whatever, but the deer live through the best and worst of weather with no trouble. Hunters tend to be picky about when and where they will hunt or what they consider to be “perfect” weather for deer, but the bottom line is that to get one you have to go – and this week is as good as any for those who like to be where the whitetails are.
Now that the leaves are down and the woods are open and airy, I like to head for the thickest cover I can find, and that generally means the swamplands where tall grass, dense saplings and low growing evergreens provide food and cover for deer.
I don’t have much luck in open fields, sparse woods or barren clear-cuts during this period of the season. It’s great to be able to see long distances in the woods but unless there’s a deer in sight all you are doing is enjoying the view. I get into the worst stuff I can find, places where visibility is just a few yards around me. Of course, I’ll factor in such things as tracks, trails, rubs, scrapes and other deer sign, but I’ll look for it in cover that give deer a sense of security as they go about their business. It can take some scouting to find the best spots, but this is the week to do your looking. If it’s thick, wet, dark and unfriendly (from a human’s point of view), that’s where the deer will be.
How thick is thick? Well, last year I shot my buck at about 10 yards, and I think the last dozen deer I’ve tagged were with 20 yards at most. I don’t think I’ve fired a shot at a deer beyond 50 yards in about 25 years. In fact, the places I like to hunt during this third week of the season rarely give me a shot at a whole deer. I have to wait till I can see that “behind the shoulder” area and, most times, I can’t really see the deer’s head, feet or tail. I love being that close to them – it’s tough to miss a deer at 15 yards, and they are almost invariably standing still offering a perfect broadside shot.
It’s my job to be the deer hunter’s cheerleader this month, so let’s get out there and hunt! There’s a whitetail with your tag number on it somewhere in the Maine woods. If you have the time to go this week, make a point of heading for the thickest cover you can find and spend as much time there as you can afford.
Remember that you don’t need to spend all day in the woods. Just a few hours will do it. A friend of mine, a veterinarian by trade, was between farm calls and stopped off to hunt a small strip of woods along a river bottom. He was sitting on a stump eating his lunch when a husky 8-pointer walked up and started rubbing his antlers on a nearby tree. Total time elapsed was about one hour – it doesn’t happen every day but it does happen.
If nothing else, the “Any time, Anywhere Rule” is always in force when it comes to November deer hunting. Go whenever you can and put the odds in your favor. Big bucks have been shot in roadside ditches, farm pastures, clear-cuts and patches of woods no bigger than a house lot. The key is being in the right place at the right time, but one thing is for certain: nothing will happen if you don’t show up!
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