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There’s no longer any need to dwell on the subtle shift from summer to fall – the evidence is all around us! Even if you measure the end of summer by the start of the school year, the sudden proliferation of school buses is proof enough that it’s over. Or, drive by any roadside wetland and you’ll see autumn’s reds and yellows splashed throughout the fading greenery.
To me the most noticeable sign of fall is how often I must fill the hummingbird feeders. Throughout most of the summer two cups of nectar would last two weeks, but now I’m filling them every four days! The little buggers are draining the feeders at a frantic pace, the first thirsty ones showing up before sunrise and the last visitors still sipping away well after sunset. I realize that they are gassing up for their long trip to South America, a remarkable feat for any bird but especially for one so tiny. Only the flight of the monarch butterflies generates more shock and awe among nature lovers.
For sportsmen, September is a time for action as well. Time to clean and store the summer gear and dig out all the equipment we’ll need for a successful fall hunting season. There is still some good fishing to be had over the next month or two, but before this month is out most of the attention will be on October’s archery, upland and wetland pursuits. Most of these projects are of the puttering type, doing ammo inventory, cleaning, fixing and replacing all the gear we have not used since last November. Licenses, tags and stamps must be purchased, worn clothing must be replaced and time must be spent at the range to tighten up long-neglected shooting skills. I still use a recurve bow for October deer hunting and am always amazed when I take it out the first time and find that I can hardly come to full draw, let alone put an arrow where it needs to go. It takes a few sessions to get those unused muscles back into shape and polish my instinctive shooting skills. I have learned to start my practice sessions at 10 yards, gradually working my way up to 20 and 25 yards over time. Shooting a bow is much like riding a bike; it does come back to you, but arrows are too expensive to send sailing all over the woods while you work on your form and follow-through. I shoot 100 arrows a day from now till the opening day of the fall archery season, and by the end of the month I’ll know what my range limit will be. Twenty yards is the norm, although in my younger years I could chance a shot at 25. Beyond that it is pot luck and I don’t shoot. I might be able to hit a deer at 30 or 40 yards but not precisely where I want to. It’s not worth the risk.
The biggest project I have in anticipation of the coming hunting season is getting my trusty old canoe into my favorite beaver flowage so I can hunt ducks and geese beginning next month. This involves carrying the canoe for about a mile to the flowage, and then dragging it through the alders and brush to the water’s edge where I leave it in about three feet of water. I’ve had canoes and kayaks stolen before, though there was a time when I could leave my canoe tied to a tree on shore so that others could use it. Those days are long gone, so now I have to find clever new ways to hide my craft so I know it will be there when I need it. This also means I need to carry in a bag filled with waders, boots and other necessary gear, but once I shove off and start winding my way through the open channel I don’t worry about all the preparation it took to get there. Most of Maine’s beaver flowages are full of wood ducks, black ducks, teal and some geese during October and into November, so setting up for duck season is well worth the effort. Now is the time to start planning for such trips.
Of course, once I get my canoe or kayak into position I can’t help but take a test paddle just to see what’s new in the aquatic community. One good thing about beaver flowages is that not much changes from year to year, indeed decade to decade. Other than a few new fallen trees to trim or a new dam to navigate, wetland areas maintain their character until someone drains them (not likely) or builds something nearby that affects the natural ebb and flow. In fact, all of the beaver flowages I’ve known since the 1970s still the same as ever, full of muck, brush, water and wildlife – just the way I like them! I check them out in spring for trout and then return in fall for hunting and trapping and not a thing has changed. In fact, I rarely see anyone else on these excursions because I avoid the easy culvert and bridge crossings, instead coming in from long distances between the common access points. I start out where most other anglers and hunters end their day, so I have the entire middle section of “my” flowages all to myself. Wooded areas can change dramatically from season to season due to home construction, logging and other uses, but a good, soggy wetland will likely not change a whit in several lifetimes.
“Thirty days hath September,” as the saying goes. That’s just about time enough to put the summer gear in storage and get ready for another hunting season. Everything from squirrels to moose will be legal game and preparations are different for each one. Getting ready for a busy hunting season can take up the entire month of September. It’s nearly impossible to participate in every open season every day all fall but it sure can be fun trying!
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