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We’re just one week away from the opening day of Maine’s 2013 firearms season on deer. I’m as excited about it now as I was in 1962 when I spent a week in H. Stanley Floyd’s Bears Paw Camp in the wilds of LaGrange. Few folks hunting today remember that Maine’s rifle season on deer opened Oct. 15 back then, even earlier back in the 1950s. It’s a good thing because my entire hunting outfit consisted of blue jeans, rubber boots, a flannel shirt and an orange hat. Too slow, numb or dumb to know better, I spent all day in the woods armed with nothing but a shotgun, a handful of paper shotshells, and knife and a rope. Funny thing is I tagged plenty of deer, with a string of successful seasons interrupted only by my stint in the U.S. Marine Corps. My gear list didn’t change till the mid-1980s, when such things as camo, tree stands, deer calls, scents, lures and other fun stuff emerged as must-have necessities.
Nowadays I have much better (and warmer!) clothes, a pack filled with water and snacks and 50 years of experience, but when I set out on opening day I’ll still have the basics – rifle, ammo, knife and rope. Truth is (and the late Larry Benoit, deer hunter extraordinaire agreed), that’s all you need to bring home a big buck. Time in the woods, of course, is the only other important requirement.
Each year at this time I try to help new and novice hunters get their deer, offering them the tricks of the trade derived from half a century of enthusiastic attendance. First on the list is sighting in. This must be done prior to hunting because it tells you whether your rifle is on target or not and gives you a chance to correct it before that big buck walks into your sights. Everywhere I go (and I’ve hunted deer in states East and West plus Canada and Mexico) hunters fail to sight in, get a shot at a great buck . . . and miss, sometimes several times. Excuses are endless but the bottom line was the same: They failed to sight in before the hunt. It doesn’t matter if your rifle was dead on last year, last month or last week; sight it in again just to be sure, and then coddle that rifle from now till the end of the season. If it’s dropped, bumped or thumped at any time, sight in again. You aren’t likely to see many deer this season but you want you rifle to be on target when your big opportunity arrives. I’ve no doubt that hunters reading this column will fail to sight in and some of them will not tag a deer because of it. Don’t be one of them!
The other major factor in hunters’ failure to succeed during the gun season is lack of enthusiasm. One must spend time in the woods during the season because that is where the deer are. It may be cold, wet, raining, windy, and cloudy or even snowing, but none of those are valid excuses for missing a day afield. The deer are out there every day no matter what the weather may be, and to increase your odds for success you must be out there, too. I’ll admit that I have spent some cold, wet, miserable days sitting on a cold rock or soaking wet log hoping a deer might come but, and often times they have. Not every time, of course, but often enough that I learned to get out there and stay put. If you’ve picked a good spot a deer may wander past at first light, last light or anywhere in between, but you won’t get a shot at him if you’re not there. Go into the woods as often as possible, stay as long as you can and keep doing that till you score. There’s really no better way to have a successful season.
One important error most hunters make is coming out of the woods at 11 a.m. for “lunch,” which in many cases lingers on till 3 p.m. or later. That’s four hours of lost time every day, or 96 hours of hunting time that can never be recovered. That’s equivalent to about two weeks of hunting time! The simplest solution is to stay put; still-hunt or find a good spot and sit, but stay all day. In my early days of hunting I’d just suffer through the entire day without food or water, but now I have a small pack stove that I use to brew tea or coffee, oatmeal or soup; water and a variety of small (and quiet!) snacks. I may spend the morning in one spot, have lunch and then move to another for the afternoon, but when I head into the woods before dawn I plan on staying there will the end of legal shooting time. Over the years I’ve shot all kinds of deer at dawn and dusk, but just as many were tagged between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. thanks to other hunters who pushed them my way as they went back to camp for a siesta.
Bring a book, a word puzzle or whatever it takes to keep your mind occupied during the midday period, but stay put rather than leaving the woods and returning later in the day. Certainly anything can happen (some hunters do bump into deer on their way out for lunch) but the odds are more in favor of the hunter who remains vigilant on stand throughout the day.
After five decades of successful deer hunting I am not able to trust to luck anymore; I have to go with the highest odds for success. My streak of “beginner’s luck” ran out long ago, yet I still manage to tag my share of deer because I stick to what works: Sight in, stay in, stay put. There are plenty of ways to hunt deer but the basics are hard to beat!
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