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And just like that we’re into the final week of the Maine deer-hunting season. Who would have thought that what began in September would come to an end so quickly? While most folks are concerned with what to spend their money on for Christmas this year, there are still hunters out there who have not fulfilled their wish for a freezer full of venison. It’s most likely that procrastination and lack of opportunity are the most common reasons for not having taken to the woods this fall, but time is running out and excuses are wearing thin. It’s now or never for the 2013 hunting season. Find the time and the enthusiasm to get out there one more time or hang it up for another year.
The advantages of hunting the last week of the season are many. In most of the state hunters are finished for the year, which means muzzleloader enthusiasts will have their choice of hotspots. Plus, the odds of having snow on the ground (excellent for seeing and tracking deer) are highest at this end of the season. A few hours of scouting after a fresh dusting of snow can tell a hunter all he needs to know about where to be in the morning. Some portions of the woods will be devoid of tracks, but other areas (evergreen thickets, swamps and other rough country) will be dotted with fresh prints. A quick adjustment in strategy and positioning can turn a luckless season around, and hunters have a full week to sort through the puzzle.
I am a big fan of swamps and thick evergreen cover, mostly because this is where I’ve found my late-season deer more times than any. Tracks that are in the open fields, croplands and hardwoods are invariably made at night, so hunting those areas during the day is generally futile. Follow those tracks away from the openings and learn where the deer are spending their daylight hours and your odds for success will skyrocket.
Now more than ever time spent in the woods will decide who comes home with a supply of meat for the freezer. Because the days are very short now (only 10 hours by the end of this week), it’s imperative that hunters stay out all day. Pack a few snacks, an apple or sandwich, some water and plan on going for the long haul. Cold days with snow on the ground will make deer more likely to move around at all hours of the day – they don’t take a break for lunch! If you get cold or bored, walk slowly to another vantage point. Do whatever it takes to stay warm and enthusiastic, but don’t be tempted to head for the truck or the sofa – there are few deer shot in those places!
If your weaknesses are cold hands or cold feet, plan ahead by bringing extra hand warmers and socks with you. I carry two sets of both with me into the December woods and, if I get cold enough, will fire up both sets of hand warmers and don two pairs of socks to carry me through the day. Walking for a few minutes or simply changing positions from high ground to low ground could make all the difference. Over the years I’ve taken deer on days when I was sure there were none around. Something tells me to stay put and keep hunting even when the “bad” side of me wants to leave, and more than once I’ve been rewarded for my persistence.
I can say that I’ve been tested by the worst weather Maine has to dish out, particularly during this special muzzleloader season. I can’t count the times I’ve had to sit through cold rain, sleet and blowing snow, all the while wondering what is wrong with me for doing so! Fortunately, I love the woods and can find something appealing about being outdoors even when conditions are more conducive to sitting by the wood stove with a good book. Something makes me feel guilty about not being out there when a hunting season is open, so I go, I stay, I suffer, and I persevere because it’s the only way to fill my tag. There have been times when I came home soaked to the skin, cold and shivering but dragging a nice buck behind me. Success makes it all worthwhile and when it’s over there are great stories to tell, starting with, “I was just about to quit when . . .”
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. This week there will be hardy hunters out there making the most of the time they have available, rain or shine, and many of them will bring home the venison at the end of the day. It’s not over till it’s over and someone is bound to shoot the last deer of the season before “one-half hour after sunset” on Saturday this week. Truth be told, if I could manage it I’d hunt all season and not fill my tag till the last minute of the last day. I’ve done just that several times over my long career in the woods and consider those hunts to be the most memorable of all. Like any hunter, I’d take a big buck on opening day if the opportunity was there but hunting is also important to me; I don’t want it to end too soon. Anticipation is 99 percent of deer hunting and the fever never goes away as long as there’s a chance to see a whitetail. Any gambler understands that it’s always worth another toss of the dice, and December deer hunting is as much a game of chance as any – you can’t win unless you play. For the cost of a muzzleloader hunting license ($13) it’s the cheapest game in town!
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