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October is the equivalent of Christmas for Maine’s hardy outdoor types. During this most pleasant of months it is legal to hunt (with the proper permits and licenses) all of our legal game species, which means if you wanted to you could go for bear, moose, deer, turkeys, geese, ducks, grouse, pheasants, quail, woodcock, hares, squirrels, rails and gallinules (eh?), snipe, raccoons, assorted varmints (coyote, woodchuck, porcupine and red squirrels) and, if you want to venture to the coast, sea ducks, brant and assorted “other ducks” as noted in the waterfowl hunting regulations. Good luck getting all that hunting in over the course of one (or even several) days.
What’s most likely is that hunters choose their favorite quarry and make that the target of the month. Big game hunters keep their focus on moose, deer, bear or turkeys and let the small game species slide, but there are contingents of bird, duck and upland game hunters who are more than happy to pursue their critter of choice exclusively for at least a few days at a time before switching to other targets. Considering that all of these species live in Maine it may take some by surprise to find that not all of them are found everywhere in the same habitat. There are certainly many territorial overlaps but if you want to hunt grouse you don’t need a canoe and if you want ducks you won’t need a high-energy bird dog. Mixed bags are certainly possible in a number of circumstances but the most productive hunters tend to specialize, aiming their outdoor skills at a particular species in specific habitat. Even then there is no guarantee for success, which is probably why they call it hunting, not “getting.”
In recent days fall has pounced upon us like a cat on a wind-blown leaf. The hardwoods are turning color almost overnight and temperatures are noticeably cooler despite occasional last gasps of summer. While walking the woods during the last days of September I noticed that I could see my breath at dawn and dusk, and each day that passed brought more color, more coolness and more geese flying overhead. The foliage in the woods is also noticeably thinner as the leaves shrink and begin to fall to the ground. I have not seen the first totally leafless tree yet but there will certainly be a few candidates before the end of the month. There is no sense in pretending it’s not happening – fall is here!
Despite all the options that are available to hunters this month I think I’ll streamline my own plans so I can spend as much time in the woods every day but not the same woods all day. I’ll start out at dawn looking for small game and upland birds in the hardwoods and thickets, which quite honestly is just my way of scouting for deer. During the middle of the day I’ll slide my kayak into a swamp somewhere and go looking for ducks and geese, and then near dusk I’ll pick a spot near an apple orchard and see if I can’t catch a deer or bear coming in to feed. A few of my neighbors have complained about the deer destroying their vegetable and flower gardens, and two apiary operators have asked me to do something about bears raiding their honey supply. Truth be known, most of this activity occurs after dark when hunting is illegal, so the best I can expect to do is leave my scent around the affected areas and hope it keeps the invaders away. Because it’s the time of year when these animals want to put on some winter fat it’s doubtful that my presence is going to alarm them overmuch, but it’s worth a try.
Just being in a place where I know deer and bears have recently been active is reward enough. I learned long ago that you can’t expect to fill all your tags in one day, but going through the motions sure is fun.
Hunting is rewarding in and of itself but I always add to the pleasure by bringing my little stove and tin cup so I can brew some tea while I’m waiting for herds of wild game to come stampeding my way. For many years I used dry tinder (leaves, birch bark, pine needles and other forest duff) to build a quick fire. Later I tried bringing small batches of pre-packaged charcoal (takes too long, not hot enough), but now I bring a tiny backpacker’s stove and a small canister of butane. I can brew tea all week with one can of gas, and the whole process takes just a few minutes. When I plan to stay out all day or when snow comes I can make instant oatmeal, instant soup and similar in-the-cup meals in seconds.
I look forward to my hot beverage breaks during long days in the woods. The process of boiling water and preparing a drink or meal gives me a chance to change my focus and, afterwards, I’m content to sit, watch and pay attention for several hours. Cautionary folks will say that brewing tea or coffee will alert game to my presence but I have never had an issue with that. In fact, one of the biggest bucks I ever shot came by as I was sipping on my freshly-brewed hot chocolate. He was about 8 yards away at eye level yet he never even acknowledged me. I’m sure he was more interested in the big doe that had just walked past me, but if he had any concerns about my tin cup he didn’t show them.
From a hunter’s viewpoint October is the greatest month of all. Every imaginable season is open and conditions are perfect for a great day in the woods. The days are much shorter now, too – less than 12 hours and counting – so there’s no need to regret spending so much time away from more responsible pursuits. I know I’ve never felt guilty about it!
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