September can be a busy month for Maine’s hunters. The bear hunting season is well underway and we’re two days into the Expanded Archery Deer season, in which bowhunters may seek their winter venison supply generally east of Interstate Route 95. The area open to September deer hunting encompasses nearly 5,000 square miles, which seems like a lot of open space, but there is a caveat to all this. Within those 5,000 square miles are thousands of privately-owned lands, subdivisions, cities and towns where finding a place to hunt is often more difficult than finding a deer to shoot at. The intent and purposes of the Expanded Archery Deer Season is to reduce the number of “nuisance” deer in the zone, whitetails that have developed a taste for fine shrubbery, fruit trees and ornamental plants (hostas are a particular favorite). Most of my neighbors have hostas and most of those hostas have been or will be nibbled down to ground level at some point this fall, which is one reason I don’t have any. It can be quite frustrating to go through the effort and expense of establishing plants that the deer are going to come in and eat. I have trouble enough with my strawberries, raspberries and fruit trees. At least gardeners in the Expanded Archery Zone can take revenge, but that’s not the case west of the interstate. I keep my garden guarded with knee-high stockings filled with Milorgonite, which keeps the deer away year-round.
Also going on this month is Maine’s early goose-hunting season, yet another chance for lakeside camp owners to even the odds on these abundant, lawn-ruining pests. One of my friends who lives on the water goes out twice daily with his dog just to keep the birds off his well-tended grass. In the early season (which runs through Sept. 30) a hunter can shoot 10 geese per day, which should be enough to whittle down anyone’s backyard pest population. Geese are excellent eating, by the way, and plenty of tasty recipes can be found on the Internet.
Being a landowner is not quite enough to allow anyone to hunt September geese in Maine. In addition to a valid hunting license one must also possess a state waterfowl stamp ($7) and a federal duck stamp ($25), but from that point on you can shoot 10 birds per day as long as you don’t go over the 20-goose possession limit. Considering that the average “resident” Canada goose weighs about 5 pounds, that’s a lot of goose meat. Kill a limit of goose, bear and deer this month and your freezer will be full before the first hard frost.
I have hunted “nuisance” September geese in many states along the Atlantic Flyway, always in an effort to reduce the number of birds flocking to parks, beaches and private lawns where they can make a considerable mess of things. On one such controlled hunt each applicant was literally assigned to a picnic table at a local state park, where geese had become so numerous they were flying straight into the park and then stationing themselves around the picnic tables hoping for a handout from summertime vacationers. It was not a particularly sporting endeavor, and I did not apply a second time, but for the sake of conservation I did my part and was in and out of the park with my limit of three geese in hand in 10 minutes. It was a weird experience from a hunting standpoint but the public was behind the effort and everyone seemed thrilled to see all the hunters leaving with their birds.
If the goose population in Maine continues to grow we may well see similar “hunts” here as well. It’s not well publicized but when geese become a problem on developed lakes and ponds the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife comes in and traps or nets the offending birds and carts them off to other locations where they may be more welcome. Hunting may not be a safe option at some of these locations but there are plenty of waters where a controlled hunt would be a popular (and profitable) alternative.
As is usually the case once hunting season starts it’s nearly impossible to participate in every option while keeping the homestead chores caught up. For sanity’s sake I no longer even try, I just pick one or two “best bets” and do what I can with the time I have available. Because the best hunting is usually near dawn or dusk (who does chores first thing in the morning?), I’ll go out and hunt deer or bear before daylight and then come home to get the necessary yard work out of the way. I’ll head out again in the evening to sit for big game or even geese, which are not a big problem in my area. They do spend time on a nearby river and a few distant ponds, and every so often they’ll fly over the house near sunset and offer a shot from my back deck. That is about as easy as waterfowl hunting can get.
Overall, September is a great time of year for Maine outdoorsmen. Any of these hunts (deer, bear or geese) is relaxing, enjoyable and weather-friendly, and competition will be minimal for at least the next few weeks. Come October the number of hunters afield will continue to increase, the weather will become predictably cooler and the variety of options will increase to the point that a six-day week simply isn’t long enough to get it all in.
Even if your favorite outdoor “sport” is a leisurely hike in the woods, now is the perfect time for it. Cool weather, clear skies, fewer bugs and even fewer tourists mean you will have your corner of the outdoors all to yourself. Consider September the equivalent of a Mainer’s deep breath; a chance to unwind, relax and shake it off. Fall is often touted as the best time of year in Maine – take time to get out there and enjoy it!