Come mid-September it’s time to do the autumn shuffle, a more or less choreographed dance that includes saying goodbye to summer and welcoming the approach of fall. I’ve often mentioned here that chores are not at the top of my list at any time of year, but there’s no avoiding them as September gives way to October – not if I plan to spend more time in the woods over the hunting season.
September is a good time to put away the summer tools, mow the lawn one last time and take care of what’s left of the garden. I have found that the best way for me to accomplish all this, while getting in a few hours of deer, bear or goose hunting in between, is to allot the first and last hours of the day for hunting and the middle of the day for peripheral pursuits. As it is I tend to stay in the woods longer than planned and often end the day a little bit earlier than scheduled but somehow the necessaries always end up getting done.
I find that I can accomplish a lot more work if I get to it and stay with it; the challenge is coming out of the woods at a reasonable hour, changing into work garb and spending those midday hours on projects I know I’m not going to bother with once the sun starts heading back down in late afternoon. I know I have to get this stuff done and I know I don’t like doing it but if I stay out of the house, ignore the phone and stick to my plan I can get enough work done to end the day on a satisfied note.
My plan is a simple one: I hunt deer, bear or geese first thing in the morning and, around 9 a.m., when the wind picks up and critter activity winds down, I head home to face the day’s chores.
Around 4 p.m. drop the rakes and shovels, head back into the woods and see if I can find a deer or bear to shoot at. During periods of bad weather I may opt to spend the hour before sunset near a lake or pond where I know geese have been loafing all day. Just before sunset the resident flock will take wing and head generally south or at least to another lake or pond to roost for the night, giving me at least a ghost of a chance to score with just minutes of legal shooting time left.
I know, I could just spend several full days getting the chores done and finishing my preparations for winter but, seriously, what fun is there in that? The woods and waters of Maine have tugged at my soul for over 50 years, and when cool weather strikes it’s all I can do to keep from spending every waking moment out there somewhere, looking for game or hoping to see something worth talking about. I know for a fact that you can’t experience the woods if you are not out there, and I don’t want to miss a moment, especially not at this time of year. The critters have their own sense of need in September, either fattening up for winter or preparing to migrate south, so they are as busy as I am at this hectic, almost frantic, time of year.
I will admit that, most days, I don’t see any deer or bears, and I count it lucky if I hear a flock of geese honking in the distance, but every so often my plan works out perfectly – even more reason to spend more time in the woods rather than in the shed or barn.
For example, this week there was an extremely short spell of cold, cloudy, windy weather that occurred near sunset. I knew if the geese were flying they’d be moving out a few minutes earlier than usual thanks to the dense cloud cover, so (naturally) I gave up on more meaningful chores and headed for the brushy shoreline of the nearest lake and waited there in hopes that a few geese would pass by.
On average I may see one flock of geese per week, especially in September, and maybe twice as many in October. This day, however, I saw and heard nothing right up till 7 p.m. This meant I had about 11 minutes of legal shooting time. I have learned over the decades that it’s best to sit tight until the very end because, even without a watch, waterfowl seem to know exactly when sunset occurs and won’t leave the water till just a minute or two beforehand – close, but legal nonetheless.
Sure enough, thanks to the cold wind and clouds the birds decided to make their move a bit earlier than usual, and, thanks to my aversion to chores, I was there to see it happen. I heard the flock of geese several minutes before they left the water and headed straight for me, on a direct line to another lake that lies about five miles to the west.
I knew if the birds came over me I’d have a window of about 50 yards to see, select and shoot a goose before the flock disappeared over the tall oaks behind me. With shotgun at the ready I waited to see which way the birds would go and wondered if they’d be low enough to provide me with the shot I was hoping for. It all happens in an instant at the very last second, which is what makes this kind of pass-shooting so exciting.
I hoped but honestly did not expect the flock to come in low and straight overhead (that would be too perfect) but that’s exactly what they did. A dozen geese in a tight V-formation appeared right over the tree tops, giving me one wide-open, clear shot at about 35 yards. I touched the trigger and one goose folded up and tumbled into the pond. I had to scramble to retrieve the bird before the wind pushed him over deep water, but at exactly 7:11 p.m., legal sunset, I was standing on shore with my first September goose in hand.
If only yard work felt so good!