Being as this is the opening day of Maine’s 2017 firearms season on deer I think it’s only appropriate that I offer some encouragement and advice for eager hunters heading for the whitetail woods this morning. I have been deer hunting in Maine since 1961 and still feel that “can’t wait” sense of urgency as the big season approaches. I still can’t sleep the night before the hunt and invariably toss and turn all night, waking up at least once an hour to be sure that I haven’t overslept.
After 55 years of hunting deer in Maine I’ve managed to figure out that there are only two things that matter when it comes down to brass tacks: Spend more time in the woods and shoot straight when the time comes. I am more aware than most how technology has changed hunting over the last half-century but I also know that hunter success rates have not improved a whit in the interim. I know hunters who literally carry two backpacks full of the latest, coolest gear and gadgets but they don’t kill any more deer than the old-timer (me) who goes afield with nothing more than a rifle, a knife and three cartridges (carried in separate pockets). At the moment of truth it’s not how much gear you have that matters; it is being in the right place at the right time and being able to place your bullet where it will do the most good.
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to tag my Maine buck on the first day of the season a few times but more often than not after the first-week jitters subside it’s a matter of trudging out there, day after day, week after week, even into the last week of the December muzzleloader season, before I get a chance to pull the trigger. In fact, just a few years ago I didn’t see the first deer till the second Saturday of muzzleloader season, this after hunting every day since the beginning of rifle season. I will never say that deer hunting is easy!
Time management is never more important than it is during deer season. Most folks have jobs, school or other responsibilities and can’t go sit in the woods every day, but I know that there are hours here and there that can be channeled into deer hunting if you are willing to make the effort. Most often these extra hours become available in early morning (legal hunting begins one-half hour before sunrise) or in late afternoon (till one-half hour after sunset). But, deer live in the woods ‘round the clock, so if your spare hour happens to be 11 a.m. or 2 p.m., get out there and hunt. You do not have to walk 20 miles back in the woods to shoot a deer; in fact most whitetails are taken within ¼ mile of the road, so keep a few nearby hotspots on your list for those days when time is tight.
Common mistakes hunters make are entering the woods late in the morning, which means they’ve already lost an hour or two of hunting time. Also, many hunters decide to leave the woods well before sunset. Don’t! Stick it out till the bitter end because deer often move at the very last instant, and an instant it all it takes to turn a dull season into a great one.
Equally important is sighting in before you go hunting. Shots at Maine whitetails are difficult to come by and missing one is a hunter’s greatest disappointment. Know that your rifle, shotgun or muzzleloader is dead-on at 25, 50 or 100 yards by spending some time at the range prior to hunting. You want to know that your firearm is shooting accurately. Fifteen minutes of range time is all it takes.
For most .30-caliber deer rifles the computations have not changed in 100 years: Sight in to be dead on at 25 yards and you will be 3 inches high at 100 yards and 3 inches low at 250 yards. This is more than accurate enough for deer hunting in Maine. For other calibers it’s best to shoot at various distances and decide what the limits are for your particular firearm. The same goes for handguns and muzzleloaders, most of which are short-range implements best kept to shots under 150 yards or so. Each caliber performs differently at varying distances. Find out for yourself by heading to the range ahead of time.
Truth be told, very few deer are shot at 100 yards or more, but the potential is there if you hunt farm fields, power lines and the like. On average your Maine deer will be closer than 50 yards away when you pull the trigger, such is the nature of the Maine woods in November. For a hunter using a properly-sighted, scoped rifle, this is a chip shot. I have shot many whitetails that were mere feet away from me and, most times, my target was less than 30 yards out. Longer shots are just not possible in the thick cover where deer like to spend their November days. You can still miss but at least you will know that it was your fault, not the fault of the rifle.
Hunt often, shoot straight – it all sounds so simple, but I guarantee that someone you know will find excuses for not going hunting this month or, even worse, not sight in before they go. Once again the tales of woe will be heard from Kittery to Fort Kent. There are enough deer in Maine to allow one per license holder but between poor attendance and poor shooting a lot of those deer will be around to challenge us again next year. Beat the odds by avoiding the two most common excuses hunters have for failing to get their deer: “I didn’t have time to go,” and, “I missed!”