This week we continue to offer fool-proof tips and strategies for deer hunters in an effort to ensure that every sportsman in the Rolling Thunder’s coverage area fills his tag this season.
Chances are that the deer breeding season (known as “the rut”) is still in full swing this week, which is good news for hunters. Randy bucks are still chasing receptive does night and day, which means deer will be moving about frequently, if not erratically, as the relentless males continue to pursue the not-so-interested females. Things will begin to fizzle toward the end of November, making hunting that much more challenging, but for now the deer woods remain a bee-hive of activity. A second rut or estrous period will occur in December but by then the hunting season will have ended and the task of winter survival begins.
Right now the hunter’s best bet is to spend more time in areas where deer numbers are highest. The leaves will be down and most summer-related food sources will have been depleted, cut or plowed under. It is usually folly to hunt deer in open fields, bare hardwoods and other areas that were more productive back in early October. Now the animals realize that they are more vulnerable to predation (and hunters) if they linger in open cover during the day, so they spend most of their daylight hours in dense cover that provides shelter and escape routes from now till it’s time for them to enter their winter yarding areas.
Although deer can be found anywhere at any given time the hunter’s best option is to go where they are most abundant. At this time of the season there are two best options: high ridges or lowland swamps. The high ground is usually where the most abundant food sources will be (beech nuts, acorns and other mast) while the wetland areas provide excellent cover and a wider variety of browse. I have killed deer in both cover types and try to spend part of every mid-November day in one or the other. When I have all day to hunt I’ll start out at dawn poking around near the swamps, where deer will likely be bedding during the day. Around noontime I’ll head for the high ground and hope to catch a buck roaming the ridge tops in search of does.
In either case it is best to get there early and stay till the end of legal shooting time. Deer become increasingly nocturnal at this time of year and are most active in the hour or so before sunrise and near sunset. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen deer in the first few minutes of the day and I’ve also tagged many a roaming buck that showed up in that twilight period just after sunset.
There have been many, many times when I was cold, hungry, bored or due to be somewhere else when I stuck it out to the last minute and scored, so I highly recommend that hunters stay put till one-half hour after sunset. Granted, this means you’ll be dressing your deer in the dark, dragging him out with flashlights and most likely will be late to one event or another but in the long run all that matters is you got your deer, and that supersedes just about anything else in life that I can think of. Once your deer is on the ground the game is over for this season, so savor the moment and make the most of it. “Real life” can wait till morning.
The trick to successful mid-November hunting is to dress for the weather (expect a nice variety of cold, possibly wet and windy conditions) and bring enough supplies to make your stay in the woods as comfortable as possible. I have carried a small butane stove into the woods with me for decades so I can enjoy a hot cup of tea, coffee or soup while I’m waiting for my big buck to arrive. Sandwiches are always good to have on hand, as are granola bars, apples and other snacks. I often carry a small water purification unit, which is much lighter and more portable than bottles of water. I simply pump up enough water to fill my tin cup and bring it to a boil on my stove.
Maine is one of the wettest states in the country, with lakes, ponds, brooks, streams, bogs and wet holes galore. If you can’t find a puddle of water within 100 yards you are probably not in Maine! My water pump can purify the water out of the muddiest puddle with just a few turns of the handle, so I can pretty much have tea, coffee or hot chocolate any time I choose.
Of course, all this moving around should be done during periods of deer inactivity – roughly from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Rest up, have a drink, eat a sandwich, but finish up and be on high alert during the busiest first and last hours of the day.
One final, important element of mid-November deer hunting to consider is the wind. Because those big bucks continue roaming the woods in search of receptive does it makes sense that they will be running into the wind with their nose to the ground. They are working hard to catch the scent of a female in heat and often seem to have their noses buried in the leaves, so intent are they on finding a mate.
This is why it’s a good idea to set up in a place where the hunter can take advantage of the prevailing wind. If you sit where the wind will carry your scent to approaching deer it only makes sense that they will detect and avoid you, often without being seen. Instead, pick a spot that is 50 to 100 yards above or below the wind stream. Watch an area where the breeze is blowing from the left or right and focus on that downwind side. Then, just sit tight and wait. It’s as simple as that!