In late March, nearly 30 years ago, at the annual State of Maine Sportsman’s Show, I met Val Marquez of Shapleigh, who immediately impressed me as a deer hunter.

Through the winter and early spring, Marquez was scouting deer around his home while people like me were thinking about open-water fishing, fishing and more fishing.

In those years when the open-water fishing season started on April Fool’s Day, I awaited that date with great anticipation and didn’t think about deer hunting until late summer, but Marquez was already at it.

Anyone who scouted deer 12 months a year struck me as an ultra-serious whitetail hunter, and in fact, Marquez was the first person in my circle of acquaintances to follow that regimen. Some folks talk the talk, but he walked it, too.

Besides scouting, Marquez also built his own bows and arrows, and down through the years, he occasionally shot deer while still-hunting with a hand-built stick bow — an amazing feat.

“Still-hunting” means to sneak through the woods rather than sitting in a tree stand or ground blind. By sneaking along, Marquez had the skills and patience to get close enough for a shot.

How close?

The effective range of a stick bow is 20 yards or less. At that range, an ineffective human nose could smell a deer if the wind blew from a deer to the hunter, particularly on a lowery day. That’s close.

Scouting as soon as snow melts has a practical value, too. The previous autumn, snow often falls on deer scrapes and tracked-up game trails and preserves these signs until spring melt and rain erase them. In short, a walk in the woods in late March or early April gives a scouter a picture of deer activity the previous fall.

Hunters can also check out what foods hold deer in an area, beginning with checking browse such as red-maple shoots in spring as soon as deer switch from conifers to other forage. The careful eye of a scouter can look at snipped-off tender buds.

When an area has lots of browse in the form of saplings growing in the vicinity of mast trees such as oak and beech, scouters know that it can support whitetails through three seasons.

Herbaceous greens and mushrooms round out the smorgasbord of fall foods, in addition to acorns and beechnuts, all excellent forage to fatten for winter.

If a large enough canopy of conifers offers winter cover, then hunters know they have a gold mine for their sport — a four-season forest.

Western hunters look for water as an important consideration to hold game animals in an area, but in Maine, water lies just about everywhere, which reminds me of a bear hunt with Marquez back in the mid-1980s.

One September, I was standing on a hardwood ridge with my bow when a small buck walked by about 70 yards away. The season then didn’t open for deer until Oct. 1, so it was just a game of watching the little guy.

The deer had stopped and pawed the ground a little and looked as if he were feeding before wandering out of sight. Later, out of curiosity, I walked over and found a small spring seep there.

The deer had found a drink on what appeared from the distance to be a dry ridge. Stuff like that sticks in the mind for life.

Scouting 12 months gives hunters an opportunity to catalog deer movement. Trails may work as byways from spring to late fall and others may be more seasonal. Early spring is a good time to decipher fall trails.

Another key factor to check in spring involves buck scrapes.

Wherever hunters find a scrape, I guarantee that within sight of it will be a nearby thicket. Often, prevailing winds blow from the buck’s calling card toward the dense woods.

Bucks and does sneak up on the scrape through the thicket, using their noses, ears and eyes to check for predators. They know the scrape is a vulnerable spot for them, so approach it like a proverbial time bomb.

Wise hunters beat them at their own game, so instead of setting up within sight of the scrape, they get downwind of the trail leading into the thicket and catch them there beyond sight of the scented spot.

Scouting now is fun, too. It’s a good time to walk in the woods, before foliage blooms and visibility can sometimes be measured in the length of football fields.

Also, pesky black flies, mosquitoes and deer flies have yet hatched and walks prove to be a complete joy.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

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