Another Maine deer season kicked off yesterday with the start of the expanded archery season, giving bow hunters in some parts of the state a first shot at what we hope is a deer herd on the mend.
For many, the hunt actually began several weeks ago. There is a direct correlation between scouting and success. The more you study the habits of your quarry, the more successful you should be at bringing home organic protein to feed your family. And the task continues, even after the season has begun.
One of the easiest ways to scout is simply driving the back roads looking for deer at the time of day they are most active. Deer are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. However, length and level of activity vary throughout the seasons.
In late summer and early fall, temperatures are warm and daytime activity is often compressed into a fairly narrow window, particularly at dawn. That’s why dusk is a more productive time to scout and hunt this time of year. That will change.
The efficacy of roadside scouting also depends on habitat. Obviously, it’s much more productive in areas where deer are visible feeding in the open. In more wooded areas, hunters must rely more on chance sightings or signs they encounter in the woods, like fresh trails and droppings.
Or they can use scouting cameras, which let hunters more closely monitor deer movements while reducing their own impact and interference.
But all that scouting will only get you so far. You see, things are about to change rapidly and in a big way for the whitetail.
Through a series of physiological steps, a reduction in daylight triggers an increase in testosterone in bucks. Blood flow to the antlers is cut off and their soft velvet coating dies and peels off. It was once widely believed bucks rubbed trees to rid their antlers of velvet. Whether that’s actually the case, or whether it’s merely coincidental, we don’t know. But we do know this is when they start rubbing.
There are several types of rubs. Some are random. A buck, possibly shedding velvet or merely feeling a surge of testosterone thrashes whatever appropriately sized pole happens to be within rubbing distance at the time. As the fall progresses, bucks begin challenging one another, and one way is to display their fitness and aggression by rubbing. These display rubs also show up randomly, and like the earlier rubs, are of little use to the hunter.
However, bucks also begin rubbing trees in a more routine pattern. On these rubs, they’ll deposit scent from forehead and possibly other facial glands, signaling their identity, fitness and dominance. These signpost rubs are often used my multiple deer, and from one year to the next, and can be of considerable utility to the hunter because they show regular travel routes.
Finding fresh rubs is important because the value of the pre-season scouting you’ve done up to this point is diminishing rapidly.
Those shortening days that triggered shedding of velvet also sent a signal to both bucks and does that it’s time to change their diet. The high-protein diet bucks needed to grow antlers and does needed to feed nursing fawns is no longer necessary. Instead, it’s time to lay on fat before the onset of winter, which requires a diet rich in carbohydrates. In some cases, deer may find these foods in the same areas, but often they shift to different feeding areas.
Hunters need to shift as well. Forget the clover fields and move to the oak ridges and wild apples. Mast, both hard and soft, will be the most sought-after foods now. Or if you live in farm country, hunt the edges of cornfields. Bucks and does alike will be seeking the most efficient means of putting on pounds right now.
Even that routine won’t last. Does will continue looking for food, but as the days grow even shorter, and testosterone levels reach their peak, bucks will be seeking does. It starts with them scraping away earth and depositing a rank, musty stew of information, then escalates to more daytime wandering, and peaks with flat-out chasing.
We’ve still got another month or so before that happens though. Meanwhile, keep hunting, and scouting.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: