The opening of deer season across much of the U.S. ranks as an unofficial holiday for hunting families, and in the past at least one state closed schools on that day. Yup, whitetails meant that much to the culture.

In Maine, the regular firearms deer season began yesterday for residents and will kick off Monday for non-residents. Both groups can hunt deer through Nov. 24, a four-week period that ends the Saturday after Thanksgiving every year.

Bowhunters and muzzle-loaders have separate seasons: This year, the statewide archery hunt ran Sept. 27 to Oct. 26, and muzzle-loaders in the bottom two-thirds of the state have from Nov. 26 to Dec. 8. In the northern third of the state, the black-powder hunt is Nov. 26 to Dec. 1. Neither primitive sport attracts huge numbers of participants.

Bedded deer hiding in cover are less vulnerable, so success strategies depend on hunters noting weather, time of day and recent hunting pressure, the latter usually not a consideration until multitudes of hunters in the centerfire season alter deer behavior. That usually takes a few days.

Weather conditions such as air temperature, wind direction, rain, snow or passing fronts influence deer movement, or lack of it. When deer are traveling, wise hunters take a stand and wait for them to walk by. When whitetails bed down, folks in the know quietly poke around resting areas.

Let’s briefly examine the effect of temperature variations:

Deer hunker down in normal thermometer readings, except in low light at dawn and evening and at noon when hunger drives them to eat.

Unseasonably hot weather makes whitetails hold still through the heat of day, waiting for the cool of night before ambling around.

Unseasonably chilly weather pushes deer plenty to feed and breed, the latter from around Nov. 13-15 to Nov. 23-25.

Temperature offers yet another variable, too, dependent on the specific time of year. This weekend, 42 degrees would be way below normal in central Maine, so deer would scamper around, but they would consider 42 degrees during Thanksgiving week as wicked hot.

Two wind patterns generate deer movement in Maine — air moving from the west or southeast.

Westerly winds come after a storm has held deer inactive in thickets, so deer feed more then, requiring increased walking. (“West” also means southwest and northwest, depending on the area.)

A south to southeast wind often blows before a rain, so deer feed on those winds. After consuming their fill, they hunker in thickets with proper thermals, where they can hide and scent approaching predators.

Deer hide in swirling winds, but they feel more secure in a steady breeze; consequently, they’re apt to wander freely — a great tip for hunters to take a stand then.

Deer have four-chambered stomachs, and hunters who know how these wily animals use this complex digestive system can plan a hunting strategy to suit weather patterns.

For example, this stomach allows them to eat large quantities in a short time, so after pigging out, they lie in lowlands or side-hill thickets to chew their regurgitated cud, necessary to digest the coarse forage. Cellulose and lignin require more work to break down.

A front bringing in prolonged weather — say, a cold snap for several days — can keep deer moving more than usual. This biological necessity to walk more in frigid temperatures keeps tagging stations busy.

With that knowledge, good hunters begin to tailor their hunting strategy to match what deer are probably doing. Knowing the above options helps form a strategy tailored to the day.

For example, suppose the thermometer on a Saturday has dropped 10 to 12 degrees below normal, a steady breeze wafts from the west and the day lies ahead — great conditions for taking a stand along a busy game trail and waiting quietly without fidgeting.

Hunter traffic in the woods picks up on Saturday, and a constant wind from one direction allows deer to feel more comfortable when moving. They can smell what lies ahead of them — a great day to tip a deer over from a comfortable seat on a stump or fallen tree, downwind of a trail.

A rainy day with steady wind or breeze lends itself to still-hunting through a thicket where deer bed. The wet ground and wind drown out sound, and many times in life I have walked up ridiculously close to deer, so close that it eventually got me into bowhunting.

In November, deer love poking around mast ridges, eating acorns. During years with scarce nuts, they eat herbaceous plants and mushrooms in transition areas between hardwoods and softwoods.

When deer move during steady breezes, they feed in food-rich areas, particularly in early dawn and late afternoon. When resting after feeding, deer get into hard-to-reach spots with lots of cover to hide and rest. Successful hunters get into these bedding areas when the deer do.

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

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