Whitetail hunters have two huge strikes against them for the next 1-1/2 weeks, and here’s why:
• All the hunting pressure during opening week pushes deer into more nocturnal patterns by this second week coming up, when these wily creatures hunker in thickets in daylight and wait until night to move.
• This surreptitious behavior increases until mid-month when breeding hits full blast from Nov. 13-15 through Nov. 23-25. In short, the vast majority of does start procreating at the middle or end of next week, and this heavy activity lasts 10 days. It moves deer around plenty in daylight, so hunters are more apt to see them.
Folks often call this 10-day period “the rut,” a misleading term. Bucks are in rut much longer and can breed from October through early December and, indeed, they do just that. Older does may breed in October and young females in early December, but it’s a minority of does for sure. Most mating occurs in the month’s third week.
This coming week, weather will play a role in the harvest. If temperatures drop well below normal and west winds prevail, deer will be moving but it’ll be nothing like next week. However, swirling winds and unseasonably warm weather will devastate the success ratio this week.
What can deer hunters do to increase their success odds right now?
First, serious hunters pay attention to detail and take precautions to eliminate human odor by dressing in clean clothes washed with unscented soap and also applying lures or scent-killers on clothes and body. These steps enable hunters to get closer for a shot, because they have fooled deer into thinking the interloper may be farther away — say 100 yards instead of 50 yards. Whitetails may loiter a tad longer before fleeing the danger.
In addition to washing and using unscented soap, hunters can use a liberal sprinkling of baking soda on the underarms, crotch and feet to lessen malodor.
Also, when hunting around apple orchards, frugal hunters put fresh, sweet cider in a small spray bottle and squirt it onto the bottom of boots and on a hat. (I use a bottle originally designed for sample hairspray.) If corn ranks as the forage of the day, rub a husked ear of corn on the boots and hat.
This cider-corn topic brings up a quick digression. Fifteen years ago, I often freelanced for a national deer magazine and mentioned these tips about scents in an article. This earned me a quick, curt phone call from the editor, who said, “Allen, we’re trying to sell our advertisers’ products here.”
Two common deer-hunting questions really pop up this week.
• Do we forget taking a stand when deer seldom move in daylight?
• Should we carefully still-hunt through bedding areas — those lowland black-growth or side-hill thickets where deer lie through the day?
My advice sounds like a politician’s answer: Do both. In weather conditions that encourage deer to move, I still-hunt in known bedding areas, taking two steps and waiting one to five minutes before taking two more. With the two-step routine without sitting down once, it may take a half-day to go the length of two or three football fields. It’s important with this tactic to see lots of tracks and droppings to keep the concentration level high.
That’s when doing both still-hunting and taking a stand helps. It truly is tiring to walk ultra slowly, placing the foot down without making a sound. It’s so fatiguing that when attention lags and leg muscles tire, hunters should occasionally take a stand in a comfortable spot and rest a while before taking up the slow walk again.
Here’s a quick point, too. Sometimes, dry leaves cover the ground, so each step sounds like walking in Corn Flakes on a hardwood floor. When that happens, remember that deer also sound loud in such conditions. So, continue the two-step stroll, trying not to break ground twigs and branches. In short, an experienced hunter sounds like a walking deer.
And never forget another point. Other hunters may be poking around the area, and they’ll kick up a deer that might run by. In dry weather a careful hunter will hear it coming and be ready. It has happened to all of us.
I’ve shot plenty of deer on days with bad hunting conditions, after someone else has inadvertently bumped a deer by me. Twice, it has really angered them, but most of them appeared to be happy for me. Often I hadn’t seen them in years, so it was a reunion with an old friend or acquaintance.
Lady luck helps for sure, and that’s what we’ll rely on this week. We’ll pay attention to hunting details and spend as much time as possible in the woods, knowing that skill and perseverance often generate luck. (And we also know the last quarter on Nov. 6 isn’t a bad moon phase for hunters, either.)
That’s what this second week is all about in Maine, trying to do everything right and praying for luck.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at: