Another fall hunting season approaches. For some, opening day is a month or more away; for others the season begins in a few weeks. In either case, success more often goes to those who do their homework.
Deer hunting kicks off with the expanded archery season, which begins the Saturday after Labor Day. Deer may still be in their summer mode for the first few weeks, doing much the same as they’re doing now. Bucks are still in bachelor groups and does stick close to their core areas, so recent scouting trips could have immediate benefits. But that will change as the air cools and the leaves fall, so don’t give up on scouting too soon.
The deer season is still six weeks away for statewide bowhunting and more than two months for gun hunters. Much will change between now and then, but if nothing else you can set stands so the deer get used to them, and take stock of the local population.
I start extensively, riding the back roads and watching fields at dusk. Once a few good bucks are located, effort switches to intensive scouting, which at this time of year consists mostly of a quick look for trails and beds, and setting out trail cameras. I’m also looking for good food sources, like apples and acorns.
Soft and hard mast starts falling with the first frost, or with the occasional side effects of a tropical storm or hurricane. Fortunately, we don’t see too many of the latter up here, but their strong winds do create a temporary food glut that the deer will take full advantage of — and you should too.
It’s also a good time to scout waterfowl. This time of year it’s mostly local birds and a few early migrants like blue-winged teal. They’re among the earliest to pass through and many will be gone by the time waterfowl season rolls around. However, they’ll soon be replaced with growing numbers of migrants like green-winged teal, mallards and black ducks.
Here again, food is the key. Ducks and geese are fattening up for their long trek south and they’ll seek the most nutritious foods. That often means emergent vegetation growing in the shallow, marshy margins of rivers, streams and ponds, or the extensive wild rice beds in the larger bays.
Most hunters scout at dawn and dusk, when the birds are most active. Don’t overlook midday scouting as it could show you where ducks hang out during the typically slow midday periods. Grab a fishing pole and a canoe and float the backwaters.
The situation is more imminent for goose hunters. Early season starts in a couple of weeks for resident geese. They’re considered a nuisance by all except hunters, who can take advantage of liberal early-season limits and often more comfortable conditions. You can ride the roads early and late, much as you would scouting for deer, and watch for moving flocks. Or you can float rivers, ponds and lakes, much as you would for ducks.
In fact, you can double your effectiveness by scouting for multiple species at the same time. While scouting for deer, watch the skies for ducks and geese, and the fields for turkeys. If you’re floating a stream, whether actively scouting or merely taking advantage of some fall fishing opportunities, take note of places where deer cross. And don’t be afraid to get out of your canoe and traipse through the alder patches looking for grouse and woodcock.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: