In general, people tend to denote the passing of time by the four seasons. Hunters, on the other hand, recognize it is often the transitions between the seasons that are of greatest importance. And as we turn the calendar page from November to December we enter a significant transition period between fall and winter.
For many (but not all) deer hunters, the season is over. Firearms hunters represent the bulk of the group and their season ends the Saturday after Thanksgiving. There are far fewer of them, but the deer are still out there and so will be a small contingent of hardy souls who brave the bitter cold armed with muzzleloaders, or bows in the expanded archery zones.
It’s a different game now. Wary whitetails have been chased around for more than a month and their numbers thinned considerably, making them harder to find. Locating concentrated food sources becomes a priority for both hunter and hunted, and a stationary hunter would do well to set up among the oaks or near a well-managed food plot. More restless hunters might do well to pair up and ease through the brush, possibly putting a hiding buck on its feet.
Meanwhile mobile hunters should also have the advantage of snow. Fresh snow means every track is new and at the other end is the animal that made it. The contest becomes following it to the source without being detected.
Regardless of whether tags are filled, a third, smaller faction of deer hunters will switch to lighter caliber weapons and try to match wits with wily predators like coyotes and bobcats. Some will call, others sit over bait stations and some will run hounds. For the latter it is the chase that matters most. But for all, a successful conclusion to the hunt also means there may be a few more deer around next season.
With most of the deer hunters out of the woods, upland bird hunters and their dogs get a chance for some late-season action. Unable to probe their bills into the frozen soil in search of worms, the woodcock have flown south. But grouse remain in their native haunts and the leafless trees afford open shooting.
Upland gunners may find a few remnant pheasants in stocked areas as well. Few of these non-native birds will last the winter, those not falling to the gun will succumb to predators and the elements, so there’s little harm to the population in thinning them now.
Waterfowl and waterfowlers alike are transitioning toward the coast. As smaller ponds and streams ice over, birds move first toward larger inland water bodies and waterways. When those freeze some birds head south while others move to the coast, where blacks and mallards will raft up along rocky shores and tidal marshes.
Meanwhile, the cold weather has also pushed down divers – buffleheads and goldeneyes – along with increasingly larger numbers of eiders and old squaw. Some of the frailer sea ducks – such as scoters – have moved on, but the eiders and diminutive distant cousins will remain in coastal waters through the winter, fattening up on shellfish and crustaceans.
This is not a sport for the faint of heart or ill-prepared wildfowler. Hunters and dogs must be equipped to handle often harsh conditions, but sometimes the coldest temperatures provide the hottest shooting action.
As the month winds on and the calendar marks the official change of seasons, we’ll experience another transition. A few hardy souls will continue to gun the icy ocean waters and predator hunters will ramp up their activity. But a good many sportsmen will hang up the guns and haul out the ice traps and snowmobiles.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: