Autumn has a tale to tell, and like every good story there’s a beginning, a middle and an end.

Some folks don’t even recognize early autumn’s arrival. Others measure it with chronological events like Labor Day, the kids’ return to school or the autumnal equinox. Some will sit on the sidelines of a soccer field in a T-shirt and shorts, playing one last round of 18 holes, slipping up the local creek with a fish pole and a dozen crawlers or casting for stripers fattening up before their journey south.

Others, like the deer hunters, are focusing on the first and last hour of daylight in the expanded archery zones while waterfowlers try to trim the Canada goose population. A few may even seek more eclectic wingshooting in the way of snipe and rails. And some will try more traditional endeavors like bears over bait.

Temperatures are typically warm, except for a few cold hours at the beginning and end of the hunting day. Mosquitoes and black flies still rule the woods and swamps, and the forest canopy carries a dense green foliage. But in the bottoms and swamp margins, red maple leaves are already hinting at the changes to come.

Up north the pace of change picks up. Leaves are turning color. Frosts come more regularly. The moose rut is beginning. One day the morning stillness is broken by the deep, gutteral grunts of a pair of bellicose bulls challenging each other for the breeding rights to a cow and signaling the beginning of the end to early autumn.

Mid-autumn is what most folks visualize when they think of fall. Green is gone from deciduous trees and their leaves now iridesce with an array of reds, yellows and oranges. Frosts are nightly and deeper, replacing the dawn dew with a hoary coating of crystals. These are the days that stir a hunter’s blood and offer the most variety.

You could spend a morning in the marsh shooting black ducks, mallards and woodies, and the afternoon trudging through alder runs and aspen ridges for grouse and woodcock. In between, or instead, you could try to break up a fall flock of turkeys, then lure them back in with an assembly call or some plaintive kee-kee-runs.

Or you might opt for an afternoon in a bow stand with the archery season for deer now open statewide. Cold weather has stirred the deer into moving later in the morning and earlier in the afternoon as they suddenly recognize the urgency of laying on calories before winter. Peak breeding is still a few weeks off but the rut has begun with bucks opening and tending their scrapes and searching for an early doe.

One morning you’ll walk out in the woods and the air will feel colder. The duck pond will be covered with skim ice. The ground, nearly white with frost, will crunch under your feet. A brisk, dry northwest wind will blow through, shaking trees and sending crimson maple leaves tumbling in torrents. In just a few days the branches will be bare. The woods and the season will seem different.

Late autumn is a cold and colorless time. Most of the leaves have fallen and what few remain are the same pale beige as those that lie on the forest floor. Snow will fall soon, if it hasn’t already, and then will accumulate. The ponds are frozen and the puddle ducks have moved to the coast or left for southern climes. The woodcock, snipe and rails are also gone, and the turkeys are bunching up around dairy farms and backyard bird feeders.

The 11th month, which came in with cold nights, warm days and rain, now offers only cold, deep bone-biting cold, and snow. The whitetail rut and the regular firearms season are both peaking, and more hunters are in the woods than any other time of the year. Success will bring an early end to the season for some while others will continue through this season and into the next. December brings a last chance at whitetails in the muzzleloader season, and a transition from fall to winter.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]