Monday, December 9, 2013
By KEN ALLEN
Did someone mention late-summer deer scouting?
Serious whitetail enthusiasts think about scouting or hunting 12 months per year, but in August, these thoughts hit high gear.
Sure, in the eighth month, midday often produces a hot, glaring sun and muggy air, discouraging hunting thoughts, but dawns usually break with cool temperatures that prove perfect for early-morning forays into deer woods to scout for America's king of medium-sized game animals.
These thoughts are particularly true for early risers. We often feel autumn in the air between dawn and sunrise, and yes, a walk in the woods at this time strikes me as heaven.
One stretch of forest with cover, food and water has drawn me for my entire life, a perfect template for what creates a whitetail hot spot.
n 1. The great habitat begins with a mile-long meadow that has open spots of waist-high swale grass interrupted by alder and leatherleaf thickets, a wonderful wetland for deer to hide.
n 2. A steep, mile-long hardwood ridge rises from the west side of the swamp and provides deer with herbaceous forage three seasons of the year and with highly nutritious acorns by late summer. Autumn also produces mushrooms, an underrated deer food in Maine.
n 3. A brook running through this bottomland offers plenty of drinking water, and in rainy years, standing water in the swale and shrub tangles supplies more drinking water while discouraging predators -- like me.
The essential part of this wonderful woodland is this: Peninsulas jut into the meadow from the hardwood ridge, and two large islands in the swale have fir-and-spruce thickets interspersed with hemlock and scattered giant oak trees. Deer bed in the shrub thickets in the swale or in the island black growth. In hunting season, they can eat acorns from nearby oaks.
Long ago, my father took me into this wonderful deer habitat and pointed out to me, a 10-year-old, that these woods were a typical honey hole for deer. He emphasized that a lowland with plenty of cover next to an oak or beech ridge would draw whitetails like a proverbial magnet.
When fair-weather prevails in the statewide bowhunting season for deer and then early in the firearms season, hunters often find these mast-loving animals on hardwoods ridges, foraging three times per day.
• 1. Deer tarry in hardwoods until just before sunrise, when they then head to bedding areas to hide.
• 2. Sunlight also moves deer just before full dark when they leave bedding cover and move toward hardwoods.
• 3. A third visit occurs along toward noon when hunger drives deer into hardwoods to forage on acorns, beechnuts and so forth.
However, intense hunting pressure from humans (and coyotes) changes deer behavior in November. Hunting commotion on hardwood ridges quickly pushes deer into nocturnal habits.
So, by the second week of the season, perspicacious hunters avoid hardwoods and set up on peninsulas poking into the swale meadow, where they can catch early moving deer heading toward the nuts. These animals time their arrival on the ridge for after dark, so hunters stationed between bedding areas and food may get a shot at a deer before shooting time ends.
Taking a stand in hardwoods or on trails between beds and food works well in fair weather and in early season, but in rain or falling snow, nothing beats sneaking around thickets, where deer bed to wait out storms.
When in bedding areas with dense cover, two quiet steps at a time with a long wait between can produce close shots.
It's essential to move quietly, but in brushy spots with debris on the ground, clothes scrape against bushes or feet occasionally crunch stick or leaf litter. When confronted with this problem, good hunters forget being completely quiet and imitate the sound of a sneaking deer with the hope that deer will think a deer is coming. A grunt call helps with this deception, too.
While imitating the sound of a deer, the sneaking hunter hopes that hunter-orange clothing telegraphs to other hunters that it's a human.
On rainy or snowy days, I've walked up on deer that offered ridiculously close shots, proving that it works to imitate the sound of a four-legged animal with sharp hooves.
From the time I was a kid, August has always gotten me excited about the coming deer season, and why not? That golden hunting time is just around the corner now.
Ken Allen can be reached at: