October 23, 2011

Allen Afield: In Maine, deer hunters take what they can get

By Ken Allen

Maine's regular firearms season for deer kicks off on Saturday, and as this long-awaited day nears, many hunters psyche themselves up by reading articles or watching television shows about the sport.

click image to enlarge

A scarce whitetail herd gave rise to an old Maine saying: “If it’s brown, it’s down,” meaning any legal deer is fair game.

Staff file photo

When this state's deer hunters with firearms read a typical how-to or where-to article in a national magazine or particularly watch a hunting show, though, the information seldom applies to how Maine folks hunt whitetails.

Hunters in other Northeastern or Southern states usually sit in tree stands or stay on the ground with bushes or a trunk to break their outline. They often maintain that stationary vigil, waiting for game to saunter by.

This tactic works well in states to the south and west of Maine because of dense whitetail populations per square mile. Sooner or later -- usually sooner -- a hunter on stand spots plenty of deer, tip-toeing past.

For me, a typical deer-hunting day in Maine relies on two tactics:

• Taking a stand for short periods in early morning, noon and before dark -- say for one to two hours.

• Still-hunting from 8 a.m. to noon and for one-plus hours in the afternoon before standing again that last hour before shooting time ends.

My deer hunts often begin in predawn darkness when I take a stand or sit in a tree stand within shooting distance of a game trail and wait until 30 minutes before sunrise, when it's legal to load my firearm. Then, for the first two hours, I hunt as most folks do in other states, but that ends about 8 a.m. for me when boredom takes over. Many Mainers follow a similar regimen.

Then, it's time to still-hunt, an odd term that confuses nonhunters and even some serious hunters. Still-hunting means the hunter is "still" in the process of looking for game animals that he or she cannot see or even know for certain is hiding just ahead.

(On the other hand, if a hunter sneaks toward a deer that he or she has spotted, that's called "stalking," a typical tactic in open country where hunters may see game anywhere from 100 yards to a mile or more away.)

After 8 a.m., Maine hunters like me start poking through woods a slow step or two at a time, looking for deer. It feels good to move after sitting for two hours, which often results in muscles stiffening and cold seeping into the body.

Sooner or later, though, usually around noontime, a slow sneak tires the body because it's like a mild form of mobile yoga. In short, sitting feels ever so good. That regimen lasts an hour or two before I move again.

An hour or more before shooting time ends, most Maine hunters take a stand until shooting time legally closes: exactly 30 minutes after sunset.

Another point about magazine articles and television shows depicting hunts in other states can get me laughing, and it begins like this:

The author or television personality is sitting over a well-used game trail, watching a parade of whitetails pass. The first half-dozen or more have no antlers, but then an 8-pointer shows up. The rack is too small, though, so the hunter waits for a larger-racked buck.

In a Maine hunt, the eight-pointer may be the only deer that passed the stand that day, or for that matter for the next week or two.

A scarce whitetail herd gave rise to an old Maine saying: "If it's brown, it's down." This does not mean hunters shoot at brown patches, but rather that any legal deer -- big or small, antlered or not -- is fair to shoot. In many seasons, the deer I shot was the only one I saw.

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