One appeal of Maine deer hunting involves memories of triumph and despair, superb weather and foul, and all the typical pluses and minuses that run through a lifetime of autumns. My decades in this unpredictable sport have produced so many delightful times that from Day 1 it was easy to hop from bed well before dawn’s first gray light to trek afield to reach a stand before pale yellow or red touched the very edge of the horizon.

In my youth, Maine’s regular firearms deer season ran all November, and on my very first opening day (I was 10 years old) not even a pelting rain could dampen my enthusiasm. I had waited at least five or six years for that moment to join the adults on the hunt.

Most of my family hunted deer, and on the first dawn my Aunt Lucille Norton took me into the woods while my parents and cousins had already taken stands deeper in the forests beyond us. In those days, deer driving was legal but we weren’t driving to predetermined stands – just hoping to bump and move them in any direction. As the adage goes, “A moving deer is a vulnerable deer.”

Movie-star looks blessed my aunt so in a red hunting coat and cap with a visor she looked dressed for one of those short 1950s video clips intended to show a star as a regular person.

We entered the woods south of Route 105 in Windsor and soon jumped a doe toward the west without seeing even a flag, but we noted the ultra-fresh tracks poked into wet, mixed-growth leaves. The print outlines were still sharply defined and headed east, before we had turned her into the opposite direction to run with the wind.

My aunt whispered that we should follow the tracks one or two cautious steps at a time, and tracking proved to be high excitement for a boy. We both maintained chiseled concentration, and the doe soon turned east again to get her nose into the wind – and she got away.

At lunch in my grandmother’s kitchen I couldn’t wait to return to the woods. Tracking a live deer just minutes ahead provided a perfect deer-hunting introduction, and the key part of my memory was the chance of success within scant minutes of entering the woods. No one spotted or shot a deer that morning, but the outing had hooked one boy on the sport.

Thirty years later, on opening day in hard rain, my late uncle Ray Barrows and I were still-hunting near the area where my Aunt Lucille and I had tracked the doe. Ray was poking around a quarter-mile west of me and jumped a doe that ran east straight toward me with her nose into the wind. I had heard nothing but the steady “shhh” of the downpour.

The doe silently burst over a ridge 30 yards above me and nearly ran into me within seconds. Three feet away, she veered to my left and missed me by two feet.

We were so close that I could have easily shot her. That was opening day of the first year with the any-deer permit lottery, though, and I had no antler-less-deer permit.

The previous year I had shot an opening-morning 8-pointer nearly within sight of this spot.

Until I saw the 8-point rack at the State of Maine Sportsman’s Show in Augusta (a world record at the time), my buck had the largest 8-pointer that I had ever seen. Granted, my antlers could have easily fit inside the record, but my rack was large all right.

Another year on a deer-hunting Saturday, I was on crutches and in pain, so I sat near the road on a granite rock in a small, abandoned pasture edging a dense, scrub-pine thicket. My cousin Rod Barrows was hunting north of me, and later we would meet at my vehicle.

Later, a crotch-horn heading west sneaked silently between the pasture and pines. A guy on crutches doesn’t wait for a trophy so I dropped the little buck with one shot from my .30-06.

Soon, Keith Sproul strolled up from the east and said that he had jumped the little deer onto me. He was a trifle dejected and said that he had hunted that entire week during his vacation and had done poorly – no surprise. The deer herd was way down. He wasn’t bitter – just bathing in the irony.

These stories and dozens like them create folklore in landscapes that give backwoods corners an oral history. When I walk through woods near my boyhood home, each knoll, ridge and swamp has a story of successes and failures that remind me of my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends. In my mind, I can see them all who hunted those woods – a good memory filled with longings for a past that is gone.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

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