Stan Foye of Pittston was recently talking to me about the pros and cons of running bird dogs during the firearms deer season, and his words made me realize that I had thought about this same topic for years – maybe for decades – without putting enough energy into the subject to arrive at a conclusion. Listening to his words made me realize that modern hunters are definitively changing their attitude about this hunting practice in Maine.

For me, this topic goes back to the 1970s, when most Maine upland-bird hunters were extremely reluctant to take well-trained, valuable bird dogs into the uplands during deer season for fear a hunter would shoot them. The perpetrator of such a heinous crime might think the feather finder was chasing deer or even blast a dog out of pure, evil meanness. Also, a careless hunter might mistake a dog for a game animal. These three reasons were enough to keep a loved bird dog home in the 11th month.

Sure, in the 1970s a reckless bird-dog handler might occasionally take the chance and run a dog or two in November, but it was uncommon. These days, though, more and more hunters talk to me about taking bird dogs out in the firearms deer season, and their reasoning makes sense, mostly that times have changed in the last 40 years.

First, FBI statistics show violent crimes have declined considerably in the last 25 years, despite sensational news stories about gruesome shootings. Folks are less apt to commit a crime these days.

Second, Maine law imposes a mandatory, five-year revocation of a hunting license for shooting a domestic animal – plus criminal charges. And folks know these consequences.

Third, fewer people hunt these days than in my youth, when Maine’s rural highways or side roads always had myriad hunting vehicles parked on the edges. These days, I may spend a morning bicycling on 20 to 25 miles of country roads and not spot one parked truck or car.

Fourth, a fluorescent-orange collar and bell on a bird dog shows the animal is traveling with a handler and not running wild after deer.

Fifth, bird hunters might choose small bird covers that have public roads circling the entire woodland, where a hunter might drive around it and note an absence of vehicles before releasing a bird dog into the woods. Conversely, if dog handlers see a hunting vehicle or multiple ones beside a road, they avoid that spot and go elsewhere.

Readers can add reasons to the list.

Back in the 1970s, I never ran my bird dogs in November, and darned few hunters I knew did – just too chancy. In these more enlightened times, running a bird dog ahead of a handler and companions this month seems safe with the above guidelines – but a caveat. Nothing is 100 percent certain.

Here’s another reason to hunt birds in November. In recent Octobers, temps have risen so much that bird hunting with dogs can be uncomfortable, and this past month really produced warm weather – a record setter. I bicycled on some days, wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. In the old days, pedaling in the 10th month often required tights, turtleneck, long-sleeve shirt and sometimes a down vest.

Most years now, colder weather for hunters doesn’t start until the 11th month, and deer hunters often suggest to me that our firearms season for whitetails should start later – such as mid to late November and run into mid-December to ensure colder weather.

Many Maine hunters enjoy chasing whitetails in the muzzle-loading season, because in the bottom two-thirds of the state, this hunt occurs mostly in the first 10 to 14 days of December when mercury drops and snow is more apt to cover the ground. These two weather patterns influence deer to walk around more, and a moving deer is a vulnerable one. This warming-weather trend is forcing game managers to think more and more about scheduling later seasons.

Hunting and fishing trends shift in this state from year to year or decade to decade, and often we cannot predict them until a public outcry foreshadows the change – like with extending the fall salmonid fishing season. Bird dogs afield in the regular firearms deer season have become common, but this idea changed slowly through the decades.

As hunters look for new experiences, they spread into different directions to take advantage of sports that see lengthening seasons, including grouse, pheasant, gray squirrels and salmonids, thanks to new regulations, weather shifts and hunter attitudes.

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

[email protected]