While I appreciate it, I’ve never been a big fan of muzzleloader season, mostly because my participation means I was unable to fill my tag during the regular firearms season. It’s also different, but I appreciate at least having the opportunity.

One way it differs from the regular firearms season is the deep, unrelenting cold. I’ve experienced cold, sitting in an unheated blind in Saskatchewan from dawn to dusk for five days in temperatures well below zero. Though it sounds cliche, that’s a dry cold up there, and I’ll take it any day over the humid cold of the Maine woods when temperatures soar into the teens.

It’s also a lot quieter. With firearms season passed, far fewer deer are in the woods, and the ones that remain have been well educated in how to avoid humans. You can take some solace in knowing far fewer humans are in the woods now, too, and maybe those deer will return to slightly more normal behavior.

Or maybe they won’t. Their priorities shift as deep snow and bitter cold set in. Earlier, they were aggressively feeding, laying on fat for the coming winter. They’ve accomplished that. Then there was the rut, when bucks traveled farther and wider in search of does. That’s over too, though any does not bred during the first rut will cycle again, offering a brief glimmer of hope for some daytime buck movement.

For the most part, it now becomes more a matter of managing their energy budget. If the deer must burn more calories finding food than they gain by consuming it, they may just lay low, sticking to the protection afforded by thick softwood cover and nibbling on hardwood browse.

Savvy hunters will take note of these things and perhaps modify their approach. Instead of food sources, or those heavily traveled fall trails, think shelter and protection. Look for deer down in the bottoms, in the cedar swamps and hemlock groves where they’ll begin concentrating as winter bears down.

Also remember the sun. It provides warmth, and deer may move up onto south-facing slopes during the day to soak up the solar energy. Those ridges also provide protection from prevailing north and northwest winds, and the deer may move more during warmer periods of the day to reduce energy loss.

The deep snow that drives deer into the thickets provides a benefit to the hunter — it reveals their location. Get out and scout. Follow their trails and look for locations where tracks and fresh sign become concentrated. With fewer hunters in the woods, deer will be more likely to remain close to these areas.

Above all, don’t give up. Each year, we harvest less than a quarter of the standing deer herd. That means plenty of deer remain during the muzzleloader season.

It’s cold, they’re moving a lot less but if you have the mettle there’s always hope. Just dress more warmly and remember to keep your powder dry.

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

[email protected]

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