The author and his first deer, taken while hunting the edge of a potato field in Corinna, Maine. Photo by Tom Roth

As the sun slowly disappeared below the tree line in front of me, that eerie period before dark, where all is still, gradually moved in. Only five minutes remained until legal shooting time was up, and the plan was to stay at my stand until the end. No sooner had I looked up from my watch, when the deer appeared. Two does jumped from the wooded edge through the narrow band of marsh grass. They casually fed on the lush field grass, just 80 yards in front of me. A well-aimed shot took the lead doe as she turned broadside. Deer season was over for another year and I had tender venison for the freezer.

The practice of stand hunting the edge between habitat types is as old as the sport itself, but many sportsmen don’t realize the theory behind this practice and why it attracts deer. Biologists and naturalists have studied these “ecotones” or “edges” in detail and have concluded that richness in species diversity and species numbers is often greatest where the food and cover requirements of a species come together.

We have several types of edge habitat, consisting of both man-made and natural edges. Man-made edge habitats include farm fields meeting a wood line, strip cuts, clear cuts and zones where prescribed burns meet existing vegetation. Natural edge habitat occurs where different ecosystems meet such as a hardwood ridge meeting a softwood stand or more commonly, as a result of a short-term environmental disturbance such as a wildfire, flood or erosion. With these descriptions in mind, it’s not very difficult to reflect on your favorite hunting area and place the topography into one category or another.

During my college years, we hunted a piece of land in Hudson, Maine, that was a textbook example of the variety of edge types. As you entered the woods from the road, you walked uphill through a dense plot of eastern white pine. At the top of the hill, the appearance of the forest changed drastically as the pine stand was halted abruptly by a hardwood ridge of beech and oak. Next, after passing easterly through the hardwoods, you came to a field. Rows of apple trees, long neglected and sparse on fruit, lined the rock wall that bordered the southern edge of the field. The grass had grown up into tall weeds and occasionally a lone maple or alder sapling would stand out in the field of grass. As you walked downhill toward a lake, you entered a series of three alder fields, each in a different stage of succession.

My college roommates and I took a bounty of grouse, woodcock and rabbits from this land of many edges and saw countless deer and deer sign. When scouting out a new area to hunt deer, the importance of hunting these edges is always on my mind.

Aldo Leopold, the founder of our country’s game management profession, wrote that “Game is a phenomenon of the edges, wildlife occurs where the types of food and cover which it needs come close together.” By recognizing the many places where edge habitat occurs and taking a stand on these edges, you should have no trouble seeing or taking deer as they make their way to these food and cover bonanzas. Good luck this season!

Tom Roth is a freelance outdoor writer who lives in Raymond on the shore of Sebago Lake. He has been fishing and hunting in this region for more than 30 years and is a Registered Maine Guide.

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