I admit it. I was just about ready to quit.
Yeah, that’s me, the same guy who writes so passionately about deer hunting and all the joys it brings. I was spent.
If you’ve hunted much, you probably have experienced similar emotions.
I try each fall to carve out considerable time in which to pursue deer. On average, I probably log parts of 10 or 11 days in the woods.
And I realize that likely falls somewhere in the middle. Some folks can only hunt Saturdays, others sneak out either early before work or late in the afternoon a handful of times.
Others who have the time try to get out almost every day.
Regardless, the process starts with the excitement about the impending opening of the season. Hopes are high, we’re brimming with enthusiasm and we figure it’s only a matter of time.
By the end of the first week, assuming that we haven’t tagged out ( it has only happened once for me), not much has changed. In fact, we feel empowered by what we’ve seen — the antler rubs, scrapes, tracks and droppings — or maybe even an actual deer that we jumped or one we just didn’t get a good look at.
Full disclosure, I had the opportunity to shoot a doe during opening week. It was an adult deer, but unimpressive in size. I didn’t want my season to be over for that deer.
I chose instead to observe it and record a video, fully realizing that I may not have another chance this season. But that early in the season, delusions of big deer keep me looking for more.
From left: A nice antler tree rub in Otis provides some optimism for the rest of deer hunting season; It’s a long way to the top of this aged beech tree, which sits atop a ridge in some treasured hunting grounds; The late-afternoon sun peeks through the trees recently during a deer hunting trip. Credit: Pete Warner | BDN
FYI, that strategy can come back to haunt you, but we all have to decide whether we’re looking for meat, more meat or meat accompanied by a set of antlers.
We get out as often as we can during the second full week, likely feeling little or no pressure. We keep sitting, walking, watching and waiting for something. Anything.
My reward? Looks at several grouse, a couple of woodcock and an encounter with one deer that saw or heard me first and bolted. I never even caught a glimpse.
For the unsuccessful hunter, the third week of the season is arguably the worst. We’ve deluded ourselves into thinking the peak of the rut is going to magically send bucks running past us at every turn.
It’s not a given by any means.
I even took some extra time off for the week, figuring that more time spent in the woods would yield that next great opportunity. On Tuesday, I did jump one big doe, which I watched bound out of sight.
That was encouraging, but it is amazing how fleeting the adrenaline-induced surge can be.
By Friday, as I sat in a promising spot and alternately fired off doe bleats and buck grunts, the negativity engulfed me. All those hours in the woods and I hadn’t laid eyes on a buck. And I had turned down a doe on a silver platter at 15 yards, to boot.
My backpack felt like it contained a cannonball and my shoulder ached from holding my rifle at the ready. My legs were tired and stiff from all the walking, climbing up and down ridges, over blowdowns and across brooks.
With a twinge of guilt, I thought about the little projects I could have completed in and around the house, which now likely would be put on hold for the foreseeable future.
I got up and started walking and scanning the woods. Within minutes, I felt a little better, but my confidence was shaken. I had, as hunting buddy John Holyoke and I sometimes discuss, lost the eye of the tiger.
Saturday rolled around and I couldn’t do it. I refused to put myself through another day of disappointment, realizing full well that everything could well have come together. I stayed home.
Now we have arrived at the final days of the firearms season, which include a Thanksgiving meal and precious time spent with loved ones.
I believe the break from hunting has served me well. I feel somewhat reinvigorated, realizing that time is short.
I need to smell the balsam firs, the decaying leaves, the churned up earth. I need to feel the cold wind on my face and hear the rustling of the crispy beech leaves on the trees and feel acorns crunching underfoot. Even the annoying chatter of the red squirrels will be welcome.
Because it’s deer season in Maine. And it’s a short one. Somewhere, maybe trit-trotting across an oak ridge, skulking behind a line of jack firs or resting behind a blowdown, there is a deer.
In an instant, the frustration and despair produced by long hours, challenging conditions and lack of sightings can be erased and replaced with the joy of completing a successful hunt.
If not, I can always torture myself with two weeks of muzzleloader season!