BDN Outdoors Editor Pete Warner sits and waits in the hope of seeing a deer while hunting during the 2022 season. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

Hunters who pursue white-tails quickly come to realize that it’s not easy to shoot a buck, or sometimes to come across a doe, even when you have an antlerless deer permit in hand.

When things do fall into place, it’s a great feeling. And having venison in the freezer is a real treat.

When it doesn’t happen, it can lead to second-guessing and self-doubt.

I hate to admit it, but the deer won again this year. I realize that I’m not alone — only 15 to 17 percent of licensed hunters successfully tag a deer each year in the state — but that doesn’t take away the sting of missed opportunities during the 2022 firearms and muzzleloader seasons.

This was a record year for deer hunting in Maine. The preliminary harvest of 43,781 surpassed the previous mark of 41,735 set 63 years ago, in 1959.

I could have been part of that statistic. Should have. Would have.

What is most frustrating is that I had an antlerless deer permit and I saw does. Actually, I laid eyes on more deer than ever.

The problem was, they saw me first.

The only buck I caught a glimpse of bounded away before I had noticed its presence. That was my second time out, during the first week of the season.

In my mind, this was going to be the year I achieved that first “double.” With new antlerless permit rules in place, I would cash in my “doe tag,” then eventually track down a wily buck.

Unfortunately, wishful thinking (some call it confidence) doesn’t get the job done.

I know what some folks might be thinking. It’s not called “shooting,” it’s “hunting.” And yes, I spent some amazing days this fall enjoying the beauty of the Maine outdoors.

Maybe it’s not fair for me to whine too much about a failed deer season. Lots of hunters have gone many years without tagging a deer and they keep plugging away.

It’s just that I was convinced this was going to be a successful year. In retrospect, maybe I was just lucky in the past. I have often said so. After this season, that reality is setting in.

Impatience and the failure to slow down are the two main reasons I came up empty this season.

Impatience doesn’t play well in the deer woods. Since I don’t have a great grasp on deer travel patterns where I hunt, and because I have trouble sitting still, 15 feet up, for long periods of time, I generally avoid tree stands.

I did put out a ground blind this fall in an area where there were repeated doe sightings, but it was probably too conspicuous. I think the longest sit I managed was about three hours.

I prefer to walk. My theory is that by covering a considerable amount of ground, I’m going to increase my chances of crossing paths with a deer. The tactic has paid dividends in the past.

But it doesn’t work well when the hunter is walking too fast and not scanning the woods, tote roads and ridges carefully. Every deer I saw this season had seen or heard me first and was on the move.

I’d like to have a dollar for every “flag” I’ve seen since I started hunting.

Next year, I’m going to treat still-hunting as though I were frequently approaching a railroad crossing and make a more concerted effort to stop, look and listen. And wait. Longer.

Deer that see a hunter, or hear one approaching and can focus their attention on where the sound is coming from, are invariably going to bound away to live another day.

For us unsuccessful hunters, the end of deer hunting season is a time to reflect on time spent in the woods and what we might do differently in the future.

I now have almost 11 months to think about all of the factors that hampered my efforts in 2022.

Ultimately, I’ll look back fondly on this season and I want to express my sincere appreciation to Len and Nancy, Ken and Tim for the opportunity to hunt on their property this year. The herd is safe until 2023!

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...