I celebrated the start of hunting season by waking up Wednesday morning and jumping into my Honda Civic, despite the light rain. I had planned on taking advantage of this day hunting for some partridge, and I wasn’t going to let any unpredictable moisture get in my way.
I headed out to Holley Road, a street that appears on your right just before Jack’s Trading Post if you are driving from Farmington (Delorme M20,C-1). After driving for a little while, I pulled over at the entrance of one of my favorite hunting spots and slid my single-shot 20 gauge from its case propped against my passenger seat. The rain hadn’t subsided but it didn’t seem to be getting much worse; out the door I went.
The walking started off easy, and I spent my time peering over the roadside ditches that ran parallel on each side of me. Partridge can often be seen on the ground among the vegetation or shallow in the woods, usually walking away from you. The rain complicates hunting in general, and with partridge it has the same affect: once the autumn leaves have been saturated, they cease crunching and produce no sound when stepped upon; the hunter can no longer hear the tiny walking foot steps of a bird close by.
The road I now hunted led me a mile or so to an open field that is prime for deer hunting. In fact, in the last two years I remember spooking at least four deer out of the area. It was on one of these trips that helped me remember a trail departing from the far end corner of the field, leading in to a dense hardwood forest. After browsing the perimeter of the field at its entrance, I headed over to this path to see what it would produce. However, after 100 yards of walking, the trail became more and more characteristic of a skidder trail, and I soon found myself up to the nipples in raspberry and blackberry bushes. It took only a couple steps into the semi-permeable thicket before the rain they had collected thoroughly soaked my pants and hooded sweatshirt. An additional five pounds heavier, I pushed on through the mess despite the poor hunting conditions—I could see very little of what was around me and most of my attention was dedicated to locating the driest route possible (as if there was one).
Although it may seem odd that I would pursue this course, the curse of the explorer had taken a hold of me and I found myself insatiably curious as to what was around each and every next bend. While both fishing and bird hunting, deer season is always at the back of my mind, and I frequently keep my peepers open for some good terrain for the season to come.
My eyes were wide open now as I made another push through the wet and dreary aisle of thorned vegetation (each obtrusive branch wrapping around my torso and legs so that the resistance made it seem like I was walking in slow-motion). Pretty soon I spotted several open fields with occasional alders sprouting up in random places. I confirmed several beech trees as potential candidates for my climbing tree-stand and continued on. I didn’t get much further down the skidder trail, maybe half a mile, before finally despairing over my bleak situation, sopping wet, with the clouds shedding larger and wetter drops by the moment.
After standing still for a little while on a stump that raised me above the thicket so I could witness the scenery and wild creatures around me, I turned around to head back but decided to try a small short cut just inside the woods along the trail in order to avoid a particular portion of the trail’s aquatic-like plants that I had just walked through.
The woods were hardly drier, but the increased spacing between plants allows for quicker travel and a better chance to see a bird. After walking along what I thought was parallel with the main “trail” for 50 yards or so, I cut in to find a skidder trail waiting for me right where I wanted it. However, after a short distance, I deduced from the trees in the vicinity of the path that this was in fact the wrong skidder trail to be following. Turning around and heading back down the trail to see where the correct one was, I thought back to more than an hour before where I neglected to grab my compass from the center console of my car. Stupid.
I brushed the idea aside and kept my eye out for the original trail through the woods that I had been on. To complicate things, there were many trails that were close by and ran either parallel or sometimes perpendicular to the current trail. Had I done better in geometry class years ago, perhaps things would have made more sense at the time, but when each skidder trail has its own game trail traveling down the center of it, it was hard to find particular one I was looking for.
The rain seemed to feed of my confusion and come down harder as I stopped mid-trail to think logically about my situation. I pulled my hood over my drenched camouflage hat so that it rested on the brim.
Long story made a little shorter: my logic led me down another unrecognizable trail and after 10 minutes of walking back and forth in a criss-crossed intersection of skidder trails and animal highways and not finding the right one, I realized things could get interesting. It was at this moment, while in the dense fog of my confusion, as I took a step in one direction to peer down a close aisle of raspberry thickets, I suddenly jumped a healthy size partridge that rose up immediately in a flourish of feather and noise only to disappear behind a dense stand of trees. (Does it seem like they only jump when you’re off your guard, or what?)
I followed the silhouette of the bird with the bead on my gun, but didn’t squeeze the trigger due to the unlikely chance it would be effective. Rats. Bummer.
Once the bird was out of sight, I reflected on my current condition. Now, I am certainly not saying I was lost, because “lost” is such a strong word, but it is safe to say that I had no clue where I had to go in order to get out of such a cumbersome and thorny prison. However, getting truly lost is a scary thing and something someone should take extra precautions in order to avoid. I knew I was alright because I had at least six hours of daylight left, and only the endless rain to bog me down as I attempted to slip my way through the long grass and dense brush.
On my way back to the original wrong trail I had found myself on, I discovered a snowmobile trail marker tucked away on the side of the path. At this moment, I figured that since this trail took on a course similar to the direction I was heading while on attempting the shortcut, and presumably parallel with the right trail, perhaps it pointed in the right direction. I began down the trail, hoping to come across a legitimate way of reaching that cozy, comfortable, and warm Honda Civic miles away.
I must make it clear, however, that I would never have started my journey down this trail had I not know one handy little fact: all snowmobile trails go somewhere. I had hours to kill, and I knew this trail system had the potential of producing some birds. Even though this trail could take me winding for miles and miles along Maine’s wilderness landscape before crossing a town road or bumping in to someone’s property, I wanted to know that I was at least headed for something, and I headed uphill to see just where it would take me.
After another two hours of walking along a well-maintained trail and jumping nothing for birds, I came across an intersection that had the snowmobile taking a corner and going off to my right, and on the left a trail was marked with a “No ATV” sign marker. After looking around me and memorizing the looks of the intersection, I headed up this trail to see why exactly this person didn’t want ATV’s on their land—was it a private trail coming from a house? Was this trail in close proximity to a business or other establishment? I chanced it. After 15 minutes of sloshing down this road in my wet boots, I saw a house up ahead. As I noticed the blue tarps and how the building was under construction, a memory from a hunting trip last year was sparked and I suddenly knew where I was!
Relief washed over me, for I was hoping to come across some type of landmark that would clue me in a little. This one did just that. Although I was still a distance from Holley Road, I knew from last year that the dirt road leading away from the house was a lot more reliable than any of the paths I had chosen previously. I had finally regained my bearings.
After following the dirt road to its end, where it intersected Holley Road, I continued the last few miles towards my car. I had only to smile and nod to the people that cruised by me before I reached the comfort of my Civic. I reflected on my hunting trip and realized it had been a successful one, though I hadn’
t been able to bring down a bird. It was a success in itself to explore some rugged terrain and spot deer activity in promising areas that I will be sure to investigate more thoroughly this November.
And, by the end of the day, I had learned something very important: if you forget your compass, you are in for one hell of an exercise. Until next time, Happy Huntin’.