Skunked Again: Late season hunting

14 mins read

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories on the final days of regular firearm season.

As I approached the small stand of firs that rested on top of a small knoll, I jumped what immediately occurred to me as “Big Hoof.” The deer was in the center of the softwoods, so I didn’t catch sight of him, but the trees that bordered his route of evacuation betrayed his existence by shedding the snow that had built up during the last few days. My scope was up and scanning across the midsection of the firs in order to catch a glimpse of brown.

The author is pictured earlier in the hunting season.

I ran this way and that trying to figure out where the deer might cross in to plain view, but all I could distinguish were four or five distant crashes where the deer leaped through the woods in the distance, straight away from me; I could not catch sight of it. I returned to the softwoods where he had initially been and found a giant thawed section of leaves where the deer’s body had melted the snow while he bedded down. I looked along the ground for a distinguishable track and found one. It was Big Hoof.

I then had the option of either tracking the buck that was probably already to Kingfield by now or continuing on with the last hour or so of the hunt. Had I a little more time, I probably would have chosen the former. Instead, I sat down in some low lying cover and immersed myself in the stillness and listened to my pulse slowly sink into subsidence. I overlooked 80 square yards of open hardwoods containing everything from birch to ash to beech.

While studying the white backdrop the snow made against some very distant trees, I imagined seeing a dot of brown make its way towards me, but shook the thought from my head and gazed in another direction off to my right.

I can’t imagine having attention-deficit disorder and attempting to hunt. For all you that do, that’s incredible and hats off to you. However, I find the majority of my hunts are spent dwelling upon all sorts of matters within my head. It’s like the ability to become reflective when observing a beautiful painting or inspiring sculpture; thoughts become quite creative when you surround yourself with rural influence.

William Wordsworth once said that in these rustic conditions “the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which to attain their maturity.”

I think many people who have wandered out in the woods can relate. I find I can rarely tame my mind to only dwell on acts like keeping quiet, keeping warm, and keeping an eye out for that illusive white tail. Oftentimes I daydream about sprinting towards a ice-fishing trap waving its flag or staggering through Grand Lake Stream in the early season, catching my limit; also, being the sprightly age I am, sometimes I even let my thoughts wander towards a young lady at home.

The remaining hours of light came and went without any evidence of deer, and once again I walked out of the woods the very image of defeat. I would only be able to spend one more day hunting there, Saturday, for I was visiting my family the next couple of days to enjoy the quality time with loved ones, superb food, and endless wine expected at reunions back home. My treestand would have to lay in wait for my reentry just before the break of dawn, Saturday morning.

Another Day, Another Opportunity

Still full from the celebrations, I snorted awake to my alarm at 5:15 a.m. and immediately started dressing while rubbing a few hours of sleeping from my eyes. Thirty minutes later I was, once again, huddled in my treestand, squeezing my arms tight to my chest to hold in the heat.

There was a slight snow during the night, and I was disappointed not to see any sight of Big Hoof on the way into the woods. Regardless, I was excited for a good hunt on what was looking like the beginning of a beautiful day.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the woods is how it comes alive after the sun breaks over the distant horizon. Birds are the easiest to witness embracing morning hours because they turn the silence of the forest into an orchestra of energetic songsters. It is interesting to note that the chickadee proves to be Maine’s natural rooster after 7 o’clock. Song birds, in general, are fun to watch as they hop from limb to limb, investigating and pecking at spruce cones. They are vigorous feeders, for their small bodies have little room for storage throughout the winter; they must eat a lot each and every day.

On multiple occasions I have been sitting up in a treestand and had a chickadee land on my hat. The first time one ventured on top of my head it nearly jumped me out for the tree it was so unexpected (you don’t expect anything to mess with you when you are 30 feet off the ground). The second time, however, I was able to avoid freaking out and spent the next few minutes wondering what exactly the bird was doing nimbly making its way around on the top of my hat.

Other critters are equally amusing to watch, like the small mouse-like creatures called voles. They are smaller than the conventional mouse, and one can often see them see them popping up from below some leaves, up through a hole in a stump, or out through a cavern of brush. They are cute little guys because they always seem to have a lot going on; they always exhibit a strong sense of urgency.

A large predator of the vole, one that causes its caution of being caught in plain sight, is perhaps my favorite woodland creature: the owl. These melancholy creatures are one of the most graceful and awe-inspiring animals one can hope to see. Some of my most memorable hunting experiences are from close encounters.

Once I was sitting in a stand behind my house north of Bangor, dusk quickly setting in, and I gazed far to the left where old growth gave way to a distant field. As I swiveled my vision back towards the front of me, straight ahead, I found myself staring directly into the penetrating eyes of a Great Horned Owl. It was perched on a severed tree that rose to the height that I was in the tree, and the giant bird sat completely still, looking right at me, no more than a fly-rod and a half away! I was given no warning of its presence; it was simply there after looking away momentarily. The owl continued to look at me until it seemed assured that I realized his awareness of the situation, and then he casually resumed his scrutiny of the forest floor below. Two solitary hunters sat next to each other in the silence.

I saw few critters now as I hunted on the last day. My brother asked me the day before if I was going to sit in the stand all day. We laughed at the thought of it, but around 10 a.m. I seriously considered the possibility. With some quick math though, I deduced I would have to endure the cold twofold in what I had already sat through in order to reach the prime hours of dusk.

After committing myself to a quick trip home for a leftover turkey sandwich, I made my way out of the woods as noiselessly as possible. If you plan on returning to the same plot of land for an evening hunt, it’s important in the morning to try and leave the woods just as you found it while you leave, as if you had been snooping around in the deer’s house and you don’t want him to realize it when he gets back.

Thoughts of Desperation

The hour eventually came, and I headed back into the woods, not without a look of desperation written on my face. As I anxiously walked along towards my treestand waiting in the depths of the woods, these thoughts of desperation got me sidetracked on a small rural village of African natives who rely on a select few of skilled trackers to hunt down a large game animal, animals like the gigantic cape buffalo.

The catch is, these people are so poor they can only afford one bullet at a time, and thus the hunters had to be absolutely sure that they could bring down this enormous animal in one shot—or their tribe potentially faced starvation. They would track the animal for miles, passing up multiple shots before they finally got the opportunity for a close and accurate shot. Once the shot itself echoes through the forest to the nearby village, those not a part of the hunting brigade then begin preparing the elements required to smoke the meat. Thinking on this culture certainly relieved the sense of pressure I had originally felt, for I now walked into the woods (with four bullets) feeling like Rambo compared to those Africans.

Once I successfully got myself into the tree without hardly any noise, I sat in quiet anticipation for the remaining three and a half hours ahead of me. Each minute seemed to remind me that it was the final weaning hours of the season. Every nearby snap sent an image to my mind of a giant hoof crashing down through whatever dared stand in its way.

However, despite a forest laden with mysterious sounds of animal behavior, none turned out to be what I was looking for, and as the sun began to sink, so did my head as I faced the inevitable result of being a decent hunter, but a lousy gatherer.

Skunked again! But I already look forward to next year. Although my season was fruitless, I was certainly successful in enjoying myself throughout it and I discovered some great new areas out in the beautiful Maine woods. Congratulations to all those who were able to get out this year, and especially those who can stay warm this winter with that spicy venison sausage!

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