By Jonah Paris
Opening day of deer season is a landmark in the Maine sportsman’s year. Rifles have been sighted in. Clothes are carefully laid out the night prior. The pack is stuffed with essentials: compass, GPS, knife, lighter, flashlight, license, rope, game tags, an apple, and a few chocolate bars. The weather forecast has been studied, and restudied; the wind direction considered. A long night is guaranteed, for even deer hunters, typically a patient breed, grow restless with anticipation. What promises does the season hold? What adventure will we embark on? What deer, if any, will cross our paths?
Though opening day of last season, Halloween of 2020, was quite memorable and resulted in a full freezer (see “Digesting Deer Season” – March 2021 issue), opening day of the season prior was perhaps more memorable – but for a much different reason. I can now look back on the 2019 opening day hunt, or rather attempted hunt, and almost smile.
Into the Woods
After a classic hunter’s breakfast – bacon, eggs, potatoes, and a few cups of coffee – I headed into the woods and reached my spot an hour before legal light. In the weeks prior, I had heavily scouted a piece of woods bordering swampy lowlands. I studied the crossings, found an area of concentrated scrapes, and located a few distinct rub lines. Everything suggested good buck territory. I hunt from the ground, so finding a spot which affords good visibility, comfortable sitting, and natural shooting lanes requires a bit of prospecting. I eventually settled on a spot about three-quarters of the way up a small hill overlooking several oaks and a patch of pines. A fallen tree, conveniently laying horizontal on the incline, created a comfortable back rest on the hillside. Since deer are creatures of edge cover, I figured the deer would skirt the swamp by heading into the trees and present a morning shot on their way back to the bedding area.
About 45 minutes after legal light, I heard thunderous rustling in the leaves from behind my right shoulder. I turned around, tilted my head up the hill, and saw deer – not one or two – but a whole herd of seven or eight crashing along the ridgeline behind me. I was witnessing a stampede of startled whitetails.
A short time later, I heard heavy steps coming from the pines ahead of me, right where I was expecting the deer to come from. “Thud, thud – thud, thud (twing snap) – thud, thud,” followed by, “Shhhhh…you’re too loud!” I saw flashes of orange creeping through the opening in the trees and watched as a pair of hunters approached the bottom of the hill. They proceeded to sit down on a log just 30 yards below me. Had the pair looked directly overhead, they would have noticed my orange Tink’s Scent Bomb dripping doe estrus urine onto their hats. I called to them, “pssssssssst.” They must have not heard me. I let out another louder, “pssssssssst.” No response. Then I whistled. The pair didn’t move. Finally, my patience waning, I yelled “Hey!” and slowly stood up. The pair turned around and finally noticed me.
“Where did you come from?” (Hunter #1)
“I’ve been here all morning.”
“Nice spot you have here.” (Hunter #2)
“See any deer?” (Hunter #1)
“Nope,” I replied, lying through my teeth.
“We jumped a bunch. Just couldn’t get a shot off.” (Hunter #1)
“Nice,” I managed.
“I think we’ll keep going up this way.” (Hunter #2)
The pair walked directly up my shooting lane, past where I was now standing, and over the ridge behind me. So much for carefully working to eliminate human scent in the area!
You may wonder why these hunters were stomping around one hour after legal light on opening day of deer season in Southern Maine, instead of sitting somewhere quietly… I’m hesitant to criticise anyone’s hunting technique, but theirs seemed a bit questionable.
Thoroughly discouraged and convinced that human scent laced throughout the hillside would deter any deer, I packed up and headed home. Around noon, I told myself I would abandon the whole area and head off in a different direction to sit for the rest of the day. The afternoon was uneventful, but that could have been largely my own fault; sitting beneath a tree with the warm fall sun beaming down has a way of inviting deep slumber.
I returned to my spot on the hill a few days later, this time on a weekday, and my original plan came together. I shot a beautiful 8 pointer an hour after legal light as he slipped back into his bedding area. Things just had a way of working out that season, I suppose.
As you take to the woods this month in pursuit of whitetails, indulge in an afternoon snooze beneath the oaks, enjoy the adventure, and shoot straight.
Jonah Paris teaches English at a small high school in Southwestern Maine. A four-season outdoorsman, Jonah lives in Gorham, ME with his girlfriend, Ashley, and beagle, Aurora. Jonah can be reached at [email protected].
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