Deer season fulfilling, tag not filled

When deer season began for many of us back in late October, we headed into the woods with great enthusiasm, eager to find out what the month had in store for us.

Many of us (or, more accurately, “many of you”) enjoyed great success. You filled your tag and are already enjoying venison that will help sustain your families through a harsh Maine winter.

Footprints in the sand. The porcupines are among us. At least, I think those are porcupine tracks. (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

As expected (given my track record), I did not fill a tag this year. Oh, well. Honestly, I’ve become a bit philosophical about my years of futility. As I’ve likely written before, I tend to gauge the success of trips afield according to my own modest scale.

These regular trips into the Maine woods and onto the states waters are not about deer shot, or fish caught, as far as I’m concerned. Instead, they’re about lessons learned, and memories earned.

And as always, when judged on those criteria, the season-that-was turned out just fine.

Some highlights:

– Getting to spend several hours in a ground blind with friend Chris Lander as his sub-permittee on a month-long moose hunt in Wildlife Management District 26. For the record, there aren’t many moose in that zone, and the season mirrors the firearms season on deer to give hunters a fighting chance to fill their tags.

Chris Lander checks a phone message while moose hunting. Or was it deer hunting? (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

Try as we did, we never caught up with a moose. We did, however, catch up on each others’ lives, families, and jobs. We renewed a bond that has been largely forged in boats and forests, or while driving for hours in trucks that will take us to those boats, or deeper into those forests.

One day, I did a radio interview from that blind. Other days, we took advantage of modern technology to check in with our respective offices or spouses while in the middle of the woods.

Maybe we spent too much time whispering back and forth, and not enough time being quiet. Perhaps if we’d kept our mouths shut a moose or a deer would have ambled past.

We’ll never know. But I don’t think either of us would have done anything differently if given the chance.

– Finding evidence of a porcupine invasion in the woods that we spent most of the month in. Two weeks earlier, while scouting, we saw nothing to suggest the “quill pigs” were around.

A porcupine hangs onto its tree. (Photo courtesy of Chris Lander)

As soon as the season started, however, we began seeing plenty of evidence. Trees — sometimes a dozen or more in a small area — had been gnawed. Tracks were left in the sand on a turnout that hunters often park in. And on the same evening, both Chris and I were startled — some 400 yards apart from each other — by tree-bound porcupines.

– My hunting pals and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where the moose were. A few times, we came close to finding them. One evening, we even saw three moose during legal shooting hours. That same afternoon, a friend had seen two moose that could have filled our tag.

Alas, the moose-permit holder was working that day. The moose walked on, leaving us with nothing but another “one that got away” story to tell.

– Another day, during a week when I cashed in some vacation time and spent as many hours as possible in the woods, I headed out to hunt a bit later than expected. The rut was on, however, and I hoped the deer would be up and moving, even though I didn’t get to our hunting spot until 11 a.m.

They were moving, all right.

A half mile from the spot I often park, two deer popped out of the trees not far from a “Posted” sign. They stood in the road, checked me out, and jogged off.

– We spent quite a bit of time in the woods, but emerged regularly to touch base with buddies … and to eat. Some days we made a short drive back to town to buy sandwiches, which we ate, tailgate-style, after returning to our hunting grounds. And a couple of days, we have genuine tailgate lunches worth remembering.

Tim Lander (left), Andy Hardy and Chris Lander gather at the truck for a tailgate lunch while hunting. (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

Some folks say that food always tastes better when you cook it outdoors, and I’m a firm believer. Tim Lander and his friend Andy Hardy showed up to hunt with us one day and brought along a Coleman stove and hamburgers for all. Another day Chris brought a fantastic haddock chowder that he’d made the night before, which he also reheated on the trusty Coleman stove he has relied on for more than 25 years. Nothing like a mid-day feast to help you forget your hunting woes.

– After several years of diminishing deer sign (and diminished expectations of success by at least two hunters), the woods in our regular hunting area was different this year. Scrapes and rubs left by bucks were abundant, for the first time in years. The deer, seemingly, had rebounded. And when another pal shot a buck on the Friday before Thanksgiving — the first tag filled by one of our hunting regulars in about a decade on that piece of land — all of us celebrated.

All in all, I figure it was a season well-spent.


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.