Deer Season Diary: Time to turn the page (or, why I started reading while hunting)

For years, I have received some thoughtful and helpful tips from hunters eager to help me break my lifelong buck drought and fill my deer tag for the first time.

After years of resisting the hint of a fellow hunter, I finally broke down and took a book (or more accurately, a Kindle) into the woods. (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

After years of resisting the hint of a fellow hunter, I finally broke down and took a book (or more accurately, a Kindle) into the woods. (BDN photo by John Holyoke)


That is, I think the tips have been thoughtful (and not attempts to taunt me after years without success).  And I imagine that those same tips would have been helpful … had I actually tried any of them.

But I didn’t. Not really.

I know, I know. You’re sitting there, saying, “If I were you, I’d take any advice I could get. You obviously need all the help you can get.”

True, I suppose.

But I’ve learned a few lessons during those many years tromping around, looking for non-existent deer.

Among them: Another hunter’s “super-secret, never-fail” tip may have only worked once. It just so happened that the day that tip worked, he shot a 250-pound deer.

And this: What works for one hunter often shows up on another hunter’s “never do this” list. And that can make things a bit confusing … especially when you’re a guy like me, who’s looking to fill that elusive first tag.

Think I’m kidding? Read on.

“You’re sitting too much,” one hunter told me. “If I were you (that’s how most of those thoughtful, helpful hints usually begin), I’d walk more. You’ve got to cover ground.”

Hmm, I thought. Maybe I’ll try that. Then I talked to another hunter.

“You’re walking too much,” that hunter told me. “If I were you, I’d find a great place to sit, where there’s plenty of deer sign, and stay there. All day. No lunch. No snacks. Nothing. Just sit. The deer will show up, eventually.”

See the problem?

A hunting buddy of mine is a fanatic about scent. He hasn’t actually told me that I smell bad, but has hinted that if I were more careful about eliminating my human scent, I might have more luck.

Another guy I know shakes his head at the new stink-free generation of hunters, pointing out that for years, he and his relatives spent a week in a smelly hunting camp, where everybody smoked and the odor of bacon permeated the cabin. No one ever showered … because there wasn’t one.

And they shot deer, every single year.

Several hunters have suggested that I venture away from the apparently deer-free forest where I spend much of November, and try hunting someplace new. Some have even invited me to hunt their land, and on a few occasions, I’ve gratefully accepted those invitations.

Apparently, I possess the rare ability to scare deer in a variety of habitats. None of those hunts have panned out, either.

My colleague Aislinn Sarnacki, who doesn’t even hunt for deer, eventually got involved in the conversation.

She told me that she’d once learned how to do a fox-walk, which is (according to her) ultra-stealthy, and would certainly improve my odds.

She demonstrated the toe-heel, toe-heel maneuver, and I tried to duplicate it while traipsing around the newsroom.

After the rest of my co-workers stopped laughing, I decided that repeating my awkward fox-walk in the woods was not a good idea. Everybody’s got a trail camera nowadays, after all, and I’m quite sure my tippy-toed prancing would end up on the internet before long.

Which brings me to the piece of hunting advice that I finally decided to adopt as my own.

“When I go hunting, I always take a paperback book along,” one outdoor writer told me. “I sit. I read. And eventually, if I’m lucky, a deer shows up.”

For years, I refused to accept his advice, reasoning that deciding to read a book while in the woods would be a sign that I’d finally given up all hope.

Then I started considering the alternative that I’d chosen: I sit in a ground blind … bored … cold … and try to stay awake.

After one particularly drowsy day afield a couple of weeks ago, I finally gave in and took my Kindle along … just in case.

It was just the kind of day I’d been waiting for: Recent snow had frozen, and walking in the woods was a crunchy, noisy affair.

The deer (if they showed up) would make enough of a ruckus that I’d be sure to hear them long before they got to me, I figured. Therefore, staring out the windows of the blind, trying to catch the slightest movement in the woods around me, wouldn’t be necessary.

I could sit back … read … and wait for something to happen.

I’d like to be able to tell you that’s what happened.

Unfortunately, no deer showed up. Again.

On the bright side, I read most of a book that afternoon. I never got bored, nor focused on the non-existent deer. And I finally acted on a thoughtful and helpful tip from a fellow hunter.

That, in the grand scheme of things, is progress.

Or something like that.




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.