Even if you are a blackpowder hunter, this fall’s deer hunt is over. Deer or no deer, that’s not all bad. There is an upside at the end of the hunt. No more grating alarm clocks stirring your slumber at 4 a.m. No more teeth-chattering vigils in cold treestands. No more toiletless mornings beside cold stumps.

And no more hunters’ heaps.

What’s a hunter’s heap? This is a November household phenomenon that is the perennial dread of housewives, especially those who don’t hunt. Most diehard deer hunters – like squirrels piling up winter nuts – generate a heap. My heap seems to grow larger with advancing age. It consists of knee-high rubber boots, two pair of wool socks, longjohns, a wool shirt, suspendered wool trousers, a sweater, a wool jacket, an orange vest and hat, gloves, a stump cushion, rifle and shells, and a daypack.

My wife coined the term “hunter’s heap” in the early years of our marriage before she took up deer hunting. “Take care of your heap,” she would admonish day after day during November.

Beyond the heap, what kind of a deer season was it?

The answer to the question depends on who you talk with. Maine deer biologist Lee Kantar counseled me not to jump to any conclusions. “It is just too early to tell,” says Kantar. In some areas, the kill was up and in others, apparently, it was down. According to Mark Latti, press officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the November deer kill was expected to be about 29,400. Last fall’s harvest was less than this year’s prediction: 28,148. If you look back over a decade, 2002 was a banner year for hunters. The fall of 2002 was one of the biggest Maine deer harvests in 20 years. More than 38,000 deer were tagged. If you crunch the numbers, the average annual deer take in Maine during the past decade has been a tad over 30,000 animals. If you have a better memory than I, or you are one of those organized hunters who keeps a yearly journal, enlighten us. What was going on in 2002 that led to a record deer harvest?

According to regional wildlife biologist Scotty Lindsey, Southwestern Maine had quite a hunt. Many tagging stations ran out of tags. In the Milo and LaGrange areas, the local biologist reports that the deer taggings were up 30 percent over last year.

We do know that weather plays a pivotal role in Maine’s annual deer take. It is always the wild card in forecasting deer harvests because it influences deer movements and hunter effort. And November weather once again was not on the side of the deer hunter. Too much rain. Too darn warm. No snow, even at elevations. And during a number of November days, it was windy enough to fly small planes with no engines. Wind driven rain surely kept a lot hunters in their trucks or close to the wood stove. The cedar swamps looked like Louisiana bayous with standing water everywhere.

There was some good news. Biologist Scott Lindsey reports: “Yearling bucks in our biological sample this season look better than I have seen in years. We define a yearling buck as an 18-month-old deer. As they have only experienced one winter, their body condition to a degree reflects the severity of that winter. This year’s crop of yearling bucks in central Maine is big with many approaching 130 pounds dressed weight. Beam diameters for most of these yearling bucks are close to 20 mm.”

For my money, deer or no deer, the November deer hunt is always a pleasant, memory-rich period of the year punctuated with lots of scenery, solitude and clean air. Although I didn’t bring home any venison this year, I saw seven of those wonderful wary whitetails but fired no shots. Slower reflexes or a waning passion for the kill? Perhaps a little of both.

If you got your deer, congratulations. You no doubt earned the right to enjoy some pan-fried venison steaks this winter. If you came home empty-handed like me, don’t let it get you down. Lord willing, there will be other Novembers ahead with unfulfilled promise and high expectation. Meanwhile, clean up the hunter’s heap, oil Old Betsy, and sleep in on Saturdays.

Merry Christmas!

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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