For family reasons, my deer hunt had to end earlier than usual. An incorrigible deer hunter, my quest for a Maine whitetail generally drags on until the last gun is fired: a clear-the-barrel shot from a .45 caliber muzzle-loader on the last day of the black powder season in December.

No matter. My deer hunt started way back in early September with a bow hunt in the expanded archery zones and concluded during the firearms season Nov. 21st at our deer camp in the North Woods.

Conservatively, between time spent in tree stands and long morning vigils on the ground along the edge of choppings, my cumulative time spent deer hunting had to have exceeded 50 hours.

In that time, two does were seen. One approached my bow stand, sensed a setup and beat feet. The other stepped out onto my camp road in the fog and pouring rain. My scope’s crosshairs found her at 70 yards in an adrenaline-pumping search for antlers that, alas, were just not there. Wife Diane had an encounter with a buck on opening day in Orrington, but no shots fired.

During a week with my annual hunt mates at our deer camp in Piscataquis County, one antlered deer was taken among 7 or 8 hardcore deer hunters: son Scotty bagged a young 8-pointer. As a group we were somewhat let down by the scarcity of deer sign. During the fall of 2014, during which a single buck was also taken, there was a lot of sign, suggesting to us that our beloved hunt area was, after all the years, finally holding some deer again. But it did not seem to be the case this year.

We covered a lot of familiar territory during our big-woods deer hunt and there was a common refrain: quite a few scrapes but little else. No sign of what the big boys were looking for: does. No tracks of smaller deer and a conspicuous absence of deer droppings of any kind.

We could be wrong, but our consensus based on what we saw or did not see, was that the bucks were traveling far and wide, ground scraping often as they roamed in a futile search for receptive does that were not there.

To a man, our deer hunt group gravitate more to the Big Woods than to the more deer-rich areas of southern Maine, even during times of known deer scarcity. If you are a Big Woods hunter, you probably understand why.

My daughter-in-law, gathered with us around our Thanksgiving table, passed out five kernels of corn.

During dinner each of us was to use each kernel to make a prayerful affirmation of something in our lives for which to be grateful. It was an intimate, heart-warming exercise, made especially so by the uncertain times we all face in a strife-ridden world that seems destined to self-destruct.

When my turn came, I disclosed my life-long appreciation expressed to Him for creating a magnificent natural world in which I have so often immersed myself and thereby taken so much joy and solitude. I guess that hunting is just a reason to be there, to wander free and undirected amid the endless beech ridges, meandering bogs and dark fir thickets.

The wonderful friends and family who I have shared a deer camp with, some for more than 40 years, each have their own unique reasons to hunt and to be at camp.

Deer or no deer, though, they will all be back at deer camp next fall, with high expectations about the deer, the days in the woods and the week of deepening fellowship.

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, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.” Online information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.


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