In many Maine families, deer hunting is a tradition that goes back several generations.
In ours, it is one that has begun, or been rekindled, only recently.
I didn’t catch the hunting bug until 2006 when I accompanied the BDN’s own John Holyoke and our buddy Chris Lander on a moose hunt.
During the last seven years, chasing the elusive whitetail has become a passion. OK, at times, an obsession.
Spending time in the woods — whether in a tree stand, in a blind, or skulking through cedar swamps and climbing over blowdowns — has a soothing effect on the mind and reaches into the depths of the soul.
Recently, I enjoyed my greatest hunting experience, so far, without ever firing a shot.
Earlier this year my older son, Will, completed a hunter safety course in Massachusetts, where he has lived since leaving Bangor to attend Tufts University.
I invited him to come home in November and accompany me on his first deer hunt. Will was able to clear his schedule for three days, so we put on the blaze orange hats and vests and ventured into the woods.
We visited two places where I have hunted extensively, one in Otis and the other in Kenduskeag, then spent one day near our camp on Sebago Lake in southern Maine.
Though my own hunting experience is limited, I had to shift gears and become a hunting mentor. tried to impart my knowledge of deer behavior, habitat and signs.
I harkened back to my first year or two as a hunter. I was fortunate to have a well-grounded teacher in Holyoke, who taught me the ropes of firearms handling and many other important dynamics.
I also picked up tremendous insight from former co-worker Terry Farren, an avid, lifelong hunter, along with the Lander brothers, Chris, Billy and Timmy. All provided valuable lessons which I have carried with me every time I get out of the truck.
Though he probably got sick of hearing me go on tirelessly about every small detail I could recall, Will maintained his usual calm demeanor.
We spent most of our time hunkered down in a ground blind. That cover gave us the chance to sit, wait and whisper about possible scenarios.
Little materialized as we dealt with overly warm temperatures the first day and rain the second day out.
During the final hour of daylight on the last day, Will experienced the rush that comes when a deer appears. At first, he caught the flash of a tail as a clearly startled deer bounded past 50 yards to our left.
I tried to guide him to pick a potential shooting spot along the deer’s path, but a couple of grunts did little to slow the animal as it went behind us and across the road.
Once darkness descended, we packed up and walked out.
Will returned to Boston, where he surely will be dreaming about his next opportunity to get back in the woods.
I never got the chance to hunt with my father, but couldn’t help but come away from the experience thinking what a great bonding experience deer hunting can be — not only for a father and son but for friends who share the passion.
For Will and me, it was a rare opportunity to spend some quality time together. Those opportunities have been limited since he has been living in Boston.
I think we both came away from the experience realizing deer hunting is an activity we can enjoy together.
The aim now is to get Will’s younger brother, Paul i,nto a hunter safety class so we can make hunting a three-man proposition next year.
Perhaps we can get started during turkey season in the spring.
Regardless, the seed has been planted and I look forward to watching it take root as the beginning of a longstanding family hunting tradition..
In Saturday’s editions, I’ll tell a 2012 hunting tale that demonstrates the benefit of having a little luck when you’re in the woods.