My deer season ended quietly on Saturday afternoon, as it always does. No shots fired. No tag filled. Officially, for those who keep track of such things, I am 0-for-19 as a deer hunter. Not that I keep track of such things, of course.
If I did, I might end up severely depressed. And that’s just not me.
I’ve heard from more than one reader (including family members) who think the whole “John’s-never-shot-a-deer” storyline is intentional. They think deer are prancing around in front of me all November long, and that I just refuse to shoot them.
Why? Well, they seem to think that if I should end up tagging a deer, I’d be eliminating a pretty popular theme — woe is me — from my outdoor-writing repertoire. If I actually tagged a deer, they tell me, I might find that I’d have a hard time coming up with deer-hunting columns that would entertain readers and make them laugh at my expense.
I’d be finished! Done for! (That’s what they tell me, anyway).
Ah, if it was only that simple.
The truth is more complicated than that. I have, believe it or not, had a real, live deer in my scope during this long dry spell. I could have. I would have. But I didn’t.
That was the year I had a half a moose in my freezer, you see. The deer that walked within 20 yards of me was a doe. And though I had an any-deer permit and could have filled it that morning, I didn’t need the meat, and I was having so much fun being out of the office and in the woods that I wasn’t willing to end my season so early in the month.
A disclosure: There are plenty of places not far from my home that have a lot more deer per square mile than the place that I choose to spend my November Saturdays. That’s OK with me — the spot that I think of as my favorite piece of deer woods is special for countless reasons. Three of my hunting friends grew up hunting those same woods with their dad, you see. And my own family’s camp is also nearby, so I’m very familiar with the area.
Things like that matter, I figure.
With all of that said, I’m happy to report that my November was not entirely deer-free this year. To the contrary, I got the chance to see a few. In my book, that’s almost a success.
The first was dead, in a sled, being hauled to my truck by my buddies Pete Warner (fondly referred to as “Game Hog” in our circle), and brothers Chris and Billy Lander. It was opening day, and the big buck interrupted Pete’s mid-forest snack break.
Not my deer, but it was cool, nonetheless. At least I was in the same zip code when Pete shot it.
Then, sadly, the excitement waned for a bit, as I saw nothing but squirrels, mice and moles for much of the season. I took up trapping (mice, that is) and had moderate success in knocking down the herd of stinky critters that had been pooping in my bin of blaze orange clothing.
Emboldened by that success, I even started calling myself “Trapper John.” Then the mice started stealing my peanut butter bait, and figured out how to avoid tripping my trap.
Back to the woods I went.
For a time, I thought this might be the year. My trail camera proved that this year there were actual deer visiting my ground blind. Many of ’em. One was even a buck. All of them showed up after dark, but hey — it was progress. Or something like that.
With a week left in the season, I saw the biggest buck of my life just a half mile from my house — for the record, that’s 20 miles from the spot I hunt — and I nearly took him. With my Ford F-150. After dark. Luckily, I was able to get onto the brakes in time and ended up stopping right beside him. We exchanged glances.
I shook my head in dismay, and drove slowly away.
I got out one more time, and showed up at my blind to find that a windstorm earlier in the week had dislodged my tent stakes and tossed the shelter into the trees. That was the second time the blind had been dislodged over a four-week span.
Did I see a deer that day? Of course not. Defeated, I refused to reset my blind, and just sat, forlorn near the wreckage, waiting. Waiting, it turned out, for nothing.
Two days later, on the Monday after firearms season ended, I saw four more deer, basking in the sunshine, just off the road in my neighborhood.
I slowed down to take a second glance, but they didn’t even look up. Behind them, a “Posted, No Trespassing” sign explained their nonchalance.
It was, I figured, a fitting end to November. Better luck next year.
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.