BDN contributor George Smith wrote this column in 1993, but isn’t sure which outdoor outlet published it. It’s one of his favorite pieces.
As the canoe slid quietly along Hopkins Stream in the predawn darkness, my 11-year-old son Joshua jumped when an unseen beaver slapped the water right beside him. “Wow, what was that Dad?” he asked, more exclamation than question.
It was the opening morning of the firearms season on deer and this would be a family affair, with my Dad already in his new tree stand in the nearby woodlot and Josh and I taking our places in a streamside blind.
As the sun hit the tops of the trees across the stream, I shivered from the cold and the anticipation of another November spent pursuing Maine’s most magnificent and wily game animal, the white-tailed deer.
After an hour in the blind, Josh and I snuck downstream, darting from bush to bush, until we spied two deer feeding on cranberries. We crept to within 100 yards after verifying that they were a doe and lamb, both off limits to this buck hunter.
After scaring them off, Josh got down to business picking cranberries and I discovered a set of bones belonging to a small animal. We packed up the berries and bones (not in the same bag), canoed across the stream, and hunted our way to Dad’s stand.
Arriving there a bit later than anticipated (after all, we’d had a lot of excitement down on the stream), we rushed to Manchester to the fabulous hunters’ breakfast sponsored by the Lions Club. By the time we pushed away from the table, I felt quite content – and eager to get back into the woods.
Dad and Josh went on to other activities and I hiked back downstream, found a nice soft pine grove, and had a nap. As far as I know, no deer came by while I slept.
The doe was in front of me before I ever heard a sound. She moved gracefully and quickly, but with great caution, fully aware of her surroundings. But she didn’t see me and I hunkered down, glad that I was downwind because deer have a terrific sense of smell.
She moved toward the beaver bog, a huge open area to my left, but stopped sharply behind a fir thicket, then dashed back over the small rise to my right.
A minute later she was back with the same routine, moving to the edge of the bog, stopping behind the fir thicket, then spooking and dashing back over the rise.
Three minutes later she did it all again, and when I finally moved toward home in order to do a scheduled radio interview at 10 a.m., the doe was still hovering close by, refusing to leave the area. I presumed she had a date with a buck and cursed my bad luck at having to leave.
By the time I returned, the buck had visited, tearing up the turf, shredding small cedars with his antlers, and generally leaving the place a mess. I’ll be sitting there some afternoon this week, hoping for his return.
The next afternoon, however, I selected a favorite tree stand on the edge of my woodlot. Enjoying a nice afternoon, a large crack out in the clear cut in front of my stand focused my attention on the approach of a huge bull moose with a magnificent rack. When he got to the edge of the woods where I sat in my tree stand, he seemed to recognize that I was something unusual, and he sauntered right up to me, stood about 20 feet away, and looked up.
I was awfully glad I’d put the stand up so high, well out of his reach. He moseyed around the stand for an hour, at one time standing in a sunny spot for 15 minutes while the previous night’s rain steamed off his body. He was actually in a vapor cloud part of the time, a very strange sight indeed.
It wasn’t until I got out of my stand (cautiously) and spoke to him that he trotted off toward the stream. I took the tote road in the other direction.
Much of my time is spent scouring for bucks, locating key ground scrapes to stand watch over, and meandering through the woods, one or two steps at a time, watching, listening, looking for any tell-tale parts of a white-tailed deer.
You see a lot at this slow pace. The pileated woodpecker which swoops through the trees, a great horned owl which alights nearby and gives you a scary stare, the tiny ermine that darts along in his winter coast of white, a rabbit that quivers in fright at your approach and then hops off when he decides the game is up, a frog gamely trying to get up a steep incline.
This is deer hunting in Maine. And I feel privileged to experience it again this month.