This fall, for the first time in several years, I have the chance to hunt deer in a new area.
To be honest, I have been blessed with ample opportunities to pursue whitetails since catching the bug 15 years ago.
That’s because I have friends who enjoy sharing their passion for the outdoors. They have either invited me along or allowed me to share their hunting grounds.
That cast of outdoors enthusiasts has included former Bangor Daily News Outdoors Editor John Holyoke, Chris Lander, Bill Lander, Brhaun Parks, Steve Trimper, Len and Nancy Price, Andy and Catriona Sangster and Ken Genovese.
They’ll all tell you that I haven’t been shy in accepting their offers or receiving their permission. I love to hunt.
Learning how the deer use the land we’re hunting is a key to success come November, although I readily admit my scouting abilities likely have little impact on any success I have enjoyed.
Most of the time, it’s a right-place-at-the-right-time proposition, with some good luck sprinkled in. There’s a reason fewer than 20 percent of licensed Maine deer hunters fill their tag each year — it’s hard.
Hunting a new piece of land brings a whole new set of challenges. The most daunting of those is the unfamiliarity with the property.
This parcel has skidder trails and tote roads, hardwood ridges, dark growth, agricultural fields, thick underbrush, a couple of streams and a large wetland. And everything in between.
On Tuesday, I got my first look at sections of property belonging to a friend and landowner in Penobscot County whose management priorities center on forestry and wildlife. He was kind enough to meet me there and provide a partial tour.
He made numerous observations about the property and explained geographic features, how it had been managed in the past and what he has been doing to tailor it to his own needs.
As we walked, he bent back branches hanging in the trail and removed many logs, sticks and rocks that might impede walking or driving over it.
It was he who noticed the tree sporting a fresh antler rub, a sign that a buck has been marking its territory. There also were plenty of hoof prints in the soft soil.
The variety of habitat was amazing. We walked up along a ridge, then back down the other side, following an established system of roads and trails that provided mostly easy, quiet walking.
Of course, the woods are a lot thicker in September than they’ll be come November when most of the leaves are off the trees, so the perspective definitely will change.
When we reached the low side of the property closer to the marsh, we walked along a shaded trail and had stopped to look at some mushrooms when I noticed movement in front of us.
About 50 yards away, a yearling doe zigzagged along the trail, stopping to nibble on vegetation. Despite walking directly toward us, it was unaware of our presence.
Seconds later, an adult doe came into view briefly and was equally self-absorbed in its morning munching. It soon walked out of view.
We stopped and watched for a few minutes, before deciding to continue on back toward our vehicles. With that, the deer bounded silently away.
Since I have gone entire firearms seasons without seeing two deer, I hope the sighting was a sign of good things to come.
After the landowner headed home, I continued exploring. My intention had been to revisit the ridge, but my curiosity about the lower, wet side of the property got the better of me.
I marveled at some of the woods dynamics and found some good areas that provided deer cover but with enough visibility for hunting.
My instincts were confirmed by the presence in that area of two treestands. One was an old, homemade, wooden stand that likely hasn’t been used in recent years.
The other was a metal ladder stand tucked under a tree adjacent to some good-looking habitat.
The walk included a stop to rest, eat a fresh apple and drink lots of water. My wanderings following the flagging tape marking the perimeter of the large parcel eventually took me to the edge of a gorgeous marsh.
The next hour or so was tough. I had ventured off the beaten path and instead began negotiating blowdowns, branches, rocks and raspberry bushes while trying to get back to the road.
The temperature had warmed into the mid-60s and my hike left me soaked in perspiration and leg-weary. Finally, after finding the trail, I sat down again and consumed the rest of my water before making the half-mile hike back to my vehicle.
There were no more deer sightings, but I came away convinced that there is great potential for the hunting season.
In the meantime, there is much more to explore before deciding which areas might provide the best chance of seeing a mature deer.