Bangor Daily News Outdoors Contributor John Holyoke (front) preserves the moment along with Billy Lander of Dedham (left) and Chris Lander of Orrington after BDN Outdoors Editor Pete Warner (back) harvested a 180-pound buck in Otis on opening day 2020. Credit: Courtesy of John Holyoke

Each year around this time, my hunting buddies and I light up our group text chain with optimistic thoughts about the upcoming deer season. Specifically, come September, we all keep our eyes peeled for the annual release of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s any-deer permit drawing, whereby we find out if any of us will have the opportunity to hunt for anything other than a buck come November.

Of course, like many Mainers, we don’t usually call those coveted tickets “any-deer permits.” No, we’re creatures of habit, we tend to refer to them as “doe permits,” or “doe tags.” With one of those in our pockets, we know that the chance of success will increase exponentially.

That’s the theory, at least.

But that’s not always the way it turns out. The reason for that: Maine hunters are often pretty picky about when they’ll pull the trigger, and what kind of deer they’ll take, if given the chance. Some are searching for big, mature bucks with big antlers. Others will spend a few weeks looking to shoot a buck, and will take a doe only if they feel they’re running out of time. And others will fill their freezer, if allowed, with whatever deer steps in front of them first.

Me? Well, in theory (since I’ve never actually filled my tag, whether with a buck or a doe), I’d count myself among those selective deer hunters who’d rather hold out for a memorable buck than simply cash in a doe permit early in November. The problem: I rarely find my own name listed among the lucky winners in the any-deer permit lottery, and when I do, I rarely end up with an opportunity to take a doe when I’m in the woods.

Notice, I say, “rarely.” Not “never.”

I did, in fact, have a great job at filling my doe tag about 15 years ago, when most (but not all) of the stars aligned on a beautiful early November day in the woods. I had a doe permit for the zone I was hunting. A doe stepped in front of me, about 20 yards away. Then another trotted into view and stopped.

Then I started thinking. If I pulled the trigger, my hunting season would be over. And I’d been looking forward to November since … well … the end of the previous November. It had become one of my favorite months for a simple reason: I made it a point to get outdoors with friends and make memories while trying to find an elusive deer. And now, less than a week into the month, my season might be over. I thought of all of the cool things I might miss out on.

And if it was over, I might never see the buck that was surely just around the next bend in the trail.

Adding to my indecisiveness: I already had a freezer full of moose meat at home, after having enjoyed a successful hunt just six weeks earlier. I really didn’t need any more wild game, and didn’t relish the thought of buying another freezer just to store meat I might never eat.

So I did what I thought was best. I raised my rifle, pointed the barrel at the nearest doe, looked through the scope, and whispered to myself, “Bang.”

Then I lowered the barrel and watched both deer walk away, content with the knowledge that on at least one day in the deer woods, I could have filled my tag, should I have decided to.

And I knew that I’d have other, more successful deer hunts ahead.

Which brings us to this year, my 20th (I think) as a deer hunter.

This year, I’m happy to report, I’m one of those “lucky” hunters who were fortunate enough to win one of the more than 153,000 any-deer permits handed out by the state.

Come November, I’ll again have the chance to cash in by shooting a doe, should I choose to do so.

Will I pull the trigger this year?

Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing is certain: I’m going to have  a fantastic time out there again this year, sharing the woods and making memories with the best group of hunting buddies I could ask for.

Just like I always do.

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...