A man in hunter orange and camoflaugue sits surrounded by frost-covered foliage.
John Holyoke hunkers down on a rock, surrounded by frost-covered foliage, on his first day of deer hunting during the 2021 season. Credit: Courtesy of John Holyoke

On Saturday morning, after missing out on a whole week of deer hunting, I gladly rose before dawn, got dressed in the dark, gave my truck an extra 15 minutes to de-ice, and joined some buddies for my own opening day of deer season.

To be perfectly honest, I’d also spent an ill-fated hour in the woods on Friday afternoon, trying (in vain) to find a spot to set up a ground blind that I’d be able to hunt out of on Saturday morning. What I learned: An extra year of growth has not-so-subtly changed the spot I regularly hunt, a maze of raspberry bushes has thickened and a series of waist-high alders is now up to my shoulders.

Of course, I carried a rifle along on that scouting mission — that would be just the time for a 10-pointer to walk in front of me, if I hadn’t — along with the blind. And after an hour of busting through brush and blundering through the forest, I beat a hasty retreat, sweating like a pig, and more than a bit frustrated.

Still a bit lame and tuckered out the next morning, I vowed to return to the scene of my blundering and brush-busting, find a comfy-looking rock and sit down for a spell. The area, though too thick for a ground blind, did offer me up a great view of a downhill path that ended near a brook that deer often cross.

And just a week earlier, a buddy had spotted a couple of bears just off this same trail.

So there I was, bright and early, hunkered down on a large stone, eyes peeled, waiting for something to happen.

A brown leaf covered in frost hangs from a branch, in front of a blurred forest background.
A lone frosty leaf hangs from a branch during a recent deer-hunting trip to Otis. Though the day seemed perfect for hunting, the deer didn’t cooperate.  Credit: Courtesy of John Holyoke

Well, again, I seem to be getting ahead of myself. Another buddy jumped a deer on his way to his own ground blind, and after trading text messages, each of us thought we might be in for some early action.

We weren’t. So I sat as long as I could, strained to hear the footfalls of something bigger than a red squirrel (which were, again, plentiful), and hoped for the best.

The morning was flat, calm and cold; frost coated every surface, and I swore if a deer grunted a half-mile away, I’d have been able to hear it. Not long into my sit, a shot rang out from behind me. It was quite distant, and I knew none of my buddies had fired it. But they didn’t know that, and a friend who was set up in the opposite direction from the shot texted me to ask if I was the happy hunter who had pulled the trigger.

Of course I wasn’t.

Not too long ago, spending days in the woods and convincing myself that I was actually “working” was a normal occurrence. For 18 years, actually, I convinced myself (and a string of supervisors) that’s exactly what I was doing. The outdoors columnist for this publication, I asserted, had a responsibility to get out there and live the life that he told the readers he was living.

And perhaps “living” isn’t even the proper term. “Celebrating” seems more appropriate, come to mention it. For that’s what we’re doing each fall, I figure: Celebrating not only an opening day, or the camaraderie that comes with it, but also celebrating a way of life and a series of traditions that so many of us grew up with, or, in my case, embraced a bit later in life.

Nowadays, after relinquishing my role as a more official outdoor voice and transitioning into a less formal role as an occasional contributor to these pages, it’s more difficult to rationalize spending countless hours sitting in the woods. Other demands, including classwork toward a new career, are ever-present, and I’m pretty sure my professors wouldn’t be nearly as understanding as past bosses if I chose to skip class and spend an afternoon sitting on a stump.

For one morning, though, I acted like the old me — the me who shared thoughts with Bangor Daily News readers three or five or seven times a week. I went into the woods. Froze my butt off. Sat on a rock. Then a stump. Then another rock.

And I saw nothing but squirrels.

I’m not saying this qualified as one of those “good old days” experiences, but it certainly did feel familiar.

And I’m sure I’ll be back, as soon as possible.

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...