It’s Deer Month All Right
It’s deer month all right, but waterfowl hunters might argue the point. Deer hunters might outnumber duck hunters about 15 or 20 to one, but waterfowlers love the second season, when marshes prove empty of other hunters hogging blinds or floating meandering streams like a summer-camp outing.
Deer hunters live for crisp, still dawns, quiet afternoons with little wind and days with a steady breeze blowing in one direction. A quiet day helps folks on stand, but wind dampens the sneaking noises of still hunters.
Unlike spring and summer, the woods are quieter now with less bird life other than the ever common blue jays, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, brown creepers and golden-crowned kinglets. This nuthatch and creeper often accompany chickadee flocks, because the latter has a well-hone security system to detect predators – a fact ornithologists have researched well.
Other than waterfowlers, most people target deer now, but a handful of upland bird shooters, gray-squirrel hunters and still hunters after bear may ignore deer. Some folks may think of hunting varying hare, fox or coyote, but those three species become more popular targets after snow flies and covers the land. After dark, raccoon hunters get out with hounds for an ancient sport that offers excitement aplenty.
Once, the old Department of Fish and Game released ring-necked pheasant all over Maine, but in 1973, DIF&G claimed it cost $7 to release each bird. They also extrapolated and decided hunters shot 50 percent of them, so the real cost was $14 a bird. This expense led to a serious reduction in Maine’s pheasant program.
Just as an aside about pheasant, the first time I ever hunted this bird with a dog, I asked a farmer’s permission to hunt his cornfields. I returned about 40 minutes later with two pheasant without firing a shot, puzzling the guy. My Lab had retrieved two tailless cock pheasant, and one had gangrene in its legs!
One recent November along Route 2 beside the Sandy River east of Farmington, I saw a lone hunter walking across a harvest cornfield beside huge stands of oaks. He was carrying a .22 rimfire rifle and two squirrels. Grays obviously interested him more than deer – at least that afternoon.
Fly-fishing has picked up in November in rivers open to fishing. One attraction this month draws the fly-rodding crowd out – BWO hatches. The fall blue-winged olives often emerge at mid-afternoon, when temperatures turn the warmest.
Photographers like to take mood images now that browns, grays, blacks and blue-greens cover the landscape, and they concentrate on textures – say of ledges, stone walls, old cedar-shingled buildings and pine-needle carpets, with all the slanted shadows for that 3-dimensional effect. Even at midday, shadows look long in mid- to late November.
Wildlife photographers like November for targeting white-tailed deer, bald eagles, coyotes and foxes, and they do better in areas closed to hunting – such as Swan Island in the Kennebec River near Richmond, or anyplace else that deer feel safe against hunters.
Nights lengthen and prove ideal for preparing leisurely meals from spoils from woods and waters, accompanied by home-garden veggies or wild plants – a meal such as steak Diane, Brussels sprouts, Swedish potatoes, brandied carrots, French bread and Bordeaux Graves served by candlelight on a linen tablecloth with linen napkins, china and crystal glasses. Nope, hunters are not barbarians.
Tips of the Month
What Barrel Twist for Muzzleloaders?
Deer hunters often decide to buy a muzzleloader rifle to add one or two extra weeks (depending on the WMD) to the Maine deer-hunting season, which basically falls at the very end of November through the first 10 or so days of December. (Check the “Hunting Laws” sidebar in this “Almanac” for this year’s specific dates.)
When buying a muzzleloader, the amount of twist of the groove in the barrel is important because the shape of the projectile determines how much twist it needs to stabilize best in flight.
A round, patched-ball projectile needs a slow twist – 1:72 for small calibers, and 1:66 for .50 and .54 calibers. The “72” and “66” refer to the length in inches of a barrel, so most muzzleloaders for round, patched balls would not have a full turn, even in a long 42-inch barrel.
Hawken-style rifles, also called “plains rifles,” have a 1:48 turn – too fast for a round ball but good for a conical-shaped projectile. These muzzleloaders often have a 28-inch barrel.
In-line muzzleloaders are typically 1:28 or a little faster for skinnier, long, saboted ammunition.
General Bow Poundage Guidelines
• Hunters after small-game animals in Maine often use the same bow for rabbits as they do for deer, but a bow with a 25-pound pull would suffice for most small game.
• Hunters can kill medium game such as deer and antelope with a 25- to 41-pound pull weight, but a rule of thumb adopted by most Maine hunters is a 40-pound minimum.
• Hunters can kill large game such a black bear, elk, boar, etc. with a 42- to 65-pound bow.
• Tough African game and grizzlies require a bow with 65-pounds or more pull.
This data comes from Deer Hunters’ Almanac from Deer and Deer Hunting magazine.
Where the Action Is
Most serious deer hunters know that York County has a dense deer herd compared to other sections of the state, but another hotspot lies in Waldo County in such towns as Unity, Troy, Thorndike, Jackson, Monroe, Knox, Brooks, Swanville, Waldo, Morrill, Montville and Searsmont. See DeLorme Atlas, Maps 22 and 14.
Check major highways such as Routes 7, 139, 220, 131, 141, 1A, 137, 173 and particularly side roads of the more major arteries. Hunters can find lowland swamps and swale meadows, hardwood ridges, dense conifer stands, abandoned fields, old orchards, forested areas and power lines that provide ideal habitat producing denser deer herds than most other Maine spots.
Hunters with canoes can also float river stretches such as the St. George, Goose River and Bartlett Stream between Quantabacook Lake and Ruffingham Meadow, hoping to sneak up on deer foraging in dense undergrowth along the flowing waters.
News and Tidbits
Maine’s Highest Deer Harvests
Maine’s highest deer harvest occurred way back in 1959 – 41,735 – a whopping figure for this state, but miniscule in a vast majority of known-whitetail states. The 2013 kill was 24,795 – up 13 percent from 2012. Our lowest whitetail harvest took place way back in 1919.
From 1976 to 2013, Maine’s biggest whitetail harvest of 38,153 occurred in 1983, second largest was 37,255 in 1980 and third 36,885 in 2000. When looking at this state’s annual statistics, one year’s harvest number usually doesn’t plummet the next, but rather, declines over two or three years, reflecting two or three severe winters in a row.
Snow and cold affect Maine’s whitetail herd, but so do cataclysmic social events. World War II ended in May 1945, and the deer kill that fall was 24,904. The harvest began increasing as soldiers returned from the big conflict and returned to the Maine woods each fall to hunt. The kill rose each year after 1945, until it reached annual harvests of 30,000.
How Much Deer Blood?
A 150-pound white-tailed deer has a circulation system that includes eight pints of blood. If a wound causes a deer to lose 2 3/4-pints, or approximately 35 percent, the animal will die. However, whitetails clot easily, because they have a high amount of vitamin K in their blood.
Speaking of Harvest…
Non-hunters often criticize hunters for using the word “harvest” for killing game animals, but “harvest” works, because the word describes gathering a renewable crop such as corn or wheat – and deer – year after year.
Solar vs. Coal jobs
In May 2013, America had 123,227 jobs in the coal-mining industry, and in that same period, solar-energy was responsible for 142,698 jobs – a growing trend in energy production. Mercury on west winds coming from coal-burning, electricity-producing power plants in the Midwest has fouled northern Maine brook-trout ponds in remote areas, so any reduction of this toxic source benefits our state. More solar energy west of Maine would translate into a better future for us and our descendants.
Popular Maine Food from Past
In past centuries, some Mainers loved eating a seafood dish called finnan haddie – a name with a Scottish derivation that meant “smoked haddock” – often cured with smoke from green wood.
In Maine, to rid the fish of salt, folks often soaked the haddock in clear water for 30 minutes, before simmering it in fresh, clear water for 25 minutes more. After boning the meat, folks often serve it with a white sauce and chopped boiled eggs. How well this writer remembers finnan haddie from childhood – not a fond memory! Perhaps such dishes led gourmands into preferring French, Italian or Chinese foods.
Bicycling and Hemingway
I often think of an Ernest Hemingway passage when pedaling across Maine’s hilly, rolling, mountainous countryside, knowing that bicycling gives me a definitive feel for the terrain’s ups and downs. Pedalers learn the land whether they are on roads or wood trails – just part of the experience.
Ernest Hemingway, an American novelist who won Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, had hiked, hunted and fished across enough of North America, Europe, Africa and islands in the Caribbean and southwestern Atlantic to learn firsthand about how land rises and falls as he hiked or bicycled across it. His grasp of bicycling over rolling terrain enabled him to write a jewel of a sentence, quoted here:
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
Perforate vs. Imperforate St.-John’s-wort
Common St.-John’s-wort (Hypericum maculatum) grew on the edge of a driveway where I once lived – a popular medicinal plant used for depression on this continent and in the Old World.
This perforate plant has five yellow petals with black-dotted edges – a delicate looking flower because of the long, ultra-slender stamens. The leaves have translucent dots, a key to identification.
While bicycling in central Maine many years ago, I began noticing what I thought was St.-John’s-wort on road edges, and the leaves had no translucent dots, puzzling me. These imperforate plants were a different species than common St.-John’s-wort that had no translucent dots on the leaves, a common ground cover in this state. In my humble opinion, imperforate species prove more prevalent than the common one – at least in central Maine.
Granola types love common St.-John’s-wort because of its use in treating depression without using synthetic drugs. However, from the 1600s until now, farmers have disliked this plant, because it increases the propensity of livestock to have blistered noses from sunburn.
In fact, a negative quote about the plant appears in recently published Pocket Naturalist Guide with the title Invasive Weeds of North American by James Cavanagh and illustrations by Raymond Leung.
Cavanagh wrote, “An introduced species, it has rendered hundreds of thousands of acres of rangeland worthless by crowding out native species.”
Oldest Maine Rocks
Northwest of Eustis next to Quebec lie Maine oldest rocks, which go back 1.6 billion years! The curious circular arrangement has been labeled “Chain Lake Massif.” The same rocks are found on the island of Islesboro, in Penobscot Bay.
These are metamorphic rocks. New England has an abundance of metamorphic and igneous rocks but very little sedimentary. The former two form from heat and pressure, and the last from intense pressure on layers of sediment.
Passenger Pigeon Extinction Was Shocker
September 1, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the date when the last known passenger pigeon died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo. In 1804, less than a century earlier, the estimated population of passenger pigeons in North America was 3.5 billion. The extinction of such an abundant resource came so quickly that it shocked average Americans, who couldn’t believe this pigeon no longer existed. First-person accounts claim that flocks of passenger pigeons flew so thickly that they blocked out the sun over observers on the ground in the 19th century.
Understanding Tree Parts
When folks look at a tree, three features become immediately apparent to the most casual observer: 1) Trunk; 2) limbs; and 3) foliage.
Trunk: The trunk has six parts, including the pith, found in the trunk’s center, then outward to heartwood, sapwood, cambium, inner bark and finally outer bark.
Limb: The limbs hold foliage and grow outwardly toward open areas that offer sunlight.
Leaves: Leaves works as a principal organ of photosynthesis and also turn sap in usable food.
We don’t often see roots. The diameter of the root structure usually equals that of the limbs above, and root hairs absorb water and minerals from the soil.
Bird of the Month
Snow Bunting Time
At times in late fall at the Augusta airport, usually away from the runways, snow buntings fly in swirling flocks over the brown grass and maybe patches of very early snow, and a feature during flight makes them easy to identify.
No bird species of this size has so much white on the wings – readily visible when they fly. For about the first three-quarters of the wing length, starting at the body, white covers the wings above and below, but solid black feathers adorn the last one-quarter of the wingtips.
I’ve counted snow buntings in these Augusta airport flocks during the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, surely a learning experience, but mostly in life, I have spotted these buntings in northern Maine clear-cuts during November deer hunts.
This bunting measures 6 3/4-inches long, has a 14-inch wingspan and weighs 1 1/2-ounces – sparrow size – and sports a stubby, yellow beak.
In summer when the bird inhabits the Canadian tundra and breeds from March to August, the back and middle part on the tail’s top is black, but they have white on the head, underside, tail and part of the wings. In winter when they fly south to places like Maine, they are brownish-cinnamon on the back and top of head and have a cinnamon breast band.
This bird strikes birders as such a merry, happy soul that it’s easy to like. During some years, Maine deer hunters such as myself see snow-bunting flocks around clear-cuts around northern Maine but notice far fewer of them in other late falls, because they are sporadic visitors. Even hardcore deer killers who think of nothing but the hunt notice snow buntings and appreciate the sightings.
According to Peterson, the call is “a whistled teer or tew” or “a rough, purring brrt.” Its song is “a musical ti-ti-chu-ree repeated.”
When breeding in the tundra, the female builds a ground nest and lays four to six eggs with reddish-brown spots. They construct a cup of grass, and line it with soft materials such as fur and feathers. Buntings place their nests amongst rocks or vegetation to hide the eggs and ensuing offspring from predators. (Ken Allen)
Do You Know?
Northern Red Oak vs. Eastern White Oak
White-tailed deer prefer eating acorns from eastern white oak (Quercus alba) in comparison northern red oak (Quercus rubra). Do you know how to identify northern red oak and eastern white oak?
Pointing Dogs by Steven Mulak
Pointing Dogs – How to Train, Nurture, and Appreciate Your Bird Dog, by Steven Mulak (The Derrydale Press) came across my desk in a timely manner. As my Brittany, B-D (short for Bird Dog), approached her 8th birthday, we brought home a bouncing ball of fur and paws with the stately name Baxter S. Park.
With the new puppy, also a Brittany, I had hoped to improve my training process from eight years earlier. I quickly turned the pages, looking for the secret to producing that once-in-a-lifetime dog that bird hunters talk about long after they’ve hung up their scatter-guns.
Mulak’s first chapter, “The Top Ten Lessons We Learn From Bird Dogs,” quickly revealed a different kind of training manual. Let’s face it: some dog training books quickly add weight to the ol’ eye lids. Not this book.
Mulak has a way of getting trainers to look at the process from the canine’s point of view. He preaches understanding a dog’s spirit, as opposed to breaking it. He methodically mixes his philosophy with lively anecdotes to which any dog owner can relate.
Training bird dogs, especially for the average upland-bird hunter like me, can turn out badly without solid guidelines, and Pointing Dogs offers logical, solid advice that makes perfect sense for both dog and trainer.
I chuckled at the third chapter, “The Pointing Addiction.” For years, I had hunted with my good friend Dick Freeman and an assortment of pointing dogs he had trained himself.
When I purchased my first Brittany puppy, Freeman twisted his head slightly and commented “You’re addicted, aren’t you?”
He was right, and Mulak hit the nail on the head while delving into the fascination bird hunters have with a dog that lifts one paw and holds a rock solid point on a well-concealed game bird.
Pointing Dogs also touches on the reality of “The Other Ten Months.” Most bird hunters have little more than two months of pursuing winged game, leaving a huge off-season. Mulak’s stories of life in the off-season helps dog owners appreciate a pointing dog’s needs during the long lay-off between hunts. It’s a tough stretch for both dog and trainer.
When I brought home my first pointing dog, my neighbor Joe Schuttert, a long time German shorthaired pointer owner, gave me a pearl of wisdom that has turned out remarkably accurate.
“Having a bird dog is a lifestyle,” said Schuttert. Almost a decade later, I second the motion.
Steven Mulak knows this, too, and his philosophy for raising, training and hunting pointing dogs resonates throughout the book. He gives practical advice on when and how to discipline and, just as importantly, when to forgive.
Pointing Dogs has a lighter side that all dog owners will be able to relate to. For example, it’s likely that a dog’s name might evolve as time goes along. In fact, Mulak makes a case that this happens often.
My wife Denise, after one particularly difficult stretch of puppy training, started calling Baxter “Piddlehead.” Imagine, going from Baxter S. Park to “Piddlehead.” We’ve since got that corrected, but it took time.
While giving readers solid training and raising tips, Mulak reflects on a life spent living and working with pointing breeds, and his talents as a storyteller touch on the realities of living the pointing breed lifestyle.
I seriously recommend Pointing Dogs to anyone “addicted” to pointing dogs or embarking on training a new family member. For just $16.95, Pointing Dogs will put dog trainers in the right frame of mind to start the journey to a great lifestyle. (William Sheldon)
A Maine Sportsman Parable
Not long ago, a columnist at The Maine Sportsman and I were having a friendly, non-business discussion on the phone. This article touches upon something personal, so I’ll refrain from using his name.
He exercises a lot, which instigated a related question to pop into my head.
“Have you ever tried usin’ nasal strips?”
My question, an abrupt change in topic, came out of the clear blue with no lead-in about his penchant for exercising or anything like that.
“Yes, I’ve tried nasal strips,” he said quickly, “and they didn’t work!”
“Hmmm,” I mumbled, puzzled and speechless long enough to collect my thoughts. I almost dropped the nasal-strip discussion without another comment but plowed onward anyway.
“I’ve tried them for bicycling and love ’em. They’re like magic.”
That comment led to more exchange – and enlightenment. We were discussing the same product but expecting an entirely different result. We soon realized the misunderstanding.
• To make a long story short, he had tried nasal strips to stop his snoring with zero results.
• I was using the strips exclusively for bicycling, and in my opinion they cannot be beaten in my opinion for enhanced breathing.
Some plant in the outdoors gives me a slightly allergic reaction, and these strips widen my nasal passages enough to lessen the problem.
This quick story offers us a superb parable about life. Often, we discuss topics without knowing exactly what the other is thinking, and this leads to confusion on both sides. We see this problem all the time among political leaders, sports figures and wildlife pundits.
We must respectfully converse to reach understandings. As the world becomes more crowded and outdoor folks need more space for our hobbies, we compete with others who are seeking to use the same space. We must communicate more, or risk becoming enemies with people who should be our allies. (Ken Allen)
Dark, Festive Season a Busy One
The dark, festive season of December can be insanely busy with shopping, family gatherings, office parties and other social obligations, and right in the middle of it, folks are trying to hunt grouse, pheasant, ducks, geese, hare, raccoon, fox, coyote, squirrel and bobcat. Muzzleloaders who didn’t fill their deer tag in the bow-and-arrow or regular-firearms season concentrate on whitetails. In the bottom two-thirds, this season lasts two full weeks.
When snow flies and covers the land for the first time, folks turn attention to hare, fox and coyote. That’s what many Maine hunters do in December – try to get a few hares for a stew or shoot a wild canine for fur. A coyote offers some folks glory.
When it doesn’t snow, folks in the bottom half of the state may concentrate on ruffed grouse in these open covers where shooters can see well beyond the range of a 12-gauge shotgun. Also, shooters sitting in a poplar stand may be able to plink a grouse or two that comes to bud. Marksmen with .22 rimfires waste little meat.
Anglers like to get out on unseasonably warm days to catch the last trout or bass of their season this year, and we still have many open waters for fishing catch-and-release. More flowing waters are also available for late-season anglers.
A handful of people target harbor pollock now (see Tom Seymour’s “Maine Wildlife” column in this issue, as well as the monthly quiz), and The Maine Sportsman has probably published as many articles on the topic as there are intrepid winter pollock anglers.
(Here’s a quick saltwater digression from the 12th month. We have some seriously underutilized sports in Maine – some that were once popular, including cunner fishing. As a young child, I caught many cunner off the Rockland Breakwater each summer. Tommycod were also big-time popular in the 19th century.)
December is perfect for leisurely meals with linen, china and crystal accompanied with fancy game foods, wild plants and garden recipes with a grand bottle of wine. Can it get any better for a dark night with cold winds?
Photographers concentrate on mood shots, now that shadows stretch long and textured surfaces add to photos. Wildlife photographers love December for bald eagles, waterfowl, songbirds and deer – the latter where folks feed them.
Answers to “Do You Know?”
Red Oaks Dominate in Maine
If deer hunters find a small stand of white oak bearing acorns, it makes a grand spot to watch during hunting season. Deer concentrate on acorns from this species if red oaks grow nearby.
Unfortunately, northern red oak grow far more abundantly than eastern white oak, and both species are mostly in the southern half of the state. Red oaks generally stretch further north in that zone than white oak do.
• Red oak leaves have seven to 11 pointed lobes, and usually shallow sinuses, and the foliage often turns dark red in fall. The acorns are broad, measuring 1 inch in length. The bark on young red oaks looks smooth, while on mature trees it forms smooth ridges and fissures.
• White oak leaves have five to nine rounded lobes, and often deep sinuses, and they turn dull red in autumn. The acorn grows 3/4-inches in length. The bark on a mature white oak has peeling ridges.
When foliage blooms, good features to help identify these two oaks include 1) looking at the lobes on the leaves (rounded on the end on white oak and pointed on red oak); and 2) recognizing the barks and silhouette of the trunk and limbs after leaves fall.