Simple math equation ends quest for a Maine deer

On Saturday afternoon, I finally called it quits on the deer season of 2011. The sun wasn’t setting. I still had plenty of time (theoretically) to fill my tag. But after spending far too many hours in the woods (if that’s possible), I just called it quits.It was time.

If I’d had a white flag in my pocket, I might have considered waving it in surrender. Notice I said “considered.”

I didn’t, in no small part because years ago, grade school chums had me half-convinced that pulling out my white handkerchief during recess at Brewer’s State Street School during November might get me shot.

Either way, I surrendered. Gave up. Quit, even.

The final straw for me was the pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm, which I greeted enthusiastically. Well, to be more clear, I greeted it enthusiastically after I’d spent Wednesday night removing a few thousand pounds of slush from the end of my driveway.

The next morning … and Friday afternoon … and all day Saturday, I’d be able to tromp through the snow and find out where the deer had been hiding.

But on Thanksgiving day, after spending several hours scouring the terrain, I came to a conclusion: Apparently, those deer weren’t hiding in Otis at all.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose. Back in early November, in fact, I received word that indicated I might want to move on to more productive deer territory.

On Nov. 3, I received an email from Randy Cross, a bear biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He said that the mild conditions and abundant feed meant good news for deer hunters … kind of.

Actually, he said the conditions meant deer hunters willing to shoot a bear would be more apt to spot one in the coming weeks than they normally would.

“Was out hiking through the snow on a beech ridge with my nose to the ground on Tuesday morning above the [Stud Mill Road],” Cross wrote. “Found lots and lots of bear sign (tracks). The bears are still out, active and foraging so deer hunters will have a better chance to harvest a bear during deer season this year compared to most years. Not so good for marten trappers, though, as bears are prone to smashing cubbys to get at their marten bait.”

Since I’d recently seen bear tracks on one of my trips into the woods, I sent photos of the tracks to Cross. His return email was sobering.

“If my little informal track survey is accurate, you would be about 15 times more likely to see a bear than a deer in the high country west of Grand Lake Stream,” Cross wrote.

I don’t hunt in the exact area Cross was referring to, but during those long (uneventful) hours on stand, I had plenty of time to obsess over what he had written.

And once that brain worm started burrowing, my expectations began to dim. Golfers call it having “a bad swing thought,” like “Wow. I hope I don’t hit this ball in the water.”

Fifteen more times likely to see a bear, I thought, over and over again. Fifteen times more likely to see a bear. Fifteen times more likely to see a bear.

As it turns out, I saw neither deer nor bear. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I happily noted that a couple of deer did, indeed, live in Otis. They’d left tracks sometime the night before. So did a coyote. And a rabbit.

But as I sat in a ground blind on Saturday afternoon, on another solitary day in the Maine woods, I finally decided enough was enough.

Call me a quitter if you must. Call me impatient.

I prefer to think of myself as a math whiz. After all, even if I’d stayed, I’d have been 15 times more likely to see a bear.

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.