Maine children have been tagging along with their hunting parents, uncles and aunts for generations, absorbing woods knowledge and learning to appreciate nature’s gifts.
The state formalized a program in 2002 designed to uphold those traditions when it recognized the Saturday before residents-only opening day as Youth Deer Day, a day when the only people actually hunting deer would be kids.
Since then, plenty of families have celebrated that day by taking their own kids afield or by volunteering to take a non-hunting friend’s child into the woods.
David Baker of Glenburn is one of those dads who has enthusiastically participated in Youth Deer Day whenever he has had a chance to do so.
Over the years, Baker has passed along several stories revolving around the hunts of his sons, and I’ve happily shared them with readers. You may also know him as the guy who caught a bass while fishing with a Bangor Daily News novelty key chain, which he turned into a lure.
Knowing his history, and knowing how much he and his boys love to hunt, I asked him to share a few Youth Deer Day memories.
Baker said his boys starting going into the woods with him years before they were actually hunting.
On those trips, he said, it didn’t take much to entertain his sons.
“As an avid bowhunter, my children are not strangers to the woods, and they have spent countless hours sitting quietly in a hunting blind, chewing on sunflower seeds and watching for deer,” Baker said. “I recall the first time my youngest son went out with me at 8 years old, and a squirrel gathering acorns came within 10 feet of my tent.”
Seeing a squirrel was cool, but what followed was even better.
“A short time later, a flock of [more than] 20 turkeys came up within a few feet of us and took flight one at a time to roost in the safety of trees for the night,” he said. “Each one [got] a running start before lifting off and landing in the trees — or, should I say, ‘crashing’ into the trees. Let’s just say that a 15- to 20-pound bird does not land quietly or gracefully.”
But while turkeys can spice up a boring day in a ground blind, Baker said actually seeing deer was a thrill. And when they stood by as their dad field-dressed a doe, they listened, spellbound, as coyotes barked in the nearby fields and woods.
While Baker expected his sons might someday take up hunting, he said he was sure not to rush them. After all, there’s a big difference between sitting in a ground blind with their dad and actually becoming the one who’s going to try to tag a deer.
“While both of my sons were technically old enough to hunt at the age of 10, I didn’t want to push them into it and we left it up to them to tell us when they were ready to hunt,” Baker said. “As it turned out, they were both 12 [years old when they made that decision]. Since then, youth day hunting has become a much-anticipated event in our home.”
And it didn’t take long for the Baker boys to start building up a stockpile of deer-hunting stories.
“In 2007, with youth day barely 20 minutes old, my oldest son, Joshua, shot his first deer with his new .30-30,” Baker said. “We realized too late on that rainy morning that we had forgotten to bring his shooting sticks [which are used to stabilize a rifle], so with his Uncle Brandon crouched down on his hands and knees so he could use his back as a bench, he zeroed in and dropped a five-point buck that dressed out at 175 pounds. What a way to start your hunting career.”
A year later, when the Bakers found that someone else had set up at the Youth Deer Day spot they had used that first year, they moved to another location, spent 20 more minutes afield, and Joshua took his second deer.
In 2009, with two deer to his credit, Joshua learned a valuable lesson.
“We literally spent the first two hours of that youth day [watching] two bucks at 60 yards that wouldn’t give him a safe and clear shot opportunity,” David Baker said. “How quickly he learned that deer hunting is not quite that easy. Back then, as a freshman in high school, he lived and breathed John Bapst Crusader football, so our youth day hunts for the next few seasons were cut to short morning hunts so he could get to practice or play games. Unfortunately, that led to a four-year dry spell of youth day success.”
But there was another Baker waiting in the wings. In 2013, Aaron decided he was ready to give hunting a try.
“We saw a few deer that day, but he wasn’t comfortable with the angle of the shot and wisely chose to wait for a better opportunity,” David Baker said.
Aaron didn’t fill a Youth Deer Day tag, but he did cash in a few days later, bagging a young buck.
Which brings us to Saturday. Do you think the Bakers will be back in the woods?
“[Aaron and I] are very much looking forward to youth day 2014, as we have already spent several hours bow-hunting together and ‘picking out’ that youth day deer,” David Baker said. “Let’s just hope the deer keep the same schedule and remember to show up Saturday morning. The pressure is on.”
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