On Saturday morning, many Mainers will pack up their trucks before first light — double-checking to assure themselves that they’ve got all the essentials, of course — and set course for their favorite patch of woods.
Others are more fortunate, and will simply amble out their back door and disappear into their own personal forest, where they’ll spend at least part of the day waiting for a burly buck to walk past.
We call it “opening day,” and deer hunters around the state will observe this de facto holiday in traditional style.
But let’s be clear on one thing: Opening day, this is not … not really, at least.
Archery hunters have been hunting for weeks now, you see. And those who don’t see the word “Maine” stamped on their driver’s licenses will have to wait until Monday to head afield. And heck, our junior hunters were out looking for deer a week ago.
So if you’re going to get really picky, Saturday is Mainers-only opening day (we can debate the merits of not allowing out-of-staters a chance to hunt at a future date) … for firearms hunters.
Call it what you will. My buddies and I — Mainers with rifles, every one of us — call it Opening Day. And a special day it is.
Not that we ever have much luck filling our tags on opening day, of course.
Not that we don’t have plenty of fun in spite of that.
For much of the year, we’re tied to our desks, you see. Or to the school or sports activities of our kids and stepkids. I’m the lucky one in our group — I write about outdoors matters, and can legitimately tell my boss that a trip to a fly fishing river is simply another day at the remote office. The BDN Grand Lake Stream Bureau, if you please.
But for others, these days are a true rarity: We block out the time, make plans to meet at predetermined spots and get to spend quality time with buddies we don’t get to see nearly often enough.
Or, we get to spend time without them.
That’s the thing about deer hunting: Even though we meet up in the morning, we then hike to our own favorite spots, where we’ll sit or still hunt for hours, alone.
That’s not to say we’re not together, though.
Every shot in the distance — even way in the distance — is reason to feel optimistic. Someone got one, we’ll think. If the shot is closer, we get even more excited. Was that Chris? That shot came from the direction he said he’d be hunting.
Sometimes, we keep track of each other with radios, and are able to ask those questions aloud. Other times, we text back and forth: “Was that you? Did you get him?”
And still other times, nothing much happens. At least, nothing happens that we feel like sharing.
A few hours later — often at lunch — we regroup at a truck parked nearby. And we share our stories about things that did or didn’t happen.
Those parts of the day are among my favorites. Sure, I love to listen to the forest wake up around me, and my heart starts pumping when I hear tentative footsteps approaching from behind a thicket. Watching various critters walk past is always a kick.
But those lunchtime chats — or the ones that take place at the end of a long day in the woods — are our sharing times.
Most days, most of us have something to say. We saw a deer in the distance. We jumped a buck that ran toward another member of our group. We were visited by a red squirrel that refused to leave. We saw two moose in a clearing … or, sometimes, we saw nothing at all.
That’s the way hunting is. You don’t know what you’ll see unless you go … and you know you’ll see nothing if you don’t.
Opening day, then, is a day worth savoring. It’s a day we look forward to for 11 months. And it’s a day we wouldn’t think of missing.
Maybe we’ll come back from the woods with stories to share. Maybe we’ll even get a deer on opening day this year.
Or maybe we’ll just enjoy our time in the beautiful Maine woods with friends.
No matter what the case, it’ll be a glorious day worth remembering. We’re sure of that.
Enjoy your opening day. Be safe.
And do yourself a favor: Take time to appreciate those little moments that make life here so special.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke