May 27, 2023

Weather Always A Factor In Deer Hunting

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Weather is something that can frustrate not only a deer hunter but wildlife biologists as well. Plans can change as we all know when factoring in the weather. Biologists use the best science available in determining how many permits of what type in order to manage wildlife populations like whitetail deer. The only way they can attempt to make sense out of factoring in what role the weather will play is by doing what meteorologists do – use long term averages.

Hunters, for the most part, plan their hunting around work schedules, including vacations. In Maine, I think it safe to say that most hunters will schedule their time off to hunt during the time they think the peak of the deer rut will take place – usual the third or fourth week of November.

All’s well until the weather turns. The season in Maine started out slow because of a lot of rain and wind. This seemed to be the trend throughout the term of the season until the last few days when finally it began to dry out and the winds die down. This got hunters out in the woods and the number of deer harvested during the last week shot up considerably, according to the Hunting and Outdoor Report from Mark Latti of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Reports from all the regions across Maine seemed to agree that harvest numbers rose the last week but not to the levels where officials speculated they would be before the season began, especially coming off a very mild winter last year. Allen Starr, regional biologist covering the Penobscot region, thinks the harvest numbers are high though.

As of Sunday morning, the Milo registration station was up 30% from the number of deer registered during the previous year. Likewise, the Lagrange station had a high number of deer registered, especially this last week. A meat cutter that I checked on Sunday had plenty of deer to process and while I was there, which was a little over an hour, five additional deer came in for processing. It’s too early to tell if this trend occurred statewide, but the previous mild winter, good hunting conditions this last week, and good hunter effort all contributed to an increased harvest in this part of the region.

Bob Cordes, another regional biologist who covers the western Maine area, doesn’t think numbers will reflect anything but below average totals.

The weather hasn’t changed much at all during this firearms season. It has remained unseasonably warm with no tracking snow throughout the region. From all reports, it appears that the deer harvest this is will be slightly lower than average throughout Region D. The weather forecast for the muzzleloading season doesn’t look much different.

The lack of tracking snow, even in the northern counties, will keep harvest numbers in check. Arlen Lovewell, who covers the Aroostook Region says that hunters should take advantage of the lack of snow and go hare hunting. He reports the snowshoe hare is all white now and shows up well without snow.

If snow is late arriving in northern Maine, hares will be very susceptible to predation, but this also makes for great hunting as they are easy for hunters to spot. Usually the best areas are softwood thickets or old fields planted with softwood trees. If you’re done deer hunting and still want to get out, hunting hare on bare ground can make for a pleasant outing, particularly once you’ve located pockets or thickets with high hare densities.

Perhaps the most interesting information in the Outdoor/Hunting Report, comes from the Downeast Region compiled by James Hall regional wildlife biologist. He recalls some gun history dating back to the time around World War II and the difficulties hunters had finding ammunition.

I remember a conversation I had with a hunter about the period of peak deer harvests in Washington County during World War II and shortly thereafter. The average hunter today, if faced with a shortage of anything, it is usually time not equipment. There are many sources of ammunition today, the corner hardware store is replaced by big chain stores as well as internet sales. This is just the opposite of what hunters were facing sixty-five years ago. People and stores didn’t stock pile reserves of ammo, just ordered and purchased on as needed basis. The war effort had reduced the production of sporting ammunition and local stores were sold out. Everyone was scrounging what they could find for odds and ends of ammo including old black powder loads.

The classic Maine deer rifle was a lever action, the three leading manufacturers at that time were Winchester, Savage and Marlin. Colt had their “Lightning” series of slide action rifles but by the turn of the Century, they were discontinued. Remington never pursued the lever market instead, put their resources into the slide action, (Gamemaster) and the semi-auto (Woodsmaster). The age of the bottle necked cartridge and smokeless powder had come. Remington seizing on this and the popular cartridges of the day, made their guns in the same caliber as the levers except their actions required a rimless shell. So a 30-30 WCF and a .30 Remington were the same except for the case rim.

The supply of 30-30 ammo and 9mm ammunition was quickly bought up. And since there were fewer Remingtons around, there were often a few boxes of .30 Remington ammo available. Hunters soon found that they could shoot the Remington ammo in their Winchesters but it was strictly a single-shot proposition. A hunter would have to carry a finish nail with him, After firing, he would jack the action open, force the nail in the extractor slot, and fish the case out. A slow process but a single shot was better than nothing. Similarly, it often happened with the old paper shotgun shells. If the wax was worn off, and on a rainy day, the paper would swell. When fired, the extractor would tear through the rim and fail to eject the empty case. The nail trick would work, but if it was really stuck, you would have to take the gun apart so you could get at the shell head better and pry with a knife. If breaking the gun down wasn’t an option, then you had to whittle a small hardwood whip to use as a ramrod to force down the barrel to eject the shell. It goes without saying, there isn’t much for ramrod material on tidal ledges. If this ever happened to you, next time you’d bring along a spare gun and leave it in the boat. Make sure that you visit your local gun shop and stock up on these items. Make sure as well to bring hunting accessories. Needless to say, by Murphy’s law, this is always when the ducks would toll or a deer would be standing their watching you.

Tom Remington