No Deer On the Pole; Why?
By V. Paul Reynolds

No venison for the Reynolds freezer this time around, but I don't think my hunting partners and I have ever enjoyed the deer woods any more than this year! We saw a lot of new country and found plenty of deer sign - for a change.

Depite a lot of personal distractions, time was put aside for some bow hunts in Bucksport's expanded archery zone, as well as some November firearm hunts not far from my new Branch Lake home. Our annual deer camp week up north was abbreviated, but the companionship was still the tops. We did manage to put one plump young buck on the game pole.

To round out the season I, my son Scotty and our friend Mark Kane did a three-day blackpowder hunt in the Big Woods. To our delight, we had a blanket of new snow on the ground. The first two days walking conditions were crunchy, but the night before our last day it turned warm and rainy. And then it got good, really good.

Illustration above by V. Paul Reynolds

Warm temperatures, combined with a light drizzle and a little "snow fog" made tracking conditions ideal. If you are a deer hunter, you know what I'm talking about. It's a deer hunter's chance to track quietly, to be almost as stealthy as the deer. Almost.

Mark Cane, a marathon runner who knows how to stay on the track, fired his new .50 caliber Omega smokepole at two different bucks. They were marginal shots. No cigar.

No other shots were taken during the three-day hunt, but we were into the deer, and that kept it interesting.

Snow adds such a special dimension to any deer hunt. The woods is a picture book of animal activity and such a contrast to hunting on bare ground. Snow reminds the deer hunter that there is a lot going on behind stage center, a lot more animals there than you might think.

My wife wants to know why we did not bring home some meat. A fair question. In every respect conditions could not have been better. We had deer. We had conditions hunters dream about. We put in our time. We wore ourselves out tracking deer all day long, not quitting until darkness came on. And we are experienced deer hunters.

The answer is simple: we were outfoxed by the deer. None of them made the fatal mistake that some deer will make if you track them hour after hour. I have taken deer on the snow when they got curious, got tired of the chase and stopped to check their backtrack.

The longer I hunt these wild and wary critters, the more respect I have for their incredible survival instincts and keen senses. It's a reality that makes deer hunting such a special challenge, and it is what keeps bringing me back fall after fall.

Oh, a final footnote to our three-day blackpowder hunt. Back at camp at day's end, two of us were caught by surprise when we tried to "clear" our muzzleloaders. Only one ignited and fired a ball at the target; the other two went poof. Wet powder.

We had taken precautions, too, by taping a plastic baggie to the end of the barrel. That's not a new experience for me, but I had thought that my newer model inline, with powder pellets and shotgun primers, was pretty much "water proof." Back to the drawing board.

Ironically, the only smokepole that fired was an older model Thompson Center Scout that still uses granular powder and the tiny ignition caps. Go figure.

You ask yourself: "What if I had been face to face with a buck of a lifetime while on the track that day, and the gun went poof?"

We pledged to do better next year.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is . He has two books "A Maine Deer Hunter's Logbook" and his latest, "Backtrack." Online information is available at or by calling Diane at 207 745 0049.

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