Urban Whitetail Trophies
By Stu Bristol
"The more people who go north for hunting season, the better." Notes a Biddeford hunter who shares more than 3,000 acres of public land with me, almost within sight of the Maine Turnpike.
The same hunter, by the way, usually tags out the first week with a hefty whitetail that is the envy of all of us. IF&W statistics show that the southern three counties support the largest segment of the human population but is also home to the largest per square mile ratio of whitetails.
Still, the perception that southern Maine is plastered with "No Hunting" signs causes a significant amount of deer-slayers to head for the north country. Actually, the bottom three counties have nearly half a million acres of guaranteed public land and more than that of private land that is open to hunters, if they take the time to look around.
Game managers have been reporting for years that southern Maine deer hunters are privy to the largest concentration of whitetails in Maine. The hunters' odds of seeing a legal target are double or triple what they would be if hunting north of the Kennebec River.
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Of course hunters believe the number of deer in the 200-pound and over range are fewer, but statistics show that southern Maine hunters take about the same number of large whitetails that are taken in the north. In fact some of the all-time state record whitetails were taken from southern Maine locations.
The bulk of open land in southern Maine is farm country and softwood hide-aways. Peat bogs called "heaths" and wooded marshes are havens for heavyweight whitetails. Hunters just need to adjust their tactics to encounter these moss-backs.
Not to criticize the daily routine of southern Maine deer hunters, but it has been my observation, backed by Warden Service interviews, that most southern Maine hunters stick to the easy access to woodlots. That is the maze of logging (tote) roads are the favored points of entry. Many a trophy deer has been taken from these roads and dragging conditions are decidedly better.
However, my circle of friends get off the beaten paths, sometimes not more than a couple hundred yards, and the average weight of bucks climbs dramatically. Conversations with hunters at rod and gun clubs and local watering holes bears out my claim that southern Maine has perhaps the highest trophy deer-to-hunter ratio. If you hunt off the beaten path, in southern Maine, I say, you have the best odds in the state of bagging a trophy whitetail.
So, where are these deer havens? It's like the old joke about a man who gets stopped at the factory gate each day, pushing a wheelbarrow of straw. The guard is sure the man is stealing something but never finds anything hidden in the straw. One day it dawns on the guard, the man was stealing wheelbarrows.
I don't need to give you an atlas or GPS location of these hide-outs, they are right smack in front of your face. Just take a map and look for public property such as Experimental forests, Public Reserved lands or large tracts of peat bog or softwood marshland.
Big whitetails usually become nocturnal. That is, they travel at night, or during periods of low light, at daybreak and dusk. Hunters need to find ambush points (stands) that take into consideration the travel routes and wind direction. Where heavy cover meets open hardwood are prime.
In the large heaths or bogs, look at top maps for small islands of higher ground. These are the daytime bedding areas for the big guys. Catch the buck going to or from the island, or plan a daily still hunt into his domain, from the downwind direction. Don't be afraid to get you feet wet, and some of the larger bog islands may require a canoe to reach.
The "banana-belt of Maine is, I think, a hidden treasure for deer hunters. You don't have to travel hours to get there, you won't be hunting for bucks that range over acres of land each day and, once you get off the road, you will find very little hunter competition.
Stu Bristol is a freelance outdoor writer living in Lyman. His weekly newspaper columns and monthly features have appeared nationwide for over thirty years. Visit www.stubristol.com to check out more of his stories.
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