Posted on December 6, 2011



“…we chart our course and navigate our journey with the choices we make. The only choices that live are the ones that are taken.”  – Erwin McManus


To kill a buck is one thing, to actually hunt one is another thing entirely. And in order to effectively hunt down a buck you must be hunting where they exist. Just because once upon a time you may have had great success in a certain location, state or province is no guarantee that will be the case today; external influences can and do change circumstances dramatically. We cannot live in the past.

McManus adds, “Studying history can be a powerful tool for launching into the future, but living in the past is an enemy of the future…Learning from the past informs and prepares us to seize divine moments. At the same time, looking to the future positions and guides us to move into the moment with confidence.”

If you are a Maine deer hunter these days life in the deer woods is not what it once was; far from it. Overall deer numbers have plummeted significantly, chiefly due to lack of over-winter cover (deer yards) coupled with multiple back-to-back severe winters. And with that decline, the trophy bucks with the heavy weights that Northern Maine has historically been known for are now few and far between.

Like it or not, those are the cold hard facts. In recent days I’ve heard and read from many disgruntled hunters regarding lack of deer sightings, no bucks to be found, very little buck sign, etc.  And then there are those who claim to be in the know that offer what I consider false hope in order to protect their investment.  For instance, one writer stated, “If you have given up hunting deer in Maine because you believe there aren’t enough deer to make it worth your while, you might be pleasantly surprised spending some time scouting, and not just in Southern Maine. Even in the North Woods there are strong pockets of deer. If you spend time there, have friends who do, or use the service of a guide, you can locate those hotspots.”

Okay, so if you are like most deer hunters who may only have one precious week of vacation, two at the most, that time becomes very valuable. Traditional deer camp aside, when you head into the deer woods one of the primary goals is to shoot a deer. With only so much allotted time to accomplish this, what are your odds?  (Doing the same thing with the same set of circumstance and expecting different results is in a word, insanity.)

Understand, there is nobody that loved tramping through Maine’s North Woods chasing big bucks more than I. It was for decades a pleasurable experience that afforded me a great deal of success. It was never easy.  A lot of toil, sweat and miles went into each hunt, but there was usually a reward at the end of the trail.

As hunters, all we can expect is a chance, but when that chance becomes as dim as winning the lottery it may be time to rethink your deer hunting future. I’ve often said, “You can be the greatest fisherman on the planet, but if the body of water you’re fishing holds no fish it matters not what you throw into the water, the results are the same: an empty creel.”

I’m bemused by the writer’s soliloquy that “Even in the North Woods there are strong pockets of deer.” Deer in that part of the state have always lived in pockets rather than being evenly distributed across the landscape. They traditionally set up residence near available food sources; typically this would be in close proximity to cuts. During the 80’s and 90’s at best the carrying capacity was no more than 50% of what the land could support, which would put deer numbers at around 2-to-5 deer per square mile. Low deer density aside, the lure for me and many other big woods hunters was the very real possibility of encountering one of those famed big old bucks that would yank the scale down well past the 200 pound mark. At this point in time those opportunities are minimal at best.

Okay Bernier, so what’s your answer? Glad you asked. Like I, you have choices; you can either adapt like the animal you hunt or become extinct, it’s your choice. You can continue to bemoan the fact that deer hunting in Maine is horrible and go through the motions with an empty game pole by seasons end, or find more favorable hunting lands. I for one had no desire to become extinct, not just yet anyway, and wanted to continue hunting the same quality of bucks I’d become accustom to shooting using the methodologies I love most (tracking & still-hunting) in a wilderness setting. Once it hit me that my efforts in Maine were nothing more than taking my gun for a walk and counting trees, I began a search for locations that would give me the chance I once had in Maine.

I adapted to the situation at hand, found suitable locations, deer numbers, and the quality of big bucks that no hunter would be disappointed with. This move required driving a long distance, spending money and learning completely new areas, but the results have been very rewarding. The bucks I now hunt are no less difficult to chase, but they literally exist.

Sentimentally, I long for the day when the Maine deer herd rebounds in sufficient, huntable numbers, which will allow me to once again take up the chase in some of my favored bailiwicks; places that hold fond recollections of past hunts and big bucks that once roamed those swamps, ridges and forests. I’m confident that will one day happen, due chiefly to the resiliency of the whitetail, not because of some writer’s wishful thinking. How long that takes is anyone’s guess. According to Commissioner Woodcock, “It could be decades.” Until then, I will use what wisdom I have to guide me into the future, exercise my ability to make choices, and hunt with confidence based upon those decisions. I would highly recommend the same for you.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer