A friend once told me the best time to be in the woods during deer-hunting season. While there are periods of higher probability, a deer could happen by any time of day. However, spending an entire day in the woods requires both mental and physical endurance. One way to more easily endure the vigil is by breaking the day into segments.

The day begins in darkness but the eastern glow gradually reveals vague shapes that slowly take form. The horizontal line you swore was a deer’s back becomes a fallen log. The ears and antlers of a nearby bedded buck morph into branches and leaves. The thin white stripe of a deer’s tail becomes a sliver of birch bark.

The first 30 minutes are crucial because this is one of the two periods of peak activity. The deer are most active before daylight, but if you got settled in early you might catch one before it drifts off to bed. Does may linger a bit longer but those old bucks are usually the first to disappear in the growing light.

Slowly the forest comes alive. A pitter-patter of footfalls on the dry leaves makes your heart jump and sends a surge of adrenaline through your veins but you quickly recognize it as one of the red squirrels that will plague you throughout the day. Things grow quiet again until the sound of a distant shot reminds you why you’re there, as if you needed any reminder.

An hour into your vigil, the sun is up but no deer have come your way. Not to worry. The second hour sometimes offers a second chance. Deer slip quickly off to bed when the sun comes up but may stir briefly an hour or two later, topping off their bellies before lying down for the day. You hope one does so near you.

Meanwhile, cold and boredom begin to afflict other hunters who have sat still for the morning peak. They begin to move and there’s always the possibility their activity could put otherwise docile deer back on their feet. More shots encourage you to remain vigilant.

By late morning the forest has grown quiet. Many hunters have headed off to breakfast or to work and even the squirrels seem to be taking a break. Deer sightings decline but if you do see one now, there’s a good chance it will be a buck.

My own experience, and that of many outfitters I’ve spoken with, is that 10 a.m. to noon can be one of the best times to catch a buck on its feet, especially during the rut. Then they’re driven by more than hunger. While they may have bedded for several hours, the urge to breed stirs them. Bedded does are harder to find so they wander, perhaps your way.

If not, you’ve reached the doldrums. While some folks like to stretch that magical buck period from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., I’ve found early afternoon to be by far the slowest period. It’s the warmest part of the day, making deer even less inclined to move. If you have to take a brief break from the woods or even catch a catnap on the forest floor, now is the time to do it.

The latter is a better option because you’ll already be in place for the next period, and the woods around you have been undisturbed for hours. Meanwhile, other hunters entering the woods for the evening hunt might push something your way. If not, the deer will be stirring soon on their own.

As the shadows grow and the temperatures descend, deer again stir. The first to move are usually does and fawns. Those weaned youngsters have big appetites and small bellies. Next come the young bucks, driven by hunger and hormones. If you’re after any deer, your day may have ended long ago, but if you’re holding up for something bigger, you wait. The last hour is better than the previous one, the last 30 minutes better than the prior 30 and the last 15 minutes are the best of the day. More often than not you’re not rewarded for your efforts. But with each passing day the odds tip ever so slightly more in your favor. Scouting, scent control and woodsmanship all play a part in your success but the greatest contributing factor, and often the greatest reward, is ultimately time spent in the woods.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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