The best gifts come in small packages, or so they say. Lifting a small envelope, I wondered what exciting endowment might lie within. Perhaps a gift certificate to the local sporting-goods store with which I might purchase a dozen arrows or a couple boxes of shot shells. Or maybe a lottery ticket, with which I could possibly win enough money to buy a new gun or bow.

It was neither.

Instead, it held a slip of paper that still bore its trifling purchase price. Still, it brought a smile as I pondered the possibilities.

It would all start in a week. The sea duck season had been open for several months, but a new year represents a new season. The local ramp will be frozen over, so we’ll have to rise a little earlier and drive a little farther, but if the wind is calm the gunning should be good for the rest of the month.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate, I’ll stay onshore and hunt rabbits – snowshoe hares, to be more precise – or predators. During the day we can run coyote dogs, and at night we’ll sit silently watching a bait cache. Success rates are typically low, but it’s being there that matters most. The hare hunts, too, are more about the dogs, but I relish the possibility of a good crockpot snowshoe stew. If I’m lucky, that will carry me through the end of March.

Then fishing will win the day for a few weeks, but as the days grow warmer my attention will turn to turkeys. Scouting is key, and like the turkeys, I’ll follow the receding snowline back into the woods on my scouting forays, which will be followed by five weeks (minus Sundays) of turkey season. I only wish I lived further north, where 90 percent of the huntable birds weren’t gone after the first week of the season. But 10 percent is better than nothing.

Fishing will again get much of my disposable time in June, July and most of August. But I’ll spend at least one day a week in August selecting, preparing and tending bait sites for the upcoming month-long bear season. I’ll also spend lots of time scouting, selecting stand sites and clearing shooting lanes for another upcoming season.

Late August and early September represent the first pinch point, and priorities will vary with the calendar dates. Hopefully I can get a full week of bear hunting in without interruptions, as I usually only hunt the first week, but that’s not likely.

While most folks are playing golf or catching stripers on Sept. 1, we’ll be lying in wait for the first flights of resident Canada geese. Have to hit them early because they wise up quickly. When they do, we’ll motor on to Merrymeeting Bay for rail shooting. Early gunning is sometimes slow, but we’ll see plenty of teal and a few larger puddle ducks to whet our appetites. Their time will come soon enough.

The following weekend kicks off the expanded archery season, which will span from the Saturday after Labor Day until sometime in mid-December. The best bowhunting is often later in the fall, but I want to maximize my early time because there will be many distractions to come.

Early October brings the start of waterfowl, upland game and the statewide archery seasons, and suddenly time will seem more dear. Have to hit the ducks first, because they’re such early risers and more influenced by disturbance. After a midmorning breakfast, we can switch to the more gentlemanly sport of upland bird shooting, then spend the late afternoon in a treestand. And then there’s fall turkey season, which will draw me away from the fauna just long enough to put a Thanksgiving bird or two in the freezer.

Next comes November, and with it the firearms season on deer. If I tag out early, I can always revert to ducks, upland birds or even turkeys. Or I can take my bow back into the expanded archery zone. Either way, it all helps fill the freezer with local organic protein. The first two weeks of December will give me a last chance to fill my expanded zone tags, or use a muzzleloader to fill my regular deer tag if I haven’t already. Then I’ll finish off the month back on the ocean chasing eiders, or possibly gathering a grouse or two for Christmas dinner.

All that will be my Christmas present thanks to that little piece of paper – a hunting license that cost about the same as dinner for two, a round of golf, a tank of gas or a family’s cell phone bill. For that meager fee, I am awarded the privilege of 12 months of hunting. No offense to those who gave me equally thoughtful material gifts, but I think this is my favorite.

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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