A mallard is reflected in the still waters of Kennebec River. Duck hunting in Maine’s south zone runs through Dec. 26, while coastal zone remains open until Jan. 2. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The end of muzzleloader season’s second week and the expanded archery season marks the official conclusion to Maine’s 2020 deer hunt. As white-tailed deer are the preferred species sought by hunters in Maine and nationwide, there will be a lot of folks looking for alternatives. Fortunately, there are a few.

Let’s start with waterfowl. Hunters within the south zone – or who are willing to travel there – have until the day after Christmas to get in some late-season duck hunting while the coastal zone remains open until Jan. 2. The latter likely offers the best opportunities. With all but the larger waterways and water bodies frozen over, ducks will head to the coast for open water and easier access to the plants, invertebrates and fish to feed on.

While their daily movements are still concentrated around sunrise and sunset, tide also influences where they might be and when they might be there. With the smaller teal and wood ducks gone south, black ducks and mallards represent the majority now and will often congregate along the fringes and tidal creeks of coastal marshes and mud flats exposed by receding tides. Divers like buffleheads and goldeneyes are more common in deeper tidal rivers or where the rocky coast abuts deeper bays and inlets.

For those with the equipment and gumption to venture further offshore, sea duck season runs through mid-January. Having moved down to their wintering grounds, large flocks of big eiders and long-tailed duck, with a smattering of scoters, can be found sporadically along the coast. They could show up most anywhere but usually show a preference for certain areas rich in shellfish. Caution is advised, as the ocean can be unforgiving, especially in winter.

Those who prefer not getting their feet wet have until the end of the month, and the year, to pick a partridge out of a pear tree, or an aspen, birch or beech. With snow covering much of their preferred fall food, ruffed grouse may have moved from the thicker second growth areas into more mature forest, especially in areas with birch and aspen, where they’ll pick buds and catkins from the trees. They still prefer softwood cover for protection, so the interface between dense firs and open hardwoods might be a good place to start.

A snowshoe hare darts into the brush on a logging road in northwest Maine. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Meanwhile, the alder swales and young fir stands will still hold plenty of snowshoe hare. These long-legged lagamorphs transition to a white coat in winter, making them harder for the still-hunter to spot, but have an Achilles’ tendon that is best exploited by beagle hunters. Once flushed from their hiding place, the hares have a tendency to make a wide arc, looping back from whence they came. Strategically placed hunters can sometimes take advantage of this proclivity, though it may take several tries, as picking just the right spot in thick cover is always a gamble.

Winter is also a great time for some predator hunting. Calling and standing watch over a bait pile are both effective techniques, and with coyote, fox and bobcat seasons now open, you have more potential variety to choose from. All are keen-eyed and wary. Bobcats are less common and coyotes and foxes also rely on their sense of smell to detect danger, so opportunities are often few and far between, but it does offer an excuse to prolong your hunting season.

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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