Another muzzleloader season in Maine begins Monday with mixed feelings for deer hunters. If you care, it means you either didn’t tag your buck during firearms season (frustration) or you still have an antlerless tag to fill (hope). It’s going to be colder, and what deer remain have been chased and educated for a month (despair), but the season is still open (cautious optimism).

Here are a few things to consider if your mood is on the negative side:

The rut is a magical time when sage old stags seem to sacrifice safety for sex, and walk about during daylight. Unfortunately, it peaked around the third week of November. However, deer don’t wear watches or read calendars. If you were to plot conception dates for all the deer in the herd (and biologists do), you would see a decreasing number on either side of the peak. There won’t be as many hot does out there, but all it takes is one to raise the ardor of a randy buck.

It’s quiet out there. A good many hunters have tagged out or called it a season, so they won’t be moving the deer around for you. That could be good or bad depending on how you hunt. If you rely on hunting pressure, it’s not so good. But with fewer hunters in the woods, deer may gradually return to more natural movement patterns, and if you study them, you might be able to hunt them like you did back in October.

It’s frigid. By now the fluctuations have flattened and 40-degree days are few and far between. Sitting still for several hours will be less comfortable, but that cold creates more urgency for deer to restore fat reserves depleted during the rut. They feel the need to feed more, and focusing on concentrated food sources might be a worthy tactic.

There’s a far greater chance of snow, which comes in different forms. Fluffy white powder is the deer tracker’s dream. When it comes, you’d better get out there, because within a few days we often get a thaw or even rain, followed by a freeze, creating noisy crust. That’s sometimes better for a stationary hunter because you’ll hear the deer coming, but you still have to get to your stand without them hearing you. Remind yourself that you’re not hunting the deer that are there; you’re hunting the deer that will be there.

There are fewer deer. First, there was expanded archery, then the regular bow season, and the majority of Maine’s annual deer harvest comes during the regular firearms season. But, with the rut winding down and finding food more important, individual deer begin coalescing into larger loose affiliations. If you can find one, you may find more. The deer are also moving toward traditional wintering areas, at least in the north country, and they may use traditional migration routes. If you know where those are, it might be a good place to set up and wait.

Depending on where you hunt, you still have a week or two to get it done. It’s going to be colder, quieter and lonelier out there; some folks prefer that. When your pals who tagged out earlier in the season provide a little friendly banter, remind them that you’re still out there doing what you love, and they’re not. Good luck.

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

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