December still holds plenty of deer hunting, but it is certainly winding down unless I head south. To date, that bug hasn’t bit me. The winter woods of the north, and their relative emptiness, hold too much appeal for me to venture in that direction. Usually by the end of VT’s late muzzleloader season my tank is pretty empty for long adventures. This year, I’ve more-or-less been on the go since the middle of August, when a long-delayed family trip to Alaska was made. No hunting, but I did squeeze in a couple of cool fishing adventures. The options up there seem endless, and the Dall sheep I glassed from one of our hotel rooms has my wheels turning. I also made fishing trips to Maine, Rhode Island, and NY in September and a foray to Colorado to guide an elk hunt. Phew...so many adventures! And somehow, I feel like I left a lot of things I wanted to do on the table.
I used to bemoan the end of deer hunting season. As I started hunting more, and with more intensity, I started to get worn down. A decade ago, I think it took me until February before I felt recovered from the miles and mountains of chasing bucks across northern New England. Since then, I’ve limited my archery hunting time and have focused on getting out on snow. I’ve noticed that paying attention to my nutrition helps with my ability to recover and sustain a high level of effort across the season. I make sure I get plenty of fat and protein in my diet, balanced with carbohydrates for day-to-day energy. If you’re dragging yourself around, instead of a buck, fuel up and hopefully end the season with a bang.
Late Season Deer
Vermont has a couple of late season deer hunting opportunities. Immediately following the end of rifle season, archery hunting begins anew on November 28th and runs until December 15th. I know a number of guys that are happy to brave the cold and sit out with their bow, but I figure if I don’t like to sit in the beautiful days of October, it probably won’t happen in December. Thankfully, the nine-day VT muzzleloader season starts on December 3rd and runs through December 11th. There is often snow, which is a bonus depending on the rest of the season, but in the areas where I like to hunt, the deer have often started to migrate to their wintering range. I really try to avoid getting anywhere near the yards to hunt; it just doesn’t feel right knowing what is coming in the next few months. I have caught up to some late season bucks before, provided that the timing is right so that they’re still poking around post rut.
One buck comes to mind. I cut his track crossing a road before daylight and camped on it. There was snow in it when I started in, so I had some catching up to do. Thankfully, there was evidence he was feeding pretty heavily, and tine marks pressed into the snow around the areas where he was digging up ferns kept me fired up in the single digit temperatures. I busted him out of that first bed without seeing him, and then gave him some time. Knowing I’d caught up, I resumed the chase. I saw where he had watched his back track, then started walking, browsing his way through a cut, then made his way down into a swamp. Having learned my lesson, I eased along and spotted him bedded in front of me under some cedars at 40 yards. I was able to touch off my muzzleloader and get a round into him. More waiting, some tracking, a miss and then finally I was able to finish him off. What a chase. I certainly didn’t get chilled dragging him out.
With the buck tracking season winding down, I like to shift gears into the final couple weeks of grouse hunting and get after some snowshoe hare. If the snow isn’t too deep, tracking a hare is a lot of fun and a good way to introduce people to the world of tracking. Those bunnies make all the same moves, just at 1/100th scale from a buck. I also start to get my ice fishing gear together and figure out what I broke last winter and forgot to fix, despite my best intentions.
Oh yeah, I’ll start Christmas shopping on December 12th. Seems about right, according to the song. As I mentioned, I’ve been chasing the partridge in the pear tree. We don’t have a dove season here, though maybe we should, though they’ve departed by now. There’s a thing about rings in there that makes me pretty nervous. As I ponder the song and all the things I need to buy, it turns out that I may have to hold off on shopping after all, the goose season runs until December 16th in the Connecticut River zone and I think that’s one of the days. After all that, poor Lori might get a subscription to the Maine Sportsman for Christmas – what a gift!
I never ask for hunting or fishing stuff during the holidays. Everyone is well-intentioned, but I’m pretty picky. Hopefully I get some taxidermy paid for in those boxes under the tree!