Baby Ada’s screeching brings deer out of the woods

1977261_852004928146856_2210608103992680094_nMy 3 month old granddaughter, Ada Claire Smith, was wailing away on my shoulder, so I stepped out onto the second-story deck of our son Josh and daughter-in-law Kelly’s Bridgewater, Massachusetts home, thinking the change of scenery might quiet her. Unfortunately not.

As she continued to screech, I was startled when a doe deer burst out of the bushes from the woods in back of the house, a look of alarm on her face, and dashed to the stairs leading up to the deck. She looked up at us and snorted. I thought she was going to come right up the stairs, and I’d started to back up toward the door into the house when she turned and leaped back toward the woods.

But the deer stayed on the lawn, darting all over the place, stopping suddenly here and there, pawing up the ground, looking up at us, and snorting. Finally, she ran back into the woods and I took a deep breath.

Apparently, the doe took Ada’s cries to be those of a fawn. That’s the only explanation I could come up with. Perhaps this fall, I’ll try a wailing baby call from my deer stand! Or just take Ada with me!

Where to Hunt

A friend from Augusta asked me recently for advice on places he and his Dad could hunt this fall. Without giving away my favorite spots, I made these general suggestions.

Ask First

For most of my life I hunted wherever I wanted. I don’t remember any posted land when I was growing up. The posting trend is a relatively new phenomenon. After we moved to Mount Vernon 35 years ago, I purchased two adjoining woodlots to assure that I’d always have a place to hunt. Lately, I’ve hunted deer in just four places: my woodlot, my neighbor’s woodlot, a nearby farm, and a nice piece of public land. I turkey hunt in a lot more places, but I have the permission of the landowners in every single place.

I don’t even think of hunting on someone else’s land any more– even if it isn’t posted – unless I’ve received the permission of the landowner. So that’s the first piece of advice I gave my friend. You’ll be surprised by the willingness of private landowners to allow you to hunt their land, even if they’ve posted it. Many just want to know who is out there, what they’re doing, and that they’ll respect the land and the privilege of using it.

Posted Property

Focus on posted property, I advised my friend. Ask permission, develop a good relationship with the landowner, keep him or her informed of your hunting experiences there, and thank the landowner after the hunt is concluded. I always offer some turkey or deer meat to the landowner, if I’ve been successful. Sometimes a bottle of wine, or a new book, or a gift certificate, does the trick. And I always write and mail a thank you note after the season is over.

I also alert the landowner to the upcoming hunting season, and ask again for permission to hunt his land. Do this every year, without fail. Never assume you have permission because you had it the previous year. I visit the landowner in the off seasons too, to maintain a good relationship.

Sometimes it takes bit of work to find out who owns the land, but a trip to the town office and a look at the tax maps will get that job done.

Public Land

Most public land is open to hunting, even sections of state parks. I was delighted one year in the 90s to work with the Tom Morrison at the Bureau of Parks and Lands to open sections of state parks away from the developed areas and trails. Just be certain you know which areas in the parks are available, and which are not.

You can obtain a map of the public lands managed by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Bureau of Parks and Lands from those agencies, as well as other information about hunting those lands. If the land is owned or managed by a land trust, contact the trust for information on its properties and rules. I have had good success in the past, hunting land trust properties in my area.

I see very few hunters on the public land that I hunt, and those I do see are there year after year, so we’ve gotten to know each other’s favorite places – and we give each other that space. I know this is not the case in some places – especially in southern Maine.

But the fact is that we continue to lose huntable lands, for many reasons, year after year, and we are blessed with lots of public land, so I urged my friend to check out the possibilities on public lands near his home. If you are willing and able to walk a ways, you can often get far enough into public lands to be hunting alone.

Farms

Most farmers have problems protecting their crops from deer and turkeys – especially turkeys. Turkeys are our secret weapons! I’ve had many homeowners – some without a bit of huntable land – ask if we could come to their house and shoot the turkeys.

There was the year that I got a call one morning in December from a homeowner who wanted me to come – immediately – and kill the turkeys that were eating the Christmas decorations on her deck! She was quite disappointed when I told her the season didn’t start until the end of April. And yes, the following April, she welcomed us to hunt turkeys on her land.

Dad and I have shot several turkeys in a lady’s back yard, as we sat inside the tree line. But she loves the deer, so we don’t hunt deer anywhere near her house.

Farmers can shoot animals that are damaging their crops, without permits, but if they want someone else to shoot those animals, out of season, they have to get permits. A good relationship with a farmer can not only get you a place to hunt in-season, but sometimes out-of-season too!

Conclusion

The days when hunters could wander onto anyone’s property in any season to shoot any game animal are over. Yes, the law allows that on unposted land, but it’s a very poor practice, and that privilege has been lost – and will continue to be lost – on much of the private property in Maine.

Farms, posted property, public lands – they are all available, if you practice good landowner relations. Or, if you are able, you can just buy your own woodlot!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.