The hype leading up to the November 2014 Whitetail Deer hunt far exceeded anything that I can remember in the previous ten years. People were simply seeing more deer, and large ones at that. So it’s no surprise, as I sit here on a Sunday in the second week of November, that our deer harvest appears to be way up across Aroostook County. The first two weeks of the season alone have yielded more bucks over two hundred pounds than I’ve seen in the last decade, and the head gear has been equally as impressive.
Josh Caron is a forester for Irving Woodlands, and his mind is a virtual GPS of northern Maine’s woods roads, branches, and cuttings. A true sportsman in any right, Josh has seen his fair share of northern Maine whitetails throughout the years. But his depth of knowledge extends outside the bounds of maps and compasses. Josh is a self-taught deer hunter, not for the glory of the kill, but for the love of the chase. He doesn’t waste his time with flashy camouflage, gimmicky scents and attractants, or pricey calls. His plan is to not make plans. You typically wont find him back at camp for lunch, or back in town before darkness falls. Josh is a classic Maine deer hunter, and he knows that success depends largely on the time you put in, and the willingness to keep going when all signs point to giving up.
I had the pleasure of hunting with Josh on his 33rd birthday, November 8th of 2014. The anticipation leading up to the hunt was almost as exciting as the hunt itself, and all hands were on deck when we reached hunting camp on Friday afternoon. Northern Maine was cooling down rapidly, and a birthday gift in the form of fresh snow was slated to fall across the vast reaches of northern timber that Josh calls home during the better part of November. Being a newbie deer hunter in every respect of the word, I was excited to be in the mix with Josh during what was sure to be an exciting day. Fresh snow meant fresh tracks, and any seasoned hunter knows that your chances of locating a shooter buck increase dramatically with a fresh blanket of white.
Our day started with an hour and a half drive along the logging superhighways of the North Maine Woods, and the plan was to hunt an area dotted with old growth hardwood stands that had seen cutting in recent years. As legal shooting time approached, we set up on the end of a lengthy branch road and scoured the freshly fallen snow for any sign of wandering deer. It wasn’t long before we located a set of fresh tracks, and before long I was hot on the tail of what looked like a decent deer. He snaked back and forth through the hardwood stand, taking me on a walk that crisscrossed the road twice before I finally lost his track in the thickets. I returned to the road defeated and snow covered to meet Josh examining the tracks I had been following.
“You pushed that deer back across the road, these tracks weren’t here earlier.” he explained to me with a level of calm excitement that told me I was closer to that deer than I had initially thought.
We discussed the plan for several minutes before something caught Josh’s eye at the end of the branch. Looking through our scopes at nearly 500 yards, it wasn’t long before we noticed a second respectable buck making his way up the embankment and into the road. Without shooting sticks, any shot would be a prayer, but with the wind swirling at this point, prayers would have to do. After ruling out the possibility of a stealthy approach and on this seeming aware deer, several free standing shots were taken to no avail, and eventually our newly acquired target disappeared back into the woods no worst for wear. Upon reaching his location and examining his tracks, Josh decided he would take to the forest to try his luck at tracking the buck down. My plan was to stay local, keeping a watchful eye on the road in the event that my morning buck would return to his bedding area later in the day and present me with a shot upon crossing my path.
What followed for Josh was a three hour trek hot on the tail of a rutting deer. He would return to the truck later and explained to me that he got close enough to smell and hear the buck, but was unable to get eyes on him. The deer had crossed another road several miles away, and knowing that he would likely bed after being on the run for the last few hours, Josh backtracked with a plan to relocate later in the morning on the back side of a vast hardwood stand that he believed that deer might hold up in to rest.
Nearly an hour later, we arrived at our new location and Josh pointed out the tracks leading into a thicket that he believed the deer to be holding in. His plan was to enter the back side of the area to try and catch his unsuspecting buck bedded down. I dropped him off and drove out to the end of the road, watching the stretch that the deer had crossed earlier in the day to wait for him. It took all of ten minutes before I heard a gun shot, but the wind made it hard to distinguish where it had come from. It wasn’t until another ten minutes passed when I watched Josh return to the road that I realized he had dealt that deer a fatal blow. The buck had bedded down, just as he had anticipated, about 300 feet off the road. He was watching his track when Josh crept in from behind him and jumped him out of his bed. His knowledge of the area and persistence paid off, and his birthday present was a 181 pound six point that he had earned in true sporting fashion.
I learned a lot that day about tracking and whitetail behavior, but an equally important lesson was learned in the way of humility and respect. Josh loves whitetail deer, and that love and passion for the chase have afforded him a respectable amount of success throughout the years. His previous season had left him empty handed, having passed on several smaller deer over the course of many miles and countless hours spent walking across the northernmost reaches of some of the most brutal landscapes our state has to offer. This deer would not be the largest of his kills by any stretch, but the fashion in which he harvested it made him all the more deserving. He had hunted with a mission, put in the time, and exhausted himself thoroughly in the process, but he knew where he had to be to gain the upper hand.
I want to thank Josh for letting me be a part of his big day, it was an eye opening experience I won’t soon forget. With several weeks of prime hunting ahead as I write this column, my only hope is that I can learn from his success and produce a story that is equally as exciting and impressive. Until then, I take great pride in surrounding myself with people like Josh, who are willing to spread their knowledge of the hunt to those of us still looking to cash in on a true Maine trophy.