We slipped the canoe out of the back of the pickup an slid it down over the bank by the bridge. The cloudy cover, left over remnants from Sandy, obscured the moon and left the spot ink dark. Ralph and Steele knew the path through the alders, but it was all new to me. I grabbed the stern and they led the way.
After a few minutes of sloshing through the muddy track, we came to the river’s edge. The water was high to the bank, but lower than flood. Guns, life jackets, spare clothes, camera gear and a snack all were loaded into the canoe. As the sky started to lighten, Steele jumped into the bow and I grabbed the larger of the paddles and eased the whole rig out into the current. I carefully assumed my position in the stern and with a gentle push we started the glide down the river.
Soon the small blacktop road disappeared and we were silently moving with the dark black flow that drains this part of Maine. Steele was to be the bow shooter in the first float of the season, so he had the 10-guage loaded with buckshot at the ready. He had taken a deer here two years ago, so he was alert.
Floating the rivers is a very productive way to hunt. Usually in the fall the rivers are fairly low. This means that in many places there is a dry flood plane between the bank of the river and the woods. The deer often come down in the evening to hide in the tall vegetation along the water’s edge. They just curl up, blend into the brown grass and take a snooze.
With the canoe there is almost no noise. The river current supplies most of the energy. My role was to steer in such a way as to keep us off the shore and maneuver around boulders, beaver lodges, and overhanging trees. I basically stuck the blade of the paddle just under the surface and turned it to direct the flow of the water along the stern. Push out and the bow went right, pull in and the bow went left. In most cases I never had to lift the paddle out of the water. No noise. Only a gurgle once in a while when I had to apply hard pressure.
Slowly the river valley filled with diffused light. A mist was falling, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Wispy trails of morning fog lifted from the dark flow and slowly whirled up the face of the evergreen slopes. No sounds of civilization followed us into primal glen.
However, that is not to say there wasn’t noise all around us. Off to the left a red squirrel loudly proclaimed his presence, dashing through the limbs after what I assumed was his brother or sister. As we rounded one turn we could see a huge roosting turkey in a leaf-empty hardwood tree, moving his head to keep us in view as we floated by his night spot.
I have been in the woods a great deal of my life, but I can’t remember being on a river with so many beaver lodges. Steele remarked later that some of them were so big they looked like Indian sweat lodges. It was early morning and the beaver filled the stream with their presence. A slap of a tail here, a head and wake there, and dam building everywhere.
Huge mounds of limbs had been gnawed off hardwood trees and brought to the lodges as stashes of food for the coming winter. How did they know? What mechanism of thought occurred to trigger this preparation for a future event? What internal calendar was at work here and how did this knowledge get passed along from one generation to the next.?
After an hour or so we heard a loud report as a gun went off somewhere behind us. We thought it was from a deer hunter in the woods, but we were soon to find out it was from a couple in a canoe that launched behind us.
A buck, apparently startled by a hunter, had come splashing out from the woods and was about to cross the river when the young lady in the bow fired. The canoe turned over, dunking both her and her father. We met them as they overhauled us from behind. They were obviously in trouble so we turned the canoe and went to them.
The young lady had on only a cotton hoody and jeans (remember folks...cotton kills in the cold outdoors). The father was also lightly clothed and they had no backup jackets. They were both chattering and not doing well. We lent them hats, gloves and other clothing with the promise they would leave them at the haul out at the next bridge some two miles downstream. The clothes were there when we went by later in the day.
That sort of killed our element of surprise for down river. We paddled back up stream to the truck to reset in another spot. Our next float was similar in nature. Although we did not see a deer, there was an incredible amount of wildlife playing all around us. It appeared that the flood water of Sandy had moved the deer off the flats and up into the woods.
However, later in the week they back in to the high grass. Ralph and K-man saw a nice 8-pointer hiding in the bushes off the bank. Unfortunately it was on the right side and just behind them when they spotted it. This is the hardest spot for a right handed bow man to get turned to. By the time they got in position the deer was up and gone.
Later in the day they spotted two deer coming through the woods. It looked like two does just wandering along. It was not until they were out of range that a burst of sunlight shone off the head of what proved to be a spikehorn. A few seconds later, the doe came running back through the woods and jumped into the water. She swam across the river in front of the boat, but the buck never followed.
Such is deer hunting. We had a great time floating several stretches. As a group we saw two bucks. It was just circumstances that prevented us from harvesting. Oh well! There is always next week.