Maine Moose Hunt 2022

The Opportunity Moose

Each year we apply for a chance at the moose permit lottery. We’ve been extremely lucky to have already gotten several. I have had one in 2011, another in 2016, and John had one in 2012, so we enter each year with no expectation of getting drawn again since there are many hunters who have never been drawn. To our total surprise, John got drawn for his second moose, only this time for a bull in Zone 5 during the September hunt. Zones are very important since a permit in a higher number zone has less permits and less favorable chances of getting a moose. I know…I had zone 23 in 2011, and John had zone 16 in 2012.

We have always taken a lot pride in the fact that we hunt. We don’t do drive-by shootings. We scout, we call in moose and then we shoot. Even when we don’t have permits, we practice calling in moose just for the excitement of it. When John got his permit, he decided he’d try to take a moose with his bow. We’ve called moose in many times within bow range, so it seemed realistic. As the sub-permittee I would carry my new 6.5 Creedmor rifle as backup, and he’d carry his bow. I decided to carry my gun instead of his 30.06 because my gun is much lighter than his.

Since we’ve moose hunted Zone 5 a number of times, we felt pretty prepared. I even wrote about what to bring on a moose hunt in The Maine Sportsman, a magazine in which I write monthly articles.

We were set to hunt, when our youngest son decided he wanted to join us for a few days. We had made the trip up in July to scout and check things out. It was so weird to find not nearly the number of people we expected to see during the summer. We literally had this section of the North Maine Woods to ourselves. We camped on Chase Mountain road in the same spot we had for Tyler’s hunt. We scouted all our known spots, and found sign, but it was very obvious that moose move with the cycles of forest harvests, and many of the spots we thought would have been teaming with moose weren’t hot.

Our campsite: Malcolm Branch

September came quick. We packed and headed up two days early to scout. It was hard to not get discouraged by the forecast. Our whole week was looking like rain except for one day. It rained when we left, but broke as we headed north. The dirt roads were muddy and gross, but at least it kept the dust down. We headed to “our” spot only to find an outfitter set up there in both campsites, so another hour plus of driving and by then dark, we found Malcolm Branch campsite off the Pell & Pell Road. High winds and rain continued overnight. At about 4:30 am, we were awoke by the roar of a truck flying by our campsite. Holy crap! That empty log truck had to have been traveling more than 60 miles an hour we thought; however, once we got on the road and started to drive, we realized that we were “flying” at 35 miles an hour. The truck probably wasn’t even going 45, but the size and shear sound of the truck made it seem a lot faster. We did know that when, not if, we met a truck, we’d pull over and stop. They have the right of way and get as much of the road as they want.

Day 1

Tyler arrived Sunday night, and Monday morning we were up and ready to hunt faced with pouring rain. We brought our rain gear so at least we’d be dry for the most part. To start the hunt, we decided to go to the spot where I shot my moose in 2016. It had the best sign of any other spot.

By the time we arrived, it was just before daylight, and Tyler was completely car sick. We left him in the truck to recoup while we hunted. We called but there were no answers. Just when we were ready to leave, I heard a large crack like a branch breaking. We quickly set up, and tried to keep calling. After awhile, the wind started swirling and changed direction to our disadvantage, so we decided to not take a chance of being busted and headed to some of the other spots. On the way out to our truck, we flushed four partridge and there I was holding a rifle.

We did get a glimpse at a young bull moose that literally darted out in front of us and crossed road. By the time we pulled over to a safe spot, loaded our guns and got in the woods, that moose was gone. It was disappointing but then again, it gave us another spot to go back to and it made us hopeful since that was our first sighting of a bull moose. Tyler continued to be car sick so we headed back to the campsite. That night Tyler decided he couldn’t do the hunt because he’d be car sick the entire time, and would be headed home in the morning.

Day 2

We were excited to see that it stopped raining and clouds were actually breaking up. We kept our rain gear on because everything was so wet. We went back to our spots, parking about a quarter of a mile out, then walking in, calling, waiting, calling, but the moose simply weren’t answering, or we weren’t being patient enough. John and I decided we needed to be more patient; if the moose weren’t answering, it didn’t mean they weren’t still responding to the call. We’ve seen this before, and in 2016, it was Thursday before we heard a moose grunt to our calls.

As we moved from one area to another, we drove by a spot where a bunch of guides were on their phones, which is unheard of in the NMW. Sure enough, we had a couple bars. Taking a break to eat, we decided to check out one of the roads headed up a mountain. It was steep, narrow and the road was made of crushed stone with shards the entire way. I was very thankful for our ten-ply tires, and once we drove to the top of a hill, we had a spectacular view and great cell service to text the family that we were okay, but not successful moose hunters.

As we drove, we got to a spot along a clearing with a natural spring beside the road. We had found it earlier in the summer and so we decided to fill up a jug to wash the windshield off. The night before when were were headed home, we waited at an intersection for a truck to pass. When he flew by us, a spray of mud and rocks splashed across the windshield. As we filled our jug, a truck approached. A young couple got out to fill their water bottles. We ended up having a conversation and chatted for about 10 minutes. Just as we were wrapping things up, the guy looks past us and says, “hey, there’s a moose!” We turn around and sure enough, there is a moose..a bull moose…a nice bull moose.

John and I jump in our truck, which was luckily headed in the right direction, and sped up the road. The moose continued to walk straight down the road toward an intersection of the Jack Mountain Road. We parked at the intersection, got out as quiet as we could. John grabbed my gun and the moose call, and we tried to sneak run up the road at the same time out of no where, a red Subaru wagon drives by….a bird hunter. I had seen the moose, and we ducked. When we stuck our heads up, it gone and that red Subaru was driving oblivious to what had just transpired. The moose was gone….Gone.

John was convinced it went off to our left into the woods since that was closest to where we last saw it. Being almost completely deaf and having no hearing aids in, John was frustrated because he couldn’t hear me, and I was trying to whisper and listen for the moose. Meanwhile, the couple watched from the spring, which only made matters worse. How embarrassing to lose a moose.

I took the moose call from John and began calling. John was super annoyed and didn’t see the point. I continued to call just for the heck of it, as we made our way back to our truck about 100 yards away. Almost to our truck, I heard a large noise at the edge of the clearcut directly across from our truck.

And there it stood on the edge of the treeline. As I called, the moose walked out of the treeline and into the clear cut looking for love.

John jumped into position and took a shot. The moose hunched. Not thinking he hit the moose, he got on the ground and using a tree stump as support, he fired again. And then again, which was an obvious hit but the bull was still moving. On the fourth shot, the bull stood still. I knew he had hit it before then, and then it fell. Note to self, don’t be an ass and make your husband use your gun instead of his own gun…he had never shot it before then.

There was great relief that we hadn’t let this opportunity go by us, but it was not the hunt that we had planned. It wasn’t a remote stalk. It wasn’t a private event. It was a successful moose harvest moose that we were thankful for, but at the same time it was a moose of opportunity. John was disappointed that he didn’t get to do his bow hunt as he’d wanted to do for so long and that it was not solo as we’ve always prided ourselves in doing. It was an opportunity moose with the help of strangers, which for some hunters would be ecstatic, and we had to keep reminding ourselves of that. Ironically, as trucks with hunters passed by below, we heard one of them use an electronic caller…to which we waved and then continued to work on our moose.

By the time we hiked up that clearcut to claim the moose, we found out that clearcut was a hellish tangle of trees hidden by raspberry bushes as tall as us. There was absolutely no way we could get it down in one piece despite all the block and tackle we brought. It was already 3pm and we had to cut a trail just to get to the moose. Despite working tandem and as quick as we could, darkness fell quick. By the time we skinned and quartered the moose, got the tenderloins and packed it all out, it was well after dark and we had to work by headlamps. Since Miss Prepared forgot to bring the jet sled to drag out a moose quarter, John had to lug each quarter out one by one about 300 yards each way up and down a mountain with a newly healed Achilles tendon to boot. I tried to help, but I simply did not have the strength to do it. I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

Once we were loaded, we headed back to the camper for the night. We packed up and headed home the following morning. I drove my SUV and pulled the moose on a trailer while John pulled the camper. At the tagging station, we weren’t the only ones who had to quarter and pack out. There was a lot of camaraderie among hunters, which was nice to see. We got an idea of the size of the moose by hunters who were tagging out whole. We estimate it would have weighed around 850 pounds.

The hunt was over, and John was one step closer to achieving the Grand Slam, which he missed in 2012. Now it was back to bear hunting and moose processing. Thank goodness we have a Cool Bot room in the barn to keep the meat.

What this has taught me is that no matter how much you plan, each and every hunt is different. Yes, we could have just said, no, we want to do it on our own, but what if that had been the last moose we’d see that week? We didn’t want regrets and have always said, “don’t pass on a moose on the second day that you’d shoot on the last day.”

Maybe I’ll get the luck of the draw and get a moose permit in 2023. If so, I’ll give it a go with the bow and see if we can’t relive our dream of getting a moose with a bow.

Mud Season Maintenance

Mud season is gross. Hunting and trapping has ended for the most part, with the exception of coyote and beaver. There’s not enough snow for the snowmobiles, and too much mud or granular snow for the four-wheeler. Even though they change the laws each year to allow for early fishing, I don’t usually take part due the icy cold waters. Even with wool socks and waders, I get cold, so it’s April 1st for me.

So what is there to do? Well March mud season is my maintenance season. It’s when I start getting everything ready for fishing and camping, and put away all things winter.

The snowmobiles barely made it into the trailer before the snow melted. We’ve charged the batteries and started the four-wheelers. We’re still checking sap buckets using the four-wheeler where it’s still frozen so we can boil maple syrup. That’ll continue for another week or so. It’s been a slow season, but that’s okay since John tore his Achilles tendon and will be limited for a while. The snowshoes have been given a nice coat of marine grade shellac and they’re hung up for the season.

The traps are hanging under cover in the pavilion (which John affectionately calls the Slaughterhouse) we built two springs ago so the rust should be minimal.

One of our biggest projects was cutting three big pine near the house. It certainly made a big change since it involved taking down our game pole. We’ll put that back up this week in some nearby pines that we didn’t cut down. So the big work is done.

Three giant pine gone. No more worrying about them falling on the house or shading my solar panels.

Now comes the fun part. I LOVE organizing my fly boxes. I have four MFC and a magnetic fly box, but even that never feels like enough. Every year, I get a stocking full of flies from Santa but this year, I also got a .50 each deal on a bunch of hare’s ear and other nymphs at LLBean so I’ll really need to take a look at the condition of some of the flies I have and see if they’re worth saving so I can make room for my new ones.

I’ll get out my fly rods and give the lines a good cleaning so they’ll glide nice and fast, and maybe even get in a few practice casts. I don’t know if you have this issue, but when I first start fishing at the start of the season, my arm gets tired. Good thing I’m actually trying to get in shape for it…me and my tiny weights. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I also have a bunch of trolling lures and new trolling rods that we need to set up for some early trolling on Great Pond. Lead core lines, backer line, braided line leaders and Grandma lures will make for some fun pike fishing, though I wouldn’t mind catching a brown or rainbow on Long Pond. Guess I better get the boats registered!

I hope you’re getting your gear ready. The season is short here in Maine, so prepping makes for more play and less work. As the experts like to say, “Tight lines”. Okay, some of you may find that hokey, but you know what I mean. Good luck fishing!…how’s that?

An Unexpected Encounter

On one occassion, I got to hear a buck grunt so close to me you’d think I could reach out and touch him, but it was so dark, I couldn’t see anything.

Bowhunting is one of those things that I can say I’m not very experienced at. I had a crazy successful first season, which helped me get my Grand Slam in 2016. I even bought a new bow, but since then, I haven’t shot a deer with my bow. In fact, I haven’t shot anything with my new bow.

I like to bowhunt because there’s less pressure on the deer, and I feel like I have a better chance at least seeing a deer before everyone else heads into the woods. Once firearms season begins, there’s way more people in the woods and it’s that much harder hunting without human interference.

Last year, I had several unexpected encounters making for some exciting hunting, but most of them were when legal shooting hours were coming to a close and light was well past the ability to see pins through my sight even if I illuminated them. It doesn’t help that I’m basically blind as can be and even with contacts, I don’t see like I’d like. My eyes have been known to play tricks on me either seeing things that aren’t what I think, or missing them all together.

On one occasion, I got to hear a buck grunt so close to me that you’d think I could have reached out and touched him, but it was so dark, I couldn’t see anything. It seemed like every time I went out, I had a close encounter but couldn’t close the deal.

So this year, I’m once again bowhunting and trying to harvest something, but ultimately, I’d like to shoot a buck. A decent buck. Not a doe, not a spike, but a decent buck. I’ve never shot a big buck. My biggest buck was an eight pointer not worthy of being mounted…so yeah, I want a buck. A big one. Just once, I’d like a big buck.

Which leads me to my latest encounter. I sat in my tree stand and listened to a deer sniff so hard to see if it could figure me out. I sat there thinking that this deer has me busted. He knows I’m here. The same thing happened the year before. Busted. He’ll never come out of that treeline.

John suggested I sit in the “old stand” that’s off to the left of my stand in hopes of outsmarting the deer. The wooden stand ended up being too narrow and too deep so I couldn’t sit properly. If you can’t sit still, you don’t see deer.

So down I went to sit on the ground and hunt with the wind. Not too hard since the wind was blowing directly in my face. I made a big circle behind the stand checking out deer trails and sign. Not a lot of sign. As I made my way almost back to the stand, I spotted movement in the treeline. Two doe were eating and making their way down the same path I had just taken. I watched the deer until they disappeared into the dark woods.

Then out of nowhere, a big deer on my left made its way up to the opening. My mind was a buzz trying to process everything. A big doe. I could shoot it, but I’m not going to. I’m going to just watch it and see how close it will get before I’m busted. Maybe I won’t be busted. Maybe just maybe a buck will be following that big doe.

I stood still, watching the deer rub its orbital glands on the branch above a buck paw. I’m thinking, I didn’t know does do that. As I watched it make its way toward me, it had its head down smelling and looking for acorns. It looked much smaller as it approached. Its back wasn’t much taller than my chest. Ground shrinkage at work. As it got directly across from me, I notice how small it seemed. Just a yearling. Then, it picked its head up from the behind the boulder that had been blocking him. I was shocked.

Looks like a doe to me!

That doe was a spike horn buck! Damn eyes couldn’t see those antlers. Standing there at less than 10 yards…maybe more like 5 yards, it stopped and froze. Then doing the “what to heck is that” look at me, it tried to make out what I was. I didn’t move a muscle. It tried hard moving left and right and in turn, I moved slightly to keep the couple of hanging leaves between us. It looked away, took two more steps and again tried to figure me out. The wind was blowing directly parallel to the deer and me, so it couldn’t smell me.

It finally stomped its hoof. I gently picked my foot up and did a quick stomp. That freaked him out. He made a large leap back from where he came and stood there, then began running back and forth frustrated that it couldn’t smell me.

As dark approached, I put my arrow in my quiver and made my way out quietly, with hopes that I’ll again get to see a deer, maybe a buck, Maybe a decent buck before firearms season opens. Or maybe I’ll just cash in my doe tag. I’ve got time.

Thumbs up experience

My Spike returned later for a quick snapshot on my camera.

Mentoring Women Trappers Begins with Bear Trapping

I am new to trapping. I’ve only been trapping since the last bear referendum, and when I got my trapping license, it was solely for bear trapping. During the bear referendum is also when I met my friend, Erin.

What I didn’t realize was how challenging and exciting all trapping is, and bear trapping got me hooked. Every year, I learn a little more about where to trap, what types of lures to use, which different types of traps to use, how to trap in water v. land, etc. There are so many different aspects and challenges to trapping, that there’s really never a dull moment. 

My husband, John, and I run a little trapline behind our house. When I can, I invite my friend Erin along for the trapline check so that she can see what we do. As I’ve become better at trapping in general, so has my bear trapping. We’ve adapted our trapping as we’ve learned from our mistakes, and that goes for bear trapping too.

This year, Erin got a moose permit, and she expressed wanting to complete the grand slam. I completed the grand slam in 2016, so I know how hard it is to make it happen. To help her out, I offered to help her get a bear by trapping if she didn’t go on a guided dog hunt, which is how she usually gets her bear. Even though Erin has had a trapping license for a few years, she had never trapped a bear, and this year, she was all for trying and taking me up on the offer.

To get started, John and I lent Erin one of our pipe traps, and I helped her set it, set up a bait site and then bait the trap.  In addition to the trap, we set cellular cameras up to monitor not only the bait site, but also the trap specifically. Two cameras on every site has become our go to method just in case one dies when you need it the most. 

Sitting in the treetops. I put up a second hang on stand beside Erin’s tree stand. The winds had me holding on for dear life! The whole tree would sway in every direction.

Once bear were coming in, they were all pretty much nocturnal except for one. The first night the cable was set, a bear got caught, but as quick as it was caught, it literally stepped out of the loop. Turns out the compression spring needed to be tightened.  Since we have to check traps each day, we decided to sit over the bait just in case that same bear came in during daylight hours. We went in early and reset the trap and fixed the compression spring with a wire rope clamp. We sat until almost the end of legal shooting and decided nothing would come in because of the crazy winds. The wind was swirling so much, there was no hope of seeing anything.

We drove home not really thinking we’d be so lucky to have a bear that night. We were wrong. No sooner had we gotten home and settled in, my phone started sending “you’ve got bear” notifications. As I went to send a text to Erin, I got a text from her, “Is that a #$@! Bear?!” “Trapped?” “Yup!” I said, “and you need to meet us and we’ll help you get it.” 

The three of us loaded into the truck and drove to the site, discussing how the harvest would happen. Once we got to the bait site, Erin loaded her gun before we headed in. We walked in without a word. I went up the tree stand first and helped Erin get settled. We used our flashlights to spot the bear while John stayed on the ground. John ended up having to shine his flashlight too, since the foliage and shadows were blocking Erin from getting a good shot. As I held my flashlight and the branches out of the way,  I told her to shoot when she had a good shot. There’s no hurry. Take your time. Erin made a clean one-shot kill. She had her bear! Erin gave me a big hug and thanked me for helping her. It was rewarding to see her so excited and seeing her adrenaline kick in. 

We gave Erin the whole experience down to the field dressing, loading and transporting of her bear.

Next up, I plan to help her in setting the fisher exclusionary trap that I made for her last Christmas.

With the explosion of women hunters interested in bear trapping, there is a great opportunity to get more women into trapping in general. I hope that if you are a bear trapper, you’ll consider helping a fellow hunter trap a bear, and invite them along for a day on your trapline. The addiction is real and once they see the challenge, they too will be hooked.

Scouting for Grouse

Here it is July and it won’t be long before we’ll be bear hunting, and trapping, then it won’t be long before we’re bowhunting for deer and hunting for some grouse.

Bird hunting, which is what I call grouse hunting, is one of those things that never seems to be consistent from year to year. There have been many years that we literally rode for hours to see two or three birds only to have them fly off or have me miss under pressure.

Some say get out and walk….well we don’t get out and walk the woods just because there are so many other people riding around and they’re never particularly happy if you’re walking the road. There’s a compelling reason to not  be a jerk and go around you, but then it prevents others from traveling  and hunting the road. 

Thinking back of over the season, I thought, there has to be a better way to find birds. After all, we scout for everything else we hunt, so why not grouse?

Since I don’t own a bird dog, the only thing I do have is a lot of time in the woods, riding roads to and from great fishing spots, and when searching for mushrooms. In doing so, I’ve also found myself finding lots of sign from grouse, and that’s when my mind began to really focus on scouting for them now so that when the season arrives, we’ll have a better idea where to begin.

Spotting grouse begins in the spring, just when the poplar trees and birch trees begin to bud. At the end of the day, just before dusk, we’re usually riding home, and all we have to do is look up to the top of the trees. We’ll sometimes spot as many as five birds in one tree. We’ll watch them eat the buds and just enjoy seeing that there’s a good healthy population of birds.

The last two years have been pretty darned dry, if not drought like, according the weather people, and with dry weather comes the successful brooding and rearing of grouse and turkey chicks.

Even before chick season, I start to keep track of the dusting spots I see on each road we travel. Dusting spots are great indicators of the number of grouse in that area. What’s even more fun is is finding several dusting spots in one area.  And not to my surprise, we’ve driven on roads that we’ve hunted and found literally no dusting spots.

We actually find a lot of partridge scat in our travels. Partridge will roost on the same tree limb nightly, and well, there you have it. The dead give away to where they roost at night.

Dusting spots are used for birds to rid bugs, mites, any type of critter they don’t like from their wings and body. I usually spot them on berms on each side of the road. The dry dirt is bowled out from their digging and dusting. The size of the dusting spot for a grouse is usually the size of a small cereal bowl. Upon inspection, you can sometimes even see their tracks in the dirt. Turkey dusting spots are much bigger and although they do dust, I don’t find nearly as many as I do for grouse.

A good dry spot is ideal for dusting grouse.

Sometimes we’re lucky and we’ll stumble upon a nest. This nest and its eggs ended in a horrible robbery from predator.

Seven grouse eggs

Then comes chick season. This is the fun time when you start seeing grouse in the road, walking slowly, and then either on the opposite side of the road or right behind the grouse as it darts for cover, there will be a clutch of chicks. In one day, we saw 9 clutches.

Chicks will often appear before the hen, but other times, you just see the movement in grass and then a very irritated hen appears.

At one point, I saw chicks, but no hen. I got out of the truck and headed for the edge of the of grass hoping I could get a photo of at least one of the many chicks we had seen. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of brown before I realized it was coming for me. As I reacted with a loud yell and gasp, I was able to compose myself enough to take some photos. There was one very pissed off momma.

Often, we’ll see grouse strutting in the road. In this case, she was trying to distract us from the chicks.
If grouse could growl, this bird would have been roaring. She was hissing and came right at me when I started for the edge of the grass.

So I hope this will give you a little inspiration when you’re out in the woods to look around and maybe just maybe see the signs of grouse. It definitely has helped our success rates in the fall. Happy hunting!

A good limit for two people on a day’s hunt.

How to Find Fiddleheads for Next Year’s Harvest

Now is the time to start searching!

Every year, at the beginning of the fiddlehead season, I see countless people asking, “Is this a fiddlehead?” It seems like a no brainer finding them, but I forget that when I was growing up, my mother would have done anything to know how to find fiddleheads and not have to buy them. Since fiddlehead spots are heavily guarded as sacred, it’s just much easier to find your own spot than to even think of asking someone or possibly contributing to over-harvesting on a popular spot.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can find fiddleheads even now for next year, and perhaps even easier than when the season starts and definitely with less competition.

Best of all, finding fiddleheads out of season means you’ll be well prepared for next year. Chances are, you will find fiddleheads where you least expect to find them, and they’ll be bigger and less picked-over than the popular picked spots on the river.

Yes, fiddleheads do grow on the river banks, but that’s not the only places they grow. In fact, the biggest fiddleheads I’ve ever found weren’t found on the river, but in the woods, along a road, far away from the river. John and I spend a great deal of time driving logging roads all over Maine. This is the time of year when you can easily spot the ostrich a.k.a. fiddlehead fern.

There are two things you look for when scouting for fiddleheads; fern fronds (the leaves), and spores. Fiddleheads are the beginnings of the ostrich fern, which are easy to spot now that they are in full display. Another distinguishing attribute is the grooved stem of the fern. There are only 12 ferns in Maine, and most of them don’t look anything like the ostrich fern, so once you learn the twelve, it makes it far easier to finding fiddleheads, but really, just learn what the ostrich fern looks like and you won’t have a problem finding fiddleheads.

Fiddlehead ferns have very distinct foliage with very sharp points and slender leaves. Once the fiddlehead season is over, the ferns unravel and fill the roadsides along with other ferns that are often mistaken as fiddleheads. They are taller than most ferns. They look rather majestic and stand upright like ostrich feathers. If the ferns are large and are around three feet tall, then you most likely have found a mature batch with nice sized fiddleheads to found next spring.

So look carefully and look for sharp edged ferns. I’ve included photos so that you can really see the difference.  The first picture is fiddlehead fern. The others are not fiddlehead ferns, and when you compare them side by side, it’s easier to tell them apart. Fiddleheads will often grow amongst other ferns. In the picture with John picking fiddleheads, there are other ferns already up and open…and they’re not fiddleheads. Look at the photo of the fiddleheads up close; you will see the leaf structure of the fiddlehead fern before it opens up.

Fiddlehead ferns are bright green like a fiddlehead, not lemon green, or blue green…and not glossy like a Christmas fern.
Fiddleheads emerge from a cluster of root ball. You can usually find the dried spore pods as an indicator of where to look for fiddleheads.
John picking fiddleheads. See the other ferns that are not fiddleheads. They are paler green and have rounded leaves. Also note the seed pods from last year’s fiddlehead crop. New fiddleheads are emerging from the base of each bunch of dried fronds.

So the next time you get the chance to ride some roads, bring along your Gazeteer and mark locations that you can return to next spring. You won’t find those beautiful ferns, but you will most likely spot the dried spore pods that are left behind. So if you find yourself still not finding fiddleheads by the ferns, then try concentrating on the spore pods. Ostrich fern spore pods are very distinct, and you’ll know for sure you’ve found your spot. Not only are they neat to discover, but they make great decorations in a simple vase.

Ostrich fern spore pods look like a brown ostrich feather.
Remember that the fiddlehead has to have a grooved stem.

The other important thing to remember is timing. Since most of our fiddleheads are found north of where we live, we find that our mountain fiddleheads can be as much if not more than two weeks later before they’re ready to harvest, so don’t get discouraged if they’re not readily found the first time you check. Patience and persistence will get you the prize!

One other thing to consider if you are foraging on paper company land is to look for herbicide use nearby. Large clear-cuts will get sprayed yearly, so I like to make sure there aren’t any signs of herbicide use before I pick.

Happy Foraging!

Seriously, Leave No Trace

I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.

That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.

When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.

Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.

We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”

The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.

How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.

People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.

Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.

When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.

Even nature knows how to leave no trace.

Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.

The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.

The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.

The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.

A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.

If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.

I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.

Happy Summer!

How to Spot Signs of Spring Bear

Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for.

We always hear that we need to remove food for bear when it starts to warm up and they start raiding bird feeders. Many people don’t even know what bear like to eat. Bear are omnivores with means they survive by eating plants and animals. Bear don’t eat just honey and they will kill other animals if they want to eat it.

Bear are one of the biggest predators to deer fawn and moose calves born each spring. Bear compete with other predators such as coyote and bobcat, which also kill deer and moose calves. Source

When bear come out of their dens, most often, there isn’t even green grass, let alone abundant berries, nuts, or other goodies to eat, which is what drives them to take advantage of what’s available. That means if they live in your woods, they’ll raid bird feeders, bee hives, chicken coops, grain barrels, and garbage bins, if given the opportunity.

Bear also take advantage of roadkill, called carrion, which is why motorists may get a chance to see bear roadside in the spring. Just think of how much road kill you can see in one trip down the turnpike: deer, ground hog, raccoon, beaver, porcupine, turkey, and fox, just for starters. Bear love beaver, which has been referred to as “bear caviar” or “bear coke”, but I’ve never heard of bear specifically hunting beaver as a source of food. Beaver have some pretty nasty teeth, so most likely, it would be road kill. We actually have used beaver as a scent attractant when we initially set bait for bear hunting. It works.

A bear’s incredible sense of smell will bring them into neighborhoods and populated areas not usually frequented once natural food is available. Since I am fortunate enough to not get bear in my backyard, I have to go looking elsewhere.

photo credit: https://vtfishandwildlife.com/learn-more/living-with-wildlife/living-with-black-bears/bear-resistant-trash-containers

In our travels, primarily on paper company owned land, I’m always looking for signs of bear activity. In all the time we’ve spent in the woods and driving roads, we’ve only seen a bear three times, all at dusk, and only glimpses, because once they see you coming, they usually are gone in a flash of black.

I truly love to see the signs of bear in our travels. You don’t need a game camera to find where bear are hanging out. When traveling roads, you can also spot signs. We often get out and inspect what we find. I love to take pictures and talk with the kids about what the bear might have been eating or doing when it was there. This is also a great way to break up a long ride. Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for. So here’s a run down of what to look for:

1. Bear scat, in the road…Yes, bear poop in the road, not necessarily always in the middle. Poop in early spring is usually very black and consists of grass that has just sprouted. This is also a way for boars to mark their territory. Since spring is the beginning of mating season for bear, this is just another calling card.

A few years ago, we were trying to get a picture of this huge pile of poop…and got caught by another motorist…not everyone understands the desire to take pictures of scat. His hand out is for reference. He wasn’t reaching for it…I promise!

2. Rocks that have been rolled out of their spots. You can usually spot when a rock has been overturned. I have scoured my files, and despite knowing I’ve taken pictures of rocks, I can’t find one. But trust me…just picture good sized rocks overturned and ants crawling about. To make up for it, here’s more poop pictures.

3. Logs and other debris in the woods and in older wood yards. These are our biggest finds, and we often find bear claw marks on the wood. Bear rely on insects as an important part of their diet throughout the year, but spring is when ants provide them the food they need.

Newly shredded log in search of bugs
Ants are a great source of protein for bear in the spring.
See how the big stump has been rolled out of the way.
Looking for ants and grubs

4. We’ll find bear tracks in the dirt if we’re really lucky. Nothing to me is more fun than spotting tracks. Which one is it? Front foot? Back foot? The size of the track compared to your hand is a great photo opportunity. ‘

Husband’s hand compared to a bear track
Twelve year-old son’s hand compared to a bear track

And finally…claw marks on trees. Some of the trees were visited long ago and the tree has started to grow, while others are freshly carved. Any way I look at these, they’re all wicked cool.

Those are some deep claw marks…glad it’s a tree and not me!
Old claw marks in a beech tree. The tree was literally covered in claw marks.

I hope this will give you a chance to find your own bear sign. Get out of that truck and take a look the next time you’re on a dirt road. While chances are you won’t actually see a bear, finding sign is almost as good. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ve been missing. Don’t forget your camera or cell-phone…you just may find your own pile of poop to photograph.

25 Things to Do While Still Surviving the Pandemic

Well, here we are a year later and the pandemic is still part of our lives. Spring has sprung early so here are few things to do while we wait for better, warmer weather. The best thing is that many of these things can be done at home, but if all else fails, don’t be afraid to take a long slow ride in the car. Bring a camera and be ready for wildlife.

  • Pack a bag filled with sunscreen, Chapstick, bug spray, bottled waters, granola bars or other non-perishable food for snacking, towels, and a change of clothes for every person in your household. Keep one bag in every vehicle. This way you’re always ready for an unexpected trip.
  • Set up your fishing lines with new line and tackle. Don’t be afraid to try out some new lures. I’ve been avoiding plastic baits due to the recent findings on their impact on fish. If I’m not fly fishing, I’m usually in waters where I can use the real thing, and I’m okay with that.
  • Get a Gazetteer Map and search out new places to fish, hike or hunt.

  • Rearrange your tackle boxes so that everything is neat and easy to find. There’s nothing worse than trying to untangle lines with hooks on them when you’re reaching for a Mepps or realizing you’ve run out of the special green spinner on a #4 hook when a store isn’t nearby.
  • Learn how to fly fish. I don’t mean hire someone to teach you. You-Tube has wonderful examples of how to cast. Get an inexpensive set-up that uses a dry fly. Making sure no power lines are around you, practice the hello-it’s for you method and try to cast so that you can lay a fly onto a target. Once you do that, you’re ready to either stand in water or cast from a boat or canoe. Don’t get discouraged, and persistence will pay off.
  • Hang game cameras to watch the wildlife in your area. I have cell cameras so the pictures come right to my phone, but it is fun walking to the cameras and checking pictures too, so don’t let not having a cell camera deter you from seeing what’s out there. Some cameras are as inexpensive as $20.
  • Move your tree stands, even as little as thirty feet… rumor has it that deer recognize stands that are in one spot year after year, and will avoid them.
Wild Ramps
  • Try to find wild ramps. They are delicious and are a great way to start off the foraging season.
  • For a rainy day project: Shellac your wooden snowshoes now so that they’ll be ready next winter.

  • Start looking for ant hill dirt to gather for next season’s trapping. Mark your spots so that you can get it later.
  • Get out your archery target and start flinging those arrows. It won’t be long before bow season will be here. Heck, expand your challenges and try to shoot a turkey with a bow!
  • Speaking of turkey hunting. If you haven’t tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing. Turkey hunting is a great entry hunt for beginners.
  • If you turkey hunt, learn how to use a mouth call and try hunting solo. Try locating and getting turkeys to answer back at roosting hour.
  • Register your boat. Get out in it. Catch some sun, take someone fishing, and/or watch for wildlife.
Mr. Bluejay checking out my game camera
  • Look for deer or moose sheds. I’ve written about hunting for moose sheds in a previous blog.
  • Learn how to use a map and compass. And practice, practice, practice! You never know when you’ll need it. Electronics are neither as reliable, nor any easier to use.
  • Buy some permethrin and spray your outdoor/hunting clothes so that ticks won’t tag along once you start spending more time in the woods.
  • Buy some deer fly patches to keep in the glovebox for when they hit. We put them on our hats, and make a contest on who can attract the most.
  • Start watching for morel mushrooms. They’re one of the first to show up, and they’re gone before you know it.
  • Fiddleheads are already sprouting so while you’re looking for ramps, keep your eyes open for fiddleheads…and remember, fiddleheads aren’t just found on the banks of rivers.
  • Listen for peepers and croakers at dusk
  • Learn the constellations in your sky: Orion, Cassiopeia, Northern Cross, Big and Little Dipper, and Pleiades, and spot them in the night sky.
  • Sign up for email notifications for the International Space Station and watch for it in the night sky
  • Build a campfire from scratch with wood, sticks and bark you collect…and for extra challenge, try to start it using flint and steel striker, or try building the camp fire with different tinder such as Old Man’s Beard, cattails, pine bark, birch bark, or Vaseline on a cotton ball. Kids love to do this.

I hope this gets you excited for the Maine outdoors. These are just some of the things we do every year. There is always something to look forward to when prepping for time in the Maine woods. Now get out there!

My First Solo Turkey Hunt

I love to turkey hunt. It’s what got me hooked on hunting, but it’s never been a favorite for John. He’d go along, being the voice and calling in turkeys. I would sit waiting to take my shot. I never had to deal with any type of call, let alone trying to call a turkey while waiting for a shot.

After losing my job, I had nothing but time, but John had to work. I decided I’d take advantage of the time and do some turkey hunting on my own. For the last two years, I’ve been trying to learn how to use a mouth call. While I can do all of the calls on my slates, it’s entirely different trying to call and actually sound like a turkey using a mouth call. It takes a lot of practice and patience getting used to the feel of a call in your mouth. When I first started trying to call, the vibration was almost unbearable. I soon learned I needed smaller calls and then I started getting better.

Once I felt that I actually sounded somewhat remotely like a turkey, I decided to try going solo.

Turkey hunting solo is much harder that it sounds. Damn hard actually.

Add my bow to the mix and I had a challenge I really wasn’t prepared for. I’ve never shot a turkey with a bow, but I wanted to challenge myself.

For the past two weeks, I listened to turkeys gobbling. I had pictures on my game cams of turkey strutting every day at the same time. The tom had the biggest beard I think I’d ever seen.

The very first day out, I made calls. I called turkeys in consistently, but literally got busted every time I tried to draw my bow.

In an attempt to outsmart the tom, I went into my tree stand. I hung my bow and made my calls. I instantly had turkeys responding. The turkeys came in just as the deer I had shot came in. From my left, I heard them coming, but not one gobble. As they emerged, I decided I’d take whatever presented itself.

Five. Five birds busted through the bushes and straight out in front of me stood two jakes and three hens. They took one look at my decoys and started cutting and you could almost see the panic in their behavior. Before I reached for my bow, they spotted me. A few more cutting sounds and they made a sprint for the woods.

Just when I thought I was done, I gave one more call. And there it was. A gobble. A single gobble on a mission. That bird circled me from the left, up behind me and down to my right. There it stalled. I could call and get answers continuously, but I could not get that bird to come in close enough for a shot.

After it decided there was no hen, it lost interest and just stopped responding to my calls. The tom was gone. Turkeys 2, Staci 0.

After three days of chasing turkey with my bow, I decided to bring my shotgun along instead. I headed out back to find that longbeard that had been just out of reach each day. This bird had a pattern, but just when I thought I had it figured out, he didn’t show up. I followed the trails until I came along a ridge. I gave a call. Instantly a turkey gobbled back. I was at the top of a hill and no matter how much I called, that turkey wouldn’t go up hill. So I waited about twenty minutes and headed down the hill. I stepped behind this huge boulder that had a fallen fir tree on the top. I gave a call, and boom. That turkey was back answering and coming my way. I debated whether to stand or sit, then in an all out ditch effort to hide, I plunked myself on the ground in the leaves. My butt on the ground, legs stretched out and gun across my lap, I took out my slate and gave some soft purrs, and then raked the dry leaves.

That turkey came gobbling in. He was so close I could hear his feathers ruffle and puff as he strutted. He was directly on the opposite side of that boulder. I didn’t dare move. My heart was racing. I prayed to the turkey gods he wouldn’t come in on my right, since I’m right handed and was facing left. He strutted there but I couldn’t get him to cross over that rock wall to where I could get a shot at him.

Not until I decided one more time to make a soft call. Gun across my lap, I picked up my slate call and striker. As I look up, the tom hopped over the wall and stopped dead in its tracks. It saw me and there I was caught red-handed with my call in my hands. I dropped the call and drew my shotgun. I popped off a Hail Mary shot, but that bird took off running before I even had the bead on him. Then he flew. My morning was over.

Not to be defeated, I opted to try at another piece of land I have permission to hunt. I headed out. When I got there, I could see a group of turkeys strutting in the far corner of the field. Not to be busted, I made my way through the woods along the tree line, making calls with my mouth call. I had continuous answering, but they never ventured my way. I continued to work my way through the woods until I was past the end of the field. I slowly made my way to a group of trees where I would have good cover. I set up and made my first call. Immediately I had an answer. The birds (yes, there was more than one!) kept coming and calling. And then there was no sound. I sat waiting, just giving some soft purrs. I sat silently and motionless.

And then I saw them. They were making their way right to me! The birds crossed out in front of me. As they stepped behind a tree, I pulled my gun up and made ready. When the first bird stepped out from behind the tree, I shot.

My bird dropped, and the other took off leaving his buddy for dead.

I was ecstatic. I had my first solo bird.

I carried that bird out to my truck along with my gun slung over my shoulder. I was just about drained by the time I got him there, and somehow, I managed to lose my brand new camo hat. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t gotten the monster tom. I got a bird, and I accomplished my goal.

I’m already practicing my calling for this year. I have my spots all picked out. I have a new hat. Now if only I can find the time to take a couple days off from work. That big tom is still around, and I’m a bit smarter this year. I hope that if you’ve never tried turkey hunting, that you’ll give it a try. I’ve already told my friend, that I’ll take her. We haven’t gotten one yet with her as the hunter, but maybe this will be the year!

All the Noise, Noise, Noise!

Anyone who hunts knows how much noise can make or break a hunt. When I first started hunting, it didn’t take long to figure out that noise could be my best friend or my worst enemy.

There’s noise in the world. You may not even realize just how much noise we are exposed to each day until you find yourself out in the woods at daybreak. The silence can feel as deafening as noisy traffic. To be able to hear every little noise, such as the snap of a twig or the grunt of a buck, creates a memorable moment that makes the whole effort of trying to be quiet that much more satisfying. Being quiet allows you to see a world you otherwise would not see.

I’ve always craved the perfect morning deer hunt scenario where the sky is star-filled, there’s barely a wind, and the temperature hovers at 30 or lower degrees. These types of mornings require every step in to my stand be slow, careful and deliberate so that I can get there undetected. A simple break of a twig can feel like the sound of a tree falling. I’ve been busted more than once because of noise. I like to hunt every day I can, but weather never fully cooperates so I’m left to contend with wind and rustling leaves, and a few squirrels and mice, turkeys, birds, and rain. My biggest irriation is noisy traffic, which if I let it, would ruin my hunt.

This year, I tried to two different techniques to embrace the noise. There is nothing worse than trying to get to a tree stand and having to deal with the sound of crunching leaves with every step shrilling through my brain. This year, we took a hack from another family member, and using our leaf blower, cleared a lovely leaf-free quiet path to the tree stand. Okay, so I didn’t embrace noise; I conquered it! It worked too! The warmer weather and rain kept my trail clear and quiet for most of the season–until it snowed. This method worked so well, I did it for three of my other stands that are notoriously filled with noisy leaves. By the time snow fell, the leaves had blown themselves back into my trail and I was getting hunting fatigue.

My second technique was to use noise to my advantage. I would drive to my spot and park, then I’d wait for a passing car to get close, then open the door to my car and get out. I would shut it using the sound of the passing car to muffle my noise. I’d sneak across the pavement and once on the trail to my stand, I’d use another passing car to my advantage and walk as quietly and quickly as I could. I would continue to use passing cars to make my way to my stand. Once at my stand, I sometimes had to wait to make my way up the ladder. I would start to climb, but then would have to wait for what seemed like forever because I knew that the fourth step up the ladder would creek making what felt like a gong and “I’m here!” warning. I needed the traffic to block that sound, or at least dampen it. Once I got above that step, I’d climb the ladder waiting for another car to pass until I could sit down. Once I started using the traffic noise to my advantage, I tended to get far less annoyed and Grinchy having to deal with to it. For now, I’ll embrace the noise as best I can, but when the wind blows and gusts, that old saying, “Hunt the wind.” will begin to creep into my brain.

So, these noise techniques didn’t guarantee me a deer this year, but it did allow me to experience hunts as I never had. I got to hear grunts from three different deer (I’d like to think bucks), and I literally walked up on a deer totally unprepared to take a shot, so it does work…Now if only I could think faster on my feet, or if my eyes could see what I hear, and if the wind would cooperate, I just may get a big buck some day. I will certainly have earned it by then!

New Trapper Tricks

Trapping isn’t easy. It is both mentally and physically challenging. When I first started trapping, I soon learned that I was unable to set traps with my hands. Between the arthritis in my right hand and just being too weak, I struggled to set traps of any kind. I could barely set a No. 1 foothold, and a No. 2 or No. 3 was out of question. I was sorely annoyed that I had to rely on my husband to set my traps. After all, there is something very satisfying about completing the whole process and being successful at trapping. I wanted to do all of it, and not just spray the urine on the stump.

No. 2 Foothold

When I decided I was going to set my own traps, I learned that I could stand on the levers of the trap which allowed the jaws to open so that I could set the dog, the piece of metal that flips over the top of the jaw and under the pan notch. The dog made it more difficult to hold the trap down with my feet while trying to set the trap. I felt like a contortionist trying to get that trap set, and it usually took me more than a couple tries to get everything to fall into place.

I’d do this in my garage, and then I would put ties on my trap to keep it open until I made my set. I’d transport the traps to my spot, and then cut the ties before I covered my trap with dirt. Occasionally, my plan would fail and the trap would trigger, so I’d have to do the process all over again out in the woods, only using a rock or something hard enough to allow the trap to open fully. This method wasn’t particularly kind to my traps and sometimes bent them. I think I spent as much time fixing the dog and trying to get the pan flat as doing my whole set.

As my husband and I watched a Canadian trapping show, we learned about dogless traps, and the slickest foothold trap setters ever. Dogless traps are just what they imply–there’s no dog on the trap. The trap setters are called Maine Trap Setters. I’m still amused that it was Maine ingenuity that came up with these. If you don’t have them, get them. They’re about $30, and in my opinion, they’re worth every penny. They also work with my regular traps, which is nice since I will still use them.

Using my fancy Maine Trap Setters, I can literally set a No. 2 or No. 3 trap anywhere, and then hold the trap with one hand when I do it right.

The dogless traps work in such a way that once they’re open, you simply pull up on the pan to hold the jaws open. Then, making sure your fingers are in the right place and out of the jaws range, you simply press on the pan until you hear a click. You’re done. The trap is ready. The only time I’ve had issues is when I tried to set the trap after waxing them. The excess wax make the trap fire prematurely. I’ll scrape the pan where it meets the trap and then everything works as it should.

This year, I went all out and bought a dozen more dogless traps to go with the four we already had. As I become more proficient in setting my traps, I can focus more on the logistics and planning my sets.

If you’re considering trying trapping, don’t get overwhelmed. Do it for the challenge. Get creative and start small by focusing on ,one or two animals that you want to catch. Find out what works and what doesn’t, and be ready to make adjustments. Most of all, make it fun. There’s nothing more exciting than making your first catch.

Finding Cramp Nuts

Cramp nuts are something I just heard about, and that I’ve shared with my friends and family. When my sister tried to search cramp nuts on the Web, she couldn’t find anything, so here we go.

I had never heard of cramp nuts until a member in one of my Facebook groups showed off his find. I was immediately intrigued and decided I needed to find my own.

It’s interesting because when we’re in the woods, we’re usually focused on one thing: mushrooms on the ground or on trees, or antlers on the ground. I sometimes find myself getting distracted and instead of looking for one thing, I find my eyes wandering for the cramp nut. It’s truly an addicting hobby.

The first cramp nut I ever found was spotted as we drove our road into the pond we fish on. I just about jumped John out of his skin when I yelled to stop the truck. Now he has the bug, and searches right along with me, but he’s much better at staying focused on whatever we’re searching for in the moment.

On my first solo turkey hunt this spring, I scored two of the smallest cramp nuts to date, and it happened by pure accident. I brought along an external speaker and wedged it in a cluster of small oaks. I used the speaker to make turkey gobbles to get the two strutting turkeys in the upper field to respond. Instead of coming my way, they headed back into the woods. As I went to retrieve my speaker from the opposite side of the trees, there before me were two small cramp nuts! Despite failing at calling the turkeys in, I was so excited about my cramp nuts, it didn’t matter.

My sister just moved from her city house, but before she left, I climbed the big oak tree in her yard as she held the ladder, and with the help of the hammer, I snagged a golf ball sized cramp nut. She’s got the fever!

Unlike many households that have live herbs and house plants, my kitchen windowsill is comprised of several cramp nuts of all sizes along with chaga mushroom, fossil rocks, dried mayflowers and other goodies I’ve found in the woods. Live anything doesn’t last long in my house!

So the next time you’re out in the woods, take a look around! I hope you find the cramp nut right beside a flush of Chicken of the Woods.

 

My Bear Hunt 2020


I still can’t believe that I was able to bear hunt this year. A lot has happened since the pandemic hit, and my life as I knew it, almost came to a screeching hault.

Sow and two cubs usually showed up first-before the big bruins.

I have dealt with chronic arthritis in my knees for years. Having finally taken the giant leap to see an orthopedic surgeon, I scheduled my bi-lateral knee replacements right when bear hunting would begin. I had accepted the fact that I would have to give up something in order to have it done, and this seemed like the time to do it.

A week latetr I was blindsided when my alma mater and employer of ten years, laid me off on March 20th. My whole world came crashing down. Not only was I going to lose my job and insurance, but also any chance at having my knees replaced. My only consolation was that I received six months severance and with that, my insurance would continue until the end of September. However, the pandemic had other plans, and any elective surgeries came to an end. So even though I had insurance, I was still facing the fact that I’d may have to deal with arthritic knees for at least another year, if I was lucky enough to find another job.

I felt pretty defeated, but decided to make the best of it. The bear hunt was back on regardless of what happened. I needed something positive to focus on, and hunting always soothes my soul.

In late May, just when I had accepted the fact that I’d have to hobble a little longer, I unexpectedly got a call from my surgeon. They were starting up surgeries again, but only taking the worst cases, and I was on the list. Would I be available? Hell yes!

My right knee just after surgery on June 5th.

On June 5th, I had my first surgery, and after being cleared of Covid-19 a second time, I had my other knee replaced on July 21st. Baiting began the following week, and with a little, no, a lot of help, I was at least able to be there to help, even it was minimal. I used my crutches to get around and although I couldn’t lift bait buckets, I took charge of the cameras and helped spray scent and grease.

Hobbling around with crutches in tow.

Bear came into the bait sites in a flurry. Food has been extremely limited due to dry conditions. Berries were almost non-existent, and other natural foods that were available weren’t abundant nor of any size worthy of a feast. Two days before the hunt, and for the first time ever, I had daytime bear hitting the bait consistently. I had nighttime bear~we had a whole lot of bear on our sites.

In the midst of two surgeries, I also became re-employed, so my time to hunt was greatly diminished, but I would hunt!

The first time out, I had John drive me to my stand. I wasn’t sure if I could make the hike up the mountainside, and I was a little uncertain of my stamina to get there. What if I encountered a bear? I tried to think positive. I would be able to hunt. I had hoped that John driving me to my stand, and then leaving with the four-wheeler would make the bear think no one was there. No such luck!

The night was pretty uneventful. I didn’t see a bear, but I did see one of the biggest rabbits ever to come eat at the bait. Rabbits apparently love bait as much as raccooon, fisher, song birds, squirrels, chipmunks, vultures…and yes, even moose!

This was my target bear. He visited everyday right up until opening day…then he went AWOL.

John retrieved me after hunting hours were over and drove me out of the woods. I have to say this was odd. I hadn’t had to have him do this for me since my first years of hunting. As grateful as I was, I felt like such a whimp!

Trying to fit hunting in between weather and a new job kept me extremely busy, but I was determined to hunt. With the weather forecast actually looking pretty decent and me actually scheduling a vacation afternoon, I decided I was going to hunt. I was bummed when John told me he couldn’t get the afternoon off, but I pulled up my big girl pants and decided I’d go alone. John would arrive later after he dropped the camper off in our usual spot, and then he’d meet me on the mountain.

I prepared myself mentally for the climb and the thought of being alone with so many bear nearby. I took my vehicle to the mountain. I changed into my bear clothes, packed my backpack with warmer accessories, and headed in. I carried my son’s 45-70, what I like to call a mini cannon, into the stand. I found that as I climbed the mountain, it actually got easier. It actually felt really, really good on my knees. I climbed into my stand with ease and settled in the afternoon wait. It was calm and quiet. You could hear a pin drop.

Video of what it’s like to sit while bear hunting.

It’s sometimes hard to sit still given the bugs, the birds, and the wind, but the pandemic helped me prepare for sitting with a mask on, so it just seemed easier this time.

As I sat there, I really didn’t expect anything to come out. I have only once seen a bear come to my bait in all the years I’ve tried hunting. So when this bear stepped out, it looked like a big bear. The night before a larger bear had been in, and I would have bet money, it was him.

This is the bear I thought was at my bait.
He came in the afternoon I couldn’t hunt…typical way it goes!

I was quite startled when the bear stepped out. I sized it up to the barrel laying on its side. It looked as big as the barrel! The bear came in on the right and stepped in front. I drew my gun and took aim, and pulled the trigger. Nothing. This gun has some wonky way about the lever action. It wasn’t in place where it should be. The gun wouldn’t fire. I played with it some more. I knew the lever needed to come up to set into place. I tried again. Still no shot. The bear continued to move quickly around all of the barrel and buckets not really settling in to eat. I went through all the motions trying to get this gun to fire, while not losing my cool. It wasn’t easy. Then miraculously, the handle clicked into place. The bear did a quick dart, but then turned right around and came back around the front of the barrel again. I took aim and shot. The bear dropped and my hunt was over.

Where my bear fell. One shot. Dead at the barrel.

Just after I shot, I got a text from John. I thought he had heard me shoot. He had just arrived on the mountain and was telling me he was there. I texted him, “Got it.” He replied, “what?” I texted back, “I shot a bear.” Him: “Really?! I’ll be right up.” He couldn’t believe it. Eventually, I heard the four-wheeler and he was there to celebrate, load up, gut out, and bring home my black bear. It was a long night by the time we got home and processed the bear, but we have some good meat to eat this winter.

As usual, my bear had ground shrinkage. It wasn’t nearly as big as I had thought it would be, but I was happy. And my bear has a beautiful white blaze on its neck. Some day a giant bear will show up when I’m sitting, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my harvest. It was something I never thought would happen this year, so I was particularly proud of this hunt. I had overcome a lot of obstacles this year, drove up alone and got into my stand alone, and finally harvested a bear.

So my words of advice, is once again to say, never give up, never think something is impossible. While hunting isn’t a sure thing, it’s for certain that it builds resiliency and determination for unknown outcomes. I’m so glad I stuck with it, bear or no bear, it helped me prove to myself that I was okay. Life was going to be okay, and I’m so glad I hadn’t given up.

My bear and me…life is sweet when everything comes together.

Nature at Work

I like to tell people that the outdoors is my happy place. One of the things most enjoyable to being in the outdoors is that you never know what you’re going to find or see. Whether it’s a plant, animal, rock, or scenery, there is always something that makes me smile in the outdoors.

I used to bring my fancy pants camera, but after a year and a half of dragging it along, it’s now broken. So, for now, I have to rely on my cellphone camera. Even if I don’t have cellular coverage, I always have a camera. Unfortunately, my cellphone camera leaves much to be desired. It’s not very good with zooming in photos, but it’s all I have.

The very first time John and I decided to try some moose shed hunting, we ventured down a skid trail where the paper company had cut. That was a mistake we won’t make again. We had to crawl over blown down trees and slash. The whole trail was filled with newly grown birch, maple, and bushes. Lots of bushes. It was a struggle for me to navigate with my hobbly arthritic knees. So when I finally got to the edge of the woods, I cut through to the grassy opening. On my way, I followed a well-traveled moose lane, full of moose droppings. Just as I headed up the gradual knoll, I was startled by a grouse. It nearly flew into me, then landed a few feet away and started displaying the broken wing dance. It then flew to a nearby tree. I was excited. I knew there had to be a nest somewhere. And there it was, RIGHT at my feet! I took my camera and carefully moved a leaf to see seven beautiful eggs. I snapped a couple pictures with my cellphone and then went to tell John what I had found. IMG_20200517_120622177_HDR

The following week, we were back moose shed hunting and I wanted to see if the hen had hatched her eggs…nope, as we approached she sat still. I got within about 6 feet and snapped a zoomed in picture. I didn’t want to scare her off the nest. Such a good mom!

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See how well the hen blends in with the sticks and leaves. You can see the tips of her feathers on the left.

You can see how well she is camouflaged and how has sticks over her head for more concealment.

The third week, I was excited. We had turkey chicks show up on the Spypoint camera at home, so I was sure we’d find an empty nest with some empty shells. I was so excited. I slowly crept up to take a peek…no bird in the nest…then I saw it.

IMG_20200523_125629957Sadly nature got the upper hand, and this hen and her seven chicks became a predator’s meal before they had a chance. I was so sad to see her feathers strewn all over the ground. The only thing remaining was a wing, and some empty egg shells.

The grouse had made the fatal error of placing her nest alongside a well traveled corridor and the way she made her nest, there was only one way out. She must have been ambushed. It was either a coyote, bobcat or fox. In one meal, seven grouse were gone.

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Even though I have spent countless hours in the woods, I am still surprised, shocked, or saddened by the cruelty of nature. I guess I have to remind myself that predators are just doing what they need to do to eat, and that if predators aren’t controlled, they potentially become over-populated.

So when you venture out, be prepared to see things other than all beauty and happy things. Occasionally, you’ll get blindsided by reality.

Moose Shed Hunting – A Beginner’s Guide

John and I have watched countless seasons of people hunting for “moose sheds”, antlers that are dropped (shed) sometime in January. It’s big business for a lot of people and with the introduction of mountain snowmobiles, many shed hunters can get into moose territory easily, and pick up a shed as soon as they’re dropped. The hardest part about shed hunting is finding a spot that someone else hasn’t already found.

Some shed hunters train their dogs to find antlers. This saves on many hours of walking and possibly walking right by one.

In both cases, we neither have the snowmobile, nor the trained shed dog.

Last fall, we went into an area totally off a well traveled road. The old road we walked in on was heavily overgrown with alders, but the moose path was evident. Once we made it past the alders, the area opened to a giant chopping with a small bog created by a now absent beaver. And moose sign everywhere, including several raked trees that a bull destroyed during the rut. This is important since only bulls have antlers and we wasted a lot of time hunting an area that we decided was wintered by a cow and calf.IMG_20200531_142932638 (1)

We stood on the hill, wind not in our favor, and made a moose call. By the second call we heard a moose answer with his grunt. A bull with a nice set of antlers, grunting and ready for love, emerged from the bog. Had we been hunting, it would have been all over.

 

Since the river was at levels too high to safely fish, we decided to go where we had seen the moose last fall. As we drove toward our destination, we couldn’t help but notice all of the saplings and new maple growth that had been browsed on during the winter. The broken over branches were evident on nearly every tree. This was definitely a place to start. To our advantage, it’s not a path that a snowmobiler would go down unless they knew there were sheds there, so we were hoping this meant it was unexplored.IMG_20200517_160930405

Moose winter up in areas with food. Looking in forests of soft maple that are chewed on with abundant tip browsing is the key. Incredibly, there was moose sign, a.k.a. moose poop and bark gone from trees, everywhere we looked.

We followed a skid trail that fingers off from the main clear-cut. The area is very deceiving from the trail, since I initially stumbled my way over slash and acres of raspberry bushes. As soon as we got to the edge of the forest, we entered a maple stand. It was easily walkable and open, and there, we found maple trees literally stripped of their bark. If you find trees like this and they’re softwood, it’s been raked by a bull with its antlers, and is not food.

 

We decided to grid walk the area. It wasn’t long before John turned and yelled, “I found one!” And there it was, leaning up against a tree as if someone had laid it there! It seemed the further in we ventured, the more sign we found. We never found the match to this beauty.

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A few more paces and he found a matched pair from the previous year lying in a small opening. It had some small chews on it, but to us they were still magnificent. By the end of the day, we had found five huge antlers: two different new antlers, a matched pair and another single from the previous year. Actually, John spotted most of them since he is faster and more agile in the woods than me with my cranky knees.IMG_20200517_162151304_HDR

After walking for what seemed hours, we finally made it out to the skid trail. I plunked down and said, “Have at it, I’m done”. So there I sat using one of the antlers for a seat, while he explored. I got to see how big these antlers are; I could barely get my hand around it. Remarkably, we had proof that at least three different mature bulls wintered in this area. We’ll be back for sure!

 

We went back the following day and hunted another parcel in the same area. I hadn’t actually found one all on my own so I had high hope of spotting a big old antler after the success we had the day before.

We split up again. I headed to the left, John to the right. And then it happened. I finally found an antler. Had I not known for sure that he hadn’t, I would have questioned whether John had planted it right in the middle of the road. It wasn’t huge, but I officially found my first antler!

Toward the end of the day, we went back to look one more time where we had scored the five. Sure enough, John managed to find an almost identical antler to the one I had found earlier. Both antlers were from the same side, so we knew we had two different two year old bulls in the area.

So it doesn’t take anything special to find moose antlers. You just need to know where to start, and then use those clues to help you find them. Remember to bring extra drinking water, a snack, and a manual compass, (that you know how to use) before you begin. It’s easy to lose your way when you’re busy looking for antlers. Note: our Garmin BackTrack units did not work properly and were pointing in the complete opposite direction of where we parked the truck. Had we followed them, we might still be lost in the woods!

Rebecca’s Buck of a Lifetime

It’s not too often that a hunter gets to harvest a lifetime buck, but when it finally happens, it something you never forget. So, when my husband sent me a text telling me my daughter had shot a big buck, I thought he was joking. Then he told me how my daughter called him, excited and out of breath to tell him her story. It was only then that I realized she had tried to call me too, but I had missed the call. I’ll never forget that night. It was almost like waiting-for-the-arrival-of-a-new-baby excitement!

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Big sisters are the best!

When I started hunting, I was fortunate to have a built-in babysitter. My oldest daughter, Rebecca, wasn’t a hunter in her teens, but her willingness to watch her little brother allowed me to get out in the woods more than most mothers with small children. Over the years, Rebecca has hunted when she could find the time in between night shifts as a registered nurse, pregnancies, and finding daycare. Since she started hunting, she has only been able to tag one deer, but one thing was certain; her passion for hunting has grown, and with a recent job change to day shifts, she now has weekends to hunt and she takes every chance she can to hunt.

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Becky’s first buck

So when my son-in-law, Aaron, got his spike horn buck on opening day, I got excited for my daughter, as this meant, Aaron could watch the kids and she could hunt. Or so I thought.

I hadn’t realized that Aaron and Rebecca were going to hunt together, something I often did with my husband when I first started hunting. Aaron’s sister-in-law, who also hunts, offered to watch the three kids along with her two little ones so that Becky and Aaron could hunt together, and then the couples agreed to take turns watching the kids so that each mother would get a chance to hunt.

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The buggy

The two had found a spot deep in the woods, accessible by their side-by-side UTV, a.k.a. “The buggy” as my grandkids call it, and at least a mile in to where they park. Then there’s a nice long hike to the stream, which is boot high deep, cold and unforgiving, which you have to cross and then hike another quarter mile. Once there, it’s nature at its best. You can’t hear the usual car traffic that comes with most spots I hunt. It’s silent, and the view is awesome from the stand. Aaron’s buck had come in from the left on a well-traveled trail, so they were expecting the same for Rebecca’s hunt.

This day, Rebecca and Aaron got into their spot good and early for the afternoon hunt. They brought buck lure in the can, a doe bleat and a buck grunt. Rebecca climbed the narrow ladder into the tree stand that is hidden by an enormous hemlock, and faces out over a bog and swale grass. They had only put the stand in place that morning; Aaron had hunted from a chair beneath the hemlock the day he got his buck. Aaron would resume his spot at the bottom of the tree and try to stay hidden by the large boulder and hemlock blow down off to his right.

The buck lure was put out–an entire can thanks to those locked triggers and Aaron’s big hands. Fifteen minutes in, Aaron made a doe bleat. Then the wait began. An hour later, Aaron began making buck grunts. Then there was more waiting. Within a matter of minutes, a deer began to make its way toward its challenger, and as Rebecca put it, “sounded like a horse galloping through the woods” from the right. Aaron first spotted the deer and saw its antlers. He kept calling and as it got closer, the buck changed direction and began to circle out of Aaron’s sight and thick growth of birch blocked his view. Rebecca, standing in her perch, which was the last thing she wanted to do, had seen the antlers and realized the size of the deer. With immense pressure to not miss this gigantic deer before them, she readied herself to shoot. As the deer moved out of the thick brush and came into view, Rebecca, as she steadied against the tree, made the shot using the Rossi .243 rifle that her little brother gifted her. She thought it was a good hit when the deer hunched, but then as quick as that, the deer turned and bound away. She kept hoping she had made a deadly shot and not just wounded the deer.

Once on the ground the two couldn’t find any blood. So back into the stand Rebecca went. She guided Aaron to where she had shot the deer and then directed him in the direction of where the deer went.  There was great relief to find a bunch of hair and a good amount of blood and tracks.

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Aaron put on his tracking hat, and off they went to find that deer. There wasn’t a lot of blood, which triggered the roller coaster of excitement and fear of disappointment. Finally, Aaron spotted the deer bedded down in the swale. As they got closer, Rebecca tried to get another shot, but before she could, the deer jumped up and ran toward the stream. Deciding to follow it instead of backing out, they realized the deer didn’t go far. They approached the deer standing at the stream, but this time, it didn’t move. As they watched, it literally died and fell into the stream where it stood. She had her deer.

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They pulled the deer up on shore, and Aaron took the celebratory photos. They were certain this big boy was a two hundred pound deer, and it took all they had between the two of them to float it up the stream to the path they had hiked down. As they got to the bank, Aaron gave one big tug on the deer, and Rebecca lost her balance. Into the stream she went, gun and phone included. Aaron yelled, “What are you doing?” to which Rebecca yelled back, “taking a swim in the stream in November, what do you think I’m doing?!” All laughs aside, Rebecca was drenched, and they still had to gut and drag the deer up the unforgiving path.

After about 200 yards of dragging, and Rebecca being soaking wet cold, Aaron went and got the buggy. Then came the part about getting the deer into the buggy. How they managed is still beyond me. They were relieved and excited to show the kids Mom’s amazing deer.

Rebecca tagged her deer and had it weighed at the local store. The deer weighed in at 193 pounds. She was a little disappointed to be that close, but at the same time, she was so proud that she didn’t miss the buck, or get flustered when she saw it. It was still a buck of a lifetime for her.

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Making the rounds in dry clothes

Since Aaron’s dad is a taxidermist, they went to see him about mounting the buck, and to make the rounds to show everyone before it went to the butcher. Not believing that the buck didn’t tip the 200 pound mark, her father-in-law weighed it a second time. The buck registered 201 pounds on his scale. Wondering if the local store’s scales were off, Aaron had the butcher, who has a certified scale, weigh the deer a third time, and even after 24 hours, the deer weighed in at 200 pounds. Not only did she provide meat to the family freezer, but Rebecca also got her Big Buck Club buck.

As I shared my daughter’s success, I had several people comment that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Then, I had to laugh when Rebecca replied, “yeah, I’m a lot like my one-hunt wonder brother, Tyler. I go out one time and shoot a big buck.” Okay, so maybe it’s not my tree, but I’m still one proud Mom.

 

 

 

My 2019 Bear Season – I Get My Bear!

There aren’t any biologists that are going to come free that bear for you just because it’s not what you want.

Sorry to make you wait so long for this final chapter of  my story. Now you know how I felt when I was waiting for a bear to come to my trap. Trapping is much more time intensive than hunting over bait. You don’t need to check your bait every day unless you want to, but trapping mandates daily checks, and many times I know nothing has been there, thanks to my Spypoint cameras, but still have to go and freshen up the spots. We’d put a good squirt of bear scent out,  changing it up each time, and we’d hang some beaver castor jelly from a tree to help lure the bear and to cover our scent in hopes of luring in a passing bear.paw in the pipe

It seemed like an eternity after John got his bear. My bait was totally dead with nothing coming in except for two rabbits. Even the squirrels weren’t taking over the bait as in years past. There just was just way too much natural food with berries and beechnuts everywhere. The site where John got his bear was continued for my oldest son. Zack hadn’t had a chance to bear hunt so we offered up to keep the spot running if he got his trapping license. Once Zack got his license, we baited his trap and checked it daily. At first, we only had a single bear visit Zack’s site. I was more than frustrated that nothing was coming to mine.

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Big boar smelling my trap.

Then came a flurry of activity. A small cold spell came through, and the bears were back. Two bear visited on a regular basis to Zack’s site. One would stay and eat for an hour, making itself comfortable by plunking down in front of the barrel. It never even smelled the trap. We had a different bear chasing off a smaller one from the barrel. The big boar finally made his rounds to both sites, but much later following the younger bears’ visits. One bear that came to my site actually tripped the snare so that when the big boar came in, he got all the goodies and didn’t get caught. This happened several nights in a row and each afternoon, we’d put bait in the trap, reset the cable, and put that huge rock back on top of the opening. No matter how many bear came in, they never stayed for long, and that darned boar would just toss that rock like a pebble.

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The big boar that I tried repeatedly to trap.

Then it finally happened. We had checked our traps, reset the huge rocks that are required over the trap, and hadn’t been home for long before my phone started going off with notifications from my Spypoint camera. We had bear on camera. As I lay on my bed, I watched in almost real-time action. At first there was a single bear, good size, at my bait. I was so excited. I watched as it sat down next to the frosting barrel and began to eat. It wasn’t long before it was checking out my trap. I was so excited. I kept saying, “just reach in.” Then I saw something black on the left of my screen.

My bear turned out to be a sow with a cub. I couldn’t believe it; I hadn’t seen any sow with cubs all season. The cub was not a baby, but a yearling and was a good size. In fact, the cub was almost the same size as the sow. The cub had circled in and approached from the woods on the left. I was so bummed, and now I was worried. I watched the cub eat from the barrel, while the sow ate frosting out of the bucket near my trap. I was so upset. The last thing I wanted to do was catch a sow with a cub. Then the sow started acting weird. She tried to climb a tree. She ran around the tree…then I realized, that sow was caught. All the anticipation and excitement was quickly replaced by dread.

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Hugging the tree…I didn’t realize the bear was trying to use the tree as leverage to get out of the snare.

I was sick to my stomach. I didn’t want a sow with a cub. I’ve passed on trapping in the past because all I had were a sow and three cubs, or a sow and two cubs at my site. I knew that cub would be okay because it was old enough, but it’s not the way I wanted it to happen. I wanted that big boar that kept coming in late at night. I wanted a dry sow–anything but a sow with one or more cubs. In my mind, I was trying to figure out a way out of this situation. I even considered trying to free it ourselves. At the same time, we started getting ready to head back up to the mountain. There aren’t any biologists that are going to come free that bear for you just because it’s not what you want. You either remove the bear yourself or hope it gets out before you get there; otherwise, you have to take it.

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Bear was caught by its right front paw…it was trying to get out on the right while the cub ate at the barrel.

Then my phone went silent. The last picture was the bear at the top of the screen, and a cub eating out of the trap barrel. Then a couple minutes later, I had the biggest relief of my life. The rear-end of that sow leaving, and her cub hanging out for a bit more before catching up with her. The saving grace was not making that loop stop as small as I could have. I had made it a little bigger so I’d catch a bigger bear and let the smaller ones get free. We decided to take the trip up to the mountain just in case the sow wasn’t free or was out of sight.

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No more sow in the snare! Goodbye Cubby!

Insert happy dance. She had escaped. She left a nice calling card with her claw marks on a tree as she had struggled to get free.

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We reset the trap, hoping the big boar might still come in that night, but I think being there so late might have clued him in. He never came in that night or several nights thereafter.

We decided to change out the cable setup we had for John’s and modify my trap with the Aldrich snare set up on the barrel trap in hopes that it would be easier to catch the big boar.  John thought that the compression spring was too slow and the boar wouldn’t get caught quick enough. The boar came back and the sow hadn’t. After a few days of watching the boar just trip the snare before eating, we knew we had made a mistake. And as quick as it started, it ended. The flurry was over and all the bear were gone from both sites. Zack decided he didn’t want to trap if there weren’t any bear. We removed the snare from his site and toiled with whether I wanted to keep trying. 

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The bear that had been coming in consistently to Zack’s site after John caught his bear.

Just when I was ready to call it quits and pull my trap, that sow and cub came back. I feared I’d catch her again. Part of me was thinking, “So what if I catch her, she’ll get out” , and the other part was thinking “I might not be so lucky next time”. After all, they are putting on weight for winter and she just might be fatter. At the same time, a nice big bear was coming to Zack’s barrel. I decided to discontinue trapping at my site and let the sow and cub eat to their hearts content, and I’d try to get the bear coming into the other site. 

I gave myself one week. Either I’d get a bear, or I’d be done. I reset the cable snare and compression spring setup on John/Zack’s site. The bear never showed the first night, or the second night. I was thinking I had missed my chance. The days were getting shorter and it was a lot harder to get into the site during daylight and before the bear started moving. And of course the big black-faced boar came in at 6:15 pm and had a feast, and no trap was set at that site.

It had been long season, and we had just gotten home from checking the traps. I was in my pajamas and getting ready to climb in bed when my phone started going off with notifications from my Spypoint cellular game camera. At first I thought it was just the regular nightly pics of the bear eating at the barrel, which as cool as it is to see bear, it gets frustrating when its not even looking at your trap where you’ve put fresh delectable bait. As usual, I couldn’t not look, so I started watching as the notifications came pouring in. I couldn’t believe it.

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The bear coming into the site

I had finally trapped a bear by the front paw, and it was going to try to get away as long as it could. I was so excited, I started yelling to John, “I have a bear!” We were dressed and in our camo in about five minutes, were headed out the door. I sent quick texts to my sons to let them know. Zack had already come with us on one false catch, so we decided it would be just John and I this time. I was excited and nervous. I would have to shoot the bear in the dark using only a flashlight to see. Luckily I bought a really nice LED flashlight for deer season, so I was going to see how well it worked.

 

As we drove to the mountain, the cell coverage died as always. There’s virtually no cell reception from North Anson and farther, until we get to the top of the mountain. The instant notifications stopped before then, so I was convinced my bear had escaped. Once parked at the top of the mountain, I was expecting the ping notification. Nothing. I was getting discouraged before we even went to look.

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Caught and looking for us as we approached

We loaded up the four-wheeler and drove up the mountain and this time we drove closer so that I’d have less distance to walk. My knees were screaming so I appreciated the shorter walk. I had thrown my phone in my backpack for pics, but wasn’t really thinking I’d be taking any. We loaded our guns and started in by flashlight. We walked silently and deliberately so that we wouldn’t agitate the bear if it was still caught.

As we ascended the trail, my phone in my backpack started pinging, and pinging and pinging.  John tapped me on the shoulder, and with a big smile whispered, “You’ve got a bear.” I just smiled back in disbelief that it hadn’t escaped.

As we approached, I would do the same as John did for his bear, only he would also be there holding the flashlight. I climbed into the tower stand, took a seat and readied my gun. John held the flashlight on my target. The bear continued to move and pull on the cable. Finally when it looked like it had settled down, I took my shot. But just as I shot, it moved again making the bullet further back than it was intended. I quickly jacked out my shell and took another shot. I knew the second shot was lethal when it gave the death moan, a sign that the last of the air had left its lungs. I had my bear thanks to my perseverance, to my husband for supporting my decision to keep trying, to my Spypoint camera for not failing me, and for the bear that had alluded me for so long. I thank the bear for its life. I shot a mature, dry sow that weighed at least 200 pounds live weight.

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I wasn’t able to tag my bear until the following morning, since it was late and by the time we field dressed my bear, loaded it into the truck, and drove home, it was close to midnight. It was pretty cool to have the locals see my bear, and for me to share my story with them, something that normally doesn’t happen.

I will not be bear hunting or trapping this year unless I have a lot of help to get me there. I’ve decided to replace my two very arthritic knees, and I won’t be able to hike the mountain or climb the stand by myself. Trying to fit surgery in between work and life and fun isn’t always that easy, so it is what it is. In the end, I’ll be able to do the things I love to do, without pain, something I’m definitely looking forward to, and that will give me many more years of bear hunting.

Stay tuned. I’m ready to go fly fishing!

 

 

My 2019 Bear Season – Part II

The 4-Wheeler Blues

One of the most essential components of bear hunting and baiting, is being able to get the bait to your site. Unless you are somewhere literally fifty feet off the road, you’re going to need to carry bait with a four-wheeler or two, which we heavily rely upon to help us get the job done. We also use our four-wheelers when we hunt. John drives towards his site, then hikes in the last distance. I go the “long way around” to avoid driving by John’s bait site, then hike into mine, so having two working machines is crucial.

We have two four-wheelers: a green Polaris Magnum 500 that’s John’s, and a blue Polaris Magnum 325 that’s mine. Right after the season started, the muffler blew out on the blue one. John and I took the muffler off, and brought it home to weld it up. No sooner had we got it fixed, both machines decided to leak gas. I bought new petcocks for both, and we installed them. Just when we thought we were set, the electric starter on the blue one went on the fritz, which explains why it wouldn’t start that night I was left in the dark. Of course, I had a practically brand new part in my linen closet for over 20 years, that I had just tossed out sometime in the last year, thinking I’d never need it. The first replacement I purchased on Ebay for $31 turned out to not be the right one despite what it said, so then I bought a used one on Ebay for $60, and we were back in business.

Meanwhile, the green machine decided to quit starting all together. We brought it home to work on it, leaving us only one machine to use to get to our sites. We finally decided in order for both of us to hunt, and be quiet, I’d ride in with John to his parking spot, and we’d both walk the rest of the way in to our sites from there.

The walk in was much easier for me than hiking the mountain side, but it was also longer. The leaves had just started to fall, and the weather was hot in the afternoon, cooling to an almost chilled-cold by night fall. I’d pack all my gear into my backpack, hike in to my stand in the thinnest shirt I own, then dress for the late evening chill.

As I walked to my stand, it was perfect in every way. The afternoon air was comfortable, with no humidity and not the slightest breeze. The sun was bright and hot on my back. I slowly and silently walked up the road, avoiding all the gravel and staying on grass to keep quiet. As I neared the top of the landing, I heard a distinct and all too familiar sound: a snake slithering through the leaves. I froze looking for it. There it was off to my right, headed away from me, a good two-foot long garter snake. Once I knew I wasn’t going to step on it, I continued on my way trying to make sure to look up more than I spent looking down at where I was stepping. Every few steps, I’d stop and listen. As I went to take another step, I looked down for a second then looked up. At the intersection of the road and the landing , there staring at me in a crouched ready-to-pounce position, sat a huge bobcat. Our eyes met. He picked his head up as if startled and confused. In a second, he turned and pounced away. I certainly was glad he had decided I wasn’t worthy of trying to take down. I couldn’t decide if I was shaken or excited, but I couldn’t wait to tell John about my encounter.

Over the course of the next two weeks, I bought several parts for the green machine, starting with the cheapest and easiest to fix: a fuel filter. Then I worked my way up the chain of possible fixes with a starter, then a fuel pump, an ignition coil, followed by a stater, which eventually fixed it. We topped it off with a new recoil starter and cover assembly because the original cover was cracked. When it finally started, we were psyched, but the machine was literally in a pile of parts and pieces we had to reassemble. I never knew there were so many pieces to a four-wheeler, but now I know what the parts look like and what they do when I hear their names. I hope I’m not reminded too soon.

Hunting over bait stalled. Not a single bear were coming to the bait. It seemed that every day I decided I would sit, there wasn’t a single noise, then on the days I wouldn’t or couldn’t sit because of work, weather or just opting to take a boat ride on the pontoon boat we had just restored, the bear would show up. Sitting at work, my phone went off to let me know I had two bear, the first bear in a long time show up on my bait. That was definitely a hard pill to swallow. Once trapping season was in full swing, we’d have to go in and check the traps each night, which didn’t help with keeping bear coming out just before dark. In fact, they just stopped coming out once we started checking traps.

We eventually got both machines back on the mountain just in time for John to catch his first bear by trapping. Baiting season had ended, and we ended up using just one machine to check and tend our traps. Meanwhile, Mother Nature had provided the bears with more natural food than they could eat, and in return, the bears hadn’t been very good about coming to my bait, and the only action we had seen in several days was on John’s bait site. Two days in a row, we had watched a bear get caught, then get out of the snare by the time we arrived on the mountain. We’d reset the trap every day, but it literally was a waiting game. We made some modifications to our compression spring so that it would close quicker, and we crossed our fingers.

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Tending the site

After two nights of not getting home until after midnight, then getting up again for 5:30 a.m., I stopped checking my phone and muted the notifications so I could get some sleep. I didn’t have a lot of hope that we’d actually catch a bear since I lost a bear last year after it had been caught for nine hours.

Then it finally happened. That morning, we got up to go to work, only to see notifications coming in a flurry to my phone from my Spypoint game camera showing that a bear had just been caught around 5 am. We were totally surprised to see it still in the snare when we woke up. With an hour and half drive to the mountain, we kicked it into high gear and got ready to go to the mountain one more time. I emailed work, John called our oldest son, Zack, and by 7:15 am, all three of us were driving up the mountain to get a bear if it hadn’t figured out how to get out yet again. On two four-wheelers, and rifles in hand, we drove up to where John parked to hunt. From there, we walked in so that we wouldn’t agitate the bear any more than necessary.

The bear wasn’t happy and it huffed and snapped its jaws as we approached. It knew we were there. It could smell us. John climbed into his tower stand to get a the best shot at the bear. Zack and I stood and watched through the trees as we waited for John to take the shot. Then it was over. It was a whole new experience for John and I and is something I’ll never forget. It was a lot of work, and it was definitely worth it.

It was a big bear-a dry sow, and the biggest bear John has ever gotten. I was happy for him, but I was hoping I’d still get my chance before the season ended.

Next up: I get my bear.

My Bear Season 2019 – The Beginning

I climbed on and tried to start the machine. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing.

Remember way back when I said I was prepping for bear season. July 27th kicked off the baiting season. We baited our spots and waited. It was nearly three weeks before I had even one bear on the bait. It was a scrawny little bear seriously needing some weight gain, but he pretty much stopped, smelled and left.

This year turned out to be particularly difficult due to the abundance of food. We had a very wet and cold spring. Summer wasn’t much warmer, but this kind of weather is perfect for growing lots of vegetation, berries and tree fruit. So it goes, the beech trees were top heavy with nuts, and the vegetation and berries were abundant. There was so much natural food, bears were busy trying to eat what nature gave them, and they had no reason to go looking for my barrel of goodies. My Spypoint game cameras showed bear coming in and spending all of five minutes at the bait before leaving. I set up a Wildgame Innovations non-cell camera as a backup and at a different angle since we have a history of not getting photos when we want them. As the season progressed, more bear eventually found the bait, and I even had some day time bear.

The daytime bear was exciting because you hunt bear in the afternoons and sit until half hour after sunset, not in the middle of the night. A week before the season opened, the hounds came through my site. They stayed longer than any bear ever had, and from that day, all of my daytime bears stopped showing up for almost two weeks. When they finally resurfaced, they were nocturnal for most of the remaining season, only showing up a couple times, when I wasn’t sitting in my stand.

I planned the whole first week of bear hunting by taking half-day vacation days and hoping to see a bear. Just as last year, John went his way into his stand, and I went the other route so that I wouldn’t go past his stand. I parked at the bottom of the mountain, and hiked in. It was hot and by the time I got to the top of the mountain and into my tower stand, I was one sweaty mess. I started out in the t-shirt, then as night closed in and the temps dropped, I had to put on several layers to get warm, but still ended up shivering before dark. I hadn’t brought enough warm clothes and legal time couldn’t come soon enough. On the up side, there wasn’t a bug to bite me.

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August 28th: No bear showed so I made my way out of the stand, down the hill, around the corner and back to my four-wheeler. There I was greeted by what I initially thought was a brand new pile of bear scat, but later turned out to be moose droppings. I climbed on and tried to start the machine. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. The battery seemed dead, but I knew I hadn’t left the lights on. I tried not to panic. I absolutely hate being in the dark with bear lurking around. I took out my flashlight which is a super duper LED light. I, at least felt better. I’d see a bear before he killed me.  I texted John that my machine wouldn’t start, and to come get me. I headed back up the hill and by the time I got to the road that leads to John’s stand, I could hear him coming on his machine. We went back down the hill to look at the machine. It started with no problem. I was not amused.

August 29th: I sat again. Still no luck, but I was pretty proud that I wasn’t afraid to walk down the mountain this year. I mean, not even nervous. Well, let me step back…not as comfortable as I would be if John was there, but I felt like I was fine. I started the machine and headed out over the grown up alders trail that we have yet to clear. As I made my way back, there are two different spots where a culvert was put in years ago by loggers, but has washed out. I have more than once gotten stuck on that culvert if I don’t hit it at the right angle. John and I had filled the dip in the old wood, rocks and logs but sure enough. I hit that blankety-blank culvert, and there I sat. Then the machine stalled, and I couldn’t get it to start again.

Now I was not a happy girl. At least last time it wasn’t totally dark, but me and my cup of courage thinking kept me until the end of legal sitting time and now I was broke down in the dark. I prayed I could reach John on my cell phone. I sent him a text: “Stalled come get me! I’m  at the first culvert.” I tried to call him. No answer, so I left him a “very urgent” message filled with a few expletives and to come get me! Okay, I was on the verge of freaking out.

I took out my trusty flashlight, and I took the seat off to see if the choke had stuck, as it had days before. Since gas wasn’t pouring out if it, that was quickly ruled out. I tried to start it again. I gave John another text that I needed help. One more try…and Oh my gosh, it started. Second text: “I got it started. I’m going to try to go out if I can get off this culvert.”  After a couple tries, I got over the culvert. The relief was heard in my text:  “I’m on my way out!”

As I got to the end of the trail, I saw the lights from John’s truck as he approached. When I finally go to him, I was so relieved. As I began telling him my tale, it turned out he hadn’t seen any of my texts or heard my messages.  I was just relieved I wasn’t still sitting there waiting for my rescue. We now have protocol to check our phones as we leave to make sure we’re okay.

Next week: Phase Two