Prepping for Maine’s Bear Season

I wrote this article for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s July 2018 newsletter, but this version is a bit longer with more detail.

I love to hunt, and nothing gets me more excited than the anticipation of Maine’s bear hunting season. I’m not sure if it’s the amount of preparation it takes leading up to opening day, or if it’s the actual hunt, but bear hunting has gotten under my skin, and it’s a hunt I highly recommend, if you have never tried it. I was able to harvest my first black bear two years ago, and even though I didn’t get one last year, I still can’t wait to do it all over again this year.

Not everyone has the ability to bait, and even if they do, not everyone owns or has access to land where they can hunt bear. If you don’t have land to hunt bear, then consider hiring a Registered Maine Guide or teaming up with someone who does. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting ready for a bear hunt, and this may even make you opt to hire a Registered Maine Guide when you see how much time and money it requires. It’s work, but work that my husband, John and I love to do together. It’s the challenge of getting everything perfect that makes it so rewarding.

We are fortunate enough to have permission from a landowner to hunt bear on land about an hour and a half away. Thank you again Mr. S! Since neither the hubby nor I are Maine Guides (though it is our dream to become ones some day) our day jobs prevent us from baiting in the morning, which is considered the best time to bait. Over the past couple years, we’ve changed up our baiting patterns so that bear would have less bumping off the bait. We originally baited three times a week, after work. We had our best year ever when we switched to once-a-week baiting on early Sundays. This issue is always debated among hunters…I say just do what you can and what works best for you. I like the fact we can camp all weekend, check bait, and still have enough time to get in some fly fishing before heading home.

Preparation is the key to success in baiting your own bear site. Following is a summary of supplies and items we use to set our own bait sites. First of all, good bait is essential. This winter, we called and made arrangements with our bait guy for four barrels of bait. When we first started out, it was frustrating to try to buy dated sweets since everyone else was trying to do the same thing. We didn’t know where to buy bait. We’d watch for ads or search the internet for bait locally, and would usually find some to buy. I also stock up on flavored marshmallows, cherry gelatin, unsweetened cherry drink mix, and popcorn for my popcorn-wheel barrel. I also buy a jug of honey to use as a honey burn if we decide we need one. Our bait guy can also get us frosting, peanut butter, pie fillings, nougat, marshmallows, trail mix, granola…whatever we decide to use. We avoid chocolate chips since the big controversy over too much chocolate can kill a bear. I don’t think the use of chocolate chips is outlawed in Maine, but it is in New Hampshire.

 

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Bait barrels are a necessity and can be found at local retailers, online or sometimes at yard sales. We have blue plastic ones, but I’ve seen white ones and rust colored ones too, as well as steel barrels. We bought one for $35 from a store, and I know we paid too much. Make sure you have some heavy rope or cable to secure the barrel to the tree. Nothing is worse than finding your barrel missing when you go to check bait. We also use a lot of 4-5 gallon buckets to carry bait. I found square buckets at a local national retailer that used to let you have them for free, but now they charge, but it’s still less than buying new. All you have to do is ask. They also fit better in our four-wheeler basket. We also use 5-galloon buckets for grease and frosting, and these can also go missing if not properly secured to a tree.

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Bear scents are a must. I’ve bought locally, ordered online, and stock up when I see them in my travels. At $20 a bottle, it can get expensive. I have my favorites, but there are plenty to choose from, and over the years, we’ve tried them all. We’ve had our best luck with bacon, cherry, anise, blueberry, and caramel. Bear Jelly works great to spread on trees so that the scent last longer. We add our own beaver castor to the jelly for added scent.

Bear love grease. We get fryer grease from a local Chinese restaurant, but any fryer grease will do. You can also buy additives for the grease that creates a sensational teeth tingling sweet-smelling concoction that promises to bring the bear running. I even have a video on my Facebook page with a bear practically bathing in it. I stock up on those water sprayers kids use in the summer. They work great to spray the trees with grease so that the scent will travel.

It wouldn’t be bear hunting without anise oil. We buy a big jar of it and use a Tiki Torch wick to soak up the oil and then hang it from a string high in young sapling that we can bend down, and then release. We re-dip the wick each time we bait.

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Game cameras are a must. Whether it’s a photo or a video type is personal preference and like anything, cost can be a factor. It takes a lot more time to review videos, but videos show you behavior you might not otherwise catch in a photo. I recommend at least two on each bait since we’ve been known to blunder more than once and not set the camera correctly. This also eliminates any fighting over whose fault it is that the camera didn’t work. And, in order to see if it’s even worth sitting for hours on opening day, you need to know whether bear are hitting the bait, and if so, what kind. Last year, I was graced with a sow and two cubs, and the year before, a sow with three cubs. I also had boars of all ages coming to my bait. Last year, I heard bear coming into the bait on a dead run, which is unusual. I caught a glimpse of them through the trees as they circled and approached the bait from the far side. I was thinking it was the pair of young boars that had visited the night before. I decided to wait to see “both” bears before taking a shot. No such luck! A sow stepped out, followed by her two cubs. I’m glad I knew they were a possibility and waited to shoot.

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Game cameras also let you identify bear year after year. I don’t know if he died or just wasn’t hungry enough to venture my way, but the bear I named Scrapper never showed. He is old and has the scars to show he’s ornery, and he’d been at my bait for three years. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get to see him reappear. Remember to secure your game cameras too. More than once, bear have tried to chew, or pull our cameras off the trees. We use black out infrared cameras too, which has reduced their attempts to attack the camera. Don’t forget to bring extra memory cards (labeled) so you can swap them out quickly.

 

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I still haven’t gotten the nerve to sit in a ground blind. Since bear like to approach my  bait site from behind me, I opt for a tall ladder stand. This year, I’ve purchased each of us, a tripod ladder stand that we can position in the ideal spot without having to rely on a tree. I gave up the blind since it prevented me from getting a shot at a huge boar that was under my stand two years ago. I still dream about that night and “if I could do it all over again.” Do what makes you comfortable; being scared wouldn’t be fun.

Taurus_444_Raging_Bull_2-444069_01Another must is the handgun we bring; it’s a bear gun-a 44 magnum Taurus Raging Bull-a two-handed cannon so to speak. I’ve shot it, and it’s about all I can handle. A few years ago, we encountered a bear. After we had set the bait and were walking the area to see about moving one of the bait sites, we were unexpectedly charged by a bear. It growled and charged from the trees, which reminded me of a Jurassic Park episode, but it never showed itself. We ended up yelling and clapping and the bear moved on without incident. Perhaps it’s just for peace of mind, but nonetheless, it’s always with us when we bait.

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Lastly, we have two four-wheelers and a trailer. Baiting would be too much for this girl if we had to lug everything a quarter mile into the woods. We register them, load it up with all our supplies and head up the mountain. We’re usually in and out of our site within fifteen minutes. Don’t forget to bring gas…and the key.

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One more last thing…don’t forget your license—that’s a big game hunting license, a bear permit, and archery license if you’re using a bow, and trapping license if you opt in to the trapping season. Know the laws and abide by them.

 

John and I prep for the bear hunt together, but we hunt separately on our own baits. The only thing left is saving up my vacation time to hunt, and having the nerve to walk into my bait alone. I’m usually jumped by a partridge, frog or a snake the first couple times in, then it’s just a matter of taking my time so that I make no noise on my way in. It gets easier the more I do it, but since we’ve jumped bear at night, hubby likes to walk in and meet me. Guides will do the same if needed.

The best is yet to come…bear arriving on your site while you’re sitting in your stand. I can’t wait to hunt, and I hope you give it a try. It won’t be long, and bear hunting will be under your skin too.

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Old lady eyes and no mascara and lipstick…sorry

I’m hoping I’ll get to bring my friend, Erin along again this year, and maybe she’ll even get to see a bear. Crossing our fingers that this will not be another banner beechnut year!

Happy hunting!bear claw

 

 

 

 

P.S. Don’t forget to label your bait site. I make a laminated card and hang it high on the tree. And for the first time, a bear got to the tag this spring and chewed it up. I’ll be making some new ones and hanging them a little higher. IMG_20160806_121616700_TOP

 

 

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A Walk in the Woods

I usually walk in the woods out back of my house, but when it comes to being in the woods “up North” we usually are riding in the truck. This year, we headed into East Carry to check on the pond and see if any trout were rising. The road was exceptionally soft so we decided to park the truck and walk in. The frost was coming out of the ground and we were afraid we’d get stuck and with no cell phone reception, it’s the last thing we needed to happen…and we have a new truck that John doesn’t like to get dirty.

What an amazing day it turned out to be!

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This rabbit was one of many that let me take an extra close picture.

We decided to “be quiet” and whisper because we were hoping we’d see a bear. As we walked the road, I spent as much time looking at where I was walking as looking around. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied something brown moving near a blown down spruce. My immediate thought was it’s a rabbit, since we had only seen about 20 of them along the roadside the night before. As I watched, the animal quickly made its get away. I watched it bound away. It’s feet were fat and perfect, and it had a black tail…In my mind, I’m looking at this animal and thinking that’s the biggest freaking rabbit I’ve ever seen! I yell to John, “Did you see that? It was a Goliath rabbit. That thing was huge!” And then it hits me. OMG! That was NO rabbit. It was a bobcat! We got a good laugh and we now call this section of the road Bobcat Alley.  Of course, no picture. It happened so suddenly I didn’t get a shot.

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This coyote is much smaller and shorter than the one we saw at East Carry. It’s also more orange in color.

We headed down the road. Good thing we didn’t bring the truck. There was a tree across the road, and the road was partially flooded. As we inched ourselves around the tree while trying not to get our feet wet, I looked up just in time to see a huge, and I mean HUGE–coyote, which we now feel must have some wolf in it, come running down the road. It stood there staring at us. It didn’t fear us. It stood as tall as a German Shepard or maybe even taller with a Husky look. He was a big dog–bigger than any coyote I’ve ever seen and was completely white/yellow. He just stood there. I don’t think it had ever seen a human. I tap John on the arm, “Hey! Coyote! in a whisper yell. I didn’t dare move afraid I’d scare him off. John had is handgun on his hip, and slowly took it out of his holster. Using the tree as cover, he took aim. POW! and the dog turned and ran. John had missed the 80 plus yard shot. We followed the tracks. He was a big one. He went up another trail, and then proceeded to scratch and pee all along the road. We followed his tracks until the trail ended. We then turned around and finished walking into the pond. Never before had we ever seen such a large dog. Again, no picture because I didn’t want to move.

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Coy-wolf track…IMO 😉

I went back to looking for more wildlife. I was able to notice on several occasions the places where birds like to dust. They find mounds of dirt and create bowls in the sand. This process keeps bugs off their feathers.

 

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We also noticed other wildlife and plants: If only they had smell-a-vision…May Flowers are the absolute prettiest smelling flower.

We finally made it into the East Carry. The fish weren’t jumping, but the loons were calling. It was so soothing to see the water. The main picture is East Carry.

 

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If you get a chance to take a walk in the woods, be ready for surprises. You just never know what you’ll run into in the woods.

 

Spring Pussy Willows

There’s always a sure way of knowing that spring is really coming, and that’s when I start spotting pussy willows as I drive to work. I often hear friends say they can never find any.

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In the city of Waterville, but Augusta has some good ones too.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you really can’t miss them once you know where to look. The hardest part about spotting pussy willows is not being able to pick them off someone’s lawn…nope can’t do that. Since I haven’t got up the courage to ask and know that I can find them elsewhere, I just respect their land and move on…but I still sigh every time I drive by!

I’ve spent a good amount of time looking and some of the best and biggest pussy willows I’ve ever found have been in the city. You read right…the city. The The key is to pick them before they turn green, and you want willow trees…not poplar tree blossoms which look somewhat like a pussy willow.

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Some really tall ones!

Every year, John and I pick an enormous bunch of them to keep in the house. One year, we found the mother load of gigantic pussy willows and picked a bunch. The following year, we went back only to find that the owner of the property had wiped it clean of the willow trees, and put up a big old warehouse. Knowing that there had to be more somewhere in the city, I went to work scanning the for-sale lots in my travels.

 

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Score! At an industrial park, where land is for sale, I managed to spot some pussy willows. They didn’t appear too big from the road, but once we were up close, they were huge! They literally looked like cat paws…or rabbit paws…just a really awesome find. It’s amazing how much land right next to the highway is accessible and I’ve seen several people picking pussy willows in the same spot each year. Just know that the bigger ones are where no one’s picked yet.

So with the cold that’s been sticking around, the pussy willows haven’t bloomed out as quick as I expected they would…but the season is coming to a close. In fact, since these rains, the willows are getting too far gone as the leaves are trying to come out.

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These green buds are much more easy to spot…take note for next year.  You’ll want to remember where you saw them come spring. Don’t forget to take the kids along for some outdoor time and a great time to learn about the woods.

Happy Spring! Now go fishing!

Why I Carry – A Woman’s View

When I first started hunting, my husband chaperoned me and took me to my treestand in the dark because I was afraid of the woods; that is, I was afraid of what I couldn’t see. I wasn’t used to the sounds of the forest and which animals make what sound. I didn’t grow up spending my time in the woods, so it was all new to me. On more than one occasion I’ve watched other hunters walk by me in my treestand and not even see me.  And more than once, I’ve had a hunter whom I don’t know approach me while I was hunting. No matter when it happens, it’s just plain rude, but I’ve never been afraid.

Over the years, I’ve become very comfortable in the woods, and I no longer need the hand-holding I once relied upon; however, being comfortable in the woods isn’t the same thing as being a woman alone in the woods. When I hunt with my rifle, I never worry about being a woman alone in the woods. I’m not the paranoid type, and it’s never been an issue, but I always had my rifle.  I hunt in areas that are family lands, or where private land owners give us permission. I pretty much know who’s hunting and when they’re hunting, and a rifle automatically provides me protection.  So when I began bow hunting, I didn’t automatically carry a handgun along with my bow. In fact, it never crossed my mind. I went about my hunting business as I always did.

Then came that afternoon, as I was walking down into my stand, I was met by two young men carrying a shotgun in my woods. Men I hadn’t expected. Men I didn’t know. And I didn’t like that since all I had was my bow.  This was my first, Oh crap, moment. As they approached me, the only upper hand I had on the situation was that they were hunting in my area, where they didn’t have permission. I overheard one even talking about my family and how we hunt there…so they knew us. I kept reminding myself that I had a phone, but that might not even be an option should I have a confrontation with these guys. I was at a definite disadvantage, but didn’t want to make it obvious.

I remained authoritative but friendly. I asked them where they were hunting because I was hunting there. After a brief awkward conversation, they knew I was annoyed and they were in the wrong, so they tucked their tails and headed back from where they came. At this point I was more annoyed than anything. By the time I got to my stand, I was late by a half an hour, and watched the tail of a deer as it bound off. That night’s hunt was ruined.

A few days later, I decided to try again. I was on a quest to get my royal crown/grand slam and I wasn’t about to let any opportunity to hunt go by. It was perfect weather for bow hunting: cool and almost no wind and the rut was close. So I left work early and headed into the woods. As I neared my stand, I was once again met by one of the two men I had met days earlier. I was more than annoyed, but apprehensive because he had spotted me coming down the trail,  and was walking right toward me. This time, he was carrying a rifle, not a shotgun, and I with only my bow. My second, Oh crap, moment. He wasn’t bird hunting either. He acted nervous and tried to make light talk and claimed he was hoping he’d see a coyote…okay. Once again, the situation came into my favor as I had basically caught this guy hunting out of season even thought I couldn’t prove it. This guy had basically been traipsing all over my area where I had planned to hunt. Second hunt ruined.

After this second round of uneasiness, I resolved to the fact that I needed to carry a handgun, if not as protection, then simply as a peace of mind. I learned long ago that one thing a woman should never be is the victim of opportunity. It’s better to feel safe than to be a victim, and if that means taking along a gun, then so be it. And besides, John and I  carry a gun while we’re bear baiting, camping, and trapping, so this would be no different, except John wouldn’t be with me.

img952009.jpgI’ve had training and I have a concealed carry permit so when I headed into the woods, I brought along my .44 Taurus for the remainder of the season. It’s like a cannon in my hand, but I can shoot it. I’ve since moved to a different handgun, a Taurus P38 ultralight that’s easier to shoot, and also lighter to carry.

It’s seems strange to say that carrying a gun made that much difference, but it did, for me. I particularly liked having it when I hunted expanded archery in the city. Hunting in unfamiliar areas took the edge off worrying about being bothered or confronted by a stranger. I could focus solely on my hunt.

When it came time to hunt again, instead of heading back to the same spot, I found a new one and set up a blind. I’m happy to say that I got my first bow deer and my royal crow quest was complete.

IMG_20161025_202959730Being a woman hunter in the Maine outdoors is one of the most enjoyable and empowering things I’ve done in my life, and if carrying a handgun while bow hunting is going to make me feel safer while I do the things I love, then I’ll continue to carry. I’ve even taken it along on my adventures with girlfriends, and it’s been well received. Whether I’m bird hunting, fly fishing or bow hunting, I plan to keep making memories and have my handgun with me.

If you’ve wanted to do things but the fear of doing something is because you feel vulnerable, then you might want to consider getting a handgun, training and certification to carry it (even though a concealed carry permit isn’t required…for now).

Happy hunting!

Trapping for Bobcat

This year was a first for bobcat. We know of locals who hunt bobcat with dogs, but we’ve never done it. Last year, I tried to trap a bobcat after I found where one had traveled out back of the house where I hunt, but the season ended before I had any luck.

This year, I was determined I’d catch something. I really wanted a fox or a bobcat for their fur as well as help with population control as there are few rabbits in our area due to so many predators, and both fox and bobcat prey on rabbit.

A family member reported that he had seen a bobcat while deer hunting in late October. We were shocked as the only bobcat I’ve ever seen was last year when I was rabbit hunting in Dead River plantation. The cat crossed the road in front of me as I walked to my truck, but it was just out of range of my shotgun and in line with John’s truck…I would have had a lot of explaining to do.

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John and I each set a trap line. My trap line was focused on where I had fox coming to my tree stand as well as where I had seen its tracks along a rock wall.  The trap is a number two Duke foothold trap. For bait, I used the wing from a chicken that I had killed, and some skunk essence for lure. This particular chicken met its demise after it attacked my grandson and Momi was called to take care of it. I set up a trap using the natural lay of a stone wall. I was pretty bummed when my chicken wing came up missing, but my trap didn’t go off because it had frozen. Another lesson learned. I hadn’t made sure my dirt over my trap wasn’t moist. Whatever stole my chicken must have been small, perhaps a weasel or squirrel.

We took turns checking the traps depending on our hunting schedules. I was spending a lot of time hunting in the early mornings, so John checked my traps. I was sitting on the top of the mountain in my tree stand when I heard his .22 pistol go off. Sure enough, I had caught a porcupine in my trap. I would reset my traps in the evening, and we’d start the process all over again the following day. John caught one very large porcupine in his trap, and I managed to catch six more. Time to move the traps. There are still porcupine around since I still see the damage they are doing to the trees in the winter, and I saw more during the remainder of the deer hunting season.

With no luck for fox or coyote, we decided to move our traps deeper into the woods. We set up several traps along the bog where I spotted a bobcat only days before the season opened. John made a nice cubby using a large rock as a back drop for the cubby and a large beaver carcass from our beaver trapping where a coyote had come by my tree stand. The cubby is built so that the animal will go after the bait, but not be able to come from behind and steal it without stepping on the trap.

Johns first bobcatJohn caught his first, and what we thought would be our only bobcat. This was an adult female. He got it tagged and then took it to the taxidermist. This bobcat weighed about 27 pounds. The taxidermist said it was a nice sized one.

I don’t think I ever saw anyone as excited as John when a few days later, he came back  to say that he had lost a bobcat. Apparently the stepping stick got kicked into the trap and when the trap engaged, the stick allowed the bobcat to get away. However, the bobcat also decided to destroy the cubby to get to the beaver. Somehow, the bobcat pulled the entire beaver off from the large stake John had used to secure the beaver in the cubby! It ate on the beaver then took some of the meat and dragged it a few feet away where it tried to bury it with leaves.

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Small piece of bait covered in leaves
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Stick caught in the trap

 

I had already asked Erin to join us for beaver trapping on Sunday so I gave her call. I asked her if she could come earlier and that it wasn’t a sure thing, but we were pretty sure John would catch a bobcat that night. Without hesitation, Erin said yes. So at daylight, the three of us made our way down to the trap line on the four-wheeler. And sure enough, there was a huge bobcat staring back at us! John dispatched the bobcat, then we all got a chance to see it up close. This was a large male. He weighed in at 37 pounds! John decided to have this one mounted instead of the first one, so once again, he got him tagged and took him to the taxidermist. The taxidermist is tanning the first one for us so that we’ll still have John’s first bobcat.

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I was pretty much convinced that after catching two bobcat, we were done. Boy was I wrong! Imagine my surprise when I discovered that we lost another bobcat on the bog set. I had went to pull all the traps when I made the discovery. A bobcat had taken the rabbit carcass we used as bait and left us some fur. IMG_20171204_103419750_HDR

I set my trap but with the intention of trying to catch a coyote. There were tracks all over the place and figured that as long as there were coyotes, there would never be a bobcat. And I kept thinking, realistically, just how many bobcat would be in one area?

The following morning, I went with John to check my traps. There before me was my very first, my very own bobcat. A young tom bobcat. He was about 27 pounds. He was as beautiful as the others. I dispatched him using a .22 pistol. And to top the season off, we went back that evening to check traps and there was bobcat number four! Another huge male tom bobcat weighing about 35 pounds! I took the last two bobcats and got them tagged in Sidney at the warden office. My first bobcat is in the freezer waiting for me to have enough money saved up to get it mounted.

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My very own bobcat. His fur is beautiful.

I was also excited to be able to share my catch with my grandkids. They think it’s pretty awesome that their Momi got a bobcat. The last bobcat, I gave to Erin along with the skull. Even though it’s bigger than my first bobcat, I decided I wanted to keep my first one. She’s having the fur tanned and the skull done to go along with her other collection of skulls.

This season of trapping turned out way more successful than I ever imagined. For those of you worried that we trapped too many bobcat, be rest assured there’s still more. We caught this bobcat on camera just this week. He had dug into the ground where the remainder of the beaver lies frozen. MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA

As for 2018 trapping season, I hope to get a bear and some coyotes…many coyotes, but for now….one would be nice.

Happy Trapping!

 

 

Late Season Partridge Hunting

IMG954140.jpgIt seems we’re always raring to go bird hunting as soon as it’s October 1st, but then once bow hunting and regular deer season begin, we never bird hunt the remainder of the season.

After all, deer hunting, especially this year, seemed to consume my ever minute of free time. Not only did I hunt the regular season, but I also hunted the muzzleloader season. I only missed one day all season. I saw lots of partridge (grouse) all season long, but never had the right gun to take any. I jumped grouse going into my bear stand. I walked under a grouse while looking for a place to hunt. I had a number of grouse hang out in front of my tree stand at daylight, while I was deer hunting, and even though I could shoot one, I didn’t.

partridge

 

So when the hubby told me that while he and my oldest son were on their way home from rabbit hunting up north, they saw a bunch of partridge roosting in trees during the last hour of the hunt, he got my attention. On their first try, they managed to bring home a rabbit and a grouse.

“I want to do that”, I said. And so the next Friday night, I got out of work early and we dashed out of town and headed to the woods.

 

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Partridge eating buds in the trees

As soon as we got there, it was no time before we had spied 5 different birds! We had to get our timing right. You never stop AT the bird. You drive by and then sneak back, but sometimes, you stop before you get there and sneak up. Sometimes, you argue about whether it’s a bird, then as you sneak up, you second guess how far you can shoot and watch the bird fly off, or you see THREE birds in a tree and they all fly at once. I’m working to get a video of the hunt up on my Facebook page.

Then you finally see a bird, sneak up on it, and blast it. Northern Ontario Partridge will be on the menu soon! And after hubby retrieves the bird, it’s back in the truck to find another one before the sun sets.

The best part about this time of the year is that the birds aren’t pressured. When we hunt in the fall, you have to spot the birds among the bushes and trees. You sometimes ride for hours and may or may not see any birds. In only an hour, we had seen eight birds!

We went two more times; each time racing against the clock for legal shooting, driving a certain stretch of road where the guys had seen the birds the first night. Each time we brought home three birds, but saw many more than we saw during the fall season.img_20171226_182733584.jpg

It’s a great way to put some birds in the freezer before winter, and a nice change of pace after deer season.

Next year, we’ll be heading out earlier in the season to try our luck. Take a ride, and instead of looking in the woods, look to the tops of the trees. You just may get lucky!

Happy Hunting!

No Second Chances This Year

So deer season consumed every ounce of my free time from the time I went bow hunting through the last day of muzzleloader season, which many of you know was last Saturday. I never even got to go expanded archery hunting because I spent so much time hunting the regular seasons.

I wasn’t able to score an any-deer permit this year, so I knew I’d either have to shoot a doe with my bow or a buck with my rifle.

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My bow spot…where I shot my doe last year…notice how green the leaves are!

Bow hunting didn’t have many great nights to sit, but I could sit fairly late. The winds were awful most nights and it was hard to hear anything. I hadn’t had any action until one night, at almost the end of the night, when I could sit no longer, I stood up. Not expecting anything, I was soon surprised and confused by an animal that charged across the road and into the woods. What to heck was it?! It was so low I swore it wasn’t a deer, but looking back now, it had to be a deer…or a bear…I still don’t know. It rattled me a bit because I had no other form of protection, which is the last time I bow hunt without a handgun also close by.

Rifle season was much more exciting. I had some great morning hunts. The camera we put up for three days had three different deer on it. One was an eight point buck, another was a spike horn and there were does. Awesome. I was sure I’d see a buck. I’ll put up a couple of those videos on my Facebook page.

I set up a blind where the camera was since I had a buck chasing a doe in video. It was a very long walk into the blind, and trying to beat sunrise while being quiet was proving difficult. So on one morning, I opted to stop at this hemlock tree and sit on a rock beneath it. It was awkward, but I had heard deer running around and I didn’t want to blow my chance.  I made a grunt call with my call. Immediately, I had two deer start walking toward me. I readied my gun as they approached. One stayed in the woods, but the other one was in perfect view: broadside. The only problem was that it wasn’t shooting time, and the deer’s head was in the shadows of the sunrise and I literally couldn’t see if it was a buck or doe. The entire head was shadowed by its body. I waited, with gun pointed. Eventually my arms could no longer hold my gun and as I lowered it, the deer heard me and blew. Game over. The deer left and I never saw the second one. Five minutes later, and it was full daylight…damn…so close, but I think the one deer I saw was a doe. Her tail was curled up and she had responded to a buck grunt. The other deer may have been a buck chasing her, and if it was, I’ll never know.

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My spot under the hemlock. Still too dark to shoot when the deer came out by the birches (orange leaves on the left)

Many mornings I made the hike up this hill that had weeds chest high. John and I rode the four-wheeler over it so a lot of the brush was knocked down, but it certainly wasn’t quiet. A few wet mornings made going easy, but I also had some really crunchy, noisy mornings trying to get to my treestand that we put in the hemlock I had sat beneath.

I heard deer where I couldn’t hunt because it’s too close to houses. I heard deer to my right. I heard deer to my left coming up the hill. I saw more buck paws and scrapes than I thought possible. I managed to call a doe out at night and watched her head out in front of me in the tall weeds. I saw two doe another morning, that I called in. They came up behind me in the tree line, then moved out in front of me only briefly before heading back into the woods. They didn’t take the easy route up the road and out in front of me-well except for the deer I encountered after traipsing all over the woods until nearly 10 am. As I headed down the road back to my car, I came face to face with a doe. IMG_20171129_090740619_HDR

And the deer in the beeches off to the right of my stand refused to show themselves but instead headed for the oaks below me. I heard them every morning, and even got one to come my way a couple times, but I couldn’t get them to actually come into view because of the trees blocking my view. It was as if they had me figured out.

So I took some days off and hunted other spots to give my “hot” spot a rest. This was pretty cool because on one of these days, I got to see a bobcat make its way across the bog that I was hunting. This was only my third bobcat I had ever seen in the wild. I couldn’t shoot it because it wasn’t bobcat season unless I was trapping it…which we did after this.

Then one morning, I heard what I’d been waiting for all season. I heard a buck chasing a doe as I climbed the hill. I heard him rattle his antlers on a tree. The wind is always in my favor walking up the hill, but once to the top, anything behind me could and would smell me. So I carefully sprayed a little doe-in-heat lure on some old goldenrod flowers. I had instant lure and cover for me.

I made my way to my stand. I climbed in and secured my harness and took a seat. This time, I made a doe call but not right away. I sat and waited until it was almost shooting time. I still heard other deer,  but as soon as I made the doe bleat call, I had a deer coming. It was undeniably a deer coming my way. He raked his antlers on some trees right behind me! A buck! I waited. I finally heard him come behind me and make his way to my right. I watched him over my right shoulder.  He came into view for a second. A buck with crotch horn thick antlers…all he had to do was walk out around the trees between me and him…just walk out in front of me.

But he didn’t. He veered right and moved through the next bunch of trees in the tree line. I had to sit there and watch him walking away. He swung left and stepped through an opening in the trees right at the road. It was a small opening, but I was afraid I wouldn’t get another chance.  I aimed right behind his left shoulder and pulled the trigger.IMG_20171117_063325712.jpg

He kicked like a bucking bronco then stood there flicking his tail, which told me I didn’t hit him-or at least it wasn’t a lethal shot. I jacked out my shell and as I went to cycle another round my gun didn’t do as it was supposed to. I had to cycle a second time to put a shell into my chamber. By then he had moved and was about 90 yards away walking broadside toward the treeline. I took another shot. He continued to walk stopping briefly. Then he did the unthinkable. He moved behind a growth of birch trees. All I could do was watch him, but it was pointless to try another shot because the growth was too thick. IMG_20171117_063330340

He turned and walked into the woods. I called John hoping I had a deer to track.

At first we couldn’t find any sign of blood. I had to climb back in my tree and wave my arms to where I last saw the deer. Finally we managed to find a small drop of blood, perhaps from my second shot. We followed a one drop at a time blood trail for about 30 yards, then there was no more blood. None. I had probably just grazed him, but it didn’t take a way the feeling of guilt and failure. IMG_20171116_072123219

I tried to figure out what I did wrong. This is the first season with my new 30.06. “Was my gun off ?”, since I can say I generally don’t suck at aiming and shooting. I had fallen with it days earlier, but didn’t think I hit anything. We had purchased different ammo. This ammo was to separate and expand upon impact. John used the same ammo for his hunt. His deer had no exit wound…if this was the case with my deer, then there was only one way to bleed and that could make tracking a lot harder.

IMG_20171109_065649170_HDRGoing back the next day, as the sun rose, I could see clearly many more branches through the opening than I did the day I shot at my deer. I clearly didn’t make a good decision to take the shot, and that’s something I have to reconcile in my own head. Had my bullet hit a branch, broke apart, and just grazed him then? I’ll never know. I hope he survived.

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The porcupine that fooled me…I thought it was a deer.

I continued to hunt from my stand, but with the rut over, things weren’t happening. Later I moved to the bottom of the mountain and sat over a buck rub area that would make you dizzy. The very first night I called out a deer. He actually came crashing out, but instead of coming out into the opening, he also stayed in the treeline and circled around me. I could hear him smelling, sniffing the air, trying to find his doe, but with so many trees behind me, I never saw him…and he walked away…and after that night, he never responded again. He had figured me out.

So I ended the season without getting a deer tagged. There was no second chance buck to make it right. It was hard to swallow losing my only chance I had at a buck, but that’s what makes it hunting. I not only saw deer, but each and every hunt I was graced with nature’s amazing wildlife, celestial events, and just complete enjoyment being outdoors. And for that I am thankful. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.