A Day With the Bear Crew

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My son Zack, holding a cub during his college days.

It wasn’t that long ago that my son got to go along with the Bear Crew into the den of a sow and her three cubs, and ever since then, I’ve wished I could get the chance to do it too.

So when out of the blue, my friend Erin sends me a text asking if I wanted to go with the Bear Crew in January, you can bet I didn’t hesitate one second to say, “YES!”

After promising that I wouldn’t geek out too badly, Erin set the date with the Crew. I put  vacation time on the work calendar, we made our gear list, and we were set to go. The forecast was a perfect sunny, warm day so that was an extra.

We arrived bright and early at the headquarters and got ourselves into our wool pants and boots. We met Randy Cross, head bear biologist for Maine, and our day was set in motion. We had dressed right…wool pants make us quiet…we were off to a great start! We didn’t leave immediately. Instead, we met the entire crew in between their preparations and discussions of the bear we were going to see. Our bear had yearlings as it’s too early for new cubs; they don’t arrive until March or April. The Crew knew her location, how much she had traveled in the last year, and approximately where she was located thanks to the GPS collar she’s wearing. They actually know this bear well. She’s a 16 year old bear that had four cubs last year and they’ve been visiting her den yearly.

The bear crew talked about how much drug to give the sow and cub, throwing numbers, equations, and ratios around like it was a math class. I was amazed at how well everyone works together in gathering everything they need. They apologized because it was only their first few days, and they claimed to not have their routine down…I can’t imagine them doing any better!

I watched a very cool bear video on what to expect. We talked about the Bear Whisperer show, and they asked questions about me…whether I hunt or trap bears. I think they were a happy to hear I’m an avid bear hunter and trapper, but they were welcoming well before they knew anything about me.

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Once we were on the road, we actually didn’t go that far to find a bear. I got to ride on a snowmobile that literally can go ANYWHERE it’s driven…I need one of these! We literally broke trail through woods I’d never consider going, while we squeezed between trees zig zagging until we stopped. Although it had warmed up, the snow was still really deep. Being prepared, we had brought along our snowshoes!

Once we were on the trail, two of the crew members, Roach and Jake went ahead and circled the area while Lisa manned the radio to locate the bear. We quietly followed, making sure not to talk so that the bears wouldn’t hear us approaching. They’re seldom bothered by vehicles, machines, etc., but voices can send a bear bolting from her den. Randy had hoped she’d be denned up as she was last year; she had taken up residence in an old beaver house! The surrounding forest didn’t leave him too optimistic, and a ground nested bear is much harder to sneak up on and dart. So we moved as quietly as we could. To our advantage, the warm weather left trees dropping snow and it made for good sound cover.

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Waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once the sow was drugged, the cub didn’t try to run and they were able to give it a shot. In a matter of a few minutes, both were ready to be evaluated.

We were told that if we hear a whistle then to stop moving. This would mean one of the two crew members had spotted the bear. We watched Lisa and Randy move in while we waited. Little did we know that the bear was right there! They had moved in on her and now they were just waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once we got the okay to move in, we got to see our bear! She was in a ground nest. She literally had scratched the trees to make a bed of bark and laid down with nothing over her!

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As soon as they got the go ahead, the team went into action working diligently and methodically. The bears were placed on a sleeping bag to keep them off the snow. Randy replaced the sow’s collar while Roach and Jake took measurements and weighed the cub. Then once Randy was done with the sow, she was moved onto the bag, and weighed and measured as well. Lisa took information as numbers were called out in between discussions of what they should name the cub. The cub got new ear tags that had most likely been bitten out by other cubs, a tattoo inside her mouth and a GPS collar. Only one cub remained with the sow out of four. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all died, but they may have. Apparently the two male cubs were very big, and the mother had traveled hundreds of miles. It may be possible the two male cubs went off on their own to den, and there is even a possibility that they may be denned nearby as that is also common.

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In just a few minutes, both sow and cub were finished and then we got to get some photos with the bear. It’s entirely a different feeling holding up the head of a living breathing bear. This bear’s head is huge. If I had only seen her, I would might think she was a he.

IMG_0255Before the bears were returned to their nest, Lisa gathered a few armloads of boughs and lined it nicely to keep the bears dry. Their fur is so thick and full and it repels water. I was told that when it rains, the bears will literally get up, shake off, and then lay back down. Once the bears were brushed off of all the falling snow, they were placed back into their nest. A reversal drug was administered to each bear, and we left as quietly and quickly as we arrived.

I am forever grateful for this opportunity to go along with the Bear Crew. To see the professionalism, camaraderie, and true care for the future of our Maine black bears is  something I’ll always remember. Thank you Erin. Thank you Maine Bear Crew!

I wonder if we can go on an adventure with the Maine Moose Crew???…

ohhhh Errrinnnn!! 😉

 

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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!

Bear Season Success

I know I’m extremely late in posting. I’ve never gone this long without a post. The problem was that bear season brought lots of unexpected events that I wasn’t prepared for.

First of all, the week before the season started, I had six different bears on my bait. I was feeling ecstatic and sure I’d get a bear this year. Of the six, I also had a sow with two cubs. I wasn’t too concerned as I figured they wouldn’t hang around long with all the boars I had showing up.

The night before bear season began, my husband became ill with vertigo and sudden hearing loss. A healthy, robust, avid hunter ended up flat on his back and helpless. Two weeks later, a trip to the hospital, tests, an MRI and a specialist ENT doctor revealed no brain tumors, and there was nothing anyone could do except wait it out. He’ll either get his hearing back, or not. The vertigo will go away, but when, we don’t know.

John only managed to hunt a couple times, but we did get out to the sites together to check the cameras. A walking stick and later a four-wheeler was a big help for him to get around. I hunted a bit more. I tried to hunt by myself. I took the hour and half ride north and sat a few times. Our cameras also decided to quit…two $150 cameras dying followed by repeated mishaps with other cameras made even checking cameras a chore and a dread.

The first time I sat, I got to see the sow and cubs come into the bait. When they first started coming in, they weren’t quiet. In fact, they were so noisy, I thought it was a moose, then when I realized it was a bear, I thought for sure it was the two male bears that had visited the night before. I’m glad I waited to see both bears, because the second bear ended up being a cub…then another cub. I figured I’d let them just eat and leave but then Momma bear decided to snoop around and started coming over to my stand. I had to stomp my feet to scare her and her cubs away before she spotted me. It was pretty comical to see how the bears reacted to my stomps.

IMG_20170901_163327507The second time I sat, I had my friend Erin join me. She loves to bear hunt and had never been to my bait site. We put a hang-on tree stand directly above my ladder stand. She and I braved the hurricane force winds for a chance to see the pair of male bears that had only been there two days before. The plan was that we would each get to shoot one and the job would be done…no such luck. No bears at all that night. I guess the wind was just too noisy for them to come in. Erin I owe you another hunt.

IMG_20171015_182840737_TOPThose winds brought down the most beechnuts I’ve ever seen in one season. After that night, I only had a couple brief encounters with bears on camera for the remainder of the season. Too much natural food and literally, the bears were gone.

The third time, I sat alone. I saw the sow and cubs again. This time the cubs came in, but Momma bear was no where to be seen, which I did not like. It was quite a while before one of the cubs walked to the right and only then did the mother appear. Somehow she had stayed out of sight and circled around the site. She knew I was there, and as quick as she stepped out in front of the barrel, she moved back out of sight. Then she began making her way toward my stand. I figured I’d just keep an eye out for her, but when she started snapping her jaws and huffing at me, the party was over. I stomped my feet. I huffed back. They left.  After that night, they never returned to the bait during daylight hours that I sat. I videoed this event and you can find it on my YouTube. Go to the four minute mark to see the cub and what goes down after.

I sat a couple more times as the season came to an end. I picked nice quiet nights with the sun shining late, i.e. the best kind of nights a bear may just happen to come back for a visit. I had a big bull moose come in the exact same direction that the bears had come in. At first I couldn’t tell what it was and I was hoping it was a bear. He made a big circle around my bait. My honey burn had brought him in. I could hear him sniffing the smoke. He rubbed his antlers on trees several times and as he made his way around to my right, he walked away grunting the most majestic moose grunt. I then heard a cow moose give one long call. Love was in the air that night.

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Honey burn causing a lot of smoke…

We spent two weeks trying to snare a bear, but with only sow and cubs coming to our sets, we decided to call it a season. This season was the worst we’ve ever had.

In fact, I was pretty bummed about the season. I was both mentally and physically exhausted with nothing to show for it. It’s taken me all this time to realize that my bear season really wasn’t the total bust I had thought it was.

I’ve always said, “success isn’t in what you end up with. It’s the adventures along the way.” It took me this long to realize I had a successful season. I had seen a sow with cubs TWICE . Not bad since before last year, I had never seen a bear in the wild. I also saw a bull moose in rut and a pine martin. I had a blue jay rat me out squawking from tree to tree then nearly attacking me in my tree stand. I saw a partridge repeatedly on my way in and out of my stand only to fly away when I finally tried to bird hunt. I almost stepped on a tree frog and saw a very big snake from the four-wheeler. I found mushrooms too. And most importantly, I still have a husband and we’ll get him through this illness.

And there’s always next year. For now, John and I have done some bird hunting to fill in the gap, and now I’m deer hunting. I promise to not stay away so long this time.

Happy Hunting!

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Tree frog in my trail

Bears…We Have Bears!

Our first week of baiting season proved successful…or at least for John’s bait. He not only had hits from big bears, but he had early hits so his chances of seeing a bear before dark looked promising. My bait had no hits.

 

The second week of baiting, we both got  bears. I finally had a sow and cubs on my site and John continued to have big bears and more bears on his site…and no sow and cubs.

 

Week three was a bonanza for my site. I had several bears, a set of boars, a couple single boar sightings and one bear possibly a dry sow that I recognize from last year, and of course the sow and cubs. They sow and cubs were and still are the most frequent visitors.

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I want this guy to come back! Yeah, he’s MIA
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Nice big boar
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Possibly the sow that had triplets last year…”that nose”
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The pair of boars, now MIA

I’ve been hunting and next week, I’ll let you know what’s been happening…until then, I hope your baits are getting bears!

Prepping for Bear Season

Bear season officially began August 28th, with baiting allowed to start one month prior to the hunt. Before you can ever think about hunting, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into baiting even before the season begins. The main items needed for baiting are bait, scent, and grease…and then comes all the other stuff you need: a good blue or white barrel; an infrared camera that can take bear chewing on it; buckets–square ones are better; old clothes as nice ones don’t last long lugging bait; rope; bait tags; tree stand or blind; license to bear hunt and or trap, and maybe even a beaver carcass if you have one.

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Required by law, you need to have a bear site owner tag. This one is laminated.

In order to manage our bait sites, we have to buy bait, which can be a number of different foods. You want high calorie, high fat, no or low chocolate food that bears will seek during hyperphagia. When natural food is abundant, they don’t eat nearly as much. Last year there were no beechnuts nor acorns where we hunt. It was also a very dry year so berries weren’t nearly as abundant as they should have been. This year, we have a lot of beechnut and acorns, and berries, particularly blueberries, so we probably won’t use as much. Knowing this, we also know that it will be harder to bring them to the bait if they’re not hungry and the weather stays hot.

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ATV loaded with 2 five-gallon buckets of bait, half 5-gallon bucket of grease and bucket of frosting. Buckets get dirty from dragging them through the woods. Barrel of bait in background.

In years past, we tried to buy day-old goods and put them up in barrels ourselves, but that got to be seemingly impossible and downright unpredictable. Plenty of places have goods available, but they’ll save them for family members or sell them to pig farmers, so you never knew if you’d score or not. It also seemed to be about the time larger outfitters were buying extra from their sources and they began selling bait by the barrel. Buying bait takes the guess work and worry out of not having bait. We use about a barrel of bait for each site for the entire season. This year, we got two barrels of donuts and one barrel of honey oats granola. We also bought cherry pie filling, frosting, and peanut butter for bonus flavors. Just like people, bear may become bored with your offerings so you have to change it up to keep them coming.

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Grease bucket and bait barrel tied to the tree; otherwise, bear drag them away.

Baiting requires grease. https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FMymainelygirladventures%2Fvideos%2F795422197261805%2F&show_text=0&width=560“>Bear love grease because they need that fat for the winter. Grease smells good and it’s a good attractant. Add in a little cap of super concentrated Northwoods Bear Products’ Gold Rush scent and it REALLY smells good…teeth tingling butterscotch good. This year we tried a different brand with a cherry scent, but it wasn’t nearly as strong to our nose as the butterscotch. We’ve decided to stick with Gold Rush from here on out. We half fill a five-gallon pail that we’ve tied to a tree with the bottom cut out. You also can see how much the bear loves it on one of my videos on Facebook.

Scent is also the most important thing to lure bear to your bait. Your bait has to smell good…really good. Bears sense of smell is extraordinary, but the distance has been untested. Read more about bear behavior >>

The cost of scent is probably the largest expense besides bait. Depending on brand, many scents can be purchased locally, and some you have to buy online. I did both this year, and probably spent $140 just on scent. We had some bear jelly with beaver castor from last year’s supply so we smeared some of it on a tree. Beaver (yes the beaver that make dams and ruin trees) is a treat for bear.  Bears can smell it, and even though the jelly, which looks like Vaseline, is a year old, it had all kinds of scent. A must-have is anise oil. We hang it from a small tree out of reach of the bear. I found using a tiki torch wick works great. It soaks up a lot of oil and holds it so that I’m able to hang it and then it slowly drips over time. Nothing is worse than refreshing a bait site only to have a torrential downpour an hour or a day later. This anise wick lasts and lasts through the weather.

Once you have all the bait and scent, a good bait barrel and rope is crucial to that the bear won’t haul it off. I had to get a new barrel this year because the bear nearly ripped the old barrel from the rope and it couldn’t be repaired. My new barrel has a removable top which makes filling the barrel easier. Otherwise, we have to fill the barrel through the front hole which can be time consuming.

And lastly, I have a durable nighttime game camera with infrared flash. Since changing to a camera with infrared, I’ve noticed the bear are much more comfortable but some bears still know there’s a camera and try to chew it off…so durable is key. In the last three years, we’ve been videoing instead of just taking pictures. It’s truly amazing to see how bear behave versus just a still shot picture.

Now that I’m ready for bear baiting season, stay tuned to what shows up.

 

We Happened Upon a Chanterelle

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A bowl full of chanterelles

Last year we began foraging in earnest. We searched and picked and identified as many mushrooms as we could. We were able to identify three edibles: oysters, lobsters and chanterelles. Chanterelles are our favorites, and we managed to find a nice flush up north.

Looking around home yielded a few golden goodies, but nothing like last year’s bounty. We had pretty much resolved that we wouldn’t be so lucky as last year.

In preparation for bear season, we decided that John’s site needed to be moved to a more covered and discreet area that the bears would be comfortable visiting. We decided to go to the mountain and scout, and hopefully find time to look for some mushrooms.

On our way out of the campground, we realized we forgot our mushroom bags. As we turned around to go back, I spied that golden unforgettable, chanterelle color right by the road! Sure enough, we scored. We scored even more when we searched into the nearby woods.2017072295111640_2

Chanterelles right in the full sun!

After scoring so many mushrooms, our bags were full. We reorganized and emptied one bag, then headed into the woods on the mountain. After we decided where the new bear site would be, we decided to hike out the easy way instead of through all the mud we encountered earlier.

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I filled my fanny pack!

On our way, we happened upon some chanterelles, and then again, and again. Every time we found a bunch, we’d be so excited. Of course, we yelled, “Bingo” to keep our good fortune coming. We found them in many different places, but one consistency was finding them on the sides of roads where the soil is hard in mixed woods of fir and hardwood. We found them in shade, in sun, and under bushes…they just seemed to be everywhere!2548

The size of the Chanterelles kept us yelling in excitement!

This year’s haul was twice what we got last year. They’ve been sauteed in butter and frozen, and are now waiting for the right time to accompany our moose meat, venison, or bear dinner.IMG_20170723_074815810Over three gallons picked and trimmed.

Mushroom foraging has been a lot of fun. It’s given me exercise and we’ve created some great memories together. The season still holds many surprises, but for now, we’ll be focusing on the bear hunting season. Preparation is under way and the baits are out. Hopefully, I’ll have something to report on next week!

Until then, tight lines on those fish, keep your eyes down in the woods for fungi treasures, and keep practicing your shooting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Finally Get My Bear!

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My bear on camera

I sat all week in my stand. I had an exciting night after only the second night, and that’s always hard to follow. You wonder if you’ve scared everything out with all the commotion of jumping two bear in one night. The following night had nothing except a pine marten to watch, and of course the red squirrels. They were unfazed by the action and were already at the bait when I arrived.

Friday was going to be a late day. I had to be in Bangor most of the day and wouldn’t get home until at least 2-3pm. We dropped the four-wheeler the night before because we planned to bring the camper to the mountain for the three day weekend. As soon as we got home, we were rushing to get everything packed. I had no time to stop for food so we’d have to get it on our way up or come back to town on Saturday morning.

We dropped the camper and got changed into our hunting clothes. By the time I made it to my bait site, it was close to 5:15 pm. This is the latest I have ever hunted, and I wasn’t very hopeful. I even texted to John, “Looks pretty quiet here :-\”. The two hour sit passed pretty quickly. I saw the pine marten again, and the red squirrels. I watched a Barred Owl land right beside me on a branch; I was in my blind and he couldn’t see me. Before I could get my phone out of my pocket to take a picture, he flew down to catch a mouse–or maybe one of those red squirrels–wishful thinking. I couldn’t move much because I was holding my gun on my lap. Last year, I used Tyler’s .270 rifle, but this year I had opted to use my Remington .260 rifle since I’m more comfortable with it, not to mention it’s a shorter gun, and that made it easier for me to maneuver inside of my blind.

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Perfect shot is to left of white bucket.

The blind had sagged down in the front a bit, and I found myself scrunching my neck to see at a distance out of the opening, which in turn, made my neck stiff. As shooting hours were coming to a close, I bent my neck down to stretch it, and I was thinking I wasn’t going to see anything that night. As I looked up, there he was. In that short time, the bear was within a few feet left of my bait barrel, making his way, standing broadside..in the perfect spot.
I still had about 13 minutes of shooting time.
He looked like one of the big ones!
I wasted no time. I pulled up my gun, I took aim, and I fired.
I hit him in the lungs with my first shot. He bolted to my right and went into the thick underbrush. He wasn’t down yet. I could still hear him gasping,  gurgling and pacing. I was pretty sure I had mortally wounded him, but I worried it might take a bit before he expired.

John texted me, “Was that you?” I responded, “Yes.” He then called me and told me to stay put, and that he’d come in for me in about five minutes. He didn’t want me to try to get down with an injured bear nearby. I was okay with that, even though I wasn’t scared.

John headed in armed with his flashlight, his .44 magnum rifle as well as his bear cannon on his hip. As he rounded the bottom of the hill in the trail, he met a bear. The bear bolted and ran straight up the hill to my stand, then made a sharp left turn crashing out into the woods. I watched John’s light come up the trail. By then, it was dark.

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I wouldn’t want those claws swiping at me!

About a minute later, he got to my stand. He thought the bear he had jumped was the one I shot…“No”, I said, “he’s still over there,” as I pointed right into the woods. He quickly climbed into the stand with me and sat down at my feet. Bears can be mean, and neither he nor I wanted to be mauled by a wounded bear. Most importantly, I didn’t want the bear’s death to linger. I wanted him to die sooner than later. He gave me his .44 rifle while I somehow put my gun behind me.

We shined our flashlights and tried to spot the bear with no luck. Since we could only hear it,  and not see it, John yelled, “Hey Bear!”

That’s all it took. The bear charged toward our lights out of the brush. John put a final shot into it with the canon. Then came the death moan. We waited to make sure the bear had died, and only then were we finally able to get out of the stand. There was no cheering, high fives or screams of conquer. I went over to see my bear. I thanked him for providing food for my family. The first thing I did was look to see where I had hit him. I was glad to see my shot had been a good one. I shot him in the lungs. He would have died, but it would have been slow if John hadn’t taken another shot.

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We dragged the bear out of the woods and put him onto the four-wheeler. We then went to another part of the property of field dress him. He wasn’t as big as I thought, but still an adult male bear (boar). He was about 120-130 pounds, the average size of a Maine bear. I’m proud of my bear. No, he wasn’t one of the monsters coming in, but he’s a good healthy bear that’s going to feed my family well.

We took him home and put him on ice since none of the tagging stations were open that late. In the morning, I tagged my bear at the local store and then did some quick poses for the camera. John tackled the skinning, and I took care of the meat. The bear meat will be much enjoyed part of our winter meals.

I’m proud my grandchildren also got to see their Momi’s bear. Mr. B. told me, “Good Job Momi”, and he wants to go bear hunting with me. Ms. Nat liked his soft furry bears ears and kept wanting to pet him. We talked about having a meal of bear roast at Momi and Paw Paw’s. It was pretty special showing the kids where our food comes from.

My bear is off to the taxidermist to be made into a mount. He’s really special and I want to remember this hunt. He’s not what some would call a trophy, but I do.

As happy as I was that I finally got a bear after three years of hunting, I couldn’t understand why my bear hadn’t died instantly. I pride myself in the fact that all of my animals die with one shot, and they die quickly. John explained to me that bear have tough coats and a lot of fat for a bullet to pass through…and bear just die a lot harder. Even though my gun works well for deer, we’re thinking it wasn’t enough for the bear. We’ve decided I need to use a bigger caliber gun for my next hunt; a moose hunt three weeks from now, and I want that moose down when I shoot.

This whole process has been a great learning experience for me–from lugging bait, checking cameras to shooting the bear, and the emotions that follow–the amount of work has been thoroughly enjoying to me. I’ve been able to do the entire process as Maine Guide would with John, my very best friend, and that in turn will help me in the future when I decide to guide other women.

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Getting ready to go tag my bear, then get some “fancy” pics.

As for my quest for the Grand Slam, I’m half way there. I have my spring turkey and my bear. I still have to get a moose and a deer, and then I’ll be one of the few hunters who get to claim this accomplishment. There still will be no high fives or cheering, but just contentment that I’m representing all those women hunters by being a woman of the Maine outdoors, and knowing I can help provide great tasting game for my family to enjoy.

Wish me luck in September!