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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
So spring has taken too long to arrive. I’m not sure if it’s because winter began in October, or if spring really is lagging. The warm weather certainly hasn’t arrived.
Last year we were fishing in the river by the end of April and hammering the salmon. This year, we were on the river in our winter underwear, praying for a bite and a little sun to warm us up. I never thought I’d be saying this, but the mosquitoes and black flies finally have arrived so it shouldn’t be much longer. Just take a look at the difference a year can make. Mother Nature is miraculous, and she’s working hard to catch up.
These are photos of the end of April thru the middle of May 2017. I’m still waiting for my birds to return to my wreath.
In 2018 we were fishing, finding and foraging all through May. Turtle were laying their eggs, fish was abundant as were the mushrooms. We didn’t get many morels, but it was a dry spring.
This year, we’re still waking up to a heavy frost and the camper heater has run all night long. Mayflowers stayed in the bloom the longest ever. We just found fiddleheads up north when they’d gone by at home. We haven’t found any oyster mushrooms, but the morel mushrooms didn’t disappoint in this wet weather and arrived right on schedule. The salmon are just beginning to bite, the brook trout are just starting to rise for mayflies, but we still haven’t seen a deer fawn, moose calf, or turtle. We’ve still seen some amazing animals: grouse, beaver, frog eggs, rabbits, geese and goslings, wood ducks, mergansers, and we even spotted some chaga. Oh, yeah, that is bear scat and a snake. We photograph everything we find. Enjoy!
The week’s weather finally is starting to look like it might actually be sunny. I hope you’ll get out and enjoy the outdoors.
This was originally published in Boot Life Magazine, November 2018 issue. Be sure to subscribe to get these stories sooner.
Getting drawn for the Maine Moose Hunt is considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This year marked the fifth do-it-yourself moose hunt that my family went on, and the first time our youngest son, Tyler, got a permit.
Unlike his father, mother and older brother, Tyler doesn’t eat, sleep and hunt the entire hunting season. Although Tyler loves guns and shooting them, he’s never been much about hunting if it requires sitting for long periods of time or really putting in a lot of time. In fact, Tyler has much more interest in shooting than in hunting. He can tell you almost anything about any gun we own, and he has far more fun seeing how many rounds we can go through in a single afternoon than getting up each morning and sitting in a tree stand.
We have a running joke in the family and how Tyler is known for his one-day hunts. The rest of us will hunt day and night, every day, never missing a single chance to hunt and sometimes end up with nothing at the end of the season. Tyler will go out one time and shoot a deer. So when Tyler was drawn for the moose permit, we should have known that his hunt would be nothing like any moose hunt we had experienced.
The first thing Tyler said when he found out he had been drawn? “I can buy a new gun!” And he did just that. I had used Tyler’s .270 rifle for my moose hunt, but for him, it was a great reason to buy another gun. He went to a local firearms dealer and purchased what he described as the “ultimate moose gun”, a 45-70 rifle with open sites. He bought 300 grain bullets to “break it in”, and then some 400+ grain bullets for the hunt. This gun is known for its ability to shoot through brush when a 30.06 rifle’s bullet might ricochet. I was so impressed by it, I used it for my bear hunt, but that’s another story.
For months, we prepped to make sure we had everything we needed. Learning from previous hunts, I stocked the camper with more food and water than the three of us would ever eat in one week, but the last thing I wanted to do was run out of food.
We packed the truck with all the equipment we would need to get the moose out of the woods. We brought the 125 feet of rope, pulleys, block and tackle, a winch, a chainsaw, the big generator as well as the smaller one, and extra gasoline and propane. This may seem excessive, but after two other hunts in the same zone, we knew what we’d need if we were there the entire week.
Tyler drove his SUV and hauled the trailer for the moose while we hauled our camper. Once packed, we headed out to Ashland, Maine for a zone 5 hunt in the North Maine Woods.
Our trip began on Saturday; the day was a bright, sunny, but was downright cold. The weather was perfect for a good glimpse of Mount Katahdin on our four-hour drive. We arrived at the North Maine Woods gate in good time so that we could find one of the campsites we had picked out on the map. Once settled into our campsite, we had supper then sat around a camp fire and stargazed into the North Maine Woods’ skies.
Sunday was our scouting day. We started out by checking a couple roads next to the campsite as we made our way to where we “knew” we could find moose. We spotted a spike moose hanging out in a stand of trees only two roads down from our campsite. As we would say, it that was a moose we’d shoot on the last day, not the first. However, Tyler’s saying is, “don’t pass up on the first day, what you’d shoot on the last.”
In 2012, our oldest son, Zack, harvested a moose in zone 5, and then in 2016, I got my moose in the same zone. We were thinking that we knew exactly where to look for moose. We had forgotten how much the forests and areas change from year to year, and moose don’t stay in the same places either.
My enormous frying pan
Mom and Tyler
Tyler and Dad
We scouted all day, only taking time out to have breakfast on the trail, and for Tyler to shoot his gun to make sure it was still sighted in after the trip.
By the end of the day, we had drove for hours, and had seen only one moose…right next to camp. By then Tyler was irritable and sick of driving. “Why, he asked, are we driving all over when we know there are moose right next to where we are camping?” He was resolved that the moose we had seen was “good enough” and that was a little hard to swallow for Mom and Dad as we figured Tyler would want something more…not necessarily a trophy, but certainly more than a yearling. His reasoning was that if he got a huge moose, he’d have to pay to have it mounted, and he had nowhere to put it in the house…okay son.
This was that moment when we had to say, this is Tyler’s hunt, not ours and the last thing we wanted was for Tyler to go home with nothing, and be upset that we made him hold out for a trophy. We wanted this to be a hunt that he could look back on and smile and say he had a great time with Mom and Dad. It was a tough moment, but instead of arguing or trying to change his mind, we all piled back in the truck, and decided to scout the roads right near our campsite.
Back on the morning road, we were able to find the young bull that we had seen in the morning. It turned out he was much bigger than we had thought. He had bedded down right where we left him. He was a heavy bodied moose with a small rack, but certainly a shooter. I felt a little better that he wasn’t as small as I had initially thought. We watched him for a while. We drove down a couple more roads with no moose sign. On the way back to the camper, I spotted a huge cow moose just standing off the road. We watched this moose for a good twenty minutes. She kept looking back and made no attempts to run away. Further down the road, we made some moose calls, and spotted yet another cow moose. Again, this moose kept looking back. We decided there had to be a bull moose nearby.
We returned to the camper for a late supper and opted to stay in and watch a Tyler-approved movie since it was so cold out. The furnace ran all night in the camper, but a good night’s rest after a good end to the day meant cool heads in the morning.
Morning greeted us with a heavy frost and Orion in the sky brought a smile to our faces. We had our coffee and checked the legal shooting hours one more time. Good thing…because Mom read October instead of September and we barely made it out of the camper in time.
We drove up the road maybe 100 yards and parked. We got out of the truck and began walking. The light breeze was freezing on my ears, but we couldn’t ask for a better morning. It was cold and clear. We hadn’t walked 50 yards when we spotted a small cow moose on our right in a poplar chopping. A good sign! We made our way down to where we had seen the large cow the previous afternoon.
John made cow calls and raked the cedars with his moose shoulder bone. A few grunts…and I heard what I thought was a moose or deer on the opposite side of the road breaking twigs. It was definitely large in my mind. The guys dismissed what I heard as three partridge, which I couldn’t seem to see. I sprayed my cow urine into the wind, which blew back to where we spotted the young cow. We heard no responses, so we turned and walked quietly back toward the truck. I gave a couple more sprays into the air, and got the look of death from my son as he whispered, ”That’s noisy!” Okay then, I’ll just follow along, I thought, as I felt slightly annoyed.
John and Tyler took the lead. We didn’t walk 50 yards before we were back to where we had seen the cow. And there instead of the cow, stood a bull. A bull looking for love. A bigger bull than the one Tyler was set on settling for…just standing there! A quick look at Dad, and Tyler took aim. The bull began to leave, and Tyler gave a grunt. The bull stopped in its tracks. One shot, then an immediate follow up shot, and the bull laid in the twitch trail. He literally dropped in the trail about 30 yards from the road! In less than ten minutes, Tyler’s hunt was over. I made a point to look at Tyler and tell him it was my cow urine that brought him in. A smile and hug from my son and we were good.
Then the real work began. After field dressing and using a pulley and rope to pull him to the edge of the berm on the side of the road, the guys went back and got Tyler’s SUV with the trailer. We backed the trailer up and repositioned the rope and pulley. Using the pickup, we pulled the moose onto the trailer. It was the fastest hunt and moose load we’d ever done.
The moose weighed in at 630 pounds dressed, which is a good size. We submitted the tooth so in a few months, we’ll get to find out the age of the moose. We’re guessing three years old.
And it got even better. We don’t send our game to the butcher. We usually process together, but Tyler processed the entire moose for the remainder of the week. Our freezers are full and we’re enjoying the rewards of a successful hunt. Tyler’s making a European mount so he’ll be able to hang it in his room.
The best part was that we let Tyler have his hunt, his way, and it turned out okay. My one-hunt son got it done on the first day, and there was nothing more satisfying than seeing the smile on his face. It was once again, a learning moment for us. It may not have been the way we would have done it, but it wasn’t about us, and that’s something we need to remind ourselves more often.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another 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.
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.
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.
Tree frog in my trail
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’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.
Being 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).
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.
The 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.
Those 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.
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.
It’s been an better-than-average spring thus far for fishing the Dead River. We’ve fished it enough to learn what to use when, and have worked our way up from not catching anything to catching pretty often. Unlike last year, this year, it’s been a bonanza as we’ve been very successful in the spring catch of landlocked salmon and native brook trout. Knowing what to use is the key to catching fish.
Fishing the Dead River can be frustrating. If it’s down at night, it could be high in the morning because often times the river levels are determined by the white water rafting schedules. I keep the release dates bookmarked on my phone so I can check to see if the river will rise. If it does, it doesn’t drop until 1 p.m. “They say” the best fishing is right after the drop. Honestly, the best fishing is first thing in the morning before they open the dam, and at night when the mayflies hatch or when the fish are feeding just before sunset. This coincides when fish usually feed.
One Sunday, as soon as the river dropped, the trucks poured in. Men in their waders grabbed spots quicker than I could get my waders on despite the fact the water wasn’t even fish-able yet. My mistake. So as I got ready to fish, there was ONE spot open on the island…one spot that was also one of my favorites. As I got ready to cross onto the island, a guy fishing to the left looked over his shoulder and quickly scooted into the spot I had eyed for myself. I was annoyed, but there was still one spot left on the far right near the rapids, IF I could get there first. I quickly changed direction and tried to get over there as quick as I could.
As I made my way across the pools and around to the end, I notice a hatch taking place. I felt like I as being invaded by tiny blue-green bugs and they floated and flew all around me. Some type of mayfly, but to me it didn’t matter. I had my sinking line on my rod that I use with nymphs. There was no chance I was going back to change my lines since this was my ace in the hole, and the only spot open.
I pulled out my dry fly box and retrieved a Blue Wing Olive and tied it onto my tippet (the end of my line). I made my way to my spot. The guy fishing where I originally wanted to fish was throwing his line about half way down to me on my left. Perfect. I’d fish more to the left and have access to the deeper water and where the fish were jumping on my right. Meanwhile another fisherman came up and started fishing behind me in the large pool. I kept thinking, “Please don’t hook me”.
I took a couple casts to get the hang of the sinking line with the lure. The lure would float at first, then quickly sink from the weight of the line and the fast current. I took a third cast and landed a small 10 inch salmon. I let it go. The fish were jumping, so I concentrated on placing my fly above the jumps and drifting the fly toward the fish. My confidence was building…I cast again. On the fifth cast, just as my fly started to sink, I got a hit!
The hit was so hard and strong that fish began to run and fight, and the line was stripping out of my hand that was holding the line. As I began reeling in my excess line, the entire reel fell off my rod!!!! Luckily I was still holding onto it! I tried for a brief moment to put it back on, but a one-handed attempt was asking to lose the fish I had fighting at the end of my line. I quickly stuffed the reel into my waders so I was once again using two hands to fight this fish.
I finally got the line stripped back in so that I could net my beast. He was huge! It’s the biggest salmon I’ve ever caught. The net barely held it. Its tail hung out and in one giant flop, he was out of the net again. After netting the fish a second time: this time holding onto the tail through the net, and schlepping all my gear and line out of the deep water, I blurted out to the guy fishing behind me that I had caught my biggest fish ever. He seemed undaunted. The girl on shore with the cell phone trying to get reception (LMAO- as if) looked at me like I was a crazed woman. The guy off to my left was now changing out his fly/lure…lol.
I was elated, and at that point, I decided I wasn’t stopping until I got my fish on the tailgate of the truck so I gave up my spot and headed up. I killed my fish, (which is really humane) and set him on the tailgate. I tried to take a selfie but my arm wasn’t long enough and the fish was too big!
To my surprise, NO ONE had taken my spot in the ten minutes I took to deliver my fish to the truck. I headed back down and reclaimed my spot. Three casts later I was hauling in my second largest fish I’ve ever caught. I was so excited. The kid fishing behind me now had questions and was offering up his help to keep this fish in my net. What are you using? What are you catching? Where should I cast? The guy to my left was still changing out his flies. Me, I was on Cloud 9! Worst part was that hubby had made his way up the upper pool and had no idea I was slamming the fish.
I gave up my spot. I had my two limit salmon and the kid behind me was dying to try my spot. I gave him a few pointers before I left. The guy who had been fishing on my left…left.
I took my fish up the truck and laid it next to the first one. Fish number one measured 21.5 inches, and fish number two measured 19.5 inches. A number of people who showed up to fish just as I was trying to take pictures of my fish had lots of questions. It felt great to share my experience…and to see the little glean of envy from the men. It’s not often I get to catch a big one, let alone two, so it felt wonderful.
So all those guys thought they had the best spot, but I was the one who had the best catch. Lesson learned. There’s fish everywhere…you just have to know how to catch em…
Happy Fishing and always remember to share your knowledge, and to be a courteous fisherman.
A couple years ago, I got interested in finding edible wild mushrooms. I never imagined how addictive foraging can be, but the bug bit, and it bit hard, not only for me, but the hubby as well. When we’re in the woods, we spend as much time searching for mushrooms and trying to identify them, as we look for critter sign.
I started out finding the “easy” ones and found them behind my house. Lobster mushrooms were one of the first. Lobster mushrooms are bright orange and ugly. I have slowly been learning different mushrooms, and verifying my finds before ever considering putting anything in my mouth. Lobster mushrooms have a weird texture and although they supposedly have a lobster taste, I didn’t like them.
They tend to be dirty.
We’ve also found loads of Chaga mushroom. Chaga has lots of medicinal properties and makes a wonderful tea after you grind it. It’s more like wood than mushroom, and you can’t saute it and throw it on a burger. However, it’s highly prized and sought after, and I have a load of it. Having a husband who cuts trees all day has proved to be advantageous in finding Chaga.
I’ve also found Reishi, but haven’t tried it. I’ve heard you can cook it on the barbecue, but it’s most often used in tinctures as a medicinal supplement…hence, I recognize it, but I haven’t used it.
Once I starting being able to identify mushrooms, I expanded my search to oysters. Oyster mushrooms vary during different times of the season, but spring oysters are easy to find because of the anise-like smell they have, and they grow distinctly on popular trees. I prefer fall oysters to the taste of spring oysters. Fall oysters seem dryer, and more like the mushrooms bought in the store.
The real addiction came when we found Chanterelle mushrooms. Chanterelles are said to be one of the most tasty wild mushrooms, and I can’t agree more. No matter how they are cooked, they are delicious! They are easy to spot since they are bright yellow in the woods, but their look-a-like Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are extremely poisonous and should not be confused with Chanterelles. There is also a Scaly Vase Chanterelle and False Chanterelles that some mistake as the good one. False chanterelles tend to be more orange-brown and the stems are different and it’s toxic…so it’s very important to make sure you know what you’re picking. Click here for more pictures and more information on chanterelles compared to look-a-likes
Mushroom season is just kicking off. I follow Maine Mushrooms on Facebook and have learned a lot of information from other mushroom foragers. I also have a book on mushroom identification I keep handy.
In particular, this is morel season. Morels are said to be mostly in the southern Maine and the coast, so the last thing I ever expected to find was a morel north of Waterville, Maine. But I did. I scored big! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d find a morel. You have to be almost on top of one to not miss it. They are easy to miss since they blend in so well. It’s not a mushroom you can spot from far away. I was lucky and found one standing all by itself on the side of a logging road. Hubby and I decided to really hunt and we found several more. We went over the same area where we initially found them, and found a few more we had missed the first time!
Morels of all sizes
Cluster of morels I walked by once before seeing them second time around.
Morel (r) next false morel on left…never eat false morel!
Various sizes of morels
Morels have to be cooked. I chose to coat mine in flour and saute them. I only cooked half of them so I could try them just sauteed. The bigger ones had more flavor, and I can say I like them as much as chanterelles! I’m ready to go find more!
Still on my bucket list: Trumpets, Chicken of the Woods, and Hen of the woods, which I’ve never found any of them, and Bolettes, which I’ve found plenty but have yet to feel comfortable enough to eat one.
Foraging for mushrooms is a lot of fun and is a great way to spend time in the woods when you can’t fish or hunt. Hopefully I’ll be back with more tales of my foraging.
Thursday morning began as the other days. We parked the truck and trailer and headed out to a new spot. We had found a road with so much sign that we were convinced we’d hear or see a moose. We parked way out off the side and quietly walked in. We stood at the end of the road where it “y’s”. Do we go left or right? Sign everywhere. But not a sound. As daylight broke, we decided we couldn’t keep wasting our time trying to find moose around sign if they weren’t going to answer. Perhaps the moose are coupled already with a cow? We didn’t know, but we knew we weren’t going to find a moose any time soon there. So off we went.
By now we had been down many roads, and walked many miles with no result. We decided to try to find a new spot by heading down a road that had camps on it. Little did we know there were many side roads off the main road, and the area was teaming with signs of moose. We got out of our truck to take a listen. Sure enough! We heard moose grunts and a very vocal moaning cow moose on the hill above us and another grunt off to our right..ooh bull competition in play. Of course, we climbed the hill and tried to get close to the pair. Who’d think there would be a run-off muddy bog on the middle of a mountain? Yup, and we had to get through it. As we moved in the final yards, their calling stopped. We never saw them, so we hiked back down the hill. We didn’t care. We were revitalized. They were calling. This was a game changer!
My theory of having a real moose hunt was once again challenged when moose number 5 showed up. We jumped back in the truck and headed down to the turnaround in the road we were on. At the big opening stood a giant moose. GIANT. A moose with big wide paddled antlers just stood there staring at us as we approached. John said, “There you go. He’s all yours.” I grabbed my gun and ONE bullet (since the gun I was using top loads and takes too much time) and went to get out of the truck. John decided we need to be closer and stepped on the gas. The bull turned on his hind legs and floored it too. I was yelling to stop the truck. John just drove faster. The faster we tried to catch up with him, the faster the moose ran. Then the moose made a sharp right turn and disappeared into the brush. We jumped out of the truck and dove through the six foot tall raspberry bushes right where we saw him disappear. No moose to be seen anywhere. He was gone. We came out of the raspberries smelling like moose urine. That was the only sign we had of him being there.
At this point, I was so mad at John for not stopping that I couldn’t say anything. We didn’t speak much for the better part of the day. I needed my time to pout and to think about things. In the end, we talked it out and from then on, we had a mutually agreeable plan should something like that happen again. He was to stop the f*&%$)*g truck.
That afternoon we tried a new road. A large clear cut on the right with steep hill on the left made up the landscape of the area. No matter which way we hiked, it would be strenuous. Several times John stopped and got out and tried to call making a cow call with his hands. No answers. No moose.
On the fourth stop, John called again. We heard a bull grunt! The moose was on the hill RIGHT behind us, so we jumped down over the bank into burdock bushes to hide. In fact, the moose was almost on a run trying to get to us. It’s incredible to hear such an instinctual reaction. The moose grunted continuously with urgency as it crashed down the hill. John kept calling. I had my gun ready. All the moose had to do is step out from the edge of the woods. I saw black, but I wanted it to be a good shot. I kept saying, come on, step out….and then like slow motion, came the sound of a vehicle. The only vehicle that we had seen or heard since we started on the road. Not only did the vehicle drive by, but it stopped right at our truck, then after a second or two, drove away. Why? To find us? To look for moose? We don’t know, but the moose panicked and took off in the opposite direction. Another moose lost to hunter interference. Apparently those hunters don’t understand hunting etiquette. If you see another hunter, just move along. Moose No. 6 was gone.
Day 2: Cloudy with a smidgen of moose and gunshots
After the incident the night before, I decided the last thing I wanted was a drive-by shooting hunt. I wanted a real hunt, in the woods.We hunted all day but didn’t see a single moose. The morning hunt was set up in an area that had a good wallow, but still no moose were answering back.
During our day scout, we eventually found a road that had evidence of a bull moose fight. For the evening, we set up in the clearing for a still hunt since we found sign and the moose weren’t responding. Maybe by chance the moose would return. The evening sit was pretty non-eventful. A late hatch of mosquitoes wanted us for supper so we ended up leaving early. The warm change in temps really didn’t make hunting easier.
On our way back to camp, two young bull moose ran across the the Island Pond Road in front of the truck. My first reaction was to have John stop the truck.
John asked, “You really want to shoot one of them?”
“Yes”, I said.
I still had 10 minutes to shoot. The moose cut into the woods, but there was a side road about 50 yards away. We drove to the road, and we got out to see if the moose had come out of the woods. No sign of them. We decided to walk down in case they were just out of sight. Half way down the road, a set of headlights in the opposite direction came up over a knoll. In an instant, two doors opened, hunters jumped out and started shooting. “You’re welcome’, I said as we turned around and headed back to our truck. Then a single loud echoing shot rang out..and then came the whizzing of a bullet right between us! Holy shit!We have hunter orange on! We yelled and ran to our truck. I was more mad than scared. I just don’t understand how that can happen. I sure hope they each had a permit since I’m pretty sure they must have hit both moose.
That made three moose we had seen. Since there is no cell service at camp, we traveled another 30 minutes to the top of a hill with reception to call the kids and let them know how we were doing. Not getting one of those moose didn’t bother me since it wasn’t the way I truly wanted to get a moose. Impulse had gotten the best of me. I would think twice before doing that again.
We ate pumpkin pie and drank milk for supper then we went to bed. I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to sleep. Luckily, with all the activity, sleep came easy.
Day 3: Rain
We woke to pouring rain, and without much hesitation decided to sleep longer and wait until the rain let up. We woke to showers, drank coffee and headed out in rain gear to find a moose. We hiked the entire day. It was almost muggy, and everything was wet. I sweat under my rain gear, but was comfortable. We hiked hills, valleys and bogs ALL DAY. We found tons of sign, but no matter what we did, we could not get anything to answer to the calls. We tried all our spots and decided to cross off the ones that weren’t as good as others. No since wasting our time if the site wasn’t showing new activity.
We even went back to the road where the two moose were and could find no sign of a gut pile, so who knows what the shooters did. Did they take them? Did they leave them? Could they really have been that bad of a shot that none of the six-eight shots fired even hit one moose?
We ended up still sitting where I had seen the the big moose on Sunday. There was still fresh sign, but there was absolutely no grunting taking place. We had seen at least a dozen wallows and plenty of antler destroyed trees. Where were the moose?! We didn’t know if they were all paired up already and we had missed the rut, or if the rut just hadn’t begun.
Day 3 ended with a big moose crossing the road in front of us as we headed back to camp. It was already well after legal shooting hours so all we could do was watch it go off into the woods. That made 4 moose we had seen on the Island Pond Road. I began to be worried my hunt would only be successful by a chance sighting at best. Perhaps I’d have to settle for a drive-by hunt.
A good dose of Tylenol and Aleve, and bedtime couldn’t come soon enough. We had snacked all day on cheese and crackers and candy bars, so we drank water for supper, skipped the fire and went to bed.
We woke Monday at 3:30 am. I was stoked and ready to go after the giant. After making camp coffee, and getting dressed, we headed out. I drove Zack’s truck with the trailer following behind John in his truck. We dropped off Zack’s truck nearer to where we were hunting so that when I got a moose, we wouldn’t have so far to travel to get the trailer. Not long after we got on the road, a young bull moose jumped out in front of John and ran for a considerable distance before finally going into the woods and letting us pass. This was a sign!
An hour later, we parked the truck and headed into the woods before daylight. At shooting time, John began his grunt calls and raking. We could hear a bull raking close by!
Then a logging truck pulled up to the intersection where we parked, and sat there idling which seemed like forever. We couldn’t hear anything. After about ten minutes, the truck finally pulled away.
Silence again. John called and raked again. The moose continued to rake, and was coming our way!
Then came the sound of a loud muffler, followed by a slamming of a truck door and the voices of three people using an electronic cow call. They walked up and down the road just 50 yards from where we sat in the woods trying to “call in a moose”, which ended up scaring our moose away. News flash. You have to actually go into the woods to hunt, or at least at the very least, not argue when you’re trying to call a moose. I tried to be positive and wanted to think they weren’t deliberately trying to ruin our hunt, but it did cross my mind since our truck was parked at the intersection.
We left and found a remote spot and enjoyed a full breakfast of bacon, scrammbled eggs, hash browns and apple cider in the woods. We spent the remainder of the day hiking and scouting, and then setting up for Tuesday’s morning hunt.
When we got back to camp, I decided I had enough of John having to take over so with some guidance from John, I backed the trailer into its spot. We had a nice dinner by campfire, and I got to gaze at the Milky Way for a bit before the clouds rolled in and we headed to bed. There were so many stars that it was almost impossible to make out constellations that I always find in the sky. Finally I found Cassiopeia in the sky and I was content.
I was more than a bit shocked when I found out I was drawn for a 2016 moose permit. Even more shocking was that I was drawn for zone 5, one of the most successful moose zones, which also happened to be the same zone in which my son Zack shot his moose in 2012.
Let me be clear and honest. Moose hunting is not glamorous nor romantic. It’s hard work, especially when there’s only two of you. It’s physically and mentally draining. For a hunter and the sub-permittee to scout, hunt, harvest and transport their own moose, it’s work. This is my story about how we hunted. John and I didn’t hire a Maine Guide to do the work for us. Not that we have anything against hiring guides. In fact, we want to be Maine Guides, so we wanted the whole experience of doing it ourselves. If you don’t or can’t do all that I’m writing about, then by all means hire a Maine Guide.
Weeks before we left, we prepped for the hunt. Prepping for a hunt takes time and money. We didn’t want to forget anything, and with the idea that there would only be the two of us to get a moose out of the woods, we had to be able to do it smart. Winches, come-a-longs, pulleys, snatch blocks, tow straps and more ropes filled our truck. Then we had propane, gas, food, water, firewood and clothes.Physically, I was as prepared as I was going to be. Lugging bait and hiking in to our bear sites all season helped get me physically prepared for long walking on my bad knees.
We headed up to the North Maine Woods on late Friday afternoon. We went up early so we could scout a couple of days prior to the hunt. Given our bear season schedule, and that it’s a four-hour drive to zone 5, we didn’t get a chance to do any scouting before then.
We arrived at the Mile 6 Checkpoint outside of Ashland at 8:59 pm. We registered by phone and left a check for $204.00 for John and I to camp and hunt for 7 days. We drove down the Jack Mountain Road and found the first nice campsite. The gravel roads were still wet from the day’s rain, and pulling the camper across those roads covered the underside and front of the camper in a cement-like coating. We got set up, had a campfire under the most amazing star-filled skies and went to bed.
On Saturday, we scouted, trying to search out where Zack had shot his moose. I had forgotten the GPS in my car so we had to rely on our faded memories, the Gazetteer, and lots of searching. We finally found the area on day two of the trip. Late Sunday afternoon, we spotted where there had been a moose fight in the road only the night before. We pulled over. We found a brand new wallow that moose make to urinate in and then roll in. Yeah, it sounds gross and stinks worse. But when you’re moose hunting, it’s a find, and apparently it’s an irresistible calling card for a cow moose.
We made our way through the armpit-high raspberries and went into the woods about 50 yards. John gave a rake of the shoulder bone on the trees to simulate a moose scraping its antlers, and gave a moose grunt. No return grunt. Nothing. We waited a couple minutes. Then John tapped me on the shoulder and silently pointed. There in front of us about 50-60 yards away stood the biggest moose I’d ever seen! Well, actually all I could see were its three-foot high and foot-wide paddles of its antlers. Not even the points showed because of the foliage…but he was huge and after I put my eyes back in my head, we turned and scurried away so not to bump him out. I hardly slept Sunday night thinking about that moose. In my mind, we’d be on our way home by Monday afternoon. I’d have a moose, and I’d get a big refund from North Maine Woods. I think how boastful that sounded at the time, but in reality, I was just sure we’d get a moose, this moose, early Monday.
I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!
John and I decided to change things up this year. The plan was to bait only once a week. I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!
Well, plans change occasionally, and this week, I couldn’t bait on Saturday because I was attending the all-women guide school course in Augusta that Women of the Maine Outdoors organized. As I sat there all day, I wondered if John had seen any bear on our baits. Were they still hitting? How many? Any big ones? Any sows with cubs? So many thoughts filled my mind about the fact that I wasn’t there helping and that I was also missing out on the adventure with him. To my delighted surprise, John decided to wait for me and we went up to the mountain on Sunday. Even with the threats of thunderstorms and rain, I was excited…giddy in fact.
Prepping to get there takes a considerable amount of time. I brought an extra change of clothes, new batteries for the game cameras, new SD cards to switch out, and a jug of ice water to keep us hydrated. I helped load the bait, caramel, nougat, scents, and grease. In no time, we were on the road; after a quick fuel stop and breakfast to fuel our bodies, we headed to the mountain. We had only one quick rain shower on our way so the woods weren’t too wet. Riding in wasn’t bad this time either. We re-distributed the weight of the bait so that the four-wheeler was less tipsy. There’s nothing better than riding down the dirt road in the wild and smelling the sweet smell of anise oil and bait.
When we arrived at my bait site, we found all the bait gone from the blue barrel, most of the grease gone, but some pink nougat still left. The bears had been there every day taking turns throughout the day and night getting some much needed food. We still have one skinny one, but he just appears young, not tick infested as some other hunters have suggested. In the middle of the pile of bait left outside the barrel was the most beautiful 6 inch-ish wide bear track I’d ever seen. This was from a BIG bear. My heart raced as I wondered if it was Scrapper. I wouldn’t be able to tell if it was since I had crushed my digital camera the week before, so I no longer have a way to check cards until they go into the computer. Dang!
To my delight, we believe there are FOUR (eeekkkk!!!) bear visiting my site. One in particular does not like my camera. He’s chewed and gnawed on it several times. Luckily Moultrie built it right and it’s still hanging on….not a scratch on it!! Even after he spun it around the tree, I was lucky enough that he spun it BACK to almost where it was in the beginning. Note to self: camouflage that camera. We weren’t so lucky on John’s bait. A bear finally hit it, but he also attacked the camera and although he didn’t break it, the camera wasn’t facing the bait for the last three days. As last week, I’ll post videos on my Facebook page since I can’t put videos here. Be sure to check out the bear bathing itself in the grease!
I sure hope I find a way to sleep before I start sitting in my stand; the last think I need to do is fall asleep and miss one! This weekend’s forecast looks spectacular; I can’t wait to see who’s come to eat this week.
We had found our way to the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance, now called the Midcoast Conservancy. I called to let them know I was hunting there, which was a request in the brochure.
I took a Friday off so we could hunt two days this week. I was able to find, using the map, that we could access the bog through various trails. This would cut down on the mountain climbing and possibly may save us some time so there would be less time walking, more time hunting.
Friday: One way to enter was by using the gas pipeline access. Our trusty Gazeteer came in handy to find the trails we needed. We planned to use our four wheeler to drive the trail once we found access. We met some really nice people who offered us park in their yard so we’d have access to the pipeline trail. We used our GPS in walk mode to mark where we parked the ATV and to find our way out. While the walking was easier, the distance was longer. We hiked through trails for miles.
On our way in, I seemed to be watching more where I stepped than in front of me since all I could see was John’s back. Our first encounter with wildlife was as we were approaching the softwood area. There we jumped the biggest, grayest buck we had ever seen. I only got a glimpse of his hind end, and neither of us could get a shot. That deer was on a gallop too far away for any chance. We eventually found our way back to the beaver bog. The day ended pretty quiet. We made our way back to the four wheeler and left that day exhausted.
Saturday arrived with aching legs, but a sense that we were getting the feel for the land and thinking that perhaps we’d see a moose. A breakfast of coffee and Tylenol and I was ready.
This time we used yet another trail to get to our main access point (8). The hike up the side hill was pretty challenging without having sore legs from the day before. Almost to our access spot, John abruptly stopped. He’s whispering…deer, deer, deer. I don’t see a deer. When I finally saw it, it was a high racked six point buck that was just staring at us about 60 yards away. John wanted me to use his shoulder as support to make the shot. I became flustered because I didn’t want to blow his ears out, and about that time, the deer took off. I tried to make the shot as it ran, and I missed. So we went back to moose hunting.
I had discovered on the map that we could cross the Sheepscot River (which is really like a wide brook) further up from the beaver dam that we had been crossing by jumping from boulder to boulder. This way we didn’t have to deal with the wet zone, beaver dam or get wet crossing the water. By crossing the river higher, it also put us in the ideal spot for moose.
Around 1 pm we walked into the thickest wall of pine and fir I had ever been in. I would have easily gotten lost had John not been leading the way. Everything looked the same until we came into a clearing. There, in front of us, was fresh moose droppings and browsed fir tips. We found their hideout. As we walked, I spotted the moose, two moose-one bull and one cow. I stopped and pointed and told John, and said, “There they are.” He asked if I wanted to use his gun. No, I said. I drew my gun to shoot. I had the bull in my sights. Then I began to overthink. The moose were quietly bedded down in a willow growth. Willows blocked me from getting a clean shot. Do I shoot? In the time I took to question myself, which was only a matter of seconds, the moose realized we were standing there, jumped up and bolted. Mr. Bull was gone in a flash crashing off through the woods, but the cow made a much smaller circle and ran directly broadside toward us over a knoll. We each shot at the same time and the cow was down. It was now 2 pm. It would be dark in about two hours.
Now the real work began. There was no way we could get the moose out of this area because four-wheelers aren’t permitted on the trails, so we had to pack it out. John began field dressing the moose as I made a trip out of the woods and back to the truck to bring the guns out, call my son for help to pack out the moose, and call the game warden to find out if I really was required to bring out a reproductive part of the moose since I was allowed to shoot either a bull or cow. Yes, was the answer…seriously. So off came the teats since I had no idea where to retrieve an ovary.
I took on the task of lugging out the tenderloin in my back pack. It weighed so much and I was so tired from all the walking that it didn’t take much before I was flat on my face. I caught my pant leg on a stick and down I went. I literally had to walk leaning forward to offset the weight so I could climb the hill. My second trip out was made in the dark by flashlight. The guys used backpack frames to lug out the front and hind quarters that they had packed in meat bags. They too had to make two trips.
John with hind quarter
Zack with front quarter
We loaded up the truck, feeling exhausted but excited at the same time that we were able to harvest a moose for our family. We tagged the moose at the now closed station where I also tagged my first turkey.
My moose hunt was far more physically challenging than I ever imagined. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I’m glad we didn’t give up. It wasn’t the perfect hunt, but it wasn’t the worst. I had missed a nice deer, but if I had gotten that deer, I wouldn’t have had time to hunt for moose, so I guess I’m glad I missed it…sorta…We ended up getting one of only two moose harvested out of the permits allotted in zone 23, and for that, I am extra proud. Best of all, my family got to eat some amazing meat for the next year.
I will always regret my hesitation, and wish that I could have gotten the bull moose that had a beautiful rack on it; however, I feel I am the luckiest girl to be able say I have a chance to do it all over again only this time with much better odds.
By mid-morning we were a bit discouraged. We stopped into the local store for coffee and snacks and ran into an old friend of John’s dad. After some conversation, we told him we were moose hunting. The gentleman knew “exactly where to go to get a moose” and told us where we needed to look. He and his grandson hunt this area for deer, and they often see moose. We were excited again. We thanked him and headed out for what we thought was a climb down a small hill to a bog.
It had recently snowed but then half melted away, which made walking more difficult. The temps had warmed, but it still wasn’t overly warm…unless you’re hiking a few miles. We parked the truck and headed out to scout for moose. There was a small trail at the top of the mountain, but we cut off from the trail and headed straight down over the mountain. We managed to jump two nice doe on our way down. This “small hill” ended up being a monstrosity. It was about a mile and a half downhill before we ever came to the bottom of the hill. There we hit another walking trail but continued straight on through in hopes we’d reach the bog.
Walking downhill was awkward for my ailing knees. On top of that, I was completely over dressed. I had on my big L.L. Bean boots with wool socks, my green Johnson woolen overalls, heat gear turtleneck, hunting jacket and orange hunting vest…and I was carrying my rifle. I was drenched with sweat before we got to the bottom of the mountain.
We crossed a small stream, then a few hundred yards later, we hit a flooded area and then a beaver dam. I prayed the water wouldn’t go over the top of my boots. We managed to get to the beaver dam. We then shuffled our way across the edge of the dam, holding onto the tips of branches. Somehow we managed not to fall in. Once on the other side, we heard some crashing and immediately noticed we had jumped two moose.
I was in a dilemma. I had made it clear that I would absolutely not shoot a moose with a calf no matter how old. This appeared to be a cow and calf, or two cows; we weren’t sure. We decided we might be lucky enough to spot a bull so we decided to track them. We tracked through the bog, twisting, winding, slopping our way through a maze of woods and moss from which I didn’t think we’d ever find our way out. We tracked the moose for almost three hours. Good thing John has “iron boogers” to get us out. We never caught up the the two moose, and as dark closed in on us, we finally gave up and headed back.
By the time we got back to the beaver dam, I was exhausted. I was thirsty beyond thirsty. We hadn’t brought one ounce of water with us. Our short trip turned out to be the whole afternoon. I shimmied my way across the beaver dam and through the wet land. As we came upon the bottom trail we had initially seen, I spotted a brook with crystal clear cold water. Against protests from John, I laid down and took a good healthy swig of spring water. I didn’t know where we were and at the time, I didn’t care. It wasn’t connected to the beaver dam and it tasted lovely. By this time John had thought I had gone insane. Perhaps I had. You probably shouldn’t do that.
I tried to convince John to take the unknown-destination path which looked much more an appealing walk than the mountain he wanted me to climb, but with darkness upon us, the last thing we wanted to do was be lost in the woods. So we hiked back up the mountain, the tall freaking steep mountain. As we began the hike up the mountain, I began peeling off my jacket and hat. I was so hot I could barely stand it. My feet hurt from sliding inside my big boots. My knees really hurt. I was thirsty still. I was sweating. I ended up eating snow as I climbed the mountain. It was absolutely the suckiest moment of hunting I’ve ever experienced. I kept saying over and over in in my mind: Don’t give up! when all I wanted to do was sit down. Luckily my asthma didn’t make the climb worse, but none the less, I was bummed that I hadn’t better prepared for all the walking I had to do and for the physically intensive challenge I had faced.
We finally made it out of the woods by nightfall about half a mile from our truck. I declared I couldn’t take another step. As I sat on a stump feeling defeated and waiting for John to come pick me up with the truck, I found out where we were thanks to a sign and a nifty brochure. We were at the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance (SWLA.org) now called the Midcoast Conservancy, and we had climbed Whitten Mountain. It turns out all those trails do lead to somewhere, and I was going to do some research for the next weekend of hunting. I was going to be more prepared. AND I was never going into the woods without water again.
In Maine, there is a moose hunt. It began back in 1980 and despite being challenged by anti-hunters, the hunt has continued and is probably the most highly sought after lottery drawn hunting permit in Maine.
As luck would have it, I scored a bull moose permit for northern Maine’s zone 5 in September for this year. Never in a million years would I have expected to get a permit since I had just gotten one in 2011. I am extremely grateful for my chance at a trophy moose that will not only feed my family but will be an exciting adventure with the entire family. This luck of the draw has me reminiscing the good and the bad about my 2011 moose hunt.
My husband, John has always applied for a permit in hopes of getting one in a northern zone overrun with moose. Admittedly, I originally applied to increase our chances; I wasn’t a hunter then. After 2002, not only did I apply each year, but with full intentions that I would be the shooter if I was ever drawn.
The lottery has been under a lot of scrutiny over the years. After getting too many complaints to ignore, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made some major changes to the system. One change in particular was that for each year you had put in, you not only had a bonus point, but also from then on, those with more bonus points would have better odds at being picked. They also lengthened the time span between being eligible for a permit from two to three years. With a level playing field and the hopes that we’d finally get picked, the idea of getting a moose permit seemed more in reach.
We both had applied so long that we fell into the “I’ll take anything if my choices weren’t available.” In reality, that really didn’t mean I wanted or expected to get a moose permit in November in the zone with one of the worst success rates in the entire state of Maine. When I applied for the lottery, my zone choices began with the obvious northern ones and worked their way down the map to my home zone with my last choice being the zone next to ours. But really how could I lose with all those choices listed first? A word of advice: if you really don’t want that zone or date, don’t write it down.
In 2011, the day of the moose drawing, my phone started ringing off the hook. I got a moose permit! I was ecstatic with the news! John was my sub-permittee. I repeatedly teased him that I got a moose permit before him. I’d send him text. “I got a moose permit.” or I’d say, “Guess what?” and follow through with “I got a moose permit.” He was a great sport, and I just tried my best to make sure we were prepared to make it the best hunt we could.
It didn’t take long before anxiety soon set in when I realized it was a November hunt for a bull or cow in Zone 23. In a preparation of the season, I had to do my homework. Zone 23 had the least success rate of any zone. It was disappointing to not get a “good” zone but with only 20 permits, there would also be less competition. The good news is that Zone 23 is known for its deer herd, and I could shoot any moose. The bad news is that everyone would want their areas for their own deer hunting, and calling in a moose wasn’t really going to work in November. I had no idea what lay before us, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task.
I even paid the fee and entered the official moose swap website. I couldn’t even get people who live in 23 who had a permit for my home zone of 16 to swap with me. It was a waste of money and soon reality set in. If I wanted to get a moose, we were going to have to work for it. We didn’t want to rely on a Maine guide. John has been my guide all along. We’ve self-guided all of our hunts, and we didn’t want it any other way.
We talked to everyone and anyone who would give us leads. We used our beloved Maine Gazeteer filled with detailed maps to find boggy areas and on several occasions, we spoke with landowners and biologists. We would follow every lead and a few times this led us to nothing but waste time because there were so many deer hunters that it felt impossible that’s we’d see a moose.
We finally got permission to hunt on a farm that had been gated in Albion. The only person who had a key to the gate was the friend of the landowner, so we’d have to track down this guy down to make sure we could have access. The first day he was sitting on a wood pile, smoking a cigarette and had a rifle across his lap. He was deer hunting…I guess….He was all good to our face, then promptly tried to shut us out the next day. We went back to the landowner and asked him to call the guy…he did. We were all set. We showed up the following day and the gate was open, so we drove in. We hunted the entire day hiking over hills, brooks and clearcuts. On the way out, we found our selves locked IN. Luckily, John knew the road came out into another field so after four-wheeling our pickup through some pretty tough terrain, we made it out. Despite having landowner permission and lots of moose signs, we didn’t go back. This moose hunt wasn’t supposed to be about hassles with landowners’ buddies.