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.
I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.
That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.
When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.
Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.
We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”
The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.
How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.
People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.
Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.
When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.
Even nature knows how to leave no trace.
Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.
The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.
The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.
The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.
A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.
If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.
I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.
We always hear that we need to remove food for bear when it starts to warm up and they start raiding bird feeders. Many people don’t even know what bear like to eat. Bear are omnivores with means they survive by eating plants and animals. Bear don’t eat just honey and they will kill other animals if they want to eat it.
Bear are one of the biggest predators to deer fawn and moose calves born each spring. Bear compete with other predators such as coyote and bobcat, which also kill deer and moose calves.Source
When bear come out of their dens, most often, there isn’t even green grass, let alone abundant berries, nuts, or other goodies to eat, which is what drives them to take advantage of what’s available. That means if they live in your woods, they’ll raid bird feeders, bee hives, chicken coops, grain barrels, and garbage bins, if given the opportunity.
Bear also take advantage of roadkill, called carrion, which is why motorists may get a chance to see bear roadside in the spring. Just think of how much road kill you can see in one trip down the turnpike: deer, ground hog, raccoon, beaver, porcupine, turkey, and fox, just for starters. Bear love beaver, which has been referred to as “bear caviar” or “bear coke”, but I’ve never heard of bear specifically hunting beaver as a source of food. Beaver have some pretty nasty teeth, so most likely, it would be road kill. We actually have used beaver as a scent attractant when we initially set bait for bear hunting. It works.
A bear’s incredible sense of smell will bring them into neighborhoods and populated areas not usually frequented once natural food is available. Since I am fortunate enough to not get bear in my backyard, I have to go looking elsewhere.
In our travels, primarily on paper company owned land, I’m always looking for signs of bear activity. In all the time we’ve spent in the woods and driving roads, we’ve only seen a bear three times, all at dusk, and only glimpses, because once they see you coming, they usually are gone in a flash of black.
I truly love to see the signs of bear in our travels. You don’t need a game camera to find where bear are hanging out. When traveling roads, you can also spot signs. We often get out and inspect what we find. I love to take pictures and talk with the kids about what the bear might have been eating or doing when it was there. This is also a great way to break up a long ride. Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for. So here’s a run down of what to look for:
1. Bear scat, in the road…Yes, bear poop in the road, not necessarily always in the middle. Poop in early spring is usually very black and consists of grass that has just sprouted. This is also a way for boars to mark their territory. Since spring is the beginning of mating season for bear, this is just another calling card.
2. Rocks that have been rolled out of their spots. You can usually spot when a rock has been overturned. I have scoured my files, and despite knowing I’ve taken pictures of rocks, I can’t find one. But trust me…just picture good sized rocks overturned and ants crawling about. To make up for it, here’s more poop pictures.
3. Logs and other debris in the woods and in older wood yards. These are our biggest finds, and we often find bear claw marks on the wood. Bear rely on insects as an important part of their diet throughout the year, but spring is when ants provide them the food they need.
4. We’ll find bear tracks in the dirt if we’re really lucky. Nothing to me is more fun than spotting tracks. Which one is it? Front foot? Back foot? The size of the track compared to your hand is a great photo opportunity. ‘
And finally…claw marks on trees. Some of the trees were visited long ago and the tree has started to grow, while others are freshly carved. Any way I look at these, they’re all wicked cool.
I hope this will give you a chance to find your own bear sign. Get out of that truck and take a look the next time you’re on a dirt road. While chances are you won’t actually see a bear, finding sign is almost as good. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ve been missing. Don’t forget your camera or cell-phone…you just may find your own pile of poop to photograph.
I like to tell people that the outdoors is my happy place. One of the things most enjoyable to being in the outdoors is that you never know what you’re going to find or see. Whether it’s a plant, animal, rock, or scenery, there is always something that makes me smile in the outdoors.
I used to bring my fancy pants camera, but after a year and a half of dragging it along, it’s now broken. So, for now, I have to rely on my cellphone camera. Even if I don’t have cellular coverage, I always have a camera. Unfortunately, my cellphone camera leaves much to be desired. It’s not very good with zooming in photos, but it’s all I have.
The very first time John and I decided to try some moose shed hunting, we ventured down a skid trail where the paper company had cut. That was a mistake we won’t make again. We had to crawl over blown down trees and slash. The whole trail was filled with newly grown birch, maple, and bushes. Lots of bushes. It was a struggle for me to navigate with my hobbly arthritic knees. So when I finally got to the edge of the woods, I cut through to the grassy opening. On my way, I followed a well-traveled moose lane, full of moose droppings. Just as I headed up the gradual knoll, I was startled by a grouse. It nearly flew into me, then landed a few feet away and started displaying the broken wing dance. It then flew to a nearby tree. I was excited. I knew there had to be a nest somewhere. And there it was, RIGHT at my feet! I took my camera and carefully moved a leaf to see seven beautiful eggs. I snapped a couple pictures with my cellphone and then went to tell John what I had found.
The following week, we were back moose shed hunting and I wanted to see if the hen had hatched her eggs…nope, as we approached she sat still. I got within about 6 feet and snapped a zoomed in picture. I didn’t want to scare her off the nest. Such a good mom!
You can see how well she is camouflaged and how has sticks over her head for more concealment.
The third week, I was excited. We had turkey chicks show up on the Spypoint camera at home, so I was sure we’d find an empty nest with some empty shells. I was so excited. I slowly crept up to take a peek…no bird in the nest…then I saw it.
Sadly nature got the upper hand, and this hen and her seven chicks became a predator’s meal before they had a chance. I was so sad to see her feathers strewn all over the ground. The only thing remaining was a wing, and some empty egg shells.
The grouse had made the fatal error of placing her nest alongside a well traveled corridor and the way she made her nest, there was only one way out. She must have been ambushed. It was either a coyote, bobcat or fox. In one meal, seven grouse were gone.
Even though I have spent countless hours in the woods, I am still surprised, shocked, or saddened by the cruelty of nature. I guess I have to remind myself that predators are just doing what they need to do to eat, and that if predators aren’t controlled, they potentially become over-populated.
So when you venture out, be prepared to see things other than all beauty and happy things. Occasionally, you’ll get blindsided by reality.
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!
It’s not too often that a hunter gets to harvest a lifetime buck, but when it finally happens, it something you never forget. So, when my husband sent me a text telling me my daughter had shot a big buck, I thought he was joking. Then he told me how my daughter called him, excited and out of breath to tell him her story. It was only then that I realized she had tried to call me too, but I had missed the call. I’ll never forget that night. It was almost like waiting-for-the-arrival-of-a-new-baby excitement!
When I started hunting, I was fortunate to have a built-in babysitter. My oldest daughter, Rebecca, wasn’t a hunter in her teens, but her willingness to watch her little brother allowed me to get out in the woods more than most mothers with small children. Over the years, Rebecca has hunted when she could find the time in between night shifts as a registered nurse, pregnancies, and finding daycare. Since she started hunting, she has only been able to tag one deer, but one thing was certain; her passion for hunting has grown, and with a recent job change to day shifts, she now has weekends to hunt and she takes every chance she can to hunt.
So when my son-in-law, Aaron, got his spike horn buck on opening day, I got excited for my daughter, as this meant, Aaron could watch the kids and she could hunt. Or so I thought.
I hadn’t realized that Aaron and Rebecca were going to hunt together, something I often did with my husband when I first started hunting. Aaron’s sister-in-law, who also hunts, offered to watch the three kids along with her two little ones so that Becky and Aaron could hunt together, and then the couples agreed to take turns watching the kids so that each mother would get a chance to hunt.
The two had found a spot deep in the woods, accessible by their side-by-side UTV, a.k.a. “The buggy” as my grandkids call it, and at least a mile in to where they park. Then there’s a nice long hike to the stream, which is boot high deep, cold and unforgiving, which you have to cross and then hike another quarter mile. Once there, it’s nature at its best. You can’t hear the usual car traffic that comes with most spots I hunt. It’s silent, and the view is awesome from the stand. Aaron’s buck had come in from the left on a well-traveled trail, so they were expecting the same for Rebecca’s hunt.
This day, Rebecca and Aaron got into their spot good and early for the afternoon hunt. They brought buck lure in the can, a doe bleat and a buck grunt. Rebecca climbed the narrow ladder into the tree stand that is hidden by an enormous hemlock, and faces out over a bog and swale grass. They had only put the stand in place that morning; Aaron had hunted from a chair beneath the hemlock the day he got his buck. Aaron would resume his spot at the bottom of the tree and try to stay hidden by the large boulder and hemlock blow down off to his right.
The buck lure was put out–an entire can thanks to those locked triggers and Aaron’s big hands. Fifteen minutes in, Aaron made a doe bleat. Then the wait began. An hour later, Aaron began making buck grunts. Then there was more waiting. Within a matter of minutes, a deer began to make its way toward its challenger, and as Rebecca put it, “sounded like a horse galloping through the woods” from the right. Aaron first spotted the deer and saw its antlers. He kept calling and as it got closer, the buck changed direction and began to circle out of Aaron’s sight and thick growth of birch blocked his view. Rebecca, standing in her perch, which was the last thing she wanted to do, had seen the antlers and realized the size of the deer. With immense pressure to not miss this gigantic deer before them, she readied herself to shoot. As the deer moved out of the thick brush and came into view, Rebecca, as she steadied against the tree, made the shot using the Rossi .243 rifle that her little brother gifted her. She thought it was a good hit when the deer hunched, but then as quick as that, the deer turned and bound away. She kept hoping she had made a deadly shot and not just wounded the deer.
Once on the ground the two couldn’t find any blood. So back into the stand Rebecca went. She guided Aaron to where she had shot the deer and then directed him in the direction of where the deer went. There was great relief to find a bunch of hair and a good amount of blood and tracks.
Aaron put on his tracking hat, and off they went to find that deer. There wasn’t a lot of blood, which triggered the roller coaster of excitement and fear of disappointment. Finally, Aaron spotted the deer bedded down in the swale. As they got closer, Rebecca tried to get another shot, but before she could, the deer jumped up and ran toward the stream. Deciding to follow it instead of backing out, they realized the deer didn’t go far. They approached the deer standing at the stream, but this time, it didn’t move. As they watched, it literally died and fell into the stream where it stood. She had her deer.
They pulled the deer up on shore, and Aaron took the celebratory photos. They were certain this big boy was a two hundred pound deer, and it took all they had between the two of them to float it up the stream to the path they had hiked down. As they got to the bank, Aaron gave one big tug on the deer, and Rebecca lost her balance. Into the stream she went, gun and phone included. Aaron yelled, “What are you doing?” to which Rebecca yelled back, “taking a swim in the stream in November, what do you think I’m doing?!” All laughs aside, Rebecca was drenched, and they still had to gut and drag the deer up the unforgiving path.
After about 200 yards of dragging, and Rebecca being soaking wet cold, Aaron went and got the buggy. Then came the part about getting the deer into the buggy. How they managed is still beyond me. They were relieved and excited to show the kids Mom’s amazing deer.
Rebecca tagged her deer and had it weighed at the local store. The deer weighed in at 193 pounds. She was a little disappointed to be that close, but at the same time, she was so proud that she didn’t miss the buck, or get flustered when she saw it. It was still a buck of a lifetime for her.
Since Aaron’s dad is a taxidermist, they went to see him about mounting the buck, and to make the rounds to show everyone before it went to the butcher. Not believing that the buck didn’t tip the 200 pound mark, her father-in-law weighed it a second time. The buck registered 201 pounds on his scale. Wondering if the local store’s scales were off, Aaron had the butcher, who has a certified scale, weigh the deer a third time, and even after 24 hours, the deer weighed in at 200 pounds. Not only did she provide meat to the family freezer, but Rebecca also got her Big Buck Club buck.
As I shared my daughter’s success, I had several people comment that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Then, I had to laugh when Rebecca replied, “yeah, I’m a lot like my one-hunt wonder brother, Tyler. I go out one time and shoot a big buck.” Okay, so maybe it’s not my tree, but I’m still one proud Mom.
Sorry to make you wait so long for this final chapter of my story. Now you know how I felt when I was waiting for a bear to come to my trap. Trapping is much more time intensive than hunting over bait. You don’t need to check your bait every day unless you want to, but trapping mandates daily checks, and many times I know nothing has been there, thanks to my Spypoint cameras, but still have to go and freshen up the spots. We’d put a good squirt of bear scent out, changing it up each time, and we’d hang some beaver castor jelly from a tree to help lure the bear and to cover our scent in hopes of luring in a passing bear.
It seemed like an eternity after John got his bear. My bait was totally dead with nothing coming in except for two rabbits. Even the squirrels weren’t taking over the bait as in years past. There just was just way too much natural food with berries and beechnuts everywhere. The site where John got his bear was continued for my oldest son. Zack hadn’t had a chance to bear hunt so we offered up to keep the spot running if he got his trapping license. Once Zack got his license, we baited his trap and checked it daily. At first, we only had a single bear visit Zack’s site. I was more than frustrated that nothing was coming to mine.
Then came a flurry of activity. A small cold spell came through, and the bears were back. Two bear visited on a regular basis to Zack’s site. One would stay and eat for an hour, making itself comfortable by plunking down in front of the barrel. It never even smelled the trap. We had a different bear chasing off a smaller one from the barrel. The big boar finally made his rounds to both sites, but much later following the younger bears’ visits. One bear that came to my site actually tripped the snare so that when the big boar came in, he got all the goodies and didn’t get caught. This happened several nights in a row and each afternoon, we’d put bait in the trap, reset the cable, and put that huge rock back on top of the opening. No matter how many bear came in, they never stayed for long, and that darned boar would just toss that rock like a pebble.
Then it finally happened. We had checked our traps, reset the huge rocks that are required over the trap, and hadn’t been home for long before my phone started going off with notifications from my Spypoint camera. We had bear on camera. As I lay on my bed, I watched in almost real-time action. At first there was a single bear, good size, at my bait. I was so excited. I watched as it sat down next to the frosting barrel and began to eat. It wasn’t long before it was checking out my trap. I was so excited. I kept saying, “just reach in.” Then I saw something black on the left of my screen.
My bear turned out to be a sow with a cub. I couldn’t believe it; I hadn’t seen any sow with cubs all season. The cub was not a baby, but a yearling and was a good size. In fact, the cub was almost the same size as the sow. The cub had circled in and approached from the woods on the left. I was so bummed, and now I was worried. I watched the cub eat from the barrel, while the sow ate frosting out of the bucket near my trap. I was so upset. The last thing I wanted to do was catch a sow with a cub. Then the sow started acting weird. She tried to climb a tree. She ran around the tree…then I realized, that sow was caught. All the anticipation and excitement was quickly replaced by dread.
I was sick to my stomach. I didn’t want a sow with a cub. I’ve passed on trapping in the past because all I had were a sow and three cubs, or a sow and two cubs at my site. I knew that cub would be okay because it was old enough, but it’s not the way I wanted it to happen. I wanted that big boar that kept coming in late at night. I wanted a dry sow–anything but a sow with one or more cubs. In my mind, I was trying to figure out a way out of this situation. I even considered trying to free it ourselves. At the same time, we started getting ready to head back up to the mountain. There aren’t any biologists that are going to come free that bear for you just because it’s not what you want. You either remove the bear yourself or hope it gets out before you get there; otherwise, you have to take it.
Then my phone went silent. The last picture was the bear at the top of the screen, and a cub eating out of the trap barrel. Then a couple minutes later, I had the biggest relief of my life. The rear-end of that sow leaving, and her cub hanging out for a bit more before catching up with her. The saving grace was not making that loop stop as small as I could have. I had made it a little bigger so I’d catch a bigger bear and let the smaller ones get free. We decided to take the trip up to the mountain just in case the sow wasn’t free or was out of sight.
Insert happy dance. She had escaped. She left a nice calling card with her claw marks on a tree as she had struggled to get free.
We reset the trap, hoping the big boar might still come in that night, but I think being there so late might have clued him in. He never came in that night or several nights thereafter.
We decided to change out the cable setup we had for John’s and modify my trap with the Aldrich snare set up on the barrel trap in hopes that it would be easier to catch the big boar. John thought that the compression spring was too slow and the boar wouldn’t get caught quick enough. The boar came back and the sow hadn’t. After a few days of watching the boar just trip the snare before eating, we knew we had made a mistake. And as quick as it started, it ended. The flurry was over and all the bear were gone from both sites. Zack decided he didn’t want to trap if there weren’t any bear. We removed the snare from his site and toiled with whether I wanted to keep trying.
Just when I was ready to call it quits and pull my trap, that sow and cub came back. I feared I’d catch her again. Part of me was thinking, “So what if I catch her, she’ll get out” , and the other part was thinking “I might not be so lucky next time”. After all, they are putting on weight for winter and she just might be fatter. At the same time, a nice big bear was coming to Zack’s barrel. I decided to discontinue trapping at my site and let the sow and cub eat to their hearts content, and I’d try to get the bear coming into the other site.
I gave myself one week. Either I’d get a bear, or I’d be done. I reset the cable snare and compression spring setup on John/Zack’s site. The bear never showed the first night, or the second night. I was thinking I had missed my chance. The days were getting shorter and it was a lot harder to get into the site during daylight and before the bear started moving. And of course the big black-faced boar came in at 6:15 pm and had a feast, and no trap was set at that site.
It had been long season, and we had just gotten home from checking the traps. I was in my pajamas and getting ready to climb in bed when my phone started going off with notifications from my Spypoint cellular game camera. At first I thought it was just the regular nightly pics of the bear eating at the barrel, which as cool as it is to see bear, it gets frustrating when its not even looking at your trap where you’ve put fresh delectable bait. As usual, I couldn’t not look, so I started watching as the notifications came pouring in. I couldn’t believe it.
I had finally trapped a bear by the front paw, and it was going to try to get away as long as it could. I was so excited, I started yelling to John, “I have a bear!” We were dressed and in our camo in about five minutes, were headed out the door. I sent quick texts to my sons to let them know. Zack had already come with us on one false catch, so we decided it would be just John and I this time. I was excited and nervous. I would have to shoot the bear in the dark using only a flashlight to see. Luckily I bought a really nice LED flashlight for deer season, so I was going to see how well it worked.
As we drove to the mountain, the cell coverage died as always. There’s virtually no cell reception from North Anson and farther, until we get to the top of the mountain. The instant notifications stopped before then, so I was convinced my bear had escaped. Once parked at the top of the mountain, I was expecting the ping notification. Nothing. I was getting discouraged before we even went to look.
We loaded up the four-wheeler and drove up the mountain and this time we drove closer so that I’d have less distance to walk. My knees were screaming so I appreciated the shorter walk. I had thrown my phone in my backpack for pics, but wasn’t really thinking I’d be taking any. We loaded our guns and started in by flashlight. We walked silently and deliberately so that we wouldn’t agitate the bear if it was still caught.
As we ascended the trail, my phone in my backpack started pinging, and pinging and pinging. John tapped me on the shoulder, and with a big smile whispered, “You’ve got a bear.” I just smiled back in disbelief that it hadn’t escaped.
As we approached, I would do the same as John did for his bear, only he would also be there holding the flashlight. I climbed into the tower stand, took a seat and readied my gun. John held the flashlight on my target. The bear continued to move and pull on the cable. Finally when it looked like it had settled down, I took my shot. But just as I shot, it moved again making the bullet further back than it was intended. I quickly jacked out my shell and took another shot. I knew the second shot was lethal when it gave the death moan, a sign that the last of the air had left its lungs. I had my bear thanks to my perseverance, to my husband for supporting my decision to keep trying, to my Spypoint camera for not failing me, and for the bear that had alluded me for so long. I thank the bear for its life. I shot a mature, dry sow that weighed at least 200 pounds live weight.
I wasn’t able to tag my bear until the following morning, since it was late and by the time we field dressed my bear, loaded it into the truck, and drove home, it was close to midnight. It was pretty cool to have the locals see my bear, and for me to share my story with them, something that normally doesn’t happen.
I will not be bear hunting or trapping this year unless I have a lot of help to get me there. I’ve decided to replace my two very arthritic knees, and I won’t be able to hike the mountain or climb the stand by myself. Trying to fit surgery in between work and life and fun isn’t always that easy, so it is what it is. In the end, I’ll be able to do the things I love to do, without pain, something I’m definitely looking forward to, and that will give me many more years of bear hunting.
Bear season seemed to go on forever, and just when I was ready to throw in the towel, the bear returned, and I trapped my first bear ever. By then, deer season was literally two weeks away, and I hadn’t so much as put out a game camera let alone scouted any place to decide where to hunt.
John and I did some quick scouting, and he and I put up a couple stands on the Saturday before opening day. November 2nd rolled around pretty quickly. I had all my gear freshly washed ad de-scented and hung outside. I have a menagerie of camo clothes: a little of everything from just about everyone for all types of weather. I scored some nice Sitka gear at Marden’s, a local discount store, this past summer so I would at least be warm. I stocked up on buck lure, hand warmers and lip balm. I charged my Ozonics battery and the Tink’s deer escent dispenser, which has become my favorite. I was ready.
I decided to sit in my tower stand on the hill. I hadn’t even been there since last year. Last year was an awful deer season since there were no acorns, so the deer that normally hang out there, had to find food elsewhere. This year was looking much better, so John and I hacked down the chest deep weeds and made our way up the hill with the four-wheeler. Some quick scouting, and a nice rub line convinced me to sit in the tower stand. I wanted to move it, but forgot the keys to the cable lock, and there it stayed.
My first morning was mostly uneventful. I did get to see a bald eagle swoop down in front of me. It had spied something to catch, but I think it spotted me and changed its mind. I saw geese flying overhead, and I heard loons, mice, and chipmunks, but no deer. I sat a few more times in the morning and afternoons with no luck. I even moved and sat on the ground in chair where I thought I would have a better chance at seeing a deer. I finally put out a cell camera, a Spypoint Link, and found out the deer were coming through at midnight. I decided I was done sitting there.
John was also experiencing a lack of deer, so we headed over to “Bill’s” to scout out a spot. Not many, if any hunt Bill’s land so John was pretty psyched. We put up a stand in the exact same spot he shot one last year. The sign was good. The area had lots of scrapes, rubs and acorns…the perfect mix for a buck to show up. I even sat in the stand a couple times, but it felt dead. Not even a squirrel showed up, and with the road so close, it wasn’t an enjoyable sit for me, so back to the drawing board.
Not knowing exactly where I should sit, I decided to sit behind the house on the beaver bog (which no longer has beaver). John and I have had a stand there for years. It’s one of the only homemade ones left that’s still in a tree because it’s built strong and the branches help keep it secure. It requires climbing a ladder, then a couple screw-in steps, to climbing the tree branches and finally a shimmy onto the seat. When I was fat, I couldn’t climb it without going into a full sweat and asthma attack, which is why it ended up with a ladder on the bottom. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen does, as well as a bobcat, along the bog, so I thought that would be my best option.
The only thing about sitting on the bog is that it’s a long walk in and the wind is never in my favor. It’s not somewhere I can sit in the morning since daylight comes barely before I have to leave for work. So the very first Saturday, I made my way in. It had rained so all of the oak leaves were wet and super quiet. I climbed into the stand. I had my gun on my back since there wasn’t a pull-up rope. When I got to the top, I found the pull-up rope had somehow ended up in the tree, so I untangled it and dropped it so that I could use it in the future. I was actually pleased to get into the tree without a lot of noise. After a while I did my buck grunts and then a doe bleat…then the wait began.
As I sat there, I obsessed over how much the branches on trees out in front of me had grown, and how little I could see. I was quite annoyed and wondered if I’d even be able to shoot past the branches to hit a deer, should I be so lucky to see one. The animals around me were in full annoyance mode at daybreak. The mice, squirrels, and chipmunks were seeing who could yap the most, and the birds: blue jays, chickadees, finches, nuthatch, and even a partridge were all flitting and fluttering around me. It was hard to hear and to concentrate on listening for deer sounds.
Then a new sound. Annoyed, I looked to my right. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, off to my right, was a cardinal, flitting in the fir tree. I hadn’t seen a cardinal since last year, on the day I hung my deer in the tree. I got a bit emotional thinking about my mom, the hunter in my family, and wondered if she was giving me some clue. Then I watched it fly down to my left, slightly below me, before I lost sight of it in the brush.
As I sat there staring at the birds, I heard a rustle of grass….shoosh, shoosh, shoosh. I know that sound…a very distinct rustle that had me in panning the grass left and right trying to figure out where to hell that noise was…it was a deer. And then I spotted it…them…two deer on my left moving swiftly in unison. I think that cardinal was trying to tell me something. I saw the side and butt end of one deer as it followed another. I only saw its side for a second before it went behind a row of fir and spruce trees on the other side of the bog. I didn’t even have a chance to raise my gun. I kept thinking, “That has to be a buck“, but I didn’t see antlers. It shouldn’t have mattered since I had a doe tag, but geez, it would be nice to get one big buck in my lifetime. I hadn’t had a doe permit in so long, I was still in buck mode.
As I sat there, I couldn’t believe it. The deer finally emerged from behind the trees, and went up onto the hill on the other side about 150 yards away. It was a buck chasing a doe up and down the hill, in circles, chasing non-stop. This was so cool because it’s the first time I had ever seen it happen. I had only heard stories about it as told by John and my oldest son, Zack. It was also frustrating because I didn’t want to lose my chance to get a shot, but it was so far away and they weren’t standing still. The buck would chase, then stop and eat. The doe would run, stop and eat, then run again. At one point the doe did come down to the edge of the bog near the tall fir tree to the left of the X, closing the distance; however, the buck didn’t follow. When the doe bound back up the hill, he was right behind her.
View from the ground without leaves
View from the tree before leaves dropped
I sat there trying to decide if I should or could take a shot. I’ve never shot at a running deer, and I’ve never shot a deer more than 40 yards away…damn…what to do? So after what felt like forever, when I had enough watching them chase each other, I decided to take a shot. The buck was on the side hill standing broadside and eating acorns. There was a grove of young pine trees lining the lower, far side of the bog. They just tall enough so that they narrowly left an opening for me to have a shot at the deer just above the tops of the trees. I tried to increase my scope magnification from the normal 3 power up to 8, but then I couldn’t find the deer in my scope…gahh…they were running around again. Then the buck stopped. I dropped my power back, took aim and fired. I hoped I hit it, but I doubted it. I was silently cussing at all the branches in my way among other things. The deer had run off as if nothing happened. Now I’m thinking, that was a stupid move because I may have wounded it, or if not, then scared them off from coming back. I think I can say, this was my first, and hopefully last, case of buck fever. I sat until I couldn’t take the cold any more. I got down out of my stand and made my way across the bog to see if I was lucky enough to hit the deer. I certainly didn’t want to wound a deer and not go after it. After about 40 minutes of looking all over the hill, which didn’t seem nearly as big once I was there, I found no sign of blood or hair, but only some running deer tracks. So I headed home, mad at myself that I couldn’t make that shot and that I even tried.
I had several other chances to hunt in the morning. One morning, instead of heading to the bog, I went about half way, and sat on a rock just off the trail. I could see up the hill but not quite to the top of the trail, and I could see a nice area off to my right. I thought I heard what could be a deer, but never saw anything. As I left to get ready for work and headed up the hill, I was greeted at the top of the hill with fresh deer tracks of a buck chasing a doe. I couldn’t believe it.
A morning later, work was called off due to the snow/ice storm. I got everyone else off to work and then I headed out. I figured I’d see if there were any sign of deer, and make my way to my stand in the bog. Just behind the house, I came upon fresh deer tracks. There was a very noticeable doe-in-heat pee and big buck tracks right along with it. Dang. I’ve never tracked a buck, so I wasn’t sure if I should plus I hadn’t prepared. I decided they were probably too far gone, so I kept to my plan and made my way toward my stand. Almost there, I came to the hemlock tree that had a scrape under it all season and where I caught a smaller buck on the camera. As I walked, I came across new rabbit and partridge tracks in the snow…literally walking together. This made me smile so I took a picture with my phone, which doesn’t do it justice. A few feet more, I came across the tracks of the same buck and doe. It was tempting, but I had to keep a clear head. They hadn’t traveled where I was headed, and I had already decided I wasn’t going to track them, so I continued to the stand.
I stood at the opening by my tree stand and took a look out over the bog, remembering what I had seen days before. I had worn a raincoat, but my gloves were wet from the snow and rain so I decided I’d sit in my stand for a while, then head back home after a rest. I walked back to my stand and turned around to face the ladder. I took my rifle clip out of my gun and put it in my pocket. I secured my gun stock to the pull up rope so that the barrel wasn’t touching the ground, and then I started to climb the tree. I was bit nervous as I climbed. My hands were really feeling the cold now and the limbs were wet. I was literally shoulder height with the stand’s seat, when I heard something. I turned my head to watch a doe, followed by a chasing buck, which I made a point to look at his beautiful golden brown rack and then in desperation, whimpered no! no! no! as I clung to the branches in shock. Then for a kick in the teeth, the buck stopped perfectly broadside to take a look my way. A perfect shot and me climbing a stand with my gun on a rope at the bottom of the tree. I watched him trot off to catch up with his lady friend.
I climbed into the stand hoping they’d show up in reverse of what I saw on the first day. I pulled my gun up. I loaded it. I sat there in disbelief of what had just happened. I called John. At first I couldn’t reach him so I sent him a cursing text about what just happened. Then he called me back. I tried to tell him what happened with my angry voice, but instead I cried in frustration. I cried…I never cry, especially when it comes to deer hunting…then I was mad that I had climbed that tree stand. I walked home feeling quite defeated that not once, but twice this buck had eluded me.
That’s the second time I’ve seen a deer while climbing that %$#@*&^* tree stand, and right then and there, I vowed I wouldn’t be in it again. Next year, I’ll have a real tree stand that I can easily and quickly climb.
November 15th. I feared the rut was over, but it seemed like the perfect morning to hunt, and I had even considered calling in a vacation day. It was a nice crisp morning, so I decided I’d walk all the way into the bog, but instead of sitting in that tree stand, I’d plunk down where I could see and hear and possibly get a shot at a deer. The storm had left a hard crust, and walking in was never going to be quiet. So instead of trying to be quiet, I opted to walk like a deer. I’d take a few steps and stop, then take more…walking toe heel so I wouldn’t sound like a person. I took out my buck grunt and once in while I’d give a grunt. Every single step was a loud crunch. I made it right to the top of the hill where the buck and doe had crossed a few days before. The wind is NEVER in my favor here. It blows from right to left diagonally down the hill. As I made my way down the hill, I heard a loud crunch, crunch, crunch. It was, without a doubt, a deer breaking through the crust as it walked, and it was downwind of me. It seemed to be coming toward me so I got my gun up and tried to move closer to the opening to see if I could see the deer and possibly get ahead of the wind. As quick as it started, it ended. Where it went, I don’t know. I think it smelled me and made a quick exit. Even though I didn’t see it, I got excited again. It was the kind of excitement I get when I have these kinds of experiences.
With a new perspective, I continued down to the bog. With my seat cushion in hand, I stepped up to the opening of the bog, just beyond my tree stand. As I stood there trying to decide where I should sit, I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye. There in front of me directly across from me on the other side of the bog stood a buck. He was licking branches on the same fir tree that the doe had stood under when she was being chased. I carefully dropped my seat pad, slowly took the gun off my back, and standing there, I took aim. I waited until he was broadside, and I shot. I knew I had hit him, he hunched and then just stood there. I shot again, and he went down. I had my deer.
I called John and told him I shot a buck. He came down and together we went to claim my bounty. I called my work and told them I’d be in late. I had just gotten my deer.
So that buck…that elusive buck showed up on my stand right behind the house, that I haven’t sat in for two years. He was chasing a doe. I’m pretty sure he was what I heard that morning. He’s still out there as is the other three bucks and lots and lots of does I had on camera. Next year can’t come soon enough, but as with every year, there are no guarantees that he’ll do a repeat of his territory next year.
So I started following a group of women hunters, and a question came up about hunting when you have no land of your own, and what to do when you aren’t very comfortable about knocking down doors to ask.
First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours. Even if the land isn’t posted, if you feel you have to sneak around, it just won’t feel right. And the last thing you want to do is be chased off land you didn’t ask to use, because you now know the answer would be no for sure.
There are ways to find available land no matter where you live. Look for access by permission only signs and find the owners if it’s not listed on the sign. Don’t be afraid to go to the local town offices to look at town maps, or get online and find landowner information from tax assessing records. You won’t find a phone number, but you will find a name and address, and that’s a start.
I was scared to death to ask a farmer to hunt turkey, especially being a woman. Low and behold, despite their surprised look of a woman asking, the owner was cordial. She had promised it to another hunter, but if I could wait until Thursday, then I could have it. Turns out she knew my Dad, and was happy that I was a Norridgewock native. Small steps may lead to a big opportunity.
There’s a lot of public land in Maine that’s accessible to hunters. Now I know it’s annoying that there are some places that people used to hunt that are now off limits because land was donated to a group or cause, and they make their own rules. Many of these organizations don’t consist of hunters, and because patrons might feel afraid, they restrict hunting…blah, blah, blah…it’s not going to change unless we are part of the process. The one thing that will help all hunters is making sure good landowner relations continue to protect what we do have access to use. So asking is best.
So I did a little digging. I can’t give away all my spots, but this will help you find public land to hunt. Be thorough and do your homework on the area. First of all, you can hunt on public lands and even some state parks, but you have to put on your detective hat and scout the land. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has some great information on their website. Hunting is not allowed at State Historic Sites or Memorials, and there’s a list of places you can and can’t hunt right there to review. You can search by activity and these are the public lands and state parks that came up for hunting. Just be mindful to know the rules pertaining to state parks and when you can hunt. I was surprised to see so many options in southern Maine, since I’ve never really considered it anywhere near accessible to hunters…but it is. I live farther north and don’t hunt in southern Maine, but there are lots of opportunities to hunt.
Bear hunting has more restrictions/requirements, but bear hunting is still allowed on public lands, but by permit or lottery. It’s either by straight application and the sites are split equally among requests, or a lottery is done if the number of requests outnumber the number of sites. More information about how to apply is found here.
There’s also information on gathering (berries, mushrooms, fiddleheads) which has become very popular, and as with hunting, permits are required for some types of gathering.
Another source for hunting is the North Maine Woods, which is actually several timber companies that let you access their land for a fee. You pay at the gate, and the land is there to hunt. Just know the zone rules for whatever game you are hunting. Now when we hunt the NMW, it’s a trip, week long or at least three days because we live so far away, so it’s not something right out your door, but it’s nice to know it’s there. And there are several registered guides throughout the NMW that can help you get that deer, moose, bear or whatever you want.
Another source is paper company land closer than the NMW. We rabbit hunt “north” and it’s on paper company land. Some companies such as Wagner and Weyheuser, have a permit/lease system for bear hunting, and it’s pretty gobbled up by a few guide services, so don’t be totally discouraged because they hold some sites for DIY’s like us, and sometimes sites become available. They have roads to bird or rabbit hunt, deer hunt, moose hunt, and even bear hunt if you’re lucky enough to see one not over bait, so it’s not a total loss.
And a fairly new option I sort of stumbled upon is land trusts not state owned, such as the Ezra Smith Wildlife Conservation Area, donated by George Smith and family, and is managed by the Kennebec Land Trust which allows hunting on most of its parcels of land. There’s quite a comprehensive list so go to their website and check it out.
Now getting back to landowner permissions. The ONLY way we bear hunt on private land is because we got landowner permission, and in return, we give back by maintaining his road. We feel so privileged that we have this access and we take it very seriously. And all we did was ask.
My son hunts on land that isn’t his, and all he did was ask. And he asks every year. I’ve hunted turkeys on land that wasn’t posted, but we still asked. The landowner appreciated it and told us so.
And you’ll have some landowners who are anti-hunting or what I call land greedy (it’s mine all mine and you can’t use it even if I don’t) and they have their signs posted everywhere, but sometimes conversations can lead to opportunity such as just asking to bow hunt instead of rifle hunt and a door opens. Sometimes not, but it’s worth asking.
Ask a farmer. He may hate those turkeys eating into his silage pile, and wants you to “shoot all of them.” And if all else fails, ask friends if you can hunt with them. You may just find a mentor. Many friends make a trip to hunting camp each year and/or leave their own property un-hunted. Opportunity….Ask. Ask. Ask.
You may just be surprised to find more people are willing to let you hunt than you realize. Access is only a knock away. The more we talk to landowners, the more we build relationships that will help protect the future of hunting.
Good luck and be sure to identify your target before you shoot.
August means the start of the hunting seasons, and bear hunting is one of my favorite, both for anticipation and actual hunt. It’s hard to believe that just seven years ago, I started baiting bear sites with my husband, John. I was along for the ride then. This was the guys’ hunt; my husband, son and son-in-law set baits in hopes on getting a big bruin, so there really wasn’t any room for me. I was always mindful to not crowd in on guys-time as I think it’s as important as the girl-time I spend with my daughter. Even though I didn’t tell anyone, I really wanted to try this bear hunting.
I remember helping John bait those first sites. Since the guys worked later than he did, I got to tag along and help schlep the barrels of bait and grease. We got our first game cameras just for bear hunting, and checking our memory cards was always the highlight of the trip, especially when the bear would try to destroy or rip the camera off the tree. Seeing bear photos for the first time was a definite WOW moment for me. The excitement of seeing bear while having the fear of them, was real. The whole time I helped bait the sites, I was constantly looking over my shoulder, leery of what may be lurking in the woods. I was never outright scared because John always had the .44 magnum on his hip.
Fast forward a couple years, and boys decided they didn’t have time to bear hunt north. There was my opportunity knocking! By then, I had grown more accustom to seeing bear photos and instead of feeling that fear, there was more taking the time to see which one was left or right handed into the bucket, and seeing how big the bear were. I was then, and still am amazed at the number of different bear we have coming to bait.
I was so excited to finally get to bear hunt; however I also knew this would be a challenge for me with my fear of the dark. John helped me prepare my site, but I ultimately picked the spot. For years we had driven by one side of the hill and I was just dying to check it out. Turns out it was loaded with beech trees, clawed up from bear climbing them in previous years. It was also shaded and would get dark earlier than an open spot.
We set my tree stand and barrel, then baited it up, and in no time, I had bear coming to MY bait. Once bear hunting finally arrived, I was faced with my first challenge. I had to walk into my bait site alone. John would have taken me, but if I was going to hunt, I was going to not have him have to hold my hand.
When I first hunted deer, John was right by my side, taking the lead and walking me into my tree stand and sitting with me the entire time, but over time, I learned to face my fear and walk into my stand on my own. This was different. It was daylight. How could I possibly be afraid?! I can’t say I was completely comfortable because there’s always a chance of encountering a bear on my way in, so I’d take a deep breath, taking in my cup of courage, and off I’d go.
I was always relaxed once I got in my stand, but until then, even encountering a snake in the trail would scare the hell out of me. Walking in was not one of my favorite things to do. I would sit until legal shooting hours ended, but then I’d have to stay in my tree stand until John retrieved me. As dark approached, I would go from hoping a bear would come in, to hoping one wouldn’t decide to show up because what would I do then?! I would always be relieved to hear the truck coming down the road, and would watch for John’s light in the trail. He’d let out a whistle in the dark, and I knew it was safe to get down.
One night, I decided to face my fears by getting out of my tree stand and walking out to John. I knew he was on his way in to get me, so down the ladder I went. When I reached the bottom, I realized I had left my flashlight in my backpack. As I rummaged through the pack, I heard a noise on the trail. I gave a whistle. No whistle back. I gave another whistle. Again nothing. Then the sound of an animal running off in the brush with a good bristled huff. It was a bear, and there I was on the ground with nothing but a flashlight! In an instant, John gave a yell. The bear had run right at him on his way in. I was glad he didn’t hang around me. I was pretty proud that I maintained my calm and didn’t panic when I realized it was a bear. Call me naïve or dumb, but that event actually helped me gain more courage when I bear hunt.
I moved my stand higher on the hill the following year. It was the very first time I had daytime bear. One night we went to our stands later than normal. I had been having a sow and cubs on my bait, so I was a bit nervous about the possibility of running into an angry Mama bear. I took a deep breath and my cup of courage, and headed in. I brought my trusty bacon scented spray to help cover my scent as I ascended the trail to my tree stand. I sprayed a small squirt of scent on the trees every few yards. As I made my way to my stand, I was going to spray up my bait site, but instead, jumped a small bear, that took off in flash of black. So much for my cup of courage. I decided I didn’t want to go any further so I put the bottle of spray at the base of my tree stand ladder. I climbed into my stand which I had equipped with a handy dandy hanging tree blind, so that I could go undetected if a bear came in. I thought I was sitting pretty.
As night closed in, I was pretty excited that I had actually seen a bear in the wild, since that was a first for me. Then came the unmistakable sound of something coming up behind me, walking ever so slow and deliberate. I could hear minute pieces of sticks breaking almost silently under the steps…then came the sniff. The sniff of a bear directly under my tree stand, smelling my bacon spray. I didn’t dare move. I swallowed another cup of courage and tried to get my eyes on this bear, but the inside of the blind was small and unforgiving and I couldn’t move…or I didn’t dare move. As it went to my right, dark was closing in fast and I still could not see the bear because he was directly under me. When he finally made his way out in front of me, I could just make him out, and I only had five minutes left of legal hunting. It was now or never. As I pulled my gun up, the bear stopped. I slowly moved my gun so that the barrel came outside of the blind so I could aim. In an instant, the bear bolted. He had seen my gun. In a flash, my bear was gone, and he’s never returned.
My heart raced, and as bummed as I was that I didn’t get a chance to shoot my dream bear, Scrapper, I was overjoyed by the whole experience. It still remains one of the most memorable moments in my hunting adventures.
Bear season will begin the end of August, and hopefully by the time you read this, I will have harvested a nice bear for the freezer. I will still have to drink my cup of courage when I head into my stand, and when I leave, which I now do alone as I make my way back down the mountain to my waiting four-wheeler. I’ll drive through the trails in the dark, sometimes jumping a moose or two and make my way out in the dark to where I’ll leave my four-wheeler and get picked up by John. And yes, I’ll probably swallow a cup or two of courage every time I do it. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. That cup of courage has made me more confident as a hunter and person, and any time I think I can’t do something, I just drink another cup of courage and say, “yes, I can.”
My advice to anyone who wants to hunt, but has fears. Find a mentor, and face them head on. Drink that cup of courage. You won’t regret it.
I love to hunt, but my most anticipated and thrilling hunt is bear hunting. As in years past , we have done all of the work ourselves. While others can’t because of lack of access, work obligations or ability, we manage our own bait sites, which requires a lot of time and energy.
Last year was an impressive year filled with huge bear; however this year is more average. We’ve only seen a couple bear that we deem “huge”, and they haven’t been consistent. And that’s okay. The average bear in Maine is around 200-300 pounds, which is still big in my book.
This year we put out all of our go-to bait and scents to attract the bear. Our season started off with a yearling cub being the first and consistent visitor. I felt bad because he looks so little, and he looks thin. I wonder what happened to the sow that reared him. Did she cast him off? Did she die? The sow that I’ve watched on my cameras with as many as three cubs hasn’t been seen this year. I wonder if this guy was hers. I’m cheering him on and I’ve decided no matter what, this fella gets a pass. The great thing about cameras is that you get to identify different characteristics about each bear. This guy has a brown nose and he’s little. I even identify bear by which hand they put in the barrel.
Bigger bear usually show up later, but hopefully during legal hunting hours. They’ve gotten big by being stealthy and waiting until dark. Also, the fact that their black fur makes them extremely hot, big bear then to go where it’s cooler and only come out at night. This guy is a nice bear to harvest. I recognize him by the patch on his hind end and his brown muzzle. And this guy is a lefty!
Once in while I’m surprised by daytime bear that are what I’d consider a nice bear to harvest. This one has a more black muzzle, and is quite fat. We have been baiting in the morning so this one totally went against what bears “usually do” and if I was hunting, I would have not even seen this guy, since most bear hunters only sit in the afternoons.
This bear visited for about 10 minutes, then left. The food on the ground is from a bigger bear that came in at night and dug the food out of the barrel. Squirrels and raccoon will eat it up, and other bear will step in it. This will carry the scent back into the woods, and possibly bring in more bear, which is why we never have to clean it up. It’s eventually consumed by some animal.
As natural food diminishes, my bait may become their only source of food until something natural becomes available. That’s good for me….Knowing that that beechnut crop looks abundant this year, I’ll have to hope the nuts don’t drop too soon. If so, I could end up with empty sites. Nothing is ever a given in bear hunting.
Monday, August 26th is the beginning of the bear hunt over bait in Maine. Now the only thing I’m not excited about is that big hike up that big hill to my stand. Here’s hoping for clear, cool weather, no mosquitoes and no wind. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll see a moose, coyote or raccoon that’s also found its way to my site.
With the start of bear baiting season, and only once-a-week visit to the site, I wanted to know if my bait was getting any action during the week. I discovered a new way to see my bear photos during the week, and there’s nothing more exciting than getting that notification on my phone sound that “you have pictures.”
I bought a Spypoint Link-W game camera on the recommendation of an acquaintance. “W” means Walmart which is where I bought it. While I’m still trying to understand all that it can do, and how to tweak it so that I get consistent photos, I can attest that the camera is very simplistic and easy to use. If you only have 100 photos a month, you can even do the “free plan”. I, on the other hand, am doing the unlimited photos for $15 a month. I found out early on, that a bunch of wind photos can eat up your allotment pretty darned quick, so be careful to put your camera on a sturdy mount or big tree trunk, and be sure to clear all the foliage that can trigger it to take wind photos. It comes ready to use and records pictures and videos as well as other features listed below.
Number of LEDs
< 80′ (24m)
Stamp on pictures
Date, time, moon phase and temperature (°C/°F)
Up to 2 pictures per detection
Requires an SD/SDHC card up to 32 GB (not included)
Automatic infrared level adjustment
Distance detection sensor
Up to 70 ft (21m)
1 sensor covering 5 zones detection
Standard 1/4″-20 tripod
3.8″ W x 5.0″ H x 3.2″D (9,6 cm L x 12,7 cm H x 8,1 cm P)
I bought the Verizon model because of where I hunt, and after comparing maps on the Spypoint link website, I decided that Verizon has the best coverage. I am literally on a mountain where if I’m on the bottom of that mountain, I have no cell phone coverage, so the key to making this work for me was having a good signal. It worked so well, we bought a second one for John’s bait, but had to buy the long range antennae in order to get a signal.
The pictures are good, especially during the day. The night photos are good despite this only being a 10MP camera. Spypoint does have other more advanced cameras, but I didn’t want to sink a bunch of money into a camera that I may or may not like. The stamp information is easy to read where I’ve had problems with other cameras’ being too small for me to read even with glasses. My plan is to make sure there’s no bear on my site before I head in. This way I won’t jump them off the bait.
So if you’re going to spend $200 on a camera, which many cost that and much more, I would recommend the Spypoint Link-W. Happy watching. I’m having so much fun seeing my photos during the week.
To me, there is nothing more exciting than prepping for Maine’s bear season. Over the last seven years, I have learned a lot about bear, and about baiting and trapping bear.
Saturday will be the first day of baiting season. For the first time ever, we put out game cameras ahead of the season, just to see who, if any, bear roam our woods.
We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results. We’ve had at least three different bear on two different cameras, and I still haven’t spied the big sow that has been coming to my baits for four years…every other year with a litter of cubs in tow. We’ve also had a bunch of moose, including a cow and calf. Life on the mountain is full and abundant.
We discontinued a bait site last year, and another one is on the list this year, leaving only the two that we hunt on. Or at least, that’s the plan.
Last year, our third site was merely a feeding station for a sow and cub so they didn’t come to the active baits with boars. The only other daytime shoot-worthy bear to come to that bait, was a nice boar. And of course, I wasn’t sitting in that stand when it came through.
This year’s bear season will be different in many ways, but mostly the same. I’ll have the same bait, scents, cameras, trails, four-wheelers, tree stand, and methods to bring the bear in.
However, I hope I get my bear early, not only because who doesn’t want to get their bear on the first day, but also so that I won’t be on the mountain in September. I don’t want to be reminded of that day when we got that awful call asking us to come quick because my father had collapsed. He died that night, and so now every time I go to the mountain, and start to think about roaming the woods where we were that night, there’s something different. In all the beauty and methodical planning around bear hunting, there’s still the heavy heart and sadness, that I have yet to shake off.
So, for now, I’ll concentrate on everything I’ve learned to make my site the best smelling and appealing site that I can. I’ll concentrate on my scent cover knowing that bear have noses like no other animal. I’ll concentrate on preparing my body for the steep hike up the hill to my stand in hot weather and still remaining quiet and ready for a bear. I’ll concentrate on getting my stand just perfect so that I’m comfortable and motionless during the hunt. I’ll concentrate on getting my gun ready so that I’ll shoot straight and hit my target. I’ll concentrate on facing my fears of walking back down the steep hill in the dark, because I’m no sissy.
I’ll use this time to enjoy nature, but also to reflect on how lucky I am to have such a great place to hunt with my husband, John, and how much my father’s influences made me who I am today. I’ll try my damnedest to hold up my chin and be strong for my Dad. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
And if I’m lucky, I’ll get my bear. Wish me luck.
P.S. Thanks for continuing to read my posts. Writing is very healing, and it provides an outlet for my grief.
As I was talking with John the other day, it occurred to me that we’ve changed so much over the last thirty something years. We married in October of 1984, and through all these years, we’ve persevered and have become what some have referred us to as a “power couple.”
I laugh when I hear this because it’s usually in the context of hunting and fishing and all the things we do together. It’s quite a compliment, but honestly, it’s just about being together and enjoying what we do. Our kids are grown and off doing their own things with friends and family, so we have more time together that we didn’t have when we were raising our three kids. Hopefully they’ll take some of the times we spent hunting, fishing and wildlife watching with them and pass it onto their families.
So how did we get here?
My dad was pretty strict, but I think it was his own fears that made these rules. I remember not being allowed to go into the woods. My father’s house was only on two acres, but apparently he felt that was more than enough for us to get into trouble, so we (the kids) weren’t allowed to “wander off” and had to stay in the backyard. As an adult, this had lasting effects as I was dreadfully afraid of the woods and what might be lurking in those woods. The first time John and I went for a walk, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a partridge took off. I was never aware of my surroundings and all I remember was that I didn’t enjoy mosquitoes, and I certainly didn’t go looking for wildlife. Even when my family spent time at the camp lot, a parcel of land that my parents bought in the mid 70’s, that had an old school bus on it that we turned into a camper, we were not allowed to explore beyond our boundaries. Now when I hear partridge drumming, it only makes me want to find it.
From the age of 4, my oldest son Zack would want to go “hunting” with his BB gun, so he and I would put on our orange and take walks in the trails behind our house. We never saw anything, but he got the chance to work on his stalking skills and just loved every minute we were out there. I, on the other hand, never went beyond the trails because that’s all I knew.
One of these times, we hadn’t gotten further than 30 yards off the edge of the field, when I spied legs walking down the right trail. In my mind, I thought this was one of John’s cousins who is tall and skinny and who also lived next door. While I was wondering what he was doing out back, I soon realized it was a rutting moose coming down the trail. His head was down and his antlers…huge antlers…were going side to side as if to challenge us. I grabbed Zack by the arm and made a run for it back toward the house. I wanted Zack to see it, but I didn’t want the moose to charge us. I went into a full asthma attack as we hid behind a tree. We never saw it up close because I was so concerned about getting away from the scary monster, and meanwhile the moose changed course and headed down a different trail.
Zack grew to love the outdoors so much that he’d wander off all day. I’d worry and every night, I’d have to yell, “Zack-Ah-reeeeee“, for him to come home. He certainly explored beyond my boundaries, but would come home with stories of his travels and of all the stuff he saw in the woods.
When my husband was a young boy, he would sit around and listen to the men tell hunting stories, but moose hunting wasn’t allowed then so there were only stories of beastly moose and how scary and unpredictable they are. As a youth hunter, he had an encounter with a rutting moose that charged him, which left a lasting impression. John was set up in front of an oak tree while hunting deer. A moose came in to the smell of his buck lure, and when the moose saw John, he charged. John ended up yelling and kicking leaves at the moose and eventually shot over its head to scare it off. He retold this story as a teenager and said it was one of the scariest moments as a kid he could remember. Then while in college, John was working the wood yard when a young moose wandered into camp. John decided to challenge himself and he was pretty impressed that he was able to make calls to the moose and eventually scare it off. It was then that he realized moose weren’t all that scary.
Thirty plus years later, we’ve grown to understand moose, and fully appreciate their presence in the woods. We’ve successfully hunted, tracked, and called them in just for the sake of seeing if they’d respond. There are no longer fears associated with moose or any animal for that matter. If anyone had told me ten years ago, that I’d be hunting bear, or that I’d get my grand slam, I would have laughed. I am no longer afraid of the outdoors, the dark, the water (somewhat), or going beyond my boundaries and stepping out of my comfort zone. I am still challenged when I face new adventures and those old fears creep in; however, I know I have the skills to be competent in the outdoors, so I just push forward challenging myself at every chance I get.
We’ve come a long way from where we were thirty years ago. I hope that if you’re thinking of getting into hunting and fishing or even just nature, that you’ll not put it off for another day. Don’t expect it to be perfect when you do venture out. Just take each time as a new and learning experience. I’m so thankful for who we’ve become both as people and as a couple. I can’t imagine life any other way.
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 the December 2018 issue of Boot Life Magazine. To see full photos, you can subscribe to Boot Life Magazine for only $24.95 a year!
As I listened to the radio, I heard Olympic champion, Scott Hamilton describe how incredibly hard it was for him to realize that in all the times he failed, he was learning and taking in information eventually to be successful. “Everything that I’ve ever been able to accomplish in skating and in life has come out of adversity and perseverance.”
And this pretty much is how I feel about bear hunting. Bear hunting isn’t as simple as it’s made out to be by the anti-hunting establishment. My husband John, and I love to bear hunt, and we do it all ourselves. Bear hunting on your own requires a lot of preparation and perseverance, and just as with any kind of hunting, it takes a little luck. We’ve been at this bear hunting for some time now, but I only started bear hunting four years ago. It’s quickly become my favorite season. The anticipation that builds with a month of baiting prior to the actual hunt, followed by hours upon hours sitting and waiting for a bear to show up makes for exciting adventures. Every year that we hunt, we encounter new obstacles, and each year we learn more and more on how to be successful, but no year is a guarantee.
Every year, the different weather patterns and natural food conditions directly affect how bears behave. Beechnuts were abundant in 2017, and literally the day the wind blew and the nuts fell, the bears stopped coming to the bait…well, except for the sow and cubs, which I wouldn’t shoot. They continued to visit the bait and I’d watch them for a bit in hopes someone else would show up.
This year, there were few natural berries or beechnuts, and the land that we hunt on has almost no oaks or apple trees, so come July, the bears were hungry to put on some extra fat before they den up for the winter. This makes for a prime baiting season, but these type of conditions can also be a problem for bear hunters since bears will den early if there isn’t enough food, i.e., the right kind of food.
We started off our season by securing three barrels of bait, which would give us enough bait for three sites. Given a few choices, we opted for the donuts over the trail mix and granola. We also has some really yummy frosting, but we didn’t get as many flavor choices as the previous year and had only one peanut butter bucket.
MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA
Once the baiting season began, we baited the two established sites we had, plus we baited two new sites further and deeper up the mountain where they would be less chance of any human interference that might keep bears away during daylight hours. These two new sites proved to be key in our consistently having daylight bears on our sites for the first time in several years. More importantly, we had several new bear that we had never seen.
Scrapper was an old bear that had been on my lower bait site for three straight years, but this year he never showed up. Along with one sow and a cub, we had several bruins, young and mature as well as a well-known sow that had no cubs this year. Last year, she had three cubs, but none were with her this season.
After testing out our sites, John opted for the “tunnel bait”, and I took the “top bait”. We continued to bait the established bait that was mine, but discontinued the other one since it had no bear on it.
The first day of bear hunting was a well anticipated day. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t hot and humid as it had been the last two years. Bears move more in cooler weather, so I was optimistic that I’d have a bear this year. I even had a different gun than I had planned to use originally. My son, Tyler scored a moose permit so he bought a new .45-70 rifle. I was so impressed with how easy it was to shoot that I asked him if I could use it. This gun felt like a cannon with a short barrel, so it was easy for me to handle. The only obstacle was that it didn’t have a scope so I had to get used to shooting with an open sited rifle. I’m used to shooting rifles with scopes, so this was new to me.
I strategically drove my four-wheeler most of the way to my stand, but left it about 100 yards away at the bottom of the mountain. I hiked up to my tower stand and took my seat. The sun was hot on my back. I had my new Ozonics running above my head, and I also had a jelly donut scent stick burning. Behind me I could see far off mountains, and the light breeze kept the mosquitoes and bugs at bay. I watched several gray and red squirrels duke it out over who could steal the most bait. As the afternoon closed to an end, and with only about thirty minutes left, I reached in my bag for my prescription glasses. As soon as I looked up, I watched the biggest bear from nowhere, come out of the woods from behind the barrel and step out in front of it. At this second, I had a “Holy Crap” moment. Seeing a bear that size, with his black face and back as tall as my barrel, that close, was not something I had ever seen. I pulled my gun up. The bear looked right up at me as I sat in my tower stand. I took aim making sure the front sight was seated at the top of the back peep site. I let out an exhale and shot. The bear acted as though I had hit it and it bolted into the woods.
I sat there in shock. This bear was huge. I think I heard him go down, but I don’t know. I texted John a few expletives that I had shot a bear. I began to shake, which I never do. I had so much adrenaline running through my body, I didn’t think I’d ever stop shaking.
John came and met me at my stand. By then it was dark. Using flashlights, we went to see where I had shot the bear and to go over the whole scenario again so that we could find it. There was a tiny bit of red blood right where he stood. I knew which direction he ran, and we went that way. There was only a tiny drop now and then. I was afraid he was so fat that he wouldn’t bleed, but that’s why I had used the gun I chose…to make sure it made a big hole. We followed into the thickest woods I had ever gone. I heard the bear huff at one point. He was mad, and obviously not dead. It was just too hard and too unsafe to be tracking a wounded bear at night in those kinds of woods, so we backed out and decided to go back in the morning at daylight.
Morning finally came after a toss and turn night. We spent the night in our camper and I awoke to rain drops coming in the roof vent. How are we going to track a bear in the rain?! I was devastated at the thought we might not find my bear. We searched for four hours following just tiny spots of blood, and we never found him. Later I went back to where I had shot at him in front of the barrel. There in the root of the tree was my bullet and some bear hair. I had only grazed him, just enough to make him mad and guarantee that he wouldn’t return this season. I was sick to my stomach that I had lost best chance yet at getting a bear, and a big bear at that.
When I told my son that I couldn’t believe I shot low, and explained how I lined up everything, it was only then that I learned I wasn’t supposed to put the front site at the top of the peep, but center it in the middle. A hard lesson learned for not using a gun I wasn’t totally familiar with, and this failure will haunt me for a very long time. John also lost a bear the same night; a bear that came in but was just out of bow range. He figured it would be back, but it never came back during daylight.
I didn’t feel totally defeated since I am a licensed Maine trapper and I still had a chance to get a bear. This is the second year I have tried to trap bear with a snare. Last year, with sow and cubs nearby, I ended up not being able to trap because I didn’t want to catch a cub in my bucket snare. This year, there was an emergency law passed that banned bucket traps. This left me with either not trapping or having to learn how to trap on a trail, which is what we did.
The very first time we trapped, we tried setting the snare in front of the barrel, but with so many squirrels running all around the barrel, the chances of them tripping the snare before a bear did was inevitable. Opting for a bear trail setup wasn’t hard because the bear had been using so many of them to come to the bait that deciding which trail to use was the hardest.
We moved cameras so that we could monitor bear activity in case the trail we chose wasn’t working. I had a small bear trip my trap, but with the cable stop, it prevented it from being caught. I moved my snare as to not educate the bear. The second tripping was simply the bear didn’t step perfect. I moved my snare again. This time, I put branches in the way so that the bear wouldn’t have any option but to go where I wanted it to go. I set the trap on a downhill walk right where it had put its paw time and time again. Two days went by and I had not hits. Then it rained, which washed away any of our remaining scent from being there. I think this was key to the bear being caught. Yes, I caught a bear. I caught a bear for over 8 hours! And he was mad! He fought and clawed, and chewed at trees to get free. He eventually got himself tangled around a small maple sapling that I had thought wouldn’t be a problem. And he got free. Bears two. Staci zero. So close but no bear for this girl.
We continued to trap with different bait because we ran out of donuts and although we had several other close calls, we never caught another bear for any length of time. Eventually we had to call it quits because the bear never really liked our bait and instead, went to den.
It took me a long time to be able to talk about missing the first bear, especially when seeing posts on social media with picture after picture of “successful” bear hunts. I was embarrassed that I missed. Then I saw a guide post the number of his clients who missed a bear, and I didn’t feel so bad.
Time will heal the failure, and I’ve learned to look at the positive side. We had a successful bear season. We had the most bear ever come during daylight. I know where I’ll hunt next year, and what to use for bait, and I’ll trap a bear next year making sure my catch circle is clear of anything that could help my bear escape.
Next year, I’ll do it all over again because I absolutely love the challenge, the anticipation, the thrill and the rush of bear hunting. But the one thing I have to keep telling myself is that it’s not bear shopping, it’s bear hunting, where nothing is a guarantee. Wish us luck!
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.
So one of the great things about having friends that hunt and fish is that you also get to hear about things they’re doing. My friend Erin, has started writing for the the Drury Outdoors…yes, THE Drury Outdoors…and they have a new DeerCast App that you can download for free to your phone. It’s really cool because it helps you see when it’s a great time to hunt as well as some great articles written by Erin. Read more about it.
I know it’s a little late since turkey season started in late April, but I had a lot of fun this year. I was lucky enough to bag two turkeys on two different hunts, and with two completely set of events. So while I watch and wait for bear on my cameras, I’ll recap the turkey season.
Turkey hunting is sort of odd. You watch turkeys right up until opening day fanning, strutting and gobbling in the fields only to often times find they just disappear as soon as you start hunting them. The signs always stick around: the dusting spots, the scat, the scratched up leaves where they’ve been feeding which begin to torment you since turkeys can be finicky and just not gobble no matter how hard you try to get them to answer….in fact they’re a lot like moose. They either gobble instinctively and uncontrollable, and do just as they’re supposed to, or not at all.
This was the case behind the house. Our first morning was a bust. We roosted the turkeys the night before and knew exactly where they would be in the morning. We set up and made our calls. Turkeys were coming out of the trees everywhere, but no toms in sight. The hens never spooked, but they didn’t stick around either. They simply left to join the turkeys gobbling on the other side of the field, and the toms never came our way.
We caught this guy on our game camera that same evening…and we hadn’t gone back for the evening hunt.
So off we went to make our truck run, hoping to spot a few turkeys in the fields where we have permission to hunt.
Sure enough, we spotted one lone strutting turkey making its way across the lush green field. We drove by, parked in the adjoining field and snuck along the tree line making our way closer to the edge of the adjoining field.
John did a call. The turkey answered. We strategically kept trees between us and the bird, and made our way to the big hairy pine standing on the edge of the field. There was about 50 yards to the gully where a line of trees grew and separated the fields. The turkey was on one side, and us on the other. I was afraid the turkey wouldn’t cross the line of trees as they don’t usually like to do that. But luck was in our favor. That turkey was on a dead run after a couple more calls. I readied myself under the bottom tree branch, and waited until the turkey was in range. It crossed the tree line. It strutted. I could hear its feathers ruffling. It dropped his feather and let out its last gobble. I fired and dropped him on the spot. Textbook hunt right there, and I bagged a big fully-mature turkey. We went and tagged the turkey, but the store couldn’t weigh it. I think he was a good 20 pounds but we could only get 19.1 pounds on the deer scale.
So the second hunt was much different. In fact, this hunt wasn’t for me. It was for my friend Erin to get a turkey. I brought my shotgun because I could still shoot a bird, but I had no intentions on shooting a bird before Erin did.
John drove us around hoping to get a bird. We didn’t have any luck first thing in the morning, so we headed on our ride. Erin spotted a turkey and group of hens in a field. After some successful calling and her and I waiting for the turkeys to come our way, we gave up. The turkeys either spotted us or got bored because they simply moved away from us. So back in the truck we went. In our travels we spotted a litter of fox pups. It was really awesome to see. I didn’t have my camera, but Erin has some nice shots of them on her Instagram page.
So we headed to the spot that is known to have turkeys “later in the morning”. We headed up through the field…a long field, with a treeline in the middle. Just as we got to the treeline, John spotted a whole flock of turkeys coming our way. We dove for the ground. Erin and I scooted up to the treeline and John with decoys in hand started calling and dancing the decoys. The turkeys responded immediately. Erin and I had no idea how many turkeys were there, but they were coming fast and furious. One very vocal bird was making his way fast and was on the other side of us in a matter of 30 seconds.
I sat behind Erin telling her to get ready. Instead of the turkey busting through the opening in the treeline, it turned and headed to our right making its way down the treeline. I couldn’t see him, but it felt like I was ducking a Velociraptor that was hunting us. I was afraid to move a muscle because turkeys have incredible eyesight. But he was moving to my right. I didn’t even have my gun in my hand. I whisper to Erin that the turkey is coming to my right. She answers back to have me put my back to her. She is ready for a bird to just step through that opening and doesn’t dare move. I slowly put my back to her. I pull my knees up and pull my gun to my side.
In a split second, that tom turkey decided to fly through the trees and landed about 15 yards in front of me. He gobbled. I slowly raised my gun and POW! I dropped the turkey.
John jumped up and yelled, “What to heck did you just do?! Erin’s supposed to shoot the turkey!” Erin high fives me.
In all the commotion, we didn’t realize that there were about twenty more turkeys that HADN’T come over the treeline yet…and then we watched them all run away. Erin’s chance at a bird that day ended as quick as it began. And John now calls me the Turkey Hog.
My turkey never moved a muscle until we went to picked it up. It managed to spur John and then a bunch of its tail feathers fell out even though I never touched them…weirdest thing ever!
I felt bad I had shot, but Erin was such a sport and congratulated me on my bird. She’s a lot of fun to hunt with, but unless I can actually help her get some game, she may not want to hunt with me again…and John says my success rate as a guide is dwindling…so Erin, I owe you! I promise the next bird is yours.
And you’re welcome to join me bear hunting over bait…but I get to shoot first…lol.
I know that sounds confusing, but let’s face it; we miss a whole lot of stuff driving too fast. I can’t tell you how many people drive right by or into wildlife because they’re so intent on getting where they’re going that they don’t take the time to slow down and really see what’s around them.
When my children were younger, many of our Friday or Saturday nights were spent cruising the back roads hoping to see some wildlife. “Moose rides” we called them, but we often saw way more than moose. To this day, my kids can recount a certain ride where they saw a bull moose fight, a baby bunny, or where we stopped and caught fish in our travels.
The secret to seeing wildlife is: Number one: knowing where to go. Number two: going at the right time of the year, and number three: going at the right time of day. But really if you want to see wildlife, just take a ride into rural Maine. A slow ride. Grab a friend, lover or family, and get your eyes off your phone and into the fields, the woods, and the roads. I’m not saying you have to go 30 miles per hour the whole time…but 60 won’t do you any good and you might even hit one of the animals you’re trying to spot…so slow down. Be aware of your surroundings, including cars behind you who aren’t out for a wild ride, and be ready to slow to a stop, take a picture, and share the experience and make memories.
In the beginning of the spring, April, we start our rides to go fishing. This time of year, we see a lot of yearling moose who have just been cast off from their mothers who are getting ready to calve. These moose are extremely scared, tend to stay in the road, run up the road, and may even come up to your vehicle as one did for us this spring. The moose always look pretty scraggly, but it’s just the shedding of their winter coats.
Rabbits getting some nutrients from the road
Big bull moose
Eaglet sitting on a branch
Turtle tracks. We tried to catch the female laying eggs but she retreated too fast.
Woodcock and chicks right at dusk
Wood turtle on dirt road
We also see a lot of rabbits. One of the games we play with the kids is that everyone gets to guess how many moose and rabbits we’ll see. The winner only gets bragging rights, but it gets the kids involved with looking to spot animals. We’ve seen woodcock with chicks, fox with kits, grouse alone, and with chicks, deer with fawn, moose with calves, bucks, coyotes, snakes, bear, turtles, turkey, rabbits, and sometimes we even spot mushrooms..all from the seat of our truck.
Rabbits getting some nutrients from the road
Woodcock and chicks right at dusk
Eaglet sitting on a branch
Where to go: For moose, we go north/northwest of Norridgewock…areas include Bingham, Athens, road to Greenville, Rangeley and US Route 16, Oquossoc, Kingfield, and north of Lexington on the Long Falls Dam Road. For deer, just take a drive. They’re literally everywhere from the interstate, to farm fields, to within the city limits. Some of the biggest deer in velvet that I’ve ever seen have been in Augusta.
When to go: early spring to see turkeys gobbling in farm fields, deer getting their first taste of grass, pregnant cow moose, yearling moose, laying turtles in the gravel roadside, and if you’re lucky enough, a bear with cubs. Mid-spring delivers for moose with calves, moose and deer in general, rabbits with babies, grouse with chicks, birds of all sorts including hawks and owls and even sand hill cranes. Fall is great to see moose in the rut, and partridge to shoot in October. Most of the time when we hunt for partridge, we’re riding roads looking on berms to spot roosting birds…use this time to start early and get to know where you see them for the fall bird season.
We always plan our rides so that we arrive at our destination around dusk. You should plan to drive slower than normal and keep an eye out. This is the time many animals come out to eat, hunt, or travel. We bring a spotlight to help spot animals. We never have any kind of hunting equipment in the car either, because it would look bad to a game warden or police officer. You can use lights except from September 1 to December 15, when “it is unlawful to use artificial lights from 1/2 hour after sunset until 1/2 hour before sunrise to illuminate, jack, locate, attempt to locate or show up wild animals or wild birds except raccoons which may be hunted at night with electric flashlights during the open season (IFW).”
So no matter when you head out, you’re apt to see something. Just slow down and watch the sides of the roads, the trees, the skies, and take it all in. There’s always something out there to enjoy, to share, and to learn about. You won’t forget it, and neither will the kids.
PS Don’t forget your camera. Many of these are taken with my phone camera so the resolution isn’t as good as it could be.