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 wrote this article for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s July 2018 newsletter, but this version is a bit longer with more detail.
I love to hunt, and nothing gets me more excited than the anticipation of Maine’s bear hunting season. I’m not sure if it’s the amount of preparation it takes leading up to opening day, or if it’s the actual hunt, but bear hunting has gotten under my skin, and it’s a hunt I highly recommend, if you have never tried it. I was able to harvest my first black bear two years ago, and even though I didn’t get one last year, I still can’t wait to do it all over again this year.
Not everyone has the ability to bait, and even if they do, not everyone owns or has access to land where they can hunt bear. If you don’t have land to hunt bear, then consider hiring a Registered Maine Guide or teaming up with someone who does. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting ready for a bear hunt, and this may even make you opt to hire a Registered Maine Guide when you see how much time and money it requires. It’s work, but work that my husband, John and I love to do together. It’s the challenge of getting everything perfect that makes it so rewarding.
We are fortunate enough to have permission from a landowner to hunt bear on land about an hour and a half away. Thank you again Mr. S! Since neither the hubby nor I are Maine Guides (though it is our dream to become ones some day) our day jobs prevent us from baiting in the morning, which is considered the best time to bait. Over the past couple years, we’ve changed up our baiting patterns so that bear would have less bumping off the bait. We originally baited three times a week, after work. We had our best year ever when we switched to once-a-week baiting on early Sundays. This issue is always debated among hunters…I say just do what you can and what works best for you. I like the fact we can camp all weekend, check bait, and still have enough time to get in some fly fishing before heading home.
Preparation is the key to success in baiting your own bear site. Following is a summary of supplies and items we use to set our own bait sites. First of all, good bait is essential. This winter, we called and made arrangements with our bait guy for four barrels of bait. When we first started out, it was frustrating to try to buy dated sweets since everyone else was trying to do the same thing. We didn’t know where to buy bait. We’d watch for ads or search the internet for bait locally, and would usually find some to buy. I also stock up on flavored marshmallows, cherry gelatin, unsweetened cherry drink mix, and popcorn for my popcorn-wheel barrel. I also buy a jug of honey to use as a honey burn if we decide we need one. Our bait guy can also get us frosting, peanut butter, pie fillings, nougat, marshmallows, trail mix, granola…whatever we decide to use. We avoid chocolate chips since the big controversy over too much chocolate can kill a bear. I don’t think the use of chocolate chips is outlawed in Maine, but it is in New Hampshire.
Bait barrels are a necessity and can be found at local retailers, online or sometimes at yard sales. We have blue plastic ones, but I’ve seen white ones and rust colored ones too, as well as steel barrels. We bought one for $35 from a store, and I know we paid too much. Make sure you have some heavy rope or cable to secure the barrel to the tree. Nothing is worse than finding your barrel missing when you go to check bait. We also use a lot of 4-5 gallon buckets to carry bait. I found square buckets at a local national retailer that used to let you have them for free, but now they charge, but it’s still less than buying new. All you have to do is ask. They also fit better in our four-wheeler basket. We also use 5-galloon buckets for grease and frosting, and these can also go missing if not properly secured to a tree.
Bear scents are a must. I’ve bought locally, ordered online, and stock up when I see them in my travels. At $20 a bottle, it can get expensive. I have my favorites, but there are plenty to choose from, and over the years, we’ve tried them all. We’ve had our best luck with bacon, cherry, anise, blueberry, and caramel. Bear Jelly works great to spread on trees so that the scent last longer. We add our own beaver castor to the jelly for added scent.
Bear love grease. We get fryer grease from a local Chinese restaurant, but any fryer grease will do. You can also buy additives for the grease that creates a sensational teeth tingling sweet-smelling concoction that promises to bring the bear running. I even have a video on my Facebook page with a bear practically bathing in it. I stock up on those water sprayers kids use in the summer. They work great to spray the trees with grease so that the scent will travel.
It wouldn’t be bear hunting without anise oil. We buy a big jar of it and use a Tiki Torch wick to soak up the oil and then hang it from a string high in young sapling that we can bend down, and then release. We re-dip the wick each time we bait.
Game cameras are a must. Whether it’s a photo or a video type is personal preference and like anything, cost can be a factor. It takes a lot more time to review videos, but videos show you behavior you might not otherwise catch in a photo. I recommend at least two on each bait since we’ve been known to blunder more than once and not set the camera correctly. This also eliminates any fighting over whose fault it is that the camera didn’t work. And, in order to see if it’s even worth sitting for hours on opening day, you need to know whether bear are hitting the bait, and if so, what kind. Last year, I was graced with a sow and two cubs, and the year before, a sow with three cubs. I also had boars of all ages coming to my bait. Last year, I heard bear coming into the bait on a dead run, which is unusual. I caught a glimpse of them through the trees as they circled and approached the bait from the far side. I was thinking it was the pair of young boars that had visited the night before. I decided to wait to see “both” bears before taking a shot. No such luck! A sow stepped out, followed by her two cubs. I’m glad I knew they were a possibility and waited to shoot.
Game cameras also let you identify bear year after year. I don’t know if he died or just wasn’t hungry enough to venture my way, but the bear I named Scrapper never showed. He is old and has the scars to show he’s ornery, and he’d been at my bait for three years. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get to see him reappear. Remember to secure your game cameras too. More than once, bear have tried to chew, or pull our cameras off the trees. We use black out infrared cameras too, which has reduced their attempts to attack the camera. Don’t forget to bring extra memory cards (labeled) so you can swap them out quickly.
I still haven’t gotten the nerve to sit in a ground blind. Since bear like to approach my bait site from behind me, I opt for a tall ladder stand. This year, I’ve purchased each of us, a tripod ladder stand that we can position in the ideal spot without having to rely on a tree. I gave up the blind since it prevented me from getting a shot at a huge boar that was under my stand two years ago. I still dream about that night and “if I could do it all over again.” Do what makes you comfortable; being scared wouldn’t be fun.
Another must is the handgun we bring; it’s a bear gun-a 44 magnum Taurus Raging Bull-a two-handed cannon so to speak. I’ve shot it, and it’s about all I can handle. A few years ago, we encountered a bear. After we had set the bait and were walking the area to see about moving one of the bait sites, we were unexpectedly charged by a bear. It growled and charged from the trees, which reminded me of a Jurassic Park episode, but it never showed itself. We ended up yelling and clapping and the bear moved on without incident. Perhaps it’s just for peace of mind, but nonetheless, it’s always with us when we bait.
Lastly, we have two four-wheelers and a trailer. Baiting would be too much for this girl if we had to lug everything a quarter mile into the woods. We register them, load it up with all our supplies and head up the mountain. We’re usually in and out of our site within fifteen minutes. Don’t forget to bring gas…and the key.
One more last thing…don’t forget your license—that’s a big game hunting license, a bear permit, and archery license if you’re using a bow, and trapping license if you opt in to the trapping season. Know the laws and abide by them.
Tree frog in my trail
John and I prep for the bear hunt together, but we hunt separately on our own baits. The only thing left is saving up my vacation time to hunt, and having the nerve to walk into my bait alone. I’m usually jumped by a partridge, frog or a snake the first couple times in, then it’s just a matter of taking my time so that I make no noise on my way in. It gets easier the more I do it, but since we’ve jumped bear at night, hubby likes to walk in and meet me. Guides will do the same if needed.
The best is yet to come…bear arriving on your site while you’re sitting in your stand. I can’t wait to hunt, and I hope you give it a try. It won’t be long, and bear hunting will be under your skin too.
I’m hoping I’ll get to bring my friend, Erin along again this year, and maybe she’ll even get to see a bear. Crossing our fingers that this will not be another banner beechnut year!
P.S. Don’t forget to label your bait site. I make a laminated card and hang it high on the tree. And for the first time, a bear got to the tag this spring and chewed it up. I’ll be making some new ones and hanging them a little higher.
Bear season officially began August 28th, with baiting allowed to start one month prior to the hunt. Before you can ever think about hunting, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into baiting even before the season begins. The main items needed for baiting are bait, scent, and grease…and then comes all the other stuff you need: a good blue or white barrel; an infrared camera that can take bear chewing on it; buckets–square ones are better; old clothes as nice ones don’t last long lugging bait; rope; bait tags; tree stand or blind; license to bear hunt and or trap, and maybe even a beaver carcass if you have one.
In order to manage our bait sites, we have to buy bait, which can be a number of different foods. You want high calorie, high fat, no or low chocolate food that bears will seek during hyperphagia. When natural food is abundant, they don’t eat nearly as much. Last year there were no beechnuts nor acorns where we hunt. It was also a very dry year so berries weren’t nearly as abundant as they should have been. This year, we have a lot of beechnut and acorns, and berries, particularly blueberries, so we probably won’t use as much. Knowing this, we also know that it will be harder to bring them to the bait if they’re not hungry and the weather stays hot.
In years past, we tried to buy day-old goods and put them up in barrels ourselves, but that got to be seemingly impossible and downright unpredictable. Plenty of places have goods available, but they’ll save them for family members or sell them to pig farmers, so you never knew if you’d score or not. It also seemed to be about the time larger outfitters were buying extra from their sources and they began selling bait by the barrel. Buying bait takes the guess work and worry out of not having bait. We use about a barrel of bait for each site for the entire season. This year, we got two barrels of donuts and one barrel of honey oats granola. We also bought cherry pie filling, frosting, and peanut butter for bonus flavors. Just like people, bear may become bored with your offerings so you have to change it up to keep them coming.
Scent is also the most important thing to lure bear to your bait. Your bait has to smell good…really good. Bears sense of smell is extraordinary, but the distance has been untested. Read more about bear behavior >>
The cost of scent is probably the largest expense besides bait. Depending on brand, many scents can be purchased locally, and some you have to buy online. I did both this year, and probably spent $140 just on scent. We had some bear jelly with beaver castor from last year’s supply so we smeared some of it on a tree. Beaver (yes the beaver that make dams and ruin trees) is a treat for bear. Bears can smell it, and even though the jelly, which looks like Vaseline, is a year old, it had all kinds of scent. A must-have is anise oil. We hang it from a small tree out of reach of the bear. I found using a tiki torch wick works great. It soaks up a lot of oil and holds it so that I’m able to hang it and then it slowly drips over time. Nothing is worse than refreshing a bait site only to have a torrential downpour an hour or a day later. This anise wick lasts and lasts through the weather.
Once you have all the bait and scent, a good bait barrel and rope is crucial to that the bear won’t haul it off. I had to get a new barrel this year because the bear nearly ripped the old barrel from the rope and it couldn’t be repaired. My new barrel has a removable top which makes filling the barrel easier. Otherwise, we have to fill the barrel through the front hole which can be time consuming.
And lastly, I have a durable nighttime game camera with infrared flash. Since changing to a camera with infrared, I’ve noticed the bear are much more comfortable but some bears still know there’s a camera and try to chew it off…so durable is key. In the last three years, we’ve been videoing instead of just taking pictures. It’s truly amazing to see how bear behave versus just a still shot picture.
Now that I’m ready for bear baiting season, stay tuned to what shows up.
I absolutely love turkey hunting. It was the first hunt I ever tried, and was the hunt that got me hooked on hunting. Each year, I usually bag my turkey on the first day, so this year, I expected nothing less.
Two weeks before the season started, turkeys showed up in our horse pasture daily. We could sit on the back deck and listen to the gobbles in the woods. A slam of a car door and the bark of a dog would send gobbles throughout the woods.
Logitech bluetooth speaker
One of many turkey calling apps for phones
The Friday before open season, I went down to my closest treestand. I brought along a Bluetooth speaker and hung it in a nearby tree with the volume cranked. The speaker amplified my turkey calls I had downloaded on my phone. I climbed into my treestand and opened up the turkey call application. A push of the “Turkey Cackle 1” and I had an answer. Gobbles nearby on my left.
I played it again. Another response on my right!
Before I knew it, I had three jakes and a hen approaching on my right. The hen was actually chasing after the three jakes to keep up.
They were confused. Where is that hen? The turkeys walked by and once out of sight, I gave another call. They answered, came back and circled around me. The leading jake is almost fully mature, and he began to do his strut dance followed by a gobble. They weren’t alarmed since they continued to scratch and peck the ground as they moved.
As the turkeys circled me, they still didn’t know I was in the treestand. Off to my right a second gobbler also answered my call. I was having a blast!
Finally the two groups of birds found each other, and I no longer mattered. They all headed away from me. Silence. Once they were gone, I climbed out my treestand and went back to the house.
Sunday, the day before the season opened, I headed back to my treestand. I used my same method of calling with the Bluetooth, but got no response. I covered a large amount of ground trying to call in a turkey while also checking my two game cameras. Just when I was about to give up, I got a response on the far end of the woods. They were still in the area! I quickly turned around and walked away.
Opening day and it was pouring. Pouring and my hunting partner was in no mood to venture out into it. By 2 p.m., the rain seemed to stop until we actually stepped out of the house. It was just a few intermittent showers to keep us moving, but listening for gobbles was not easy.
We tried calling. No answers. We made a big circle and got to where I heard turkeys the day before. They weren’t responding to the mouth call John was using, so he took out the slate call and gave a try.
Instantly we had cackling, but no gobbling. We quickly set up the decoys and waited. No more replies, no responses and no gobbling. Did they see us? Did we scare them off? Did they hear us? Perhaps I need to bring my Bluetooth next time…
Obviously they didn’t fall for our attempts to call them in.
We never heard any more turkeys the remainder of the hunt.
Silence. Nothing but silence. Let’s hope a couple days of rest and rain and they’ll come back and be ready for some gobbles. I have more tricks up my sleeve, so I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
Few years back when I went turkey hunting with John and my oldest son, Zack.
On the last day of muzzleloader season, expanded archery would also come to an end. I convinced John to go expanded hunting with me since I was seeing way more deer in the city than he was muzzleloader hunting, and at least in expanded archery, we each had a permit to shoot either a buck or a doe.
Instead of going where we had been going, John decided to take me to a spot he’s hunted for years in Oakland. He scouted it in advance and prepared two separate blinds out of brush for us. The first morning we hunted together, I followed him into the spot and took my place behind my blind…well, after he came back and led me to where it was. I had never been that way and even though he said, “it’s right there,” I went too far left and missed his trail entirely. As I stood in the dark trying to find my way, a figure in the dark walked by me…it was him. The wind was howling and it got cold. I didn’t think the wind was to our advantage, and I was ready to leave when my teeth started chattering. We didn’t see anything, but sign was abundant so I wasn’t too discouraged about coming back.
We may not have seen any deer, but we scored some fall oyster mushrooms, which are probably the best mushrooms we’ve eaten besides our chanterelles. Yum!
The following night, I couldn’t hunt, but John went. He decided to sit further in from our original spot, and although he didn’t see them, he heard two bucks fighting as their antlers clashed just before dark.
So the following weekend, we came in from a different way and took up new spots on the other side of the mountain. That morning before daylight, we hiked that tall, steep mountain. It was so steep and going was slow on the slippery snow. I thought I’d die trying to pace my breath before we got to the top only to sweat as soon as I made it to the top. Thank goodness I have good layers to wick away the moisture!
Eventually we made it into our spot, which was filled with acorns from all the oak trees in the area. The deer had been feeding here, so it would just a matter of timing before we’d see a deer. John had picked out a really nice spot for me right at the tip of a fallen-over hemlock tree. It made great cover right on the ridge of a valley. I could see all over the other side and all around me. Deer sign everywhere! All I had to do was sit still.
It wasn’t long after daylight when I heard a deer. At first I thought the deer was behind me. I realized I was also hearing a squirrel at the same time I was hearing the deer…out in front of me. John was sitting off to my right about 40 yards. I thought sure he’d see this deer. It made its way from the right to left slowly walking down the bank at a diagonal. It went out of sight when it reached the bottom of the valley because a big blown down poplar tree’s root ball on my side of the bank blocked my view. As I waited, I finally saw the right ear of the deer. She was coming right up in front of me at about 20 yards. I drew my bow and held it as I waited for her to step out. With the deer fully in sight, I lined up my peep sight with the knock on my bow. I realized the deer was looking right at me!
I released the arrow, and watched it hit the deer where I thought was just behind the left shoulder. The deer took off. I felt it was a good shot. However, the arrow did not light up when it hit as it did with my first deer. The deer bound to my left, then turned and headed down the hill, and then back up the other side where it stopped right at the top. I could hear the leaves rustling and thought it had gone down, but I couldn’t see clearly where it had gone. I saw more deer off in the distant. The hardest part about bow hunting is trying to capture what’s happening so you can remember everything. It’s much harder when there’s a bow in your hand, and everything happens so fast!
I texted John when he didn’t text me right away. I thought, hadn’t he seen the deer? I thought for sure he saw the whole thing go down.
Me: Schwack! (I was feeling pretty proud about now!)
Me: Didn’t you see the deer?
John: No, did you shoot?
Me: Yes, I hit it.
Me: I think anyways. (beginning to second guess my shot)
I could hear John coming my way, and at the same time, I saw the deer off in the distant coming our way. I couldn’t get John’s attention before the deer realized he was there and bound away. He was pretty disappointed he hadn’t seen the other deer, but there was a large tree that blocked the deer from his view. He had heard it but couldn’t see it. I chuckled when he said he couldn’t believe that I had once again taken a shot at a deer. After all, this was only my first season of bow hunting, and this shot made three deer I had taken a shot at. Apparently it’s not normally like this?
We talked about where the deer was standing, where the deer was shot, which way the deer went…and all before we even took a step away from my tree. John found the spot where I had hit the deer and where it ran. He found the spot where the arrow was broken off and laying on the ground in a bunch of spattered blood. The arrow had a lot of fat on the front of the arrow. There was no sign of a gut shot, so where was this deer?!
We followed blood sign, first tiny specks, then a whole bunch down over the valley and back up over the other side. Then the blood and trail seemed to disappear. No blood anywhere. Not even a speck. Are you kidding me?! I felt sick. We spent almost an hour trying to find where the trail went cold. We eventually found where the deer had ran and eventually we found a minute, tiny speck every once in a while that would keep us moving.
We really thought eventually this deer would lie down and bleed. Our only explanation was that either the arrow passed through the deer and the fletching end of the arrow was still in the deer and possibly plugging the wound, or I hit lower than I thought, and had only caused a superficial wound to the deer. But we made every effort to keep tracking as long as we could. I didn’t want to feed the coyotes.
After about two hours and quite a distance, we followed the deer’s tracks out into a road. On the other side, we spotted between 8 and 10 deer all in a group with one very big deer chasing around…a buck! John had left his bow back at my tree. I gave him my bow to take a shot. I hid behind a tree and gave a bleat on the doe call. The buck started running our way. Just as John drew, a doe on our right busted us, and every one of those deer turned and scattered in every direction.
Now we were discouraged. There was no way to tell which way the deer I had wounded ran if it wasn’t bleeding. We spent a while longer and I finally resolved that we wouldn’t find the deer. I was very disappointed. I never, ever thought I’d lose a deer. I really thought it was a good shot. What would people think? I pride myself on being a good shot and making a quick, clean kill. I know hunters who use both rifle and bow and have lost deer. I understand that it can happen. Nothing is a given, but it still feels awful. So I’ve decided that if I have anything to do with it, this will be my last lost deer.
I’m not going to get stuck in the woulda-shoulda-coulda trap. What I will do is practice. Practice more. Practice until I shoot that spot the size of a quarter. I’ve always hit, but never that tight of a grouping…but next season I will. Next season, there will be no question. I will learn to be more patient, not rush a shot, and have more faith in myself. I will use this failure to learn from, and not stop me from doing what I love to do. I will not let the possibility of failure stop me. I will make sure that I am prepared so that my possibility of failure is minimal. It still won’t be a given for success, but I can make sure that I’ve done everything I can do to make it is as failure-proof as it can be.
When you head out into the woods, don’t let the possibility of failure stop you from trying new things. Don’t let previous failures stop you from trying again.
Remember: There’s an adventure that awaits. Be prepared and your chances of success will follow.
In Maine, muzzleloader season commences immediately after the regular firearm season ends. This gives a hunter two more weeks of hunting with less pressure since fewer hunters own muzzleloaders or take advantage of this season. The first muzzleloader we owned was one we bought for my oldest son to use; however, I ended up using it. I am proud to say I was the first one to shoot a deer with it and I’ve used it several times. Since then we’ve gotten a second muzzleloader, but I have yet to shoot anything with it because I either tagged out before muzzleloader season, or didn’t get a deer at all.
This is my story about a muzzleloader hunt and the gun I used, a CVA .50 caliber rifle. It’s the new kind of muzzleloader, which at first some hunters mocked because it’s so easy to use. Unlike Laramy “Sasquatch” Miller, the mountain guy who pours the black powder into his gun and loads a ball inside a wad of cotton, we drop three gunpowder pellets called charges down the barrel. Then using the long rod, we press the sabot and bullet down into the barrel. The gun isn’t considered loaded until we place the primer, also called the cap, into place with a special tool. Our particular model takes a .209 cap, which is simply the size of the cap. The difference between rifle and muzzleloader hunting is that you only get one shot with a muzzleloader and then have to reload it in the field.
Our first muzzleloader was harder to use that our current one. It was almost impossible to get a primer into the gun without the special tool. Luckily, our new gun has a barrel that breaks open. Another issue with the first gun is the bolt was forever coming unlatched and the bolt would open. On more than one occasion, I’d lose the bolt right out of the gun, and onto the ground on my way into the stand. I finally figured out I needed to carry it on my right shoulder so the bolt handle wouldn’t catch on my jacket and get flipped open.
One year I hadn’t gotten my deer yet, so I bought my muzzleloader permit and planned to hunt. I also had an any-deer permit so the last thing I wanted was for that to go to waste. I hadn’t seen a deer all season. All I needed to do was see a deer to shoot….just one.
Overnight, we were graced with a huge dumping of snow, which was still falling when we headed out. The snow was soft and deep and best of all: quiet. John and I headed out back to look for deer sign. Before we even went 100 yards, we found brand new tracks in the snow. John decided to follow the tracks and went left. I was to circle around by the gravel pit right, and see if anything had come my way.
The snow was deep and hiking through it wasn’t easy, but it was incredibly quiet. As I rounded the pit and headed down the trail, I made my way almost to the end of it where it merges with another trail when I heard noise…deer noise. There in front of me at the top of the hill, were four big doe pawing for acorns under the newly fallen snow. I stepped off to the left behind some trees. They hadn’t seen me. I was only 20-30 yards from them. As I readied my gun, I noticed the bolt was slightly open. I pushed the bolt closed, took the safety off, and took aim. As I looked through my scope, I tried to pick a deer that didn’t have another one right behind it. The last thing I needed to do was shoot two does. I decided on the one that gave me a perfect broadside shot.
I pulled the trigger.
NOTHING!! The gun didn’t fire. In my mind, I was screaming NO!
I took the gun and looked it over. I lifted the bolt up and down, but didn’t cycle the bolt open because I didn’t want to make noise or take the chance of my primer falling out. I couldn’t see anything wrong with the gun. I took aim again and pulled the trigger. STILL NOTHING!! My gun wouldn’t fire. I tried again to figure out WHY... Then the deer noticed my movement. I looked up. They were looking at me. One stomped her foot…A few loud blows, and in a second, they all bolted. I was sick with failure and anger over the gun. Why hadn’t it shot?!
Standing there not believing what just happened, I opened and closed the bolt cycling it through the action and actually opening the chamber. The primer was in place.
So I pulled up and took aim at the big stump nearby. BAM! The air filled with smoke. The gun worked that time. F@&k!
John called me. “Did you get one?!” I couldn’t believe I had to tell him no.
Turns out this gun has a safety mechanism in it that prevents the gun from firing if the gun bolt comes open. The only way to cancel it is to fully open and close it. It would have been nice to know this…or better yet, IF I had simply cycled the bolt, I would have had a deer. The manual never mentioned this safety feature either… I still remember this moment like it was yesterday. Some hunts you never forget; I won’t this one. It was a true learning experience for me and to this day, every time I walk the hill where the does stood, it all comes back. I think what frustrated me the most is that I had shot a deer with this same muzzleloader in a previous year, so I couldn’t figure out what was different.
Although putting meat in the freezer is the best feeling, failure is sometimes part of the hunting experience. I try not to dwell on unsuccessful hunts; dwelling makes one start second-guessing one’s abilities, decisions, and whether or not one should be there. Don’t dwell. These are experiences I never would have had if I hadn’t started hunting. I got to see deer, and you can bet that whenever the son takes his gun out, I stick in a reminder to make sure to not let the bolt open.
I avoid the shoulda-woulda-coulda’s of regret. This year’s grand slam proved to me that I know how hunt. Things happen, and not every hunt will be a perfect textbook. Accept it and make changes when necessary, but never ever beat yourself up. That’s why we have next season–to do it all over again.
I’ll be back there next year ready for another great year of hunting. And when muzzleloader season gets here, and if I haven’t gotten my deer yet, I’ll be bringing the “new” muzzleloader out. Whatever type of hunting you do, be sure to get out there and enjoy every minute, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted.