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.
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.
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.
This was originally published in Boot Life Magazine, November 2018 issue. Be sure to subscribe to get these stories sooner.
Getting drawn for the Maine Moose Hunt is considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This year marked the fifth do-it-yourself moose hunt that my family went on, and the first time our youngest son, Tyler, got a permit.
Unlike his father, mother and older brother, Tyler doesn’t eat, sleep and hunt the entire hunting season. Although Tyler loves guns and shooting them, he’s never been much about hunting if it requires sitting for long periods of time or really putting in a lot of time. In fact, Tyler has much more interest in shooting than in hunting. He can tell you almost anything about any gun we own, and he has far more fun seeing how many rounds we can go through in a single afternoon than getting up each morning and sitting in a tree stand.
We have a running joke in the family and how Tyler is known for his one-day hunts. The rest of us will hunt day and night, every day, never missing a single chance to hunt and sometimes end up with nothing at the end of the season. Tyler will go out one time and shoot a deer. So when Tyler was drawn for the moose permit, we should have known that his hunt would be nothing like any moose hunt we had experienced.
The first thing Tyler said when he found out he had been drawn? “I can buy a new gun!” And he did just that. I had used Tyler’s .270 rifle for my moose hunt, but for him, it was a great reason to buy another gun. He went to a local firearms dealer and purchased what he described as the “ultimate moose gun”, a 45-70 rifle with open sites. He bought 300 grain bullets to “break it in”, and then some 400+ grain bullets for the hunt. This gun is known for its ability to shoot through brush when a 30.06 rifle’s bullet might ricochet. I was so impressed by it, I used it for my bear hunt, but that’s another story.
For months, we prepped to make sure we had everything we needed. Learning from previous hunts, I stocked the camper with more food and water than the three of us would ever eat in one week, but the last thing I wanted to do was run out of food.
We packed the truck with all the equipment we would need to get the moose out of the woods. We brought the 125 feet of rope, pulleys, block and tackle, a winch, a chainsaw, the big generator as well as the smaller one, and extra gasoline and propane. This may seem excessive, but after two other hunts in the same zone, we knew what we’d need if we were there the entire week.
Tyler drove his SUV and hauled the trailer for the moose while we hauled our camper. Once packed, we headed out to Ashland, Maine for a zone 5 hunt in the North Maine Woods.
Our trip began on Saturday; the day was a bright, sunny, but was downright cold. The weather was perfect for a good glimpse of Mount Katahdin on our four-hour drive. We arrived at the North Maine Woods gate in good time so that we could find one of the campsites we had picked out on the map. Once settled into our campsite, we had supper then sat around a camp fire and stargazed into the North Maine Woods’ skies.
Sunday was our scouting day. We started out by checking a couple roads next to the campsite as we made our way to where we “knew” we could find moose. We spotted a spike moose hanging out in a stand of trees only two roads down from our campsite. As we would say, it that was a moose we’d shoot on the last day, not the first. However, Tyler’s saying is, “don’t pass up on the first day, what you’d shoot on the last.”
In 2012, our oldest son, Zack, harvested a moose in zone 5, and then in 2016, I got my moose in the same zone. We were thinking that we knew exactly where to look for moose. We had forgotten how much the forests and areas change from year to year, and moose don’t stay in the same places either.
My enormous frying pan
Mom and Tyler
Tyler and Dad
We scouted all day, only taking time out to have breakfast on the trail, and for Tyler to shoot his gun to make sure it was still sighted in after the trip.
By the end of the day, we had drove for hours, and had seen only one moose…right next to camp. By then Tyler was irritable and sick of driving. “Why, he asked, are we driving all over when we know there are moose right next to where we are camping?” He was resolved that the moose we had seen was “good enough” and that was a little hard to swallow for Mom and Dad as we figured Tyler would want something more…not necessarily a trophy, but certainly more than a yearling. His reasoning was that if he got a huge moose, he’d have to pay to have it mounted, and he had nowhere to put it in the house…okay son.
This was that moment when we had to say, this is Tyler’s hunt, not ours and the last thing we wanted was for Tyler to go home with nothing, and be upset that we made him hold out for a trophy. We wanted this to be a hunt that he could look back on and smile and say he had a great time with Mom and Dad. It was a tough moment, but instead of arguing or trying to change his mind, we all piled back in the truck, and decided to scout the roads right near our campsite.
Back on the morning road, we were able to find the young bull that we had seen in the morning. It turned out he was much bigger than we had thought. He had bedded down right where we left him. He was a heavy bodied moose with a small rack, but certainly a shooter. I felt a little better that he wasn’t as small as I had initially thought. We watched him for a while. We drove down a couple more roads with no moose sign. On the way back to the camper, I spotted a huge cow moose just standing off the road. We watched this moose for a good twenty minutes. She kept looking back and made no attempts to run away. Further down the road, we made some moose calls, and spotted yet another cow moose. Again, this moose kept looking back. We decided there had to be a bull moose nearby.
We returned to the camper for a late supper and opted to stay in and watch a Tyler-approved movie since it was so cold out. The furnace ran all night in the camper, but a good night’s rest after a good end to the day meant cool heads in the morning.
Morning greeted us with a heavy frost and Orion in the sky brought a smile to our faces. We had our coffee and checked the legal shooting hours one more time. Good thing…because Mom read October instead of September and we barely made it out of the camper in time.
We drove up the road maybe 100 yards and parked. We got out of the truck and began walking. The light breeze was freezing on my ears, but we couldn’t ask for a better morning. It was cold and clear. We hadn’t walked 50 yards when we spotted a small cow moose on our right in a poplar chopping. A good sign! We made our way down to where we had seen the large cow the previous afternoon.
John made cow calls and raked the cedars with his moose shoulder bone. A few grunts…and I heard what I thought was a moose or deer on the opposite side of the road breaking twigs. It was definitely large in my mind. The guys dismissed what I heard as three partridge, which I couldn’t seem to see. I sprayed my cow urine into the wind, which blew back to where we spotted the young cow. We heard no responses, so we turned and walked quietly back toward the truck. I gave a couple more sprays into the air, and got the look of death from my son as he whispered, ”That’s noisy!” Okay then, I’ll just follow along, I thought, as I felt slightly annoyed.
John and Tyler took the lead. We didn’t walk 50 yards before we were back to where we had seen the cow. And there instead of the cow, stood a bull. A bull looking for love. A bigger bull than the one Tyler was set on settling for…just standing there! A quick look at Dad, and Tyler took aim. The bull began to leave, and Tyler gave a grunt. The bull stopped in its tracks. One shot, then an immediate follow up shot, and the bull laid in the twitch trail. He literally dropped in the trail about 30 yards from the road! In less than ten minutes, Tyler’s hunt was over. I made a point to look at Tyler and tell him it was my cow urine that brought him in. A smile and hug from my son and we were good.
Then the real work began. After field dressing and using a pulley and rope to pull him to the edge of the berm on the side of the road, the guys went back and got Tyler’s SUV with the trailer. We backed the trailer up and repositioned the rope and pulley. Using the pickup, we pulled the moose onto the trailer. It was the fastest hunt and moose load we’d ever done.
The moose weighed in at 630 pounds dressed, which is a good size. We submitted the tooth so in a few months, we’ll get to find out the age of the moose. We’re guessing three years old.
And it got even better. We don’t send our game to the butcher. We usually process together, but Tyler processed the entire moose for the remainder of the week. Our freezers are full and we’re enjoying the rewards of a successful hunt. Tyler’s making a European mount so he’ll be able to hang it in his room.
The best part was that we let Tyler have his hunt, his way, and it turned out okay. My one-hunt son got it done on the first day, and there was nothing more satisfying than seeing the smile on his face. It was once again, a learning moment for us. It may not have been the way we would have done it, but it wasn’t about us, and that’s something we need to remind ourselves more often.
I wrote this article for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s July 2018 newsletter, but this version is a bit longer with more detail.
I love to hunt, and nothing gets me more excited than the anticipation of Maine’s bear hunting season. I’m not sure if it’s the amount of preparation it takes leading up to opening day, or if it’s the actual hunt, but bear hunting has gotten under my skin, and it’s a hunt I highly recommend, if you have never tried it. I was able to harvest my first black bear two years ago, and even though I didn’t get one last year, I still can’t wait to do it all over again this year.
Not everyone has the ability to bait, and even if they do, not everyone owns or has access to land where they can hunt bear. If you don’t have land to hunt bear, then consider hiring a Registered Maine Guide or teaming up with someone who does. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting ready for a bear hunt, and this may even make you opt to hire a Registered Maine Guide when you see how much time and money it requires. It’s work, but work that my husband, John and I love to do together. It’s the challenge of getting everything perfect that makes it so rewarding.
We are fortunate enough to have permission from a landowner to hunt bear on land about an hour and a half away. Thank you again Mr. S! Since neither the hubby nor I are Maine Guides (though it is our dream to become ones some day) our day jobs prevent us from baiting in the morning, which is considered the best time to bait. Over the past couple years, we’ve changed up our baiting patterns so that bear would have less bumping off the bait. We originally baited three times a week, after work. We had our best year ever when we switched to once-a-week baiting on early Sundays. This issue is always debated among hunters…I say just do what you can and what works best for you. I like the fact we can camp all weekend, check bait, and still have enough time to get in some fly fishing before heading home.
Preparation is the key to success in baiting your own bear site. Following is a summary of supplies and items we use to set our own bait sites. First of all, good bait is essential. This winter, we called and made arrangements with our bait guy for four barrels of bait. When we first started out, it was frustrating to try to buy dated sweets since everyone else was trying to do the same thing. We didn’t know where to buy bait. We’d watch for ads or search the internet for bait locally, and would usually find some to buy. I also stock up on flavored marshmallows, cherry gelatin, unsweetened cherry drink mix, and popcorn for my popcorn-wheel barrel. I also buy a jug of honey to use as a honey burn if we decide we need one. Our bait guy can also get us frosting, peanut butter, pie fillings, nougat, marshmallows, trail mix, granola…whatever we decide to use. We avoid chocolate chips since the big controversy over too much chocolate can kill a bear. I don’t think the use of chocolate chips is outlawed in Maine, but it is in New Hampshire.
Bait barrels are a necessity and can be found at local retailers, online or sometimes at yard sales. We have blue plastic ones, but I’ve seen white ones and rust colored ones too, as well as steel barrels. We bought one for $35 from a store, and I know we paid too much. Make sure you have some heavy rope or cable to secure the barrel to the tree. Nothing is worse than finding your barrel missing when you go to check bait. We also use a lot of 4-5 gallon buckets to carry bait. I found square buckets at a local national retailer that used to let you have them for free, but now they charge, but it’s still less than buying new. All you have to do is ask. They also fit better in our four-wheeler basket. We also use 5-galloon buckets for grease and frosting, and these can also go missing if not properly secured to a tree.
Bear scents are a must. I’ve bought locally, ordered online, and stock up when I see them in my travels. At $20 a bottle, it can get expensive. I have my favorites, but there are plenty to choose from, and over the years, we’ve tried them all. We’ve had our best luck with bacon, cherry, anise, blueberry, and caramel. Bear Jelly works great to spread on trees so that the scent last longer. We add our own beaver castor to the jelly for added scent.
Bear love grease. We get fryer grease from a local Chinese restaurant, but any fryer grease will do. You can also buy additives for the grease that creates a sensational teeth tingling sweet-smelling concoction that promises to bring the bear running. I even have a video on my Facebook page with a bear practically bathing in it. I stock up on those water sprayers kids use in the summer. They work great to spray the trees with grease so that the scent will travel.
It wouldn’t be bear hunting without anise oil. We buy a big jar of it and use a Tiki Torch wick to soak up the oil and then hang it from a string high in young sapling that we can bend down, and then release. We re-dip the wick each time we bait.
Game cameras are a must. Whether it’s a photo or a video type is personal preference and like anything, cost can be a factor. It takes a lot more time to review videos, but videos show you behavior you might not otherwise catch in a photo. I recommend at least two on each bait since we’ve been known to blunder more than once and not set the camera correctly. This also eliminates any fighting over whose fault it is that the camera didn’t work. And, in order to see if it’s even worth sitting for hours on opening day, you need to know whether bear are hitting the bait, and if so, what kind. Last year, I was graced with a sow and two cubs, and the year before, a sow with three cubs. I also had boars of all ages coming to my bait. Last year, I heard bear coming into the bait on a dead run, which is unusual. I caught a glimpse of them through the trees as they circled and approached the bait from the far side. I was thinking it was the pair of young boars that had visited the night before. I decided to wait to see “both” bears before taking a shot. No such luck! A sow stepped out, followed by her two cubs. I’m glad I knew they were a possibility and waited to shoot.
Game cameras also let you identify bear year after year. I don’t know if he died or just wasn’t hungry enough to venture my way, but the bear I named Scrapper never showed. He is old and has the scars to show he’s ornery, and he’d been at my bait for three years. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get to see him reappear. Remember to secure your game cameras too. More than once, bear have tried to chew, or pull our cameras off the trees. We use black out infrared cameras too, which has reduced their attempts to attack the camera. Don’t forget to bring extra memory cards (labeled) so you can swap them out quickly.
I still haven’t gotten the nerve to sit in a ground blind. Since bear like to approach my bait site from behind me, I opt for a tall ladder stand. This year, I’ve purchased each of us, a tripod ladder stand that we can position in the ideal spot without having to rely on a tree. I gave up the blind since it prevented me from getting a shot at a huge boar that was under my stand two years ago. I still dream about that night and “if I could do it all over again.” Do what makes you comfortable; being scared wouldn’t be fun.
Another must is the handgun we bring; it’s a bear gun-a 44 magnum Taurus Raging Bull-a two-handed cannon so to speak. I’ve shot it, and it’s about all I can handle. A few years ago, we encountered a bear. After we had set the bait and were walking the area to see about moving one of the bait sites, we were unexpectedly charged by a bear. It growled and charged from the trees, which reminded me of a Jurassic Park episode, but it never showed itself. We ended up yelling and clapping and the bear moved on without incident. Perhaps it’s just for peace of mind, but nonetheless, it’s always with us when we bait.
Lastly, we have two four-wheelers and a trailer. Baiting would be too much for this girl if we had to lug everything a quarter mile into the woods. We register them, load it up with all our supplies and head up the mountain. We’re usually in and out of our site within fifteen minutes. Don’t forget to bring gas…and the key.
One more last thing…don’t forget your license—that’s a big game hunting license, a bear permit, and archery license if you’re using a bow, and trapping license if you opt in to the trapping season. Know the laws and abide by them.
Tree frog in my trail
John and I prep for the bear hunt together, but we hunt separately on our own baits. The only thing left is saving up my vacation time to hunt, and having the nerve to walk into my bait alone. I’m usually jumped by a partridge, frog or a snake the first couple times in, then it’s just a matter of taking my time so that I make no noise on my way in. It gets easier the more I do it, but since we’ve jumped bear at night, hubby likes to walk in and meet me. Guides will do the same if needed.
The best is yet to come…bear arriving on your site while you’re sitting in your stand. I can’t wait to hunt, and I hope you give it a try. It won’t be long, and bear hunting will be under your skin too.
I’m hoping I’ll get to bring my friend, Erin along again this year, and maybe she’ll even get to see a bear. Crossing our fingers that this will not be another banner beechnut year!
P.S. Don’t forget to label your bait site. I make a laminated card and hang it high on the tree. And for the first time, a bear got to the tag this spring and chewed it up. I’ll be making some new ones and hanging them a little higher.
I usually walk in the woods out back of my house, but when it comes to being in the woods “up North” we usually are riding in the truck. This year, we headed into East Carry to check on the pond and see if any trout were rising. The road was exceptionally soft so we decided to park the truck and walk in. The frost was coming out of the ground and we were afraid we’d get stuck and with no cell phone reception, it’s the last thing we needed to happen…and we have a new truck that John doesn’t like to get dirty.
What an amazing day it turned out to be!
We decided to “be quiet” and whisper because we were hoping we’d see a bear. As we walked the road, I spent as much time looking at where I was walking as looking around. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied something brown moving near a blown down spruce. My immediate thought was it’s a rabbit, since we had only seen about 20 of them along the roadside the night before. As I watched, the animal quickly made its get away. I watched it bound away. It’s feet were fat and perfect, and it had a black tail…In my mind, I’m looking at this animal and thinking that’s the biggest freaking rabbit I’ve ever seen! I yell to John, “Did you see that? It was a Goliath rabbit. That thing was huge!” And then it hits me. OMG! That was NO rabbit. It was a bobcat! We got a good laugh and we now call this section of the road Bobcat Alley. Of course, no picture. It happened so suddenly I didn’t get a shot.
We headed down the road. Good thing we didn’t bring the truck. There was a tree across the road, and the road was partially flooded. As we inched ourselves around the tree while trying not to get our feet wet, I looked up just in time to see a huge, and I mean HUGE–coyote, which we now feel must have some wolf in it, come running down the road. It stood there staring at us. It didn’t fear us. It stood as tall as a German Shepard or maybe even taller with a Husky look. He was a big dog–bigger than any coyote I’ve ever seen and was completely white/yellow. He just stood there. I don’t think it had ever seen a human. I tap John on the arm, “Hey! Coyote! in a whisper yell. I didn’t dare move afraid I’d scare him off. John had is handgun on his hip, and slowly took it out of his holster. Using the tree as cover, he took aim. POW! and the dog turned and ran. John had missed the 80 plus yard shot. We followed the tracks. He was a big one. He went up another trail, and then proceeded to scratch and pee all along the road. We followed his tracks until the trail ended. We then turned around and finished walking into the pond. Never before had we ever seen such a large dog. Again, no picture because I didn’t want to move.
I went back to looking for more wildlife. I was able to notice on several occasions the places where birds like to dust. They find mounds of dirt and create bowls in the sand. This process keeps bugs off their feathers.
We also noticed other wildlife and plants: If only they had smell-a-vision…May Flowers are the absolute prettiest smelling flower.
We finally made it into the East Carry. The fish weren’t jumping, but the loons were calling. It was so soothing to see the water. The main picture is East Carry.
If you get a chance to take a walk in the woods, be ready for surprises. You just never know what you’ll run into in the woods.
When I first started hunting, my husband chaperoned me and took me to my treestand in the dark because I was afraid of the woods; that is, I was afraid of what I couldn’t see. I wasn’t used to the sounds of the forest and which animals make what sound. I didn’t grow up spending my time in the woods, so it was all new to me. On more than one occasion I’ve watched other hunters walk by me in my treestand and not even see me. And more than once, I’ve had a hunter whom I don’t know approach me while I was hunting. No matter when it happens, it’s just plain rude, but I’ve never been afraid.
Over the years, I’ve become very comfortable in the woods, and I no longer need the hand-holding I once relied upon; however, being comfortable in the woods isn’t the same thing as being a woman alone in the woods. When I hunt with my rifle, I never worry about being a woman alone in the woods. I’m not the paranoid type, and it’s never been an issue, but I always had my rifle. I hunt in areas that are family lands, or where private land owners give us permission. I pretty much know who’s hunting and when they’re hunting, and a rifle automatically provides me protection. So when I began bow hunting, I didn’t automatically carry a handgun along with my bow. In fact, it never crossed my mind. I went about my hunting business as I always did.
Then came that afternoon, as I was walking down into my stand, I was met by two young men carrying a shotgun in my woods. Men I hadn’t expected. Men I didn’t know. And I didn’t like that since all I had was my bow. This was my first, Oh crap, moment. As they approached me, the only upper hand I had on the situation was that they were hunting in my area, where they didn’t have permission. I overheard one even talking about my family and how we hunt there…so they knew us. I kept reminding myself that I had a phone, but that might not even be an option should I have a confrontation with these guys. I was at a definite disadvantage, but didn’t want to make it obvious.
I remained authoritative but friendly. I asked them where they were hunting because I was hunting there. After a brief awkward conversation, they knew I was annoyed and they were in the wrong, so they tucked their tails and headed back from where they came. At this point I was more annoyed than anything. By the time I got to my stand, I was late by a half an hour, and watched the tail of a deer as it bound off. That night’s hunt was ruined.
A few days later, I decided to try again. I was on a quest to get my royal crown/grand slam and I wasn’t about to let any opportunity to hunt go by. It was perfect weather for bow hunting: cool and almost no wind and the rut was close. So I left work early and headed into the woods. As I neared my stand, I was once again met by one of the two men I had met days earlier. I was more than annoyed, but apprehensive because he had spotted me coming down the trail, and was walking right toward me. This time, he was carrying a rifle, not a shotgun, and I with only my bow. My second, Oh crap, moment. He wasn’t bird hunting either. He acted nervous and tried to make light talk and claimed he was hoping he’d see a coyote…okay. Once again, the situation came into my favor as I had basically caught this guy hunting out of season even thought I couldn’t prove it. This guy had basically been traipsing all over my area where I had planned to hunt. Second hunt ruined.
After this second round of uneasiness, I resolved to the fact that I needed to carry a handgun, if not as protection, then simply as a peace of mind. I learned long ago that one thing a woman should never be is the victim of opportunity. It’s better to feel safe than to be a victim, and if that means taking along a gun, then so be it. And besides, John and I carry a gun while we’re bear baiting, camping, and trapping, so this would be no different, except John wouldn’t be with me.
I’ve had training and I have a concealed carry permit so when I headed into the woods, I brought along my .44 Taurus for the remainder of the season. It’s like a cannon in my hand, but I can shoot it. I’ve since moved to a different handgun, a Taurus P38 ultralight that’s easier to shoot, and also lighter to carry.
It’s seems strange to say that carrying a gun made that much difference, but it did, for me. I particularly liked having it when I hunted expanded archery in the city. Hunting in unfamiliar areas took the edge off worrying about being bothered or confronted by a stranger. I could focus solely on my hunt.
When it came time to hunt again, instead of heading back to the same spot, I found a new one and set up a blind. I’m happy to say that I got my first bow deer and my royal crow quest was complete.
Being a woman hunter in the Maine outdoors is one of the most enjoyable and empowering things I’ve done in my life, and if carrying a handgun while bow hunting is going to make me feel safer while I do the things I love, then I’ll continue to carry. I’ve even taken it along on my adventures with girlfriends, and it’s been well received. Whether I’m bird hunting, fly fishing or bow hunting, I plan to keep making memories and have my handgun with me.
If you’ve wanted to do things but the fear of doing something is because you feel vulnerable, then you might want to consider getting a handgun, training and certification to carry it (even though a concealed carry permit isn’t required…for now).
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.
A couple years ago, I got interested in finding edible wild mushrooms. I never imagined how addictive foraging can be, but the bug bit, and it bit hard, not only for me, but the hubby as well. When we’re in the woods, we spend as much time searching for mushrooms and trying to identify them, as we look for critter sign.
I started out finding the “easy” ones and found them behind my house. Lobster mushrooms were one of the first. Lobster mushrooms are bright orange and ugly. I have slowly been learning different mushrooms, and verifying my finds before ever considering putting anything in my mouth. Lobster mushrooms have a weird texture and although they supposedly have a lobster taste, I didn’t like them.
They tend to be dirty.
We’ve also found loads of Chaga mushroom. Chaga has lots of medicinal properties and makes a wonderful tea after you grind it. It’s more like wood than mushroom, and you can’t saute it and throw it on a burger. However, it’s highly prized and sought after, and I have a load of it. Having a husband who cuts trees all day has proved to be advantageous in finding Chaga.
I’ve also found Reishi, but haven’t tried it. I’ve heard you can cook it on the barbecue, but it’s most often used in tinctures as a medicinal supplement…hence, I recognize it, but I haven’t used it.
Once I starting being able to identify mushrooms, I expanded my search to oysters. Oyster mushrooms vary during different times of the season, but spring oysters are easy to find because of the anise-like smell they have, and they grow distinctly on popular trees. I prefer fall oysters to the taste of spring oysters. Fall oysters seem dryer, and more like the mushrooms bought in the store.
The real addiction came when we found Chanterelle mushrooms. Chanterelles are said to be one of the most tasty wild mushrooms, and I can’t agree more. No matter how they are cooked, they are delicious! They are easy to spot since they are bright yellow in the woods, but their look-a-like Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are extremely poisonous and should not be confused with Chanterelles. There is also a Scaly Vase Chanterelle and False Chanterelles that some mistake as the good one. False chanterelles tend to be more orange-brown and the stems are different and it’s toxic…so it’s very important to make sure you know what you’re picking. Click here for more pictures and more information on chanterelles compared to look-a-likes
Mushroom season is just kicking off. I follow Maine Mushrooms on Facebook and have learned a lot of information from other mushroom foragers. I also have a book on mushroom identification I keep handy.
In particular, this is morel season. Morels are said to be mostly in the southern Maine and the coast, so the last thing I ever expected to find was a morel north of Waterville, Maine. But I did. I scored big! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d find a morel. You have to be almost on top of one to not miss it. They are easy to miss since they blend in so well. It’s not a mushroom you can spot from far away. I was lucky and found one standing all by itself on the side of a logging road. Hubby and I decided to really hunt and we found several more. We went over the same area where we initially found them, and found a few more we had missed the first time!
Morels of all sizes
Cluster of morels I walked by once before seeing them second time around.
Morel (r) next false morel on left…never eat false morel!
Various sizes of morels
Morels have to be cooked. I chose to coat mine in flour and saute them. I only cooked half of them so I could try them just sauteed. The bigger ones had more flavor, and I can say I like them as much as chanterelles! I’m ready to go find more!
Still on my bucket list: Trumpets, Chicken of the Woods, and Hen of the woods, which I’ve never found any of them, and Bolettes, which I’ve found plenty but have yet to feel comfortable enough to eat one.
Foraging for mushrooms is a lot of fun and is a great way to spend time in the woods when you can’t fish or hunt. Hopefully I’ll be back with more tales of my foraging.
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.
Day five started out perfect. It was cold and frosty; what any hunter would consider the perfect morning to hunt. Even better was the I finally spotted Orion, the Hunter constellation in the sky. With the action we had on Thursday, we had high hopes and the pressure to get a moose before the bird hunters arrived on Saturday.
We headed back to where we saw moose number 5. This time there was no moose grunting on the hill, no cow wailing for companionship, but there was a moose grunting in a distance down towards the other road that we scouted the day before. As soon as it was legal shooting hours, we called. No answers, so we wasted no time and decided to go find the grunting moose.
We parked out a further distance and quietly walked in. After about 150 yards of walking, John gave a cow call. Immediately, we had a grunt answer followed by brush breaking and twigs snapping. We slipped off the road and got behind a bush of alders. Another alder bush further out was blocking my view, but also gave great cover for us. I got on John’s right side so I could watch. I could hear the moose, but couldn’t see it. John took a peek. He said, “I can see his antlers. He’s a good one.” So I took up the outer spot again and peeked. There it was, grunting and coming straight down the road! I drew a my gun and waited for him to come into my sights. My first thought was to shoot him in the front of the chest. I’ve shot deer like this and it kills them instantly. Bad part is that it’s a small target even for a moose. I was afraid that if I waited too long, he’d wind us or see us. I lucked out when he stopped and turned his head to the right looking for the cow moose that was calling him. I fired into his neck/shoulder. One shot from my son’s .270 rifle and the bull dropped to the ground! I didn’t shoot again because I thought he die immediately.
I turned to John, and said with great relief, “He’s down.” John grabbed me and gave me a big hug. In a split second, the bull jumped up and took about four large gallops into the woods. In slow motion I could see my moose running way! Damn!! I should have shot it again. There was no blood trail because the of the angle I shot it. We heard it crash and decided to wait a couple minutes. It was only another couple of minutes before we found my moose. It had been a dead moose running. It hadn’t gone far, but it was far enough. It was wedged between two trees. It would more work to get him out of the woods, but it didn’t matter. I had my moose. My family would have a full freezer of meat. I got to have my “real” hunt, and we were able to do it all on our own. The sense of pride I had at the moment is something I won’t soon forget.
Then came the real work to get the moose out of the woods and onto the trailer. We used a winch and battery along with come-a-longs and ropes. We even used the come-a-longs to hold the moose’s legs apart for the field dressing. John insisted on field dressing and I didn’t argue. I was there the entire time helping, but he’s the man when it comes to gutting an animal.
Using snatch blocks and rope we got the moose onto the trailer fairly easy. I made out the transportation tag and we put it on the moose. We then covered it with a tarp to keep it clean from the dust on the road. After making it back to camp, we packed up and headed out to tag the moose and then headed home. My moose weighed in at 750 pounds with a 43.5 inch spread.
Ready to move out.
At the weighing station
My official happy hunter face.
Yes, moose hunting is hard, but it just proved once again, that with hard work, perseverance, and perhaps a little luck, you can accomplish anything. Hunting has shown me time and again, that nothing is impossible.
Ten Things I Learned When I Went Moose Hunting
We saw more bear scat in one day than we saw all season of bear hunting.
Moose hunting is a lot like turkey hunting. Think about.
I’m glad I’m not a big time bird hunter because we barely saw any birds.
The Milky Way is way more enjoyable to further north you go.
Orion was right there the entire time.
The North Maine Woods is a mecca for mushroom foraging.
There are some really nice people and some not so nice people you’ll meet in your travels. Remember the nice ones.
Buy more hunting clothes; you really never have enough, especially on an extended hunt.
I can back up a trailer now…get ready Erin, we’ll be fishing from the boat next year!
I enjoy seeing flowers, butterflies, tree frogs, and birds even when I’m hunting. Don’t forget to take time to stop and notice all the things around you when you hunt.
Thursday morning began as the other days. We parked the truck and trailer and headed out to a new spot. We had found a road with so much sign that we were convinced we’d hear or see a moose. We parked way out off the side and quietly walked in. We stood at the end of the road where it “y’s”. Do we go left or right? Sign everywhere. But not a sound. As daylight broke, we decided we couldn’t keep wasting our time trying to find moose around sign if they weren’t going to answer. Perhaps the moose are coupled already with a cow? We didn’t know, but we knew we weren’t going to find a moose any time soon there. So off we went.
By now we had been down many roads, and walked many miles with no result. We decided to try to find a new spot by heading down a road that had camps on it. Little did we know there were many side roads off the main road, and the area was teaming with signs of moose. We got out of our truck to take a listen. Sure enough! We heard moose grunts and a very vocal moaning cow moose on the hill above us and another grunt off to our right..ooh bull competition in play. Of course, we climbed the hill and tried to get close to the pair. Who’d think there would be a run-off muddy bog on the middle of a mountain? Yup, and we had to get through it. As we moved in the final yards, their calling stopped. We never saw them, so we hiked back down the hill. We didn’t care. We were revitalized. They were calling. This was a game changer!
My theory of having a real moose hunt was once again challenged when moose number 5 showed up. We jumped back in the truck and headed down to the turnaround in the road we were on. At the big opening stood a giant moose. GIANT. A moose with big wide paddled antlers just stood there staring at us as we approached. John said, “There you go. He’s all yours.” I grabbed my gun and ONE bullet (since the gun I was using top loads and takes too much time) and went to get out of the truck. John decided we need to be closer and stepped on the gas. The bull turned on his hind legs and floored it too. I was yelling to stop the truck. John just drove faster. The faster we tried to catch up with him, the faster the moose ran. Then the moose made a sharp right turn and disappeared into the brush. We jumped out of the truck and dove through the six foot tall raspberry bushes right where we saw him disappear. No moose to be seen anywhere. He was gone. We came out of the raspberries smelling like moose urine. That was the only sign we had of him being there.
At this point, I was so mad at John for not stopping that I couldn’t say anything. We didn’t speak much for the better part of the day. I needed my time to pout and to think about things. In the end, we talked it out and from then on, we had a mutually agreeable plan should something like that happen again. He was to stop the f*&%$)*g truck.
That afternoon we tried a new road. A large clear cut on the right with steep hill on the left made up the landscape of the area. No matter which way we hiked, it would be strenuous. Several times John stopped and got out and tried to call making a cow call with his hands. No answers. No moose.
On the fourth stop, John called again. We heard a bull grunt! The moose was on the hill RIGHT behind us, so we jumped down over the bank into burdock bushes to hide. In fact, the moose was almost on a run trying to get to us. It’s incredible to hear such an instinctual reaction. The moose grunted continuously with urgency as it crashed down the hill. John kept calling. I had my gun ready. All the moose had to do is step out from the edge of the woods. I saw black, but I wanted it to be a good shot. I kept saying, come on, step out….and then like slow motion, came the sound of a vehicle. The only vehicle that we had seen or heard since we started on the road. Not only did the vehicle drive by, but it stopped right at our truck, then after a second or two, drove away. Why? To find us? To look for moose? We don’t know, but the moose panicked and took off in the opposite direction. Another moose lost to hunter interference. Apparently those hunters don’t understand hunting etiquette. If you see another hunter, just move along. Moose No. 6 was gone.
Day 2: Cloudy with a smidgen of moose and gunshots
After the incident the night before, I decided the last thing I wanted was a drive-by shooting hunt. I wanted a real hunt, in the woods.We hunted all day but didn’t see a single moose. The morning hunt was set up in an area that had a good wallow, but still no moose were answering back.
During our day scout, we eventually found a road that had evidence of a bull moose fight. For the evening, we set up in the clearing for a still hunt since we found sign and the moose weren’t responding. Maybe by chance the moose would return. The evening sit was pretty non-eventful. A late hatch of mosquitoes wanted us for supper so we ended up leaving early. The warm change in temps really didn’t make hunting easier.
On our way back to camp, two young bull moose ran across the the Island Pond Road in front of the truck. My first reaction was to have John stop the truck.
John asked, “You really want to shoot one of them?”
“Yes”, I said.
I still had 10 minutes to shoot. The moose cut into the woods, but there was a side road about 50 yards away. We drove to the road, and we got out to see if the moose had come out of the woods. No sign of them. We decided to walk down in case they were just out of sight. Half way down the road, a set of headlights in the opposite direction came up over a knoll. In an instant, two doors opened, hunters jumped out and started shooting. “You’re welcome’, I said as we turned around and headed back to our truck. Then a single loud echoing shot rang out..and then came the whizzing of a bullet right between us! Holy shit!We have hunter orange on! We yelled and ran to our truck. I was more mad than scared. I just don’t understand how that can happen. I sure hope they each had a permit since I’m pretty sure they must have hit both moose.
That made three moose we had seen. Since there is no cell service at camp, we traveled another 30 minutes to the top of a hill with reception to call the kids and let them know how we were doing. Not getting one of those moose didn’t bother me since it wasn’t the way I truly wanted to get a moose. Impulse had gotten the best of me. I would think twice before doing that again.
We ate pumpkin pie and drank milk for supper then we went to bed. I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to sleep. Luckily, with all the activity, sleep came easy.
Day 3: Rain
We woke to pouring rain, and without much hesitation decided to sleep longer and wait until the rain let up. We woke to showers, drank coffee and headed out in rain gear to find a moose. We hiked the entire day. It was almost muggy, and everything was wet. I sweat under my rain gear, but was comfortable. We hiked hills, valleys and bogs ALL DAY. We found tons of sign, but no matter what we did, we could not get anything to answer to the calls. We tried all our spots and decided to cross off the ones that weren’t as good as others. No since wasting our time if the site wasn’t showing new activity.
We even went back to the road where the two moose were and could find no sign of a gut pile, so who knows what the shooters did. Did they take them? Did they leave them? Could they really have been that bad of a shot that none of the six-eight shots fired even hit one moose?
We ended up still sitting where I had seen the the big moose on Sunday. There was still fresh sign, but there was absolutely no grunting taking place. We had seen at least a dozen wallows and plenty of antler destroyed trees. Where were the moose?! We didn’t know if they were all paired up already and we had missed the rut, or if the rut just hadn’t begun.
Day 3 ended with a big moose crossing the road in front of us as we headed back to camp. It was already well after legal shooting hours so all we could do was watch it go off into the woods. That made 4 moose we had seen on the Island Pond Road. I began to be worried my hunt would only be successful by a chance sighting at best. Perhaps I’d have to settle for a drive-by hunt.
A good dose of Tylenol and Aleve, and bedtime couldn’t come soon enough. We had snacked all day on cheese and crackers and candy bars, so we drank water for supper, skipped the fire and went to bed.
We woke Monday at 3:30 am. I was stoked and ready to go after the giant. After making camp coffee, and getting dressed, we headed out. I drove Zack’s truck with the trailer following behind John in his truck. We dropped off Zack’s truck nearer to where we were hunting so that when I got a moose, we wouldn’t have so far to travel to get the trailer. Not long after we got on the road, a young bull moose jumped out in front of John and ran for a considerable distance before finally going into the woods and letting us pass. This was a sign!
An hour later, we parked the truck and headed into the woods before daylight. At shooting time, John began his grunt calls and raking. We could hear a bull raking close by!
Then a logging truck pulled up to the intersection where we parked, and sat there idling which seemed like forever. We couldn’t hear anything. After about ten minutes, the truck finally pulled away.
Silence again. John called and raked again. The moose continued to rake, and was coming our way!
Then came the sound of a loud muffler, followed by a slamming of a truck door and the voices of three people using an electronic cow call. They walked up and down the road just 50 yards from where we sat in the woods trying to “call in a moose”, which ended up scaring our moose away. News flash. You have to actually go into the woods to hunt, or at least at the very least, not argue when you’re trying to call a moose. I tried to be positive and wanted to think they weren’t deliberately trying to ruin our hunt, but it did cross my mind since our truck was parked at the intersection.
We left and found a remote spot and enjoyed a full breakfast of bacon, scrammbled eggs, hash browns and apple cider in the woods. We spent the remainder of the day hiking and scouting, and then setting up for Tuesday’s morning hunt.
When we got back to camp, I decided I had enough of John having to take over so with some guidance from John, I backed the trailer into its spot. We had a nice dinner by campfire, and I got to gaze at the Milky Way for a bit before the clouds rolled in and we headed to bed. There were so many stars that it was almost impossible to make out constellations that I always find in the sky. Finally I found Cassiopeia in the sky and I was content.
We had found our way to the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance, now called the Midcoast Conservancy. I called to let them know I was hunting there, which was a request in the brochure.
I took a Friday off so we could hunt two days this week. I was able to find, using the map, that we could access the bog through various trails. This would cut down on the mountain climbing and possibly may save us some time so there would be less time walking, more time hunting.
Friday: One way to enter was by using the gas pipeline access. Our trusty Gazeteer came in handy to find the trails we needed. We planned to use our four wheeler to drive the trail once we found access. We met some really nice people who offered us park in their yard so we’d have access to the pipeline trail. We used our GPS in walk mode to mark where we parked the ATV and to find our way out. While the walking was easier, the distance was longer. We hiked through trails for miles.
On our way in, I seemed to be watching more where I stepped than in front of me since all I could see was John’s back. Our first encounter with wildlife was as we were approaching the softwood area. There we jumped the biggest, grayest buck we had ever seen. I only got a glimpse of his hind end, and neither of us could get a shot. That deer was on a gallop too far away for any chance. We eventually found our way back to the beaver bog. The day ended pretty quiet. We made our way back to the four wheeler and left that day exhausted.
Saturday arrived with aching legs, but a sense that we were getting the feel for the land and thinking that perhaps we’d see a moose. A breakfast of coffee and Tylenol and I was ready.
This time we used yet another trail to get to our main access point (8). The hike up the side hill was pretty challenging without having sore legs from the day before. Almost to our access spot, John abruptly stopped. He’s whispering…deer, deer, deer. I don’t see a deer. When I finally saw it, it was a high racked six point buck that was just staring at us about 60 yards away. John wanted me to use his shoulder as support to make the shot. I became flustered because I didn’t want to blow his ears out, and about that time, the deer took off. I tried to make the shot as it ran, and I missed. So we went back to moose hunting.
I had discovered on the map that we could cross the Sheepscot River (which is really like a wide brook) further up from the beaver dam that we had been crossing by jumping from boulder to boulder. This way we didn’t have to deal with the wet zone, beaver dam or get wet crossing the water. By crossing the river higher, it also put us in the ideal spot for moose.
Around 1 pm we walked into the thickest wall of pine and fir I had ever been in. I would have easily gotten lost had John not been leading the way. Everything looked the same until we came into a clearing. There, in front of us, was fresh moose droppings and browsed fir tips. We found their hideout. As we walked, I spotted the moose, two moose-one bull and one cow. I stopped and pointed and told John, and said, “There they are.” He asked if I wanted to use his gun. No, I said. I drew my gun to shoot. I had the bull in my sights. Then I began to overthink. The moose were quietly bedded down in a willow growth. Willows blocked me from getting a clean shot. Do I shoot? In the time I took to question myself, which was only a matter of seconds, the moose realized we were standing there, jumped up and bolted. Mr. Bull was gone in a flash crashing off through the woods, but the cow made a much smaller circle and ran directly broadside toward us over a knoll. We each shot at the same time and the cow was down. It was now 2 pm. It would be dark in about two hours.
Now the real work began. There was no way we could get the moose out of this area because four-wheelers aren’t permitted on the trails, so we had to pack it out. John began field dressing the moose as I made a trip out of the woods and back to the truck to bring the guns out, call my son for help to pack out the moose, and call the game warden to find out if I really was required to bring out a reproductive part of the moose since I was allowed to shoot either a bull or cow. Yes, was the answer…seriously. So off came the teats since I had no idea where to retrieve an ovary.
I took on the task of lugging out the tenderloin in my back pack. It weighed so much and I was so tired from all the walking that it didn’t take much before I was flat on my face. I caught my pant leg on a stick and down I went. I literally had to walk leaning forward to offset the weight so I could climb the hill. My second trip out was made in the dark by flashlight. The guys used backpack frames to lug out the front and hind quarters that they had packed in meat bags. They too had to make two trips.
John with hind quarter
Zack with front quarter
We loaded up the truck, feeling exhausted but excited at the same time that we were able to harvest a moose for our family. We tagged the moose at the now closed station where I also tagged my first turkey.
My moose hunt was far more physically challenging than I ever imagined. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I’m glad we didn’t give up. It wasn’t the perfect hunt, but it wasn’t the worst. I had missed a nice deer, but if I had gotten that deer, I wouldn’t have had time to hunt for moose, so I guess I’m glad I missed it…sorta…We ended up getting one of only two moose harvested out of the permits allotted in zone 23, and for that, I am extra proud. Best of all, my family got to eat some amazing meat for the next year.
I will always regret my hesitation, and wish that I could have gotten the bull moose that had a beautiful rack on it; however, I feel I am the luckiest girl to be able say I have a chance to do it all over again only this time with much better odds.
By mid-morning we were a bit discouraged. We stopped into the local store for coffee and snacks and ran into an old friend of John’s dad. After some conversation, we told him we were moose hunting. The gentleman knew “exactly where to go to get a moose” and told us where we needed to look. He and his grandson hunt this area for deer, and they often see moose. We were excited again. We thanked him and headed out for what we thought was a climb down a small hill to a bog.
It had recently snowed but then half melted away, which made walking more difficult. The temps had warmed, but it still wasn’t overly warm…unless you’re hiking a few miles. We parked the truck and headed out to scout for moose. There was a small trail at the top of the mountain, but we cut off from the trail and headed straight down over the mountain. We managed to jump two nice doe on our way down. This “small hill” ended up being a monstrosity. It was about a mile and a half downhill before we ever came to the bottom of the hill. There we hit another walking trail but continued straight on through in hopes we’d reach the bog.
Walking downhill was awkward for my ailing knees. On top of that, I was completely over dressed. I had on my big L.L. Bean boots with wool socks, my green Johnson woolen overalls, heat gear turtleneck, hunting jacket and orange hunting vest…and I was carrying my rifle. I was drenched with sweat before we got to the bottom of the mountain.
We crossed a small stream, then a few hundred yards later, we hit a flooded area and then a beaver dam. I prayed the water wouldn’t go over the top of my boots. We managed to get to the beaver dam. We then shuffled our way across the edge of the dam, holding onto the tips of branches. Somehow we managed not to fall in. Once on the other side, we heard some crashing and immediately noticed we had jumped two moose.
I was in a dilemma. I had made it clear that I would absolutely not shoot a moose with a calf no matter how old. This appeared to be a cow and calf, or two cows; we weren’t sure. We decided we might be lucky enough to spot a bull so we decided to track them. We tracked through the bog, twisting, winding, slopping our way through a maze of woods and moss from which I didn’t think we’d ever find our way out. We tracked the moose for almost three hours. Good thing John has “iron boogers” to get us out. We never caught up the the two moose, and as dark closed in on us, we finally gave up and headed back.
By the time we got back to the beaver dam, I was exhausted. I was thirsty beyond thirsty. We hadn’t brought one ounce of water with us. Our short trip turned out to be the whole afternoon. I shimmied my way across the beaver dam and through the wet land. As we came upon the bottom trail we had initially seen, I spotted a brook with crystal clear cold water. Against protests from John, I laid down and took a good healthy swig of spring water. I didn’t know where we were and at the time, I didn’t care. It wasn’t connected to the beaver dam and it tasted lovely. By this time John had thought I had gone insane. Perhaps I had. You probably shouldn’t do that.
I tried to convince John to take the unknown-destination path which looked much more an appealing walk than the mountain he wanted me to climb, but with darkness upon us, the last thing we wanted to do was be lost in the woods. So we hiked back up the mountain, the tall freaking steep mountain. As we began the hike up the mountain, I began peeling off my jacket and hat. I was so hot I could barely stand it. My feet hurt from sliding inside my big boots. My knees really hurt. I was thirsty still. I was sweating. I ended up eating snow as I climbed the mountain. It was absolutely the suckiest moment of hunting I’ve ever experienced. I kept saying over and over in in my mind: Don’t give up! when all I wanted to do was sit down. Luckily my asthma didn’t make the climb worse, but none the less, I was bummed that I hadn’t better prepared for all the walking I had to do and for the physically intensive challenge I had faced.
We finally made it out of the woods by nightfall about half a mile from our truck. I declared I couldn’t take another step. As I sat on a stump feeling defeated and waiting for John to come pick me up with the truck, I found out where we were thanks to a sign and a nifty brochure. We were at the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance (SWLA.org) now called the Midcoast Conservancy, and we had climbed Whitten Mountain. It turns out all those trails do lead to somewhere, and I was going to do some research for the next weekend of hunting. I was going to be more prepared. AND I was never going into the woods without water again.
In Maine, there is a moose hunt. It began back in 1980 and despite being challenged by anti-hunters, the hunt has continued and is probably the most highly sought after lottery drawn hunting permit in Maine.
As luck would have it, I scored a bull moose permit for northern Maine’s zone 5 in September for this year. Never in a million years would I have expected to get a permit since I had just gotten one in 2011. I am extremely grateful for my chance at a trophy moose that will not only feed my family but will be an exciting adventure with the entire family. This luck of the draw has me reminiscing the good and the bad about my 2011 moose hunt.
My husband, John has always applied for a permit in hopes of getting one in a northern zone overrun with moose. Admittedly, I originally applied to increase our chances; I wasn’t a hunter then. After 2002, not only did I apply each year, but with full intentions that I would be the shooter if I was ever drawn.
The lottery has been under a lot of scrutiny over the years. After getting too many complaints to ignore, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made some major changes to the system. One change in particular was that for each year you had put in, you not only had a bonus point, but also from then on, those with more bonus points would have better odds at being picked. They also lengthened the time span between being eligible for a permit from two to three years. With a level playing field and the hopes that we’d finally get picked, the idea of getting a moose permit seemed more in reach.
We both had applied so long that we fell into the “I’ll take anything if my choices weren’t available.” In reality, that really didn’t mean I wanted or expected to get a moose permit in November in the zone with one of the worst success rates in the entire state of Maine. When I applied for the lottery, my zone choices began with the obvious northern ones and worked their way down the map to my home zone with my last choice being the zone next to ours. But really how could I lose with all those choices listed first? A word of advice: if you really don’t want that zone or date, don’t write it down.
In 2011, the day of the moose drawing, my phone started ringing off the hook. I got a moose permit! I was ecstatic with the news! John was my sub-permittee. I repeatedly teased him that I got a moose permit before him. I’d send him text. “I got a moose permit.” or I’d say, “Guess what?” and follow through with “I got a moose permit.” He was a great sport, and I just tried my best to make sure we were prepared to make it the best hunt we could.
It didn’t take long before anxiety soon set in when I realized it was a November hunt for a bull or cow in Zone 23. In a preparation of the season, I had to do my homework. Zone 23 had the least success rate of any zone. It was disappointing to not get a “good” zone but with only 20 permits, there would also be less competition. The good news is that Zone 23 is known for its deer herd, and I could shoot any moose. The bad news is that everyone would want their areas for their own deer hunting, and calling in a moose wasn’t really going to work in November. I had no idea what lay before us, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task.
I even paid the fee and entered the official moose swap website. I couldn’t even get people who live in 23 who had a permit for my home zone of 16 to swap with me. It was a waste of money and soon reality set in. If I wanted to get a moose, we were going to have to work for it. We didn’t want to rely on a Maine guide. John has been my guide all along. We’ve self-guided all of our hunts, and we didn’t want it any other way.
We talked to everyone and anyone who would give us leads. We used our beloved Maine Gazeteer filled with detailed maps to find boggy areas and on several occasions, we spoke with landowners and biologists. We would follow every lead and a few times this led us to nothing but waste time because there were so many deer hunters that it felt impossible that’s we’d see a moose.
We finally got permission to hunt on a farm that had been gated in Albion. The only person who had a key to the gate was the friend of the landowner, so we’d have to track down this guy down to make sure we could have access. The first day he was sitting on a wood pile, smoking a cigarette and had a rifle across his lap. He was deer hunting…I guess….He was all good to our face, then promptly tried to shut us out the next day. We went back to the landowner and asked him to call the guy…he did. We were all set. We showed up the following day and the gate was open, so we drove in. We hunted the entire day hiking over hills, brooks and clearcuts. On the way out, we found our selves locked IN. Luckily, John knew the road came out into another field so after four-wheeling our pickup through some pretty tough terrain, we made it out. Despite having landowner permission and lots of moose signs, we didn’t go back. This moose hunt wasn’t supposed to be about hassles with landowners’ buddies.