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.
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.
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.
This whole grand slam was getting me nervous. As much as I love to hunt, I was worried I’d come up empty handed if I had only to rely on getting a buck. You think that the fact I hadn’t put meat in the freezer for two years would be incentive enough, but this basically “once in a lifetime chance”grand slam was compelling me to take new chances. Let’s face it; where I hunt there aren’t a lot of big bucks so I decided to stick to it for longer. Having a doe in the freezer is far better than waiting for a chance buck.
After missing the doe during my first bow hunt and then losing my arrow, I made my trip to the local hardware/sporting goods store and stocked up on arrows and Muzzy broad head tips. I really like these tips because they feel manageable on my shorter arrows.
I only had a week left to hunt before archery season would end, so on a nice afternoon, I rearranged my work day and got out an hour early. I flew home and got my gear to go hunting. My youngest son was talking my ear off when I finally said, “I have to go. I’m running late and I only have an hour to hunt.” He wasn’t thrilled that I was off hunting again, but I promised I’d talk with him when I got home.
I drove to my spot, parked my car as before, and schlepped all my gear up the hill. I thought I’d die gasping for air before I got there. I don’t usually have to hurry, but I wanted to get settled before the deer started coming out. I sprayed some doe pee on a leaf above me and on some as I came in to cover my scent. I sat at my rock and waited. I gave a couple doe bleats to start off the night.
It was windy so listening was a little discouraging. I took out my buck grunt and gave a couple grunts with it. I stood for a few minutes when my knee started hurting. I gave a couple more grunts and sat down. No sooner did I sit when my left eye started paining. These dang prescription glasses are annoying, but without them, I can’t see thirty feet in front of me! I was fumbling with my glasses when I heard a noise. There in directly in front of me about 10 yards away, a deer was coming right out of the woods! And me with no glasses on. I tried to get them on but I somehow made a “clink”; the deer turned broadside and walked away before I could even think of picking up my bow. I made a buck grunt. The deer stopped and stood there. I made another grunt, but messed up the ending when the call slipped out of my lips and fell in my lap. In an instant, the deer’s tail shot up, and she took off.
I made another grunt hoping the deer would come back. Then I heard ch, ch, ch, ch-ch -ch, ch…more deer walking, so I continued to give low, short buck grunts. The noise continued but was getting louder. I was getting annoyed I couldn’t see any deer, so I leaned forward to look farther down the road. There about 40 yards out stood a deer on the left side of the road–broadside! She was definitely too far away to shoot at. So I gave some buck grunts. The deer lifted its head and walked toward me. She moved her head from side to side trying to figure out where Mr. Buck was. I had the buck grunt in my mouth and two hands on my bow. I got ready but didn’t draw. Using the spot I had missed my first deer as a distance gauge, I waited until she was close enough to shoot. She continued coming closer. It was getting dark. I could see her well, but she wasn’t broadside; more like barely broadside, but I had a target.
I drew my bow, taking time to aim through my peep site. She stood looking around. I released my bow and watched as the lighted arrow hit its mark. A fast, solid shot and a definite hit to the vitals. The doe turned and bolted with the arrow lighting the way.
I sat there in disbelief that I had finally gotten a deer with my bow. I couldn’t wait to tell the guys. I called John. No answer; he was still hunting expanded. I called my oldest son, Zack. No answer. So I called my youngest son, Tyler and asked him to bring me my bright flashlight. I took all my gear and headed to the car to put it away and meet my son. In the meantime, Zack called me back and within a matter of minutes he was there to help me find my deer. Tyler joined in, and the three of us set out to find the blood trail.
In no time, Tyler found the first spot of blood; a single drop on a leave. It wasn’t long before Zack found the big blood trail and eventually found my deer. By then we had made a small circle and John had joined the group. I thanked the deer and then the guys took on the task of field dressing and dragging the deer out for me. I was very grateful for all their help, and having all my boys there made it extra special. They were all congratulating me and I just beamed with pride.
I tagged my deer and brought it home. I had intended to take it to a butcher, but ended up skinning and cutting up my deer, and preparing it for the freezer myself–a first. You truly appreciate your food when you know how much work goes into it, especially when you’re allergic to deer hair. Thankfully I had long rubber gloves to work with, and managed to keep my hands out of my eyes. My family is especially grateful for the meat we have in our freezer, and that in itself makes me a very proud hunter.
I can’t wait to send in all my information for my grand slam. I feel very accomplished but at the same time, I’m missing the morning sunrises and evening sits so much so, I’ve decided to hunt expanded archery in between trying to trap coyotes. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see a buck. Wish me luck!
If you are out in the woods hunting, don’t be afraid to take new path; it just might lead you to a deer. Adventure awaits!
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.
Day one of bear season was uneventful. The winds were gusting, and even though the temps were cooler, no bear showed. I had set since about 2pm until 8 pm. My butt was sore, but I wasn’t discouraged.
Day two was also cool, but with little to no wind. Bears would be moving. Instead of going at 2pm, we were there at 4:30. “Still plenty of time to get in our stand before a bear shows.” John and I decided to “scent up” the bait sites since it was nice and quiet. I took my time walking into the site, not only to walk with the breeze, but also to not become a sweat-fest after all the time I took to de-scent myself. The wind was blowing up the hill so in my mind, when you hunt the wind, you cover your scent downwind. To help me come in undetected, I decided to squirt a little Big Bear Scents Ultra Red Smoky Bacon scent attractant on a tree or fern ever fifty feet or so. Good thing I love bacon!
As I made my way up the trail, I kept a mental note of where the stumps are located in the woods. These stumps are black for some unknown reason, and on more than one occasion they have tricked me into thinking I was seeing a bear. As I approached the top of the trail, I spotted a black spot. I stood there trying to figure out if it was the stump located just behind my bait. About the time I took my gun off my shoulder to get a better look, that stump took off like a bolt of lightening. That “stump” was a small bear!
Now, I have never seen a bear in the wild, let alone while bear hunting. To put it mildly, I was relieved I wasn’t all out terrified by seeing it. In fact, I was excited. “Perhaps it will come back. I really want to get a bear.”
In an effort to not make any more noise and in case there was another bear nearby, I decide against spraying up the bait site and go directly to my blind. It’s more noisy than I like and I don’t have a lot of room. In an effort to keep quiet, I decide to put my jug of spray on the ground between the ladder and tree. “I’m only 40 feet at the most, from my bait, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. And then I won’t knock it out somehow and make noise.”
I text John to let him know I jumped a bear. He said it would be back. In my mind I was sitting pretty. I sat and watched out into the woods. I see what I think is a bear cub. Are you freaking kidding me?! The animal hops like a baby animal. It has a longer tail. Not a cub. Phew! Porcupine? No. Porcupines don’t act like that. Then out of the bushes comes a pine marten. In an instant the squirrels and chipmunks run for cover. He doesn’t stay long, and later I spot it again off in the distance. Thinking back, I’m still not convinced I didn’t see a cub.
At times, the silence is so profound, you wonder if you’re deaf…until you hear something. Around 7:20 pm, the time when bear have been showing up on my site, I hear a noise behind me. Twigs, many twigs, breaking with every step. Very deliberate stepping, very steady. Very big footed and heavy sounding unlike a deer. Definitely a bear.
The bear walked right up behind my stand and stopped right at it. “I CAN HEAR HIM SNIFF MY FREAKING JUG OF SPRAY, BUT I DON’T DARE MOVE TO SEE HIM! I AM SUCH AN IDIOT.” I don’t dare breathe. I don’t dare move, or even swallow or blink my eyes. As fast as he was there, he turned and walked back down the trail. He had smelled my bear spray that I had sprayed on my way in.
I figure my night is over. I get out my phone and text John, “Be careful, bear in trail.” and put my phone away. John won’t let me walk out alone so I sit until he arrives with his hand cannon (aka bear handgun) and retrieves me. I’m pretty proud that I didn’t get scared, and about the time I’m sitting there all smug, when I hear the bear AGAIN. He was coming back, but making a circle. Damn it. It’s now 7:30. He’ll never get to the bait before shooting hours close. I didn’t know if I’d have enough light to see him. I sit still. He came back quicker than I thought he would. He walked to the right of my stand where I had put some cherry flavored unsweetened cool-aid mix on some leaves. “It was meant for the site, but I didn’t want to scare anything off.” He really liked it. I could hear him, but STILL couldn’t see him! I wasn’t moving a muscle. In concentrating on him, I hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten. I figured I only had about five more minutes of shooting time, and then I wouldn’t be able to shoot him.
Then my eyes spotted him. There he was about 10 feet out in front my stand in the underbrush. A big – HUGE – black blob just standing there! I’m thinking, “it’s now or never.” I pull my gun up.
He’s still standing there. There is nothing but silence.
I carefully stick my gun out the window of the blind. If only I didn’t have a this damn blind around me! I never thought I’d hear myself thinking that.
Before I even get the gun to my eye, he bolted. He was gone. I could hear him circling and running around out in front of me in the woods. He was gone. I hope he’s not gone for good. I think he’s the bear that left a big pile of poop for me the night before. For now, he was gone.
Now tell me that baiting is easy…that bear hunting is easy. It’s not. I’m still hoping my “Plan B” will be able to happen. It won’t unless I can find a way to not involve a sow and cubs that managed to be the only thing to come to my bait that night. The weirdest thing is that I had nothing on my camera from the bear I jumped nor the one the bolted in the end, so I’m still unsure which bear I had seen.
I will never forget this night of hunting. It was exciting, thrilling, challenging and in the end, a bit regretful for this things I did, and didn’t do. I try not to stew on the shoulda- woulda-coulda things and just take it as a learning experience. After all, how many people can say they got to experience what I did?
I’ll be back out in the woods tonight, scenting up the site, and not my tree stand…and hoping Mr. Bear (any bear but a sow with cubs) returns.
Baiting for bear requires a lot of steps: filling the bait barrel, putting out caramel, re-dipping the anise oil wick, filling the grease and nougat buckets, scenting up the area with grease…and lastly, setting the camera.
I always start with the camera first to remove the SD card and put a new one in; however I never start the camera until we are done all of our work.
At my site, the bait was all gone. It was filled the most bait we’ve ever put in a barrel. I also had a popcorn wheel that was added bonus, and that too was emptied. I changed out the batteries in my game camera as they only showed 13% life, and I want them to make it through the week. The bear were busy this past week, and I couldn’t wait to see my videos
Off to John’s site. As we approached the site, we scanned for bear and saw the barrel was down. That means we had bear. The videos will tell us how many, how big and most importantly what time the bear were there. As we go to get the SD card, we found the camera was open. At first, I was hoping the bear had been there, but the SD card was never pushed in, and the camera was never activated. With bear season beginning Monday, August 29th, this week was the most important in collecting information for the hunt.
To put it mildly, John was…well you know…PO’d. To make an argument short, he’s now in charge of his own camera.
We didn’t speak to each other until we got back to the truck. We loaded our gear and headed out to find mushrooms. We found an off-road and stopped in the shade to view the one card with videos.
As we moved through the videos, I had at least three different bear on my site. One video showed a shootable bear being chased off the bait by another bear. (See Facebook to see it.) I think I actually heard the bear in the background on the previous video, but he didn’t actually show until dark.
That was only until Tuesday. My camera batteries gave out on Tuesday and there were no more videos to watch. No videos of my popcorn wheel being emptied, no videos of whoever else came in and most importantly when. I do have a bear coming in right at dusk so my hopes are someone will be back on Monday. The sow and cubs hadn’t returned, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t come in later. Guess Monday will be a surprise for all of us. Stay tuned.
We ended our day with some fly fishing therapy on the Dead River. John broke the no-fish-caught streak all the campers were having when he hauled in a nice 15 inch landlocked salmon. What a beauty…Tomorrow nights supper.
PS…My blind is still up and no bear tried to eat a camera this week.