Day 5: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure

I Get My Moose!

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.

img_20160930_085944864_hdrWe 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.

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Imprint in the ground where my moose fell after I shot it.

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.

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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.

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

  1. We saw more bear scat in one day than we saw all season of bear hunting.
  2. Moose hunting is a lot like turkey hunting. Think about.
  3. I’m glad I’m not a big time bird hunter because we barely saw any birds.
  4. The Milky Way is way more enjoyable to further north you go.
  5. Orion was right there the entire time.
  6. The North Maine Woods is a mecca for mushroom foraging.
  7. There are some really nice people and some not so nice people you’ll meet in your travels. Remember the nice ones.
  8. Buy more hunting clothes; you really never have enough, especially on an extended hunt.
  9. I can back up a trailer now…get ready Erin, we’ll be fishing from the boat next year!
  10. 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 4: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure

Day 4: We finally hear a grunt!

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.

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Where moose number 5 disappeared.

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!

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Moose no. 5’s huge track

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.

Tomorrow: I get my moose!

 

 

 

Days 2-3: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure:

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.

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Bull moose fight sign-on both sides of the road and in the middle.

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.

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The kind of roads we drove on most of the week. Thanks to logging, we at least had these!

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.

 

Day 1: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure Begins

Monday, Day 1: Hunter Interference

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!

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One of the many logging trucks we encountered on Day 1 and Day 2.

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.

Tomorrow: Days 2-3

My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure: The Pre-Hunt

moose-permitI was more than a bit shocked when I found out I was drawn for a 2016 moose permit. Even more shocking was that I was drawn for zone 5, one of the most successful moose zones, which also happened to be the same zone in which my son Zack shot his moose in 2012.

Let me be clear and honest. Moose hunting is not glamorous nor romantic. It’s hard work, especially when there’s only two of you. It’s physically and mentally draining. For a hunter and the sub-permittee to scout, hunt, harvest and transport their own moose, it’s work. This is my story about how we hunted. John and I didn’t hire a Maine Guide to do the work for us. Not that we have anything against hiring guides. In fact, we want to be Maine Guides, so we wanted the whole experience of doing it ourselves. If you don’t or can’t do all that I’m writing about, then by all means hire a Maine Guide.

Weeks before we left, we prepped for the hunt. Prepping for a hunt takes time and money. We didn’t want to forget anything, and with the idea that there would only be the two of us to get a moose out of the woods, we had to be able to do it smart. Winches, come-a-longs, pulleys, snatch blocks, tow straps and more ropes filled our truck. Then we had propane, gas, food, water, firewood and clothes.Physically, I was as prepared as I was going to be. Lugging bait and hiking in to our bear sites all season helped get me physically prepared for long walking on my bad knees.

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Six Mile Checkpoint. Photo courtesy of NMW website

We headed up to the North Maine Woods on late Friday afternoon. We went up early so we could scout a couple of days prior to the hunt. Given our bear season schedule, and that it’s a four-hour drive to zone 5, we didn’t get a chance to do any scouting before then.

We arrived at the Mile 6 Checkpoint outside of Ashland at 8:59 pm. We registered by phone and left a check for $204.00 for John and I to camp and hunt for 7 days. We drove down the Jack Mountain Road and found the first nice campsite. The gravel roads were still wet from the day’s rain, and pulling the camper across those roads covered the underside and front of the camper in a cement-like coating. We got set up, had a campfire under the most amazing star-filled skies and went to bed.

On Saturday, we scouted, trying to search out where Zack had shot his moose. I had forgotten the GPS in my car so we had to rely on our faded memories, the Gazetteer, and lots of searching. We finally found the area on day two of the trip. Late Sunday afternoon, we spotted where there had been a moose fight in the road only the night before. We pulled over. We found a brand new wallow that moose make to urinate in and then roll in. Yeah, it sounds gross and stinks worse. But when you’re moose hunting, it’s a find, and apparently it’s an irresistible calling card for a cow moose.

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The moose’s antlers looked like these. Photo from Pinterest

We made our way through the armpit-high raspberries and went into the woods about 50 yards. John gave a rake of the shoulder bone on the trees to simulate a moose scraping its antlers, and gave a moose grunt. No return grunt. Nothing. We waited a couple minutes. Then John tapped me on the shoulder and silently pointed. There in front of us about 50-60 yards away stood the biggest moose I’d ever seen! Well, actually all I could see were its three-foot high and foot-wide paddles of its antlers. Not even the points showed because of the foliage…but he was huge and after I put my eyes back in my head, we turned and scurried away so not to bump him out. I hardly slept Sunday night thinking about that moose. In my mind, we’d be on our way home by Monday afternoon. I’d have a moose, and I’d get a big refund from North Maine Woods. I think how boastful that sounded at the time, but in reality, I was just sure we’d get a moose, this moose, early Monday.

 

 

 

Partridge, Songbirds and Owls, Oh My!

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When I first started hunting, I didn’t seem to see much ‘extra’ wildlife other than the  gray squirrels, chickadees, finches and blue jays. As I became a better hunter, or perhaps because I spent more time in the woods, I have been able to reap the benefits of seeing ‘extra’ wildlife, which is simply those I don’t expect to see and am not hunting for. My first encounter was having a gray squirrel climb the tree I was sitting in and actually come around and almost climb onto me. I don’t freak out easily, but I didn’t want that thing muckling onto my ear or scratching my face in “self-defense”. One good swat and he left, but with plenty to say too. So much for that morning. Trying to be quiet and shoo off an unwanted guest is not easy.

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Partridge under my bear tree stand. (c) S. Warren

I’ve seen more than my share of partridge while deer hunting. The temptation to shoot off the rifle to score some birds has more than once crossed my mind. Sitting during bear season this year, I tried to video with my phone, a clutch of partridge making their way across the forest floor. There were at least four of them parading around my bear bait site…and me trying not to move. They walked right past me and never knew I was there.

I saw my very first cardinal while sitting in a tree stand. I was so excited, I had all I could to hold it in. It was extremely cold that morning. I heard it land on a fir tree behind me. There is fluttered its wings which is what got me to turn my head. It still as vivid in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

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Nuthatch with an attitude. The only bird that can walk down a tree face first because of their unique claws.

Most of the time songbirds are just interesting to watch. They scurry about, doing their thing looking for food. Occasionally they’ll land so close that you think they don’t see you. So when a nuthatch decided to attack me in the bear stand this season, this was the LAST thing I expected it to do. It was persistent (which is supposed to be a virtue) in charging at me from the branch above and wouldn’t stop beeping at me…or whatever you call it…and I really think it was mad. I felt like it had bullied me, but I hadn’t done anything to provoke it. I was just sitting there trying to be quiet! At first I tried to ignore it. When it wouldn’t go away, I tried to video it with my phone, but I only managed to record the vocal attack…wah, wah, wah…as it hopped from branch to branch.

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photo from maine.gov

One of my favorite birds to see are owls. Owls to me are so majestic and no matter when I hear them, it makes me stop and smile. My very first owl that I ever saw was when I was walking out of the woods at dark. A Great Horned owl landed on a bent over birch. It’s wings spanned the path lit by the moon. It reminded me of a Halloween full moon scene. It’s silhouette is still burned in my memory.

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Eastern Screech Owl

Seeing owls in action is when it gets really interesting. Sitting in my tree stand one morning, I watched as a red squirrel chit and chatted its way around the giant spruce in front of me. Out of nowhere and without a sound, an Eastern Screech owl flew in and landed on a branch. He was rust colored, only about eight inches tall. Spotting the red squirrel, the owl began chasing after the squirrel as it moved in spirals around the tree trunk up and down while avoiding capture. The owl hopped from limb to limb and was no match for the squirrel’s speed. The owl eventually gave up and flew away.

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Barred Owl (c) S. Warren

My first bear season, I was visited several times by a Barred Owl. See how well he blends in with the birch tree! The bait area was populated by mice, chipmunks, red squirrels that at times never seemed to shut up. This drew in my Barred Owl who not only looked for his next meal, but also I got to see him get it. He patiently made his way down to lower branches on neighboring trees watching the chipmunks screech at him running back forth instead of running hiding. You’d think they’d be scared and run for cover…but nope and the owl eventually pounced on his meal.

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(c) Erin M.

 

 

I must also mention that my friend Erin and I took a fishing trip and came upon these two Great Horned fledglings this past summer. I’m looking forward to more girl time and teaching my friend how to fly fish next summer.

My game camera gave me an unexpected surprise. I’ve had a lot of different animals on it this season, but never an owl until this. I’m not sure if it’s a squirrel or the flying squirrel that I had on several photos, but it didn’t see the owl coming at all. Nature at work, and that’s the kind of hunter I want to be- delivering a quick death to my prey. Perhaps that’s why I like owls so much.

Bird Hunting in the North Maine Woods – Part II

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Nice campfire for night #2. (c) Staci Warren

We took each road we came to, and one of many came to a dead end, and it’s there where we found the remains of a very fat recently harvested bear, and about forty grouse carcasses. Well no wonder we weren’t seeing any birds–someone shot them all…as for the bear…pure envy that someone got a bear. However, the bear wasn’t field dressed; it was caped. It was left with no hind legs, no head and the front paws cut off at the wrists. This means, they didn’t take the front quarters or the tenderloins or neck meat. We were thinking what a waste to see such a prize not fully utilized. On our way back to camp the following day, we stopped into the locally owned store that is the only tagging station in the area. He was surprised when we told him about the bear. He hadn’t tagged a bear and because it wasn’t field dressed and legs were left, the store owner suspected that the bear was poached. Now I was mad. I was mad because of the bear. I was mad because the birds we saw were probably also poached. We reported our find to the game wardens but never heard whether or not they followed up. And that annoyed me.

It was cold and windy, but sunny…not the greatest for grouse hunting but we were still optimistic. When we FINALLY saw a bird, it was Ty’s turn to take a shot. He missed. Then he became the “Unhappy Hunter”. Loads of candy bars to keep us thinking about the lack of birds could only last for so long. Bird Utopia was looking sort of bleak.

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Ty with his bird. (c) Staci Warren

As luck seemed to be on our side, a few minutes later, we take another road, and Bam!…another bird! The bird is standing in the middle of the road. It’s a big one. My turn…I miss too! Seriously, I never miss!! I am bummed and not liking my new gun, because “I obviously know how to shoot.” A total blow to my ego. We spot another bird down another road. It’s John’s turn…I kid you not. The bird fly away before he can take a shot. In fact two birds take off. Things were not looking good. Things started to look up when Tyler scored on his next turn. Finally we had a bird for the hours of driving. “Unhappy Hunter” is now “Happy Hunter” telling Mom and Dad how to do it. Fun times for us all.

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Fossil of a shell. (c) S. Warren

Back at camp, we shot our guns and built a fire. I discover that my new gun shoots differently than John’s, which I had always used. I took a little time and scored another fossil for my collection. We spend the night having a great meal and conversation and head to bed…by a whopping 8:30. We were exhausted.

Sunday, we headed to Houlton to eat at the famous Grammy’s Country Inn…yummie and huge portions. John and I split a seafood platter…I would have loved to try one of the gigantic Whoopie pies, but I refrained. The amount of Halloween candy consumed on this trip was enough to tell me I had had enough. We did manage to buy some Maine potatoes that were being sold on the side of the road in Monticello. I also got to see the Mars Hill windmills…I don’t know what all the moaning is about; I find them interesting.

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First bird with my new shotgun. (c) S. Warren

Monday, the sun finally came out in full force with no clouds. We could only hunt half a day because of the long ride home. We hit the road early and in no time had two birds in the truck. Everyone had gotten a bird! Hooray!

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Crown coral mushroom (c) S. Warren

After packing up and heading out to leave, I manage to spot a beautiful Crown coral mushroom right next to the road. It’s edible and one of my friend’s favorites. I have yet to convince my family to try any of the mushrooms I’ve found.

So, this was our last trip to Bird Utopia. What we spent in gas and time to drive to get there, and the cost of camping, we could have had the same accommodations for $30 in Greenville…or for $0 at the Big Eddy….or the same amount of money for two nights at Tomhegan Camps. It was a great time, and I’m glad we did it, but time is too precious to be spending it in the truck when you could be hunting for the birds. I guess we didn’t find Bird Utopia, and this just proves that the hunting isn’t always better elsewhere…What does matter is that we had a great time as a family doing what we love, and after all…we all want Happy Hunting.

PS…We saw no bear. I don’t know what I was thinking. I really could have used the space that rifle took up in the truck.