Every year, at the beginning of the fiddlehead season, I see countless people asking, “Is this a fiddlehead?” It seems like a no brainer finding them, but I forget that when I was growing up, my mother would have done anything to know how to find fiddleheads and not have to buy them. Since fiddlehead spots are heavily guarded as sacred, it’s just much easier to find your own spot than to even think of asking someone or possibly contributing to over-harvesting on a popular spot.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you can find fiddleheads even now for next year, and perhaps even easier than when the season starts and definitely with less competition.
Best of all, finding fiddleheads out of season means you’ll be well prepared for next year. Chances are, you will find fiddleheads where you least expect to find them, and they’ll be bigger and less picked-over than the popular picked spots on the river.
Yes, fiddleheads do grow on the river banks, but that’s not the only places they grow. In fact, the biggest fiddleheads I’ve ever found weren’t found on the river, but in the woods, along a road, far away from the river. John and I spend a great deal of time driving logging roads all over Maine. This is the time of year when you can easily spot the ostrich a.k.a. fiddlehead fern.
There are two things you look for when scouting for fiddleheads; fern fronds (the leaves), and spores. Fiddleheads are the beginnings of the ostrich fern, which are easy to spot now that they are in full display. Another distinguishing attribute is the grooved stem of the fern. There are only 12 ferns in Maine, and most of them don’t look anything like the ostrich fern, so once you learn the twelve, it makes it far easier to finding fiddleheads, but really, just learn what the ostrich fern looks like and you won’t have a problem finding fiddleheads.
Fiddlehead ferns have very distinct foliage with very sharp points and slender leaves. Once the fiddlehead season is over, the ferns unravel and fill the roadsides along with other ferns that are often mistaken as fiddleheads. They are taller than most ferns. They look rather majestic and stand upright like ostrich feathers. If the ferns are large and are around three feet tall, then you most likely have found a mature batch with nice sized fiddleheads to found next spring.
So look carefully and look for sharp edged ferns. I’ve included photos so that you can really see the difference. The first picture is fiddlehead fern. The others are not fiddlehead ferns, and when you compare them side by side, it’s easier to tell them apart. Fiddleheads will often grow amongst other ferns. In the picture with John picking fiddleheads, there are other ferns already up and open…and they’re not fiddleheads. Look at the photo of the fiddleheads up close; you will see the leaf structure of the fiddlehead fern before it opens up.
So the next time you get the chance to ride some roads, bring along your Gazeteer and mark locations that you can return to next spring. You won’t find those beautiful ferns, but you will most likely spot the dried spore pods that are left behind. So if you find yourself still not finding fiddleheads by the ferns, then try concentrating on the spore pods. Ostrich fern spore pods are very distinct, and you’ll know for sure you’ve found your spot. Not only are they neat to discover, but they make great decorations in a simple vase.
The other important thing to remember is timing. Since most of our fiddleheads are found north of where we live, we find that our mountain fiddleheads can be as much if not more than two weeks later before they’re ready to harvest, so don’t get discouraged if they’re not readily found the first time you check. Patience and persistence will get you the prize!
One other thing to consider if you are foraging on paper company land is to look for herbicide use nearby. Large clear-cuts will get sprayed yearly, so I like to make sure there aren’t any signs of herbicide use before I pick.
I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.
That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.
When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.
Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.
We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”
The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.
How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.
People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.
Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.
When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.
Even nature knows how to leave no trace.
Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.
The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.
The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.
The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.
A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.
If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.
I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.
We always hear that we need to remove food for bear when it starts to warm up and they start raiding bird feeders. Many people don’t even know what bear like to eat. Bear are omnivores with means they survive by eating plants and animals. Bear don’t eat just honey and they will kill other animals if they want to eat it.
Bear are one of the biggest predators to deer fawn and moose calves born each spring. Bear compete with other predators such as coyote and bobcat, which also kill deer and moose calves.Source
When bear come out of their dens, most often, there isn’t even green grass, let alone abundant berries, nuts, or other goodies to eat, which is what drives them to take advantage of what’s available. That means if they live in your woods, they’ll raid bird feeders, bee hives, chicken coops, grain barrels, and garbage bins, if given the opportunity.
Bear also take advantage of roadkill, called carrion, which is why motorists may get a chance to see bear roadside in the spring. Just think of how much road kill you can see in one trip down the turnpike: deer, ground hog, raccoon, beaver, porcupine, turkey, and fox, just for starters. Bear love beaver, which has been referred to as “bear caviar” or “bear coke”, but I’ve never heard of bear specifically hunting beaver as a source of food. Beaver have some pretty nasty teeth, so most likely, it would be road kill. We actually have used beaver as a scent attractant when we initially set bait for bear hunting. It works.
A bear’s incredible sense of smell will bring them into neighborhoods and populated areas not usually frequented once natural food is available. Since I am fortunate enough to not get bear in my backyard, I have to go looking elsewhere.
In our travels, primarily on paper company owned land, I’m always looking for signs of bear activity. In all the time we’ve spent in the woods and driving roads, we’ve only seen a bear three times, all at dusk, and only glimpses, because once they see you coming, they usually are gone in a flash of black.
I truly love to see the signs of bear in our travels. You don’t need a game camera to find where bear are hanging out. When traveling roads, you can also spot signs. We often get out and inspect what we find. I love to take pictures and talk with the kids about what the bear might have been eating or doing when it was there. This is also a great way to break up a long ride. Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for. So here’s a run down of what to look for:
1. Bear scat, in the road…Yes, bear poop in the road, not necessarily always in the middle. Poop in early spring is usually very black and consists of grass that has just sprouted. This is also a way for boars to mark their territory. Since spring is the beginning of mating season for bear, this is just another calling card.
2. Rocks that have been rolled out of their spots. You can usually spot when a rock has been overturned. I have scoured my files, and despite knowing I’ve taken pictures of rocks, I can’t find one. But trust me…just picture good sized rocks overturned and ants crawling about. To make up for it, here’s more poop pictures.
3. Logs and other debris in the woods and in older wood yards. These are our biggest finds, and we often find bear claw marks on the wood. Bear rely on insects as an important part of their diet throughout the year, but spring is when ants provide them the food they need.
4. We’ll find bear tracks in the dirt if we’re really lucky. Nothing to me is more fun than spotting tracks. Which one is it? Front foot? Back foot? The size of the track compared to your hand is a great photo opportunity. ‘
And finally…claw marks on trees. Some of the trees were visited long ago and the tree has started to grow, while others are freshly carved. Any way I look at these, they’re all wicked cool.
I hope this will give you a chance to find your own bear sign. Get out of that truck and take a look the next time you’re on a dirt road. While chances are you won’t actually see a bear, finding sign is almost as good. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ve been missing. Don’t forget your camera or cell-phone…you just may find your own pile of poop to photograph.
It’s not too often that a hunter gets to harvest a lifetime buck, but when it finally happens, it something you never forget. So, when my husband sent me a text telling me my daughter had shot a big buck, I thought he was joking. Then he told me how my daughter called him, excited and out of breath to tell him her story. It was only then that I realized she had tried to call me too, but I had missed the call. I’ll never forget that night. It was almost like waiting-for-the-arrival-of-a-new-baby excitement!
When I started hunting, I was fortunate to have a built-in babysitter. My oldest daughter, Rebecca, wasn’t a hunter in her teens, but her willingness to watch her little brother allowed me to get out in the woods more than most mothers with small children. Over the years, Rebecca has hunted when she could find the time in between night shifts as a registered nurse, pregnancies, and finding daycare. Since she started hunting, she has only been able to tag one deer, but one thing was certain; her passion for hunting has grown, and with a recent job change to day shifts, she now has weekends to hunt and she takes every chance she can to hunt.
So when my son-in-law, Aaron, got his spike horn buck on opening day, I got excited for my daughter, as this meant, Aaron could watch the kids and she could hunt. Or so I thought.
I hadn’t realized that Aaron and Rebecca were going to hunt together, something I often did with my husband when I first started hunting. Aaron’s sister-in-law, who also hunts, offered to watch the three kids along with her two little ones so that Becky and Aaron could hunt together, and then the couples agreed to take turns watching the kids so that each mother would get a chance to hunt.
The two had found a spot deep in the woods, accessible by their side-by-side UTV, a.k.a. “The buggy” as my grandkids call it, and at least a mile in to where they park. Then there’s a nice long hike to the stream, which is boot high deep, cold and unforgiving, which you have to cross and then hike another quarter mile. Once there, it’s nature at its best. You can’t hear the usual car traffic that comes with most spots I hunt. It’s silent, and the view is awesome from the stand. Aaron’s buck had come in from the left on a well-traveled trail, so they were expecting the same for Rebecca’s hunt.
This day, Rebecca and Aaron got into their spot good and early for the afternoon hunt. They brought buck lure in the can, a doe bleat and a buck grunt. Rebecca climbed the narrow ladder into the tree stand that is hidden by an enormous hemlock, and faces out over a bog and swale grass. They had only put the stand in place that morning; Aaron had hunted from a chair beneath the hemlock the day he got his buck. Aaron would resume his spot at the bottom of the tree and try to stay hidden by the large boulder and hemlock blow down off to his right.
The buck lure was put out–an entire can thanks to those locked triggers and Aaron’s big hands. Fifteen minutes in, Aaron made a doe bleat. Then the wait began. An hour later, Aaron began making buck grunts. Then there was more waiting. Within a matter of minutes, a deer began to make its way toward its challenger, and as Rebecca put it, “sounded like a horse galloping through the woods” from the right. Aaron first spotted the deer and saw its antlers. He kept calling and as it got closer, the buck changed direction and began to circle out of Aaron’s sight and thick growth of birch blocked his view. Rebecca, standing in her perch, which was the last thing she wanted to do, had seen the antlers and realized the size of the deer. With immense pressure to not miss this gigantic deer before them, she readied herself to shoot. As the deer moved out of the thick brush and came into view, Rebecca, as she steadied against the tree, made the shot using the Rossi .243 rifle that her little brother gifted her. She thought it was a good hit when the deer hunched, but then as quick as that, the deer turned and bound away. She kept hoping she had made a deadly shot and not just wounded the deer.
Once on the ground the two couldn’t find any blood. So back into the stand Rebecca went. She guided Aaron to where she had shot the deer and then directed him in the direction of where the deer went. There was great relief to find a bunch of hair and a good amount of blood and tracks.
Aaron put on his tracking hat, and off they went to find that deer. There wasn’t a lot of blood, which triggered the roller coaster of excitement and fear of disappointment. Finally, Aaron spotted the deer bedded down in the swale. As they got closer, Rebecca tried to get another shot, but before she could, the deer jumped up and ran toward the stream. Deciding to follow it instead of backing out, they realized the deer didn’t go far. They approached the deer standing at the stream, but this time, it didn’t move. As they watched, it literally died and fell into the stream where it stood. She had her deer.
They pulled the deer up on shore, and Aaron took the celebratory photos. They were certain this big boy was a two hundred pound deer, and it took all they had between the two of them to float it up the stream to the path they had hiked down. As they got to the bank, Aaron gave one big tug on the deer, and Rebecca lost her balance. Into the stream she went, gun and phone included. Aaron yelled, “What are you doing?” to which Rebecca yelled back, “taking a swim in the stream in November, what do you think I’m doing?!” All laughs aside, Rebecca was drenched, and they still had to gut and drag the deer up the unforgiving path.
After about 200 yards of dragging, and Rebecca being soaking wet cold, Aaron went and got the buggy. Then came the part about getting the deer into the buggy. How they managed is still beyond me. They were relieved and excited to show the kids Mom’s amazing deer.
Rebecca tagged her deer and had it weighed at the local store. The deer weighed in at 193 pounds. She was a little disappointed to be that close, but at the same time, she was so proud that she didn’t miss the buck, or get flustered when she saw it. It was still a buck of a lifetime for her.
Since Aaron’s dad is a taxidermist, they went to see him about mounting the buck, and to make the rounds to show everyone before it went to the butcher. Not believing that the buck didn’t tip the 200 pound mark, her father-in-law weighed it a second time. The buck registered 201 pounds on his scale. Wondering if the local store’s scales were off, Aaron had the butcher, who has a certified scale, weigh the deer a third time, and even after 24 hours, the deer weighed in at 200 pounds. Not only did she provide meat to the family freezer, but Rebecca also got her Big Buck Club buck.
As I shared my daughter’s success, I had several people comment that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Then, I had to laugh when Rebecca replied, “yeah, I’m a lot like my one-hunt wonder brother, Tyler. I go out one time and shoot a big buck.” Okay, so maybe it’s not my tree, but I’m still one proud Mom.
One of the most essential components of bear hunting and baiting, is being able to get the bait to your site. Unless you are somewhere literally fifty feet off the road, you’re going to need to carry bait with a four-wheeler or two, which we heavily rely upon to help us get the job done. We also use our four-wheelers when we hunt. John drives towards his site, then hikes in the last distance. I go the “long way around” to avoid driving by John’s bait site, then hike into mine, so having two working machines is crucial.
We have two four-wheelers: a green Polaris Magnum 500 that’s John’s, and a blue Polaris Magnum 325 that’s mine. Right after the season started, the muffler blew out on the blue one. John and I took the muffler off, and brought it home to weld it up. No sooner had we got it fixed, both machines decided to leak gas. I bought new petcocks for both, and we installed them. Just when we thought we were set, the electric starter on the blue one went on the fritz, which explains why it wouldn’t start that night I was left in the dark. Of course, I had a practically brand new part in my linen closet for over 20 years, that I had just tossed out sometime in the last year, thinking I’d never need it. The first replacement I purchased on Ebay for $31 turned out to not be the right one despite what it said, so then I bought a used one on Ebay for $60, and we were back in business.
This is new, but the red button is supposed to be able to push up to start it. It didn’t.
This part looks the same, but the red button can be pushed up.
Meanwhile, the green machine decided to quit starting all together. We brought it home to work on it, leaving us only one machine to use to get to our sites. We finally decided in order for both of us to hunt, and be quiet, I’d ride in with John to his parking spot, and we’d both walk the rest of the way in to our sites from there.
The walk in was much easier for me than hiking the mountain side, but it was also longer. The leaves had just started to fall, and the weather was hot in the afternoon, cooling to an almost chilled-cold by night fall. I’d pack all my gear into my backpack, hike in to my stand in the thinnest shirt I own, then dress for the late evening chill.
Just in my stand in a short sleeved shirt.
Praying I wouldn’t freeze before nightfall.
As I walked to my stand, it was perfect in every way. The afternoon air was comfortable, with no humidity and not the slightest breeze. The sun was bright and hot on my back. I slowly and silently walked up the road, avoiding all the gravel and staying on grass to keep quiet. As I neared the top of the landing, I heard a distinct and all too familiar sound: a snake slithering through the leaves. I froze looking for it. There it was off to my right, headed away from me, a good two-foot long garter snake. Once I knew I wasn’t going to step on it, I continued on my way trying to make sure to look up more than I spent looking down at where I was stepping. Every few steps, I’d stop and listen. As I went to take another step, I looked down for a second then looked up. At the intersection of the road and the landing , there staring at me in a crouched ready-to-pounce position, sat a huge bobcat. Our eyes met. He picked his head up as if startled and confused. In a second, he turned and pounced away. I certainly was glad he had decided I wasn’t worthy of trying to take down. I couldn’t decide if I was shaken or excited, but I couldn’t wait to tell John about my encounter.
Over the course of the next two weeks, I bought several parts for the green machine, starting with the cheapest and easiest to fix: a fuel filter. Then I worked my way up the chain of possible fixes with a starter, then a fuel pump, an ignition coil, followed by a stater, which eventually fixed it. We topped it off with a new recoil starter and cover assembly because the original cover was cracked. When it finally started, we were psyched, but the machine was literally in a pile of parts and pieces we had to reassemble. I never knew there were so many pieces to a four-wheeler, but now I know what the parts look like and what they do when I hear their names. I hope I’m not reminded too soon.
Hunting over bait stalled. Not a single bear were coming to the bait. It seemed that every day I decided I would sit, there wasn’t a single noise, then on the days I wouldn’t or couldn’t sit because of work, weather or just opting to take a boat ride on the pontoon boat we had just restored, the bear would show up. Sitting at work, my phone went off to let me know I had two bear, the first bear in a long time show up on my bait. That was definitely a hard pill to swallow. Once trapping season was in full swing, we’d have to go in and check the traps each night, which didn’t help with keeping bear coming out just before dark. In fact, they just stopped coming out once we started checking traps.
We eventually got both machines back on the mountain just in time for John to catch his first bear by trapping. Baiting season had ended, and we ended up using just one machine to check and tend our traps. Meanwhile, Mother Nature had provided the bears with more natural food than they could eat, and in return, the bears hadn’t been very good about coming to my bait, and the only action we had seen in several days was on John’s bait site. Two days in a row, we had watched a bear get caught, then get out of the snare by the time we arrived on the mountain. We’d reset the trap every day, but it literally was a waiting game. We made some modifications to our compression spring so that it would close quicker, and we crossed our fingers.
After two nights of not getting home until after midnight, then getting up again for 5:30 a.m., I stopped checking my phone and muted the notifications so I could get some sleep. I didn’t have a lot of hope that we’d actually catch a bear since I lost a bear last year after it had been caught for nine hours.
Then it finally happened. That morning, we got up to go to work, only to see notifications coming in a flurry to my phone from my Spypoint game camera showing that a bear had just been caught around 5 am. We were totally surprised to see it still in the snare when we woke up. With an hour and half drive to the mountain, we kicked it into high gear and got ready to go to the mountain one more time. I emailed work, John called our oldest son, Zack, and by 7:15 am, all three of us were driving up the mountain to get a bear if it hadn’t figured out how to get out yet again. On two four-wheelers, and rifles in hand, we drove up to where John parked to hunt. From there, we walked in so that we wouldn’t agitate the bear any more than necessary.
The bear wasn’t happy and it huffed and snapped its jaws as we approached. It knew we were there. It could smell us. John climbed into his tower stand to get a the best shot at the bear. Zack and I stood and watched through the trees as we waited for John to take the shot. Then it was over. It was a whole new experience for John and I and is something I’ll never forget. It was a lot of work, and it was definitely worth it.
It was a big bear-a dry sow, and the biggest bear John has ever gotten. I was happy for him, but I was hoping I’d still get my chance before the season ended.
Bear season seemed to go on forever, and just when I was ready to throw in the towel, the bear returned, and I trapped my first bear ever. By then, deer season was literally two weeks away, and I hadn’t so much as put out a game camera let alone scouted any place to decide where to hunt.
John and I did some quick scouting, and he and I put up a couple stands on the Saturday before opening day. November 2nd rolled around pretty quickly. I had all my gear freshly washed ad de-scented and hung outside. I have a menagerie of camo clothes: a little of everything from just about everyone for all types of weather. I scored some nice Sitka gear at Marden’s, a local discount store, this past summer so I would at least be warm. I stocked up on buck lure, hand warmers and lip balm. I charged my Ozonics battery and the Tink’s deer escent dispenser, which has become my favorite. I was ready.
I decided to sit in my tower stand on the hill. I hadn’t even been there since last year. Last year was an awful deer season since there were no acorns, so the deer that normally hang out there, had to find food elsewhere. This year was looking much better, so John and I hacked down the chest deep weeds and made our way up the hill with the four-wheeler. Some quick scouting, and a nice rub line convinced me to sit in the tower stand. I wanted to move it, but forgot the keys to the cable lock, and there it stayed.
My first morning was mostly uneventful. I did get to see a bald eagle swoop down in front of me. It had spied something to catch, but I think it spotted me and changed its mind. I saw geese flying overhead, and I heard loons, mice, and chipmunks, but no deer. I sat a few more times in the morning and afternoons with no luck. I even moved and sat on the ground in chair where I thought I would have a better chance at seeing a deer. I finally put out a cell camera, a Spypoint Link, and found out the deer were coming through at midnight. I decided I was done sitting there.
John was also experiencing a lack of deer, so we headed over to “Bill’s” to scout out a spot. Not many, if any hunt Bill’s land so John was pretty psyched. We put up a stand in the exact same spot he shot one last year. The sign was good. The area had lots of scrapes, rubs and acorns…the perfect mix for a buck to show up. I even sat in the stand a couple times, but it felt dead. Not even a squirrel showed up, and with the road so close, it wasn’t an enjoyable sit for me, so back to the drawing board.
Not knowing exactly where I should sit, I decided to sit behind the house on the beaver bog (which no longer has beaver). John and I have had a stand there for years. It’s one of the only homemade ones left that’s still in a tree because it’s built strong and the branches help keep it secure. It requires climbing a ladder, then a couple screw-in steps, to climbing the tree branches and finally a shimmy onto the seat. When I was fat, I couldn’t climb it without going into a full sweat and asthma attack, which is why it ended up with a ladder on the bottom. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen does, as well as a bobcat, along the bog, so I thought that would be my best option.
The only thing about sitting on the bog is that it’s a long walk in and the wind is never in my favor. It’s not somewhere I can sit in the morning since daylight comes barely before I have to leave for work. So the very first Saturday, I made my way in. It had rained so all of the oak leaves were wet and super quiet. I climbed into the stand. I had my gun on my back since there wasn’t a pull-up rope. When I got to the top, I found the pull-up rope had somehow ended up in the tree, so I untangled it and dropped it so that I could use it in the future. I was actually pleased to get into the tree without a lot of noise. After a while I did my buck grunts and then a doe bleat…then the wait began.
As I sat there, I obsessed over how much the branches on trees out in front of me had grown, and how little I could see. I was quite annoyed and wondered if I’d even be able to shoot past the branches to hit a deer, should I be so lucky to see one. The animals around me were in full annoyance mode at daybreak. The mice, squirrels, and chipmunks were seeing who could yap the most, and the birds: blue jays, chickadees, finches, nuthatch, and even a partridge were all flitting and fluttering around me. It was hard to hear and to concentrate on listening for deer sounds.
Then a new sound. Annoyed, I looked to my right. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, off to my right, was a cardinal, flitting in the fir tree. I hadn’t seen a cardinal since last year, on the day I hung my deer in the tree. I got a bit emotional thinking about my mom, the hunter in my family, and wondered if she was giving me some clue. Then I watched it fly down to my left, slightly below me, before I lost sight of it in the brush.
As I sat there staring at the birds, I heard a rustle of grass….shoosh, shoosh, shoosh. I know that sound…a very distinct rustle that had me in panning the grass left and right trying to figure out where to hell that noise was…it was a deer. And then I spotted it…them…two deer on my left moving swiftly in unison. I think that cardinal was trying to tell me something. I saw the side and butt end of one deer as it followed another. I only saw its side for a second before it went behind a row of fir and spruce trees on the other side of the bog. I didn’t even have a chance to raise my gun. I kept thinking, “That has to be a buck“, but I didn’t see antlers. It shouldn’t have mattered since I had a doe tag, but geez, it would be nice to get one big buck in my lifetime. I hadn’t had a doe permit in so long, I was still in buck mode.
As I sat there, I couldn’t believe it. The deer finally emerged from behind the trees, and went up onto the hill on the other side about 150 yards away. It was a buck chasing a doe up and down the hill, in circles, chasing non-stop. This was so cool because it’s the first time I had ever seen it happen. I had only heard stories about it as told by John and my oldest son, Zack. It was also frustrating because I didn’t want to lose my chance to get a shot, but it was so far away and they weren’t standing still. The buck would chase, then stop and eat. The doe would run, stop and eat, then run again. At one point the doe did come down to the edge of the bog near the tall fir tree to the left of the X, closing the distance; however, the buck didn’t follow. When the doe bound back up the hill, he was right behind her.
View from the ground without leaves
View from the tree before leaves dropped
I sat there trying to decide if I should or could take a shot. I’ve never shot at a running deer, and I’ve never shot a deer more than 40 yards away…damn…what to do? So after what felt like forever, when I had enough watching them chase each other, I decided to take a shot. The buck was on the side hill standing broadside and eating acorns. There was a grove of young pine trees lining the lower, far side of the bog. They just tall enough so that they narrowly left an opening for me to have a shot at the deer just above the tops of the trees. I tried to increase my scope magnification from the normal 3 power up to 8, but then I couldn’t find the deer in my scope…gahh…they were running around again. Then the buck stopped. I dropped my power back, took aim and fired. I hoped I hit it, but I doubted it. I was silently cussing at all the branches in my way among other things. The deer had run off as if nothing happened. Now I’m thinking, that was a stupid move because I may have wounded it, or if not, then scared them off from coming back. I think I can say, this was my first, and hopefully last, case of buck fever. I sat until I couldn’t take the cold any more. I got down out of my stand and made my way across the bog to see if I was lucky enough to hit the deer. I certainly didn’t want to wound a deer and not go after it. After about 40 minutes of looking all over the hill, which didn’t seem nearly as big once I was there, I found no sign of blood or hair, but only some running deer tracks. So I headed home, mad at myself that I couldn’t make that shot and that I even tried.
I had several other chances to hunt in the morning. One morning, instead of heading to the bog, I went about half way, and sat on a rock just off the trail. I could see up the hill but not quite to the top of the trail, and I could see a nice area off to my right. I thought I heard what could be a deer, but never saw anything. As I left to get ready for work and headed up the hill, I was greeted at the top of the hill with fresh deer tracks of a buck chasing a doe. I couldn’t believe it.
A morning later, work was called off due to the snow/ice storm. I got everyone else off to work and then I headed out. I figured I’d see if there were any sign of deer, and make my way to my stand in the bog. Just behind the house, I came upon fresh deer tracks. There was a very noticeable doe-in-heat pee and big buck tracks right along with it. Dang. I’ve never tracked a buck, so I wasn’t sure if I should plus I hadn’t prepared. I decided they were probably too far gone, so I kept to my plan and made my way toward my stand. Almost there, I came to the hemlock tree that had a scrape under it all season and where I caught a smaller buck on the camera. As I walked, I came across new rabbit and partridge tracks in the snow…literally walking together. This made me smile so I took a picture with my phone, which doesn’t do it justice. A few feet more, I came across the tracks of the same buck and doe. It was tempting, but I had to keep a clear head. They hadn’t traveled where I was headed, and I had already decided I wasn’t going to track them, so I continued to the stand.
I stood at the opening by my tree stand and took a look out over the bog, remembering what I had seen days before. I had worn a raincoat, but my gloves were wet from the snow and rain so I decided I’d sit in my stand for a while, then head back home after a rest. I walked back to my stand and turned around to face the ladder. I took my rifle clip out of my gun and put it in my pocket. I secured my gun stock to the pull up rope so that the barrel wasn’t touching the ground, and then I started to climb the tree. I was bit nervous as I climbed. My hands were really feeling the cold now and the limbs were wet. I was literally shoulder height with the stand’s seat, when I heard something. I turned my head to watch a doe, followed by a chasing buck, which I made a point to look at his beautiful golden brown rack and then in desperation, whimpered no! no! no! as I clung to the branches in shock. Then for a kick in the teeth, the buck stopped perfectly broadside to take a look my way. A perfect shot and me climbing a stand with my gun on a rope at the bottom of the tree. I watched him trot off to catch up with his lady friend.
I climbed into the stand hoping they’d show up in reverse of what I saw on the first day. I pulled my gun up. I loaded it. I sat there in disbelief of what had just happened. I called John. At first I couldn’t reach him so I sent him a cursing text about what just happened. Then he called me back. I tried to tell him what happened with my angry voice, but instead I cried in frustration. I cried…I never cry, especially when it comes to deer hunting…then I was mad that I had climbed that tree stand. I walked home feeling quite defeated that not once, but twice this buck had eluded me.
That’s the second time I’ve seen a deer while climbing that %$#@*&^* tree stand, and right then and there, I vowed I wouldn’t be in it again. Next year, I’ll have a real tree stand that I can easily and quickly climb.
November 15th. I feared the rut was over, but it seemed like the perfect morning to hunt, and I had even considered calling in a vacation day. It was a nice crisp morning, so I decided I’d walk all the way into the bog, but instead of sitting in that tree stand, I’d plunk down where I could see and hear and possibly get a shot at a deer. The storm had left a hard crust, and walking in was never going to be quiet. So instead of trying to be quiet, I opted to walk like a deer. I’d take a few steps and stop, then take more…walking toe heel so I wouldn’t sound like a person. I took out my buck grunt and once in while I’d give a grunt. Every single step was a loud crunch. I made it right to the top of the hill where the buck and doe had crossed a few days before. The wind is NEVER in my favor here. It blows from right to left diagonally down the hill. As I made my way down the hill, I heard a loud crunch, crunch, crunch. It was, without a doubt, a deer breaking through the crust as it walked, and it was downwind of me. It seemed to be coming toward me so I got my gun up and tried to move closer to the opening to see if I could see the deer and possibly get ahead of the wind. As quick as it started, it ended. Where it went, I don’t know. I think it smelled me and made a quick exit. Even though I didn’t see it, I got excited again. It was the kind of excitement I get when I have these kinds of experiences.
With a new perspective, I continued down to the bog. With my seat cushion in hand, I stepped up to the opening of the bog, just beyond my tree stand. As I stood there trying to decide where I should sit, I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye. There in front of me directly across from me on the other side of the bog stood a buck. He was licking branches on the same fir tree that the doe had stood under when she was being chased. I carefully dropped my seat pad, slowly took the gun off my back, and standing there, I took aim. I waited until he was broadside, and I shot. I knew I had hit him, he hunched and then just stood there. I shot again, and he went down. I had my deer.
I called John and told him I shot a buck. He came down and together we went to claim my bounty. I called my work and told them I’d be in late. I had just gotten my deer.
So that buck…that elusive buck showed up on my stand right behind the house, that I haven’t sat in for two years. He was chasing a doe. I’m pretty sure he was what I heard that morning. He’s still out there as is the other three bucks and lots and lots of does I had on camera. Next year can’t come soon enough, but as with every year, there are no guarantees that he’ll do a repeat of his territory next year.
So I started following a group of women hunters, and a question came up about hunting when you have no land of your own, and what to do when you aren’t very comfortable about knocking down doors to ask.
First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours. Even if the land isn’t posted, if you feel you have to sneak around, it just won’t feel right. And the last thing you want to do is be chased off land you didn’t ask to use, because you now know the answer would be no for sure.
There are ways to find available land no matter where you live. Look for access by permission only signs and find the owners if it’s not listed on the sign. Don’t be afraid to go to the local town offices to look at town maps, or get online and find landowner information from tax assessing records. You won’t find a phone number, but you will find a name and address, and that’s a start.
I was scared to death to ask a farmer to hunt turkey, especially being a woman. Low and behold, despite their surprised look of a woman asking, the owner was cordial. She had promised it to another hunter, but if I could wait until Thursday, then I could have it. Turns out she knew my Dad, and was happy that I was a Norridgewock native. Small steps may lead to a big opportunity.
There’s a lot of public land in Maine that’s accessible to hunters. Now I know it’s annoying that there are some places that people used to hunt that are now off limits because land was donated to a group or cause, and they make their own rules. Many of these organizations don’t consist of hunters, and because patrons might feel afraid, they restrict hunting…blah, blah, blah…it’s not going to change unless we are part of the process. The one thing that will help all hunters is making sure good landowner relations continue to protect what we do have access to use. So asking is best.
So I did a little digging. I can’t give away all my spots, but this will help you find public land to hunt. Be thorough and do your homework on the area. First of all, you can hunt on public lands and even some state parks, but you have to put on your detective hat and scout the land. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has some great information on their website. Hunting is not allowed at State Historic Sites or Memorials, and there’s a list of places you can and can’t hunt right there to review. You can search by activity and these are the public lands and state parks that came up for hunting. Just be mindful to know the rules pertaining to state parks and when you can hunt. I was surprised to see so many options in southern Maine, since I’ve never really considered it anywhere near accessible to hunters…but it is. I live farther north and don’t hunt in southern Maine, but there are lots of opportunities to hunt.
Bear hunting has more restrictions/requirements, but bear hunting is still allowed on public lands, but by permit or lottery. It’s either by straight application and the sites are split equally among requests, or a lottery is done if the number of requests outnumber the number of sites. More information about how to apply is found here.
There’s also information on gathering (berries, mushrooms, fiddleheads) which has become very popular, and as with hunting, permits are required for some types of gathering.
Another source for hunting is the North Maine Woods, which is actually several timber companies that let you access their land for a fee. You pay at the gate, and the land is there to hunt. Just know the zone rules for whatever game you are hunting. Now when we hunt the NMW, it’s a trip, week long or at least three days because we live so far away, so it’s not something right out your door, but it’s nice to know it’s there. And there are several registered guides throughout the NMW that can help you get that deer, moose, bear or whatever you want.
Another source is paper company land closer than the NMW. We rabbit hunt “north” and it’s on paper company land. Some companies such as Wagner and Weyheuser, have a permit/lease system for bear hunting, and it’s pretty gobbled up by a few guide services, so don’t be totally discouraged because they hold some sites for DIY’s like us, and sometimes sites become available. They have roads to bird or rabbit hunt, deer hunt, moose hunt, and even bear hunt if you’re lucky enough to see one not over bait, so it’s not a total loss.
And a fairly new option I sort of stumbled upon is land trusts not state owned, such as the Ezra Smith Wildlife Conservation Area, donated by George Smith and family, and is managed by the Kennebec Land Trust which allows hunting on most of its parcels of land. There’s quite a comprehensive list so go to their website and check it out.
Now getting back to landowner permissions. The ONLY way we bear hunt on private land is because we got landowner permission, and in return, we give back by maintaining his road. We feel so privileged that we have this access and we take it very seriously. And all we did was ask.
My son hunts on land that isn’t his, and all he did was ask. And he asks every year. I’ve hunted turkeys on land that wasn’t posted, but we still asked. The landowner appreciated it and told us so.
And you’ll have some landowners who are anti-hunting or what I call land greedy (it’s mine all mine and you can’t use it even if I don’t) and they have their signs posted everywhere, but sometimes conversations can lead to opportunity such as just asking to bow hunt instead of rifle hunt and a door opens. Sometimes not, but it’s worth asking.
Ask a farmer. He may hate those turkeys eating into his silage pile, and wants you to “shoot all of them.” And if all else fails, ask friends if you can hunt with them. You may just find a mentor. Many friends make a trip to hunting camp each year and/or leave their own property un-hunted. Opportunity….Ask. Ask. Ask.
You may just be surprised to find more people are willing to let you hunt than you realize. Access is only a knock away. The more we talk to landowners, the more we build relationships that will help protect the future of hunting.
Good luck and be sure to identify your target before you shoot.
I love to hunt, but my most anticipated and thrilling hunt is bear hunting. As in years past , we have done all of the work ourselves. While others can’t because of lack of access, work obligations or ability, we manage our own bait sites, which requires a lot of time and energy.
Last year was an impressive year filled with huge bear; however this year is more average. We’ve only seen a couple bear that we deem “huge”, and they haven’t been consistent. And that’s okay. The average bear in Maine is around 200-300 pounds, which is still big in my book.
This year we put out all of our go-to bait and scents to attract the bear. Our season started off with a yearling cub being the first and consistent visitor. I felt bad because he looks so little, and he looks thin. I wonder what happened to the sow that reared him. Did she cast him off? Did she die? The sow that I’ve watched on my cameras with as many as three cubs hasn’t been seen this year. I wonder if this guy was hers. I’m cheering him on and I’ve decided no matter what, this fella gets a pass. The great thing about cameras is that you get to identify different characteristics about each bear. This guy has a brown nose and he’s little. I even identify bear by which hand they put in the barrel.
Bigger bear usually show up later, but hopefully during legal hunting hours. They’ve gotten big by being stealthy and waiting until dark. Also, the fact that their black fur makes them extremely hot, big bear then to go where it’s cooler and only come out at night. This guy is a nice bear to harvest. I recognize him by the patch on his hind end and his brown muzzle. And this guy is a lefty!
Once in while I’m surprised by daytime bear that are what I’d consider a nice bear to harvest. This one has a more black muzzle, and is quite fat. We have been baiting in the morning so this one totally went against what bears “usually do” and if I was hunting, I would have not even seen this guy, since most bear hunters only sit in the afternoons.
This bear visited for about 10 minutes, then left. The food on the ground is from a bigger bear that came in at night and dug the food out of the barrel. Squirrels and raccoon will eat it up, and other bear will step in it. This will carry the scent back into the woods, and possibly bring in more bear, which is why we never have to clean it up. It’s eventually consumed by some animal.
As natural food diminishes, my bait may become their only source of food until something natural becomes available. That’s good for me….Knowing that that beechnut crop looks abundant this year, I’ll have to hope the nuts don’t drop too soon. If so, I could end up with empty sites. Nothing is ever a given in bear hunting.
Monday, August 26th is the beginning of the bear hunt over bait in Maine. Now the only thing I’m not excited about is that big hike up that big hill to my stand. Here’s hoping for clear, cool weather, no mosquitoes and no wind. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll see a moose, coyote or raccoon that’s also found its way to my site.
With the start of bear baiting season, and only once-a-week visit to the site, I wanted to know if my bait was getting any action during the week. I discovered a new way to see my bear photos during the week, and there’s nothing more exciting than getting that notification on my phone sound that “you have pictures.”
I bought a Spypoint Link-W game camera on the recommendation of an acquaintance. “W” means Walmart which is where I bought it. While I’m still trying to understand all that it can do, and how to tweak it so that I get consistent photos, I can attest that the camera is very simplistic and easy to use. If you only have 100 photos a month, you can even do the “free plan”. I, on the other hand, am doing the unlimited photos for $15 a month. I found out early on, that a bunch of wind photos can eat up your allotment pretty darned quick, so be careful to put your camera on a sturdy mount or big tree trunk, and be sure to clear all the foliage that can trigger it to take wind photos. It comes ready to use and records pictures and videos as well as other features listed below.
Number of LEDs
< 80′ (24m)
Stamp on pictures
Date, time, moon phase and temperature (°C/°F)
Up to 2 pictures per detection
Requires an SD/SDHC card up to 32 GB (not included)
Automatic infrared level adjustment
Distance detection sensor
Up to 70 ft (21m)
1 sensor covering 5 zones detection
Standard 1/4″-20 tripod
3.8″ W x 5.0″ H x 3.2″D (9,6 cm L x 12,7 cm H x 8,1 cm P)
I bought the Verizon model because of where I hunt, and after comparing maps on the Spypoint link website, I decided that Verizon has the best coverage. I am literally on a mountain where if I’m on the bottom of that mountain, I have no cell phone coverage, so the key to making this work for me was having a good signal. It worked so well, we bought a second one for John’s bait, but had to buy the long range antennae in order to get a signal.
The pictures are good, especially during the day. The night photos are good despite this only being a 10MP camera. Spypoint does have other more advanced cameras, but I didn’t want to sink a bunch of money into a camera that I may or may not like. The stamp information is easy to read where I’ve had problems with other cameras’ being too small for me to read even with glasses. My plan is to make sure there’s no bear on my site before I head in. This way I won’t jump them off the bait.
So if you’re going to spend $200 on a camera, which many cost that and much more, I would recommend the Spypoint Link-W. Happy watching. I’m having so much fun seeing my photos during the week.
To me, there is nothing more exciting than prepping for Maine’s bear season. Over the last seven years, I have learned a lot about bear, and about baiting and trapping bear.
Saturday will be the first day of baiting season. For the first time ever, we put out game cameras ahead of the season, just to see who, if any, bear roam our woods.
We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results. We’ve had at least three different bear on two different cameras, and I still haven’t spied the big sow that has been coming to my baits for four years…every other year with a litter of cubs in tow. We’ve also had a bunch of moose, including a cow and calf. Life on the mountain is full and abundant.
We discontinued a bait site last year, and another one is on the list this year, leaving only the two that we hunt on. Or at least, that’s the plan.
Last year, our third site was merely a feeding station for a sow and cub so they didn’t come to the active baits with boars. The only other daytime shoot-worthy bear to come to that bait, was a nice boar. And of course, I wasn’t sitting in that stand when it came through.
This year’s bear season will be different in many ways, but mostly the same. I’ll have the same bait, scents, cameras, trails, four-wheelers, tree stand, and methods to bring the bear in.
However, I hope I get my bear early, not only because who doesn’t want to get their bear on the first day, but also so that I won’t be on the mountain in September. I don’t want to be reminded of that day when we got that awful call asking us to come quick because my father had collapsed. He died that night, and so now every time I go to the mountain, and start to think about roaming the woods where we were that night, there’s something different. In all the beauty and methodical planning around bear hunting, there’s still the heavy heart and sadness, that I have yet to shake off.
So, for now, I’ll concentrate on everything I’ve learned to make my site the best smelling and appealing site that I can. I’ll concentrate on my scent cover knowing that bear have noses like no other animal. I’ll concentrate on preparing my body for the steep hike up the hill to my stand in hot weather and still remaining quiet and ready for a bear. I’ll concentrate on getting my stand just perfect so that I’m comfortable and motionless during the hunt. I’ll concentrate on getting my gun ready so that I’ll shoot straight and hit my target. I’ll concentrate on facing my fears of walking back down the steep hill in the dark, because I’m no sissy.
I’ll use this time to enjoy nature, but also to reflect on how lucky I am to have such a great place to hunt with my husband, John, and how much my father’s influences made me who I am today. I’ll try my damnedest to hold up my chin and be strong for my Dad. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
And if I’m lucky, I’ll get my bear. Wish me luck.
P.S. Thanks for continuing to read my posts. Writing is very healing, and it provides an outlet for my grief.
As I was talking with John the other day, it occurred to me that we’ve changed so much over the last thirty something years. We married in October of 1984, and through all these years, we’ve persevered and have become what some have referred us to as a “power couple.”
I laugh when I hear this because it’s usually in the context of hunting and fishing and all the things we do together. It’s quite a compliment, but honestly, it’s just about being together and enjoying what we do. Our kids are grown and off doing their own things with friends and family, so we have more time together that we didn’t have when we were raising our three kids. Hopefully they’ll take some of the times we spent hunting, fishing and wildlife watching with them and pass it onto their families.
So how did we get here?
My dad was pretty strict, but I think it was his own fears that made these rules. I remember not being allowed to go into the woods. My father’s house was only on two acres, but apparently he felt that was more than enough for us to get into trouble, so we (the kids) weren’t allowed to “wander off” and had to stay in the backyard. As an adult, this had lasting effects as I was dreadfully afraid of the woods and what might be lurking in those woods. The first time John and I went for a walk, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a partridge took off. I was never aware of my surroundings and all I remember was that I didn’t enjoy mosquitoes, and I certainly didn’t go looking for wildlife. Even when my family spent time at the camp lot, a parcel of land that my parents bought in the mid 70’s, that had an old school bus on it that we turned into a camper, we were not allowed to explore beyond our boundaries. Now when I hear partridge drumming, it only makes me want to find it.
From the age of 4, my oldest son Zack would want to go “hunting” with his BB gun, so he and I would put on our orange and take walks in the trails behind our house. We never saw anything, but he got the chance to work on his stalking skills and just loved every minute we were out there. I, on the other hand, never went beyond the trails because that’s all I knew.
One of these times, we hadn’t gotten further than 30 yards off the edge of the field, when I spied legs walking down the right trail. In my mind, I thought this was one of John’s cousins who is tall and skinny and who also lived next door. While I was wondering what he was doing out back, I soon realized it was a rutting moose coming down the trail. His head was down and his antlers…huge antlers…were going side to side as if to challenge us. I grabbed Zack by the arm and made a run for it back toward the house. I wanted Zack to see it, but I didn’t want the moose to charge us. I went into a full asthma attack as we hid behind a tree. We never saw it up close because I was so concerned about getting away from the scary monster, and meanwhile the moose changed course and headed down a different trail.
Zack grew to love the outdoors so much that he’d wander off all day. I’d worry and every night, I’d have to yell, “Zack-Ah-reeeeee“, for him to come home. He certainly explored beyond my boundaries, but would come home with stories of his travels and of all the stuff he saw in the woods.
When my husband was a young boy, he would sit around and listen to the men tell hunting stories, but moose hunting wasn’t allowed then so there were only stories of beastly moose and how scary and unpredictable they are. As a youth hunter, he had an encounter with a rutting moose that charged him, which left a lasting impression. John was set up in front of an oak tree while hunting deer. A moose came in to the smell of his buck lure, and when the moose saw John, he charged. John ended up yelling and kicking leaves at the moose and eventually shot over its head to scare it off. He retold this story as a teenager and said it was one of the scariest moments as a kid he could remember. Then while in college, John was working the wood yard when a young moose wandered into camp. John decided to challenge himself and he was pretty impressed that he was able to make calls to the moose and eventually scare it off. It was then that he realized moose weren’t all that scary.
Thirty plus years later, we’ve grown to understand moose, and fully appreciate their presence in the woods. We’ve successfully hunted, tracked, and called them in just for the sake of seeing if they’d respond. There are no longer fears associated with moose or any animal for that matter. If anyone had told me ten years ago, that I’d be hunting bear, or that I’d get my grand slam, I would have laughed. I am no longer afraid of the outdoors, the dark, the water (somewhat), or going beyond my boundaries and stepping out of my comfort zone. I am still challenged when I face new adventures and those old fears creep in; however, I know I have the skills to be competent in the outdoors, so I just push forward challenging myself at every chance I get.
We’ve come a long way from where we were thirty years ago. I hope that if you’re thinking of getting into hunting and fishing or even just nature, that you’ll not put it off for another day. Don’t expect it to be perfect when you do venture out. Just take each time as a new and learning experience. I’m so thankful for who we’ve become both as people and as a couple. I can’t imagine life any other way.
This was originally published in the December 2018 issue of Boot Life Magazine. To see full photos, you can subscribe to Boot Life Magazine for only $24.95 a year!
As I listened to the radio, I heard Olympic champion, Scott Hamilton describe how incredibly hard it was for him to realize that in all the times he failed, he was learning and taking in information eventually to be successful. “Everything that I’ve ever been able to accomplish in skating and in life has come out of adversity and perseverance.”
And this pretty much is how I feel about bear hunting. Bear hunting isn’t as simple as it’s made out to be by the anti-hunting establishment. My husband John, and I love to bear hunt, and we do it all ourselves. Bear hunting on your own requires a lot of preparation and perseverance, and just as with any kind of hunting, it takes a little luck. We’ve been at this bear hunting for some time now, but I only started bear hunting four years ago. It’s quickly become my favorite season. The anticipation that builds with a month of baiting prior to the actual hunt, followed by hours upon hours sitting and waiting for a bear to show up makes for exciting adventures. Every year that we hunt, we encounter new obstacles, and each year we learn more and more on how to be successful, but no year is a guarantee.
Every year, the different weather patterns and natural food conditions directly affect how bears behave. Beechnuts were abundant in 2017, and literally the day the wind blew and the nuts fell, the bears stopped coming to the bait…well, except for the sow and cubs, which I wouldn’t shoot. They continued to visit the bait and I’d watch them for a bit in hopes someone else would show up.
This year, there were few natural berries or beechnuts, and the land that we hunt on has almost no oaks or apple trees, so come July, the bears were hungry to put on some extra fat before they den up for the winter. This makes for a prime baiting season, but these type of conditions can also be a problem for bear hunters since bears will den early if there isn’t enough food, i.e., the right kind of food.
We started off our season by securing three barrels of bait, which would give us enough bait for three sites. Given a few choices, we opted for the donuts over the trail mix and granola. We also has some really yummy frosting, but we didn’t get as many flavor choices as the previous year and had only one peanut butter bucket.
MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA
Once the baiting season began, we baited the two established sites we had, plus we baited two new sites further and deeper up the mountain where they would be less chance of any human interference that might keep bears away during daylight hours. These two new sites proved to be key in our consistently having daylight bears on our sites for the first time in several years. More importantly, we had several new bear that we had never seen.
Scrapper was an old bear that had been on my lower bait site for three straight years, but this year he never showed up. Along with one sow and a cub, we had several bruins, young and mature as well as a well-known sow that had no cubs this year. Last year, she had three cubs, but none were with her this season.
After testing out our sites, John opted for the “tunnel bait”, and I took the “top bait”. We continued to bait the established bait that was mine, but discontinued the other one since it had no bear on it.
The first day of bear hunting was a well anticipated day. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t hot and humid as it had been the last two years. Bears move more in cooler weather, so I was optimistic that I’d have a bear this year. I even had a different gun than I had planned to use originally. My son, Tyler scored a moose permit so he bought a new .45-70 rifle. I was so impressed with how easy it was to shoot that I asked him if I could use it. This gun felt like a cannon with a short barrel, so it was easy for me to handle. The only obstacle was that it didn’t have a scope so I had to get used to shooting with an open sited rifle. I’m used to shooting rifles with scopes, so this was new to me.
I strategically drove my four-wheeler most of the way to my stand, but left it about 100 yards away at the bottom of the mountain. I hiked up to my tower stand and took my seat. The sun was hot on my back. I had my new Ozonics running above my head, and I also had a jelly donut scent stick burning. Behind me I could see far off mountains, and the light breeze kept the mosquitoes and bugs at bay. I watched several gray and red squirrels duke it out over who could steal the most bait. As the afternoon closed to an end, and with only about thirty minutes left, I reached in my bag for my prescription glasses. As soon as I looked up, I watched the biggest bear from nowhere, come out of the woods from behind the barrel and step out in front of it. At this second, I had a “Holy Crap” moment. Seeing a bear that size, with his black face and back as tall as my barrel, that close, was not something I had ever seen. I pulled my gun up. The bear looked right up at me as I sat in my tower stand. I took aim making sure the front sight was seated at the top of the back peep site. I let out an exhale and shot. The bear acted as though I had hit it and it bolted into the woods.
I sat there in shock. This bear was huge. I think I heard him go down, but I don’t know. I texted John a few expletives that I had shot a bear. I began to shake, which I never do. I had so much adrenaline running through my body, I didn’t think I’d ever stop shaking.
John came and met me at my stand. By then it was dark. Using flashlights, we went to see where I had shot the bear and to go over the whole scenario again so that we could find it. There was a tiny bit of red blood right where he stood. I knew which direction he ran, and we went that way. There was only a tiny drop now and then. I was afraid he was so fat that he wouldn’t bleed, but that’s why I had used the gun I chose…to make sure it made a big hole. We followed into the thickest woods I had ever gone. I heard the bear huff at one point. He was mad, and obviously not dead. It was just too hard and too unsafe to be tracking a wounded bear at night in those kinds of woods, so we backed out and decided to go back in the morning at daylight.
Morning finally came after a toss and turn night. We spent the night in our camper and I awoke to rain drops coming in the roof vent. How are we going to track a bear in the rain?! I was devastated at the thought we might not find my bear. We searched for four hours following just tiny spots of blood, and we never found him. Later I went back to where I had shot at him in front of the barrel. There in the root of the tree was my bullet and some bear hair. I had only grazed him, just enough to make him mad and guarantee that he wouldn’t return this season. I was sick to my stomach that I had lost best chance yet at getting a bear, and a big bear at that.
When I told my son that I couldn’t believe I shot low, and explained how I lined up everything, it was only then that I learned I wasn’t supposed to put the front site at the top of the peep, but center it in the middle. A hard lesson learned for not using a gun I wasn’t totally familiar with, and this failure will haunt me for a very long time. John also lost a bear the same night; a bear that came in but was just out of bow range. He figured it would be back, but it never came back during daylight.
I didn’t feel totally defeated since I am a licensed Maine trapper and I still had a chance to get a bear. This is the second year I have tried to trap bear with a snare. Last year, with sow and cubs nearby, I ended up not being able to trap because I didn’t want to catch a cub in my bucket snare. This year, there was an emergency law passed that banned bucket traps. This left me with either not trapping or having to learn how to trap on a trail, which is what we did.
The very first time we trapped, we tried setting the snare in front of the barrel, but with so many squirrels running all around the barrel, the chances of them tripping the snare before a bear did was inevitable. Opting for a bear trail setup wasn’t hard because the bear had been using so many of them to come to the bait that deciding which trail to use was the hardest.
We moved cameras so that we could monitor bear activity in case the trail we chose wasn’t working. I had a small bear trip my trap, but with the cable stop, it prevented it from being caught. I moved my snare as to not educate the bear. The second tripping was simply the bear didn’t step perfect. I moved my snare again. This time, I put branches in the way so that the bear wouldn’t have any option but to go where I wanted it to go. I set the trap on a downhill walk right where it had put its paw time and time again. Two days went by and I had not hits. Then it rained, which washed away any of our remaining scent from being there. I think this was key to the bear being caught. Yes, I caught a bear. I caught a bear for over 8 hours! And he was mad! He fought and clawed, and chewed at trees to get free. He eventually got himself tangled around a small maple sapling that I had thought wouldn’t be a problem. And he got free. Bears two. Staci zero. So close but no bear for this girl.
We continued to trap with different bait because we ran out of donuts and although we had several other close calls, we never caught another bear for any length of time. Eventually we had to call it quits because the bear never really liked our bait and instead, went to den.
It took me a long time to be able to talk about missing the first bear, especially when seeing posts on social media with picture after picture of “successful” bear hunts. I was embarrassed that I missed. Then I saw a guide post the number of his clients who missed a bear, and I didn’t feel so bad.
Time will heal the failure, and I’ve learned to look at the positive side. We had a successful bear season. We had the most bear ever come during daylight. I know where I’ll hunt next year, and what to use for bait, and I’ll trap a bear next year making sure my catch circle is clear of anything that could help my bear escape.
Next year, I’ll do it all over again because I absolutely love the challenge, the anticipation, the thrill and the rush of bear hunting. But the one thing I have to keep telling myself is that it’s not bear shopping, it’s bear hunting, where nothing is a guarantee. Wish us luck!
This was originally published in Boot Life Magazine, November 2018 issue. Be sure to subscribe to get these stories sooner.
Getting drawn for the Maine Moose Hunt is considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This year marked the fifth do-it-yourself moose hunt that my family went on, and the first time our youngest son, Tyler, got a permit.
Unlike his father, mother and older brother, Tyler doesn’t eat, sleep and hunt the entire hunting season. Although Tyler loves guns and shooting them, he’s never been much about hunting if it requires sitting for long periods of time or really putting in a lot of time. In fact, Tyler has much more interest in shooting than in hunting. He can tell you almost anything about any gun we own, and he has far more fun seeing how many rounds we can go through in a single afternoon than getting up each morning and sitting in a tree stand.
We have a running joke in the family and how Tyler is known for his one-day hunts. The rest of us will hunt day and night, every day, never missing a single chance to hunt and sometimes end up with nothing at the end of the season. Tyler will go out one time and shoot a deer. So when Tyler was drawn for the moose permit, we should have known that his hunt would be nothing like any moose hunt we had experienced.
The first thing Tyler said when he found out he had been drawn? “I can buy a new gun!” And he did just that. I had used Tyler’s .270 rifle for my moose hunt, but for him, it was a great reason to buy another gun. He went to a local firearms dealer and purchased what he described as the “ultimate moose gun”, a 45-70 rifle with open sites. He bought 300 grain bullets to “break it in”, and then some 400+ grain bullets for the hunt. This gun is known for its ability to shoot through brush when a 30.06 rifle’s bullet might ricochet. I was so impressed by it, I used it for my bear hunt, but that’s another story.
For months, we prepped to make sure we had everything we needed. Learning from previous hunts, I stocked the camper with more food and water than the three of us would ever eat in one week, but the last thing I wanted to do was run out of food.
We packed the truck with all the equipment we would need to get the moose out of the woods. We brought the 125 feet of rope, pulleys, block and tackle, a winch, a chainsaw, the big generator as well as the smaller one, and extra gasoline and propane. This may seem excessive, but after two other hunts in the same zone, we knew what we’d need if we were there the entire week.
Tyler drove his SUV and hauled the trailer for the moose while we hauled our camper. Once packed, we headed out to Ashland, Maine for a zone 5 hunt in the North Maine Woods.
Our trip began on Saturday; the day was a bright, sunny, but was downright cold. The weather was perfect for a good glimpse of Mount Katahdin on our four-hour drive. We arrived at the North Maine Woods gate in good time so that we could find one of the campsites we had picked out on the map. Once settled into our campsite, we had supper then sat around a camp fire and stargazed into the North Maine Woods’ skies.
Sunday was our scouting day. We started out by checking a couple roads next to the campsite as we made our way to where we “knew” we could find moose. We spotted a spike moose hanging out in a stand of trees only two roads down from our campsite. As we would say, it that was a moose we’d shoot on the last day, not the first. However, Tyler’s saying is, “don’t pass up on the first day, what you’d shoot on the last.”
In 2012, our oldest son, Zack, harvested a moose in zone 5, and then in 2016, I got my moose in the same zone. We were thinking that we knew exactly where to look for moose. We had forgotten how much the forests and areas change from year to year, and moose don’t stay in the same places either.
My enormous frying pan
Mom and Tyler
Tyler and Dad
We scouted all day, only taking time out to have breakfast on the trail, and for Tyler to shoot his gun to make sure it was still sighted in after the trip.
By the end of the day, we had drove for hours, and had seen only one moose…right next to camp. By then Tyler was irritable and sick of driving. “Why, he asked, are we driving all over when we know there are moose right next to where we are camping?” He was resolved that the moose we had seen was “good enough” and that was a little hard to swallow for Mom and Dad as we figured Tyler would want something more…not necessarily a trophy, but certainly more than a yearling. His reasoning was that if he got a huge moose, he’d have to pay to have it mounted, and he had nowhere to put it in the house…okay son.
This was that moment when we had to say, this is Tyler’s hunt, not ours and the last thing we wanted was for Tyler to go home with nothing, and be upset that we made him hold out for a trophy. We wanted this to be a hunt that he could look back on and smile and say he had a great time with Mom and Dad. It was a tough moment, but instead of arguing or trying to change his mind, we all piled back in the truck, and decided to scout the roads right near our campsite.
Back on the morning road, we were able to find the young bull that we had seen in the morning. It turned out he was much bigger than we had thought. He had bedded down right where we left him. He was a heavy bodied moose with a small rack, but certainly a shooter. I felt a little better that he wasn’t as small as I had initially thought. We watched him for a while. We drove down a couple more roads with no moose sign. On the way back to the camper, I spotted a huge cow moose just standing off the road. We watched this moose for a good twenty minutes. She kept looking back and made no attempts to run away. Further down the road, we made some moose calls, and spotted yet another cow moose. Again, this moose kept looking back. We decided there had to be a bull moose nearby.
We returned to the camper for a late supper and opted to stay in and watch a Tyler-approved movie since it was so cold out. The furnace ran all night in the camper, but a good night’s rest after a good end to the day meant cool heads in the morning.
Morning greeted us with a heavy frost and Orion in the sky brought a smile to our faces. We had our coffee and checked the legal shooting hours one more time. Good thing…because Mom read October instead of September and we barely made it out of the camper in time.
We drove up the road maybe 100 yards and parked. We got out of the truck and began walking. The light breeze was freezing on my ears, but we couldn’t ask for a better morning. It was cold and clear. We hadn’t walked 50 yards when we spotted a small cow moose on our right in a poplar chopping. A good sign! We made our way down to where we had seen the large cow the previous afternoon.
John made cow calls and raked the cedars with his moose shoulder bone. A few grunts…and I heard what I thought was a moose or deer on the opposite side of the road breaking twigs. It was definitely large in my mind. The guys dismissed what I heard as three partridge, which I couldn’t seem to see. I sprayed my cow urine into the wind, which blew back to where we spotted the young cow. We heard no responses, so we turned and walked quietly back toward the truck. I gave a couple more sprays into the air, and got the look of death from my son as he whispered, ”That’s noisy!” Okay then, I’ll just follow along, I thought, as I felt slightly annoyed.
John and Tyler took the lead. We didn’t walk 50 yards before we were back to where we had seen the cow. And there instead of the cow, stood a bull. A bull looking for love. A bigger bull than the one Tyler was set on settling for…just standing there! A quick look at Dad, and Tyler took aim. The bull began to leave, and Tyler gave a grunt. The bull stopped in its tracks. One shot, then an immediate follow up shot, and the bull laid in the twitch trail. He literally dropped in the trail about 30 yards from the road! In less than ten minutes, Tyler’s hunt was over. I made a point to look at Tyler and tell him it was my cow urine that brought him in. A smile and hug from my son and we were good.
Then the real work began. After field dressing and using a pulley and rope to pull him to the edge of the berm on the side of the road, the guys went back and got Tyler’s SUV with the trailer. We backed the trailer up and repositioned the rope and pulley. Using the pickup, we pulled the moose onto the trailer. It was the fastest hunt and moose load we’d ever done.
The moose weighed in at 630 pounds dressed, which is a good size. We submitted the tooth so in a few months, we’ll get to find out the age of the moose. We’re guessing three years old.
And it got even better. We don’t send our game to the butcher. We usually process together, but Tyler processed the entire moose for the remainder of the week. Our freezers are full and we’re enjoying the rewards of a successful hunt. Tyler’s making a European mount so he’ll be able to hang it in his room.
The best part was that we let Tyler have his hunt, his way, and it turned out okay. My one-hunt son got it done on the first day, and there was nothing more satisfying than seeing the smile on his face. It was once again, a learning moment for us. It may not have been the way we would have done it, but it wasn’t about us, and that’s something we need to remind ourselves more often.
This also appeared in the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s September newsletter.
Hooray! Many of you have waited a long time for what you may consider a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bag a Maine moose. Your options are simple. You either hire a Registered Maine Guide or you Do-It-Yourself hunt with family and friends. You need to ask yourself what kind of hunt do you want. That will help determine your decision as to whether or not you hire a Registered Maine Guide (RMG).
If you opt for a RMG, there’s a few things you should know when choosing which outfitter you’ll hunt with. I have always assumed that a guided hunt was a rigorous hunt where you schlepped yourself through woods to find the big boy, which isn’t always true. My cousin was a last minute replacement in the lottery. She paid big bucks for a guide so she could literally drive the roads looking for a moose because the guide couldn’t walk far. She was so disappointed and in the end, settled for the one and only moose she saw. Yes, she got a moose, but it wasn’t her dream moose. This kind of hunt works for those who can’t get out into the woods, but if you’re expecting a physical hunt, then not only should you be prepared, but your guide should also be able to meet your expectations. Hiring a guide removes all the “what to do when you get one” and “how to get it out of the woods” dilemma, since they take care of that. You also don’t need to scout, because they’ve done all that…hopefully. Make a list of questions to ask and expect to get the hunt you want.
We just returned from going on my fifth DIY moose hunt for my youngest son, Tyler, who scored a September bull in zone 5. I’ve been lucky enough to score two moose permits of my own, but my hunts were very different.
My first permit in 2011 happened to be in zone 23 that was a November hunt, and was anything but my desired zone. If you have one of these permits, be sure to get out early and scout, and get permission to hunt the land. I found that more land is posted in these zones, and people are far less willing to let a moose hunter onto their deer hunting areas during the deer season. We called the local state biologist and got information from him. We spoke to locals at the store for leads on where to hunt. It was a physically exhausting hunt with many miles on foot. My husband and I would hunt all day Saturday, and I could barely move on Sunday. We never brought enough water, over-dressed for the temps, but luckily never got lost. It would have been easy to give up, but I wasn’t about to do that. In the end, I shot a cow, but we had to pack it out of the woods about a mile. At the end of the season, my moose was one of only two moose shot in a 50 permit zone. Lesson learned: Never ever put down a zone you really don’t want to hunt, and be more prepared.
In 2012, I joined my husband, John, and oldest son, Zack, on their first moose hunts. Zack scored the first September bull in zone 5, while John’s hunt was in our home zone 16 for the November hunt. Again, these were two very different hunts from my first.
For Zack’s hunt, it required a lot more preparation because we were headed into the North Maine Woods. We used our Maine Gazeteer to spot swampy areas, and make a plan. We planned our hunt around camping in the NMW, and driving and scouting early. In order to bring the camper and the trailer for our moose, we needed two vehicles. We arrived two days before Zack could join us. On the first day of the hunt, John tried calling in a moose. It didn’t answer. As we were about to leave, we spotted a bear bait site, and went to check it out. As I came out of the trail, I spotted a pair of antlers above the brush. A moose! I ran back and told the guys. As we stood on the edge of the woods, Zack shot it. It was over that quick. We had scored a rope winch from a friend which worked like a charm to get the moose out to the clearing. Getting it onto the trailer was much harder. We were back home the next day. Lesson learned: be patient. Not all moose will answer early in the season.
John’s hunt was fairly easy for him since as a logger and a deer hunter, he knew right where to find moose in our zone. I was more than bummed that he shot his moose while I was at work since it was the first day I hadn’t gone with him. He even got to use his skidder to haul it out since he was working on an adjoining wood lot.
My 2016 was the hardest hunt I’ve done for the very reason that it was all week and there were no rest days. I scored a September bull permit in zone 5. I was pumped. In my mind I was thinking this would be easy since we hunted Zack’s bull only 4 years earlier. I chose to bring my son’s 270 rifle since I decided my .260 was too small to really do the job. Well, a lot had changed in that time. We went more prepared, this time we brought more water, more snacks, and various types of hunting clothes to adapt to the weather. We really thought we had it covered, but halfway through the week, we had to do a grocery run. I expected to put in the miles, but 12 hours or more of hiking, calling and dealing with everything from other hunter interference to being shot near made the hunt grueling. We could have just drove the roads, but I wanted more than that, and there were enough hunters already driving the roads that I knew I wouldn’t see one by “just driving”.
The moose never started answering until Thursday. After seeing moose every day, usually before and after shooting hours, and losing two good chances to shoot one due to interference and the inability to convince my husband to stop the truck, I was ready to get it done. On day five, having cleared the air and getting refocused, we set out down a new road.
We heard a cow calling and a bull responding. We climbed a tall hill only to find the moose had taken off, but we did hear another bull calling. We got back in the truck and drove down a road parallel to the one we had been on. We parked out at the entrance and snuck in. We stepped off the side of the road and made one cow call. We had instant response. That bull was on a dead run out of the wood and was coming straight down the road grunting the entire way. With John on my left calling, we hid behind alders as the moose made his way towards us. He stopped and turned his head to the right looking for his fair maiden. I made the decision to shoot him in his left shoulder instead of his neck just because I wanted to make sure I hit him. One shot and he dropped there. Relief overcame me as I said, “I got him.” And then in a split second that moose jumped up and ran in the woods. I was sick thinking I might lose him, until we found him only about 50 yards in the woods. Our easy load became a four hour process to get him out of the woods and onto the trailer. Lesson learned: be ready to fire a second shot, and prepare to be there the entire week and bring enough food, water, fuel, etc. with you. It’s a long ways back to town and after a long day of hunting, all I wanted to do was sleep.
No matter which hunt you decide to do, be prepared. Be prepared to work for your moose, and know that when you pull the trigger, you’ve earned it. Be physically and mentally prepared to put in the time. Be smart, follow the laws and most importantly, take it all in and enjoy yourself. Preparation, Patience and perseverance are the key.
I know it’s a little late since turkey season started in late April, but I had a lot of fun this year. I was lucky enough to bag two turkeys on two different hunts, and with two completely set of events. So while I watch and wait for bear on my cameras, I’ll recap the turkey season.
Turkey hunting is sort of odd. You watch turkeys right up until opening day fanning, strutting and gobbling in the fields only to often times find they just disappear as soon as you start hunting them. The signs always stick around: the dusting spots, the scat, the scratched up leaves where they’ve been feeding which begin to torment you since turkeys can be finicky and just not gobble no matter how hard you try to get them to answer….in fact they’re a lot like moose. They either gobble instinctively and uncontrollable, and do just as they’re supposed to, or not at all.
This was the case behind the house. Our first morning was a bust. We roosted the turkeys the night before and knew exactly where they would be in the morning. We set up and made our calls. Turkeys were coming out of the trees everywhere, but no toms in sight. The hens never spooked, but they didn’t stick around either. They simply left to join the turkeys gobbling on the other side of the field, and the toms never came our way.
We caught this guy on our game camera that same evening…and we hadn’t gone back for the evening hunt.
So off we went to make our truck run, hoping to spot a few turkeys in the fields where we have permission to hunt.
Sure enough, we spotted one lone strutting turkey making its way across the lush green field. We drove by, parked in the adjoining field and snuck along the tree line making our way closer to the edge of the adjoining field.
John did a call. The turkey answered. We strategically kept trees between us and the bird, and made our way to the big hairy pine standing on the edge of the field. There was about 50 yards to the gully where a line of trees grew and separated the fields. The turkey was on one side, and us on the other. I was afraid the turkey wouldn’t cross the line of trees as they don’t usually like to do that. But luck was in our favor. That turkey was on a dead run after a couple more calls. I readied myself under the bottom tree branch, and waited until the turkey was in range. It crossed the tree line. It strutted. I could hear its feathers ruffling. It dropped his feather and let out its last gobble. I fired and dropped him on the spot. Textbook hunt right there, and I bagged a big fully-mature turkey. We went and tagged the turkey, but the store couldn’t weigh it. I think he was a good 20 pounds but we could only get 19.1 pounds on the deer scale.
So the second hunt was much different. In fact, this hunt wasn’t for me. It was for my friend Erin to get a turkey. I brought my shotgun because I could still shoot a bird, but I had no intentions on shooting a bird before Erin did.
John drove us around hoping to get a bird. We didn’t have any luck first thing in the morning, so we headed on our ride. Erin spotted a turkey and group of hens in a field. After some successful calling and her and I waiting for the turkeys to come our way, we gave up. The turkeys either spotted us or got bored because they simply moved away from us. So back in the truck we went. In our travels we spotted a litter of fox pups. It was really awesome to see. I didn’t have my camera, but Erin has some nice shots of them on her Instagram page.
So we headed to the spot that is known to have turkeys “later in the morning”. We headed up through the field…a long field, with a treeline in the middle. Just as we got to the treeline, John spotted a whole flock of turkeys coming our way. We dove for the ground. Erin and I scooted up to the treeline and John with decoys in hand started calling and dancing the decoys. The turkeys responded immediately. Erin and I had no idea how many turkeys were there, but they were coming fast and furious. One very vocal bird was making his way fast and was on the other side of us in a matter of 30 seconds.
I sat behind Erin telling her to get ready. Instead of the turkey busting through the opening in the treeline, it turned and headed to our right making its way down the treeline. I couldn’t see him, but it felt like I was ducking a Velociraptor that was hunting us. I was afraid to move a muscle because turkeys have incredible eyesight. But he was moving to my right. I didn’t even have my gun in my hand. I whisper to Erin that the turkey is coming to my right. She answers back to have me put my back to her. She is ready for a bird to just step through that opening and doesn’t dare move. I slowly put my back to her. I pull my knees up and pull my gun to my side.
In a split second, that tom turkey decided to fly through the trees and landed about 15 yards in front of me. He gobbled. I slowly raised my gun and POW! I dropped the turkey.
John jumped up and yelled, “What to heck did you just do?! Erin’s supposed to shoot the turkey!” Erin high fives me.
In all the commotion, we didn’t realize that there were about twenty more turkeys that HADN’T come over the treeline yet…and then we watched them all run away. Erin’s chance at a bird that day ended as quick as it began. And John now calls me the Turkey Hog.
My turkey never moved a muscle until we went to picked it up. It managed to spur John and then a bunch of its tail feathers fell out even though I never touched them…weirdest thing ever!
I felt bad I had shot, but Erin was such a sport and congratulated me on my bird. She’s a lot of fun to hunt with, but unless I can actually help her get some game, she may not want to hunt with me again…and John says my success rate as a guide is dwindling…so Erin, I owe you! I promise the next bird is yours.
And you’re welcome to join me bear hunting over bait…but I get to shoot first…lol.
I know that sounds confusing, but let’s face it; we miss a whole lot of stuff driving too fast. I can’t tell you how many people drive right by or into wildlife because they’re so intent on getting where they’re going that they don’t take the time to slow down and really see what’s around them.
When my children were younger, many of our Friday or Saturday nights were spent cruising the back roads hoping to see some wildlife. “Moose rides” we called them, but we often saw way more than moose. To this day, my kids can recount a certain ride where they saw a bull moose fight, a baby bunny, or where we stopped and caught fish in our travels.
The secret to seeing wildlife is: Number one: knowing where to go. Number two: going at the right time of the year, and number three: going at the right time of day. But really if you want to see wildlife, just take a ride into rural Maine. A slow ride. Grab a friend, lover or family, and get your eyes off your phone and into the fields, the woods, and the roads. I’m not saying you have to go 30 miles per hour the whole time…but 60 won’t do you any good and you might even hit one of the animals you’re trying to spot…so slow down. Be aware of your surroundings, including cars behind you who aren’t out for a wild ride, and be ready to slow to a stop, take a picture, and share the experience and make memories.
In the beginning of the spring, April, we start our rides to go fishing. This time of year, we see a lot of yearling moose who have just been cast off from their mothers who are getting ready to calve. These moose are extremely scared, tend to stay in the road, run up the road, and may even come up to your vehicle as one did for us this spring. The moose always look pretty scraggly, but it’s just the shedding of their winter coats.
Rabbits getting some nutrients from the road
Big bull moose
Eaglet sitting on a branch
Turtle tracks. We tried to catch the female laying eggs but she retreated too fast.
Woodcock and chicks right at dusk
Wood turtle on dirt road
We also see a lot of rabbits. One of the games we play with the kids is that everyone gets to guess how many moose and rabbits we’ll see. The winner only gets bragging rights, but it gets the kids involved with looking to spot animals. We’ve seen woodcock with chicks, fox with kits, grouse alone, and with chicks, deer with fawn, moose with calves, bucks, coyotes, snakes, bear, turtles, turkey, rabbits, and sometimes we even spot mushrooms..all from the seat of our truck.
Rabbits getting some nutrients from the road
Woodcock and chicks right at dusk
Eaglet sitting on a branch
Where to go: For moose, we go north/northwest of Norridgewock…areas include Bingham, Athens, road to Greenville, Rangeley and US Route 16, Oquossoc, Kingfield, and north of Lexington on the Long Falls Dam Road. For deer, just take a drive. They’re literally everywhere from the interstate, to farm fields, to within the city limits. Some of the biggest deer in velvet that I’ve ever seen have been in Augusta.
When to go: early spring to see turkeys gobbling in farm fields, deer getting their first taste of grass, pregnant cow moose, yearling moose, laying turtles in the gravel roadside, and if you’re lucky enough, a bear with cubs. Mid-spring delivers for moose with calves, moose and deer in general, rabbits with babies, grouse with chicks, birds of all sorts including hawks and owls and even sand hill cranes. Fall is great to see moose in the rut, and partridge to shoot in October. Most of the time when we hunt for partridge, we’re riding roads looking on berms to spot roosting birds…use this time to start early and get to know where you see them for the fall bird season.
We always plan our rides so that we arrive at our destination around dusk. You should plan to drive slower than normal and keep an eye out. This is the time many animals come out to eat, hunt, or travel. We bring a spotlight to help spot animals. We never have any kind of hunting equipment in the car either, because it would look bad to a game warden or police officer. You can use lights except from September 1 to December 15, when “it is unlawful to use artificial lights from 1/2 hour after sunset until 1/2 hour before sunrise to illuminate, jack, locate, attempt to locate or show up wild animals or wild birds except raccoons which may be hunted at night with electric flashlights during the open season (IFW).”
So no matter when you head out, you’re apt to see something. Just slow down and watch the sides of the roads, the trees, the skies, and take it all in. There’s always something out there to enjoy, to share, and to learn about. You won’t forget it, and neither will the kids.
PS Don’t forget your camera. Many of these are taken with my phone camera so the resolution isn’t as good as it could be.
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.
There’s always a sure way of knowing that spring is really coming, and that’s when I start spotting pussy willows as I drive to work. I often hear friends say they can never find any.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you really can’t miss them once you know where to look. The hardest part about spotting pussy willows is not being able to pick them off someone’s lawn…nope can’t do that. Since I haven’t got up the courage to ask and know that I can find them elsewhere, I just respect their land and move on…but I still sigh every time I drive by!
I’ve spent a good amount of time looking and some of the best and biggest pussy willows I’ve ever found have been in the city. You read right…the city. The The key is to pick them before they turn green, and you want willow trees…not poplar tree blossoms which look somewhat like a pussy willow.
Every year, John and I pick an enormous bunch of them to keep in the house. One year, we found the mother load of gigantic pussy willows and picked a bunch. The following year, we went back only to find that the owner of the property had wiped it clean of the willow trees, and put up a big old warehouse. Knowing that there had to be more somewhere in the city, I went to work scanning the for-sale lots in my travels.
Score! At an industrial park, where land is for sale, I managed to spot some pussy willows. They didn’t appear too big from the road, but once we were up close, they were huge! They literally looked like cat paws…or rabbit paws…just a really awesome find. It’s amazing how much land right next to the highway is accessible and I’ve seen several people picking pussy willows in the same spot each year. Just know that the bigger ones are where no one’s picked yet.
So with the cold that’s been sticking around, the pussy willows haven’t bloomed out as quick as I expected they would…but the season is coming to a close. In fact, since these rains, the willows are getting too far gone as the leaves are trying to come out.
These green buds are much more easy to spot…take note for next year. You’ll want to remember where you saw them come spring. Don’t forget to take the kids along for some outdoor time and a great time to learn about the woods.
Yes, it’s true. I actually spied a rabbit huddled up in a snowbank trying to hide from me. I stood there looking at it for some time trying to decide if I was actually seeing a rabbit or just a bunch of tree limbs on a rock. After all, I’ve been faked out more than once while partridge hunting and thinking I was seeing a bird, only to realize it was a stump. So after some consideration, I decided to take a shot. It sure looked like a rabbit, so I figured no harm, no foul, if it wasn’t. POW! And that rabbit literally jumped and squealed about four feet in the air, and after two hops, laid in snow.
Now I was feeling pretty darned proud of myself…until my husband called out asking WHY I shot.
Let’s back up…John and I wanted to take Copper, our beagle, out for a rabbit hunt. He is still a pup and when we’ve taken him with Fly, Fly’s done all the finding, barking, and chasing, and Copper hasn’t barked a peep. So this weekend, we just took Copper to see if we could get him tracking and barking. We made our way across a bog and onto the mountain where we’ve had many rabbit chases. Sure enough we found rabbit tracks everywhere…and new one, which is key. John and Copper were ahead of me, following the track. They went into a group of trees, while John called, “what’s this” and pointed to the track and again, and again. Copper was doing great, and I was just waiting for them to circle. The idea was to get Copper to chase, bark and I’d shoot a rabbit and let him see the process. That seemed simple enough.
As I followed their tracks to get set up, I came into a small opening. The rabbit tracks were everywhere. John had told me how rabbits will go on top of the snow covered rocks to watch for predators, and that’s when I saw the tracks leading up on top of a mound which is where I spied my rabbit. I stood there looking and staring, and it never moved. It never blinked, but that dot kept me looking…waiting.
Back to the shot: Yay! I got a rabbit! It squealed for a second then as it flailed, it started to fall into a hole by a rock. I had already lost one rabbit that way this year, so I quickly grabbed the rabbit and held onto it; however it died quickly in my hand. By the time John and Copper reached me, I was holding a dead rabbit. No rabbit to chase, no reward for Copper.
I was so excited that I spied and shot a rabbit, I had completely left the dog out of the equation. John wasn’t happy with me, nor was my oldest son when I told him my story…so Mom still has a lot of learning to do when it comes to training dogs for rabbit hunting…but hey…I spied a rabbit and shot it…and not too many people can say that. It was my first and only rabbit this season. After this, I’m surprised John let me go hunting with him at all. All is good…it’s a laughable moment and learning one too.
Copper never got a rabbit this year. Let’s hope next year works out better…and I’ll know not to shoot a rabbit if I see one unless Copper is chasing and barking after it.