Spring Pussy Willows

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.

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In the city of Waterville, but Augusta has some good ones too.

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.

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Some really tall ones!

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.

 

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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.

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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.

Happy Spring! Now go fishing!

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I Spied a Rabbit

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.

IMG_20180208_165315479Now I was feeling pretty darned proud of myself…until my husband called out asking WHY I shot.

Copper huntingLet’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.

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Snowshoe hare, in its winter white phase, hides in a tree well. (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks)

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.

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A week earlier, John had shot a rabbit sitting on a rock..only Fly was chasing it at the time.

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.

 

Why I Carry – A Woman’s View

When I first started hunting, my husband chaperoned me and took me to my treestand in the dark because I was afraid of the woods; that is, I was afraid of what I couldn’t see. I wasn’t used to the sounds of the forest and which animals make what sound. I didn’t grow up spending my time in the woods, so it was all new to me. On more than one occasion I’ve watched other hunters walk by me in my treestand and not even see me.  And more than once, I’ve had a hunter whom I don’t know approach me while I was hunting. No matter when it happens, it’s just plain rude, but I’ve never been afraid.

Over the years, I’ve become very comfortable in the woods, and I no longer need the hand-holding I once relied upon; however, being comfortable in the woods isn’t the same thing as being a woman alone in the woods. When I hunt with my rifle, I never worry about being a woman alone in the woods. I’m not the paranoid type, and it’s never been an issue, but I always had my rifle.  I hunt in areas that are family lands, or where private land owners give us permission. I pretty much know who’s hunting and when they’re hunting, and a rifle automatically provides me protection.  So when I began bow hunting, I didn’t automatically carry a handgun along with my bow. In fact, it never crossed my mind. I went about my hunting business as I always did.

Then came that afternoon, as I was walking down into my stand, I was met by two young men carrying a shotgun in my woods. Men I hadn’t expected. Men I didn’t know. And I didn’t like that since all I had was my bow.  This was my first, Oh crap, moment. As they approached me, the only upper hand I had on the situation was that they were hunting in my area, where they didn’t have permission. I overheard one even talking about my family and how we hunt there…so they knew us. I kept reminding myself that I had a phone, but that might not even be an option should I have a confrontation with these guys. I was at a definite disadvantage, but didn’t want to make it obvious.

I remained authoritative but friendly. I asked them where they were hunting because I was hunting there. After a brief awkward conversation, they knew I was annoyed and they were in the wrong, so they tucked their tails and headed back from where they came. At this point I was more annoyed than anything. By the time I got to my stand, I was late by a half an hour, and watched the tail of a deer as it bound off. That night’s hunt was ruined.

A few days later, I decided to try again. I was on a quest to get my royal crown/grand slam and I wasn’t about to let any opportunity to hunt go by. It was perfect weather for bow hunting: cool and almost no wind and the rut was close. So I left work early and headed into the woods. As I neared my stand, I was once again met by one of the two men I had met days earlier. I was more than annoyed, but apprehensive because he had spotted me coming down the trail,  and was walking right toward me. This time, he was carrying a rifle, not a shotgun, and I with only my bow. My second, Oh crap, moment. He wasn’t bird hunting either. He acted nervous and tried to make light talk and claimed he was hoping he’d see a coyote…okay. Once again, the situation came into my favor as I had basically caught this guy hunting out of season even thought I couldn’t prove it. This guy had basically been traipsing all over my area where I had planned to hunt. Second hunt ruined.

After this second round of uneasiness, I resolved to the fact that I needed to carry a handgun, if not as protection, then simply as a peace of mind. I learned long ago that one thing a woman should never be is the victim of opportunity. It’s better to feel safe than to be a victim, and if that means taking along a gun, then so be it. And besides, John and I  carry a gun while we’re bear baiting, camping, and trapping, so this would be no different, except John wouldn’t be with me.

img952009.jpgI’ve had training and I have a concealed carry permit so when I headed into the woods, I brought along my .44 Taurus for the remainder of the season. It’s like a cannon in my hand, but I can shoot it. I’ve since moved to a different handgun, a Taurus P38 ultralight that’s easier to shoot, and also lighter to carry.

It’s seems strange to say that carrying a gun made that much difference, but it did, for me. I particularly liked having it when I hunted expanded archery in the city. Hunting in unfamiliar areas took the edge off worrying about being bothered or confronted by a stranger. I could focus solely on my hunt.

When it came time to hunt again, instead of heading back to the same spot, I found a new one and set up a blind. I’m happy to say that I got my first bow deer and my royal crow quest was complete.

IMG_20161025_202959730Being a woman hunter in the Maine outdoors is one of the most enjoyable and empowering things I’ve done in my life, and if carrying a handgun while bow hunting is going to make me feel safer while I do the things I love, then I’ll continue to carry. I’ve even taken it along on my adventures with girlfriends, and it’s been well received. Whether I’m bird hunting, fly fishing or bow hunting, I plan to keep making memories and have my handgun with me.

If you’ve wanted to do things but the fear of doing something is because you feel vulnerable, then you might want to consider getting a handgun, training and certification to carry it (even though a concealed carry permit isn’t required…for now).

Happy hunting!

Bears…We Have Bears!

Our first week of baiting season proved successful…or at least for John’s bait. He not only had hits from big bears, but he had early hits so his chances of seeing a bear before dark looked promising. My bait had no hits.

 

The second week of baiting, we both got  bears. I finally had a sow and cubs on my site and John continued to have big bears and more bears on his site…and no sow and cubs.

 

Week three was a bonanza for my site. I had several bears, a set of boars, a couple single boar sightings and one bear possibly a dry sow that I recognize from last year, and of course the sow and cubs. They sow and cubs were and still are the most frequent visitors.

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I want this guy to come back! Yeah, he’s MIA
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Nice big boar
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Possibly the sow that had triplets last year…”that nose”
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The pair of boars, now MIA

I’ve been hunting and next week, I’ll let you know what’s been happening…until then, I hope your baits are getting bears!

Prepping for Bear Season

Bear season officially began August 28th, with baiting allowed to start one month prior to the hunt. Before you can ever think about hunting, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into baiting even before the season begins. The main items needed for baiting are bait, scent, and grease…and then comes all the other stuff you need: a good blue or white barrel; an infrared camera that can take bear chewing on it; buckets–square ones are better; old clothes as nice ones don’t last long lugging bait; rope; bait tags; tree stand or blind; license to bear hunt and or trap, and maybe even a beaver carcass if you have one.

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Required by law, you need to have a bear site owner tag. This one is laminated.

In order to manage our bait sites, we have to buy bait, which can be a number of different foods. You want high calorie, high fat, no or low chocolate food that bears will seek during hyperphagia. When natural food is abundant, they don’t eat nearly as much. Last year there were no beechnuts nor acorns where we hunt. It was also a very dry year so berries weren’t nearly as abundant as they should have been. This year, we have a lot of beechnut and acorns, and berries, particularly blueberries, so we probably won’t use as much. Knowing this, we also know that it will be harder to bring them to the bait if they’re not hungry and the weather stays hot.

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ATV loaded with 2 five-gallon buckets of bait, half 5-gallon bucket of grease and bucket of frosting. Buckets get dirty from dragging them through the woods. Barrel of bait in background.

In years past, we tried to buy day-old goods and put them up in barrels ourselves, but that got to be seemingly impossible and downright unpredictable. Plenty of places have goods available, but they’ll save them for family members or sell them to pig farmers, so you never knew if you’d score or not. It also seemed to be about the time larger outfitters were buying extra from their sources and they began selling bait by the barrel. Buying bait takes the guess work and worry out of not having bait. We use about a barrel of bait for each site for the entire season. This year, we got two barrels of donuts and one barrel of honey oats granola. We also bought cherry pie filling, frosting, and peanut butter for bonus flavors. Just like people, bear may become bored with your offerings so you have to change it up to keep them coming.

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Grease bucket and bait barrel tied to the tree; otherwise, bear drag them away.

Baiting requires grease. https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FMymainelygirladventures%2Fvideos%2F795422197261805%2F&show_text=0&width=560“>Bear love grease because they need that fat for the winter. Grease smells good and it’s a good attractant. Add in a little cap of super concentrated Northwoods Bear Products’ Gold Rush scent and it REALLY smells good…teeth tingling butterscotch good. This year we tried a different brand with a cherry scent, but it wasn’t nearly as strong to our nose as the butterscotch. We’ve decided to stick with Gold Rush from here on out. We half fill a five-gallon pail that we’ve tied to a tree with the bottom cut out. You also can see how much the bear loves it on one of my videos on Facebook.

Scent is also the most important thing to lure bear to your bait. Your bait has to smell good…really good. Bears sense of smell is extraordinary, but the distance has been untested. Read more about bear behavior >>

The cost of scent is probably the largest expense besides bait. Depending on brand, many scents can be purchased locally, and some you have to buy online. I did both this year, and probably spent $140 just on scent. We had some bear jelly with beaver castor from last year’s supply so we smeared some of it on a tree. Beaver (yes the beaver that make dams and ruin trees) is a treat for bear.  Bears can smell it, and even though the jelly, which looks like Vaseline, is a year old, it had all kinds of scent. A must-have is anise oil. We hang it from a small tree out of reach of the bear. I found using a tiki torch wick works great. It soaks up a lot of oil and holds it so that I’m able to hang it and then it slowly drips over time. Nothing is worse than refreshing a bait site only to have a torrential downpour an hour or a day later. This anise wick lasts and lasts through the weather.

Once you have all the bait and scent, a good bait barrel and rope is crucial to that the bear won’t haul it off. I had to get a new barrel this year because the bear nearly ripped the old barrel from the rope and it couldn’t be repaired. My new barrel has a removable top which makes filling the barrel easier. Otherwise, we have to fill the barrel through the front hole which can be time consuming.

And lastly, I have a durable nighttime game camera with infrared flash. Since changing to a camera with infrared, I’ve noticed the bear are much more comfortable but some bears still know there’s a camera and try to chew it off…so durable is key. In the last three years, we’ve been videoing instead of just taking pictures. It’s truly amazing to see how bear behave versus just a still shot picture.

Now that I’m ready for bear baiting season, stay tuned to what shows up.

 

The Music of Finding Trumpets

One of the great things about living in Maine is that there is always something to do. Foraging for wild mushrooms has become the thing to do when fishing or hunting isn’t on the schedule. I love getting out into the woods and really seeing the woods from a different perspective. The woods in the spring look different from the summer and fall, and part of foraging is spent looking for deer and other critter sign as well as mushroom identification, which will help me determine where to hunt come deer season.

Normally we don’t forage where we hunt, i.e. at home. We’re usually up north fishing or bear hunting, and so we forage where we camp. A couple weekends ago, our plans changed. The weather wasn’t looking great and so we decided to stay home. On a whim, I wanted to take a walk and check for mushrooms in our neck of the woods.

Boy oh boy, we’ve been missing out! Last year we scored our first Chanterelles ever up north. We’ve made several trips to “our secret spot” to pick them this year, but the yield has been far less than last year. Little did we know that we had them in our woods! Not only did we pick Chanterelles, but we scored on the ever elusive, not-so-elusive-if-you-know-where-to-pick, Black Trumpets. In fact, we almost stepped on them! You need to look where you’re going when you hunt for Black Trumpets. Once we spotted them, they seemed to be everywhere! Every time my husband or I would find a bunch, we’d yell “Bingo!” with the sound of excitement, and it never got old hearing the music of finding Trumpets.

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Our first patch of Black Trumpets. Little did we know how many more were hanging out nearby!

Not only did we find Black Trumpets, we hit the mother load!  In just three short pickings, we harvested over 30 pounds of these delights. I read that these mushrooms sell for $35 to $40 per pound…but we’re keeping them. I’ve also shared with family and friends so they could try them, and I hope to still pick more before the season of Trumpets ends.19894982_10211005941158065_3142371527501338295_nIt turns out Trumpets grow in oaks, and that’s precisely what we have. Now don’t get excited…our oaks are off limits to foragers and hunters alike, but there are plenty of oaks and beeches in Maine, and I’ve seen many foragers scoring big this year. I guess all the rain we’ve been getting does have its benefits.

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Chanterelles to be sauteed and froze.

I dried them, I sauteed and froze them, and of course, we ate them. They are as good as the mushroom experts claim.

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Scrambled eggs with Black Trumpet mushrooms and Sharp White Cheddar Cheese. YUM!

I’m hoping I’ll be putting those mushrooms on burgers, in gravy with moose steak, and in soups and rabbit pot pies. I’ve never used dried mushrooms, so this is a new adventure for me.

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It’s not quite time to begin the bear season, so I’ll be fly fishing and foraging more. Stay tuned; I still haven’t found the elusive-to-me, Chicken of the Woods, Shaggy Mane or Hedgehog mushrooms. I hope the music doesn’t stop just yet…I sure do love those Trumpets!

For more information about edible mushrooms you can search for in Maine, I suggest getting a good guide and checking out this website. Remember to never eat a mushroom that you cannot identify.

Foraging for Mushrooms in the Maine Woods

A couple years ago, I got interested in finding edible wild mushrooms. I never imagined how addictive foraging can be, but the bug bit, and it bit hard, not only for me, but the hubby as well. When we’re in the woods, we spend as much time searching for mushrooms and trying to identify them, as we look for critter sign.

I started out finding the “easy” ones and found them behind my house. Lobster mushrooms were one of the first. Lobster mushrooms are bright orange and ugly. I have slowly been learning different mushrooms, and verifying my finds before ever considering putting anything in my mouth. Lobster mushrooms have a weird texture and although they supposedly have a lobster taste, I didn’t like them.

 

We’ve also found loads of Chaga mushroom. Chaga has lots of medicinal properties and makes a wonderful tea after you grind it. It’s more like wood than mushroom, and you can’t saute it and throw it on a burger. However, it’s highly prized and sought after, and I have a load of it. Having a husband who cuts trees all day has proved to be advantageous in finding Chaga.

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Biggest piece of chaga ever scored…15 pounds and it’s only half of it!

I’ve also found Reishi, but haven’t tried it. I’ve heard you can cook it on the barbecue, but it’s most often used in tinctures as a medicinal supplement…hence, I recognize it, but I haven’t used it.IMG_20160717_121857252

Once I starting being able to identify mushrooms, I expanded my search to oysters. Oyster mushrooms vary during different times of the season, but spring oysters are easy to find because of the anise-like smell they have, and they grow distinctly on popular trees. I prefer fall oysters to the taste of spring oysters. Fall oysters seem dryer, and more like the mushrooms bought in the store.

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Fall oysters found in the fall while deer hunting.

The real addiction came when we found Chanterelle mushrooms. Chanterelles are said to be one of the most tasty wild mushrooms, and I can’t agree more. No matter how they are cooked, they are delicious! They are easy to spot since they are bright yellow in the woods, but their look-a-like Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are extremely poisonous and should not be confused with Chanterelles. There is also a Scaly Vase Chanterelle and False Chanterelles that some mistake as the good one. False chanterelles tend to be more orange-brown and the stems are different and it’s toxic…so it’s very important to make sure you know what you’re picking. Click here for more pictures and more information on chanterelles compared to look-a-likes

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Mushroom season is just kicking off. I follow Maine Mushrooms on Facebook and have learned a lot of information from other mushroom foragers. I also have a book on mushroom identification I keep handy.

In particular, this is morel season. Morels are said to be mostly in the southern Maine and the coast, so the last thing I ever expected to find was a morel north of Waterville, Maine. But I did. I scored big! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d find a morel. You have to be almost on top of one to not miss it. They are easy to miss since they blend in so well. It’s not a mushroom you can spot from far away. I was lucky and found one standing all by itself on the side of a logging road. Hubby and I decided to really hunt and we found several more. We went over the same area where we initially found them, and found a few more we had missed the first time!

Morels have to be cooked. I chose to coat mine in flour and saute them. I only cooked half of them so I could try them just sauteed. The bigger ones had more flavor, and I can say I like them as much as chanterelles! I’m ready to go find more!

Still on my bucket list: Trumpets, Chicken of the Woods, and Hen of the woods, which I’ve never found any of them, and Bolettes, which I’ve found plenty but have yet to feel comfortable enough to eat one.

Foraging for mushrooms is a lot of fun and is a great way to spend time in the woods when you can’t fish or hunt. Hopefully I’ll be back with more tales of my foraging.