Take A Slow Wild Ride

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.

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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.

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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).”

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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.

Happy Riding!

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.

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Day 5: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure

I Get My Moose!

Day five started out perfect. It was cold and frosty; what any hunter would consider the perfect morning to hunt. Even better was the I finally spotted Orion, the Hunter constellation in the sky. With the action we had on Thursday, we had high hopes and the pressure to get a moose before the bird hunters arrived on Saturday.

We headed back to where we saw moose number 5. This time there was no moose grunting on the hill, no cow wailing for companionship, but there was a moose grunting in a distance down towards the other road that we scouted the day before. As soon as it was legal shooting hours, we called. No answers, so we wasted no time and decided to go find the grunting moose.

img_20160930_085944864_hdrWe parked out a further distance and quietly walked in. After about 150 yards of walking, John gave a cow call. Immediately, we had a grunt answer followed by brush breaking and twigs snapping. We slipped off the road and got behind a bush of alders. Another alder bush further out was blocking my view, but also gave great cover for us. I got on John’s right side so I could watch. I could hear the moose, but couldn’t see it. John took a peek. He said, “I can see his antlers. He’s a good one.” So I took up the outer spot again and peeked. There it was, grunting and coming straight down the road! I drew a my gun and waited for him to come into my sights. My first thought was to shoot him in the front of the chest. I’ve shot deer like this and it kills them instantly. Bad part is that it’s a small target even for a moose. I was afraid that if I waited too long, he’d wind us or see us. I lucked out when he stopped and turned his head to the right looking for the cow moose that was calling him. I fired into his neck/shoulder. One shot from my son’s .270 rifle and the bull dropped to the ground! I didn’t shoot again because I thought he die immediately.

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

I turned to John, and said with great relief, “He’s down.” John grabbed me and gave me a big hug. In a split second, the bull jumped up and took about four large gallops into the woods. In slow motion I could see my moose running way! Damn!! I should have shot it again. There was no blood trail because the of the angle I shot it. We heard it crash and decided to wait a couple minutes. It was only another couple of minutes before we found my moose. It had been a dead moose running. It hadn’t gone far, but it was far enough. It was wedged between two trees. It would more work to get him out of the woods, but it didn’t matter. I had my moose. My family would have a full freezer of meat. I got to have my “real” hunt, and we were able to do it all on our own. The sense of pride I had at the moment is something I won’t soon forget.

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Then came the real work to get the moose out of the woods and onto the trailer. We used a winch and battery along with come-a-longs and ropes. We even used the come-a-longs to hold the moose’s legs apart for the field dressing. John insisted on field dressing and I didn’t argue. I was there the entire time helping, but he’s the man when it comes to gutting an animal.

Using snatch blocks and rope we got the moose onto the trailer fairly easy. I made out the transportation tag and we put it on the moose. We then covered it with a tarp to keep it clean from the dust on the road. After making it back to camp, we packed up and headed out to tag the moose and then headed home. My moose weighed in at 750 pounds with a 43.5 inch spread.

Yes, moose hunting is hard, but it just proved once again, that with hard work, perseverance, and perhaps a little luck, you can accomplish anything. Hunting has shown me time and again, that nothing is impossible.

Ten Things I Learned When I Went Moose Hunting

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

Day 4: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure

Day 4: We finally hear a grunt!

Thursday morning began as the other days. We parked the truck and trailer and headed out to a new spot. We had found a road with so much sign that we were convinced we’d hear or see a moose. We parked way out off the side and quietly walked in. We stood at the end of the road where it “y’s”. Do we go left or right? Sign everywhere. But not a sound. As daylight broke, we decided we couldn’t keep wasting our time trying to find moose around sign if they weren’t going to answer. Perhaps the moose are coupled already with a cow? We didn’t know, but we knew we weren’t going to find a moose any time soon there. So off we went.

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Where moose number 5 disappeared.

By now we had been down many roads, and walked many miles with no result. We decided to try to find a new spot by heading down a road that had camps on it. Little did we know there were many side roads off the main road, and the area was teaming with signs of moose. We got out of our truck to take a listen. Sure enough! We heard moose grunts and a very vocal moaning cow moose on the hill above us and another grunt off to our right..ooh bull competition in play. Of course, we climbed the hill and tried to get close to the pair. Who’d think there would be a run-off muddy bog on the middle of a mountain? Yup, and we had to get through it. As we moved in the final yards, their calling stopped. We never saw them, so we hiked back down the hill. We didn’t care. We were revitalized. They were calling.  This was a game changer!

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Moose no. 5’s huge track

My theory of having a real moose hunt was once again challenged when moose number 5  showed up. We jumped back in the truck and headed down to the turnaround in the road we were on. At the big opening stood a giant moose. GIANT. A moose with big wide paddled antlers just stood there staring at us as we approached. John said, “There you go. He’s all yours.” I grabbed my gun and ONE bullet (since the gun I was using top loads and takes too much time) and went to get out of the truck. John decided we need to be closer and stepped on the gas. The bull turned on his hind legs and floored it too. I was yelling to stop the truck. John just drove faster. The faster we tried to catch up with him, the faster the moose ran. Then the moose made a sharp right turn and disappeared into the brush. We jumped out of the truck and dove through the six foot tall raspberry bushes right where we saw him disappear. No moose to be seen anywhere. He was gone. We came out of the raspberries smelling like moose urine. That was the only sign we had of him being there.

At this point, I was so mad at John for not stopping that I couldn’t say anything. We didn’t speak much for the better part of the day. I needed my time to pout and to think about things. In the end, we talked it out and from then on, we had a mutually agreeable plan should something like that happen again. He was to stop the f*&%$)*g truck.

That afternoon we tried a new road. A large clear cut on the right with steep hill on the left made up the landscape of the area. No matter which way we hiked, it would be strenuous. Several times John stopped and got out and tried to call making a cow call with his hands. No answers. No moose.

On the fourth stop, John called again. We heard a bull grunt! The moose was on the hill RIGHT behind us, so we jumped down over the bank into burdock bushes to hide. In fact, the moose was almost on a run trying to get to us. It’s incredible to hear such an instinctual reaction. The moose grunted continuously with urgency as it crashed down the hill. John kept calling. I had my gun ready. All the moose had to do is step out from the edge of the woods. I saw black, but I wanted it to be a good shot. I kept saying, come on, step out….and then like slow motion, came the sound of a vehicle. The only vehicle that we had seen or heard since we started on the road. Not only did the vehicle drive by, but it stopped right  at  our  truck, then after a second or two, drove away. Why? To find us? To look for moose? We don’t know, but the moose panicked and took off in the opposite direction. Another moose lost to hunter interference. Apparently those hunters don’t understand hunting etiquette. If you see another hunter, just move along. Moose No. 6 was gone.

Tomorrow: I get my moose!

 

 

 

Days 2-3: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure:

Day 2: Cloudy with a smidgen of moose and gunshots

After the incident the night before, I decided the last thing I wanted was a drive-by shooting hunt. I wanted a real hunt, in the woods.We hunted all day but didn’t see a single moose. The morning hunt was set up in an area that had a good wallow, but still no moose were answering back.

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

During our day scout, we eventually found a road that had evidence of a bull moose fight. For the evening, we set up in the clearing for a still hunt since we found sign and the moose weren’t responding. Maybe by chance the moose would return. The evening sit was pretty non-eventful. A late hatch of mosquitoes wanted us for supper so we ended up leaving early. The warm change in temps really didn’t make hunting easier.

On our way back to camp, two young bull moose ran across the the Island Pond Road in front of the truck. My first reaction was to have John stop the truck.
John asked, “You really want to shoot one of them?”
“Yes”, I said.
I still had 10 minutes to shoot. The moose cut into the woods, but there was a side road about 50 yards away. We drove to the road, and we got out to see if the moose had come out of the woods. No sign of them. We decided to walk down in case they were just out of sight. Half way down the road, a set of headlights in the opposite direction came up over a knoll. In an instant, two doors opened, hunters jumped out and started shooting. “You’re welcome’, I said as we turned around and headed back to our truck. Then a single loud echoing shot rang out..and then came the whizzing of a bullet right between us! Holy shit! We have hunter orange on! We yelled and ran to our truck. I was more mad than scared. I just don’t understand how that can happen. I sure hope they each had a permit since I’m pretty sure they must have hit both moose.

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

That made three moose we had seen. Since there is no cell service at camp, we traveled another 30 minutes to the top of a hill with reception to call the kids and let them know how we were doing. Not getting one of those moose didn’t bother me since it wasn’t the way I truly wanted to get a moose. Impulse had gotten the best of me. I would think twice before doing that again.

We ate pumpkin pie and drank milk for supper then we went to bed. I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to sleep. Luckily, with all the activity, sleep came easy.

Day 3: Rain

We woke to pouring rain, and without much hesitation decided to sleep longer and wait until the rain let up. We woke to showers, drank coffee and headed out in rain gear to find a moose. We hiked the entire day. It was almost muggy, and everything was wet. I sweat under my rain gear, but was comfortable. We hiked hills, valleys and bogs ALL DAY. We found tons of sign, but no matter what we did, we could not get anything to answer to the calls. We tried all our spots and decided to cross off the ones that weren’t as good as others. No since wasting our time if the site wasn’t showing new activity.

We even went back to the road where the two moose were and could find no sign of a gut pile, so who knows what the shooters did. Did they take them? Did they leave them? Could they really have been that bad of a shot that none of the six-eight shots fired even hit one moose?

We ended up still sitting where I had seen the the big moose on Sunday. There was still fresh sign, but there was absolutely no grunting taking place. We had seen at least a dozen wallows and plenty of antler destroyed trees. Where were the moose?! We didn’t know if they were all paired up already and we had missed the rut, or if the rut just hadn’t begun.

Day 3 ended with a big moose crossing the road in front of us as we headed back to camp. It was already well after legal shooting hours so all we could do was watch it go off into the woods. That made 4 moose we had seen on the Island Pond Road. I began to be worried my hunt would only be successful by a chance sighting at best. Perhaps I’d have to settle for a drive-by hunt.

A good dose of Tylenol and Aleve, and bedtime couldn’t come soon enough. We had snacked all day on cheese and crackers and candy bars, so we drank water for supper, skipped the fire and went to bed.