So You Got a Moose Permit!

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.

102_6128My 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.

Zack Bull 2012In 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 Bull 2012.jpgJohn’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.

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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.

Happy Hunting!

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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.

More Bear!!!

I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!

I Can Hardly Sleep at Night!

John and I decided to change things up this year. The plan was to bait only once a week. I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!

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Mr. Lefty

Well, plans change occasionally, and this week, I couldn’t bait on Saturday because I was attending the all-women guide school course in Augusta that Women of the Maine Outdoors organized. As I sat there all day, I wondered if John had seen any bear on our baits. Were they still hitting? How many? Any big ones? Any sows with cubs? So many thoughts filled my mind about the fact that I wasn’t there helping and that I was also missing out on the adventure with him. To my delighted surprise, John decided to wait for me and we went up to the mountain on Sunday. Even with the threats of thunderstorms and rain, I was excited…giddy in fact.

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Too little…I’ll pass on this one.

Prepping to get there takes a considerable amount of time. I brought an extra change of clothes, new batteries for the game cameras, new SD cards to switch out, and a jug of ice water to keep us hydrated. I helped load the  bait, caramel, nougat, scents, and grease. In no time, we were on the road; after a quick fuel stop and breakfast to fuel our bodies, we headed to the mountain. We had only one quick rain shower on our way so the woods weren’t too wet. Riding in wasn’t bad this time either. We re-distributed the weight of the bait so that the four-wheeler was less tipsy. There’s nothing better than riding down the dirt road in the wild and smelling the sweet smell of anise oil and bait.

IMG_20160816_214232269_HDRWhen we arrived at my bait site, we found all the bait gone from the blue barrel, most of the grease gone, but some pink nougat still left. The bears had been there every day taking turns throughout the day and night getting some much needed food. We still have one skinny one, but he just appears young, not tick infested as some other hunters have suggested. In the middle of the pile of bait left outside the barrel was the most beautiful 6 inch-ish wide bear track I’d ever seen. This was from a BIG bear. My heart raced as I wondered if it was Scrapper. I wouldn’t be able to tell if it was since I had crushed my digital camera the week before, so I no longer have a way to check cards until they go into the computer. Dang!

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Little white patch on the throat…he’s a new one.

To my delight, we believe there are FOUR (eeekkkk!!!) bear visiting my site. One in particular does not like my camera. He’s chewed and gnawed on it several times. Luckily Moultrie built it right and it’s still hanging on….not a scratch on it!! Even after he spun it around the tree, I was lucky enough that he spun it BACK to almost where it was in the beginning. Note to self: camouflage that camera. We weren’t so lucky on John’s bait. A bear finally hit it, but he also attacked the camera and although he didn’t break it, the camera wasn’t facing the bait for the last three days. As last week, I’ll post videos on my Facebook page since I can’t put videos here. Be sure to check out the bear bathing itself in the grease!

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OMG…biggest bear ever!

I sure hope I find a way to sleep before I start sitting in my stand; the last think I need to do is fall asleep and miss one! This weekend’s forecast looks spectacular; I can’t wait to see who’s come to eat this week.

Being a Woman of the Maine Outdoors

I have always loved being active in the outdoors and consider myself a Woman of the Maine Outdoors. I’m even a board member for a non-profit Women of the Maine Outdoors; yet winter has always been my least favorite season, and my least active season. Two reasons: I have asthma, and I detest being cold.

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Our new fireplace

It’s easy to stay inside where it’s warm, where there’s a movie and warm fireplace, where I always have housework to be done, where there’s laundry to keep up, a wood stove to fill, and home projects to get done.  I avoid it all the rest of the year so I don’t know why I care now!

My usual outdoor cycle begins with fly fishing and camping activity in the spring even if there still are snowbanks to climb over. My knees get really sore from activities so I end up taking lots of ibuprofen and acetaminophen and do a lot of whining. Once bear season arrives in August, I hope I have enough wind to help haul buckets of bait. Bear season ends just in time for deer season when I hunt every single day I can because the knees don’t hurt as much, the asthma is under control, and I’ve built endurance to enjoy every minute. Then winter comes. I spend the majority of my time indoors.

In the last few years, I’ve been lucky to do a snowmobiling trip, maybe go snowshoeing once, get coerced into ice fishing once, and then I wait for spring. By spring, I’m completely out of shape and the mad cycle begins all over again. I’ve decided that if I’m to be someone who represents Woman of the Maine Outdoors, then I need to change!

In an effort to break the cycle, I’ve been getting outdoors this winter. Keeping my deer cameras out and allowing myself the time to get out into the woods has been the best thing I’ve done in years.

I go prepared with my new hunting fanny pack I got for Christmas. I bring along my inhaler, phone with camera, eye glasses and a compass just in case. I am finding new adventures and wildlife in the woods every time I go out! I’ve found more tracks of animals I never knew were there. I have fox, owls and deer on my game camera.

For now I haven’t had to put on my snowshoes because the amount of snow has been minimal but walking in the snow is still giving me a good workout. We are giving the snowshoes a new coat of marine varnish to make them like new again for when the snow does finally arrive. It’s almost time for our annual ice fishing trip to Moosehead, and I’ll be getting out my one trap and hoping to catch that monster togue or brookie.

Actually, let’s be honest. I’ll be happy to get a flag.

Maybe this weekend, I’ll get the chance to do some rabbit hunting or to try my luck at coyote hunting~I guess I better buy my licenses!

Whatever you do, take time for yourself with or without someone, and get out there~being a woman (or man) of the Maine outdoors begins with baby steps. If you don’t have private land, there are lots of trails for public use and you’ll be surprised what you can see…even in the city I’m told there’s some solitude in the woods. Hats off to my baby sister Wendi for “getting out there”.