I like to tell people that the outdoors is my happy place. One of the things most enjoyable to being in the outdoors is that you never know what you’re going to find or see. Whether it’s a plant, animal, rock, or scenery, there is always something that makes me smile in the outdoors.
I used to bring my fancy pants camera, but after a year and a half of dragging it along, it’s now broken. So, for now, I have to rely on my cellphone camera. Even if I don’t have cellular coverage, I always have a camera. Unfortunately, my cellphone camera leaves much to be desired. It’s not very good with zooming in photos, but it’s all I have.
The very first time John and I decided to try some moose shed hunting, we ventured down a skid trail where the paper company had cut. That was a mistake we won’t make again. We had to crawl over blown down trees and slash. The whole trail was filled with newly grown birch, maple, and bushes. Lots of bushes. It was a struggle for me to navigate with my hobbly arthritic knees. So when I finally got to the edge of the woods, I cut through to the grassy opening. On my way, I followed a well-traveled moose lane, full of moose droppings. Just as I headed up the gradual knoll, I was startled by a grouse. It nearly flew into me, then landed a few feet away and started displaying the broken wing dance. It then flew to a nearby tree. I was excited. I knew there had to be a nest somewhere. And there it was, RIGHT at my feet! I took my camera and carefully moved a leaf to see seven beautiful eggs. I snapped a couple pictures with my cellphone and then went to tell John what I had found.
The following week, we were back moose shed hunting and I wanted to see if the hen had hatched her eggs…nope, as we approached she sat still. I got within about 6 feet and snapped a zoomed in picture. I didn’t want to scare her off the nest. Such a good mom!
You can see how well she is camouflaged and how has sticks over her head for more concealment.
The third week, I was excited. We had turkey chicks show up on the Spypoint camera at home, so I was sure we’d find an empty nest with some empty shells. I was so excited. I slowly crept up to take a peek…no bird in the nest…then I saw it.
Sadly nature got the upper hand, and this hen and her seven chicks became a predator’s meal before they had a chance. I was so sad to see her feathers strewn all over the ground. The only thing remaining was a wing, and some empty egg shells.
The grouse had made the fatal error of placing her nest alongside a well traveled corridor and the way she made her nest, there was only one way out. She must have been ambushed. It was either a coyote, bobcat or fox. In one meal, seven grouse were gone.
Even though I have spent countless hours in the woods, I am still surprised, shocked, or saddened by the cruelty of nature. I guess I have to remind myself that predators are just doing what they need to do to eat, and that if predators aren’t controlled, they potentially become over-populated.
So when you venture out, be prepared to see things other than all beauty and happy things. Occasionally, you’ll get blindsided by reality.
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.
This was recently published in Boot Life Magazine. Buy a subscription and get your stories sooner!
August means the start of the hunting seasons, and bear hunting is one of my favorite, both for anticipation and actual hunt. It’s hard to believe that just seven years ago, I started baiting bear sites with my husband, John. I was along for the ride then. This was the guys’ hunt; my husband, son and son-in-law set baits in hopes on getting a big bruin, so there really wasn’t any room for me. I was always mindful to not crowd in on guys-time as I think it’s as important as the girl-time I spend with my daughter. Even though I didn’t tell anyone, I really wanted to try this bear hunting.
I remember helping John bait those first sites. Since the guys worked later than he did, I got to tag along and help schlep the barrels of bait and grease. We got our first game cameras just for bear hunting, and checking our memory cards was always the highlight of the trip, especially when the bear would try to destroy or rip the camera off the tree. Seeing bear photos for the first time was a definite WOW moment for me. The excitement of seeing bear while having the fear of them, was real. The whole time I helped bait the sites, I was constantly looking over my shoulder, leery of what may be lurking in the woods. I was never outright scared because John always had the .44 magnum on his hip.
Fast forward a couple years, and boys decided they didn’t have time to bear hunt north. There was my opportunity knocking! By then, I had grown more accustom to seeing bear photos and instead of feeling that fear, there was more taking the time to see which one was left or right handed into the bucket, and seeing how big the bear were. I was then, and still am amazed at the number of different bear we have coming to bait.
I was so excited to finally get to bear hunt; however I also knew this would be a challenge for me with my fear of the dark. John helped me prepare my site, but I ultimately picked the spot. For years we had driven by one side of the hill and I was just dying to check it out. Turns out it was loaded with beech trees, clawed up from bear climbing them in previous years. It was also shaded and would get dark earlier than an open spot.
We set my tree stand and barrel, then baited it up, and in no time, I had bear coming to MY bait. Once bear hunting finally arrived, I was faced with my first challenge. I had to walk into my bait site alone. John would have taken me, but if I was going to hunt, I was going to not have him have to hold my hand.
When I first hunted deer, John was right by my side, taking the lead and walking me into my tree stand and sitting with me the entire time, but over time, I learned to face my fear and walk into my stand on my own. This was different. It was daylight. How could I possibly be afraid?! I can’t say I was completely comfortable because there’s always a chance of encountering a bear on my way in, so I’d take a deep breath, taking in my cup of courage, and off I’d go.
I was always relaxed once I got in my stand, but until then, even encountering a snake in the trail would scare the hell out of me. Walking in was not one of my favorite things to do. I would sit until legal shooting hours ended, but then I’d have to stay in my tree stand until John retrieved me. As dark approached, I would go from hoping a bear would come in, to hoping one wouldn’t decide to show up because what would I do then?! I would always be relieved to hear the truck coming down the road, and would watch for John’s light in the trail. He’d let out a whistle in the dark, and I knew it was safe to get down.
One night, I decided to face my fears by getting out of my tree stand and walking out to John. I knew he was on his way in to get me, so down the ladder I went. When I reached the bottom, I realized I had left my flashlight in my backpack. As I rummaged through the pack, I heard a noise on the trail. I gave a whistle. No whistle back. I gave another whistle. Again nothing. Then the sound of an animal running off in the brush with a good bristled huff. It was a bear, and there I was on the ground with nothing but a flashlight! In an instant, John gave a yell. The bear had run right at him on his way in. I was glad he didn’t hang around me. I was pretty proud that I maintained my calm and didn’t panic when I realized it was a bear. Call me naïve or dumb, but that event actually helped me gain more courage when I bear hunt.
I moved my stand higher on the hill the following year. It was the very first time I had daytime bear. One night we went to our stands later than normal. I had been having a sow and cubs on my bait, so I was a bit nervous about the possibility of running into an angry Mama bear. I took a deep breath and my cup of courage, and headed in. I brought my trusty bacon scented spray to help cover my scent as I ascended the trail to my tree stand. I sprayed a small squirt of scent on the trees every few yards. As I made my way to my stand, I was going to spray up my bait site, but instead, jumped a small bear, that took off in flash of black. So much for my cup of courage. I decided I didn’t want to go any further so I put the bottle of spray at the base of my tree stand ladder. I climbed into my stand which I had equipped with a handy dandy hanging tree blind, so that I could go undetected if a bear came in. I thought I was sitting pretty.
As night closed in, I was pretty excited that I had actually seen a bear in the wild, since that was a first for me. Then came the unmistakable sound of something coming up behind me, walking ever so slow and deliberate. I could hear minute pieces of sticks breaking almost silently under the steps…then came the sniff. The sniff of a bear directly under my tree stand, smelling my bacon spray. I didn’t dare move. I swallowed another cup of courage and tried to get my eyes on this bear, but the inside of the blind was small and unforgiving and I couldn’t move…or I didn’t dare move. As it went to my right, dark was closing in fast and I still could not see the bear because he was directly under me. When he finally made his way out in front of me, I could just make him out, and I only had five minutes left of legal hunting. It was now or never. As I pulled my gun up, the bear stopped. I slowly moved my gun so that the barrel came outside of the blind so I could aim. In an instant, the bear bolted. He had seen my gun. In a flash, my bear was gone, and he’s never returned.
My heart raced, and as bummed as I was that I didn’t get a chance to shoot my dream bear, Scrapper, I was overjoyed by the whole experience. It still remains one of the most memorable moments in my hunting adventures.
Bear season will begin the end of August, and hopefully by the time you read this, I will have harvested a nice bear for the freezer. I will still have to drink my cup of courage when I head into my stand, and when I leave, which I now do alone as I make my way back down the mountain to my waiting four-wheeler. I’ll drive through the trails in the dark, sometimes jumping a moose or two and make my way out in the dark to where I’ll leave my four-wheeler and get picked up by John. And yes, I’ll probably swallow a cup or two of courage every time I do it. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. That cup of courage has made me more confident as a hunter and person, and any time I think I can’t do something, I just drink another cup of courage and say, “yes, I can.”
My advice to anyone who wants to hunt, but has fears. Find a mentor, and face them head on. Drink that cup of courage. You won’t regret it.
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.
So spring has taken too long to arrive. I’m not sure if it’s because winter began in October, or if spring really is lagging. The warm weather certainly hasn’t arrived.
Last year we were fishing in the river by the end of April and hammering the salmon. This year, we were on the river in our winter underwear, praying for a bite and a little sun to warm us up. I never thought I’d be saying this, but the mosquitoes and black flies finally have arrived so it shouldn’t be much longer. Just take a look at the difference a year can make. Mother Nature is miraculous, and she’s working hard to catch up.
These are photos of the end of April thru the middle of May 2017. I’m still waiting for my birds to return to my wreath.
In 2018 we were fishing, finding and foraging all through May. Turtle were laying their eggs, fish was abundant as were the mushrooms. We didn’t get many morels, but it was a dry spring.
This year, we’re still waking up to a heavy frost and the camper heater has run all night long. Mayflowers stayed in the bloom the longest ever. We just found fiddleheads up north when they’d gone by at home. We haven’t found any oyster mushrooms, but the morel mushrooms didn’t disappoint in this wet weather and arrived right on schedule. The salmon are just beginning to bite, the brook trout are just starting to rise for mayflies, but we still haven’t seen a deer fawn, moose calf, or turtle. We’ve still seen some amazing animals: grouse, beaver, frog eggs, rabbits, geese and goslings, wood ducks, mergansers, and we even spotted some chaga. Oh, yeah, that is bear scat and a snake. We photograph everything we find. Enjoy!
The week’s weather finally is starting to look like it might actually be sunny. I hope you’ll get out and enjoy the outdoors.
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.
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.