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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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.

 

We Happened Upon a Chanterelle

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A bowl full of chanterelles

Last year we began foraging in earnest. We searched and picked and identified as many mushrooms as we could. We were able to identify three edibles: oysters, lobsters and chanterelles. Chanterelles are our favorites, and we managed to find a nice flush up north.

Looking around home yielded a few golden goodies, but nothing like last year’s bounty. We had pretty much resolved that we wouldn’t be so lucky as last year.

In preparation for bear season, we decided that John’s site needed to be moved to a more covered and discreet area that the bears would be comfortable visiting. We decided to go to the mountain and scout, and hopefully find time to look for some mushrooms.

On our way out of the campground, we realized we forgot our mushroom bags. As we turned around to go back, I spied that golden unforgettable, chanterelle color right by the road! Sure enough, we scored. We scored even more when we searched into the nearby woods.2017072295111640_2

Chanterelles right in the full sun!

After scoring so many mushrooms, our bags were full. We reorganized and emptied one bag, then headed into the woods on the mountain. After we decided where the new bear site would be, we decided to hike out the easy way instead of through all the mud we encountered earlier.

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I filled my fanny pack!

On our way, we happened upon some chanterelles, and then again, and again. Every time we found a bunch, we’d be so excited. Of course, we yelled, “Bingo” to keep our good fortune coming. We found them in many different places, but one consistency was finding them on the sides of roads where the soil is hard in mixed woods of fir and hardwood. We found them in shade, in sun, and under bushes…they just seemed to be everywhere!2548

The size of the Chanterelles kept us yelling in excitement!

This year’s haul was twice what we got last year. They’ve been sauteed in butter and frozen, and are now waiting for the right time to accompany our moose meat, venison, or bear dinner.IMG_20170723_074815810Over three gallons picked and trimmed.

Mushroom foraging has been a lot of fun. It’s given me exercise and we’ve created some great memories together. The season still holds many surprises, but for now, we’ll be focusing on the bear hunting season. Preparation is under way and the baits are out. Hopefully, I’ll have something to report on next week!

Until then, tight lines on those fish, keep your eyes down in the woods for fungi treasures, and keep practicing your shooting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footsteps in the Woods

So I’ve been out searching for mushrooms and figured, what better place to look than right at work. There are several well maintained trails that I can walk. High school runners compete on these very trails every fall during cross country season. The woods are perfect for mushrooms, i.e., they’re not really healthy. There’s lots of fallen wood, dead wood and sick wood as much as there is really big wood. Healthy woods don’t produce great mushrooms, or at least the ones that grow on sick trees…so this place feels like a bonanza. There are literally mushrooms growing along the trail, in the woods and in the gullies where water runs off.

 

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I haven’t ventured out into the trails until this week. I didn’t have any mosquito protection, and no tick protection either, so I would have been more apprehensive except that I had my sneakers on. I was all set to venture off the trail. I had to keep a lookout for the poison ivy that would appear out of nowhere.

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Poison Ivy

Last year, I entered one of the trails and swore I heard a deer blow, but never saw it.

Today, I entered the lower entrance of the Porcupine trail. As I walked, I kept thinking I was hearing something walking in the woods off to my right. The only thing I was able to spot was a blue jay flying from the ground to the tree. It must be the blue jay? No squirrels, which are notorious for making noise in the woods, were to be seen anywhere. My footsteps were almost unheard. The bark mulch and pine needle trails dampened the sounds of my walking.  What was it?!

I made my way around the loop, but kept hearing the sound. Still I saw nothing. I decided to retake the loop, only the upper loop this time in the opposite direction. The wind was in my favor. As I rounded the corner, there she stood, totally unaware that I was there. She was busy looking for left over acorns from last year. Her beautiful orange coat glistened in the sun. She was small, but appeared healthy.

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It took a few tries, but finally I was able to get her attention. She watched cautiously. I admired her, but didn’t move. She went back to her eating, and I went on my way.  I scored a few mushrooms and saw a deer. It was a good day for a walk.

Do you ever hear footsteps in the woods?

By the way, no hunting allowed here, so all I can do is dream about hunting deer on my walks.

The Love of a Dog…or Two

What I’ve never expected was that I’d grow to love our dogs more deeply than I ever thought possible.

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Tinkerbell and Tyler out for a walk.

I grew up with dogs and cats, but I’ve always considered myself a cat person. That was until I found out I’m very allergic to them. I still never cared for dogs because I grew up not knowing how to train them. Without proper training, dogs bark (which drives me bananas), poop in the house, take off running, and do absolutely everything you don’t want them to do, while cats just adore you. When I found out I could no longer have cats, I was unenthusiasticly resolved to the fact that we’d be a “dog family”. What I’ve never expected was that I’d grow to love our dogs more deeply than I ever thought possible.

 

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Before Fly came along, Tink hunted with Zack. She could chase bunnies!

We’ve owned several beagles in our thirty plus years of marriage. Beagles are perfect for rabbit hunting, and since John grew up with them, it’s always been our breed of choice. I was never close to the dogs because they were considered “outside dogs” or “hunting dogs”….not family pets. They had insulated houses and were on a leash most of the day. I was told, Being outside toughens them up for the hunt. This always seemed strange to me since I grew up with two or three Heinz-57, (aka mutts) dogs, and they never slept outside. But I never owned hunting dogs so I never questioned it.

In 2005, we got Tinkerbell for Zack after his beagle, Ann, died unexpectedly. Tinkerbell was always Zack’s dog…until Zack went off to college.

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Such a natural mom!

In 2011, we decide to breed Tink and she became a mother of three beautiful pups: Fly, Jack and Daisy. Then she became mine….sort of.  Zack returned from college, but couldn’t have a pet where he was living. Eventually he bought a home of his own, but by then Tink was too much part of our family and inseparable from Fly, so we kept her.

 

tinkerbell2Tinkerbell lived inside the house after she had her pups. When we decided to make Fly, Tyler’s dog and knew that he would sleep inside, Tink remained too. Since she was just paper trained as a puppy, and never lived inside, she never let us know when she had go. It was challenging; we basically trained Tink and Fly at the same time! Eventually, Tink and Fly could go in and out to do their business without us fearing they’d take off. We even built a large wired kennel for them to spend their days in away from the rain, snow and sun and without a leash. They’re attached house is double insulated and heated in case it gets cold.

Hunting always meant adventures for all of us. Every time John put on his rabbit hunting jacket, the dogs would go crazy. They knew it was time to hunt! Tink with her short legs, and Fly with his rugged tall build would run rabbits all day. Eventually Tink would fall behind and be a half a circle behind Fly and the rabbit. She couldn’t keep up, but it didn’t matter. She was in her glory doing her thing. This winter, Tink had to stay home. I stayed with her and pacified her with treats and gave her free roam of the house, but she’d still stand at the back door whining for Fly and wanting to be included.

It seems like yesterday, but it’s been a couple of weeks. I had to make the difficult decision to put Tinkerbell to sleep. In July 2016, she was diagnosed with a cancer that would eventually make her look like she was carrying a full litter of pups. Her mind was there, but her body was failing her. For months, we kept her comfortable, gave her special food, and cleaned up after her only to have to put out 6-8 more puppy pads, sometimes three times a day. She had ups and downs, and I found myself worrying about her all the time. I even wished she’d just go sleep and not wake up on her bed so that I wouldn’t have to decide when it was the right time. It never feels like the right time if you think it’ll mean less sorrow and loss.

img_20170202_120046215_topThe day the veterinarian came to the house to lay her to sleep weighed heavily on me. I doubted my decision. I didn’t like having to make a decision like this. I sat on the floor and petted her. I kept Fly nearby. They were each others companion. I took pictures of her. Looking at the pictures of her just a year ago and now, I could see the change. She had grayed. She was emaciated and I could now see all of her back bone. It was sad to see.  It makes me feel better that she didn’t suffer. She never acted “ill”, but more exhausted from carrying her load and trying to be comfortable. The grandkids adored her, and even in her state, she always loved their attention.

The procedure to lay her to sleep was quick. Quicker than I was prepared for. I cried and cried. I petted and talked to her as they worked on her. I cried more after they left. They were kind enough to put her in her burial bag and place her on the cushioned bench in our garage. John buried her in the hole he dug next to where one of her pups, Daisy, is buried. That’s another story.

I’ve learned a lot about dogs and myself during all this. I really like dogs. I just never knew how to deal with them. I’ve learned that dogs know what’s going on, and they know when you’re sad. Fly is now getting extra loving, and that’s helping me deal with losing Tink..and he’s not complaining. Neither am I.

Most of all, we’ve discovered that keeping a dog in the house doesn’t ruin them for hunting. It doesn’t ruin their nose. It doesn’t make them soft. Instead, it creates a bond of love and respect. Fly is a great hunter when he’s outside, and when he’s inside, he’ll cuddle with anyone who’ll let him. He’s been trained and he’s the best behaved dog we’ve ever owned.

We’re prepping ourselves for another beagle puppy that eventually will be our family pet. He’ll live inside, and he’ll will be Fly’s buddy. We’ll muddle through potty and hunting training. If he ends up being another great hunting dog, then great. If not, then he’ll still be part of the family. And he’ll always live inside.

Some day I’ll have to call the vet for Fly, and I’ll need our new dog to help comfort me again. Yes, having a dog means eventually losing it, but I think we get far more out of having one than having none.

RIP Miss Tinkerbell. Momma misses you.img_20160721_144312170

PS. I know there are many hunters out there who have several dogs who do not live in the house. Multiple dogs keep each other company and keep each other warm, and I am not judging. This is simply my experience. My point is more about one dog being left out in the dog house instead of being inside with the family. Happy hunting to all!