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.

 

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Why I Carry – A Woman’s View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy hunting!

Trapping for Bobcat

This year was a first for bobcat. We know of locals who hunt bobcat with dogs, but we’ve never done it. Last year, I tried to trap a bobcat after I found where one had traveled out back of the house where I hunt, but the season ended before I had any luck.

This year, I was determined I’d catch something. I really wanted a fox or a bobcat for their fur as well as help with population control as there are few rabbits in our area due to so many predators, and both fox and bobcat prey on rabbit.

A family member reported that he had seen a bobcat while deer hunting in late October. We were shocked as the only bobcat I’ve ever seen was last year when I was rabbit hunting in Dead River plantation. The cat crossed the road in front of me as I walked to my truck, but it was just out of range of my shotgun and in line with John’s truck…I would have had a lot of explaining to do.

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John and I each set a trap line. My trap line was focused on where I had fox coming to my tree stand as well as where I had seen its tracks along a rock wall.  The trap is a number two Duke foothold trap. For bait, I used the wing from a chicken that I had killed, and some skunk essence for lure. This particular chicken met its demise after it attacked my grandson and Momi was called to take care of it. I set up a trap using the natural lay of a stone wall. I was pretty bummed when my chicken wing came up missing, but my trap didn’t go off because it had frozen. Another lesson learned. I hadn’t made sure my dirt over my trap wasn’t moist. Whatever stole my chicken must have been small, perhaps a weasel or squirrel.

We took turns checking the traps depending on our hunting schedules. I was spending a lot of time hunting in the early mornings, so John checked my traps. I was sitting on the top of the mountain in my tree stand when I heard his .22 pistol go off. Sure enough, I had caught a porcupine in my trap. I would reset my traps in the evening, and we’d start the process all over again the following day. John caught one very large porcupine in his trap, and I managed to catch six more. Time to move the traps. There are still porcupine around since I still see the damage they are doing to the trees in the winter, and I saw more during the remainder of the deer hunting season.

With no luck for fox or coyote, we decided to move our traps deeper into the woods. We set up several traps along the bog where I spotted a bobcat only days before the season opened. John made a nice cubby using a large rock as a back drop for the cubby and a large beaver carcass from our beaver trapping where a coyote had come by my tree stand. The cubby is built so that the animal will go after the bait, but not be able to come from behind and steal it without stepping on the trap.

Johns first bobcatJohn caught his first, and what we thought would be our only bobcat. This was an adult female. He got it tagged and then took it to the taxidermist. This bobcat weighed about 27 pounds. The taxidermist said it was a nice sized one.

I don’t think I ever saw anyone as excited as John when a few days later, he came back  to say that he had lost a bobcat. Apparently the stepping stick got kicked into the trap and when the trap engaged, the stick allowed the bobcat to get away. However, the bobcat also decided to destroy the cubby to get to the beaver. Somehow, the bobcat pulled the entire beaver off from the large stake John had used to secure the beaver in the cubby! It ate on the beaver then took some of the meat and dragged it a few feet away where it tried to bury it with leaves.

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Small piece of bait covered in leaves
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Stick caught in the trap

 

I had already asked Erin to join us for beaver trapping on Sunday so I gave her call. I asked her if she could come earlier and that it wasn’t a sure thing, but we were pretty sure John would catch a bobcat that night. Without hesitation, Erin said yes. So at daylight, the three of us made our way down to the trap line on the four-wheeler. And sure enough, there was a huge bobcat staring back at us! John dispatched the bobcat, then we all got a chance to see it up close. This was a large male. He weighed in at 37 pounds! John decided to have this one mounted instead of the first one, so once again, he got him tagged and took him to the taxidermist. The taxidermist is tanning the first one for us so that we’ll still have John’s first bobcat.

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I was pretty much convinced that after catching two bobcat, we were done. Boy was I wrong! Imagine my surprise when I discovered that we lost another bobcat on the bog set. I had went to pull all the traps when I made the discovery. A bobcat had taken the rabbit carcass we used as bait and left us some fur. IMG_20171204_103419750_HDR

I set my trap but with the intention of trying to catch a coyote. There were tracks all over the place and figured that as long as there were coyotes, there would never be a bobcat. And I kept thinking, realistically, just how many bobcat would be in one area?

The following morning, I went with John to check my traps. There before me was my very first, my very own bobcat. A young tom bobcat. He was about 27 pounds. He was as beautiful as the others. I dispatched him using a .22 pistol. And to top the season off, we went back that evening to check traps and there was bobcat number four! Another huge male tom bobcat weighing about 35 pounds! I took the last two bobcats and got them tagged in Sidney at the warden office. My first bobcat is in the freezer waiting for me to have enough money saved up to get it mounted.

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My very own bobcat. His fur is beautiful.

I was also excited to be able to share my catch with my grandkids. They think it’s pretty awesome that their Momi got a bobcat. The last bobcat, I gave to Erin along with the skull. Even though it’s bigger than my first bobcat, I decided I wanted to keep my first one. She’s having the fur tanned and the skull done to go along with her other collection of skulls.

This season of trapping turned out way more successful than I ever imagined. For those of you worried that we trapped too many bobcat, be rest assured there’s still more. We caught this bobcat on camera just this week. He had dug into the ground where the remainder of the beaver lies frozen. MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA

As for 2018 trapping season, I hope to get a bear and some coyotes…many coyotes, but for now….one would be nice.

Happy Trapping!

 

 

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!