Nature at Work

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. IMG_20200517_120622177_HDR

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!

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See how well the hen blends in with the sticks and leaves. You can see the tips of her feathers on the left.

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.

IMG_20200523_125629957Sadly 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.

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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.

Moose Shed Hunting – A Beginner’s Guide

John and I have watched countless seasons of people hunting for “moose sheds”, antlers that are dropped (shed) sometime in January. It’s big business for a lot of people and with the introduction of mountain snowmobiles, many shed hunters can get into moose territory easily, and pick up a shed as soon as they’re dropped. The hardest part about shed hunting is finding a spot that someone else hasn’t already found.

Some shed hunters train their dogs to find antlers. This saves on many hours of walking and possibly walking right by one.

In both cases, we neither have the snowmobile, nor the trained shed dog.

Last fall, we went into an area totally off a well traveled road. The old road we walked in on was heavily overgrown with alders, but the moose path was evident. Once we made it past the alders, the area opened to a giant chopping with a small bog created by a now absent beaver. And moose sign everywhere, including several raked trees that a bull destroyed during the rut. This is important since only bulls have antlers and we wasted a lot of time hunting an area that we decided was wintered by a cow and calf.IMG_20200531_142932638 (1)

We stood on the hill, wind not in our favor, and made a moose call. By the second call we heard a moose answer with his grunt. A bull with a nice set of antlers, grunting and ready for love, emerged from the bog. Had we been hunting, it would have been all over.

 

Since the river was at levels too high to safely fish, we decided to go where we had seen the moose last fall. As we drove toward our destination, we couldn’t help but notice all of the saplings and new maple growth that had been browsed on during the winter. The broken over branches were evident on nearly every tree. This was definitely a place to start. To our advantage, it’s not a path that a snowmobiler would go down unless they knew there were sheds there, so we were hoping this meant it was unexplored.IMG_20200517_160930405

Moose winter up in areas with food. Looking in forests of soft maple that are chewed on with abundant tip browsing is the key. Incredibly, there was moose sign, a.k.a. moose poop and bark gone from trees, everywhere we looked.

We followed a skid trail that fingers off from the main clear-cut. The area is very deceiving from the trail, since I initially stumbled my way over slash and acres of raspberry bushes. As soon as we got to the edge of the forest, we entered a maple stand. It was easily walkable and open, and there, we found maple trees literally stripped of their bark. If you find trees like this and they’re softwood, it’s been raked by a bull with its antlers, and is not food.

 

We decided to grid walk the area. It wasn’t long before John turned and yelled, “I found one!” And there it was, leaning up against a tree as if someone had laid it there! It seemed the further in we ventured, the more sign we found. We never found the match to this beauty.

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A few more paces and he found a matched pair from the previous year lying in a small opening. It had some small chews on it, but to us they were still magnificent. By the end of the day, we had found five huge antlers: two different new antlers, a matched pair and another single from the previous year. Actually, John spotted most of them since he is faster and more agile in the woods than me with my cranky knees.IMG_20200517_162151304_HDR

After walking for what seemed hours, we finally made it out to the skid trail. I plunked down and said, “Have at it, I’m done”. So there I sat using one of the antlers for a seat, while he explored. I got to see how big these antlers are; I could barely get my hand around it. Remarkably, we had proof that at least three different mature bulls wintered in this area. We’ll be back for sure!

 

We went back the following day and hunted another parcel in the same area. I hadn’t actually found one all on my own so I had high hope of spotting a big old antler after the success we had the day before.

We split up again. I headed to the left, John to the right. And then it happened. I finally found an antler. Had I not known for sure that he hadn’t, I would have questioned whether John had planted it right in the middle of the road. It wasn’t huge, but I officially found my first antler!

Toward the end of the day, we went back to look one more time where we had scored the five. Sure enough, John managed to find an almost identical antler to the one I had found earlier. Both antlers were from the same side, so we knew we had two different two year old bulls in the area.

So it doesn’t take anything special to find moose antlers. You just need to know where to start, and then use those clues to help you find them. Remember to bring extra drinking water, a snack, and a manual compass, (that you know how to use) before you begin. It’s easy to lose your way when you’re busy looking for antlers. Note: our Garmin BackTrack units did not work properly and were pointing in the complete opposite direction of where we parked the truck. Had we followed them, we might still be lost in the woods!

No Land to Hunt? Ask….or Find It.

First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours.

Sperson knocking on dooro 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.

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Town map…find your spot and then find the owner

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.

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LaGrange to Medford Trail

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.

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Bigelow Preserve

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.

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My moose from zone 5 in North Maine Woods

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.

IMG_20190826_120920641.jpgAnother 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.

img_20191015_235710_011.jpgNow 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.

no hunt signAnd 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.

 

 

Winter Critters on the Game Camera

Winter is always a tough time for me. Once trapping season ends leaving only beaver trapping, the only things I have to choose from is snowshoeing, shed hunting, rabbit hunting, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.

Okay, so there’s lots to do but I never seem to have the time to get out and do as much. So many of these are weather dependent and the amount of snow we have directly affects how much rabbit hunting we get to do. I get to snowshoe, but it’s a lot harder when you still sink a foot in the snow on snowshoes, and sheds end up buried so you can’t find them. I had plans for a girls’ day out to ice fish last week, but the rain storm put the kibosh to that, and we ended up snowshoeing.img_20190202_155944751

However, the one thing I’ve continued is keeping the game camera out on our deer carcasses in hopes I’ll get to hunt a coyote or bobcat before the season ends. Frozen and buried under snow, I am shocked at how many critters find the deer carcasses. From chickadees, squirrels and owls to coyotes and bobcat, I’ve been having more fun checking the game camera and planning my next hunt!

I plan to try to hunt those stinking coyote and bobcat one way or another, and if I can get our FoxPro predator caller to work for more than a few seconds at a time, that would help. I made the mistake of leaving batteries in it and they’ve corroded. I cleaned it, but it’s still not working right. I may be buying a new one, but we’ll keep that here info on the blog…no one else needs to know.

Sometimes I’m lucky to get early evening or early morning pictures….which gives me hope to get a chance to hunt these critters. They’re even more eerie seeing them in color! Despite their reputation, they are really quite beautiful to see. I bet their fur is soft!

My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure: The Pre-Hunt

moose-permitI was more than a bit shocked when I found out I was drawn for a 2016 moose permit. Even more shocking was that I was drawn for zone 5, one of the most successful moose zones, which also happened to be the same zone in which my son Zack shot his moose in 2012.

Let me be clear and honest. Moose hunting is not glamorous nor romantic. It’s hard work, especially when there’s only two of you. It’s physically and mentally draining. For a hunter and the sub-permittee to scout, hunt, harvest and transport their own moose, it’s work. This is my story about how we hunted. John and I didn’t hire a Maine Guide to do the work for us. Not that we have anything against hiring guides. In fact, we want to be Maine Guides, so we wanted the whole experience of doing it ourselves. If you don’t or can’t do all that I’m writing about, then by all means hire a Maine Guide.

Weeks before we left, we prepped for the hunt. Prepping for a hunt takes time and money. We didn’t want to forget anything, and with the idea that there would only be the two of us to get a moose out of the woods, we had to be able to do it smart. Winches, come-a-longs, pulleys, snatch blocks, tow straps and more ropes filled our truck. Then we had propane, gas, food, water, firewood and clothes.Physically, I was as prepared as I was going to be. Lugging bait and hiking in to our bear sites all season helped get me physically prepared for long walking on my bad knees.

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Six Mile Checkpoint. Photo courtesy of NMW website

We headed up to the North Maine Woods on late Friday afternoon. We went up early so we could scout a couple of days prior to the hunt. Given our bear season schedule, and that it’s a four-hour drive to zone 5, we didn’t get a chance to do any scouting before then.

We arrived at the Mile 6 Checkpoint outside of Ashland at 8:59 pm. We registered by phone and left a check for $204.00 for John and I to camp and hunt for 7 days. We drove down the Jack Mountain Road and found the first nice campsite. The gravel roads were still wet from the day’s rain, and pulling the camper across those roads covered the underside and front of the camper in a cement-like coating. We got set up, had a campfire under the most amazing star-filled skies and went to bed.

On Saturday, we scouted, trying to search out where Zack had shot his moose. I had forgotten the GPS in my car so we had to rely on our faded memories, the Gazetteer, and lots of searching. We finally found the area on day two of the trip. Late Sunday afternoon, we spotted where there had been a moose fight in the road only the night before. We pulled over. We found a brand new wallow that moose make to urinate in and then roll in. Yeah, it sounds gross and stinks worse. But when you’re moose hunting, it’s a find, and apparently it’s an irresistible calling card for a cow moose.

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The moose’s antlers looked like these. Photo from Pinterest

We made our way through the armpit-high raspberries and went into the woods about 50 yards. John gave a rake of the shoulder bone on the trees to simulate a moose scraping its antlers, and gave a moose grunt. No return grunt. Nothing. We waited a couple minutes. Then John tapped me on the shoulder and silently pointed. There in front of us about 50-60 yards away stood the biggest moose I’d ever seen! Well, actually all I could see were its three-foot high and foot-wide paddles of its antlers. Not even the points showed because of the foliage…but he was huge and after I put my eyes back in my head, we turned and scurried away so not to bump him out. I hardly slept Sunday night thinking about that moose. In my mind, we’d be on our way home by Monday afternoon. I’d have a moose, and I’d get a big refund from North Maine Woods. I think how boastful that sounded at the time, but in reality, I was just sure we’d get a moose, this moose, early Monday.

 

 

 

Prize in the Snow

Saturday morning we headed out with high expectations that we’d go down to the stand, get on a new track and find not only the first dropped antler, but also find the second one that “must” have fallen off the following day. I was convinced they couldn’t be far from the game camera.

Disappointingly, there were no new deer sign or feedings on the camera or in the snow. The camera batteries died due to the cold so we weren’t 100% sure, but there didn’t appear to be any new tracks in the snow. A full moon the night before and our playing with coyote sounds near the stand probably didn’t help.

We began at the Christmas tree grain pile and decided on the “divide and conquer” technique. I stayed on one track and John on another covering the entire area and then moving onto a new section. I had visions of what it would be like to find it. A scream of excitement kept going through my mind. I dressed light and my Under Armour heat gear kept me warm and even when I still managed to sweat, I was comfortable trekking through the shin/knee deep snow.

I managed to see some pretty cool animal sign that wasn’t deer and wasn’t my antler. Smithfield is known for its boulders in the woods left from the glacier (yes Mr. Lagasse, I was listening in seventh grade) and the area we were covering is no different. Boulder after boulder to navigate around or over, I came upon three different trails where porcupine had come out of their wintering shelters. The porcupine left neat little trodden down trails through the snow and with careful looking, you could find where they had climbed and chewed the bark off a nearby tree.

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Rabbit tracks and rabbit poop…(c) S. Warren

Given the amount of rabbit tracks one would think we were overrun with rabbits…I wish that was the case! I can’t wait to try rabbit hunting with Fly and John.

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One of three deer beds in a softwood growth. (c)S.Warren
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Happy hunters! (c) SW

Three hours later, half a mile away from my tree stand, we finally find newer tracks. We find more deer beds and then we find the prize we’ve been looking for–the antler, the left antler that had fallen off January 21st. The look on our faces says it all. Now I’m determined to find the match. I’ll be back out tomorrow tracking the shed hoping for my prize.

 

My biggest surprise about the antler was to see how golden brown the base is. Having only seen the antlers on his head in nighttime photos, in my mind, I imagined they would be all pale and not brown. A very nice surprise!

 

Tracking the Shed

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Remember when I told you my deer lost his antler on the 21st of January last year? I’ve been anxiously watching the calendar trying to plan trips down to my stand, but between the cold, meetings, and getting home late from work, I haven’t been able to get to outside.

Before I made my trip down to the stand tonight, the last time I had been there was Monday, January 19th. I had the day off so I spent about three hours in the woods. The fresh coat of snow told me the deer hadn’t been there since I last put out food the day before.MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA I hadn’t bothered with the chicken wire after one of my online friends told me I may be breaking the law with chicken wire SO…on her advice, I went natural and took my recently thrown out Christmas tree down in the woods, and plunked it right over the pile of grain. Thank goodness we got a smaller tree this year! Nothing for the deer to get tangled in but something that may help an antler fall right where I want it to fall.

 

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There were deer tracks but not nearly like before…but any deer tracks get me excited. I exchanged out the memory card, refreshed the grain and beet crush, and John and I picked up our trash and headed in a big circle. I purchased a FoxPro predator caller for John at Christmas and we wanted to try it out. Having had a coyote howl one morning on my way into my stand, I got to realize how close it must have been. The eerie howling that comes from that machine is simply unbelievable. I’m hoping we’ll get a chance to try nighttime coyote hunting and actually get some out of our woods.

Back home, I open my computer, put in the memory card and saw that my deer has lost an antler! We plan to go out first thing tomorrow morning to check the camera to see if he has dropped the other tonight. That’s right, my deer lost his antler last night, January 21st! I can’t believe he lost an antler the exact same day! So we’ll be out tracking the shed to see if we can find where he dropped it. I’m hoping we’re lucky enough to find the shed, but I know it won’t be as easy as it seems.