A Cup of Courage

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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.

We’ve Come A Long Way

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One of the first fishing trips John and I went on with his family. We caught a bunch of brook trout.

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.”
IMG_20160507_110851408I 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.

 

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!

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!

 

 

A Day With the Bear Crew

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My son Zack, holding a cub during his college days.

It wasn’t that long ago that my son got to go along with the Bear Crew into the den of a sow and her three cubs, and ever since then, I’ve wished I could get the chance to do it too.

So when out of the blue, my friend Erin sends me a text asking if I wanted to go with the Bear Crew in January, you can bet I didn’t hesitate one second to say, “YES!”

After promising that I wouldn’t geek out too badly, Erin set the date with the Crew. I put  vacation time on the work calendar, we made our gear list, and we were set to go. The forecast was a perfect sunny, warm day so that was an extra.

We arrived bright and early at the headquarters and got ourselves into our wool pants and boots. We met Randy Cross, head bear biologist for Maine, and our day was set in motion. We had dressed right…wool pants make us quiet…we were off to a great start! We didn’t leave immediately. Instead, we met the entire crew in between their preparations and discussions of the bear we were going to see. Our bear had yearlings as it’s too early for new cubs; they don’t arrive until March or April. The Crew knew her location, how much she had traveled in the last year, and approximately where she was located thanks to the GPS collar she’s wearing. They actually know this bear well. She’s a 16 year old bear that had four cubs last year and they’ve been visiting her den yearly.

The bear crew talked about how much drug to give the sow and cub, throwing numbers, equations, and ratios around like it was a math class. I was amazed at how well everyone works together in gathering everything they need. They apologized because it was only their first few days, and they claimed to not have their routine down…I can’t imagine them doing any better!

I watched a very cool bear video on what to expect. We talked about the Bear Whisperer show, and they asked questions about me…whether I hunt or trap bears. I think they were a happy to hear I’m an avid bear hunter and trapper, but they were welcoming well before they knew anything about me.

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Once we were on the road, we actually didn’t go that far to find a bear. I got to ride on a snowmobile that literally can go ANYWHERE it’s driven…I need one of these! We literally broke trail through woods I’d never consider going, while we squeezed between trees zig zagging until we stopped. Although it had warmed up, the snow was still really deep. Being prepared, we had brought along our snowshoes!

Once we were on the trail, two of the crew members, Roach and Jake went ahead and circled the area while Lisa manned the radio to locate the bear. We quietly followed, making sure not to talk so that the bears wouldn’t hear us approaching. They’re seldom bothered by vehicles, machines, etc., but voices can send a bear bolting from her den. Randy had hoped she’d be denned up as she was last year; she had taken up residence in an old beaver house! The surrounding forest didn’t leave him too optimistic, and a ground nested bear is much harder to sneak up on and dart. So we moved as quietly as we could. To our advantage, the warm weather left trees dropping snow and it made for good sound cover.

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Waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once the sow was drugged, the cub didn’t try to run and they were able to give it a shot. In a matter of a few minutes, both were ready to be evaluated.

We were told that if we hear a whistle then to stop moving. This would mean one of the two crew members had spotted the bear. We watched Lisa and Randy move in while we waited. Little did we know that the bear was right there! They had moved in on her and now they were just waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once we got the okay to move in, we got to see our bear! She was in a ground nest. She literally had scratched the trees to make a bed of bark and laid down with nothing over her!

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As soon as they got the go ahead, the team went into action working diligently and methodically. The bears were placed on a sleeping bag to keep them off the snow. Randy replaced the sow’s collar while Roach and Jake took measurements and weighed the cub. Then once Randy was done with the sow, she was moved onto the bag, and weighed and measured as well. Lisa took information as numbers were called out in between discussions of what they should name the cub. The cub got new ear tags that had most likely been bitten out by other cubs, a tattoo inside her mouth and a GPS collar. Only one cub remained with the sow out of four. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all died, but they may have. Apparently the two male cubs were very big, and the mother had traveled hundreds of miles. It may be possible the two male cubs went off on their own to den, and there is even a possibility that they may be denned nearby as that is also common.

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In just a few minutes, both sow and cub were finished and then we got to get some photos with the bear. It’s entirely a different feeling holding up the head of a living breathing bear. This bear’s head is huge. If I had only seen her, I would might think she was a he.

IMG_0255Before the bears were returned to their nest, Lisa gathered a few armloads of boughs and lined it nicely to keep the bears dry. Their fur is so thick and full and it repels water. I was told that when it rains, the bears will literally get up, shake off, and then lay back down. Once the bears were brushed off of all the falling snow, they were placed back into their nest. A reversal drug was administered to each bear, and we left as quietly and quickly as we arrived.

I am forever grateful for this opportunity to go along with the Bear Crew. To see the professionalism, camaraderie, and true care for the future of our Maine black bears is  something I’ll always remember. Thank you Erin. Thank you Maine Bear Crew!

I wonder if we can go on an adventure with the Maine Moose Crew???…

ohhhh Errrinnnn!! 😉