Seriously, Leave No Trace

I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.

That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.

When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.

Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.

We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”

The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.

How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.

People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.

Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.

When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.

Even nature knows how to leave no trace.

Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.

The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.

The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.

The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.

A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.

If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.

I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.

Happy Summer!

My Bear Hunt 2020


I still can’t believe that I was able to bear hunt this year. A lot has happened since the pandemic hit, and my life as I knew it, almost came to a screeching hault.

Sow and two cubs usually showed up first-before the big bruins.

I have dealt with chronic arthritis in my knees for years. Having finally taken the giant leap to see an orthopedic surgeon, I scheduled my bi-lateral knee replacements right when bear hunting would begin. I had accepted the fact that I would have to give up something in order to have it done, and this seemed like the time to do it.

A week latetr I was blindsided when my alma mater and employer of ten years, laid me off on March 20th. My whole world came crashing down. Not only was I going to lose my job and insurance, but also any chance at having my knees replaced. My only consolation was that I received six months severance and with that, my insurance would continue until the end of September. However, the pandemic had other plans, and any elective surgeries came to an end. So even though I had insurance, I was still facing the fact that I’d may have to deal with arthritic knees for at least another year, if I was lucky enough to find another job.

I felt pretty defeated, but decided to make the best of it. The bear hunt was back on regardless of what happened. I needed something positive to focus on, and hunting always soothes my soul.

In late May, just when I had accepted the fact that I’d have to hobble a little longer, I unexpectedly got a call from my surgeon. They were starting up surgeries again, but only taking the worst cases, and I was on the list. Would I be available? Hell yes!

My right knee just after surgery on June 5th.

On June 5th, I had my first surgery, and after being cleared of Covid-19 a second time, I had my other knee replaced on July 21st. Baiting began the following week, and with a little, no, a lot of help, I was at least able to be there to help, even it was minimal. I used my crutches to get around and although I couldn’t lift bait buckets, I took charge of the cameras and helped spray scent and grease.

Hobbling around with crutches in tow.

Bear came into the bait sites in a flurry. Food has been extremely limited due to dry conditions. Berries were almost non-existent, and other natural foods that were available weren’t abundant nor of any size worthy of a feast. Two days before the hunt, and for the first time ever, I had daytime bear hitting the bait consistently. I had nighttime bear~we had a whole lot of bear on our sites.

In the midst of two surgeries, I also became re-employed, so my time to hunt was greatly diminished, but I would hunt!

The first time out, I had John drive me to my stand. I wasn’t sure if I could make the hike up the mountainside, and I was a little uncertain of my stamina to get there. What if I encountered a bear? I tried to think positive. I would be able to hunt. I had hoped that John driving me to my stand, and then leaving with the four-wheeler would make the bear think no one was there. No such luck!

The night was pretty uneventful. I didn’t see a bear, but I did see one of the biggest rabbits ever to come eat at the bait. Rabbits apparently love bait as much as raccooon, fisher, song birds, squirrels, chipmunks, vultures…and yes, even moose!

This was my target bear. He visited everyday right up until opening day…then he went AWOL.

John retrieved me after hunting hours were over and drove me out of the woods. I have to say this was odd. I hadn’t had to have him do this for me since my first years of hunting. As grateful as I was, I felt like such a whimp!

Trying to fit hunting in between weather and a new job kept me extremely busy, but I was determined to hunt. With the weather forecast actually looking pretty decent and me actually scheduling a vacation afternoon, I decided I was going to hunt. I was bummed when John told me he couldn’t get the afternoon off, but I pulled up my big girl pants and decided I’d go alone. John would arrive later after he dropped the camper off in our usual spot, and then he’d meet me on the mountain.

I prepared myself mentally for the climb and the thought of being alone with so many bear nearby. I took my vehicle to the mountain. I changed into my bear clothes, packed my backpack with warmer accessories, and headed in. I carried my son’s 45-70, what I like to call a mini cannon, into the stand. I found that as I climbed the mountain, it actually got easier. It actually felt really, really good on my knees. I climbed into my stand with ease and settled in the afternoon wait. It was calm and quiet. You could hear a pin drop.

Video of what it’s like to sit while bear hunting.

It’s sometimes hard to sit still given the bugs, the birds, and the wind, but the pandemic helped me prepare for sitting with a mask on, so it just seemed easier this time.

As I sat there, I really didn’t expect anything to come out. I have only once seen a bear come to my bait in all the years I’ve tried hunting. So when this bear stepped out, it looked like a big bear. The night before a larger bear had been in, and I would have bet money, it was him.

This is the bear I thought was at my bait.
He came in the afternoon I couldn’t hunt…typical way it goes!

I was quite startled when the bear stepped out. I sized it up to the barrel laying on its side. It looked as big as the barrel! The bear came in on the right and stepped in front. I drew my gun and took aim, and pulled the trigger. Nothing. This gun has some wonky way about the lever action. It wasn’t in place where it should be. The gun wouldn’t fire. I played with it some more. I knew the lever needed to come up to set into place. I tried again. Still no shot. The bear continued to move quickly around all of the barrel and buckets not really settling in to eat. I went through all the motions trying to get this gun to fire, while not losing my cool. It wasn’t easy. Then miraculously, the handle clicked into place. The bear did a quick dart, but then turned right around and came back around the front of the barrel again. I took aim and shot. The bear dropped and my hunt was over.

Where my bear fell. One shot. Dead at the barrel.

Just after I shot, I got a text from John. I thought he had heard me shoot. He had just arrived on the mountain and was telling me he was there. I texted him, “Got it.” He replied, “what?” I texted back, “I shot a bear.” Him: “Really?! I’ll be right up.” He couldn’t believe it. Eventually, I heard the four-wheeler and he was there to celebrate, load up, gut out, and bring home my black bear. It was a long night by the time we got home and processed the bear, but we have some good meat to eat this winter.

As usual, my bear had ground shrinkage. It wasn’t nearly as big as I had thought it would be, but I was happy. And my bear has a beautiful white blaze on its neck. Some day a giant bear will show up when I’m sitting, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my harvest. It was something I never thought would happen this year, so I was particularly proud of this hunt. I had overcome a lot of obstacles this year, drove up alone and got into my stand alone, and finally harvested a bear.

So my words of advice, is once again to say, never give up, never think something is impossible. While hunting isn’t a sure thing, it’s for certain that it builds resiliency and determination for unknown outcomes. I’m so glad I stuck with it, bear or no bear, it helped me prove to myself that I was okay. Life was going to be okay, and I’m so glad I hadn’t given up.

My bear and me…life is sweet when everything comes together.

My 2019 Bear Season – Part II

The 4-Wheeler Blues

One of the most essential components of bear hunting and baiting, is being able to get the bait to your site. Unless you are somewhere literally fifty feet off the road, you’re going to need to carry bait with a four-wheeler or two, which we heavily rely upon to help us get the job done. We also use our four-wheelers when we hunt. John drives towards his site, then hikes in the last distance. I go the “long way around” to avoid driving by John’s bait site, then hike into mine, so having two working machines is crucial.

We have two four-wheelers: a green Polaris Magnum 500 that’s John’s, and a blue Polaris Magnum 325 that’s mine. Right after the season started, the muffler blew out on the blue one. John and I took the muffler off, and brought it home to weld it up. No sooner had we got it fixed, both machines decided to leak gas. I bought new petcocks for both, and we installed them. Just when we thought we were set, the electric starter on the blue one went on the fritz, which explains why it wouldn’t start that night I was left in the dark. Of course, I had a practically brand new part in my linen closet for over 20 years, that I had just tossed out sometime in the last year, thinking I’d never need it. The first replacement I purchased on Ebay for $31 turned out to not be the right one despite what it said, so then I bought a used one on Ebay for $60, and we were back in business.

Meanwhile, the green machine decided to quit starting all together. We brought it home to work on it, leaving us only one machine to use to get to our sites. We finally decided in order for both of us to hunt, and be quiet, I’d ride in with John to his parking spot, and we’d both walk the rest of the way in to our sites from there.

The walk in was much easier for me than hiking the mountain side, but it was also longer. The leaves had just started to fall, and the weather was hot in the afternoon, cooling to an almost chilled-cold by night fall. I’d pack all my gear into my backpack, hike in to my stand in the thinnest shirt I own, then dress for the late evening chill.

As I walked to my stand, it was perfect in every way. The afternoon air was comfortable, with no humidity and not the slightest breeze. The sun was bright and hot on my back. I slowly and silently walked up the road, avoiding all the gravel and staying on grass to keep quiet. As I neared the top of the landing, I heard a distinct and all too familiar sound: a snake slithering through the leaves. I froze looking for it. There it was off to my right, headed away from me, a good two-foot long garter snake. Once I knew I wasn’t going to step on it, I continued on my way trying to make sure to look up more than I spent looking down at where I was stepping. Every few steps, I’d stop and listen. As I went to take another step, I looked down for a second then looked up. At the intersection of the road and the landing , there staring at me in a crouched ready-to-pounce position, sat a huge bobcat. Our eyes met. He picked his head up as if startled and confused. In a second, he turned and pounced away. I certainly was glad he had decided I wasn’t worthy of trying to take down. I couldn’t decide if I was shaken or excited, but I couldn’t wait to tell John about my encounter.

Over the course of the next two weeks, I bought several parts for the green machine, starting with the cheapest and easiest to fix: a fuel filter. Then I worked my way up the chain of possible fixes with a starter, then a fuel pump, an ignition coil, followed by a stater, which eventually fixed it. We topped it off with a new recoil starter and cover assembly because the original cover was cracked. When it finally started, we were psyched, but the machine was literally in a pile of parts and pieces we had to reassemble. I never knew there were so many pieces to a four-wheeler, but now I know what the parts look like and what they do when I hear their names. I hope I’m not reminded too soon.

Hunting over bait stalled. Not a single bear were coming to the bait. It seemed that every day I decided I would sit, there wasn’t a single noise, then on the days I wouldn’t or couldn’t sit because of work, weather or just opting to take a boat ride on the pontoon boat we had just restored, the bear would show up. Sitting at work, my phone went off to let me know I had two bear, the first bear in a long time show up on my bait. That was definitely a hard pill to swallow. Once trapping season was in full swing, we’d have to go in and check the traps each night, which didn’t help with keeping bear coming out just before dark. In fact, they just stopped coming out once we started checking traps.

We eventually got both machines back on the mountain just in time for John to catch his first bear by trapping. Baiting season had ended, and we ended up using just one machine to check and tend our traps. Meanwhile, Mother Nature had provided the bears with more natural food than they could eat, and in return, the bears hadn’t been very good about coming to my bait, and the only action we had seen in several days was on John’s bait site. Two days in a row, we had watched a bear get caught, then get out of the snare by the time we arrived on the mountain. We’d reset the trap every day, but it literally was a waiting game. We made some modifications to our compression spring so that it would close quicker, and we crossed our fingers.

spypoint
Tending the site

After two nights of not getting home until after midnight, then getting up again for 5:30 a.m., I stopped checking my phone and muted the notifications so I could get some sleep. I didn’t have a lot of hope that we’d actually catch a bear since I lost a bear last year after it had been caught for nine hours.

Then it finally happened. That morning, we got up to go to work, only to see notifications coming in a flurry to my phone from my Spypoint game camera showing that a bear had just been caught around 5 am. We were totally surprised to see it still in the snare when we woke up. With an hour and half drive to the mountain, we kicked it into high gear and got ready to go to the mountain one more time. I emailed work, John called our oldest son, Zack, and by 7:15 am, all three of us were driving up the mountain to get a bear if it hadn’t figured out how to get out yet again. On two four-wheelers, and rifles in hand, we drove up to where John parked to hunt. From there, we walked in so that we wouldn’t agitate the bear any more than necessary.

The bear wasn’t happy and it huffed and snapped its jaws as we approached. It knew we were there. It could smell us. John climbed into his tower stand to get a the best shot at the bear. Zack and I stood and watched through the trees as we waited for John to take the shot. Then it was over. It was a whole new experience for John and I and is something I’ll never forget. It was a lot of work, and it was definitely worth it.

It was a big bear-a dry sow, and the biggest bear John has ever gotten. I was happy for him, but I was hoping I’d still get my chance before the season ended.

Next up: I get my bear.