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.

 

Silence Is NOT Golden When It’s Turkey Season!

Each year, I usually bag my turkey on the first day, so this year, I expected nothing less.

I absolutely love turkey hunting. It was the first hunt I ever tried, and was the hunt that got me hooked on hunting. Each year, I usually bag my turkey on the first day, so this year, I expected nothing less.

Two weeks before the season started, turkeys showed up in our horse pasture daily. We could sit on the back deck and listen to the gobbles in the woods. A slam of a car door and the bark of a dog would send gobbles throughout the woods.

The Friday before open season, I went down to my closest treestand. I brought along a Bluetooth speaker and hung it in a nearby tree with the volume cranked. The speaker amplified my turkey calls I had downloaded on my phone. I climbed into my treestand and opened up the turkey call application. A push of the “Turkey Cackle 1” and I had an answer. Gobbles nearby on my left.
I played it again.
Another response on my right!
Before I knew it, I had three jakes and a hen approaching on my right. The hen was actually chasing after the three jakes to keep up.

turkeys 4aThey were confused. Where is that hen? The turkeys walked by and once out of sight, I gave another call. They answered, came back and circled around me. The leading jake is almost fully mature, and he began to do his strut dance followed by a gobble. They weren’t alarmed since they continued to scratch and peck the ground as they moved.

As the turkeys circled me, they still didn’t know I was in the treestand. Off to my right a second gobbler also answered my call. I was having a blast!

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Turkey on the left ruffled up for the dance.

Finally the two groups of birds found each other, and I no longer mattered. They all headed away from me. Silence. Once they were gone, I climbed out my treestand and went back to the house.

Sunday, the day before the season opened, I headed back to my treestand. I used my same method of calling with the Bluetooth, but got no response. I covered a large amount of ground trying to call in a turkey while also checking my two game cameras. Just when I was about to give up, I got a response on the far end of the woods. They were still in the area! I quickly turned around and walked away.

Opening day and it was pouring. Pouring and my hunting partner was in no mood to venture out into it. By 2 p.m., the rain seemed to stop until we actually stepped out of the house. It was just a few intermittent showers to keep us moving, but listening for gobbles was not easy.

 

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We tried calling. No answers. We made a big circle and got to where I heard turkeys the day before. They weren’t responding to the mouth call John was using, so he took out the slate call and gave a try.

Instantly we had cackling, but no gobbling. We quickly set up the decoys and waited. No more replies, no responses and no gobbling.
Did they see us? Did we scare them off?
Did they hear us?
Perhaps I need to bring my Bluetooth next time…
Obviously they didn’t fall for our attempts to call them in.
We never heard any more turkeys the remainder of the hunt.

Silence. Nothing but silence. Let’s hope a couple days of rest and rain and they’ll come back and be ready for some gobbles. I have more tricks up my sleeve, so I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

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Few years back when I went turkey hunting with John and my oldest son, Zack.

Distracted Driving of the Wildlife Kind

distracted drivingThere’s lots of talk these days about cell phone usage, texting while driving and distracted driving. Distracted driving does involve many scenarios, and I recently experienced a new sort of distracted driving even I had never considered. I’ve always prided myself in the fact that I never text and drive, only answer calls if I think I can, never make calls while driving, and never, ever, put on makeup while driving…well okay, I hardly wear makeup and I put it on at home.

My commute from home to work is roughly thirty minutes. Most of the time, I take the rural route, but with roads beginning to heave and buckle from frost and my fearing the car would be damaged, I opted for the smooth interstate route from Waterville.

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Turkey flying over the road Route 8 & 11, Belgrade. I pulled over to get this shot.

I have a tendency to speed on the interstate, so I set my cruise control and go into auto-pilot. Just like many people, I arrive at work not remembering the commute unless I see wildlife along the way. Traffic usually runs pretty good with little congestion, and I cruise my way to work. As many of you may know from my Wonderful Week of Wildlife Facebook posts, I see a lot of animals in my travels. I love spotting animals in my travels, especially ones just inside the treeline.

On the interstate, I have several spots that I look for wildlife. Once the snow starts to melt, the critters begin moving. I spend a considerable amount of time with my head turned sideways looking for them. I’ve seen more deer, groundhog, skunk, racoon, and turkeys from the road than from hunting, and this day was no different.

One particular morning, as I was cruising, a red fox ran across the road some 500 yards ahead of me. I didn’t get a good look because it was so far away. I was particularly excited since I rarely see fox, and had never seen one on the interstate before. Ahead of me, drove a black Toyota, but it was some 300 or so yards away. As I approached where the fox crossed, I cranked my head left to see if I could spot him. No luck.

I look back to driving. As I looked up I found myself almost on top of the black Toyota that had also decided to slow down for the fox. I slammed on my breaks and veered left, just missing the Toyota. I broke out in a sweat, totally embarrassed by the near miss. As I passed the Toyota, the driver never even looked, apparently completely unphased or unaware of what had just happened.

I learned my lesson, and I’m so thankful I didn’t crash. I’ve had to tame my urges to look for wildlife. If I see something, I no longer try to see it run off into the woods. I’ll still get plenty of opportunity to see wildlife…that’s why John drives when we go for rides. I get to do all the looking then!

In the meantime, my eyes are on the road. Make sure yours are too.

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Tracking Blood

This whole grand slam was getting me nervous. As much as I love to hunt, I was worried I’d come up empty handed if I had only to rely on getting a buck. You think that the fact I hadn’t put meat in the freezer for two years would be incentive enough, but this basically “once in a lifetime chance”grand slam was compelling me to take new chances. Let’s face it; where I hunt there aren’t a lot of big bucks so I decided to stick to it for longer. Having a doe in the freezer is far better than waiting for a chance buck.

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Muzzy

After missing the doe during my first bow hunt and then losing my arrow, I made my trip to the local hardware/sporting goods store and stocked up on arrows and Muzzy broad head tips. I really like these tips because they feel manageable on my shorter arrows.

I only had a week left to hunt before archery season would end, so on a nice afternoon, I rearranged my work day and got out an hour early. I flew home and got my gear to go hunting. My youngest son was talking my ear off when I finally said, “I have to go. I’m running late and I only have an hour to hunt.” He wasn’t thrilled that I was off hunting again, but I promised I’d talk with him when I got home.

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My rock

I drove to my spot, parked my car as before, and schlepped all my gear up the hill. I thought I’d die gasping for air before I got there. I don’t usually have to hurry, but I wanted to get settled before the deer started coming out. I sprayed some doe pee on a leaf above me and on some as I came in to cover my scent. I sat at my rock and waited. I gave a couple doe bleats to start off the night.

It was windy so listening was a little discouraging. I took out my buck grunt and gave a couple grunts with it. I stood for a few minutes when my knee started hurting. I gave a couple more grunts and sat down. No sooner did I sit when my left eye started paining. These dang prescription glasses are annoying, but without them, I can’t see thirty feet in front of me! I was fumbling with my glasses when I heard a noise. There in directly in front of me about 10 yards away, a deer was coming right out of the woods! And me with no glasses on. I tried to get them on but I somehow made a “clink”; the deer turned broadside and walked away before I could even think of picking up my bow. I made a buck grunt. The deer stopped and stood there. I made another grunt, but messed up the ending when the call slipped out of my lips and fell in my lap. In an instant, the deer’s tail shot up, and she took off.

deer-shot-diagramI made another grunt hoping the deer would come back. Then I heard ch, ch, ch, ch-ch -ch, ch…more deer walking, so I continued to give low, short buck grunts. The noise continued but was getting louder. I was getting annoyed I couldn’t see any deer, so I leaned forward to look farther down the road. There about 40 yards out stood a deer on the left side of the road–broadside! She was definitely too far away to shoot at. So I gave some buck grunts. The deer lifted its head and walked toward me. She moved her head from side to side trying to figure out where Mr. Buck was. I had the buck grunt in my mouth and two hands on my bow. I got ready but didn’t draw. Using the spot I had missed my first deer as a distance gauge, I waited until she was close enough to shoot. She continued coming closer. It was getting dark. I could see her well, but she wasn’t broadside; more like barely broadside, but I had a target.

I drew my bow, taking time to aim through my peep site. She stood looking around. I released my bow and watched as the lighted arrow hit its mark. A fast, solid shot and a definite hit to the vitals. The doe turned and bolted with the arrow lighting the way.

I sat there in disbelief that I had finally gotten a deer with my bow. I couldn’t wait to tell the guys. I called John. No answer; he was still hunting expanded. I called my oldest son, Zack. No answer. So I called my youngest son, Tyler and asked him to bring me my bright flashlight. I took all my gear and headed to the car to put it away and meet my son. In the meantime, Zack called me back and within a matter of minutes he was there to help me find my deer. Tyler joined in, and the three of us set out to find the blood trail.

bloodIn no time, Tyler found the first spot of blood; a single drop on a leave. It wasn’t long before Zack found the big blood trail and eventually found my deer. By then we had made a small circle and John had joined the group. I thanked the deer and then the guys took on the task of field dressing and dragging the deer out for me. I was very grateful for all their help, and having all my boys there made it extra special. They were all congratulating me and I just beamed with pride.

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I tagged my deer and brought it home. I had intended to take it to a butcher, but ended up skinning and cutting up my deer, and preparing it for the freezer myself–a first. You truly appreciate your food when you know how much work goes into it, especially when you’re allergic to deer hair. Thankfully I had long rubber gloves to work with, and managed to keep my hands out of my eyes. My family is especially grateful for the meat we have in our freezer, and that in itself makes me a very proud hunter.

I can’t wait to send in all my information for my grand slam. I feel very accomplished but at the same time, I’m missing the morning sunrises and evening sits so much so, I’ve decided to hunt expanded archery in between trying to trap coyotes. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see a buck. Wish me luck!

If you are out in the woods hunting, don’t be afraid to take new path; it just might lead you to a deer. Adventure awaits!

 

 

Did I Just See A Bear?!

At times, the silence is so profound, you wonder if you’re deaf…until you hear something.

Day one of bear season was uneventful. The winds were gusting, and even though the temps were cooler, no bear showed. I had set since about 2pm until 8 pm. My butt was sore, but I wasn’t discouraged.

redbottleDay two was also cool, but with little to no wind. Bears would be moving. Instead of going at 2pm, we were there at 4:30. “Still plenty of time to get in our stand before a bear shows.” John and I decided to “scent up” the bait sites since it was nice and quiet. I took my time walking into the site, not only to walk with the breeze, but also to not become a sweat-fest after all the time I took to de-scent myself. The wind was blowing up the hill so in my mind, when you hunt the wind, you cover your scent downwind. To help me come in undetected, I decided to squirt a little Big Bear Scents Ultra Red Smoky Bacon scent attractant on a tree or fern ever fifty feet or so. Good thing I love bacon!

As I made my way up the trail, I kept a mental note of where the stumps are located in the woods. These stumps are black for some unknown reason, and on more than one occasion they have tricked me into thinking I was seeing a bear. As I approached the top of the trail, I spotted a black spot. I stood there trying to figure out if it was the stump located just behind my bait. About the time I took my gun off my shoulder to get a better look, that stump took off like a bolt of lightening. That “stump” was a small bear!

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About the size of the bear I jumped.

Now, I have never seen a bear in the wild, let alone while bear hunting. To put it mildly, I was relieved I wasn’t all out terrified by seeing it. In fact, I was excited. “Perhaps it will come back. I really want to get a bear.” 

In an effort to not make any more noise and in case there was another bear nearby, I decide against spraying up the bait site and go directly to my blind. It’s more noisy than I like and I don’t have a lot of room. In an effort to keep quiet, I decide to put my jug of spray on the ground between the ladder and tree. “I’m only 40 feet at the most, from my bait, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. And then I won’t knock it out somehow and make noise.”

I text John to let him know I jumped a bear. He said it would be back. In my mind I was sitting pretty. I sat and watched out into the woods. I see what I think is a bear cub. Are you freaking kidding me?! The animal hops like a baby animal. It has a longer tail. Not a cub. Phew! Porcupine? No. Porcupines don’t act like that. Then out of the bushes comes a pine marten. In an instant the squirrels and chipmunks run for cover. He doesn’t stay long, and later I spot it again off in the distance. Thinking back, I’m still not convinced I didn’t see a cub.

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Pine Marten on small white bucket…note stump.

At times, the silence is so profound, you wonder if you’re deaf…until you hear something. Around 7:20 pm, the time when bear have been showing up on my site, I hear a noise behind me. Twigs, many twigs, breaking with every step. Very deliberate stepping, very steady. Very big footed and heavy sounding unlike a deer. Definitely a bear.

The bear walked right up behind my stand and stopped right at it. “I CAN HEAR HIM SNIFF MY FREAKING JUG OF SPRAY, BUT I DON’T DARE MOVE TO SEE HIM! I AM SUCH AN IDIOT.”  I don’t dare breathe. I don’t dare move, or even swallow or blink my eyes. As fast as he was there, he turned and walked back down the trail. He had smelled my bear spray that I had sprayed on my way in.

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Might have been this bear..he’s a big one.

I figure my night is over. I get out my phone and text John, “Be careful, bear in trail.” and put my phone away. John won’t let me walk out alone so I sit until he arrives with his hand cannon (aka bear handgun) and retrieves me. I’m pretty proud that I didn’t get scared, and about the time I’m sitting there all smug, when I hear the bear AGAIN. He was coming back, but making a circle. Damn it. It’s now 7:30. He’ll never get to the bait before shooting hours close.  I didn’t know if I’d have enough light to see him. I sit still. He came back quicker than I thought he would.  He walked to the right of my stand where I had put some cherry flavored unsweetened cool-aid mix on some leaves. “It was meant for the site, but I didn’t want to scare anything off.”  He really liked it. I could hear him, but STILL couldn’t see him! I wasn’t moving a muscle. In concentrating on him, I hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten. I figured I only had about five more minutes of shooting time, and then I wouldn’t be able to shoot him.

Then my eyes spotted him. There he was about 10 feet out in front my stand in the underbrush. A big – HUGE – black blob just standing there! I’m thinking, “it’s now or never.”  I pull my gun up.
He’s still standing there. There is nothing but silence.

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The opening in the under-forest where I spotted the bear.

I carefully stick my gun out the window of the blind. If only I didn’t have a this damn blind around me! I never thought I’d hear myself thinking that.

Before I even get the gun to my eye, he bolted. He was gone. I could hear him circling and  running around out in front of me in the woods. He was gone. I hope he’s not gone for good. I think he’s the bear that left a big pile of poop for me the night before. For now, he was gone.

Now tell me that baiting is easy…that bear hunting is easy. It’s not. I’m still hoping my “Plan B” will be able to happen. It won’t unless I can find a way to not involve a sow and cubs that managed to be the only thing to come to my bait that night. The weirdest thing is that I had nothing on my camera from the bear I jumped nor the one the bolted in the end, so I’m still unsure which bear I had seen.

I will never forget this night of hunting. It was exciting, thrilling, challenging and in the end, a bit regretful for this things I did, and didn’t do. I try not to stew on the shoulda- woulda-coulda things and just take it as a learning experience. After all, how many people can say they got to experience what I did?

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The bear I think I saw…dang.

I’ll be back out in the woods tonight, scenting up the site, and not my tree stand…and hoping Mr. Bear (any bear but a sow with cubs) returns.

Wish me luck! I’m obviously going to need some.

 

 

I’m in the Dog (uh Bear) House

Baiting for bear requires a lot of steps: filling the bait barrel, putting out caramel, re-dipping the anise oil wick, filling the grease and nougat buckets, scenting up the area with grease…and lastly, setting the camera.

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My bait site with my new popcorn barrel…holes stuffed with marshmallows

I always start with the camera first to remove the SD card and put a new one in; however I never start the camera until we are done all of our work.

 

At my site, the bait was all gone. It was filled the most bait we’ve ever put in a barrel. I also had a popcorn wheel that was added bonus, and that too was emptied. I changed out the batteries in my game camera as they only showed 13% life, and I want them to make it through the week. The bear were busy this past week, and I couldn’t wait to see my videos

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First Bear in since adding popcorn barrel-perfect shooting time

Off to John’s site. As we approached the site, we scanned for bear and saw the barrel was down. That means we had bear. The videos will tell us how many, how big and most importantly what time  the bear were there. As we go to get the SD card, we found the camera was open. At first, I was hoping the bear had been there, but the SD card was never pushed in, and the camera was never activated. With bear season beginning Monday, August 29th, this week was the most important in collecting information for the hunt.

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To put it mildly, John was…well you know…PO’d. To make an argument short, he’s now in charge of his own camera.

We didn’t speak to each other until we got back to the truck. We loaded our gear and headed out to find mushrooms. We found an off-road and stopped in the shade to view the one card with videos.

As we moved through the videos, I had at least three different bear on my site. One video showed a shootable bear being chased off the bait by another bear. (See Facebook to see it.)  I think I actually heard the bear in the background on the previous video, but he didn’t actually show until dark.

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That was only until Tuesday. My camera batteries gave out on Tuesday and there were no more videos to watch. No videos of my popcorn wheel being emptied, no videos of whoever else came in and most importantly when. I do have a bear coming in right at dusk so my hopes are someone will be back on Monday. The sow and cubs hadn’t returned, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t come in later. Guess Monday will be a surprise for all of us. Stay tuned.

We ended our day with some fly fishing therapy on the Dead River. John broke the no-fish-caught streak all the campers were having when he hauled in a nice 15 inch landlocked salmon. What a beauty…Tomorrow nights supper.

PS…My blind is still up and no bear tried to eat a camera this week.

 

 

More Bear!!!

I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!

I Can Hardly Sleep at Night!

John and I decided to change things up this year. The plan was to bait only once a week. I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!

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Mr. Lefty

Well, plans change occasionally, and this week, I couldn’t bait on Saturday because I was attending the all-women guide school course in Augusta that Women of the Maine Outdoors organized. As I sat there all day, I wondered if John had seen any bear on our baits. Were they still hitting? How many? Any big ones? Any sows with cubs? So many thoughts filled my mind about the fact that I wasn’t there helping and that I was also missing out on the adventure with him. To my delighted surprise, John decided to wait for me and we went up to the mountain on Sunday. Even with the threats of thunderstorms and rain, I was excited…giddy in fact.

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Too little…I’ll pass on this one.

Prepping to get there takes a considerable amount of time. I brought an extra change of clothes, new batteries for the game cameras, new SD cards to switch out, and a jug of ice water to keep us hydrated. I helped load the  bait, caramel, nougat, scents, and grease. In no time, we were on the road; after a quick fuel stop and breakfast to fuel our bodies, we headed to the mountain. We had only one quick rain shower on our way so the woods weren’t too wet. Riding in wasn’t bad this time either. We re-distributed the weight of the bait so that the four-wheeler was less tipsy. There’s nothing better than riding down the dirt road in the wild and smelling the sweet smell of anise oil and bait.

IMG_20160816_214232269_HDRWhen we arrived at my bait site, we found all the bait gone from the blue barrel, most of the grease gone, but some pink nougat still left. The bears had been there every day taking turns throughout the day and night getting some much needed food. We still have one skinny one, but he just appears young, not tick infested as some other hunters have suggested. In the middle of the pile of bait left outside the barrel was the most beautiful 6 inch-ish wide bear track I’d ever seen. This was from a BIG bear. My heart raced as I wondered if it was Scrapper. I wouldn’t be able to tell if it was since I had crushed my digital camera the week before, so I no longer have a way to check cards until they go into the computer. Dang!

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Little white patch on the throat…he’s a new one.

To my delight, we believe there are FOUR (eeekkkk!!!) bear visiting my site. One in particular does not like my camera. He’s chewed and gnawed on it several times. Luckily Moultrie built it right and it’s still hanging on….not a scratch on it!! Even after he spun it around the tree, I was lucky enough that he spun it BACK to almost where it was in the beginning. Note to self: camouflage that camera. We weren’t so lucky on John’s bait. A bear finally hit it, but he also attacked the camera and although he didn’t break it, the camera wasn’t facing the bait for the last three days. As last week, I’ll post videos on my Facebook page since I can’t put videos here. Be sure to check out the bear bathing itself in the grease!

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OMG…biggest bear ever!

I sure hope I find a way to sleep before I start sitting in my stand; the last think I need to do is fall asleep and miss one! This weekend’s forecast looks spectacular; I can’t wait to see who’s come to eat this week.

Bear Baiting Season Begins!

I swear, every year I get more and more excited about bear hunting.

Bear baiting begins one month before we actually get to hunt. I swear, every year I get more and more excited about bear hunting. I haven’t been able to actually get a bear, but none the less, I enjoy every minute of the process, and the experience in the stand waiting for a big boar to show up.

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Last year’s bear site

This year, we moved our bait sites and eliminated one of them. It was too stressful to decide where to sit when all three sites were getting hit, and it seemed like the third bait only made the bear come less to the sites we wanted them at. With increasingly more human traffic on the mountain, we decided we needed to head deeper into the woods. I had only had my other bait site for two seasons, but moving it in deeper will mean a better chance of seeing bear during daylight hours. This year’s bait sits on top of a mountain in a beech tree growth. Claw marks from where they’ve climbed on the trees are everywhere, so I’m extra excited. I’ve already had moose and deer using my trail so I look forward to a wildlife filled hunt.

 

Black bears are naturally nocturnal, so to get a bear to come out during the daytime, it has to be very comfortable with its surroundings. In order to eliminate the interruptions we usually create by baiting during the week in the late afternoon, we’ve left enough bait in the barrel so that whomever decides to visit, will have some bait to come back to, and we’re only checking baits on Saturday mornings for now. That may change if the bears don’t come around. I also have an ace up my sleeve if the season drags on and no bear come during daylight hours…but I’ll keep that to myself for now.

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This year’s site all baited.

My new site is a good quarter-mile into the woods, so we use the four-wheeler to bring in the bait. This year, we bought one barrel of bait to supplement what we had left from last year, but for now it’s lots of yummy cinnamon, frosted danish and muffins from last year. Along with sticky marshmallow nougat, and grease in smaller pails, the bait is left in a big blue barrel. We also put out a wick of anise oil that smells like strong black licorice for those of you who have never smelled it. Bears have incredible sense of smell so the scent acts as an attractant to get them coming to the bait site, and the bait hopefully keeps them coming back. Hopefully, but no guarantees.

 

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My secret weapon for 2016

 

Speaking of sense of smell; last year, I worried I was too open and that my scent let the bear know when I was there. The wind was constantly changing. So this year, at the 2016 Sportsman’s Show in Augusta, I found and bought the hanging tree blind I had regretted not buying the year before. This blind will provide me with extra scent protection, and now the bear won’t be able to tell if I’m in the tree or not since I won’t be seen in the blind, and I won’t be rained on! My tree stand is situated so that my back is to sun, so in theory, the bear will squint from the sun if it looks my way. A strategic move on my part, I hope!

 

 

Let’s hope I don’t have the sow and three cubs like last year.  As much as I enjoy seeing cubs and a sow, I don’t want to meet them in the woods, and I would never shoot any of them. I really am hoping my big old boar, Scrapper, comes around… or another big boar would do too.

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Last year’s sow and cubs making their rounds to all of our bait sites.
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Scrapper my night bear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be keeping you up-to-date with happenings on the bait site and as I hunt. I hope I have exciting stories to write about…and eventually bear meat in the stew pot! Wish me luck!

Being the Image of a Woman Hunter

Hunting has empowered me to do things I never imagined I could do, and that’s the image I want every woman and girl to identify with.

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My buck (c) S. Warren

Life is full of ups and downs. I recently got turned down to be a team member of an organization for women who hunt. I realized after I applied that I probably wouldn’t be chosen, not because I wasn’t qualified, but because I didn’t fit “the image”they were seeking. Just looking at their website, I knew I didn’t fit. I felt like I was back in high school waiting for approval from the popular girls.

It’s kind of funny since I’ve never been a clique sort of girl. In fact, as a young girl, I avoided them.  I never hung with the “in” crowd in high school and pretty much kept to myself. It was much easier to do my own thing than face any type of rejection because I didn’t measure up in some way to standards set by someone else.

Those standards of beauty and perfection haunted me all my teen years, but over the years I’ve learned to be comfortable with who I am, but I will admit I still have my insecurities that try to whisper in my ear from time to time. I pride myself on the fact that I’m not like everyone else, and I think that’s one of the reasons hunting and fishing is so attractive to me. I can be me, and I can be good at what I do…and it doesn’t get any better than that.20160604_095711-1

In a time when women and girls are the fastest growing demographic and are becoming the “new face” of hunting, I’ve also discovered that the hunting industry as a whole is guilty of setting the same type standards for women and girl hunters that we see in fashion magazines where our worth is our youth and beauty. We aren’t seeing the real images of  women hunters as a whole, but a merely a slice of the pie. Most notably, we aren’t seeing women hunters over the age of 35. It’s as if they don’t exist, unless you know where to look for them.  After some help from friends, I found a few for inspiration: Michelle Bodenheimer, Barbara Baird, Mia Anstine, and Kirstie Pike. There are plenty of women who were hunting and fishing long before Eva Shockey arrived, and for all you know, they could very well be your neighbor, your co-worker, or your banker.

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Still has on mascara and is young woman. photo by RealTree

With media constantly setting the standards of beauty and bombarding girls and women on a constant basis to be perfect, one of the main themes women hunters should be emphasizing is to encourage women and girls to become empowered and stand up to these pressures. On one hand we’re telling girls it’s cool they don’t wear bows, but instead shoot them, while on another hand, we’re subliminally telling them that they should look like a model. I don’t want these persistent images to dissuade women and girls from hunting because they won’t fit “the image” portrayed in magazines, television, online, or by a group.

I like to think that I represent women who hunt–real women, or at least older women. I am no Eva Shockey. I’m not twenty-something years old with a skinny body and long flowing hair. I am 52 years old, fighting the battle of the bulge, and I don’t wear makeup when I hunt…ever. BUT I can hunt and fish. I’m an avid hunter and fisherman, not a professional. This means, I don’t always get a deer, and most often not a trophy deer. My fish are average, not trophies. And I know there are many, many more women out there just like me. They’re just out in the woods and water doing their thing.

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Hunting has empowered me to do things I never imagined I could do, and that’s the image I want every woman and girl to identify with. I want women of all ages to step out of their comfort zones and be recognized for their skills, and not be judged on beauty standards set by others. This hunting and fishing thing isn’t for just a select group of women.

If you have the desire to learn to fish or hunt, then it’s time to put aside any insecurities and just do your thing.

Whether you’re ten or thirty or fifty years old, you’re never too old to start. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be passionate and want it.

If you need camaraderie, then find women who are like you by taking a hunting safety class, joining a local sportsman’s club, or using social media (that’s how I’ve found a lot of my new friends).  Don’t forget to ask sisters, daughters, nieces and friends to join you. Finding others with the same interests will help you build the confidence to do your thing.

Meanwhile, I’ll be out doing my thing and not stressing about whether or not I fit in.
I hope you’ll join me.

TBT-My First Moose Hunt – Final

I Get My Moose!

We had found our way to the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance, now called the Midcoast Conservancy. I called to let them know I was hunting there, which was a request in the brochure.

I took a Friday off so we could hunt two days this week. I was able to find, using the map, that we could access the bog through various trails. This would cut down on the mountain climbing and possibly may save us some time so there would be less time walking, more time hunting.

Friday: One way to enter was by using the gas pipeline access. Our trusty Gazeteer came in handy to find the trails we needed. We planned to use our four wheeler to drive the trail once we found access. We met some really nice people who offered us park in their yard so we’d have access to the pipeline trail. We used our GPS in walk mode to mark where we parked the ATV and to find our way out. While the walking was easier, the distance was longer. We hiked through trails for miles.

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On our way in, I seemed to be watching more where I stepped than in front of me since all I could see was John’s back. Our first encounter with wildlife was as we were approaching the softwood area. There we jumped the biggest, grayest buck we had ever seen. I only got a glimpse of his hind end, and neither of us could get a shot. That deer was on a gallop too far away for any chance. We eventually found our way back to the beaver bog. The day ended pretty quiet. We made our way back to the four wheeler and left that day exhausted.

Saturday arrived with aching legs, but a sense that we were getting the feel for the land and thinking that perhaps we’d see a moose. A breakfast of coffee and Tylenol and I was ready.

This time we used yet another trail to get to our main access point (8). The hike up the side hill was pretty challenging without having sore legs from the day before. Almost to our access spot, John abruptly stopped. He’s whispering…deer, deer, deer. I don’t see a deer. When I finally saw it, it was a high racked six point buck that was just staring at us about 60 yards away. John wanted me to use his shoulder as support to make the shot. I became flustered because I didn’t want to blow his ears out, and about that time, the deer took off. I tried to make the shot as it ran, and I missed. So we went back to moose hunting.

I had discovered on the map that we could cross the Sheepscot River (which is really like a wide brook) further up from the beaver dam that we had been crossing by jumping from boulder to boulder. This way we didn’t have to deal with the wet zone, beaver dam or get wet crossing the water. By crossing the river higher, it also put us in the ideal spot for moose.

Around 1 pm we walked into the thickest wall of pine and fir I had ever been in. I would have easily gotten lost had John not been leading the way. Everything looked the same until we came into a clearing. There, in front of us, was fresh moose droppings and browsed fir tips. We found their hideout. As we walked, I spotted the moose, two moose-one bull and one cow. I stopped and pointed and told John, and said, “There they are.” He asked if I wanted to use his gun. No, I said. I drew my gun to shoot. I had the bull in my sights. Then I began to overthink. The moose were quietly bedded down in a willow growth. Willows blocked me from getting a clean shot. Do I shoot? In the time I took to question myself, which was only a matter of seconds, the moose realized we were standing there, jumped up and bolted. Mr. Bull was gone in a flash crashing off through the woods, but the cow made a much smaller circle and ran directly broadside toward us over a knoll. We each shot at the same time and the cow was down. It was now 2 pm. It would be dark in about two hours.

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Now the real work began. There was no way we could get the moose out of this area because four-wheelers aren’t permitted on the trails, so we had to pack it out. John began field dressing the moose as I made a trip out of the woods and back to the truck to bring the guns out, call my son for help to pack out the moose, and call the game warden to find out if I really was required to bring out a reproductive part of the moose since I was allowed to shoot either a bull or cow. Yes, was the answer…seriously. So off came the teats since I had no idea where to retrieve an ovary.

I took on the task of lugging out the tenderloin in my back pack. It weighed so much and I was so tired from all the walking that it didn’t take much before I was flat on my face. I caught my pant leg on a stick and down I went. I literally had to walk leaning forward to offset the weight so I could climb the hill. My second trip out was made in the dark by flashlight. The guys used backpack frames to lug out the front and hind quarters that they had packed in meat bags. They too had to make two trips.

We loaded up the truck, feeling exhausted but excited at the same time that we were able to harvest a moose for our family. We tagged the moose at the now closed station where I also tagged my first turkey.

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My moose hunt was far more physically challenging than I ever imagined. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I’m glad we didn’t give up. It wasn’t the perfect hunt, but it wasn’t the worst. I had missed a nice deer, but if I had gotten that deer, I wouldn’t have had time to hunt for moose, so I guess I’m glad I missed it…sorta…We ended up getting one of only two moose harvested out of the permits allotted in zone 23, and for that, I am extra proud. Best of all, my family got to eat some amazing meat for the next year.

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I will always regret my hesitation, and wish that I could have gotten the bull moose that had a beautiful rack on it; however, I feel I am the luckiest girl to be able say I have a chance to do it all over again only this time with much better odds.

Wish me luck in September!

TBT-My First Moose Hunt-Wk 2

I kept saying over and over in in my mind: Don’t give up! when all I wanted to do was sit down.

We Climb Down a Mountain

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Beaver dam photo by SWLA.org

By mid-morning we were a bit discouraged. We stopped into the local store for coffee and snacks and ran into an old friend of John’s dad. After some conversation, we told him we were moose hunting. The gentleman knew “exactly where to go to get a moose” and told us where we needed to look. He and his grandson hunt this area for deer, and they often see moose. We were excited again. We thanked him and headed out for what we thought was a climb down a small hill to a bog.

It had recently snowed but then half melted away, which made walking more difficult. The temps had warmed, but it still wasn’t overly warm…unless you’re hiking a few miles. We parked the truck and headed out to scout for moose. There was a small trail at the top of the mountain, but we cut off from the trail and headed straight down over the mountain. We managed to jump two nice doe on our way down. This “small hill” ended up being a monstrosity. It was about a mile and a half downhill before we ever came to the bottom of the hill. There we hit another walking trail but continued straight on through in hopes we’d reach the bog.

Walking downhill was awkward for my ailing knees. On top of that, I was completely over dressed. I had on my big L.L. Bean boots with wool socks, my green Johnson woolen overalls, heat gear turtleneck, hunting jacket and orange hunting vest…and I was carrying my rifle. I was drenched with sweat before we got to the bottom of the mountain.

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Beaver dam photo by SWLAmaine.org

We crossed a small stream, then a few hundred yards later, we hit a flooded area and then a beaver dam. I prayed the water wouldn’t go over the top of my boots. We managed to get to the beaver dam. We then shuffled our way across the edge of the dam, holding onto the tips of branches. Somehow we managed not to fall in. Once on the other side, we heard some crashing and immediately noticed we had jumped two moose.

 

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Young moose photo by SWLAmaine.org

I was in a dilemma. I had made it clear that I would absolutely not shoot a moose with a calf no matter how old. This appeared to be a cow and calf, or two cows; we weren’t sure. We decided we might be lucky enough to spot a bull so we decided to track them. We tracked through the bog, twisting, winding, slopping our way through a maze of woods and moss from which I didn’t think we’d ever find our way out. We tracked the moose for almost three hours. Good thing John has “iron boogers” to get us out. We never caught up the the two moose, and as dark closed in on us, we finally gave up and headed back.

By the time we got back to the beaver dam, I was exhausted. I was thirsty beyond thirsty. We hadn’t brought one ounce of water with us. Our short trip turned out to be the whole afternoon. I shimmied my way across the beaver dam and through the wet land. As we came upon the bottom trail we had initially seen, I spotted a brook with crystal clear cold water. Against protests from John, I laid down and took a good healthy swig of spring water. I didn’t know where we were and at the time, I didn’t care. It wasn’t connected to the beaver dam and it tasted lovely. By this time John had thought I had gone insane. Perhaps I had. You probably shouldn’t do that.

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Sheepscot River tasty water                           photo by SWLA.org

I tried to convince John to take the unknown-destination path which looked much more an appealing walk than the mountain he wanted me to climb, but with darkness upon us, the last thing we wanted to do was be lost in the woods. So we hiked back up the mountain, the tall freaking steep mountain. As we began the hike up the mountain, I began peeling off my jacket and hat. I was so hot I could barely stand it. My feet hurt from sliding inside my big boots.  My knees really hurt. I was thirsty still. I was sweating. I ended up eating snow as I climbed the mountain. It was absolutely the suckiest moment of hunting I’ve ever experienced. I kept saying over and over in in my mind: Don’t give up! when all I wanted to do was sit down. Luckily my asthma didn’t make the climb worse, but none the less, I was bummed that I hadn’t better prepared for all the walking I had to do and for the physically intensive challenge I had faced.

We finally made it out of the woods by nightfall about half a mile from our truck. I declared I couldn’t take another step. As I sat on a stump feeling defeated and waiting for John to come pick me up with the truck, I found out where we were thanks to a sign and a nifty brochure. We were at the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance (SWLA.org) now called the Midcoast Conservancy, and we had climbed Whitten Mountain. It turns out all those trails do lead to somewhere, and I was going to do some research for the next weekend of hunting. I was going to be more prepared. AND I was never going into the woods without water again.

Next week: I Get My Moose!

 

 

TBT: My First Moose Hunt-Wk 1

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photo by canoemaine.wordpress.com

In Maine, there is a moose hunt. It began back in 1980 and despite being challenged by anti-hunters, the hunt has continued and is probably the most highly sought after lottery drawn hunting permit in Maine.

As luck would have it, I scored a bull moose permit for northern Maine’s zone 5 in September for this year. Never in a million years would I have expected to get a permit since I had just gotten one in 2011. I am extremely grateful for my chance at a trophy moose that will not only feed my family but will be an exciting adventure with the entire family. This luck of the draw has me reminiscing the good and the bad about my 2011 moose hunt.

My husband, John has always applied for a permit in hopes of getting one in a northern zone overrun with moose. Admittedly, I originally applied to increase our chances; I wasn’t a hunter then. After 2002, not only did I apply each year, but with full intentions that I would be the shooter if I was ever drawn.

The lottery has been under a lot of scrutiny over the years. After getting too many complaints to ignore, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made some major changes to the system. One change in particular was that for each year you had put in, you not only had a bonus point, but also from then on, those with more bonus points would have better odds at being picked. They also lengthened the time span between being eligible for a permit from two to three years. With a level playing field and the hopes that we’d finally get picked, the idea of getting a moose permit seemed more in reach.

We both had applied so long that we fell into the “I’ll take anything if my choices weren’t available.” In reality, that really didn’t mean I wanted or expected to get a moose permit in November in the zone with one of the worst success rates in the entire state of Maine. When I applied for the lottery, my zone choices began with the obvious northern ones and worked their way down the map to my home zone with my last choice being the zone next to ours. But really how could I lose with all those choices listed first? A word of advice: if you really don’t want that zone or date, don’t write it down.

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My 2011 Moose Permit. Note the date error!

In 2011, the day of the moose drawing, my phone started ringing off the hook. I got a moose permit! I was ecstatic with the news! John was my sub-permittee. I repeatedly teased him that I got a moose permit before him. I’d send him text. “I got a moose permit.” or I’d say, “Guess what?” and follow through with “I got a moose permit.” He was a great sport, and I just tried my best to make sure we were prepared to make it the best hunt we could.

It didn’t take long before anxiety soon set in when I realized it was a November hunt for a bull or cow in Zone 23. In a preparation of the season, I had to do my homework. Zone 23 had the least success rate of any zone. It was disappointing to not get a “good” zone but with only 20 permits, there would also be less competition. The good news is that Zone 23 is known for its deer herd, and I could shoot any moose. The bad news is that everyone would want their areas for their own deer hunting, and calling in a moose wasn’t really going to work in November. I had no idea what lay before us, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task. no hunt sign

I even paid the fee and entered the official moose swap website. I couldn’t even get people who live in 23 who had a permit for my home zone of 16 to swap with me. It was a waste of money and soon reality set in. If I wanted to get a moose, we were going to have to work for it. We didn’t want to rely on a Maine guide. John has been my guide all along. We’ve self-guided all of our hunts, and we didn’t want it any other way.

We talked to everyone and anyone who would give us leads. We used our beloved Maine Gazeteer filled with detailed maps to find boggy areas and on several occasions, we spoke with landowners and biologists. We would follow every lead and a few times this led us to nothing but waste time because there were so many deer hunters that it felt impossible that’s we’d see a moose.

We finally got permission to hunt on a farm that had been gated in Albion. The only person who had a key to the gate was the friend of the landowner, so we’d have to track down this guy down to make sure we could have access. The first day he was sitting on a wood pile, smoking a cigarette and had a rifle across his lap. He was deer hunting…I guess….He was all good to our face, then promptly tried to shut us out the next day. We went back to the landowner and asked him to call the guy…he did. We were all set. We showed up the following day and the gate was open, so we drove in. We hunted the entire day hiking over hills, brooks and clearcuts. On the way out, we found our selves locked IN.  Luckily, John knew the road came out into another field so after four-wheeling our pickup through some pretty tough terrain, we made it out. Despite having landowner permission and lots of moose signs, we didn’t go back. This moose hunt wasn’t supposed to be about hassles with landowners’ buddies.

Next: Week 2: We Climb Down a Mountain

 

 

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl- Part I

In case you don’t know me, I love to travel. I’m not well traveled, so even a trip that is routine for some is an adventure for me and my family. This year, we decided to go back to Florida for one more adventure. We were thinking this would be our last time there since we have a long bucket list. Our trips in the past have covered Disney, Universal Studios, and Sea World, but we had never been to Busch Gardens. So in the name of roller coasters, animals and white sandy beaches, Tampa it was.

However, this year, we wanted to expand our adventures to more than theme parks and water parks. I surprised John with a Florida hog hunt for his birthday. All the plans were made. I really wanted to go, but they charge a lot and even for a spectator, the price is almost the same. Then you have to add in butchering, taxidermy and shipping the meat home, it’s just not worth all that money…so Tyler and I planned an afternoon of our own adventure to keep busy while John hunted. We dropped John off in the middle of no where with his guide. We set our point on the GPS to find him later and then we headed to the Shell Factory in Fort Meyers. They had amazing display of taxidermy. If you’ve ever been to Cabela’s, then picture Cabela’s on steroids. Most were African animals but there were also some animals from North America. Many of the animals can no longer be hunted today.

The hunt gave John a chance to see what the Florida forests look like. We actually saw a place that wasn’t swamp but instead very sandy! The density of the forest is a lot like Maine only with different species of trees and plants. We saw lots of birds and Old Man’s Beard hanging from all the trees. I spotted a deer from the highway. No hogs. Yes, that’s a feeder and when it went off, John thought the hogs would come running. They didn’t. We did meet another woman hunter who, along with her husband, bagged an alligator that morning and was also sitting for a hog the same night as John. They didn’t get a hog either. Guess we’ll be going back to Florida, the company honored it’s pledge for a guaranteed hunt and gave John a certificate good for 5 years to try again.528_2

We took some time to talk with our guide and his helper. It’s pretty incredible to see them get all excited over what we hunt compared to what they hunt. We stood around sharing photos from our phone cameras of moose and deer hunts, turkey hunts, beaver trapping, and of course, fishing. Eventually the mosquitoes had the final say, and I retreated to the car. As we said our goodbyes, I spotted an armadillo running across the lawn. It was too dark to get a good photo. (Honestly, Tyler just an hour before, told me they carry Leprosy so I wasn’t about to go try to catch it.)

The following morning was our official last day of fun. As we left the hotel and headed to the car, we heard noises in the woods off to our right. I spied a cat spying something in the woods. Tyler spotted them first. I couldn’t believe it…there in the woods were about six baby hogs…I don’t know where Mom was, nor did I want to know! Pretty amazing no hogs showed up where they were supposed to be but then show up at our hotel! A little salt in the wound for John, but we had a good laugh afterward.

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Pigs in the underbrush…they’re there, but hard to see. (c) SWarren

Next week: Part II –  Air Boat Ride!

Feeding Winter Deer

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Saturday’s frigid temps were too cold to do much else, except take a ride to see some deer that are fed every winter. Last year, our winter was so bad that the deer had a hard time. I saw a direct impact on the numbers this year in my area. I didn’t realize how much the weather affects deer until I saw my little buck in the spring. He looked pathetic and so skinny and weak. I really didn’t know if he’d make it before more natural food was available.

After last spring’s story of several New Hampshire deer dying from eating corn, hay and deer pellets, I can’t say as though I’m as ready to rescue the deer from starvation as before. These deer ate too much and their stomachs couldn’t adjust to the food and they ended up dying.

I had never fed deer before this past spring, but I decided to get some high protein deer feed and put out just a small amount for my deer. My deer ate it and I continued to feed small amounts to him for a month or so, until I knew he could find plenty of natural food to forage. I also added some mineral lick powder, but no hay and no corn. I was told a long time ago to never feed a deer hay; they cannot digest it, but will have a full stomach and will simply starve to death.

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This winter I put out a bit of deer pellets at the end of the season so that I could catch my deer’s antlers. He never dropped them at the bait site. I did manage to find one, but he hasn’t returned to the feed since January 29th, when I got the chance to see he had dropped his second antler.

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This winter has been much milder and  I’m not as worried about the deer. In fact, I didn’t put out any more feed since the deer are gone and the squirrels are getting scary big. They don’t need any more food! I need to try squirrel hunting if I can convince the guys to eat squirrel.

20160214_151052Each year we venture to a spot to see the deer. In the past, we gave “bucks for does and dough for bucks.” This year, we did not leave money since I heard they’re not particularly fond of hunting or hunters.  We still enjoy watching the deer and other onlookers who never let us down.20160214_151831 I always find it interesting to see people who think that wild animals are docile, cute little things that they can pet like a dog or cat. The deer seemed to be much more aggressive this year, and there wasn’t much time when a scuffle for food wasn’t taking place. If you saw the way these deer fight, you’d be smart to stay in your car…I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that hoof…but nope, some woman with her five something year old thought they would try to see how close they could get to feed a deer with an apple, which only drove the deer further away…and then the two teenage girls who also decided they need to get out of their vehicle, climb over the snowbank and approach the deer…yeah…what ever happened to just viewing and enjoying?

buckThere was at least 55 deer on the lawn, with dozens in the woods and on the other sides of the property. I would estimate at least 100 deer in counting distance. We were lucky to see one nice 6-8 point buck that hadn’t dropped his antlers yet. My deer dropped his on January 21st…it might as well have been last year since it feels longer than that. This buck was also aggressive and chasing does; you’d think it was October the way he was chasing! It’s incredible to think these deer are out in this weather. At -8 at 3pm, I can’t even imagine how cold the nights get for them. They noses and chins were frozen so that you could see the hairs on their chins.

Yes, We’ll continue to go up and see deer, but I’ll leave my dollars invested in conservation when I buy my hunting licenses. I have to admit, I sure do wish I could go shed hunting here!20160214_150720

 

Being a Woman of the Maine Outdoors

I have always loved being active in the outdoors and consider myself a Woman of the Maine Outdoors. I’m even a board member for a non-profit Women of the Maine Outdoors; yet winter has always been my least favorite season, and my least active season. Two reasons: I have asthma, and I detest being cold.

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Our new fireplace

It’s easy to stay inside where it’s warm, where there’s a movie and warm fireplace, where I always have housework to be done, where there’s laundry to keep up, a wood stove to fill, and home projects to get done.  I avoid it all the rest of the year so I don’t know why I care now!

My usual outdoor cycle begins with fly fishing and camping activity in the spring even if there still are snowbanks to climb over. My knees get really sore from activities so I end up taking lots of ibuprofen and acetaminophen and do a lot of whining. Once bear season arrives in August, I hope I have enough wind to help haul buckets of bait. Bear season ends just in time for deer season when I hunt every single day I can because the knees don’t hurt as much, the asthma is under control, and I’ve built endurance to enjoy every minute. Then winter comes. I spend the majority of my time indoors.

In the last few years, I’ve been lucky to do a snowmobiling trip, maybe go snowshoeing once, get coerced into ice fishing once, and then I wait for spring. By spring, I’m completely out of shape and the mad cycle begins all over again. I’ve decided that if I’m to be someone who represents Woman of the Maine Outdoors, then I need to change!

In an effort to break the cycle, I’ve been getting outdoors this winter. Keeping my deer cameras out and allowing myself the time to get out into the woods has been the best thing I’ve done in years.

I go prepared with my new hunting fanny pack I got for Christmas. I bring along my inhaler, phone with camera, eye glasses and a compass just in case. I am finding new adventures and wildlife in the woods every time I go out! I’ve found more tracks of animals I never knew were there. I have fox, owls and deer on my game camera.

For now I haven’t had to put on my snowshoes because the amount of snow has been minimal but walking in the snow is still giving me a good workout. We are giving the snowshoes a new coat of marine varnish to make them like new again for when the snow does finally arrive. It’s almost time for our annual ice fishing trip to Moosehead, and I’ll be getting out my one trap and hoping to catch that monster togue or brookie.

Actually, let’s be honest. I’ll be happy to get a flag.

Maybe this weekend, I’ll get the chance to do some rabbit hunting or to try my luck at coyote hunting~I guess I better buy my licenses!

Whatever you do, take time for yourself with or without someone, and get out there~being a woman (or man) of the Maine outdoors begins with baby steps. If you don’t have private land, there are lots of trails for public use and you’ll be surprised what you can see…even in the city I’m told there’s some solitude in the woods. Hats off to my baby sister Wendi for “getting out there”.

 

 

 

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.

 

Waiting for the Antlers to Drop

With deer and moose season over and the winter coming into full swing, antler shed hunting has become a hobby for many hunters anIMG_20151214_193956511Ad non-hunters alike. I myself have never found any shed antlers except for the pair of moose antlers John and I found one spring. They were a couple years old and we weren’t even hunting for shed antlers; we just sort of came across one then deliberately looked for the other one and actually found it. They adorn my bedroom walls along with John’s moose mount, bear mount and rug, my turkey fan and my college diploma. John has found several pairs of shed moose antlers and some deer antlers too. Our new fireplace also has a beautiful five pound brown trout John caught in high school and it’s mounted to a shed antler he found.

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Zack’s find: a perfect set. (c) S. Warren

Our son Zack found a freshly shed pair of antlers one sunny January day. We had a nice snowstorm so we took the kids sliding down the Bulldozed road as we call it.  There right where we were sliding, John found a pair of newly shed antlers. The deer had dropped them right in the trail. The next day, Zack, who spent most of his childhood hiking the woods behind the house, came across a pair of 8-point sheds where one of my tree stands are now located. I’ve never seen a kid so excited! The following year, Zack found another pair that matched identically to the pair from the previous year. He never saw the deer in the woods but he always kept his treasured finds close at hand and hoped to find them again. He even found a shed so big that he made the Skull and Antler Club book for one of the largest sheds ever found in Maine that year. He still loves to shed hunt and does a lot in Downeast Maine.

 

Last year, I had a nice little buck coming and eating acorns where I have a tree stand. I had several pictures of him with his antlers. I never got a chance to shoot him, and only saw does all season. By chance, I left my game camera out longer than usual and when I finally went to retrieve it, I was delighted when I found all kinds of surprise pictures. My deer had been back so I put out some deer grain…and I managed to get the exact date he dropped his antlers…January 21, 2015.

So after seeing that my little buck survived last year’s long harsh winter and seeing how awful and skinny he looked, I set out some grain to help him and any other deer that might need it.

 

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Skinny deer after long hard winter. (c) S. Warren

I didn’t use corn after I read that it’s too harsh for them to eat after a hard winter. Instead, I got deer grain with lots of nutrients and only put out a small pailful at a time so that they wouldn’t eat too much. Later in the spring, I got to see my little buck sprout his new antlers and watched him come back from time to time this fall looking for some acorns. Well, the acorn season was dismal and none of the deer hung around at all.

 

However, he did return this winter after the deer season was over…of course. John and I rigged up some chicken wire and sticks and carefully placed some grain around the edge of it in hopes my little buck who’s not so little anymore, will come back for some eats, get his antlers tangled in the wire, and drop his antlers. He was really skiddish at first but he’s finally stepping into the v-shaped chicken wire….and so for now I’m waiting patiently for the antlers to drop.

 

 

Skunked by the Deer

Well, first of all I have to apologize for being so delinquent in my posts. The rest of deer hunting season followed by muzzle loader season and then the renovations among holiday preparations have taken their toll. I am behind, and in more than my blog, and Christmas is only three days away. I haven’t wrapped a gift or baked a cookie. However, my new fireplace and living room look and feel fantastic! I’m extremely proud of our work and can’t believe we got so much accomplished with our crazy schedules.

However, I’ve learned to adapt and life moves on whether we’re ready or not so why not just go with it and not fret over it. I can’t change it, and in fact, I wouldn’t change any of my life for the last year. I fully love my life and the chaos that comes with it. With each change and event, we grow as people… as hunters, parents, and human beings.

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So, despite the fact that my six point buck returned at night only just before the season ended, I was happy to know he’s still around. I hunted him hard, but he outsmarted me. I jumped him numerous times in different spots but never got a shot because it was always too dark. The last time I jumped him was the last night of rifle season by my Buddy stand. I heard that familiar deer running sound, but couldn’t spot him. I pulled up my gun and looked through my scope hard. Nothing. I thought he had run off, but three more steps and I heard him again…heading towards my other stand. He never blew and just pounced away. I did see his his tail, the beautiful white tail flipping the bird and laughing as he pranced away. I could have taken a shot, but in reality…I say ‘he’, but I didn’t see antlers so it may very well have been another doe, and I couldn’t take that chance.

IMG_20151121_082238038_HDR.jpgMuzzle loader season only produced more does, and without a doe tag the best I could do was take a picture. Although I hunted every day except for one, I came up empty handed. I’m pretty hardcore, and can tolerate a lot, but when rain poured down on me as soon as I headed into the woods, I turned around and came right back in. Rain and black powder guns don’t mix well even when they’re modern, and I wasn’t prepared to sit in the rain only to get wet.

IMG_20151123_080428846John got a nice buck so we’re not meatless this winter, and we won’t totally break the piggy bank buying meat. I’m counting on rabbit hunting to bring in some more. We’re totally in love with our rabbit pot pies and I have a freezer full of them for winter.

We’ll be ice fishing soon, but other than our trip to Moosehead Lake in February, I’m not much of a participant. It’s hard to believe that as much as I love fly fishing and fishing in general, that I would be so apathetic about ice fishing. It may have something to do with the bone chilling cold, freezing cold wind and water on my hands, and not liking thin ice that has me thinking there’s got to be something more fun to do in the winter.  I used to ski until my knees wouldn’t let me any longer. I like to ice skate, but I suck at ice skating–and rollerskating for that matter. I broke my wrist roller skating so I’ve been banned from any skating all together. I have snowshoes, so when the snow finally falls, I’ll probably try snowshoeing where I hunt so I can get some  exercise.

Winter is the toughest time for this outdoor girl since I don’t like being cold and my asthma is at its worst. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not ready to give up. I’m not going to dwell on 2015 and beat myself up for not accomplishing what I set out to do….it’s not like I didn’t try….The bear and deer may have skunked me for 2015, but 2016 will be different in many ways…and I’m only beginning.

I’m not one to make resolutions so I won’t even go there. I started a healthy lose weight program before I saw my Miss Maine Sportsman calendar photos which would have pushed me over the edge much sooner…and I’ve lost 16 pounds…but I have much more to lose before next spring when I cast my fly again and my WISH is to be considerably smaller by spring.  My other wishes: to take a trapping course so I can trap with John next fall, shoot my first bear, snag another moose permit, and shoot my first deer with my bow.

I sure do miss fly fishing…and now my wishes are answered…. I just read that since there is no ice and it’s been so warm, that open water season has been extended but few fisherman are taking advantage…Well, damn it. No one told me! Perhaps I can convince John to take me to the river. The water may be cold, but my waders will keep me dry and warm. Perhaps I should be wearing my waders ice fishing?

Whatever your 2016 holds, I hope you’ll get out into the outdoors. Try new things, face new challenges…and never, ever, give up, especially when it comes to mice….I’m up to 15 and I have resorted to using pink mint marshmallows as bait.

 

Deer Season Begins!

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Fireplace chase half skim coated for rock to be applied after. (c) S. Warren

Deer season began as it always does; a bunch of promising game photos, a night of no sleep, and excitement that I’ll be successful. This year’s season also includes us trying to do a DIY project involving installing a fireplace, applying mortar and stone to the outside, and getting it all done before the cold really hits and somehow making it work around the hunting season. We’re doing well, but we still have a lot to do.

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View from My Stand (c) S. Warren

I usually sit in My Stand right behind the house. This works for getting out and hunting each morning prior to my heading to work. It’s quick to get to and to get back. In past years, I’ve had some pretty awesome moments, and I expected to hear the deer in their travels as I always have. This year’s acorn crop is pretty small. I had hoped that my acorn stand would yield more deer this year because a nearby woodlot was cut making the oaks less abundant. Unfortunately, it’s not looking very good.

For the first time ever, I’m changing up my sitting spots. I have four spots: My Stand, the Robin Stand, the Buddy Stand, the New Stand, and a couple more options: the duck blind spot and the Tall Hemlock. The Robin stand is half way between my stand and the Buddy stand. Last year, I saw five does in this stand. We moved it so that I could see more and have more cover. I haven’t sat there yet because I need to add some foam to the rails to make it quiet and I just haven’t had time.

The Buddy stand is just that. It’s a double stand in an area that’s big and wide. This is the stand I was in on last year’s final day of muzzleloader season when Mr. Buck showed me a glimpse of his leg before hightailing it out of there. The one and only deer I’ve seen in that stand. I’ve played and replayed that day in my mind for the last year, hoping that Mr. Buck would still like to hang out and make some buck rubs and give me another shot at getting him. Things have been awfully quiet for me to believe he’s still around.

the New Stand (c) S. Warren
the New Stand (c) S. Warren

The New Stand is in a spot that takes me thirty minutes to get to, so it’s not feasible for weekday hunts unless it’s a holiday or vacation day. It’s not that far away, but walking into a stand in the still morning requires every step to be intentional and methodically placed so that you don’t break or snap a twig, so that the leaves done crunch, so that you don’t land on your face by tripping over the long grass, so that you get in undetected, and that’s not always easy. The stand sits on the edge of oaks and a dark softwood growth. Lots of deer sign and buck scrapes but it feels pretty dead most of the time…except when I least expect it.

the Buddy Stand (c) S. Warren
the Buddy Stand (c) S. Warren

I’ve been chasing deer in the area since I started hunting. The elusive big buck that I either jump or get busted yet never see. And this would be the case this year. My first time to the new stand that John put up for me. I usually go with him, but this day, we were going separate ways to get more done. Since my stand was pretty dead, I decided to try out the “new stand. John’s words exactly, ” Go straight, don’t turn right and it will be on your right. You’ll have NO problem finding it.” Now I know this neck of the woods, but after forty-five minutes of roaming around checking out every off shoot road, I finally found it. In fact, I stumbled upon it and then wondered if I’d be able to find my way out at dark. By then, I was a wash of sweat, possibly the result of cursing for the last hour. I had overdressed for that much walking, but was relieved to finally find my stand.

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Buck scrape (c) S. Warren

I wasn’t in my stand five minutes when I thought I heard a deer blow…which means it smelled me. I was busted. I heard the deer bound away. Legal shooting hours ended and I managed to find my way out. I was glad I had my flashlight because although I consider this a morning stand so I was surprised to hear a deer in the late afternoon. I have learned to be more comfortable in the woods, I have no intentions of getting lost.

This morning I had the opportunity to sit later due to the holidaym so I headed back down to the New Stand. Due to a back injury flare up from working on the DIY project, I hadn’t had a chance to hunt in two days so I was hoping my sciatica wouldn’t start in once I sat down. I quietly made my way down to stand. I managed to leave later than I wanted so by the time I was half way there, it was already starting to get light, but wasn’t close to legal shooting hours yet. I shut off my flashlight since I’ve memorized this trail and know where to step.IMG_20151105_064556970

As I made my way toward my stand, I think I hear a grunt…a deer grunt…a BUCK grunt…Brrrr. I question whether I really heard what I think I’ve heard. Afterall, I have an uncanny way of hearing things that sound like a deer walking in the woods, but it ends up being a squirrel or falling leaves. So I doubt myself. Rule number one: never doubt yourself!

I take one more step and then I hear it. A deer blows and all I see is a white tail VERY close to me. The wind is blowing in my favor. I was too close for him to smell me; he just heard me and reacted. Between me and Mr. Buck is a really large boulder. This is concealing me from him, and him from me, not to mention it’s still too dark to shoot. I can’t pick him up in my scope. I scan the woods knowing he isn’t very far way…maybe 25 yards. I decide I’ll make my way to the boulder for a chance to sneak up on him. I duck and take one step. He blows, stomps his feet and blows a couple more times. In an effort to have him want to stick around, I blow a Brrr on my buck grunt. He gets incredibly upset and wheezes and snorts three or four more turns. I in turn stomp my foot as he was doing to me. It’s a stand off, but it’s still dark. If only can get him to step my way. He continues to blow and then without any other warning, runs away from me…gone forever. I just pray I don’t hear a sudden shot from someone lucking out on My Buck.

I had a blast, but as always I analyze, reanalyze, and then shoulda, woulda, coulda scenarios run through my head. In the end, I am learning and experiencing things I never thought possible. I’ve seen a porcupine in a tree, an owl trying to catch squirrels at daylight, partridge walking around, ducks and geese flying overhead. I hear screech owls howling, loons calling and of course squirrels…lots and lots of those dang red and gray squirrels. And not once have I been afraid to be alone in the woods, and that’s my biggest and proudest moment thus far.

I hope I’ll eventually see a deer that I can harvest. Time is ticking but in the meantime, I’m enjoying every minute I’m out there. Lots of exercise and experiencing lots of exciting moments. After all, it’s the adventures you have in the process that make hunting so rewarding.

Happy Hunting!