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 First Solo Turkey Hunt

I love to turkey hunt. It’s what got me hooked on hunting, but it’s never been a favorite for John. He’d go along, being the voice and calling in turkeys. I would sit waiting to take my shot. I never had to deal with any type of call, let alone trying to call a turkey while waiting for a shot.

After losing my job, I had nothing but time, but John had to work. I decided I’d take advantage of the time and do some turkey hunting on my own. For the last two years, I’ve been trying to learn how to use a mouth call. While I can do all of the calls on my slates, it’s entirely different trying to call and actually sound like a turkey using a mouth call. It takes a lot of practice and patience getting used to the feel of a call in your mouth. When I first started trying to call, the vibration was almost unbearable. I soon learned I needed smaller calls and then I started getting better.

Once I felt that I actually sounded somewhat remotely like a turkey, I decided to try going solo.

Turkey hunting solo is much harder that it sounds. Damn hard actually.

Add my bow to the mix and I had a challenge I really wasn’t prepared for. I’ve never shot a turkey with a bow, but I wanted to challenge myself.

For the past two weeks, I listened to turkeys gobbling. I had pictures on my game cams of turkey strutting every day at the same time. The tom had the biggest beard I think I’d ever seen.

The very first day out, I made calls. I called turkeys in consistently, but literally got busted every time I tried to draw my bow.

In an attempt to outsmart the tom, I went into my tree stand. I hung my bow and made my calls. I instantly had turkeys responding. The turkeys came in just as the deer I had shot came in. From my left, I heard them coming, but not one gobble. As they emerged, I decided I’d take whatever presented itself.

Five. Five birds busted through the bushes and straight out in front of me stood two jakes and three hens. They took one look at my decoys and started cutting and you could almost see the panic in their behavior. Before I reached for my bow, they spotted me. A few more cutting sounds and they made a sprint for the woods.

Just when I thought I was done, I gave one more call. And there it was. A gobble. A single gobble on a mission. That bird circled me from the left, up behind me and down to my right. There it stalled. I could call and get answers continuously, but I could not get that bird to come in close enough for a shot.

After it decided there was no hen, it lost interest and just stopped responding to my calls. The tom was gone. Turkeys 2, Staci 0.

After three days of chasing turkey with my bow, I decided to bring my shotgun along instead. I headed out back to find that longbeard that had been just out of reach each day. This bird had a pattern, but just when I thought I had it figured out, he didn’t show up. I followed the trails until I came along a ridge. I gave a call. Instantly a turkey gobbled back. I was at the top of a hill and no matter how much I called, that turkey wouldn’t go up hill. So I waited about twenty minutes and headed down the hill. I stepped behind this huge boulder that had a fallen fir tree on the top. I gave a call, and boom. That turkey was back answering and coming my way. I debated whether to stand or sit, then in an all out ditch effort to hide, I plunked myself on the ground in the leaves. My butt on the ground, legs stretched out and gun across my lap, I took out my slate and gave some soft purrs, and then raked the dry leaves.

That turkey came gobbling in. He was so close I could hear his feathers ruffle and puff as he strutted. He was directly on the opposite side of that boulder. I didn’t dare move. My heart was racing. I prayed to the turkey gods he wouldn’t come in on my right, since I’m right handed and was facing left. He strutted there but I couldn’t get him to cross over that rock wall to where I could get a shot at him.

Not until I decided one more time to make a soft call. Gun across my lap, I picked up my slate call and striker. As I look up, the tom hopped over the wall and stopped dead in its tracks. It saw me and there I was caught red-handed with my call in my hands. I dropped the call and drew my shotgun. I popped off a Hail Mary shot, but that bird took off running before I even had the bead on him. Then he flew. My morning was over.

Not to be defeated, I opted to try at another piece of land I have permission to hunt. I headed out. When I got there, I could see a group of turkeys strutting in the far corner of the field. Not to be busted, I made my way through the woods along the tree line, making calls with my mouth call. I had continuous answering, but they never ventured my way. I continued to work my way through the woods until I was past the end of the field. I slowly made my way to a group of trees where I would have good cover. I set up and made my first call. Immediately I had an answer. The birds (yes, there was more than one!) kept coming and calling. And then there was no sound. I sat waiting, just giving some soft purrs. I sat silently and motionless.

And then I saw them. They were making their way right to me! The birds crossed out in front of me. As they stepped behind a tree, I pulled my gun up and made ready. When the first bird stepped out from behind the tree, I shot.

My bird dropped, and the other took off leaving his buddy for dead.

I was ecstatic. I had my first solo bird.

I carried that bird out to my truck along with my gun slung over my shoulder. I was just about drained by the time I got him there, and somehow, I managed to lose my brand new camo hat. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t gotten the monster tom. I got a bird, and I accomplished my goal.

I’m already practicing my calling for this year. I have my spots all picked out. I have a new hat. Now if only I can find the time to take a couple days off from work. That big tom is still around, and I’m a bit smarter this year. I hope that if you’ve never tried turkey hunting, that you’ll give it a try. I’ve already told my friend, that I’ll take her. We haven’t gotten one yet with her as the hunter, but maybe this will be the year!

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.

 

Expanded Archery Tales

On the last day of muzzleloader season, expanded archery would also come to an end. I convinced John to go expanded hunting with me since I was seeing way more deer in the city than he was muzzleloader hunting, and at least in expanded archery, we each had a permit to shoot either a buck or a doe.

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View from my blind overlooking a chopping. c. SWarren

Instead of going where we had been going, John decided to take me to a spot he’s hunted for years in Oakland. He scouted it in advance and prepared two separate blinds out of brush for us. The first morning we hunted together, I followed him into the spot and took my place behind my blind…well, after he came back and led me to where it was. I had never been that way and even though he said, “it’s right there,” I went too far left and missed his trail entirely. As I stood in the dark trying to find my way, a figure in the dark walked by me…it was him. The wind was howling and it got cold. I didn’t think the wind was to our advantage, and I was ready to leave when my teeth started chattering. We didn’t see anything, but sign was abundant so I wasn’t too discouraged about coming back.

 

We may not have seen any deer, but we scored some fall oyster mushrooms, which are probably the best mushrooms we’ve eaten besides our chanterelles. Yum!img_20161203_075113430

The following night, I couldn’t hunt, but John went. He decided to sit further in from our original spot, and although he didn’t see them, he heard two bucks fighting as their antlers clashed just before dark.

So the following weekend, we came in from a different way and took up new spots on the other side of the mountain. That morning before daylight, we hiked that tall, steep mountain. It was so steep and going was slow on the slippery snow. I thought I’d die trying to pace my breath before we got to the top only to sweat as soon as I made it to the top. Thank goodness I have good layers to wick away the moisture!

Eventually we made it into our spot, which was filled with acorns from all the oak trees in the area. The deer had been feeding here, so it would just a matter of timing before we’d see a deer. John had picked out a really nice spot for me right at the tip of a fallen-over hemlock tree. It made great cover right on the ridge of a valley. I could see all over the other side and all around me. Deer sign everywhere! All I had to do was sit still.

It wasn’t long after daylight when I heard a deer. At first I thought the deer was behind me. I realized I was also hearing a squirrel at the same time I was hearing the deer…out in front of me. John was sitting off to my right about 40 yards. I thought sure he’d see this deer. It made its way from the right to left slowly walking down the bank at a diagonal. It went out of sight when it reached the bottom of the valley because a big blown down poplar tree’s  root ball on my side of the bank blocked my view. As I waited, I finally saw the right ear of the deer. She was coming right up in front of me at about 20 yards. I drew my bow and held it as I waited for her to step out. With the deer fully in sight, I lined up my peep sight with the knock on my bow. I realized the deer was looking right at me!

I released the arrow, and watched it hit the deer where I thought was just behind the left shoulder. The deer took off. I felt it was a good shot. However, the arrow did not light up when it hit as it did with my first deer. The deer bound to my left, then turned and headed down the hill, and then back up the other side where it stopped right at the top. I could hear the leaves rustling and thought it had gone down, but I couldn’t see clearly where it had gone. I saw more deer off in the distant. The hardest part about bow hunting is trying to capture what’s happening so you can remember everything. It’s much harder when there’s a bow in your hand, and everything happens so fast!

I texted John when he didn’t text me right away. I thought, hadn’t he seen the deer? I thought for sure he saw the whole thing go down.

Me: Schwack! (I was feeling pretty proud about now!)
Me: Didn’t you see the deer?
John: No, did you shoot?
Me: Yes, I hit it.
Me: I think anyways. (beginning to second guess my shot)

I could hear John coming my way, and at the same time, I saw the deer off in the distant coming our way. I couldn’t get John’s attention before the deer realized he was there and bound away. He was pretty disappointed he hadn’t seen the other deer, but there was a large tree that blocked the deer from his view. He had heard it but couldn’t see it.  I chuckled when he said he couldn’t believe that I had once again taken a shot at a deer. After all, this was only my first season of bow hunting, and this shot made three deer I had taken a shot at. Apparently it’s not normally like this?

img_20161210_093700584We talked about where the deer was standing, where the deer was shot, which way the deer went…and all before we even took a step away from my tree. John found the spot where I had hit the deer and where it ran. He found the spot where the arrow was broken off and laying on the ground in a bunch of spattered blood. The arrow had a lot of fat on the front of the arrow. There was no sign of a gut shot, so where was this deer?!

We followed blood sign, first tiny specks, then a whole bunch down over the valley and back up over the other side. Then the blood and trail seemed to disappear. No blood anywhere. Not even a speck. Are you kidding me?! I felt sick. We spent almost an hour trying to find where the trail went cold. We eventually found where the deer had ran and eventually we found a minute, tiny speck every once in a while that would keep us moving.

We really thought eventually this deer would lie down and bleed. Our only explanation was that either the arrow passed through the deer and the fletching end of the arrow was still in the deer and possibly plugging the wound, or I hit lower than I thought, and had only caused a superficial wound to the deer. But we made every effort to keep tracking as long as we could. I didn’t want to feed the coyotes.

After about two hours and quite a distance, we followed the deer’s tracks out into a road. On the other side, we spotted between 8 and 10 deer all in a group with one very big deer chasing around…a buck! John had left his bow back at my tree. I gave him my bow to take a shot. I hid behind a tree and gave a bleat on the doe call. The buck started running our way. Just as John drew, a doe on our right busted us, and every one of those deer turned and scattered in every direction.

Now we were discouraged. There was no way to tell which way the deer I had wounded ran if it wasn’t bleeding. We spent a while longer and I finally resolved that we wouldn’t find the deer. I was very disappointed. I never, ever thought I’d lose a deer. I really thought it was a good shot. What would people think? I pride myself on being a good shot and making a quick, clean kill. I know hunters who use both rifle and bow and have lost deer. I understand that it can happen. Nothing is a given, but it still feels awful. So I’ve decided that if I have anything to do with it, this will be my last lost deer.

IMG_20160526_172913838.jpgI’m not going to get stuck in the woulda-shoulda-coulda trap. What I will do is practice. Practice more. Practice until I shoot that spot the size of a quarter. I’ve always hit, but never that tight of a grouping…but next season I will. Next season, there will be no question. I will learn to be more patient, not rush a shot, and have more faith in myself. I will use this failure to learn from, and not stop me from doing what I love to do. I will not let the possibility of failure stop me. I will make sure that I am prepared so that my possibility of failure is minimal. It still won’t be a given for success, but I can make sure that I’ve done everything I can do to make it is as failure-proof as it can be.

When you head out into the woods, don’t let the possibility of failure stop you from trying new things. Don’t let previous failures stop you from trying again.

Remember: There’s an adventure that awaits. Be prepared and your chances of success will follow.