I know that sounds confusing, but let’s face it; we miss a whole lot of stuff driving too fast. I can’t tell you how many people drive right by or into wildlife because they’re so intent on getting where they’re going that they don’t take the time to slow down and really see what’s around them.
When my children were younger, many of our Friday or Saturday nights were spent cruising the back roads hoping to see some wildlife. “Moose rides” we called them, but we often saw way more than moose. To this day, my kids can recount a certain ride where they saw a bull moose fight, a baby bunny, or where we stopped and caught fish in our travels.
The secret to seeing wildlife is: Number one: knowing where to go. Number two: going at the right time of the year, and number three: going at the right time of day. But really if you want to see wildlife, just take a ride into rural Maine. A slow ride. Grab a friend, lover or family, and get your eyes off your phone and into the fields, the woods, and the roads. I’m not saying you have to go 30 miles per hour the whole time…but 60 won’t do you any good and you might even hit one of the animals you’re trying to spot…so slow down. Be aware of your surroundings, including cars behind you who aren’t out for a wild ride, and be ready to slow to a stop, take a picture, and share the experience and make memories.
In the beginning of the spring, April, we start our rides to go fishing. This time of year, we see a lot of yearling moose who have just been cast off from their mothers who are getting ready to calve. These moose are extremely scared, tend to stay in the road, run up the road, and may even come up to your vehicle as one did for us this spring. The moose always look pretty scraggly, but it’s just the shedding of their winter coats.
Rabbits getting some nutrients from the road
Big bull moose
Eaglet sitting on a branch
Turtle tracks. We tried to catch the female laying eggs but she retreated too fast.
Woodcock and chicks right at dusk
Wood turtle on dirt road
We also see a lot of rabbits. One of the games we play with the kids is that everyone gets to guess how many moose and rabbits we’ll see. The winner only gets bragging rights, but it gets the kids involved with looking to spot animals. We’ve seen woodcock with chicks, fox with kits, grouse alone, and with chicks, deer with fawn, moose with calves, bucks, coyotes, snakes, bear, turtles, turkey, rabbits, and sometimes we even spot mushrooms..all from the seat of our truck.
Rabbits getting some nutrients from the road
Woodcock and chicks right at dusk
Eaglet sitting on a branch
Where to go: For moose, we go north/northwest of Norridgewock…areas include Bingham, Athens, road to Greenville, Rangeley and US Route 16, Oquossoc, Kingfield, and north of Lexington on the Long Falls Dam Road. For deer, just take a drive. They’re literally everywhere from the interstate, to farm fields, to within the city limits. Some of the biggest deer in velvet that I’ve ever seen have been in Augusta.
When to go: early spring to see turkeys gobbling in farm fields, deer getting their first taste of grass, pregnant cow moose, yearling moose, laying turtles in the gravel roadside, and if you’re lucky enough, a bear with cubs. Mid-spring delivers for moose with calves, moose and deer in general, rabbits with babies, grouse with chicks, birds of all sorts including hawks and owls and even sand hill cranes. Fall is great to see moose in the rut, and partridge to shoot in October. Most of the time when we hunt for partridge, we’re riding roads looking on berms to spot roosting birds…use this time to start early and get to know where you see them for the fall bird season.
We always plan our rides so that we arrive at our destination around dusk. You should plan to drive slower than normal and keep an eye out. This is the time many animals come out to eat, hunt, or travel. We bring a spotlight to help spot animals. We never have any kind of hunting equipment in the car either, because it would look bad to a game warden or police officer. You can use lights except from September 1 to December 15, when “it is unlawful to use artificial lights from 1/2 hour after sunset until 1/2 hour before sunrise to illuminate, jack, locate, attempt to locate or show up wild animals or wild birds except raccoons which may be hunted at night with electric flashlights during the open season (IFW).”
So no matter when you head out, you’re apt to see something. Just slow down and watch the sides of the roads, the trees, the skies, and take it all in. There’s always something out there to enjoy, to share, and to learn about. You won’t forget it, and neither will the kids.
PS Don’t forget your camera. Many of these are taken with my phone camera so the resolution isn’t as good as it could be.
I wrote this article for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s July 2018 newsletter, but this version is a bit longer with more detail.
I love to hunt, and nothing gets me more excited than the anticipation of Maine’s bear hunting season. I’m not sure if it’s the amount of preparation it takes leading up to opening day, or if it’s the actual hunt, but bear hunting has gotten under my skin, and it’s a hunt I highly recommend, if you have never tried it. I was able to harvest my first black bear two years ago, and even though I didn’t get one last year, I still can’t wait to do it all over again this year.
Not everyone has the ability to bait, and even if they do, not everyone owns or has access to land where they can hunt bear. If you don’t have land to hunt bear, then consider hiring a Registered Maine Guide or teaming up with someone who does. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting ready for a bear hunt, and this may even make you opt to hire a Registered Maine Guide when you see how much time and money it requires. It’s work, but work that my husband, John and I love to do together. It’s the challenge of getting everything perfect that makes it so rewarding.
We are fortunate enough to have permission from a landowner to hunt bear on land about an hour and a half away. Thank you again Mr. S! Since neither the hubby nor I are Maine Guides (though it is our dream to become ones some day) our day jobs prevent us from baiting in the morning, which is considered the best time to bait. Over the past couple years, we’ve changed up our baiting patterns so that bear would have less bumping off the bait. We originally baited three times a week, after work. We had our best year ever when we switched to once-a-week baiting on early Sundays. This issue is always debated among hunters…I say just do what you can and what works best for you. I like the fact we can camp all weekend, check bait, and still have enough time to get in some fly fishing before heading home.
Preparation is the key to success in baiting your own bear site. Following is a summary of supplies and items we use to set our own bait sites. First of all, good bait is essential. This winter, we called and made arrangements with our bait guy for four barrels of bait. When we first started out, it was frustrating to try to buy dated sweets since everyone else was trying to do the same thing. We didn’t know where to buy bait. We’d watch for ads or search the internet for bait locally, and would usually find some to buy. I also stock up on flavored marshmallows, cherry gelatin, unsweetened cherry drink mix, and popcorn for my popcorn-wheel barrel. I also buy a jug of honey to use as a honey burn if we decide we need one. Our bait guy can also get us frosting, peanut butter, pie fillings, nougat, marshmallows, trail mix, granola…whatever we decide to use. We avoid chocolate chips since the big controversy over too much chocolate can kill a bear. I don’t think the use of chocolate chips is outlawed in Maine, but it is in New Hampshire.
Bait barrels are a necessity and can be found at local retailers, online or sometimes at yard sales. We have blue plastic ones, but I’ve seen white ones and rust colored ones too, as well as steel barrels. We bought one for $35 from a store, and I know we paid too much. Make sure you have some heavy rope or cable to secure the barrel to the tree. Nothing is worse than finding your barrel missing when you go to check bait. We also use a lot of 4-5 gallon buckets to carry bait. I found square buckets at a local national retailer that used to let you have them for free, but now they charge, but it’s still less than buying new. All you have to do is ask. They also fit better in our four-wheeler basket. We also use 5-galloon buckets for grease and frosting, and these can also go missing if not properly secured to a tree.
Bear scents are a must. I’ve bought locally, ordered online, and stock up when I see them in my travels. At $20 a bottle, it can get expensive. I have my favorites, but there are plenty to choose from, and over the years, we’ve tried them all. We’ve had our best luck with bacon, cherry, anise, blueberry, and caramel. Bear Jelly works great to spread on trees so that the scent last longer. We add our own beaver castor to the jelly for added scent.
Bear love grease. We get fryer grease from a local Chinese restaurant, but any fryer grease will do. You can also buy additives for the grease that creates a sensational teeth tingling sweet-smelling concoction that promises to bring the bear running. I even have a video on my Facebook page with a bear practically bathing in it. I stock up on those water sprayers kids use in the summer. They work great to spray the trees with grease so that the scent will travel.
It wouldn’t be bear hunting without anise oil. We buy a big jar of it and use a Tiki Torch wick to soak up the oil and then hang it from a string high in young sapling that we can bend down, and then release. We re-dip the wick each time we bait.
Game cameras are a must. Whether it’s a photo or a video type is personal preference and like anything, cost can be a factor. It takes a lot more time to review videos, but videos show you behavior you might not otherwise catch in a photo. I recommend at least two on each bait since we’ve been known to blunder more than once and not set the camera correctly. This also eliminates any fighting over whose fault it is that the camera didn’t work. And, in order to see if it’s even worth sitting for hours on opening day, you need to know whether bear are hitting the bait, and if so, what kind. Last year, I was graced with a sow and two cubs, and the year before, a sow with three cubs. I also had boars of all ages coming to my bait. Last year, I heard bear coming into the bait on a dead run, which is unusual. I caught a glimpse of them through the trees as they circled and approached the bait from the far side. I was thinking it was the pair of young boars that had visited the night before. I decided to wait to see “both” bears before taking a shot. No such luck! A sow stepped out, followed by her two cubs. I’m glad I knew they were a possibility and waited to shoot.
Game cameras also let you identify bear year after year. I don’t know if he died or just wasn’t hungry enough to venture my way, but the bear I named Scrapper never showed. He is old and has the scars to show he’s ornery, and he’d been at my bait for three years. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get to see him reappear. Remember to secure your game cameras too. More than once, bear have tried to chew, or pull our cameras off the trees. We use black out infrared cameras too, which has reduced their attempts to attack the camera. Don’t forget to bring extra memory cards (labeled) so you can swap them out quickly.
I still haven’t gotten the nerve to sit in a ground blind. Since bear like to approach my bait site from behind me, I opt for a tall ladder stand. This year, I’ve purchased each of us, a tripod ladder stand that we can position in the ideal spot without having to rely on a tree. I gave up the blind since it prevented me from getting a shot at a huge boar that was under my stand two years ago. I still dream about that night and “if I could do it all over again.” Do what makes you comfortable; being scared wouldn’t be fun.
Another must is the handgun we bring; it’s a bear gun-a 44 magnum Taurus Raging Bull-a two-handed cannon so to speak. I’ve shot it, and it’s about all I can handle. A few years ago, we encountered a bear. After we had set the bait and were walking the area to see about moving one of the bait sites, we were unexpectedly charged by a bear. It growled and charged from the trees, which reminded me of a Jurassic Park episode, but it never showed itself. We ended up yelling and clapping and the bear moved on without incident. Perhaps it’s just for peace of mind, but nonetheless, it’s always with us when we bait.
Lastly, we have two four-wheelers and a trailer. Baiting would be too much for this girl if we had to lug everything a quarter mile into the woods. We register them, load it up with all our supplies and head up the mountain. We’re usually in and out of our site within fifteen minutes. Don’t forget to bring gas…and the key.
One more last thing…don’t forget your license—that’s a big game hunting license, a bear permit, and archery license if you’re using a bow, and trapping license if you opt in to the trapping season. Know the laws and abide by them.
Tree frog in my trail
John and I prep for the bear hunt together, but we hunt separately on our own baits. The only thing left is saving up my vacation time to hunt, and having the nerve to walk into my bait alone. I’m usually jumped by a partridge, frog or a snake the first couple times in, then it’s just a matter of taking my time so that I make no noise on my way in. It gets easier the more I do it, but since we’ve jumped bear at night, hubby likes to walk in and meet me. Guides will do the same if needed.
The best is yet to come…bear arriving on your site while you’re sitting in your stand. I can’t wait to hunt, and I hope you give it a try. It won’t be long, and bear hunting will be under your skin too.
I’m hoping I’ll get to bring my friend, Erin along again this year, and maybe she’ll even get to see a bear. Crossing our fingers that this will not be another banner beechnut year!
P.S. Don’t forget to label your bait site. I make a laminated card and hang it high on the tree. And for the first time, a bear got to the tag this spring and chewed it up. I’ll be making some new ones and hanging them a little higher.
I usually walk in the woods out back of my house, but when it comes to being in the woods “up North” we usually are riding in the truck. This year, we headed into East Carry to check on the pond and see if any trout were rising. The road was exceptionally soft so we decided to park the truck and walk in. The frost was coming out of the ground and we were afraid we’d get stuck and with no cell phone reception, it’s the last thing we needed to happen…and we have a new truck that John doesn’t like to get dirty.
What an amazing day it turned out to be!
We decided to “be quiet” and whisper because we were hoping we’d see a bear. As we walked the road, I spent as much time looking at where I was walking as looking around. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied something brown moving near a blown down spruce. My immediate thought was it’s a rabbit, since we had only seen about 20 of them along the roadside the night before. As I watched, the animal quickly made its get away. I watched it bound away. It’s feet were fat and perfect, and it had a black tail…In my mind, I’m looking at this animal and thinking that’s the biggest freaking rabbit I’ve ever seen! I yell to John, “Did you see that? It was a Goliath rabbit. That thing was huge!” And then it hits me. OMG! That was NO rabbit. It was a bobcat! We got a good laugh and we now call this section of the road Bobcat Alley. Of course, no picture. It happened so suddenly I didn’t get a shot.
We headed down the road. Good thing we didn’t bring the truck. There was a tree across the road, and the road was partially flooded. As we inched ourselves around the tree while trying not to get our feet wet, I looked up just in time to see a huge, and I mean HUGE–coyote, which we now feel must have some wolf in it, come running down the road. It stood there staring at us. It didn’t fear us. It stood as tall as a German Shepard or maybe even taller with a Husky look. He was a big dog–bigger than any coyote I’ve ever seen and was completely white/yellow. He just stood there. I don’t think it had ever seen a human. I tap John on the arm, “Hey! Coyote! in a whisper yell. I didn’t dare move afraid I’d scare him off. John had is handgun on his hip, and slowly took it out of his holster. Using the tree as cover, he took aim. POW! and the dog turned and ran. John had missed the 80 plus yard shot. We followed the tracks. He was a big one. He went up another trail, and then proceeded to scratch and pee all along the road. We followed his tracks until the trail ended. We then turned around and finished walking into the pond. Never before had we ever seen such a large dog. Again, no picture because I didn’t want to move.
I went back to looking for more wildlife. I was able to notice on several occasions the places where birds like to dust. They find mounds of dirt and create bowls in the sand. This process keeps bugs off their feathers.
We also noticed other wildlife and plants: If only they had smell-a-vision…May Flowers are the absolute prettiest smelling flower.
We finally made it into the East Carry. The fish weren’t jumping, but the loons were calling. It was so soothing to see the water. The main picture is East Carry.
If you get a chance to take a walk in the woods, be ready for surprises. You just never know what you’ll run into in the woods.
There’s always a sure way of knowing that spring is really coming, and that’s when I start spotting pussy willows as I drive to work. I often hear friends say they can never find any.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you really can’t miss them once you know where to look. The hardest part about spotting pussy willows is not being able to pick them off someone’s lawn…nope can’t do that. Since I haven’t got up the courage to ask and know that I can find them elsewhere, I just respect their land and move on…but I still sigh every time I drive by!
I’ve spent a good amount of time looking and some of the best and biggest pussy willows I’ve ever found have been in the city. You read right…the city. The The key is to pick them before they turn green, and you want willow trees…not poplar tree blossoms which look somewhat like a pussy willow.
Every year, John and I pick an enormous bunch of them to keep in the house. One year, we found the mother load of gigantic pussy willows and picked a bunch. The following year, we went back only to find that the owner of the property had wiped it clean of the willow trees, and put up a big old warehouse. Knowing that there had to be more somewhere in the city, I went to work scanning the for-sale lots in my travels.
Score! At an industrial park, where land is for sale, I managed to spot some pussy willows. They didn’t appear too big from the road, but once we were up close, they were huge! They literally looked like cat paws…or rabbit paws…just a really awesome find. It’s amazing how much land right next to the highway is accessible and I’ve seen several people picking pussy willows in the same spot each year. Just know that the bigger ones are where no one’s picked yet.
So with the cold that’s been sticking around, the pussy willows haven’t bloomed out as quick as I expected they would…but the season is coming to a close. In fact, since these rains, the willows are getting too far gone as the leaves are trying to come out.
These green buds are much more easy to spot…take note for next year. You’ll want to remember where you saw them come spring. Don’t forget to take the kids along for some outdoor time and a great time to learn about the woods.