My Bear Hunt 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

My right knee just after surgery on June 5th.

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

Hobbling around with crutches in tow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Spring Pussy Willows

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.

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In the city of Waterville, but Augusta has some good ones too.

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.

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Some really tall ones!

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.

 

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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.

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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.

Happy Spring! Now go fishing!

We Happened Upon a Chanterelle

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A bowl full of chanterelles

Last year we began foraging in earnest. We searched and picked and identified as many mushrooms as we could. We were able to identify three edibles: oysters, lobsters and chanterelles. Chanterelles are our favorites, and we managed to find a nice flush up north.

Looking around home yielded a few golden goodies, but nothing like last year’s bounty. We had pretty much resolved that we wouldn’t be so lucky as last year.

In preparation for bear season, we decided that John’s site needed to be moved to a more covered and discreet area that the bears would be comfortable visiting. We decided to go to the mountain and scout, and hopefully find time to look for some mushrooms.

On our way out of the campground, we realized we forgot our mushroom bags. As we turned around to go back, I spied that golden unforgettable, chanterelle color right by the road! Sure enough, we scored. We scored even more when we searched into the nearby woods.2017072295111640_2

Chanterelles right in the full sun!

After scoring so many mushrooms, our bags were full. We reorganized and emptied one bag, then headed into the woods on the mountain. After we decided where the new bear site would be, we decided to hike out the easy way instead of through all the mud we encountered earlier.

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I filled my fanny pack!

On our way, we happened upon some chanterelles, and then again, and again. Every time we found a bunch, we’d be so excited. Of course, we yelled, “Bingo” to keep our good fortune coming. We found them in many different places, but one consistency was finding them on the sides of roads where the soil is hard in mixed woods of fir and hardwood. We found them in shade, in sun, and under bushes…they just seemed to be everywhere!2548

The size of the Chanterelles kept us yelling in excitement!

This year’s haul was twice what we got last year. They’ve been sauteed in butter and frozen, and are now waiting for the right time to accompany our moose meat, venison, or bear dinner.IMG_20170723_074815810Over three gallons picked and trimmed.

Mushroom foraging has been a lot of fun. It’s given me exercise and we’ve created some great memories together. The season still holds many surprises, but for now, we’ll be focusing on the bear hunting season. Preparation is under way and the baits are out. Hopefully, I’ll have something to report on next week!

Until then, tight lines on those fish, keep your eyes down in the woods for fungi treasures, and keep practicing your shooting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footsteps in the Woods

So I’ve been out searching for mushrooms and figured, what better place to look than right at work. There are several well maintained trails that I can walk. High school runners compete on these very trails every fall during cross country season. The woods are perfect for mushrooms, i.e., they’re not really healthy. There’s lots of fallen wood, dead wood and sick wood as much as there is really big wood. Healthy woods don’t produce great mushrooms, or at least the ones that grow on sick trees…so this place feels like a bonanza. There are literally mushrooms growing along the trail, in the woods and in the gullies where water runs off.

 

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I haven’t ventured out into the trails until this week. I didn’t have any mosquito protection, and no tick protection either, so I would have been more apprehensive except that I had my sneakers on. I was all set to venture off the trail. I had to keep a lookout for the poison ivy that would appear out of nowhere.

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Poison Ivy

Last year, I entered one of the trails and swore I heard a deer blow, but never saw it.

Today, I entered the lower entrance of the Porcupine trail. As I walked, I kept thinking I was hearing something walking in the woods off to my right. The only thing I was able to spot was a blue jay flying from the ground to the tree. It must be the blue jay? No squirrels, which are notorious for making noise in the woods, were to be seen anywhere. My footsteps were almost unheard. The bark mulch and pine needle trails dampened the sounds of my walking.  What was it?!

I made my way around the loop, but kept hearing the sound. Still I saw nothing. I decided to retake the loop, only the upper loop this time in the opposite direction. The wind was in my favor. As I rounded the corner, there she stood, totally unaware that I was there. She was busy looking for left over acorns from last year. Her beautiful orange coat glistened in the sun. She was small, but appeared healthy.

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It took a few tries, but finally I was able to get her attention. She watched cautiously. I admired her, but didn’t move. She went back to her eating, and I went on my way.  I scored a few mushrooms and saw a deer. It was a good day for a walk.

Do you ever hear footsteps in the woods?

By the way, no hunting allowed here, so all I can do is dream about hunting deer on my walks.

Foraging for Mushrooms in the Maine Woods

A couple years ago, I got interested in finding edible wild mushrooms. I never imagined how addictive foraging can be, but the bug bit, and it bit hard, not only for me, but the hubby as well. When we’re in the woods, we spend as much time searching for mushrooms and trying to identify them, as we look for critter sign.

I started out finding the “easy” ones and found them behind my house. Lobster mushrooms were one of the first. Lobster mushrooms are bright orange and ugly. I have slowly been learning different mushrooms, and verifying my finds before ever considering putting anything in my mouth. Lobster mushrooms have a weird texture and although they supposedly have a lobster taste, I didn’t like them.

 

We’ve also found loads of Chaga mushroom. Chaga has lots of medicinal properties and makes a wonderful tea after you grind it. It’s more like wood than mushroom, and you can’t saute it and throw it on a burger. However, it’s highly prized and sought after, and I have a load of it. Having a husband who cuts trees all day has proved to be advantageous in finding Chaga.

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Biggest piece of chaga ever scored…15 pounds and it’s only half of it!

I’ve also found Reishi, but haven’t tried it. I’ve heard you can cook it on the barbecue, but it’s most often used in tinctures as a medicinal supplement…hence, I recognize it, but I haven’t used it.IMG_20160717_121857252

Once I starting being able to identify mushrooms, I expanded my search to oysters. Oyster mushrooms vary during different times of the season, but spring oysters are easy to find because of the anise-like smell they have, and they grow distinctly on popular trees. I prefer fall oysters to the taste of spring oysters. Fall oysters seem dryer, and more like the mushrooms bought in the store.

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Fall oysters found in the fall while deer hunting.

The real addiction came when we found Chanterelle mushrooms. Chanterelles are said to be one of the most tasty wild mushrooms, and I can’t agree more. No matter how they are cooked, they are delicious! They are easy to spot since they are bright yellow in the woods, but their look-a-like Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are extremely poisonous and should not be confused with Chanterelles. There is also a Scaly Vase Chanterelle and False Chanterelles that some mistake as the good one. False chanterelles tend to be more orange-brown and the stems are different and it’s toxic…so it’s very important to make sure you know what you’re picking. Click here for more pictures and more information on chanterelles compared to look-a-likes

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Mushroom season is just kicking off. I follow Maine Mushrooms on Facebook and have learned a lot of information from other mushroom foragers. I also have a book on mushroom identification I keep handy.

In particular, this is morel season. Morels are said to be mostly in the southern Maine and the coast, so the last thing I ever expected to find was a morel north of Waterville, Maine. But I did. I scored big! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d find a morel. You have to be almost on top of one to not miss it. They are easy to miss since they blend in so well. It’s not a mushroom you can spot from far away. I was lucky and found one standing all by itself on the side of a logging road. Hubby and I decided to really hunt and we found several more. We went over the same area where we initially found them, and found a few more we had missed the first time!

Morels have to be cooked. I chose to coat mine in flour and saute them. I only cooked half of them so I could try them just sauteed. The bigger ones had more flavor, and I can say I like them as much as chanterelles! I’m ready to go find more!

Still on my bucket list: Trumpets, Chicken of the Woods, and Hen of the woods, which I’ve never found any of them, and Bolettes, which I’ve found plenty but have yet to feel comfortable enough to eat one.

Foraging for mushrooms is a lot of fun and is a great way to spend time in the woods when you can’t fish or hunt. Hopefully I’ll be back with more tales of my foraging.

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.

turkey tracks

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

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.

 

 

 

 

Muzzleloader Memories

In Maine, muzzleloader season commences immediately after the regular firearm season ends. This gives a hunter two more weeks of hunting with less pressure since fewer hunters own muzzleloaders or take advantage of this season. The first muzzleloader we owned was one we bought for my oldest son to use; however, I ended up using it. I am proud to say I was the first one to shoot a deer with it and I’ve used it several times. Since then we’ve gotten a second muzzleloader, but I have yet to shoot anything with it because I either tagged out before muzzleloader season, or didn’t get a deer at all.

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Old fashioned black powder gun photo found on Pinterest

This is my  story about a muzzleloader hunt and the gun I used, a CVA .50 caliber rifle. It’s the new kind of muzzleloader, which at first some hunters mocked because it’s so easy to use.  Unlike Laramy “Sasquatch” Miller, the mountain guy who pours the black powder into his gun and loads a ball inside a wad of cotton, we drop three gunpowder pellets called charges down the barrel. Then using the long rod, we press the sabot and bullet down into the barrel. The gun isn’t considered loaded until we place the primer, also called the cap, into place with a special tool. Our particular model takes a .209 cap, which is simply the size of the cap. The difference between rifle and muzzleloader hunting is that you only get one shot with a muzzleloader and then have to reload it in the field.

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The primer sits in the tiny hole…trying putting one there with big fingers or cold fingers…almost impossible! photo: armslist.com

Our first muzzleloader was harder to use that our current one. It was almost impossible to get a primer into the gun without the special tool. Luckily, our new gun has a barrel that breaks open. Another issue with the first gun is the bolt was forever coming unlatched and the bolt would open. On more than one occasion, I’d lose the bolt right out of the gun, and onto the ground on my way into the stand. I finally figured out I needed to carry it on my right shoulder so the bolt handle wouldn’t catch on my jacket and get flipped open.

One year I hadn’t gotten my deer yet, so I bought my muzzleloader permit and planned to hunt. I also had an any-deer permit so the last thing I wanted was for that to go to waste. I hadn’t seen a deer all season. All I needed to do was see a deer to shoot….just one.

Overnight, we were graced with a huge dumping of snow, which was still falling when we headed out. The snow was soft and deep and best of all: quiet. John and I headed out back to look for deer sign. Before we even went 100 yards, we found brand new tracks in the snow. John decided to follow the tracks and went left. I was to circle around by the gravel pit right, and see if anything had come my way.

The snow was deep and hiking through it wasn’t easy,  but it was incredibly quiet. As I rounded the pit and headed down the trail, I made my way almost to the end of it where it merges with another trail when I heard noise…deer noise. There in front of me at the top of the hill, were four big doe pawing for acorns under the newly fallen snow.  I stepped off to the left behind some trees. They hadn’t seen me. I was only 20-30 yards from them. As I readied my gun, I noticed the bolt was slightly open. I pushed the bolt closed, took the safety off, and took aim. As I looked through my scope, I tried to pick a deer that didn’t have another one right behind it. The last thing I needed to do was shoot two does. I decided on the one that gave me a perfect broadside shot.

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My first muzzleloader deer with the same gun- a story for another time.

I pulled the trigger.
NOTHING!! The gun didn’t fire. In my mind, I was screaming NO!
I took the gun and looked it over. I lifted the bolt up and down,  but didn’t cycle the bolt open because I didn’t want to make noise or take the chance of my primer falling out. I couldn’t see anything wrong with the gun. I took aim again and pulled the trigger. STILL NOTHING!! My gun wouldn’t fire. I tried again to figure out WHY... Then the deer noticed my movement. I looked up. They were looking at me. One stomped her foot…A few loud blows, and in a second, they all bolted. I was sick with failure and anger over the gun. Why hadn’t it shot?!

Standing there not believing what just happened, I opened and closed the bolt cycling it through the action and actually opening the chamber. The primer was in place.
So I pulled up and took aim at the big stump nearby. BAM! The air filled with smoke. The gun worked that time. F@&k!

John called me. “Did you get one?!” I couldn’t believe I had to tell him no.

Turns out this gun has a safety mechanism in it that prevents the gun from firing if the gun bolt comes open. The only way to cancel it is to fully open and close it. It would have been nice to know this…or better yet, IF I had simply cycled the bolt, I would have had a deer. The manual never mentioned this safety feature either… I still remember this moment like it was yesterday. Some hunts you never forget; I won’t this one. It was a true learning experience for me and to this day, every time I walk the hill where the does stood, it all comes back. I think what frustrated me the most is that I had shot a deer with this same muzzleloader in a previous year, so I couldn’t figure out what was different.

Although putting meat in the freezer is the best feeling, failure is sometimes part of the hunting experience.  I try not to dwell on unsuccessful hunts; dwelling makes one start second-guessing  one’s abilities, decisions, and whether or not one should be there. Don’t dwell. These are experiences I never would have had if I hadn’t started hunting. I got to see deer, and you can bet that whenever the son takes his gun out, I stick in a reminder to make sure to not let the bolt open.

I avoid the shoulda-woulda-coulda’s of regret. This year’s grand slam proved to me that I know how hunt. Things happen, and not every hunt will be a perfect textbook. Accept it and make changes when necessary, but never ever beat yourself up. That’s why we have next season–to do it all over again.

I’ll be back there next year ready for another great year of hunting. And when muzzleloader season gets here, and if I haven’t gotten my deer yet, I’ll be bringing the “new” muzzleloader out. Whatever type of hunting you do, be sure to get out there and enjoy every minute, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted.

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Newest muzzleloader with break action. Loading is much easier with this type of firearm and has no bolt to fall out.

Day 5: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure

I Get My Moose!

Day five started out perfect. It was cold and frosty; what any hunter would consider the perfect morning to hunt. Even better was the I finally spotted Orion, the Hunter constellation in the sky. With the action we had on Thursday, we had high hopes and the pressure to get a moose before the bird hunters arrived on Saturday.

We headed back to where we saw moose number 5. This time there was no moose grunting on the hill, no cow wailing for companionship, but there was a moose grunting in a distance down towards the other road that we scouted the day before. As soon as it was legal shooting hours, we called. No answers, so we wasted no time and decided to go find the grunting moose.

img_20160930_085944864_hdrWe parked out a further distance and quietly walked in. After about 150 yards of walking, John gave a cow call. Immediately, we had a grunt answer followed by brush breaking and twigs snapping. We slipped off the road and got behind a bush of alders. Another alder bush further out was blocking my view, but also gave great cover for us. I got on John’s right side so I could watch. I could hear the moose, but couldn’t see it. John took a peek. He said, “I can see his antlers. He’s a good one.” So I took up the outer spot again and peeked. There it was, grunting and coming straight down the road! I drew a my gun and waited for him to come into my sights. My first thought was to shoot him in the front of the chest. I’ve shot deer like this and it kills them instantly. Bad part is that it’s a small target even for a moose. I was afraid that if I waited too long, he’d wind us or see us. I lucked out when he stopped and turned his head to the right looking for the cow moose that was calling him. I fired into his neck/shoulder. One shot from my son’s .270 rifle and the bull dropped to the ground! I didn’t shoot again because I thought he die immediately.

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Imprint in the ground where my moose fell after I shot it.

I turned to John, and said with great relief, “He’s down.” John grabbed me and gave me a big hug. In a split second, the bull jumped up and took about four large gallops into the woods. In slow motion I could see my moose running way! Damn!! I should have shot it again. There was no blood trail because the of the angle I shot it. We heard it crash and decided to wait a couple minutes. It was only another couple of minutes before we found my moose. It had been a dead moose running. It hadn’t gone far, but it was far enough. It was wedged between two trees. It would more work to get him out of the woods, but it didn’t matter. I had my moose. My family would have a full freezer of meat. I got to have my “real” hunt, and we were able to do it all on our own. The sense of pride I had at the moment is something I won’t soon forget.

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Then came the real work to get the moose out of the woods and onto the trailer. We used a winch and battery along with come-a-longs and ropes. We even used the come-a-longs to hold the moose’s legs apart for the field dressing. John insisted on field dressing and I didn’t argue. I was there the entire time helping, but he’s the man when it comes to gutting an animal.

Using snatch blocks and rope we got the moose onto the trailer fairly easy. I made out the transportation tag and we put it on the moose. We then covered it with a tarp to keep it clean from the dust on the road. After making it back to camp, we packed up and headed out to tag the moose and then headed home. My moose weighed in at 750 pounds with a 43.5 inch spread.

Yes, moose hunting is hard, but it just proved once again, that with hard work, perseverance, and perhaps a little luck, you can accomplish anything. Hunting has shown me time and again, that nothing is impossible.

Ten Things I Learned When I Went Moose Hunting

  1. We saw more bear scat in one day than we saw all season of bear hunting.
  2. Moose hunting is a lot like turkey hunting. Think about.
  3. I’m glad I’m not a big time bird hunter because we barely saw any birds.
  4. The Milky Way is way more enjoyable to further north you go.
  5. Orion was right there the entire time.
  6. The North Maine Woods is a mecca for mushroom foraging.
  7. There are some really nice people and some not so nice people you’ll meet in your travels. Remember the nice ones.
  8. Buy more hunting clothes; you really never have enough, especially on an extended hunt.
  9. I can back up a trailer now…get ready Erin, we’ll be fishing from the boat next year!
  10. I enjoy seeing flowers, butterflies, tree frogs, and birds even when I’m hunting. Don’t forget to take time to stop and notice all the things around you when you hunt.

Day 4: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure

Day 4: We finally hear a grunt!

Thursday morning began as the other days. We parked the truck and trailer and headed out to a new spot. We had found a road with so much sign that we were convinced we’d hear or see a moose. We parked way out off the side and quietly walked in. We stood at the end of the road where it “y’s”. Do we go left or right? Sign everywhere. But not a sound. As daylight broke, we decided we couldn’t keep wasting our time trying to find moose around sign if they weren’t going to answer. Perhaps the moose are coupled already with a cow? We didn’t know, but we knew we weren’t going to find a moose any time soon there. So off we went.

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Where moose number 5 disappeared.

By now we had been down many roads, and walked many miles with no result. We decided to try to find a new spot by heading down a road that had camps on it. Little did we know there were many side roads off the main road, and the area was teaming with signs of moose. We got out of our truck to take a listen. Sure enough! We heard moose grunts and a very vocal moaning cow moose on the hill above us and another grunt off to our right..ooh bull competition in play. Of course, we climbed the hill and tried to get close to the pair. Who’d think there would be a run-off muddy bog on the middle of a mountain? Yup, and we had to get through it. As we moved in the final yards, their calling stopped. We never saw them, so we hiked back down the hill. We didn’t care. We were revitalized. They were calling.  This was a game changer!

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Moose no. 5’s huge track

My theory of having a real moose hunt was once again challenged when moose number 5  showed up. We jumped back in the truck and headed down to the turnaround in the road we were on. At the big opening stood a giant moose. GIANT. A moose with big wide paddled antlers just stood there staring at us as we approached. John said, “There you go. He’s all yours.” I grabbed my gun and ONE bullet (since the gun I was using top loads and takes too much time) and went to get out of the truck. John decided we need to be closer and stepped on the gas. The bull turned on his hind legs and floored it too. I was yelling to stop the truck. John just drove faster. The faster we tried to catch up with him, the faster the moose ran. Then the moose made a sharp right turn and disappeared into the brush. We jumped out of the truck and dove through the six foot tall raspberry bushes right where we saw him disappear. No moose to be seen anywhere. He was gone. We came out of the raspberries smelling like moose urine. That was the only sign we had of him being there.

At this point, I was so mad at John for not stopping that I couldn’t say anything. We didn’t speak much for the better part of the day. I needed my time to pout and to think about things. In the end, we talked it out and from then on, we had a mutually agreeable plan should something like that happen again. He was to stop the f*&%$)*g truck.

That afternoon we tried a new road. A large clear cut on the right with steep hill on the left made up the landscape of the area. No matter which way we hiked, it would be strenuous. Several times John stopped and got out and tried to call making a cow call with his hands. No answers. No moose.

On the fourth stop, John called again. We heard a bull grunt! The moose was on the hill RIGHT behind us, so we jumped down over the bank into burdock bushes to hide. In fact, the moose was almost on a run trying to get to us. It’s incredible to hear such an instinctual reaction. The moose grunted continuously with urgency as it crashed down the hill. John kept calling. I had my gun ready. All the moose had to do is step out from the edge of the woods. I saw black, but I wanted it to be a good shot. I kept saying, come on, step out….and then like slow motion, came the sound of a vehicle. The only vehicle that we had seen or heard since we started on the road. Not only did the vehicle drive by, but it stopped right  at  our  truck, then after a second or two, drove away. Why? To find us? To look for moose? We don’t know, but the moose panicked and took off in the opposite direction. Another moose lost to hunter interference. Apparently those hunters don’t understand hunting etiquette. If you see another hunter, just move along. Moose No. 6 was gone.

Tomorrow: I get my moose!

 

 

 

Days 2-3: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure:

Day 2: Cloudy with a smidgen of moose and gunshots

After the incident the night before, I decided the last thing I wanted was a drive-by shooting hunt. I wanted a real hunt, in the woods.We hunted all day but didn’t see a single moose. The morning hunt was set up in an area that had a good wallow, but still no moose were answering back.

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Bull moose fight sign-on both sides of the road and in the middle.

During our day scout, we eventually found a road that had evidence of a bull moose fight. For the evening, we set up in the clearing for a still hunt since we found sign and the moose weren’t responding. Maybe by chance the moose would return. The evening sit was pretty non-eventful. A late hatch of mosquitoes wanted us for supper so we ended up leaving early. The warm change in temps really didn’t make hunting easier.

On our way back to camp, two young bull moose ran across the the Island Pond Road in front of the truck. My first reaction was to have John stop the truck.
John asked, “You really want to shoot one of them?”
“Yes”, I said.
I still had 10 minutes to shoot. The moose cut into the woods, but there was a side road about 50 yards away. We drove to the road, and we got out to see if the moose had come out of the woods. No sign of them. We decided to walk down in case they were just out of sight. Half way down the road, a set of headlights in the opposite direction came up over a knoll. In an instant, two doors opened, hunters jumped out and started shooting. “You’re welcome’, I said as we turned around and headed back to our truck. Then a single loud echoing shot rang out..and then came the whizzing of a bullet right between us! Holy shit! We have hunter orange on! We yelled and ran to our truck. I was more mad than scared. I just don’t understand how that can happen. I sure hope they each had a permit since I’m pretty sure they must have hit both moose.

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The kind of roads we drove on most of the week. Thanks to logging, we at least had these!

That made three moose we had seen. Since there is no cell service at camp, we traveled another 30 minutes to the top of a hill with reception to call the kids and let them know how we were doing. Not getting one of those moose didn’t bother me since it wasn’t the way I truly wanted to get a moose. Impulse had gotten the best of me. I would think twice before doing that again.

We ate pumpkin pie and drank milk for supper then we went to bed. I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to sleep. Luckily, with all the activity, sleep came easy.

Day 3: Rain

We woke to pouring rain, and without much hesitation decided to sleep longer and wait until the rain let up. We woke to showers, drank coffee and headed out in rain gear to find a moose. We hiked the entire day. It was almost muggy, and everything was wet. I sweat under my rain gear, but was comfortable. We hiked hills, valleys and bogs ALL DAY. We found tons of sign, but no matter what we did, we could not get anything to answer to the calls. We tried all our spots and decided to cross off the ones that weren’t as good as others. No since wasting our time if the site wasn’t showing new activity.

We even went back to the road where the two moose were and could find no sign of a gut pile, so who knows what the shooters did. Did they take them? Did they leave them? Could they really have been that bad of a shot that none of the six-eight shots fired even hit one moose?

We ended up still sitting where I had seen the the big moose on Sunday. There was still fresh sign, but there was absolutely no grunting taking place. We had seen at least a dozen wallows and plenty of antler destroyed trees. Where were the moose?! We didn’t know if they were all paired up already and we had missed the rut, or if the rut just hadn’t begun.

Day 3 ended with a big moose crossing the road in front of us as we headed back to camp. It was already well after legal shooting hours so all we could do was watch it go off into the woods. That made 4 moose we had seen on the Island Pond Road. I began to be worried my hunt would only be successful by a chance sighting at best. Perhaps I’d have to settle for a drive-by hunt.

A good dose of Tylenol and Aleve, and bedtime couldn’t come soon enough. We had snacked all day on cheese and crackers and candy bars, so we drank water for supper, skipped the fire and went to bed.