I Finally Get My Bear!

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My bear on camera

I sat all week in my stand. I had an exciting night after only the second night, and that’s always hard to follow. You wonder if you’ve scared everything out with all the commotion of jumping two bear in one night. The following night had nothing except a pine marten to watch, and of course the red squirrels. They were unfazed by the action and were already at the bait when I arrived.

Friday was going to be a late day. I had to be in Bangor most of the day and wouldn’t get home until at least 2-3pm. We dropped the four-wheeler the night before because we planned to bring the camper to the mountain for the three day weekend. As soon as we got home, we were rushing to get everything packed. I had no time to stop for food so we’d have to get it on our way up or come back to town on Saturday morning.

We dropped the camper and got changed into our hunting clothes. By the time I made it to my bait site, it was close to 5:15 pm. This is the latest I have ever hunted, and I wasn’t very hopeful. I even texted to John, “Looks pretty quiet here :-\”. The two hour sit passed pretty quickly. I saw the pine marten again, and the red squirrels. I watched a Barred Owl land right beside me on a branch; I was in my blind and he couldn’t see me. Before I could get my phone out of my pocket to take a picture, he flew down to catch a mouse–or maybe one of those red squirrels–wishful thinking. I couldn’t move much because I was holding my gun on my lap. Last year, I used Tyler’s .270 rifle, but this year I had opted to use my Remington .260 rifle since I’m more comfortable with it, not to mention it’s a shorter gun, and that made it easier for me to maneuver inside of my blind.

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Perfect shot is to left of white bucket.

The blind had sagged down in the front a bit, and I found myself scrunching my neck to see at a distance out of the opening, which in turn, made my neck stiff. As shooting hours were coming to a close, I bent my neck down to stretch it, and I was thinking I wasn’t going to see anything that night. As I looked up, there he was. In that short time, the bear was within a few feet left of my bait barrel, making his way, standing broadside..in the perfect spot.
I still had about 13 minutes of shooting time.
He looked like one of the big ones!
I wasted no time. I pulled up my gun, I took aim, and I fired.
I hit him in the lungs with my first shot. He bolted to my right and went into the thick underbrush. He wasn’t down yet. I could still hear him gasping,  gurgling and pacing. I was pretty sure I had mortally wounded him, but I worried it might take a bit before he expired.

John texted me, “Was that you?” I responded, “Yes.” He then called me and told me to stay put, and that he’d come in for me in about five minutes. He didn’t want me to try to get down with an injured bear nearby. I was okay with that, even though I wasn’t scared.

John headed in armed with his flashlight, his .44 magnum rifle as well as his bear cannon on his hip. As he rounded the bottom of the hill in the trail, he met a bear. The bear bolted and ran straight up the hill to my stand, then made a sharp left turn crashing out into the woods. I watched John’s light come up the trail. By then, it was dark.

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I wouldn’t want those claws swiping at me!

About a minute later, he got to my stand. He thought the bear he had jumped was the one I shot…“No”, I said, “he’s still over there,” as I pointed right into the woods. He quickly climbed into the stand with me and sat down at my feet. Bears can be mean, and neither he nor I wanted to be mauled by a wounded bear. Most importantly, I didn’t want the bear’s death to linger. I wanted him to die sooner than later. He gave me his .44 rifle while I somehow put my gun behind me.

We shined our flashlights and tried to spot the bear with no luck. Since we could only hear it,  and not see it, John yelled, “Hey Bear!”

That’s all it took. The bear charged toward our lights out of the brush. John put a final shot into it with the canon. Then came the death moan. We waited to make sure the bear had died, and only then were we finally able to get out of the stand. There was no cheering, high fives or screams of conquer. I went over to see my bear. I thanked him for providing food for my family. The first thing I did was look to see where I had hit him. I was glad to see my shot had been a good one. I shot him in the lungs. He would have died, but it would have been slow if John hadn’t taken another shot.

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We dragged the bear out of the woods and put him onto the four-wheeler. We then went to another part of the property of field dress him. He wasn’t as big as I thought, but still an adult male bear (boar). He was about 120-130 pounds, the average size of a Maine bear. I’m proud of my bear. No, he wasn’t one of the monsters coming in, but he’s a good healthy bear that’s going to feed my family well.

We took him home and put him on ice since none of the tagging stations were open that late. In the morning, I tagged my bear at the local store and then did some quick poses for the camera. John tackled the skinning, and I took care of the meat. The bear meat will be much enjoyed part of our winter meals.

I’m proud my grandchildren also got to see their Momi’s bear. Mr. B. told me, “Good Job Momi”, and he wants to go bear hunting with me. Ms. Nat liked his soft furry bears ears and kept wanting to pet him. We talked about having a meal of bear roast at Momi and Paw Paw’s. It was pretty special showing the kids where our food comes from.

My bear is off to the taxidermist to be made into a mount. He’s really special and I want to remember this hunt. He’s not what some would call a trophy, but I do.

As happy as I was that I finally got a bear after three years of hunting, I couldn’t understand why my bear hadn’t died instantly. I pride myself in the fact that all of my animals die with one shot, and they die quickly. John explained to me that bear have tough coats and a lot of fat for a bullet to pass through…and bear just die a lot harder. Even though my gun works well for deer, we’re thinking it wasn’t enough for the bear. We’ve decided I need to use a bigger caliber gun for my next hunt; a moose hunt three weeks from now, and I want that moose down when I shoot.

This whole process has been a great learning experience for me–from lugging bait, checking cameras to shooting the bear, and the emotions that follow–the amount of work has been thoroughly enjoying to me. I’ve been able to do the entire process as Maine Guide would with John, my very best friend, and that in turn will help me in the future when I decide to guide other women.

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Getting ready to go tag my bear, then get some “fancy” pics.

As for my quest for the Grand Slam, I’m half way there. I have my spring turkey and my bear. I still have to get a moose and a deer, and then I’ll be one of the few hunters who get to claim this accomplishment. There still will be no high fives or cheering, but just contentment that I’m representing all those women hunters by being a woman of the Maine outdoors, and knowing I can help provide great tasting game for my family to enjoy.

Wish me luck in September!

Did I Just See A Bear?!

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

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

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

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

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About the size of the bear I jumped.

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

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

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

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Pine Marten on small white bucket…note stump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The bear I think I saw…dang.

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

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

 

 

I’m in the Dog (uh Bear) House

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

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

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

 

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

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First Bear in since adding popcorn barrel-perfect shooting time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

New Faces at My Bait Site

The sow didn’t like my camera any more than the big boar.

Week Three Woes

Week three is always the week that gets me either excited or worried for bear season. In years past, the bait site didn’t usually get hit until this week, or a big bruin who appeared once before showed up again. I thought this was going to be my year, but this week was a let down despite seeing three different bear on my bait.

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Nice bear that only comes in at night.

This year, many different bears have been visiting my site and I had been lucky enough to say that no sow with cubs have been hitting my bait…until this week. Not only did the giant bear show up, but so did a sow with two cubs.

She’s not the same sow that has been there for the last two years and showed up with three cubs last year.  The sow didn’t like my camera any more than the big boar. Thank goodness Moultrie makes their cameras bear proof since she tried to chew it off the tree. Honestly, one small scratch. Given she chewed and clawed on the camera for a half hour, I’m shocked it still works. I have since moved the camera to a less conspicuous spot.You can see the video on my Facebook page.

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My plan has been that if only bears come in at night, then I would begin trapping for a big one. I completed my trapper course in April, bought my approved Aldrich snare and am preparing to buy my trapping license. IMG_20160820_205259884(1)However, I cannot trap for a bear if there is a potential chance that I will trap this sow. The last thing I want to trap is a sow with cubs nearby. I’d have to release her, and that was not included in my training! Thank goodness for cameras and multiple shots. When she first came to the bait, her cubs did not appear until about 15 minutes later.

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Besides new bear, we also had red squirrels, gray squirrel and this vulture make a showing. Luckily no raccoons have shown. They can devour my bucket of bait much quicker than a bear.

This Saturday will be the tell tale of what immediate chances I’ll have at getting a bear this year. Fingers crossed they’re still actively eating, hanging out and leaving more piles of scat behind. Week three brought three new piles of bear scat filled with blackberry seeds. I guess we do have some berries, but not many, and let’s hope it stays that way! Monday the 29th is opening day!

PS: My blind is still up! The new poles worked beautifully!

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Bear Scat right next to my camera pole. When bears feel comfortable they do this sort of thing. Sometimes they don’t go far from the bait site as to guard it from other bears.

 

 

More Bear!!!

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

I Can Hardly Sleep at Night!

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

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Mr. Lefty

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

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Too little…I’ll pass on this one.

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

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

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

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

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OMG…biggest bear ever!

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

We Have Bears!!!

Week One

Waiting all week to check the bear bait has been hard, but I think our new strategy for bear baiting is going to pay off. Instead of baiting during the week, we only bait once a week on Saturday in the early part of the day. No more after work baiting so that we don’t push bear out.We’ve never had bear come this early. It’s probably due to the lack of natural food since it’s such a dry summer. I also have my bait site in a stand of beech and it looks like we may have some beechnuts this year.

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We bring our four-wheeler to do bait. The sites are far into the woods and despite my being more of involved than ever, there’s no way I could lug bait in that far. However, the machine is too back heavy with the basket filled for both of us to ride. After I did wheelie up the trail, I let John drive the rig and I walked.

IMG_20160806_114252427When we arrived, the bait site was trashed. The barrel had been ripped from the tree and rolled a few feet away with bait dumped. All the trees were clawed up and the caramel was eaten. They didn’t spend a lot of time on the nougat, but did like the grease.

Not only do I have bear, I have three different bear coming to my bait, and at all times of the day. It’s fascinating to see their different characteristics and to see what makes so unique. I have a small bear and two larger bears. One bear can get his head in the barrel, the other two can’t. One is left handed and one is right handed…how cool is that?!

We set our camera to videos this year which is really cool to see them in action. I’ll post videos on my Facebook page where you can check them out.

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The small bear, probably last year’s cub, is the most skittish; he/she was in the bait site about the time we arrived to bait on Saturday. Most of his/her visits were in the early morning 7 am but this day, he/she was there around 11:00 am. We were in there a half hour later. Our camera actually caught the bear taking notice of us arriving and its subsequent leaving. I’m sure it was just hanging out in the outer edges of the woods waiting for us to leave. I won’t be taking aim at this bear unless he/she puts on considerable weight between now and hunting season.

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The bear that ripped off the barrel.

One bear is quite fat and the other quite lean (the one that ripped off the barrel) but definitely taller than the smaller bear. I’m hoping they’re hungry enough to stick around until it’s hunting season. Both of these bears are older and bigger than the small bear. I’m guessing a couple hundred pounds and more pounds to put on.

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The bear that is left handed

So Scrapper didn’t make a show, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be back. The sow that had the three cubs last year and showed the year before also wasn’t back. I’m glad we don’t have a sow with cubs on the site…yet. We have three more weeks of baiting before I get to sit in my tree stand, and a lot can change between now and then. As for John’s bait, he had no hits. I guess with all the bear activity, we’ll be bringing our handgun with us next time.

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John topping off the nougat into the pail at his bait site. I put out lots of grease and anise and caramel scent to hopefully lure a bear in.

Oh, and my nifty new blind’s poles that make it round…broke in the wind. I was pretty bummed since it’s supposed to be weather sturdy. I’m still hoping it works for me…I already have new improved poles coming free of charge from the company.

Until next week, I’ll be dreaming of my future bear hunt, and prepping for my September moose hunt.

 

 

Bear Baiting Season Begins!

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

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

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Last year’s bear site

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

 

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

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This year’s site all baited.

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

 

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My secret weapon for 2016

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Being the Image of a Woman Hunter

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

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My buck (c) S. Warren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TBT-My First Moose Hunt – Final

I Get My Moose!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish me luck in September!

TBT-My First Moose Hunt-Wk 2

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

We Climb Down a Mountain

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Beaver dam photo by SWLA.org

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

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

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

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Beaver dam photo by SWLAmaine.org

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

 

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Young moose photo by SWLAmaine.org

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

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

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Sheepscot River tasty water                           photo by SWLA.org

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

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

Next week: I Get My Moose!

 

 

TBT: My First Moose Hunt-Wk 1

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photo by canoemaine.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

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My 2011 Moose Permit. Note the date error!

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Week 2: We Climb Down a Mountain

 

 

Memories of A Youth Day Turkey Hunt

“If I Could Turn Back Time” still sings through my head when I think of this hunt.

One of the most full-filling times of turkey hunting is when you see your children get the chance to experience what you get to do. Describing a turkey hunting story can give the listener a play by play, but in reality there is nothing like being there hearing a gobble, smelling the spring air, and the feeling the excitement of the turkey approaching your decoy.

MomZackturkeyhuntcroppedMy son Zack and I hunted turkey together, but he was already a teenager and back then they didn’t have a youth day. We had a few successful hunts that went pretty much according to “the plan” we made. I’m sure many of you have seen this photo on my Facebook page. It’s one of my favorites and one of those hunts I’ll never forget, not because of the birds we got, but the whole experience brings a smile to my face whenever we talk about it.

By the time my youngest son was old enough to hunt, there was a spring turkey youth day established, and there was nothing more exciting than planning a day of turkey hunting. I think I was actually more excited than he or John was. John and I bought Tyler all the camouflage and equipment necessary. We scouted. We practiced. We coached. If all went according to “the plan”, then he would be successful. In my mind, we would be successful as parents~Tyler would be hooked on hunting after this hunt. 

“If I Could Turn Back Time” still sings through my head when I think of this hunt.

Tyler is not particularly a morning person, i.e. he doesn’t like to get up in the morning, especially early, early mornings to hunt or fish. By the time we headed out to the spot in Norridgewock, we were running late, to which I duly noted several times on our way to the spot. The sun was already rising, so we’d have to hurry. On our hike into the field, we had to cross an old stream that was frankly raging from the spring rains. Not only was it about shin deep, it was moving fast from right to left. I was carrying my little flip cell phone in my left hunting pants pocket along with a real camera. Unlike today’s phone, in those days, my camera had more megapixels than my phone camera so my pockets were full. I also was carrying my shotgun on my left shoulder as I usually do.

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Tyler and John heading out. The only picture I got that day…

As we made our way down the road, we approached the stream. It was a lot harder crossing at barely daylight than in the middle of a sunny day. I was doing well trying to cross. The water was rushing fast and just about the time I reached the other side and reached for John’s hand, I stepped on a slippery rock and down I went. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the rocks were slick. In a second, I was underwater. My right hand caught my fall; however the entire right side of my body was soaking cold and dripping wet. I said a few curse words about the time John pulled me out of the water. Mood ruined and I was fully aware how cold spring water can be. John was irritated. Tyler was upset, and I was mad at myself for falling, but in no way was I about to let this ruin our time. So off we went to find us some turkeys.

We crossed into two fields, got set up and began calling. John was a short distance away and I took up position right behind Tyler. I wanted to coach him as the turkeys came over over the knoll…as it turns out so did his dad. John was calling. Turkeys were gobbling. Soon two jakes came up over the knoll and headed right for Tyler’s decoy. Tyler was using his Rossi 20 guage convertible gun. I didn’t think it had that much shooting distance so I was telling him to “Wait”, “Wait”, “Wait”…until they were closer. Meanwhile, John was whispering, “Shoot”, “Shoot”, “Shoot it!”….Well, the turkeys heard us too, and Tyler was so confused by everything, that when he finally shot, he shot right over their heads. Birds flew. Feathers flew, but no  birds were down. Tyler had missed them entirely. Now who’s to say whether or not he would have missed even if we weren’t both instructing him, but it didn’t matter right then.

Now you can only imagine his disappointment. He was pretty upset with both of us. We learned our lesson that day. We should have just let him do it, and have only one person be the guide. We had put too much pressure on this kid without even realizing it. We should have spent more time enjoying the experience instead of concentrating on a successful outcome. Tyler’s not really interested in hunting turkeys, or at least not like I had hoped. I will always wonder if this type of hunting experience hadn’t happened if things would be different. Perhaps he’d want to hunt more with us…perhaps not. I’ll never know.

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So when you head out to take a kid hunting, don’t do what we did. Don’t put so much pressure on his or her being successful so that if things don’t go according to “the plan”, the world won’t stop. Take the time to enjoy the experience and the time you get to spend together. Regardless of the outcome, your son or daughter will remember these special times more than the one time they got a turkey.

P.S. As luck would have it, my cell phone, camera and gun escaped the water that day and several ticks were removed from our clothes, and Tyler has since forgiven us.

TBT: Turkey Hunting 2003- John’s Turn

In 2002, I scored the first turkey I had ever hunted. So when John got a permit in 2003, to say John was excited that he had a chance to hunt turkey for the first time, was an understatement. If you remember, my turkey hunt went off just like text book schooling. We did X,Y, Z, and the bird did A, B and C. In a matter of minutes I had my bird. We made a plan, and we stuck to it. From turkey school, that was one of the main things they told us. Me being a creature of habit, I was ready to make a plan.

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A tom posing for my game camera

The morning of John’s first turkey hunt brought us to a new farm in Albion. This farm sits on top of a big hill and has big green fields. The view is absolutely spectacular especially at sunrise. This particular farm has a lovely little pond that we had to tip toe by so the frogs wouldn’t stop peeping. We parked our truck making sure not to slam the doors and gathered all of our turkey gear. We headed across the fields and made our way to the line of trees between two fields. On the way across the field, we were greeted by a small porcupine that wanted to follow us. The field was deceivingly rough and walking wasn’t that easy, but finally we made it and got set up without the porcupine keeping us company. The previous day we had set up a nice blind where we could see in both directions into the fields. One field had round bales of hay and there had been a fox den in one of them, so I was hoping we’d see some fox to go with the turkeys.

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The berm that we hid in. (c) S. Warren

We were sitting two-thirds the way up the hill as turkeys prefer to go up the hill when being called. We had seen birds the day before dusting at the bottom of the hill near a giant berm created by trees and brush being bulldozed when they cleared the field. On the far side of the berm was a tangled mess of thorns, bushes and washouts, so I wasn’t too interested in going that way in search of birds.IMG_20160314_202709239

The morning was remarkably quiet despite seeing distance lights traveling the roads. Eventually we watched the sky turn light and could hear turkeys begin to gobble far off. Just as daylight began to appear, we started our fly down and cackling. Nothing seemed to happen. No birds. No gobbles. When we were about to give up and were considering trying somewhere else, we spied a lone hen at the bottom of the field near the berm. John continued to call and the hen continued to make her way towards us. We really hoped this would roust a tom to come defend his hen, but nothing came. The hen eventually walked right up to us. At about five feet, she stopped and kept looking, and looking, and looking at us. I didn’t dare blink. She finally just turned around and returned to where she came from. By then a couple more birds had joined her, but no toms. We could have been easily busted if she’d got scared and started cutting, but she didn’t so we were good.IMG_20160314_202631180

Then turkeys decided to gobble…WAY, WAY, AWAY from us. And John thought we needed to go find these birds. I wanted to stay, but in good sport, I agreed and off we went chasing after gobbling turkeys. Now keep this in mind: in the world of turkey hunting, people get shot by chasing after turkeys. Stay put and put your back to a tree….There’s lots of rules to keep hunters safe, and this was one of them. The turkeys never materialized. Every where we went, the turkeys were always five steps (miles more like it) ahead of us. My knee was just beginning to hurt and all the walking we did had it screaming after three hours of chasing. We had covered nearly every field surrounding our original one. And then the turkeys started gobbling…back where we started in the dark.

That’s when I lost it. I was tired of chasing nothing. I wanted to go back where we knew there were turkeys and just wait for them. They spent all of the time in that field….and “we had made a plan and needed to stick to it.” After some major grumbling on my part and finally agreeing to go back on John’s part, we headed back to the original field.

We decided to go down the corn field and get closer to the berm and set out a decoy. No sooner had we approached the end of the field, we heard gobbles close by…REALLY CLOSE. In an instant we dashed up on top of the berm and into a hole made by caved in dirt.We were completely concealed by all the weeds growing around us.IMG_20160314_202819563

John worked his magic on the slate call and sure enough Mr. Tom answered. He came around from the end of the berm, took one look at the decoy and made a beeline for it. Mr. Tom didn’t have a chance; John downed his turkey with one shot.IMG_20160314_202746550

There were lots of smiles in the end, but John’s never been able to live down turkey chasing. And, now he knows we make a plan and stick to it–most of the time. We can giggle about it now, and that’s what’s kept us hunting together all this time. You can’t take it too seriously or it’s no fun.

None of these hunts would have been possible if not for the farmers who were willing to share access to their properties. Sadly, our field has become several house lots so we’ve lost access, but we’ll always have our memories. So if you get a chance to go turkey hunting on someone else’s property, be sure the take the time to say thank you. Hope to see you out there!

 

 

TBT: My First Turkey Hunt

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Strutting jake

Maine’s turkey hunting season will begin on May 1st this year. Turkey hunting has a special place in my heart. It’s the hunt that got me into hunting. It’s the hunt where my oldest son got to see his mom shoot a turkey for the first time. It’s the hunt where my oldest son and I shared a hunt together and each shot a turkey at the same time. It’s the hunt that started it all. But what’s most special is that this is a hunt that John and I continue to do together to this day.

Let’s go back to 2002. Maine was holding a lottery drawing for turkey hunting. John asked me if I would put my name in for a permit. I said “sure, but if I get a permit, I get to decide if I’ll shoot it.” Back then you had a sub-permittee who could also shoot if the permit holder didn’t.

Sure enough, I was the only family member drawn for the permit! Even better, I was picked for season A, which meant the first week of the hunt. So the real test came when I had to fire the shotgun. If I could shoot it, I would shoot the turkey; if not, then John would get the honors. Although he never let on, I’m sure John was somewhat disappointed (although he denies it to this day) when I shot the 12 gauge and hit the milk jug…and I was still standing afterward. I would be hunting for turkey!

John and I started scouting for turkeys by driving around Albion since that’s where we always saw them. Unlike now, turkeys weren’t throughout Maine and were found primarily near big silage piles on big cattle farms. We managed to get permission from several places but some of the other farms were pretty free about giving permission to everyone who asked, so the chances of hunter interference was pretty certain. We got sole permission at this farm where a monster tom strutted regularly for the hens on the farm.  This farm required us to drive into a gravel pit, then hike up the hill to the other high side of the pasture and set up for the hunt. It was a physically demanding climb without my gun in tote. I knew that was going to be my biggest obstacle once I would be carrying all of my hunting gear.

We signed up for turkey school through Inland Fisheries and Wildlife which was a lot of fun. We were clueless about turkey hunting. No orange required, but don’t wear blue, red or white either…and all kinds of other do and don’t rules meant to keep hunters safe. We also learned about turkey poop which I’ll never forget. Toms and jakes  poop “J” shaped and hens poop ice cream cone shaped poops. This really is important when scouting for turkey!

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Year no. 2, and still wearing my cotton camo.

I bought my first set of camouflage clothing including a hat, a mask and gloves. I even bought John some camo since we didn’t have much, and I’ve never lived down that camo became ‘important’ only after I started hunting. Okay, I admit it…I enjoy buying camo (not pink either) especially when I buy it for me…lol. Everything was the new camo pattern, but everything was also cotton; I had a lot to learn about hunting clothes. We bought turkey box calls, locator calls, turkey shot ammo, turkey vests, seats, turkey decoys, slates…we were prepared. All we needed was a turkey.

We set up the blind under a bunch of hemlocks that hung over a fence line the weekend before the first day of the big hunt. We placed a big camo drape in front with brush concealing our bodies. We had perfect cover. The first day of the season was almost at the end of the April so the field was not only free of snow, but also greening up.

The Sunday night before opening day, we were hit with a freak spring snowstorm. I mean it snowed about five or six inches. We had not counted on needing winter clothes, or rain coats since the temps were supposed to rise into the 50’s later that day. Any way we looked at it, it was going to be a gross wet mess. But we threw together some rain ponchos, rain pants and off we went. The snow didn’t help hide us as we crossed the field, but we were there before daylight and that’s all that mattered. John strategically placed our one hen decoy out about 20 yards, the distance for a great shot.

As soon as the sky began to lighten and daylight broke, John began to work his magic on the slate call. He purred, and did the fly down with his hat just like we learned. The then slowly added clucks and yelps. Turkeys gobbled! John began purring and calling on that slate call and just like text book, out of nowhere, that huge tom came barreling over the hill on a dead run headed right for our decoy. He was so fat that he waddled from side to side as he ran. Once he got to the decoy, he stopped, plumped himself up and began strutting. John purred. He dropped his feathers, stuck out his neck and let a gobble and I shot.IMG_20160302_202438591 The hunt was over in about five minutes. We barely made it past legal hunting time, but we had a turkey. A beautiful wet turkey. By the time we retrieved him, his feathers were soaked from the flapping of his wings before he died.

 

IMG_20150504_112303247_HDRJohn carried my turkey out because I knew when I held it that I’d never make it to the truck. He still carries my birds…two last year! We knew he was big. My turkey topped the scales at 24.5 pounds! The state record was just over 25 pounds at the time. Unfortunately, I never had the man at the tagging station certify my weight and records are only kept for 10 years, so I never got my Maine Wild Turkey Club patch. It’s a club for all turkeys over 20 pounds. I mounted his beautiful tail and 9-7/8 inch beard. His spurs were 7/8″ long but I did not keep them.

IMG_20160302_203726142Within five minutes of returning to the truck we were met by two game wardens. They knew of this big bird and they heard me shoot. It was an interesting conversation because they assumed it was John who shot the turkey and kept directing questions to him. When John told them I shot the turkey their eyes showed the surprise, and then came the questions. I really did shoot that turkey Mr. Game Wardens! My how things have changed since then! I’m glad to see more women are out there so that I’m no longer the exception to the rule.

We baked Mr. Turkey but it wasn’t all that good; he was pretty dry. Unlike a store bought turkey, wild turkey has a much deeper and narrower breast so laying him on his back to roast was near impossible. We’ve since adopted other ways to prepare wild turkey; my favorite is just putting it in a stew with lots of gravy.

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2015 – Two birds with one shot!

This girl still holds the family record for the biggest turkey, but I haven’t shot one with a bow. Perhaps 2016 will be the year! I hope no matter who you are, that you’ll get out and try turkey hunting. Don’t forget to bring a wife, husband, daughter, son, or a friend. Even if you don’t get a turkey, watching the sun rise above the horizon on a brisk spring morning, and watching the world awaken before your eyes, is enough to get you hooked.

Hunting Timber Ghosts

Timber ghosts is the name, my husband John, uses to refer to snowshoe hare. The name fits perfectly because snowshoe hare are silent, and their white hair makes them almost invisible against the snow. Most of the time, snowshoe hare are hunted with dogs. They also have incredible sense of sight and hearing so they are long gone before you ever see them.

 

Before this winter, I had only been rabbit hunting a few times. The first time I joined the guys a couple years ago for a rabbit hunt out back of the house. I soon realized that I didn’t like having so many people all in one area to worry about not shooting. I opted out after that, but it was easy to decide that because I’ve never been a fan of struggling through snow and not being able to keep up…and that’s without a gun in tote.

11053074_10204444226839308_2591495539161614368_oLater that same winter, I joined John and Ty for a trip north where there is prime rabbit habitat. Taking the dog north to rabbit hunt was extremely stressful for me. With stories of dogs being killed by bobcat or coyote, or getting lost, I had a very hard time not worrying about my son’s dog, Fly.

Dogs chase rabbits and rabbits circle, so as a hunter the key to getting a rabbit is to be where the dog started the rabbit, but if a dog starts a rabbit half a mile away, that’s a long way to go before you catch up. Sometimes dogs chase rabbits out of hearing distance only to lose the track then find another rabbit and start a new chase. Doing that in an area you know is one thing, but in an area where there could be a lot more hazards, it’s extra stressful. In addition to worrying, we had to use our snowshoes because the snow was so deep. Wearing snowshoes keeps you from sinking, but not falling, and I spent a lot of time picking myself up off the uneven terrain.

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Fly working…trying to find the bunny

We don’t have an electronic GPS collar for our dog like a lot of hunters, so we have to rely on his training and our hearing. He’s a wonderfully smart dog and loves to hunt. So much so that he chased and chased and chased until we no longer heard him and he didn’t return. He didn’t circle back to us…and a good time quickly turned into worrying. Tyler and I were just sick thinking Fly might be lost and daylight was closing. John to the rescue to retrieve him. He followed his tracks in the snow and had to go at least a mile before he caught up with him. When they finally showed up, we were all relieved. That was the last time I agreed to go north to rabbit hunt!

Last winter there was so much snow the dogs couldn’t hunt, and if they can’t hunt there was no way I was going to even venture out. However, this winter has been pretty tame and I’ve been thinking that I need to try rabbit hunting again. I’m not one to give up and I’m in better physical shape than ever before, and it was time to face this adventure head on. I even have my own shotgun now so the only thing I needed was to see a rabbit!

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Son Zack with his new pup Pete and my Fly. No rabbits but lots of exercise.

All fall I had rabbits showing up on more than one game camera. Three different times we tried to rabbit hunt, and not once did the pup jump a rabbit to circle.

Saturday turned out to be warmer than the forecast, and the sticky snow was perfect for tracking rabbits. John was headed out to take Fly on a rabbit hunt in a spot not far from the house and he asked if I wanted to go. I was excited to give it a try again and hopefully get a chance to get my first rabbit.

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John waiting for the rabbit. He’s wearing white camo to blend in better.

We trekked into the woods and it was no time before Fly was on a rabbit. He circled it big, and when he circled back, the rabbit didn’t cross the field but instead shortened the circle. We had to move quick and find where he circled past so we could set up for the second time around. I stood as still as I could since rabbit have incredible eyesight. John had moved down a ways to spread out and it wasn’t long before I heard Fly coming. I was expecting him to circle out in front of me, but the rabbit must have seen me. I saw a flash of white off to my right and about ten seconds later there went Fly right after him not missing a beat on his baying.  The rabbit got away. In a matter of minutes, Fly was on another one. John and I found his tracks and set ourselves apart. We waited and listened to the dog making his circle. The area was so heavy with brush you couldn’t see far. I literally couldn’t see more than 15-20 feet in front of me. If there weren’t a rabbit trail right there, I’d think there was no chance of seeing the rabbit.

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My first rabbit!

Then it finally happened. I thought I was seeing things when finally, a little white ball of fur jumped over the log and was about ten feet in front of me. I drew my gun and with one shot, I had my rabbit! The moment of finally achieving what I had set out t do was perfect. John ran over and gave me a big hug. I got the first rabbit of the day and it wasn’t long before we were off chasing another one.

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John, Fly and rabbit

The day ended positively, and I realized that not once did I worry about the dog getting lost. He did a great job and out of five rabbits chased, we got two.

Rabbit hunting is definitely a physical activity, but I think I’ve found a new love for winter that’s going to get me outside.

 

Learning to Archery Hunt-Patience and Persistance Revisited

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This is what my bow looks like.
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My oldest son’s pibold, taken with a bow. (c) S. Warren

In order to evolve as a hunter, I’ve taken on the task of learning how to bow hunt. I am the only one in the family who hadn’t tried bow hunting, because I didn’t have a bow…until my youngest son dropped over $800 on a new one. I inherited the grow-with-you Parker bow that we had bought him for Christmas a few years ago. I am fine with that since I am cheap, and a tune up is definitely cheaper than a new bow. After finally getting a proper fitting and a tune up at L.L.Bean, my bow is now officially ready to use to hunt.My dream is to get a buck. A big one…maybe even a pibold like the one my son got a few years ago.

I was thinking this was going to be easy-peasy-deer-in-the-pot, but I soon found out that couldn’t be further from the truth. Reality check in process!

I know your’e thinking, “Can this girl even hit the target?” Yes, I can hit the target, and given the chance, I might actually be able to take a deer with it. I bought some broad head points for a lethal shot, and lighted knocks so that I can find my arrow after I shoot it, if I ever get to take aim. On my first trip out, I was very optimistic and thought I’d have a deer in no time.

After spending so much time bear hunting in ‘real” wilderness, hunting behind the house is painful, but it’s helping me adjust to the noise in case I do go to the city. I really do live in the country, but I also live along two major routes that intersect at the bottom of the hill..oh yay…cars, trucks, motorcycles, dump trucks, tractor trailer trucks…all going by. Add wind, rattling leaves, barking dogs, construction, mowers and you have the idea. I even bought the Expanded Archery license in case I need to go hunt in the city for a deer where I can harvest a doe and still be able to harvest a buck behind the house. The benefit of the expanded archery season is that it goes until December 31st, past the last Saturday in the November of the rifle season and it’s a two week extension into muzzleloader season. I’ve shot deer with a muzzleloader in the past, but if all else fails I’ll be hunting in the city. My plan is to have some deer meat in the freezer this year one way or another!

Hunting with a bow is much more challenging than I realized it would be. It’s not the bow itself, but all the gadgets, and the odd shaped size that turns my stealthy walk into my stand into a clumsy wobble into my stand. I think I managed to catch every stick, limb, fern and leaf possible with the cams of the bow in my travels. Trying to climb into my stand with a bow in my hand is stupid to say the least. Yes, I tried it, and I made more noise than I thought possible..and it was daylight!  I can’t ever imagine trying this in the dark before daylight.

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My new release to pull the string on my bow. It folds back to be “out of the way” which is a total advertising lie. It’s still very much attached to my wrist and makes noise no matter how I fold it.

Note to self: You can put the release on after you get in the stand so it doesn’t clink every rail of the ladder as you climb. My stand is hid among a bunch of fir, hemlock and spruce…with lots of branches that now need to be cut so I can use a rope to pull my bow up the proper way…and that darned quiver (arrow holder) is noisy too, so off that comes, but where to put it? The last thing I want is to drop that with my arrows, so I also need to put up a bow holder…and I have to fix my shooting lanes because I have none for a bow shot. My setup works for the rifle, but I need much more space to shoot a bow.

One of my main problems is that my bow hunting pants and shirt don’t offer up enough pockets for all my junk I tote along for the hunt, and I can’t throw a bow over my shoulder like my rifle. I have to have my windicator spray, deer scent and container, buck grunt, doe bleat, flashlight, phone, and on colder nights, I also need gloves, a neck warmer and a hat..and one pocket on my pants just doesn’t cut it. I have a backpack to bring, but that’s too noisy for mornings…SO I’m back to trying to store everything in my camo jacket liner.

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Buck grunt to mimic bucks in rut.
doe bleat
Doe bleat to mimic does in heat. Calls in bucks. Anti roll edges which is new and very important…nothing to roll off the treestand.

If you’ve ever hunted in the morning, sound is amplified ten times more than in the middle of the day. Every leaf crunches, every movement makes noise, and every breath, every pulse seems to be there for you–and deer to hear…and that means every little bump, clink, swish of a leaf can be heard.

So, for now, I’ll keep you posted on my progress. I’ll need lots of persistence to get thru this clumsy phase. I’ll need lots of patience for the noise I have to contend with as I sit for what seems like hours in my treestand. There will probably be more stories of my being busted due to my clumsiness than deer success…and I will most likely switch back to my rifle in a couple weeks. For now, I’ll make sure I use my harness and hope for the best and enjoy the sit before it gets too dark and cold.

After all, it’s the adventures in the process, not just the harvest.

A Rude Awakening

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Me and John ❤

October is my favorite month. In fact, my husband John and I were married in October. We had initially picked the first Saturday in November to get married, but that was supposed to be the first day of deer season, so we bumped it back a week earlier so not to interfere with hunting. After all, nothing should come between a man and opening deer season. (I didn’t hunt then so it really was all about him.)

As luck would have it, the October date turned out to be the first year that Maine decided to make deer season earlier…and you guessed it. We were scheduled to be married on the first day of hunting season. After putting my foot down that I was not going to take a black marker to the invitations and change the date, John conceded and we got married as planned.

The first day of hunting season has always been a huge event in our family, so when our youngest son finally turned 10, John wanted to be ready to take him out. Friday afternoon was an iconic picture perfect Maine fall day. The sun was shining, and the Indian summer was in full force. John had scouted beforehand and decided to put up two hanging tree stands overlooking a well traveled deer lane on a knoll not far from the house. Buddy stand

When I first started hunting, we didn’t have many tree stands and we considered ourselves resourceful when John built some, since anything was better than the old rickety nailed on tree stands of the past. We owned hanging stands, and some of those were homemade. We also had some screw-in tree steps, some strap-on ladder steps, and homemade ladders to get into our stands. Ladder stands were the newest thing on the market and we had purchased a “buddy stand” which seats two people, to use when John and I first hunted together. I really, really like that stand.

The majority of the time, I used the homemade or a combination of the homemade stands since we had several places to hunt and we wanted as many options as possible as the season went on. When I look back, it’s amazing I even continued to hunt given how hard it was for me to climb into stands. I really thought John was testing me because some of these stands were so challenging to get into. I was always athletic and strong, so realizing I couldn’t climb into these stands as easy as I thought I could made me try even harder to succeed.

I had the stand that had strap-on ladders, that led to climbing several feet of hemlock limbs only to be totally spent by the time I reached the actual stand. More than once, I’d have to stop and catch my breath, take a break and pray I wouldn’t fall out of that tree. By the time I finally made it into the stand, I’d be a wash of sweat.

Another stand we still use requires climbing a pine about 25 feet high to get the stand. I’ve only climbed that tree three times because it literally takes all the strength I have to climb it. This big old tree overlooks a swail grass area known for deer crossings. After climbing tree steps, I have to hold onto limbs so big it requires me to hug the branches, not hold onto them with my hands. Every step has to be calculated so that I can step onto my stand, and unlike a lot of my stands, coming down is just as scary.

Then there was “tall stand” because it was in a tall tree. It was located down in the bog which wasn’t some place I craved to be. It consisted of a small maple tree with it’s top broke out and a board perched on top of it. After climbing screw in steps set too far apart for my short legs, and then shimmying up two pine saplings I finally made it onto the platform where I threw myself across it and lay there trying to figure out how to actually maneuver into a sitting position.

And finally, there was the tree that wasn’t that bad to climb into, except that I had been sick with the flu for a couple days and when I sat in the stand, the wind blew so hard that the tree swayed back and forth all night; it moved and bent so hard I had to hang on in fear of falling out of the stand. I’m not sure if it was the flu or the swaying, but I was not a happy hunter.

That’s right, I was afraid of falling out of all those trees because not once did I ever wear a safety harness or use any type of system to protect me from a fall. None of us used a safety harness.

Getting ready to bear hunt...safety harness in place!
Selfie….Getting ready to bear hunt…safety harness in place! (c) S. Warren

Rude Awakening Day: On October 30, 2009, John had found the perfect spot to take our youngest son. He remembered he had a stand already hanging from the previous year, so he decided to check it out. Climbing about twenty five feet up the tree, he hung the second stand next to the existing stand. Then he cautiously climbed onto the existing stand. He tested the tree stand as he hugged the tree, putting his weight on it, and then gave a couple jumps. “Good to go”, he thought. He settled into the stand and looked out over the oak stand, just enjoying the fall afternoon view. A minute later, all our lives changed.

The tree stand made a loud snap; it was the weather-rotted strap breaking. John fell to the ground, landing with his back onto a stump. He laid there unable to move. After what seemed like forever, he rolled over onto his hands and knees and began coughing up blood. He knew he was hurt and had to get out of the woods fast because he didn’t think anyone would find him. After not being able to reach anyone with his cell phone, he decided to walk out. John made it to his truck, and then he drove himself to our house. Our daughter rushed him to the hospital in Waterville. After being examined, he was transferred to Portland for trauma care for seven days. He suffered broken vertebrae, ribs, shoulder blade, a ruptured spleen, punctured lung and several smaller breaks and bruises.

D55SRC_V068.C01031.061__FG=1750,FT=31471,NIR=1,GM=41,  EV=40,PY=28,DY=51,GB=0x80,SG=0xc,EL=584,AEY=193,VC=255,VT=0
John baiting before he sits in his tree stand. Note the climbing harness is on. 😉 (c) S. Warren

Fast forward to today. John is lucky to have come away not crippled or permanently injured from his fall. He still hunts, but he and none of us hunt unless we wear a safety harness. “I never thought I needed a harness, but I’ll never go into a tree stand without one now” says John, “and I’ll never use a tree stand that’s been hanging for a long period of time.”

We also gave up our homemade stands, not because they weren’t sturdy, but because the price of metal tree stands have come down. We change our straps every couple years and never leave them hanging anymore. We’ve added Prusik knot life lines to the big pine and I only use ladder stands now. I’m a much happier hunter knowing that not only can I climb into stands but also my family is safe from tragedy.

Bear hunting season is about to begin and that means the beginnings of sitting or standing in tree stands, so when you go out this season, please use a safety harness system. Happy Hunting!