A Cup of Courage

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August means the start of the hunting seasons, and bear hunting is one of my favorite, both for anticipation and actual hunt. It’s hard to believe that just seven years ago, I started baiting bear sites with my husband, John. I was along for the ride then. This was the guys’ hunt; my husband, son and son-in-law set baits in hopes on getting a big bruin, so there really wasn’t any room for me. I was always mindful to not crowd in on guys-time as I think it’s as important as the girl-time I spend with my daughter. Even though I didn’t tell anyone, I really wanted to try this bear hunting.

I remember helping John bait those first sites. Since the guys worked later than he did, I got to tag along and help schlep the barrels of bait and grease.  We got our first game cameras just for bear hunting, and checking our memory cards was always the highlight of the trip, especially when the bear would try to destroy or rip the camera off the tree.  Seeing bear photos for the first time was a definite WOW moment for me. The excitement of seeing bear while having the fear of them, was real. The whole time I helped bait the sites, I was constantly looking over my shoulder, leery of what may be lurking in the woods. I was never outright scared because John always had the .44 magnum on his hip.

Fast forward a couple years, and boys decided they didn’t have time to bear hunt north. There was my opportunity knocking! By then, I had grown more accustom to seeing bear photos and instead of feeling that fear, there was more taking the time to see which one was left or right handed into the bucket, and seeing how big the bear were. I was then, and still am amazed at the number of different bear we have coming to bait.

I was so excited to finally get to bear hunt; however I also knew this would be a challenge for me with my fear of the dark. John helped me prepare my site, but I ultimately picked the spot. For years we had driven by one side of the hill and I was just dying to check it out. Turns out it was loaded with beech trees, clawed up from bear climbing them in previous years. It was also shaded and would get dark earlier than an open spot.

We set my tree stand and barrel, then baited it up, and in no time, I had bear coming to MY bait. Once bear hunting finally arrived, I was faced with my first challenge. I had to walk into my bait site alone. John would have taken me, but if I was going to hunt, I was going to not have him have to hold my hand.

When I first hunted deer, John was right by my side, taking the lead and walking me into my tree stand and sitting with me the entire time, but over time, I learned to face my fear and walk into my stand on my own. This was different. It was daylight. How could I possibly be afraid?! I can’t say I was completely comfortable because there’s always a chance of encountering a bear on my way in, so I’d take a deep breath, taking in my cup of courage, and off I’d go.

I was always relaxed once I got in my stand, but until then, even encountering a snake in the trail would scare the hell out of me. Walking in was not one of my favorite things to do.  I would sit until legal shooting hours ended, but then I’d have to stay in my tree stand until John retrieved me. As dark approached, I would go from hoping a bear would come in, to hoping one wouldn’t decide to show up because what would I do then?! I would always be relieved to hear the truck coming down the road, and would watch for John’s light in the trail. He’d let out a whistle in the dark, and I knew it was safe to get down.

One night, I decided to face my fears by getting out of my tree stand and walking out to John. I knew he was on his way in to get me, so down the ladder I went. When I reached the bottom, I realized I had left my flashlight in my backpack. As I rummaged through the pack, I heard a noise on the trail. I gave a whistle. No whistle back. I gave another whistle. Again nothing. Then the sound of an animal running off in the brush with a good bristled huff. It was a bear, and there I was on the ground with nothing but a flashlight! In an instant, John gave a yell. The bear had run right at him on his way in.  I was glad he didn’t hang around me. I was pretty proud that I maintained my calm and didn’t panic when I realized it was a bear. Call me naïve or dumb, but that event actually helped me gain more courage when I bear hunt.

I moved my stand higher on the hill the following year. It was the very first time I had daytime bear. One night we went to our stands later than normal. I had been having a sow and cubs on my bait, so I was a bit nervous about the possibility of running into an angry Mama bear. I took a deep breath and my cup of courage, and headed in. I brought my trusty bacon scented spray to help cover my scent as I ascended the trail to my tree stand. I sprayed a small squirt of scent on the trees every few yards. As I made my way to my stand, I was going to spray up my bait site, but instead, jumped a small bear, that took off in flash of black. So much for my cup of courage. I decided I didn’t want to go any further so I put the bottle of spray at the base of my tree stand ladder. I climbed into my stand which I had equipped with a handy dandy hanging tree blind, so that I could go undetected if a bear came in. I thought I was sitting pretty.

As night closed in, I was pretty excited that I had actually seen a bear in the wild, since that was a first for me.  Then came the unmistakable sound of something coming up behind me, walking ever so slow and deliberate. I could hear minute pieces of sticks breaking almost silently under the steps…then came the sniff. The sniff of a bear directly under my tree stand, smelling my bacon spray. I didn’t dare move. I swallowed another cup of courage and tried to get my eyes on this bear, but the inside of the blind was small and unforgiving and I couldn’t move…or I didn’t dare move. As it went to my right, dark was closing in fast and I still could not see the bear because he was directly under me. When he finally made his way out in front of me, I could just make him out, and I only had five minutes left of legal hunting. It was now or never. As I pulled my gun up, the bear stopped. I slowly moved my gun so that the barrel came outside of the blind so I could aim. In an instant, the bear bolted. He had seen my gun. In a flash, my bear was gone, and he’s never returned.

My heart raced, and as bummed as I was that I didn’t get a chance to shoot my dream bear, Scrapper, I was overjoyed by the whole experience. It still remains one of the most memorable moments in my hunting adventures.

Bear season will begin the end of August, and hopefully by the time you read this, I will have harvested a nice bear for the freezer. I will still have to drink my cup of courage when I head into my stand, and when I leave, which I now do alone as I make my way back down the mountain to my waiting four-wheeler. I’ll drive through the trails in the dark, sometimes jumping a moose or two and make my way out in the dark to where I’ll leave my four-wheeler and get picked up by John.  And yes, I’ll probably swallow a cup or two of courage every time I do it. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. That cup of courage has made me more confident as a hunter and person, and any time I think I can’t do something, I just drink another cup of courage and say, “yes, I can.”

My advice to anyone who wants to hunt, but has fears. Find a mentor, and face them head on. Drink that cup of courage. You won’t regret it.

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.

 

Summer, Where art thou?

So spring has taken too long to arrive. I’m not sure if it’s because winter began in October, or if spring really is lagging. The warm weather certainly hasn’t arrived.

Last year we were fishing in the river by the end of April and hammering the salmon. This year, we were on the river in our winter underwear, praying for a bite and a little sun to warm us up. I never thought I’d be saying this, but the mosquitoes and black flies finally have arrived so it shouldn’t be much longer. Just take a look at the difference a year can make. Mother Nature is miraculous, and she’s working hard to catch up.

These are photos of the end of April thru the middle of May 2017. I’m still waiting for my birds to return to my wreath.

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In 2018 we were fishing, finding and foraging all through May. Turtle were laying their eggs, fish was abundant as were the mushrooms. We didn’t get many morels, but it was a dry spring.

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This year, we’re still waking up to a heavy frost and the camper heater has run all night long. Mayflowers stayed in the bloom the longest ever. We just found fiddleheads up north when they’d gone by at home. We haven’t found any oyster mushrooms, but the morel mushrooms didn’t disappoint in this wet weather and arrived right on schedule. The salmon are just beginning to bite, the brook trout are just starting to rise for mayflies, but we still haven’t seen a deer fawn, moose calf, or turtle. We’ve still seen some amazing animals: grouse, beaver, frog eggs, rabbits, geese and goslings, wood ducks, mergansers, and we even spotted some chaga. Oh, yeah, that is bear scat and a snake. We photograph everything we find. Enjoy!

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The week’s weather finally is starting to look like it might actually be sunny. I hope you’ll get out and enjoy the outdoors.

I’m Not a Turkey Hog, Honest.

We roosted the turkeys the night before and knew exactly where they would be in the morning.

I know it’s a little late since turkey season started in late April, but I had a lot of fun this year. I was lucky enough to bag two turkeys on two different hunts, and with two completely set of events. So while I watch and wait for bear on my cameras, I’ll recap the turkey season.

Turkey hunting is sort of odd. You watch turkeys right up until opening day fanning, strutting and gobbling in the fields only to often times find they just disappear as soon as you start hunting them. The signs always stick around: the dusting spots, the scat, the scratched up leaves where they’ve been feeding which begin to torment you since turkeys can be finicky and just not gobble no matter how hard you try to get them to answer….in fact they’re a lot like moose. They either gobble instinctively and uncontrollable, and do just as they’re supposed to, or not at all.

This was the case behind the house. Our first morning was a bust. We roosted the turkeys the night before and knew exactly where they would be in the morning. We set up and made our calls. Turkeys were coming out of the trees everywhere, but no toms in sight. The hens never spooked, but they didn’t stick around either. They simply left to join the turkeys gobbling on the other side of the field, and the toms never came our way.

We caught this guy on our game camera that same evening…and we hadn’t gone back for the evening hunt.Digital Camera

So off we went to make our truck run, hoping to spot a few turkeys in the fields where we have permission to hunt.

Sure enough, we spotted one lone strutting turkey making its way across the lush green field. We drove by, parked in the adjoining field and snuck along the tree line making our way closer to the edge of the adjoining field.

IMG_20180430_081242081John did a call. The turkey answered. We strategically kept trees between us and the bird, and made our way to the big hairy pine standing on the edge of the field. There was about 50 yards to the gully where a line of trees grew and separated the fields. The turkey was on one side, and us on the other. I was afraid the turkey wouldn’t cross the line of trees as they don’t usually like to do that. But luck was in our favor. That turkey was on a dead run after a couple more calls. I readied myself under the bottom tree branch, and waited until the turkey was in range. It crossed the tree line. It strutted. I could hear its feathers ruffling. It dropped his feather and let out its last gobble. I fired and dropped him on the spot. Textbook hunt right there, and I bagged a big fully-mature turkey. We went and tagged the turkey, but the store couldn’t weigh it. I think he was a good 20 pounds but we could only get 19.1 pounds on the deer scale.

So the second hunt was much different. In fact, this hunt wasn’t for me. It was for my friend Erin to get a turkey. I brought my shotgun because I could still shoot a bird, but I had no intentions on shooting a bird before Erin did.

John drove us around hoping to get a bird. We didn’t have any luck first thing in the morning, so we headed on our ride. Erin spotted a turkey and group of hens in a field. After some successful calling and her and I waiting for the turkeys to come our way, we gave up. The turkeys either spotted us or got bored because they simply moved away from us. So back in the truck we went. In our travels we spotted a litter of fox pups. It was really awesome to see. I didn’t have my camera, but Erin has some nice shots of them on her Instagram page.

So we headed to the spot that is known to have turkeys “later in the morning”. We headed up through the field…a long field, with a treeline in the middle. Just as we got to the treeline, John spotted a whole flock of turkeys coming our way. We dove for the ground. Erin and I scooted up to the treeline and John with decoys in hand started calling and dancing the decoys. The turkeys responded immediately. Erin and I had no idea how many turkeys were there, but they were coming fast and furious. One very vocal bird was making his way fast and was on the other side of us in a matter of 30 seconds.

I sat behind Erin telling her to get ready. Instead of the turkey busting through the opening in the treeline, it turned and headed to our right making its way down the treeline. I couldn’t see him, but it felt like I was ducking a Velociraptor that was hunting us. I was afraid to move a muscle because turkeys have incredible eyesight. But he was moving to my right. I didn’t even have my gun in my hand. I whisper to Erin that the turkey is coming to my right. She answers back to have me put my back to her. She is ready for a bird to just step through that opening and doesn’t dare move. I slowly put my back to her. I pull my knees up and pull my gun to my side.

In a split second, that tom turkey decided to fly through the trees and landed about 15 yards in front of me. He gobbled. I slowly raised my gun and POW! I dropped the turkey.

John jumped up and yelled, “What to heck did you just do?! Erin’s supposed to shoot the turkey!” Erin high fives me.

In all the commotion, we didn’t realize that there were about twenty more turkeys that HADN’T come over the treeline yet…and then we watched them all run away. Erin’s chance at a bird that day ended as quick as it began. And John now calls me the Turkey Hog.

My turkey never moved a muscle until we went to picked it up. It managed to spur John and then a bunch of  its tail feathers fell out even though I never touched them…weirdest thing ever!

I felt bad I had shot, but Erin was such a sport and congratulated me on my bird. She’s a lot of fun to hunt with, but unless I can actually help her get some game, she may not want to hunt with me again…and John says my success rate as a guide is dwindling…so Erin, I owe you! I promise the next bird is yours.

And you’re welcome to join me bear hunting over bait…but I get to shoot first…lol.

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The opening in the treeline directly behind me.

 

Take A Slow Wild Ride

I know that sounds confusing, but let’s face it; we miss a whole lot of stuff driving too fast. I can’t tell you how many people drive right by or into wildlife because they’re so intent on getting where they’re going that they don’t take the time to slow down and really see what’s around them.

When my children were younger, many of our Friday or Saturday nights were spent cruising the back roads hoping to see some wildlife. “Moose rides” we called them, but we often saw way more than moose. To this day, my kids can recount a certain ride where they saw a bull moose fight, a baby bunny, or where we stopped and caught fish in our travels.

The secret to seeing wildlife is: Number one: knowing where to go. Number two: going at the right time of the year, and number three: going at the right time of day. But really if you want to see wildlife, just take a ride into rural Maine. A slow ride. Grab a friend, lover or family, and get your eyes off your phone and into the fields, the woods, and the roads. I’m not saying you have to go 30 miles per hour the whole time…but 60 won’t do you any good and you might even hit one of the animals you’re trying to spot…so slow down. Be aware of your surroundings, including cars behind you who aren’t out for a wild ride, and be ready to slow to a stop, take a picture, and share the experience and make memories.

In the beginning of the spring, April, we start our rides to go fishing. This time of year, we see a lot of yearling moose who have just been cast off from their mothers who are getting ready to calve. These moose are extremely scared, tend to stay in the road, run up the road, and may even come up to your vehicle as one did for us this spring. The moose always look pretty scraggly, but it’s just the shedding of their winter coats.

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We also see a lot of rabbits. One of the games we play with the kids is that everyone gets to guess how many moose and rabbits we’ll see. The winner only gets bragging rights, but it gets the kids involved with looking to spot animals. We’ve seen woodcock with chicks, fox with kits, grouse alone, and with chicks, deer with fawn, moose with calves, bucks, coyotes, snakes, bear, turtles, turkey, rabbits, and sometimes we even spot mushrooms..all from the seat of our truck.

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Where to go: For moose, we go north/northwest of Norridgewock…areas include Bingham, Athens, road to Greenville, Rangeley and US Route 16, Oquossoc, Kingfield, and north of Lexington on the Long Falls Dam Road. For deer, just take a drive. They’re literally everywhere from the interstate, to farm fields, to within the city limits. Some of the biggest deer in velvet that I’ve ever seen have been in Augusta.

When to go: early spring to see turkeys gobbling in farm fields, deer getting their first taste of grass, pregnant cow moose, yearling moose, laying turtles in the gravel roadside, and if you’re lucky enough, a bear with cubs. Mid-spring  delivers for moose with calves, moose and deer in general, rabbits with babies, grouse with chicks, birds of all sorts including hawks and owls and even sand hill cranes. Fall is great to see moose in the rut, and partridge to shoot in October. Most of the time when we hunt for partridge, we’re riding roads looking on berms to spot roosting birds…use this time to start early and get to know where you see them for the fall bird season.

We always plan our rides so that we arrive at our destination around dusk. You should plan to drive slower than normal and keep an eye out. This is the time many animals come out to eat, hunt, or travel. We bring a spotlight to help spot animals. We never have any kind of hunting equipment in the car either, because it would look bad to a game warden or police officer. You can use lights except from September 1 to December 15, when “it is unlawful to use artificial lights from 1/2 hour after sunset until 1/2 hour before sunrise to illuminate, jack, locate, attempt to locate or show up wild animals or wild birds except raccoons which may be hunted at night with electric flashlights during the open season (IFW).”

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So no matter when you head out, you’re apt to see something. Just slow down and watch the sides of the roads, the trees, the skies, and take it all in. There’s always something out there to enjoy, to share, and to learn about. You won’t forget it, and neither will the kids.

Happy Riding!

PS Don’t forget your camera. Many of these are taken with my phone camera so the resolution isn’t as good as it could be.

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.