Scouting for Grouse

Here it is July and it won’t be long before we’ll be bear hunting, and trapping, then it won’t be long before we’re bowhunting for deer and hunting for some grouse.

Bird hunting, which is what I call grouse hunting, is one of those things that never seems to be consistent from year to year. There have been many years that we literally rode for hours to see two or three birds only to have them fly off or have me miss under pressure.

Some say get out and walk….well we don’t get out and walk the woods just because there are so many other people riding around and they’re never particularly happy if you’re walking the road. There’s a compelling reason to not  be a jerk and go around you, but then it prevents others from traveling  and hunting the road. 

Thinking back of over the season, I thought, there has to be a better way to find birds. After all, we scout for everything else we hunt, so why not grouse?

Since I don’t own a bird dog, the only thing I do have is a lot of time in the woods, riding roads to and from great fishing spots, and when searching for mushrooms. In doing so, I’ve also found myself finding lots of sign from grouse, and that’s when my mind began to really focus on scouting for them now so that when the season arrives, we’ll have a better idea where to begin.

Spotting grouse begins in the spring, just when the poplar trees and birch trees begin to bud. At the end of the day, just before dusk, we’re usually riding home, and all we have to do is look up to the top of the trees. We’ll sometimes spot as many as five birds in one tree. We’ll watch them eat the buds and just enjoy seeing that there’s a good healthy population of birds.

The last two years have been pretty darned dry, if not drought like, according the weather people, and with dry weather comes the successful brooding and rearing of grouse and turkey chicks.

Even before chick season, I start to keep track of the dusting spots I see on each road we travel. Dusting spots are great indicators of the number of grouse in that area. What’s even more fun is is finding several dusting spots in one area.  And not to my surprise, we’ve driven on roads that we’ve hunted and found literally no dusting spots.

We actually find a lot of partridge scat in our travels. Partridge will roost on the same tree limb nightly, and well, there you have it. The dead give away to where they roost at night.

Dusting spots are used for birds to rid bugs, mites, any type of critter they don’t like from their wings and body. I usually spot them on berms on each side of the road. The dry dirt is bowled out from their digging and dusting. The size of the dusting spot for a grouse is usually the size of a small cereal bowl. Upon inspection, you can sometimes even see their tracks in the dirt. Turkey dusting spots are much bigger and although they do dust, I don’t find nearly as many as I do for grouse.

A good dry spot is ideal for dusting grouse.

Sometimes we’re lucky and we’ll stumble upon a nest. This nest and its eggs ended in a horrible robbery from predator.

Seven grouse eggs

Then comes chick season. This is the fun time when you start seeing grouse in the road, walking slowly, and then either on the opposite side of the road or right behind the grouse as it darts for cover, there will be a clutch of chicks. In one day, we saw 9 clutches.

Chicks will often appear before the hen, but other times, you just see the movement in grass and then a very irritated hen appears.

At one point, I saw chicks, but no hen. I got out of the truck and headed for the edge of the of grass hoping I could get a photo of at least one of the many chicks we had seen. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of brown before I realized it was coming for me. As I reacted with a loud yell and gasp, I was able to compose myself enough to take some photos. There was one very pissed off momma.

Often, we’ll see grouse strutting in the road. In this case, she was trying to distract us from the chicks.
If grouse could growl, this bird would have been roaring. She was hissing and came right at me when I started for the edge of the grass.

So I hope this will give you a little inspiration when you’re out in the woods to look around and maybe just maybe see the signs of grouse. It definitely has helped our success rates in the fall. Happy hunting!

A good limit for two people on a day’s hunt.

How to Find Fiddleheads for Next Year’s Harvest

Now is the time to start searching!

Every year, at the beginning of the fiddlehead season, I see countless people asking, “Is this a fiddlehead?” It seems like a no brainer finding them, but I forget that when I was growing up, my mother would have done anything to know how to find fiddleheads and not have to buy them. Since fiddlehead spots are heavily guarded as sacred, it’s just much easier to find your own spot than to even think of asking someone or possibly contributing to over-harvesting on a popular spot.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can find fiddleheads even now for next year, and perhaps even easier than when the season starts and definitely with less competition.

Best of all, finding fiddleheads out of season means you’ll be well prepared for next year. Chances are, you will find fiddleheads where you least expect to find them, and they’ll be bigger and less picked-over than the popular picked spots on the river.

Yes, fiddleheads do grow on the river banks, but that’s not the only places they grow. In fact, the biggest fiddleheads I’ve ever found weren’t found on the river, but in the woods, along a road, far away from the river. John and I spend a great deal of time driving logging roads all over Maine. This is the time of year when you can easily spot the ostrich a.k.a. fiddlehead fern.

There are two things you look for when scouting for fiddleheads; fern fronds (the leaves), and spores. Fiddleheads are the beginnings of the ostrich fern, which are easy to spot now that they are in full display. Another distinguishing attribute is the grooved stem of the fern. There are only 12 ferns in Maine, and most of them don’t look anything like the ostrich fern, so once you learn the twelve, it makes it far easier to finding fiddleheads, but really, just learn what the ostrich fern looks like and you won’t have a problem finding fiddleheads.

Fiddlehead ferns have very distinct foliage with very sharp points and slender leaves. Once the fiddlehead season is over, the ferns unravel and fill the roadsides along with other ferns that are often mistaken as fiddleheads. They are taller than most ferns. They look rather majestic and stand upright like ostrich feathers. If the ferns are large and are around three feet tall, then you most likely have found a mature batch with nice sized fiddleheads to found next spring.

So look carefully and look for sharp edged ferns. I’ve included photos so that you can really see the difference.  The first picture is fiddlehead fern. The others are not fiddlehead ferns, and when you compare them side by side, it’s easier to tell them apart. Fiddleheads will often grow amongst other ferns. In the picture with John picking fiddleheads, there are other ferns already up and open…and they’re not fiddleheads. Look at the photo of the fiddleheads up close; you will see the leaf structure of the fiddlehead fern before it opens up.

Fiddlehead ferns are bright green like a fiddlehead, not lemon green, or blue green…and not glossy like a Christmas fern.
Fiddleheads emerge from a cluster of root ball. You can usually find the dried spore pods as an indicator of where to look for fiddleheads.
John picking fiddleheads. See the other ferns that are not fiddleheads. They are paler green and have rounded leaves. Also note the seed pods from last year’s fiddlehead crop. New fiddleheads are emerging from the base of each bunch of dried fronds.

So the next time you get the chance to ride some roads, bring along your Gazeteer and mark locations that you can return to next spring. You won’t find those beautiful ferns, but you will most likely spot the dried spore pods that are left behind. So if you find yourself still not finding fiddleheads by the ferns, then try concentrating on the spore pods. Ostrich fern spore pods are very distinct, and you’ll know for sure you’ve found your spot. Not only are they neat to discover, but they make great decorations in a simple vase.

Ostrich fern spore pods look like a brown ostrich feather.
Remember that the fiddlehead has to have a grooved stem.

The other important thing to remember is timing. Since most of our fiddleheads are found north of where we live, we find that our mountain fiddleheads can be as much if not more than two weeks later before they’re ready to harvest, so don’t get discouraged if they’re not readily found the first time you check. Patience and persistence will get you the prize!

One other thing to consider if you are foraging on paper company land is to look for herbicide use nearby. Large clear-cuts will get sprayed yearly, so I like to make sure there aren’t any signs of herbicide use before I pick.

Happy Foraging!

Seriously, Leave No Trace

I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.

That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.

When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.

Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.

We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”

The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.

How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.

People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.

Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.

When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.

Even nature knows how to leave no trace.

Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.

The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.

The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.

The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.

A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.

If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.

I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.

Happy Summer!

How to Spot Signs of Spring Bear

Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for.

We always hear that we need to remove food for bear when it starts to warm up and they start raiding bird feeders. Many people don’t even know what bear like to eat. Bear are omnivores with means they survive by eating plants and animals. Bear don’t eat just honey and they will kill other animals if they want to eat it.

Bear are one of the biggest predators to deer fawn and moose calves born each spring. Bear compete with other predators such as coyote and bobcat, which also kill deer and moose calves. Source

When bear come out of their dens, most often, there isn’t even green grass, let alone abundant berries, nuts, or other goodies to eat, which is what drives them to take advantage of what’s available. That means if they live in your woods, they’ll raid bird feeders, bee hives, chicken coops, grain barrels, and garbage bins, if given the opportunity.

Bear also take advantage of roadkill, called carrion, which is why motorists may get a chance to see bear roadside in the spring. Just think of how much road kill you can see in one trip down the turnpike: deer, ground hog, raccoon, beaver, porcupine, turkey, and fox, just for starters. Bear love beaver, which has been referred to as “bear caviar” or “bear coke”, but I’ve never heard of bear specifically hunting beaver as a source of food. Beaver have some pretty nasty teeth, so most likely, it would be road kill. We actually have used beaver as a scent attractant when we initially set bait for bear hunting. It works.

A bear’s incredible sense of smell will bring them into neighborhoods and populated areas not usually frequented once natural food is available. Since I am fortunate enough to not get bear in my backyard, I have to go looking elsewhere.

photo credit: https://vtfishandwildlife.com/learn-more/living-with-wildlife/living-with-black-bears/bear-resistant-trash-containers

In our travels, primarily on paper company owned land, I’m always looking for signs of bear activity. In all the time we’ve spent in the woods and driving roads, we’ve only seen a bear three times, all at dusk, and only glimpses, because once they see you coming, they usually are gone in a flash of black.

I truly love to see the signs of bear in our travels. You don’t need a game camera to find where bear are hanging out. When traveling roads, you can also spot signs. We often get out and inspect what we find. I love to take pictures and talk with the kids about what the bear might have been eating or doing when it was there. This is also a great way to break up a long ride. Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for. So here’s a run down of what to look for:

1. Bear scat, in the road…Yes, bear poop in the road, not necessarily always in the middle. Poop in early spring is usually very black and consists of grass that has just sprouted. This is also a way for boars to mark their territory. Since spring is the beginning of mating season for bear, this is just another calling card.

A few years ago, we were trying to get a picture of this huge pile of poop…and got caught by another motorist…not everyone understands the desire to take pictures of scat. His hand out is for reference. He wasn’t reaching for it…I promise!

2. Rocks that have been rolled out of their spots. You can usually spot when a rock has been overturned. I have scoured my files, and despite knowing I’ve taken pictures of rocks, I can’t find one. But trust me…just picture good sized rocks overturned and ants crawling about. To make up for it, here’s more poop pictures.

3. Logs and other debris in the woods and in older wood yards. These are our biggest finds, and we often find bear claw marks on the wood. Bear rely on insects as an important part of their diet throughout the year, but spring is when ants provide them the food they need.

Newly shredded log in search of bugs
Ants are a great source of protein for bear in the spring.
See how the big stump has been rolled out of the way.
Looking for ants and grubs

4. We’ll find bear tracks in the dirt if we’re really lucky. Nothing to me is more fun than spotting tracks. Which one is it? Front foot? Back foot? The size of the track compared to your hand is a great photo opportunity. ‘

Husband’s hand compared to a bear track
Twelve year-old son’s hand compared to a bear track

And finally…claw marks on trees. Some of the trees were visited long ago and the tree has started to grow, while others are freshly carved. Any way I look at these, they’re all wicked cool.

Those are some deep claw marks…glad it’s a tree and not me!
Old claw marks in a beech tree. The tree was literally covered in claw marks.

I hope this will give you a chance to find your own bear sign. Get out of that truck and take a look the next time you’re on a dirt road. While chances are you won’t actually see a bear, finding sign is almost as good. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ve been missing. Don’t forget your camera or cell-phone…you just may find your own pile of poop to photograph.

My First Solo Turkey Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was ecstatic. I had my first solo bird.

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

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

My 2019 Bear Season – Part II

The 4-Wheeler Blues

One of the most essential components of bear hunting and baiting, is being able to get the bait to your site. Unless you are somewhere literally fifty feet off the road, you’re going to need to carry bait with a four-wheeler or two, which we heavily rely upon to help us get the job done. We also use our four-wheelers when we hunt. John drives towards his site, then hikes in the last distance. I go the “long way around” to avoid driving by John’s bait site, then hike into mine, so having two working machines is crucial.

We have two four-wheelers: a green Polaris Magnum 500 that’s John’s, and a blue Polaris Magnum 325 that’s mine. Right after the season started, the muffler blew out on the blue one. John and I took the muffler off, and brought it home to weld it up. No sooner had we got it fixed, both machines decided to leak gas. I bought new petcocks for both, and we installed them. Just when we thought we were set, the electric starter on the blue one went on the fritz, which explains why it wouldn’t start that night I was left in the dark. Of course, I had a practically brand new part in my linen closet for over 20 years, that I had just tossed out sometime in the last year, thinking I’d never need it. The first replacement I purchased on Ebay for $31 turned out to not be the right one despite what it said, so then I bought a used one on Ebay for $60, and we were back in business.

Meanwhile, the green machine decided to quit starting all together. We brought it home to work on it, leaving us only one machine to use to get to our sites. We finally decided in order for both of us to hunt, and be quiet, I’d ride in with John to his parking spot, and we’d both walk the rest of the way in to our sites from there.

The walk in was much easier for me than hiking the mountain side, but it was also longer. The leaves had just started to fall, and the weather was hot in the afternoon, cooling to an almost chilled-cold by night fall. I’d pack all my gear into my backpack, hike in to my stand in the thinnest shirt I own, then dress for the late evening chill.

As I walked to my stand, it was perfect in every way. The afternoon air was comfortable, with no humidity and not the slightest breeze. The sun was bright and hot on my back. I slowly and silently walked up the road, avoiding all the gravel and staying on grass to keep quiet. As I neared the top of the landing, I heard a distinct and all too familiar sound: a snake slithering through the leaves. I froze looking for it. There it was off to my right, headed away from me, a good two-foot long garter snake. Once I knew I wasn’t going to step on it, I continued on my way trying to make sure to look up more than I spent looking down at where I was stepping. Every few steps, I’d stop and listen. As I went to take another step, I looked down for a second then looked up. At the intersection of the road and the landing , there staring at me in a crouched ready-to-pounce position, sat a huge bobcat. Our eyes met. He picked his head up as if startled and confused. In a second, he turned and pounced away. I certainly was glad he had decided I wasn’t worthy of trying to take down. I couldn’t decide if I was shaken or excited, but I couldn’t wait to tell John about my encounter.

Over the course of the next two weeks, I bought several parts for the green machine, starting with the cheapest and easiest to fix: a fuel filter. Then I worked my way up the chain of possible fixes with a starter, then a fuel pump, an ignition coil, followed by a stater, which eventually fixed it. We topped it off with a new recoil starter and cover assembly because the original cover was cracked. When it finally started, we were psyched, but the machine was literally in a pile of parts and pieces we had to reassemble. I never knew there were so many pieces to a four-wheeler, but now I know what the parts look like and what they do when I hear their names. I hope I’m not reminded too soon.

Hunting over bait stalled. Not a single bear were coming to the bait. It seemed that every day I decided I would sit, there wasn’t a single noise, then on the days I wouldn’t or couldn’t sit because of work, weather or just opting to take a boat ride on the pontoon boat we had just restored, the bear would show up. Sitting at work, my phone went off to let me know I had two bear, the first bear in a long time show up on my bait. That was definitely a hard pill to swallow. Once trapping season was in full swing, we’d have to go in and check the traps each night, which didn’t help with keeping bear coming out just before dark. In fact, they just stopped coming out once we started checking traps.

We eventually got both machines back on the mountain just in time for John to catch his first bear by trapping. Baiting season had ended, and we ended up using just one machine to check and tend our traps. Meanwhile, Mother Nature had provided the bears with more natural food than they could eat, and in return, the bears hadn’t been very good about coming to my bait, and the only action we had seen in several days was on John’s bait site. Two days in a row, we had watched a bear get caught, then get out of the snare by the time we arrived on the mountain. We’d reset the trap every day, but it literally was a waiting game. We made some modifications to our compression spring so that it would close quicker, and we crossed our fingers.

spypoint
Tending the site

After two nights of not getting home until after midnight, then getting up again for 5:30 a.m., I stopped checking my phone and muted the notifications so I could get some sleep. I didn’t have a lot of hope that we’d actually catch a bear since I lost a bear last year after it had been caught for nine hours.

Then it finally happened. That morning, we got up to go to work, only to see notifications coming in a flurry to my phone from my Spypoint game camera showing that a bear had just been caught around 5 am. We were totally surprised to see it still in the snare when we woke up. With an hour and half drive to the mountain, we kicked it into high gear and got ready to go to the mountain one more time. I emailed work, John called our oldest son, Zack, and by 7:15 am, all three of us were driving up the mountain to get a bear if it hadn’t figured out how to get out yet again. On two four-wheelers, and rifles in hand, we drove up to where John parked to hunt. From there, we walked in so that we wouldn’t agitate the bear any more than necessary.

The bear wasn’t happy and it huffed and snapped its jaws as we approached. It knew we were there. It could smell us. John climbed into his tower stand to get a the best shot at the bear. Zack and I stood and watched through the trees as we waited for John to take the shot. Then it was over. It was a whole new experience for John and I and is something I’ll never forget. It was a lot of work, and it was definitely worth it.

It was a big bear-a dry sow, and the biggest bear John has ever gotten. I was happy for him, but I was hoping I’d still get my chance before the season ended.

Next up: I get my bear.

Trapping Beaver With A Friend

It’s my third year of trapping. In 2018, I spent most of my time trapping land fur-bearers, because water trapping was too hard for me to do on my own. John and I like to trap beaver for the meat, hide and tail, and the rest makes lovely coyote and bear bait.

Last year, I decided that if I was going to trap, I was going to step it up. I was going to prep my traps, dye my traps, set my traps on site, check my traps, and take my catch just like a true trapper does. I was very successful and caught my first gray fox and two raccoon, along with a few porcupine.

For this year’s season, we boiled our traps in maple bark water and then waxed them. This is to de-scent them and to make them ready for trapping. Using a draw knife, we strip maple bark from young saplings like a moose would. By taking just a bit from a few trees, it doesn’t hurt the trees and they continue to grow.

In 2018, I began the season by trying to trap beaver. It was a lot of fun, but John had to set the #330 conibear trap because I simply do not have the strength to set it, even with tongs. We even bought locking trap setters, but to no avail, I cannot get it that closed to lock and so it’s still a two person job.

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My first beaver set. It’s an underwater set.

My friend Erin approached us early in the spring and asked if we’d be interested in trapping some beaver for a neighboring landowner. The 2018-19 season had ended, so we couldn’t help him. Seasons are in place for a reason, and IF&W won’t just give someone the right to remove a beaver if it can wait. Since April, the beaver had totally gotten out of hand and had flooded the area so much that a bridge was now in danger of being washed out.

Erin met us at the landowner’s place, and we  scouted the area to decide where to place the traps. The late fall sun was setting fast, so we had to make some quick decisions.  Although the area was flooded, there wasn’t the usual slide area or really good evidence of beaver activity besides the very chewed mature trees. We weren’t sure if the beaver were further up stream, but with time ticking, we figured we start there.

John, in his waders, took to wading across the cold stream and climbing over the second dam to set a trap nearby one of the beaver houses. Erin and I made our way further down the stream bank to a spot with a channel that didn’t run anywhere except to land.  John helped me set the safeties on the trap, so all we had to do was not set it off, get it set into place and secured in the channel, put the necessary dive sticks in place, take the safeties off, and then hope for beaver. It was quite an process, but Erin and I finally got the trap in place and it looked pretty darn good. And neither of us got our hands snapped! John met up us, and together, we placed two more traps where the beaver had been dropping trees.

As John and I drove out, we passed by the landowner’s place. He was outside by his truck. We waved to sort of acknowledge-who-we-are wave. He didn’t even wave us back. In fact, it was a back turn. That immediately was a put off, and should have been an indication of what kind of person we were helping. The one thing that’s important to trappers is feeling welcome, and having the landowner understand what we do and why.

We checked the traps nearly every day, with no luck. Then, one the one day Erin couldn’t join us, we finally had a sprung trap. The beaver must have went over the top of it as it exited the channel, because it was knocked over toward the stream. John and I reset the trap making sure to secure it even better than before so that the sticks wouldn’t come out of the mud. By the time we were ready to leave, it was totally dark. I heard what I thought was an animal, possibly a deer crossing the creek. A definite water sloshing sound. Then it came closer. I couldn’t see anything, and John scanned with his flashlight. It was dark, but he was able to spot a swimming beaver just above the house, and between our two trap areas. He threw a stick and the beaver slapped its tail and dove under.  It was in the process of preparing its feed bed for the winter. That beaver had no plans to go anywhere.

beaver damMeanwhile, the landowner was growing impatient that we hadn’t cleared all the nuisance beaver out of his creek in a matter of a couple weeks. He was threatening to breach the dam. Communicating through Erin, we decided we were pulling our traps if he did that. You can’t catch beaver in a puddle, and frankly, we’re doing this guy a favor, and I didn’t like being treated that way, so it was no loss in my mind. And I don’t even know if it’s legal for him to do that to a beaver house. As trappers, we have so many regulations to abide by that I was just stupefied by his actions. He then told Erin that he was definitely going to breach the dam, so Erin and I made a date to pull the traps on the following Sunday. John had made other commitments, so it would be the girls pulling the traps.

It took us a while to find the first trap on the other side of the stream near the beaver house. It was a great spot, and I’m surprised we didn’t catch anything. Then we headed over to the traps on the other side. The second trap, again, had nothing. Each time we pulled a trap, Erin waded in and using one of the poles, she’d spring the trap and give it to me. I hadn’t worn my waders thinking I didn’t need them, so I’m happy Erin wore hers. It wasn’t long before we came to the trap where Erin and I had originally set in the channel. There before us, was our prize. A huge, beautiful brown, very dead beaver laying in the stream. Erin’s wasn’t excited about picking up a bloated dead beaver, so I said I’d do it. Using a long stick, I pulled the beaver close enough to get a hold of its webbed foot and pulled it to shore. Erin and I were thrilled that we finally caught one.IMG_20191111_132125566

IMG_20191111_132118294It weighed so much! I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to lug it out of the woods. At first, I was like, oh yeah, I can get it. Then reality set in. It’s not an easy trek, and my knees were already screaming in full protest of what I was doing. After pulling the last trap, I had three #330 conibear traps in a backpack, along with set poles and H-stands to carry out. There was no way for us to take the remaining trap off the beaver, so using one of the poles we had to bring back, I slid it through the circle of the spring and together, Erin and I carried the beaver, and all the other equipment back to my truck. The male beaver weighed nearly fifty pounds. There was no way I could have ever pulled that thing out on my own, so I’m thankful I wasn’t alone.

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Conibear traps big (#330) and small (#110) and H-stands

After the landowner heard we caught a beaver, he mentioned that we could trap some more if we wanted to…nah. As much as I enjoy beaver trapping, and sharing the experience with my friend, I wasn’t excited to go back. There are plenty of beaver close to where we live, and we had already pulled the traps! Had the landowner been a little nicer, I might have considered it. I still had fun the day we trapped together, so perhaps I can convince Erin to join me on my trap line before the season ends.

The landowner might not have been thankful, but we were. We got some great beaver meat for the freezer, some beaver castor for next year’s bear hunting, a beautiful beaver hide that I’m going to use to make something, and I’m excited to have a beaver tail to tan, so that I can make more beaver tail jewelry.

I am ready to trap for fox now, except the weatherman is predicting rain followed by a temperature drop, a less than ideal situation for trap sets. Keep your fingers crossed. I have my eye on a fox and fisher that I’ve caught on camera.

 

No Land to Hunt? Ask….or Find It.

First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours.

Sperson knocking on dooro I started following a group of women hunters, and a question came up about hunting when you have no land of your own, and what to do when you aren’t very comfortable about knocking down doors to ask.

First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours. Even if the land isn’t posted, if you feel you have to sneak around, it just won’t feel right. And the last thing you want to do is be chased off land you didn’t ask to use, because you now know the answer would be no for sure.

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Town map…find your spot and then find the owner

There are ways to find available land no matter where you live. Look for access by permission only signs and find the owners if it’s not listed on the sign. Don’t be afraid to go to the local town offices to look at town maps, or get online and find landowner information from tax assessing records. You won’t find a phone number, but you will find a name and address, and that’s a start.

I was scared to death to ask a farmer to hunt turkey, especially being a woman. Low and behold, despite their surprised look of a woman asking, the owner was cordial. She had promised it to another hunter, but if I could wait until Thursday, then I could have it. Turns out she knew my Dad, and was happy that I was a Norridgewock native. Small steps may lead to a big opportunity.

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LaGrange to Medford Trail

There’s a lot of public land in Maine that’s accessible to hunters. Now I know it’s annoying that there are some places that people used to hunt that are now off limits because land was donated to a group or cause, and they make their own rules. Many of these organizations don’t consist of hunters, and because patrons might feel afraid, they restrict hunting…blah, blah, blah…it’s not going to change unless we are part of the process. The one thing that will help all hunters is making sure good landowner relations continue to protect what we do have access to use. So asking is best.

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Bigelow Preserve

So I did a little digging. I can’t give away all my spots, but this will help you find public land to hunt. Be thorough and do your homework on the area. First of all, you can hunt on public lands and even some state parks, but you have to put on your detective hat and scout the land. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has some great information on their website. Hunting is not allowed at State Historic Sites or Memorials, and there’s a list of places you can and can’t hunt right there to review. You can search by activity and these are the public lands and state parks that came up for hunting. Just be mindful to know the rules pertaining to state parks and when you can hunt. I was surprised to see so many options in southern Maine, since I’ve never really considered it anywhere near accessible to hunters…but it is. I live farther north and don’t hunt in southern Maine, but there are lots of opportunities to  hunt.

Bear hunting has more restrictions/requirements, but bear hunting is still allowed on public lands, but by permit or lottery. It’s either by straight application and the sites are split equally among requests, or a lottery is done if the number of requests outnumber the number of sites. More information about how to apply is found here.

There’s also information on gathering (berries, mushrooms, fiddleheads) which has become very popular, and as with hunting, permits are required for some types of gathering.

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My moose from zone 5 in North Maine Woods

Another source for hunting is the North Maine Woods, which is actually several timber companies that let you access their land for a fee. You pay at the gate, and the land is there to hunt. Just know the zone rules for whatever game you are hunting. Now when we hunt the NMW, it’s a trip, week long or at least three days because we live so far away, so it’s not something right out your door, but it’s nice to know it’s there. And there are several registered guides throughout the NMW that can help you get that deer, moose, bear or whatever you want.

IMG_20190826_120920641.jpgAnother source is paper company land closer than the NMW. We rabbit hunt “north” and it’s on paper company land. Some companies such as Wagner and Weyheuser, have a permit/lease system for bear hunting, and it’s pretty gobbled up by a few guide services, so don’t be totally discouraged because they hold some sites for DIY’s like us, and sometimes sites become available. They have roads to bird or rabbit hunt, deer hunt, moose hunt, and even bear hunt if you’re lucky enough to see one not over bait, so it’s not a total loss.

And a fairly new option I sort of stumbled upon is land trusts not state owned, such as the Ezra Smith Wildlife Conservation Area, donated by George Smith and family, and is managed by the Kennebec Land Trust which allows hunting on most of its parcels of land. There’s quite a comprehensive list so go to their website and check it out.

img_20191015_235710_011.jpgNow getting back to landowner permissions. The ONLY way we bear hunt on private land is because we got landowner permission, and in return, we give back by maintaining his road. We feel so privileged that we have this access and we take it very seriously. And all we did was ask.

My son hunts on land that isn’t his, and all he did was ask. And he asks every year. I’ve hunted turkeys on land that wasn’t posted, but we still asked. The landowner appreciated it and told us so.

no hunt signAnd you’ll have some landowners who are anti-hunting or what I call land greedy (it’s mine all mine and you can’t use it even if I don’t) and they have their signs posted everywhere, but sometimes conversations can lead to opportunity such as just asking to bow hunt instead of rifle hunt and a door opens. Sometimes not, but it’s worth asking.

Ask a farmer. He may hate those turkeys eating into his silage pile, and wants you to “shoot all of them.” And if all else fails, ask friends if you can hunt with them. You may just find a mentor. Many friends make a trip to hunting camp each year and/or leave their own property un-hunted. Opportunity….Ask. Ask. Ask.

You may just be surprised to find more people are willing to let you hunt than you realize. Access is only a knock away. The more we talk to landowners, the more we build relationships that will help protect the future of hunting.

Good luck and be sure to identify your target before you shoot.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

Why I Carry – A Woman’s View

When I first started hunting, my husband chaperoned me and took me to my treestand in the dark because I was afraid of the woods; that is, I was afraid of what I couldn’t see. I wasn’t used to the sounds of the forest and which animals make what sound. I didn’t grow up spending my time in the woods, so it was all new to me. On more than one occasion I’ve watched other hunters walk by me in my treestand and not even see me.  And more than once, I’ve had a hunter whom I don’t know approach me while I was hunting. No matter when it happens, it’s just plain rude, but I’ve never been afraid.

Over the years, I’ve become very comfortable in the woods, and I no longer need the hand-holding I once relied upon; however, being comfortable in the woods isn’t the same thing as being a woman alone in the woods. When I hunt with my rifle, I never worry about being a woman alone in the woods. I’m not the paranoid type, and it’s never been an issue, but I always had my rifle.  I hunt in areas that are family lands, or where private land owners give us permission. I pretty much know who’s hunting and when they’re hunting, and a rifle automatically provides me protection.  So when I began bow hunting, I didn’t automatically carry a handgun along with my bow. In fact, it never crossed my mind. I went about my hunting business as I always did.

Then came that afternoon, as I was walking down into my stand, I was met by two young men carrying a shotgun in my woods. Men I hadn’t expected. Men I didn’t know. And I didn’t like that since all I had was my bow.  This was my first, Oh crap, moment. As they approached me, the only upper hand I had on the situation was that they were hunting in my area, where they didn’t have permission. I overheard one even talking about my family and how we hunt there…so they knew us. I kept reminding myself that I had a phone, but that might not even be an option should I have a confrontation with these guys. I was at a definite disadvantage, but didn’t want to make it obvious.

I remained authoritative but friendly. I asked them where they were hunting because I was hunting there. After a brief awkward conversation, they knew I was annoyed and they were in the wrong, so they tucked their tails and headed back from where they came. At this point I was more annoyed than anything. By the time I got to my stand, I was late by a half an hour, and watched the tail of a deer as it bound off. That night’s hunt was ruined.

A few days later, I decided to try again. I was on a quest to get my royal crown/grand slam and I wasn’t about to let any opportunity to hunt go by. It was perfect weather for bow hunting: cool and almost no wind and the rut was close. So I left work early and headed into the woods. As I neared my stand, I was once again met by one of the two men I had met days earlier. I was more than annoyed, but apprehensive because he had spotted me coming down the trail,  and was walking right toward me. This time, he was carrying a rifle, not a shotgun, and I with only my bow. My second, Oh crap, moment. He wasn’t bird hunting either. He acted nervous and tried to make light talk and claimed he was hoping he’d see a coyote…okay. Once again, the situation came into my favor as I had basically caught this guy hunting out of season even thought I couldn’t prove it. This guy had basically been traipsing all over my area where I had planned to hunt. Second hunt ruined.

After this second round of uneasiness, I resolved to the fact that I needed to carry a handgun, if not as protection, then simply as a peace of mind. I learned long ago that one thing a woman should never be is the victim of opportunity. It’s better to feel safe than to be a victim, and if that means taking along a gun, then so be it. And besides, John and I  carry a gun while we’re bear baiting, camping, and trapping, so this would be no different, except John wouldn’t be with me.

img952009.jpgI’ve had training and I have a concealed carry permit so when I headed into the woods, I brought along my .44 Taurus for the remainder of the season. It’s like a cannon in my hand, but I can shoot it. I’ve since moved to a different handgun, a Taurus P38 ultralight that’s easier to shoot, and also lighter to carry.

It’s seems strange to say that carrying a gun made that much difference, but it did, for me. I particularly liked having it when I hunted expanded archery in the city. Hunting in unfamiliar areas took the edge off worrying about being bothered or confronted by a stranger. I could focus solely on my hunt.

When it came time to hunt again, instead of heading back to the same spot, I found a new one and set up a blind. I’m happy to say that I got my first bow deer and my royal crow quest was complete.

IMG_20161025_202959730Being a woman hunter in the Maine outdoors is one of the most enjoyable and empowering things I’ve done in my life, and if carrying a handgun while bow hunting is going to make me feel safer while I do the things I love, then I’ll continue to carry. I’ve even taken it along on my adventures with girlfriends, and it’s been well received. Whether I’m bird hunting, fly fishing or bow hunting, I plan to keep making memories and have my handgun with me.

If you’ve wanted to do things but the fear of doing something is because you feel vulnerable, then you might want to consider getting a handgun, training and certification to carry it (even though a concealed carry permit isn’t required…for now).

Happy hunting!

A Day With the Bear Crew

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My son Zack, holding a cub during his college days.

It wasn’t that long ago that my son got to go along with the Bear Crew into the den of a sow and her three cubs, and ever since then, I’ve wished I could get the chance to do it too.

So when out of the blue, my friend Erin sends me a text asking if I wanted to go with the Bear Crew in January, you can bet I didn’t hesitate one second to say, “YES!”

After promising that I wouldn’t geek out too badly, Erin set the date with the Crew. I put  vacation time on the work calendar, we made our gear list, and we were set to go. The forecast was a perfect sunny, warm day so that was an extra.

We arrived bright and early at the headquarters and got ourselves into our wool pants and boots. We met Randy Cross, head bear biologist for Maine, and our day was set in motion. We had dressed right…wool pants make us quiet…we were off to a great start! We didn’t leave immediately. Instead, we met the entire crew in between their preparations and discussions of the bear we were going to see. Our bear had yearlings as it’s too early for new cubs; they don’t arrive until March or April. The Crew knew her location, how much she had traveled in the last year, and approximately where she was located thanks to the GPS collar she’s wearing. They actually know this bear well. She’s a 16 year old bear that had four cubs last year and they’ve been visiting her den yearly.

The bear crew talked about how much drug to give the sow and cub, throwing numbers, equations, and ratios around like it was a math class. I was amazed at how well everyone works together in gathering everything they need. They apologized because it was only their first few days, and they claimed to not have their routine down…I can’t imagine them doing any better!

I watched a very cool bear video on what to expect. We talked about the Bear Whisperer show, and they asked questions about me…whether I hunt or trap bears. I think they were a happy to hear I’m an avid bear hunter and trapper, but they were welcoming well before they knew anything about me.

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Once we were on the road, we actually didn’t go that far to find a bear. I got to ride on a snowmobile that literally can go ANYWHERE it’s driven…I need one of these! We literally broke trail through woods I’d never consider going, while we squeezed between trees zig zagging until we stopped. Although it had warmed up, the snow was still really deep. Being prepared, we had brought along our snowshoes!

Once we were on the trail, two of the crew members, Roach and Jake went ahead and circled the area while Lisa manned the radio to locate the bear. We quietly followed, making sure not to talk so that the bears wouldn’t hear us approaching. They’re seldom bothered by vehicles, machines, etc., but voices can send a bear bolting from her den. Randy had hoped she’d be denned up as she was last year; she had taken up residence in an old beaver house! The surrounding forest didn’t leave him too optimistic, and a ground nested bear is much harder to sneak up on and dart. So we moved as quietly as we could. To our advantage, the warm weather left trees dropping snow and it made for good sound cover.

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Waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once the sow was drugged, the cub didn’t try to run and they were able to give it a shot. In a matter of a few minutes, both were ready to be evaluated.

We were told that if we hear a whistle then to stop moving. This would mean one of the two crew members had spotted the bear. We watched Lisa and Randy move in while we waited. Little did we know that the bear was right there! They had moved in on her and now they were just waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once we got the okay to move in, we got to see our bear! She was in a ground nest. She literally had scratched the trees to make a bed of bark and laid down with nothing over her!

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As soon as they got the go ahead, the team went into action working diligently and methodically. The bears were placed on a sleeping bag to keep them off the snow. Randy replaced the sow’s collar while Roach and Jake took measurements and weighed the cub. Then once Randy was done with the sow, she was moved onto the bag, and weighed and measured as well. Lisa took information as numbers were called out in between discussions of what they should name the cub. The cub got new ear tags that had most likely been bitten out by other cubs, a tattoo inside her mouth and a GPS collar. Only one cub remained with the sow out of four. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all died, but they may have. Apparently the two male cubs were very big, and the mother had traveled hundreds of miles. It may be possible the two male cubs went off on their own to den, and there is even a possibility that they may be denned nearby as that is also common.

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In just a few minutes, both sow and cub were finished and then we got to get some photos with the bear. It’s entirely a different feeling holding up the head of a living breathing bear. This bear’s head is huge. If I had only seen her, I would might think she was a he.

IMG_0255Before the bears were returned to their nest, Lisa gathered a few armloads of boughs and lined it nicely to keep the bears dry. Their fur is so thick and full and it repels water. I was told that when it rains, the bears will literally get up, shake off, and then lay back down. Once the bears were brushed off of all the falling snow, they were placed back into their nest. A reversal drug was administered to each bear, and we left as quietly and quickly as we arrived.

I am forever grateful for this opportunity to go along with the Bear Crew. To see the professionalism, camaraderie, and true care for the future of our Maine black bears is  something I’ll always remember. Thank you Erin. Thank you Maine Bear Crew!

I wonder if we can go on an adventure with the Maine Moose Crew???…

ohhhh Errrinnnn!! 😉

 

The Music of Finding Trumpets

One of the great things about living in Maine is that there is always something to do. Foraging for wild mushrooms has become the thing to do when fishing or hunting isn’t on the schedule. I love getting out into the woods and really seeing the woods from a different perspective. The woods in the spring look different from the summer and fall, and part of foraging is spent looking for deer and other critter sign as well as mushroom identification, which will help me determine where to hunt come deer season.

Normally we don’t forage where we hunt, i.e. at home. We’re usually up north fishing or bear hunting, and so we forage where we camp. A couple weekends ago, our plans changed. The weather wasn’t looking great and so we decided to stay home. On a whim, I wanted to take a walk and check for mushrooms in our neck of the woods.

Boy oh boy, we’ve been missing out! Last year we scored our first Chanterelles ever up north. We’ve made several trips to “our secret spot” to pick them this year, but the yield has been far less than last year. Little did we know that we had them in our woods! Not only did we pick Chanterelles, but we scored on the ever elusive, not-so-elusive-if-you-know-where-to-pick, Black Trumpets. In fact, we almost stepped on them! You need to look where you’re going when you hunt for Black Trumpets. Once we spotted them, they seemed to be everywhere! Every time my husband or I would find a bunch, we’d yell “Bingo!” with the sound of excitement, and it never got old hearing the music of finding Trumpets.

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Our first patch of Black Trumpets. Little did we know how many more were hanging out nearby!

Not only did we find Black Trumpets, we hit the mother load!  In just three short pickings, we harvested over 30 pounds of these delights. I read that these mushrooms sell for $35 to $40 per pound…but we’re keeping them. I’ve also shared with family and friends so they could try them, and I hope to still pick more before the season of Trumpets ends.19894982_10211005941158065_3142371527501338295_nIt turns out Trumpets grow in oaks, and that’s precisely what we have. Now don’t get excited…our oaks are off limits to foragers and hunters alike, but there are plenty of oaks and beeches in Maine, and I’ve seen many foragers scoring big this year. I guess all the rain we’ve been getting does have its benefits.

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Chanterelles to be sauteed and froze.

I dried them, I sauteed and froze them, and of course, we ate them. They are as good as the mushroom experts claim.

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Scrambled eggs with Black Trumpet mushrooms and Sharp White Cheddar Cheese. YUM!

I’m hoping I’ll be putting those mushrooms on burgers, in gravy with moose steak, and in soups and rabbit pot pies. I’ve never used dried mushrooms, so this is a new adventure for me.

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It’s not quite time to begin the bear season, so I’ll be fly fishing and foraging more. Stay tuned; I still haven’t found the elusive-to-me, Chicken of the Woods, Shaggy Mane or Hedgehog mushrooms. I hope the music doesn’t stop just yet…I sure do love those Trumpets!

For more information about edible mushrooms you can search for in Maine, I suggest getting a good guide and checking out this website. Remember to never eat a mushroom that you cannot identify.

Foraging for Mushrooms in the Maine Woods

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Fall oysters found in the fall while deer hunting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 4: My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure

Day 4: We finally hear a grunt!

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

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Where moose number 5 disappeared.

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

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Moose no. 5’s huge track

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: I get my moose!

 

 

 

My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure: The Pre-Hunt

moose-permitI was more than a bit shocked when I found out I was drawn for a 2016 moose permit. Even more shocking was that I was drawn for zone 5, one of the most successful moose zones, which also happened to be the same zone in which my son Zack shot his moose in 2012.

Let me be clear and honest. Moose hunting is not glamorous nor romantic. It’s hard work, especially when there’s only two of you. It’s physically and mentally draining. For a hunter and the sub-permittee to scout, hunt, harvest and transport their own moose, it’s work. This is my story about how we hunted. John and I didn’t hire a Maine Guide to do the work for us. Not that we have anything against hiring guides. In fact, we want to be Maine Guides, so we wanted the whole experience of doing it ourselves. If you don’t or can’t do all that I’m writing about, then by all means hire a Maine Guide.

Weeks before we left, we prepped for the hunt. Prepping for a hunt takes time and money. We didn’t want to forget anything, and with the idea that there would only be the two of us to get a moose out of the woods, we had to be able to do it smart. Winches, come-a-longs, pulleys, snatch blocks, tow straps and more ropes filled our truck. Then we had propane, gas, food, water, firewood and clothes.Physically, I was as prepared as I was going to be. Lugging bait and hiking in to our bear sites all season helped get me physically prepared for long walking on my bad knees.

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Six Mile Checkpoint. Photo courtesy of NMW website

We headed up to the North Maine Woods on late Friday afternoon. We went up early so we could scout a couple of days prior to the hunt. Given our bear season schedule, and that it’s a four-hour drive to zone 5, we didn’t get a chance to do any scouting before then.

We arrived at the Mile 6 Checkpoint outside of Ashland at 8:59 pm. We registered by phone and left a check for $204.00 for John and I to camp and hunt for 7 days. We drove down the Jack Mountain Road and found the first nice campsite. The gravel roads were still wet from the day’s rain, and pulling the camper across those roads covered the underside and front of the camper in a cement-like coating. We got set up, had a campfire under the most amazing star-filled skies and went to bed.

On Saturday, we scouted, trying to search out where Zack had shot his moose. I had forgotten the GPS in my car so we had to rely on our faded memories, the Gazetteer, and lots of searching. We finally found the area on day two of the trip. Late Sunday afternoon, we spotted where there had been a moose fight in the road only the night before. We pulled over. We found a brand new wallow that moose make to urinate in and then roll in. Yeah, it sounds gross and stinks worse. But when you’re moose hunting, it’s a find, and apparently it’s an irresistible calling card for a cow moose.

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The moose’s antlers looked like these. Photo from Pinterest

We made our way through the armpit-high raspberries and went into the woods about 50 yards. John gave a rake of the shoulder bone on the trees to simulate a moose scraping its antlers, and gave a moose grunt. No return grunt. Nothing. We waited a couple minutes. Then John tapped me on the shoulder and silently pointed. There in front of us about 50-60 yards away stood the biggest moose I’d ever seen! Well, actually all I could see were its three-foot high and foot-wide paddles of its antlers. Not even the points showed because of the foliage…but he was huge and after I put my eyes back in my head, we turned and scurried away so not to bump him out. I hardly slept Sunday night thinking about that moose. In my mind, we’d be on our way home by Monday afternoon. I’d have a moose, and I’d get a big refund from North Maine Woods. I think how boastful that sounded at the time, but in reality, I was just sure we’d get a moose, this moose, early Monday.

 

 

 

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.