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!

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.

 

 

More Bear!!!

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

I Can Hardly Sleep at Night!

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

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Mr. Lefty

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

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Too little…I’ll pass on this one.

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

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

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

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

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OMG…biggest bear ever!

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

We Have Bears!!!

Week One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The bear that ripped off the barrel.

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

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The bear that is left handed

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

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

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

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

 

 

Bear Baiting Season Begins!

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

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

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Last year’s bear site

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

 

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

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This year’s site all baited.

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

 

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My secret weapon for 2016

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

TBT-My First Moose Hunt – Final

I Get My Moose!

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

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

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

map

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish me luck in September!

TBT-My First Moose Hunt-Wk 2

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

We Climb Down a Mountain

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Beaver dam photo by SWLA.org

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

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

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

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Beaver dam photo by SWLAmaine.org

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

 

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Young moose photo by SWLAmaine.org

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

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

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Sheepscot River tasty water                           photo by SWLA.org

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

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

Next week: I Get My Moose!

 

 

TBT: My First Moose Hunt-Wk 1

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photo by canoemaine.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

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My 2011 Moose Permit. Note the date error!

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Week 2: We Climb Down a Mountain

 

 

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl- Part I

In case you don’t know me, I love to travel. I’m not well traveled, so even a trip that is routine for some is an adventure for me and my family. This year, we decided to go back to Florida for one more adventure. We were thinking this would be our last time there since we have a long bucket list. Our trips in the past have covered Disney, Universal Studios, and Sea World, but we had never been to Busch Gardens. So in the name of roller coasters, animals and white sandy beaches, Tampa it was.

However, this year, we wanted to expand our adventures to more than theme parks and water parks. I surprised John with a Florida hog hunt for his birthday. All the plans were made. I really wanted to go, but they charge a lot and even for a spectator, the price is almost the same. Then you have to add in butchering, taxidermy and shipping the meat home, it’s just not worth all that money…so Tyler and I planned an afternoon of our own adventure to keep busy while John hunted. We dropped John off in the middle of no where with his guide. We set our point on the GPS to find him later and then we headed to the Shell Factory in Fort Meyers. They had amazing display of taxidermy. If you’ve ever been to Cabela’s, then picture Cabela’s on steroids. Most were African animals but there were also some animals from North America. Many of the animals can no longer be hunted today.

The hunt gave John a chance to see what the Florida forests look like. We actually saw a place that wasn’t swamp but instead very sandy! The density of the forest is a lot like Maine only with different species of trees and plants. We saw lots of birds and Old Man’s Beard hanging from all the trees. I spotted a deer from the highway. No hogs. Yes, that’s a feeder and when it went off, John thought the hogs would come running. They didn’t. We did meet another woman hunter who, along with her husband, bagged an alligator that morning and was also sitting for a hog the same night as John. They didn’t get a hog either. Guess we’ll be going back to Florida, the company honored it’s pledge for a guaranteed hunt and gave John a certificate good for 5 years to try again.528_2

We took some time to talk with our guide and his helper. It’s pretty incredible to see them get all excited over what we hunt compared to what they hunt. We stood around sharing photos from our phone cameras of moose and deer hunts, turkey hunts, beaver trapping, and of course, fishing. Eventually the mosquitoes had the final say, and I retreated to the car. As we said our goodbyes, I spotted an armadillo running across the lawn. It was too dark to get a good photo. (Honestly, Tyler just an hour before, told me they carry Leprosy so I wasn’t about to go try to catch it.)

The following morning was our official last day of fun. As we left the hotel and headed to the car, we heard noises in the woods off to our right. I spied a cat spying something in the woods. Tyler spotted them first. I couldn’t believe it…there in the woods were about six baby hogs…I don’t know where Mom was, nor did I want to know! Pretty amazing no hogs showed up where they were supposed to be but then show up at our hotel! A little salt in the wound for John, but we had a good laugh afterward.

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Pigs in the underbrush…they’re there, but hard to see. (c) SWarren

Next week: Part II –  Air Boat Ride!

Preserving Maine Wilderness

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Just a small portion of the crappy road that we travel…just not at 60 mph. (c) S. Warren

It’s not often that I plan a gripe session in my blog, but this week I am compelled to gripe a little. We’ve been extremely fortunate to be given landowner permission to hunt on land an hour and a half from home. Getting there has always been half the adventure. A good portion of the road is crappy (I mean 25 mph and you’re still cringing crappy) and it needs to be repaired. We make bets on how many moose, rabbit, deer, and other wildlife we may see on our journey. The crappy road slows us down considerably to get there. But once there, it’s always been our “little piece of wilderness”. The joy of hunting remotely is the feeling that no one else is there–complete solitude. You can totally engage your thoughts in what you’re doing and unplug from the world. For me it’s a good time to cleanse the mind and enjoy the experience of being there without listening to cars, dogs, screaming kids, blaring music, or dump trucks to name a few.

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of vehicles traveling this route. They are adorned with kayaks, canoes and bicycles..in-state vehicles too, but mostly out-of-state cars, driving like freaking mad men and women to get to their pseudo-wild destination that an organization has advertised heavily in a Maine-focused magazine that’s marketed towards the not-so-average-Mainer, but more so for the upper middle class New England Urbanites that want to “unplug” for a weekend. I’ve seen them drive the crappy road as if it was a super highway; driving at high rates of speed, passing on corners, passing on hills, and tailgating just to get to “their” spot. A number of times, we’ve simply pulled over to let them by because they won’t pass but insist on tailgating.

We’ve seen a ten-fold increase in bicyclists, despite the fact that this road is narrow, has no breakdown lanes, no bike lanes, and has hill after hill, and has blind spots throughout scattered with washouts and broken pavement. I’ve even encountered “skiers” on rolling skies who think nothing of tucking down the middle of the road and won’t get over to let you by, or who stop right in the middle of the road to chat with fellow “skiers” without so much as an eye blink when you look at them in disbelief for their inconsideration.

I’ve also noticed that this is the first summer that we didn’t see the number of moose we’re accustomed to seeing in our commute. In fact, we barely saw any wildlife all summer. We saw one moose in May (pictured above), and didn’t see another one until the very last week of September. This is more than disturbing. And I don’t think it’s a tick problem because I’ve never seen a moose in that condition in this area.

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Mowed road…seriously?! (c) S. Warren

This influx of tourists….are putting a real damper on little my piece of wilderness experience! They trample paths made accessible by the organization who’s chopped, mowed, and excavated because the trail can’t be too hard for the tourists to hike…and then the organization creates a “world class” bike trail..a trail that potentially crosses through where game travels, across water flows, wet areas, and in order to do so hack a path through the woods..oh yeah, and they nail their signs all along the road onto living trees that they don’t own. The tourists also like to yell and hoot as they enjoy their bike ride, not caring if anyone else may be bothered by it–yet it interferes with my solitude. So much for “leave no trace”.

Only once have we encountered someone face to face since we make an effort to avoid them at all cost–and what did they do? They pitched a tent IN – THE- M I D D L E of the traveled road/trail where camping isn’t even supposed to happen, and they did it all without hesitation, but instead with a sense of pride and entitlement and they with only the best-of-the-best gear that money can buy as if that somehow makes them outdoorsmen/women.Their response when we told them they can’t tent just anywhere…”We’ve done this for twenty years.”…BULL CRAP! this trail hasn’t been here that long!  They acted as if we were the ones that were encroaching on their wilderness space. It may have had something to do with one of them hanging out naked by the tent, but I really don’t care. News flash back-to-nature dudes…just because you can hike on it, doesn’t mean you have the right to camp on it, cook on it, or poop on it! Is that so hard to understand? We have access to the same land, and under no circumstances would we feel as though we have a right to bring in our camper or tent and pitch it for the weekend. We have more respect for the landowner than to do that!! We have more respect for others that use this piece of land. No one even knows we’re there when we’re there, and when we leave, we leave no trace.

Don’t get me wrong. I cherish access. Access is critical to the enjoyment of Maine and what it has to offer, and we are extremely grateful for the access we’ve been given. What I do have a problem with is the commercialization of that cherished access that is threatening the Maine wilderness experience for a lot of us.

I can only wonder how many animals were missed seeing or barely avoided being hit because people were driving so fast. I can only wonder how much further north I’ll have to go in a few years to find my piece of wilderness if this continues. I can only wonder how wildlife is being affected by all this traffic and all these tourists. I can only wonder if this is a snapshot of what it would be like for the people of Mt. Katahdin area….their wilderness being sucked up, trampled on, and used without real appreciation by tourists…I can only wonder.

Maybe perhaps Acadia National Park, Baxter State Park and the Appalachian Trail provide enough commercialized abuse for Maine’s wilderness. Perhaps we don’t need to sell off our wilderness experience with yet another national park. I truly hope we don’t if this is a sign of what could or may be.

Final Week of Bear Hunting – Countdowns Are Hard!

Last Thursday….So the bears finally came back! I was pretty excited to see three different bears on my site. To our surprise, we had two different bears show up on John’s lower bait. One was a very small bear and another was one nice bear that showed up at 7:48 am…go figure…dang it!

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John’s 7:48 am bear

Friday-I had to work until after 5pm, so I couldn’t wait to hunt on Saturday.

Saturday, I got into my treestand earlier than usual. I had a honey burn going behind me. That’s a can of honey being cooked over a sterno fire to make a delicious aroma for bear. The place was full of scent and to make things more delicious, I brought and hung half of my frozen beaver carcass that John scored for me this past spring. The beaver was killed by a car at the end of the lake and was in the road. I spotted it on my way to taking my youngest to school so I called John and he recovered the beaver. I’ve waited all season to hang it as an added bonus since I’ve read that “beaver is bear cocaine”.

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My bait site this year…from my treestand. (c) S. Warren

The wind was swirling…like in every direction. It would swirl and whirl, and then be completely dead quite, then repeat itself. I kept myself entertained watching the several red squirrels and mice make their way to the bait for some eats, then they’d chase each other from one tree to another. I also heard lots of crashes and noises like never before. I thought I heard a “huff”–the sound a bear makes when he’s giving you a warning that he doesn’t like you being there…BUT since I’ve never actually experienced the whole experience of seeing and getting a bear, I second guessed myself, and thought I was just making it up in my head. After all, I am told you don’t hear bear, you see bear.

Eventually I had to surrender to legal shooting hours and leave the stand. I’ve been brave this year, making my way into my stand alone and walking out alone a couple of times. So once again I figured I’d walk out and meet John at the truck. Very quietly, I climb out of my stand, put my gun by the tree and put on my backpack. As I picked up my gun, I heard something take off about 20 yards from me. It ran a few steps, but then I didn’t hear it anymore. I thought maybe John was coming in to meet me, so I whistled…no whistle back…thinking perhaps I didn’t do it loud enough..I whistle again…still nothing.  I decide it’s really getting too dark so I set my gun down and take off my back pack to find my flashlight. I can feel it, but I can’t find the zipper to access it…dang…After three or four tries, I hear a noise in the woods, and so I watch over my shoulder. I finally retrieve my flashlight. As soon as I turn it on, I spot John’s light coming through the woods. As I meet him, he’s pretty pumped up…”I just ran into a bear!….Yes, I know…he was right here…he circled around me and was coming in towards the honey burn….and so off the bear ran.

Sunday – We pulled the bear bait from Athens. We never got even one bear on the bait the entire time we tried, so we went in and cleaned and removed all traces of our being there.

Monday afternoon, I sat. No bears at the bait but I still sat and hoped. John sat on the upper bait which is a switch. With no bear at the other bait sites, he’s been sitting in the truck or out scouting for edible Maine mushrooms, a new fascination of mine.

Tuesday afternoon, I sat. Still no bears on the bait. My beaver carcass is hanging right where I hung it Saturday untouched. I wasn’t feeling too hopeful, but no more than 5 minutes after sitting in my tree stand, I spot movement…hoping for a bear, I soon realize it’s a deer…a big deer…a beautiful fully symmetrical, still-in-velvet or very dark antlers…an 8 point buck! If it were deer season, I would have shot me a deer. I’m thinking, deer are not supposed to come while bear hunting…they’re supposed to come during deer season!!…perhaps this is a sign of my deer season to come.  Since I don’t have a doe tag, I’ll need to shoot a buck.

Toward the end of the night, I decided to try something new and I took out my predator call and started imitating a wounded rabbit…it’s supposed to call in bear…yeah right…it didn’t’ call in a bear, but as soon as I called, I began hearing a cow moose bellowing her mating call…over and over, louder and louder–about seven times in all. At first I thought it was John trying to call in a moose, because that’s what he does….so I call back thinking I’ll trick him…the next think I know I hear a bull moose making his grunt...it’s sort of like a glug…so cool! Okay, no John involved and there was a courting ritual taking place not too far from me. The cow and bull moose continued until I heard galloping down the road…what an exciting night! No bear, but all the wildlife encounters left me feeling satisfied.

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The upper bait…not much to look at…it’s grown in even more from this photo taken last year. (c) S. Warren

Wednesday afternoon I sat on the upper bait. For three straight nights, a smaller bear had been coming out during legal shooting hours, and we hadn’t even been checking the bait due to time constraints, and the fact that no bears had been to the bait since the first week of baiting season. John thought there was a bear there Tuesday, but it got too dark before it came out. The night felt exceptionally long. I think the woman forgot to put the turbo shot in my iced coffee. All I wanted to do was fall asleep…I hate it when that happens! The range of view is much smaller and inevitably there always seems to be noise behind me…and it drives me crazy. Finally it got dark so I could end my torture and get down… and again, no bear.

Thursday afternoon I can’t hunt. I have to work late at a formal function. There is nothing worse than not being able to hunt when the countdown is on.

Friday and Saturday are the last two days to hunt over bait. I’m putting all my eggs in one basket and spending my last two days doing everything possible to get a bear. I’m not too hopeful, and in fact I’m sort of resolved to the fact that chances are I won’t get a bear this year. Yes it bums me out, but I have to remember that each and every time I go, I am learning, and enjoying the outdoors and growing as a hunter, a woman and wife. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to spend this time with my hubby who basically has had even less chance of getting a bear this season than me, and I know that I’ll be back next year to try again. Cross your fingers for me!