Distracted Driving of the Wildlife Kind

distracted drivingThere’s lots of talk these days about cell phone usage, texting while driving and distracted driving. Distracted driving does involve many scenarios, and I recently experienced a new sort of distracted driving even I had never considered. I’ve always prided myself in the fact that I never text and drive, only answer calls if I think I can, never make calls while driving, and never, ever, put on makeup while driving…well okay, I hardly wear makeup and I put it on at home.

My commute from home to work is roughly thirty minutes. Most of the time, I take the rural route, but with roads beginning to heave and buckle from frost and my fearing the car would be damaged, I opted for the smooth interstate route from Waterville.

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Turkey flying over the road Route 8 & 11, Belgrade. I pulled over to get this shot.

I have a tendency to speed on the interstate, so I set my cruise control and go into auto-pilot. Just like many people, I arrive at work not remembering the commute unless I see wildlife along the way. Traffic usually runs pretty good with little congestion, and I cruise my way to work. As many of you may know from my Wonderful Week of Wildlife Facebook posts, I see a lot of animals in my travels. I love spotting animals in my travels, especially ones just inside the treeline.

On the interstate, I have several spots that I look for wildlife. Once the snow starts to melt, the critters begin moving. I spend a considerable amount of time with my head turned sideways looking for them. I’ve seen more deer, groundhog, skunk, racoon, and turkeys from the road than from hunting, and this day was no different.

One particular morning, as I was cruising, a red fox ran across the road some 500 yards ahead of me. I didn’t get a good look because it was so far away. I was particularly excited since I rarely see fox, and had never seen one on the interstate before. Ahead of me, drove a black Toyota, but it was some 300 or so yards away. As I approached where the fox crossed, I cranked my head left to see if I could spot him. No luck.

I look back to driving. As I looked up I found myself almost on top of the black Toyota that had also decided to slow down for the fox. I slammed on my breaks and veered left, just missing the Toyota. I broke out in a sweat, totally embarrassed by the near miss. As I passed the Toyota, the driver never even looked, apparently completely unphased or unaware of what had just happened.

I learned my lesson, and I’m so thankful I didn’t crash. I’ve had to tame my urges to look for wildlife. If I see something, I no longer try to see it run off into the woods. I’ll still get plenty of opportunity to see wildlife…that’s why John drives when we go for rides. I get to do all the looking then!

In the meantime, my eyes are on the road. Make sure yours are too.

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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!

Bear Baiting Season Begins!

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

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

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Last year’s bear site

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

 

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

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This year’s site all baited.

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

 

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My secret weapon for 2016

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Being the Image of a Woman Hunter

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

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My buck (c) S. Warren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunting Timber Ghosts

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

 

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

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

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

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Fly working…trying to find the bunny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My first rabbit!

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

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John, Fly and rabbit

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

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

 

Being a Woman of the Maine Outdoors

I have always loved being active in the outdoors and consider myself a Woman of the Maine Outdoors. I’m even a board member for a non-profit Women of the Maine Outdoors; yet winter has always been my least favorite season, and my least active season. Two reasons: I have asthma, and I detest being cold.

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Our new fireplace

It’s easy to stay inside where it’s warm, where there’s a movie and warm fireplace, where I always have housework to be done, where there’s laundry to keep up, a wood stove to fill, and home projects to get done.  I avoid it all the rest of the year so I don’t know why I care now!

My usual outdoor cycle begins with fly fishing and camping activity in the spring even if there still are snowbanks to climb over. My knees get really sore from activities so I end up taking lots of ibuprofen and acetaminophen and do a lot of whining. Once bear season arrives in August, I hope I have enough wind to help haul buckets of bait. Bear season ends just in time for deer season when I hunt every single day I can because the knees don’t hurt as much, the asthma is under control, and I’ve built endurance to enjoy every minute. Then winter comes. I spend the majority of my time indoors.

In the last few years, I’ve been lucky to do a snowmobiling trip, maybe go snowshoeing once, get coerced into ice fishing once, and then I wait for spring. By spring, I’m completely out of shape and the mad cycle begins all over again. I’ve decided that if I’m to be someone who represents Woman of the Maine Outdoors, then I need to change!

In an effort to break the cycle, I’ve been getting outdoors this winter. Keeping my deer cameras out and allowing myself the time to get out into the woods has been the best thing I’ve done in years.

I go prepared with my new hunting fanny pack I got for Christmas. I bring along my inhaler, phone with camera, eye glasses and a compass just in case. I am finding new adventures and wildlife in the woods every time I go out! I’ve found more tracks of animals I never knew were there. I have fox, owls and deer on my game camera.

For now I haven’t had to put on my snowshoes because the amount of snow has been minimal but walking in the snow is still giving me a good workout. We are giving the snowshoes a new coat of marine varnish to make them like new again for when the snow does finally arrive. It’s almost time for our annual ice fishing trip to Moosehead, and I’ll be getting out my one trap and hoping to catch that monster togue or brookie.

Actually, let’s be honest. I’ll be happy to get a flag.

Maybe this weekend, I’ll get the chance to do some rabbit hunting or to try my luck at coyote hunting~I guess I better buy my licenses!

Whatever you do, take time for yourself with or without someone, and get out there~being a woman (or man) of the Maine outdoors begins with baby steps. If you don’t have private land, there are lots of trails for public use and you’ll be surprised what you can see…even in the city I’m told there’s some solitude in the woods. Hats off to my baby sister Wendi for “getting out there”.