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.

 

 

A Cup of Courage

This was recently published in Boot Life Magazine. Buy a subscription and get your stories sooner!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Countdown is On!

I love to hunt, but my most anticipated and thrilling hunt is bear hunting. As in years past , we have done all of the work ourselves. While others can’t because of lack of access, work obligations or ability, we manage our own bait sites, which requires a lot of time and energy.

Last year was an impressive year filled with huge bear; however this year is more average. We’ve only seen a couple bear that we deem “huge”, and they haven’t been consistent. And that’s okay. The average bear in Maine is around 200-300 pounds, which is still big in my book.

This year we put out all of our go-to bait and scents to attract the bear. Our season started off with a yearling cub being the first and consistent visitor. I felt bad because he looks so little, and he looks thin. I wonder what happened to the sow that reared him. Did she cast him off? Did she die? The sow that I’ve watched on my cameras with as many as three cubs hasn’t been seen this year. I wonder if this guy was hers. I’m cheering him on and I’ve decided no matter what, this fella gets a pass. The great thing about cameras is that you get to identify different characteristics about each bear. This guy has a brown nose and he’s little. I even identify bear by which hand they put in the barrel. Small bear

Bigger bear usually show up later, but hopefully during legal hunting hours. They’ve gotten big by being stealthy and waiting until dark. Also, the fact that their black fur makes them extremely hot, big bear then to go where it’s cooler and only come out at night. This guy is a nice bear to harvest. I recognize him by the patch on his hind end and his brown muzzle. And this guy is a lefty!

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Once in while I’m surprised by daytime bear that are what I’d consider a nice bear to harvest. This one has a more black muzzle, and is quite fat. We have been baiting in the morning so this one totally went against what bears “usually do” and if I was hunting, I would have not even seen this guy, since most bear hunters only sit in the afternoons.

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Black muzzle bear

This bear visited for about 10 minutes, then left. The food on the ground is from a bigger bear that came in at night and dug the food out of the barrel. Squirrels and raccoon will eat it up, and other bear will step in it. This will carry the scent back into the woods, and possibly bring in more bear, which is why we never have to clean it up. It’s eventually consumed by some animal.

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The big bear with possible white blaze on its chest…only been by once.

As natural food diminishes, my bait may become their only source of food until something natural becomes available. That’s good for me….Knowing that that beechnut crop looks abundant this year, I’ll have to hope the nuts don’t drop too soon. If so, I could end up with empty sites. Nothing is ever a given in bear hunting.

Monday, August 26th is the beginning of the bear hunt over bait in Maine. Now the only thing I’m not excited about is that big hike up that big hill to my stand. Here’s hoping for clear, cool weather, no mosquitoes and no wind. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll see a moose, coyote or raccoon that’s also found its way to my site.

Wish me luck in making another memory!

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Summer, Where art thou?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bears…We Have Bears!

Our first week of baiting season proved successful…or at least for John’s bait. He not only had hits from big bears, but he had early hits so his chances of seeing a bear before dark looked promising. My bait had no hits.

 

The second week of baiting, we both got  bears. I finally had a sow and cubs on my site and John continued to have big bears and more bears on his site…and no sow and cubs.

 

Week three was a bonanza for my site. I had several bears, a set of boars, a couple single boar sightings and one bear possibly a dry sow that I recognize from last year, and of course the sow and cubs. They sow and cubs were and still are the most frequent visitors.

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I want this guy to come back! Yeah, he’s MIA
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Nice big boar
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Possibly the sow that had triplets last year…”that nose”
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The pair of boars, now MIA

I’ve been hunting and next week, I’ll let you know what’s been happening…until then, I hope your baits are getting bears!

Prepping for Bear Season

Bear season officially began August 28th, with baiting allowed to start one month prior to the hunt. Before you can ever think about hunting, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into baiting even before the season begins. The main items needed for baiting are bait, scent, and grease…and then comes all the other stuff you need: a good blue or white barrel; an infrared camera that can take bear chewing on it; buckets–square ones are better; old clothes as nice ones don’t last long lugging bait; rope; bait tags; tree stand or blind; license to bear hunt and or trap, and maybe even a beaver carcass if you have one.

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Required by law, you need to have a bear site owner tag. This one is laminated.

In order to manage our bait sites, we have to buy bait, which can be a number of different foods. You want high calorie, high fat, no or low chocolate food that bears will seek during hyperphagia. When natural food is abundant, they don’t eat nearly as much. Last year there were no beechnuts nor acorns where we hunt. It was also a very dry year so berries weren’t nearly as abundant as they should have been. This year, we have a lot of beechnut and acorns, and berries, particularly blueberries, so we probably won’t use as much. Knowing this, we also know that it will be harder to bring them to the bait if they’re not hungry and the weather stays hot.

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ATV loaded with 2 five-gallon buckets of bait, half 5-gallon bucket of grease and bucket of frosting. Buckets get dirty from dragging them through the woods. Barrel of bait in background.

In years past, we tried to buy day-old goods and put them up in barrels ourselves, but that got to be seemingly impossible and downright unpredictable. Plenty of places have goods available, but they’ll save them for family members or sell them to pig farmers, so you never knew if you’d score or not. It also seemed to be about the time larger outfitters were buying extra from their sources and they began selling bait by the barrel. Buying bait takes the guess work and worry out of not having bait. We use about a barrel of bait for each site for the entire season. This year, we got two barrels of donuts and one barrel of honey oats granola. We also bought cherry pie filling, frosting, and peanut butter for bonus flavors. Just like people, bear may become bored with your offerings so you have to change it up to keep them coming.

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Grease bucket and bait barrel tied to the tree; otherwise, bear drag them away.

Baiting requires grease. https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FMymainelygirladventures%2Fvideos%2F795422197261805%2F&show_text=0&width=560“>Bear love grease because they need that fat for the winter. Grease smells good and it’s a good attractant. Add in a little cap of super concentrated Northwoods Bear Products’ Gold Rush scent and it REALLY smells good…teeth tingling butterscotch good. This year we tried a different brand with a cherry scent, but it wasn’t nearly as strong to our nose as the butterscotch. We’ve decided to stick with Gold Rush from here on out. We half fill a five-gallon pail that we’ve tied to a tree with the bottom cut out. You also can see how much the bear loves it on one of my videos on Facebook.

Scent is also the most important thing to lure bear to your bait. Your bait has to smell good…really good. Bears sense of smell is extraordinary, but the distance has been untested. Read more about bear behavior >>

The cost of scent is probably the largest expense besides bait. Depending on brand, many scents can be purchased locally, and some you have to buy online. I did both this year, and probably spent $140 just on scent. We had some bear jelly with beaver castor from last year’s supply so we smeared some of it on a tree. Beaver (yes the beaver that make dams and ruin trees) is a treat for bear.  Bears can smell it, and even though the jelly, which looks like Vaseline, is a year old, it had all kinds of scent. A must-have is anise oil. We hang it from a small tree out of reach of the bear. I found using a tiki torch wick works great. It soaks up a lot of oil and holds it so that I’m able to hang it and then it slowly drips over time. Nothing is worse than refreshing a bait site only to have a torrential downpour an hour or a day later. This anise wick lasts and lasts through the weather.

Once you have all the bait and scent, a good bait barrel and rope is crucial to that the bear won’t haul it off. I had to get a new barrel this year because the bear nearly ripped the old barrel from the rope and it couldn’t be repaired. My new barrel has a removable top which makes filling the barrel easier. Otherwise, we have to fill the barrel through the front hole which can be time consuming.

And lastly, I have a durable nighttime game camera with infrared flash. Since changing to a camera with infrared, I’ve noticed the bear are much more comfortable but some bears still know there’s a camera and try to chew it off…so durable is key. In the last three years, we’ve been videoing instead of just taking pictures. It’s truly amazing to see how bear behave versus just a still shot picture.

Now that I’m ready for bear baiting season, stay tuned to what shows up.

 

We Happened Upon a Chanterelle

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A bowl full of chanterelles

Last year we began foraging in earnest. We searched and picked and identified as many mushrooms as we could. We were able to identify three edibles: oysters, lobsters and chanterelles. Chanterelles are our favorites, and we managed to find a nice flush up north.

Looking around home yielded a few golden goodies, but nothing like last year’s bounty. We had pretty much resolved that we wouldn’t be so lucky as last year.

In preparation for bear season, we decided that John’s site needed to be moved to a more covered and discreet area that the bears would be comfortable visiting. We decided to go to the mountain and scout, and hopefully find time to look for some mushrooms.

On our way out of the campground, we realized we forgot our mushroom bags. As we turned around to go back, I spied that golden unforgettable, chanterelle color right by the road! Sure enough, we scored. We scored even more when we searched into the nearby woods.2017072295111640_2

Chanterelles right in the full sun!

After scoring so many mushrooms, our bags were full. We reorganized and emptied one bag, then headed into the woods on the mountain. After we decided where the new bear site would be, we decided to hike out the easy way instead of through all the mud we encountered earlier.

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I filled my fanny pack!

On our way, we happened upon some chanterelles, and then again, and again. Every time we found a bunch, we’d be so excited. Of course, we yelled, “Bingo” to keep our good fortune coming. We found them in many different places, but one consistency was finding them on the sides of roads where the soil is hard in mixed woods of fir and hardwood. We found them in shade, in sun, and under bushes…they just seemed to be everywhere!2548

The size of the Chanterelles kept us yelling in excitement!

This year’s haul was twice what we got last year. They’ve been sauteed in butter and frozen, and are now waiting for the right time to accompany our moose meat, venison, or bear dinner.IMG_20170723_074815810Over three gallons picked and trimmed.

Mushroom foraging has been a lot of fun. It’s given me exercise and we’ve created some great memories together. The season still holds many surprises, but for now, we’ll be focusing on the bear hunting season. Preparation is under way and the baits are out. Hopefully, I’ll have something to report on next week!

Until then, tight lines on those fish, keep your eyes down in the woods for fungi treasures, and keep practicing your shooting!