Scouting for Grouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good dry spot is ideal for dusting grouse.

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

Seven grouse eggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Find Fiddleheads for Next Year’s Harvest

Now is the time to start searching!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Foraging!

How to Spot Signs of Spring Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Solo Turkey Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was ecstatic. I had my first solo bird.

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

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

All the Noise, Noise, Noise!

Anyone who hunts knows how much noise can make or break a hunt. When I first started hunting, it didn’t take long to figure out that noise could be my best friend or my worst enemy.

There’s noise in the world. You may not even realize just how much noise we are exposed to each day until you find yourself out in the woods at daybreak. The silence can feel as deafening as noisy traffic. To be able to hear every little noise, such as the snap of a twig or the grunt of a buck, creates a memorable moment that makes the whole effort of trying to be quiet that much more satisfying. Being quiet allows you to see a world you otherwise would not see.

I’ve always craved the perfect morning deer hunt scenario where the sky is star-filled, there’s barely a wind, and the temperature hovers at 30 or lower degrees. These types of mornings require every step in to my stand be slow, careful and deliberate so that I can get there undetected. A simple break of a twig can feel like the sound of a tree falling. I’ve been busted more than once because of noise. I like to hunt every day I can, but weather never fully cooperates so I’m left to contend with wind and rustling leaves, and a few squirrels and mice, turkeys, birds, and rain. My biggest irriation is noisy traffic, which if I let it, would ruin my hunt.

This year, I tried to two different techniques to embrace the noise. There is nothing worse than trying to get to a tree stand and having to deal with the sound of crunching leaves with every step shrilling through my brain. This year, we took a hack from another family member, and using our leaf blower, cleared a lovely leaf-free quiet path to the tree stand. Okay, so I didn’t embrace noise; I conquered it! It worked too! The warmer weather and rain kept my trail clear and quiet for most of the season–until it snowed. This method worked so well, I did it for three of my other stands that are notoriously filled with noisy leaves. By the time snow fell, the leaves had blown themselves back into my trail and I was getting hunting fatigue.

My second technique was to use noise to my advantage. I would drive to my spot and park, then I’d wait for a passing car to get close, then open the door to my car and get out. I would shut it using the sound of the passing car to muffle my noise. I’d sneak across the pavement and once on the trail to my stand, I’d use another passing car to my advantage and walk as quietly and quickly as I could. I would continue to use passing cars to make my way to my stand. Once at my stand, I sometimes had to wait to make my way up the ladder. I would start to climb, but then would have to wait for what seemed like forever because I knew that the fourth step up the ladder would creek making what felt like a gong and “I’m here!” warning. I needed the traffic to block that sound, or at least dampen it. Once I got above that step, I’d climb the ladder waiting for another car to pass until I could sit down. Once I started using the traffic noise to my advantage, I tended to get far less annoyed and Grinchy having to deal with to it. For now, I’ll embrace the noise as best I can, but when the wind blows and gusts, that old saying, “Hunt the wind.” will begin to creep into my brain.

So, these noise techniques didn’t guarantee me a deer this year, but it did allow me to experience hunts as I never had. I got to hear grunts from three different deer (I’d like to think bucks), and I literally walked up on a deer totally unprepared to take a shot, so it does work…Now if only I could think faster on my feet, or if my eyes could see what I hear, and if the wind would cooperate, I just may get a big buck some day. I will certainly have earned it by then!

My 2019 Bear Season – Part II

The 4-Wheeler Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spypoint
Tending the site

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

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

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

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

Next up: I get my bear.

The Elusive Buck: My 2019 Deer Season

As I sat there staring at the birds, I heard a rustle of grass….shoosh, shoosh, shoosh. I know that sound.

img_20191015_235710_01.jpgBear season seemed to go on forever, and just when I was ready to throw in the towel, the bear returned, and I trapped my first bear ever. By then, deer season was literally two weeks away, and I hadn’t so much as put out a game camera let alone scouted any place to decide where to hunt.

John and I did some quick scouting, and he and I put up a couple stands on the Saturday before opening day. November 2nd rolled around pretty quickly. I had all my gear freshly washed ad de-scented and hung outside. I have a menagerie of camo clothes: a little of everything from just about everyone for all types of weather. I scored some nice Sitka gear at Marden’s, a local discount store, this past summer so I would at least be warm. I stocked up on buck lure, hand warmers and lip balm. I charged my Ozonics battery and the Tink’s deer escent dispenser, which has become my favorite.  I was ready.escent

tripod standI decided to sit in my tower stand on the hill. I hadn’t even been there since last year. Last year was an awful deer season since there were no acorns, so the deer that normally hang out there, had to find food elsewhere. This year was looking much better, so John and I hacked down the chest deep weeds and made our way up the hill with the four-wheeler. Some quick scouting, and a nice rub line convinced me to sit in the tower stand. I wanted to move it, but forgot the keys to the cable lock, and there it stayed.

My first morning was mostly uneventful. I did get to see a bald eagle swoop down in front of me. It had spied something to catch, but I think it spotted me and changed its mind. I saw geese flying overhead, and I heard loons, mice, and chipmunks, but no deer. I sat a few more times in the morning and afternoons with no luck. I even moved and sat on the ground in chair where I thought I would have a better chance at seeing a deer. I finally put out a cell camera, a Spypoint Link, and found out the deer were coming through at midnight. I decided I was done sitting there.

John was also experiencing a lack of deer, so we headed over to “Bill’s” to scout out a spot. Not many, if any hunt Bill’s land so John was pretty psyched. We put up a stand in the exact same spot he shot one last year. The sign was good. The area had lots of scrapes, rubs and acorns…the perfect mix for a buck to show up. I even sat in the stand a couple times, but it felt dead. Not even a squirrel showed up, and with the road so close, it wasn’t an enjoyable sit for me, so back to the drawing board.

Not knowing exactly where I should sit, I decided to sit behind the house on the beaver bog (which no longer has beaver). John and I have had a stand there for years. It’s one of the only homemade ones left that’s still in a tree because it’s built strong and the branches help keep it secure. It requires climbing a ladder, then a couple screw-in steps, to climbing the tree branches and finally a shimmy onto the seat. When I was fat, I couldn’t climb it without going into a full sweat and asthma attack, which is why it ended up with a ladder on the bottom. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen does, as well as a bobcat, along the bog, so I thought that would be my best option.

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The only thing about sitting on the bog is that it’s a long walk in and the wind is never in my favor. It’s not somewhere I can sit in the morning since daylight comes barely before I have to leave for work. So the very first Saturday, I made my way in. It had rained so all of the oak leaves were wet and super quiet. I climbed into the stand. I had my gun on my back since there wasn’t a pull-up rope. When I got to the top, I found the pull-up rope had somehow ended up in the tree, so I untangled it and dropped it so that I could use it in the future. I was actually pleased to get into the tree without a lot of noise. After a while I did my buck grunts and then a doe bleat…then the wait began.

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My view 45 degrees to my right. Note where the barrel is for future reference.

As I sat there, I obsessed over how much the branches on trees out in front of me had grown, and how little I could see. I was quite annoyed and wondered if I’d even be able to shoot past the branches to hit a deer, should I be so lucky to see one. The animals around me were in full annoyance mode at daybreak. The mice, squirrels, and chipmunks were seeing who could yap the most, and the birds: blue jays, chickadees, finches, nuthatch, and even a partridge were all flitting and fluttering around me. It was hard to hear and to concentrate on listening for deer sounds.

Then a new sound. Annoyed, I looked to my right. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, off to my right, was a cardinal, flitting in the fir tree. I hadn’t seen a cardinal since last year, on the day I hung my deer in the tree. I got a bit emotional thinking about my mom, the hunter in my family, and wondered if she was giving me some clue. Then I watched it fly down to my left, slightly below me, before I lost sight of it in the brush.

As I sat there staring at the birds, I heard a rustle of grass….shoosh, shoosh, shoosh. I know that sound…a very distinct rustle that had me in panning the grass left and right trying to figure out where to hell that noise was…it was a deer. And then I spotted it…them…two deer on my left moving swiftly in unison. I think that cardinal was trying to tell me something. I saw the side and butt end of one deer as it followed another. I only saw its side for a second before it went behind a row of fir and spruce trees on the other side of the bog. I didn’t even have a chance to raise my gun. I kept thinking, “That has to be a buck“, but I didn’t see antlers. It shouldn’t have mattered since I had a doe tag, but geez, it would be nice to get one big buck in my lifetime. I hadn’t had a doe permit in so long, I was still in buck mode.Buck chasing doe

As I sat there, I couldn’t believe it. The deer finally emerged from behind the trees, and went up onto the hill on the other side about 150 yards away. It was a buck chasing a doe up and down the hill, in circles, chasing non-stop. This was so cool because it’s the first time I had ever seen it happen. I had only heard stories about it as told by John and my oldest son, Zack. It was also frustrating because I didn’t want to lose my chance to get a shot, but it was so far away and they weren’t standing still. The buck would chase, then stop and eat. The doe would run, stop and eat, then run again. At one point the doe did come down to the edge of the bog near the tall fir tree to the left of the X, closing the distance; however, the buck didn’t follow. When the doe bound back up the hill, he was right behind her. 

I sat there trying to decide if I should or could take a shot. I’ve never shot at a running deer, and I’ve never shot a deer more than 40 yards away…damn…what to do? So after what felt like forever, when I had enough watching them chase each other, I decided to take a shot. The buck was on the side hill standing broadside and eating acorns. There was a grove of young pine trees lining the lower, far side of the bog. They just tall enough so that they narrowly left an opening for me to have a shot at the deer just above the tops of the trees. I tried to increase my scope magnification from the normal 3 power up to 8, but then I couldn’t find the deer in my scope…gahh…they were running around again. Then the buck stopped. I dropped my power back, took aim and fired. I hoped I hit it, but I doubted it. I was silently cussing at all the branches in my way among other things. The deer had run off as if nothing happened. Now I’m thinking, that was a stupid move because I may have wounded it, or if not, then scared them off from coming back. I think I can say, this was my first, and hopefully last, case of buck fever. I sat until I couldn’t take the cold any more. I got down out of my stand and made my way across the bog to see if I was lucky enough to hit the deer. I certainly didn’t want to wound a deer and not go after it. After about 40 minutes of looking all over the hill, which didn’t seem nearly as big once I was there, I found no sign of blood or hair, but only some running deer tracks. So I headed home, mad at myself that I couldn’t make that shot and that I even tried.

I had several other chances to hunt in the morning. One morning, instead of heading to the bog, I went about half way, and sat on a rock just off the trail. I could see up the hill but not quite to the top of the trail, and I could see a nice area off to my right. I thought I heard what could be a deer, but never saw anything. As I left to get ready for work and headed up the hill, I was greeted at the top of the hill with fresh deer tracks of a buck chasing a doe. I couldn’t believe it.

img_20191112_080042485.jpgA morning later, work was called off due to the snow/ice storm. I got everyone else off to work and then I headed out. I figured I’d see if there were any sign of deer, and make my way to my stand in the bog. Just behind the house, I came upon fresh deer tracks. There was a very noticeable doe-in-heat pee and big buck tracks right along with it. Dang. I’ve never tracked a buck, so I wasn’t sure if I should plus I hadn’t prepared. I decided they were probably too far gone, so I kept to my plan and made my way toward my stand. Almost there, I came to the hemlock tree that had a scrape under it all season and where I caught a smaller buck on the camera. edited image of rabbit and partridgeAs I walked, I came across new rabbit and partridge tracks in the snow…literally walking together. This made me smile so I took a picture with my phone, which doesn’t do it justice. A few feet more, I came across the tracks of the same buck and doe. It was tempting, but I had to keep a clear head. They hadn’t traveled where I was headed, and I had already decided I wasn’t going to track them, so I continued to the stand.

Raincoat morning
Me in my raincoat under my blaze orange vest.

I stood at the opening by my tree stand and took a look out over the bog, remembering what I had seen days before. I had worn a raincoat, but my gloves were wet from the snow and rain so I decided I’d sit in my stand for a while, then head back home after a rest. I walked back to my stand and turned around to face the ladder. I took my rifle clip out of my gun and put it in my pocket. I secured my gun stock to the pull up rope so that the barrel wasn’t touching the ground, and then I started to climb the tree. I was bit nervous as I climbed. My hands were really feeling the cold now and the limbs were wet. I was literally shoulder height with the stand’s seat, when I heard something. I turned my head to watch a doe, followed by a chasing buck, which I made a point to look at his beautiful golden brown rack and then in desperation, whimpered no! no! no! as I clung to the branches in shock. Then for a kick in the teeth, the buck stopped perfectly broadside to take a look my way. A perfect shot and me climbing a stand with my gun on a rope at the bottom of the tree. I watched him trot off to catch up with his lady friend.

Deer laughing at me
Can you feel my pain?! Remake of me seeing the deer while I climbed the tree.

I climbed into the stand hoping they’d show up in reverse of what I saw on the first day. I pulled my gun up. I loaded it. I sat there in disbelief of what had just happened. I called John. At first I couldn’t reach him so I sent him a cursing text about what just happened. Then he called me back. I tried to tell him what happened with my angry voice, but instead I cried in frustration. I cried…I never cry, especially when it comes to deer hunting…then I was mad that I had climbed that tree stand. I walked home feeling quite defeated that not once, but twice this buck had eluded me.

That’s the second time I’ve seen a deer while climbing that %$#@*&^* tree stand, and right then and there, I vowed I wouldn’t be in it again. Next year, I’ll have a real tree stand that I can easily and quickly climb.

November 15th. I feared the rut was over, but it seemed like the perfect morning to hunt, and I had even considered calling in a vacation day. It was a nice crisp morning, so I decided I’d walk all the way into the bog, but instead of sitting in that tree stand, I’d plunk down where I could see and hear and possibly get a shot at a deer. The storm had left a hard crust, and walking in was never going to be quiet. So instead of trying to be quiet, I opted to walk like a deer. I’d take a few steps and stop, then take more…walking toe heel so I wouldn’t sound like a person. I took out my buck grunt and once in while I’d give a grunt. Every single step was a loud crunch. I made it right to the top of the hill where the buck and doe had crossed a few days before. The wind is NEVER in my favor here. It blows from right to left diagonally down the hill. As I made my way down the hill, I heard a loud crunch, crunch, crunch. It was, without a doubt, a deer breaking through the crust as it walked, and it was downwind of me. It seemed to be coming toward me so I got my gun up and tried to move closer to the opening to see if I could see the deer and possibly get ahead of the wind. As quick as it started, it ended. Where it went, I don’t know. I think it smelled me and made a quick exit. Even though I didn’t see it, I got excited again. It was the kind of excitement I get when I have these kinds of experiences.

DEER LICKING BRANCH ON BOG
A photo-shopped version of where my deer stood.

With a new perspective, I continued down to the bog. With my seat cushion in hand, I stepped up to the opening of the bog, just beyond my tree stand. As I stood there trying to decide where I should sit, I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye. There in front of me directly across from me on the other side of the bog stood a buck. He was licking branches on the same fir tree that the doe had stood under when she was being chased. I carefully dropped my seat pad, slowly took the gun off my back, and standing there, I took aim. I waited until he was broadside, and I shot. I knew I had hit him, he hunched and then just stood there. I shot again, and he went down. I had my deer.

IMG_20191115_183255_01I called John and told him I shot a buck. He came down and together we went to claim my bounty. I called my work and told them I’d be in late. I had just gotten my deer.

So that buck…that elusive buck showed up on my stand right behind the house, that I haven’t sat in for two years. He was chasing a doe. I’m pretty sure he was what I heard that morning. He’s still out there as is the other three bucks and lots and lots of does I had on camera. Next year can’t come soon enough, but as with every year, there are no guarantees that he’ll do a repeat of his territory next year.

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She was right there with him

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Same morning I shot my deer

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Not my buck but same genetics by the antlers and lack of brow tines

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One of three smaller bucks has uneven smaller brow tines.

 

 

 

Trapping Beaver With A Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

No Land to Hunt? Ask….or Find It.

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

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

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

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Town map…find your spot and then find the owner

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

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

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LaGrange to Medford Trail

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

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Bigelow Preserve

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

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

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

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My moose from zone 5 in North Maine Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Cup of Courage

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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Cellular Game Cameras – A New Way to Scout

LINK-WWith the start of bear baiting season, and only once-a-week visit to the site, I wanted to know if my bait was getting any action during the week. I discovered a new way to see my bear photos during the week, and there’s nothing more exciting than getting that notification on my phone sound that “you have pictures.”

I bought a Spypoint Link-W game camera on the recommendation of an acquaintance. “W” means Walmart which is where I bought it. While I’m still trying to understand all that it can do, and how to tweak it so that I get consistent photos, I can attest that the camera is very simplistic and easy to use. If you only have 100 photos a month, you can even do the “free plan”. I, on the other hand, am doing the unlimited photos for $15 a month. I found out early on, that a bunch of wind photos can eat up your allotment pretty darned quick, so be careful to put your camera on a sturdy mount or big tree trunk, and be sure to clear all the foliage that can trigger it to take wind photos. It comes ready to use and records pictures and videos as well as other features listed below.

Photo
Definition (MP) 10MP
Number of LEDs 42
Flash range < 80′ (24m)
Trigger speed 0.5 s
Screen None
Stamp on pictures Date, time, moon phase and temperature (°C/°F)
Multi-shot mode Up to 2 pictures per detection
Illumination technologie Infrared boost
Continuous mode Yes
Video
Video definition HD (720p)
Sound Recording No
Photo first Yes
Memory/Power
Memory card Requires an SD/SDHC card up to 32 GB (not included)
Others
Automatic infrared level adjustment Yes
Distance detection sensor Up to 70 ft (21m)
Motion Sensor 1 sensor covering 5 zones detection
Schedule setup 7 days
Mount Standard 1/4″-20 tripod
Dimensions 3.8″ W x 5.0″ H x 3.2″D (9,6 cm L x 12,7 cm H x 8,1 cm P)

I bought the Verizon model because of where I hunt, and after comparing maps on the Spypoint link website, I decided that Verizon has the best coverage. I am literally on a mountain where if I’m on the bottom of that mountain, I have no cell phone coverage, so the key to making this work for me was having a good signal. It worked so well, we bought a second one for John’s bait, but had to buy the long range antennae in order to get a signal.

The pictures are good, especially during the day. The night photos are good despite this only being a 10MP camera. Spypoint does have other more advanced cameras, but I didn’t want to sink a bunch of money into a camera that I may or may not like. The stamp information is easy to read where I’ve had problems with other cameras’ being too small for me to read even with glasses. My plan is to make sure there’s no bear on my site before I head in. This way I won’t jump them off the bait.

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So if you’re going to spend $200 on a camera, which many cost that and much more, I would recommend the Spypoint Link-W. Happy watching. I’m having so much fun seeing my photos during the week.

A Different Bear Season: 2019

To me, there is nothing more exciting than prepping for Maine’s bear season. Over the last seven years, I have learned a lot about bear, and about baiting and trapping bear.

IMG_20150808_131243375.jpgSaturday will be the first day of baiting season. For the first time ever, we put out game cameras ahead of the season, just to see who, if any, bear roam our woods.

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We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results. We’ve had at least three different bear on two different cameras, and I still haven’t spied the big sow that has been coming to my baits for four years…every other year with a litter of cubs in tow. We’ve also had a bunch of moose, including a cow and calf. Life on the mountain is full and abundant.

We discontinued a bait site last year, and another one is on the list this year, leaving only the two that we hunt on. Or at least, that’s the plan.

Last year, our third site was merely a feeding station for a sow and cub so they didn’t come to the active baits with boars. The only other  daytime shoot-worthy bear to come to that bait, was a nice boar.  And of course, I wasn’t sitting in that stand when it came through.

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This year’s bear season will be different in many ways, but mostly the same. I’ll have the same bait, scents, cameras, trails, four-wheelers, tree stand, and methods to bring the bear in.

Digital Camera
Digital Camera

However, I hope I get my bear early, not only because who doesn’t want to get their bear on the first day, but also so that I won’t be on the mountain in September. I don’t want to be reminded of that day when we got that awful call asking us to come quick because my father had collapsed. He died that night, and so now every time I go to the mountain, and start to think about roaming the woods where we were that night, there’s something different. In all the beauty and methodical planning around bear hunting, there’s still the heavy heart and sadness, that I have yet to shake off.

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2015 Sow and her 3 cubs. The bear population is booming!

So, for now, I’ll concentrate on everything I’ve learned to make my site the best smelling and appealing site that I can. I’ll concentrate on my scent cover knowing that bear have noses like no other animal. I’ll concentrate on preparing my body for the steep hike up the hill to my stand in hot weather and still remaining quiet and ready for a bear. I’ll concentrate on getting my stand just perfect so that I’m comfortable and motionless during the hunt. I’ll concentrate on getting my gun ready so that I’ll shoot straight and hit my target.  I’ll concentrate on facing my fears of walking back down the steep hill in the dark, because I’m no sissy.

image.jpgI’ll use this time to enjoy nature, but also to reflect on how lucky I am to have such a great place to hunt with my husband, John, and how much my father’s influences made me who I am today. I’ll try my damnedest to hold up my chin and be strong for my Dad. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

And if I’m lucky, I’ll get my bear. Wish me luck.

P.S. Thanks for continuing to read my posts. Writing is very healing, and it provides an outlet for my grief.

 

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My Dad ❤

 

We’ve Come A Long Way

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One of the first fishing trips John and I went on with his family. We caught a bunch of brook trout.

As I was talking with John the other day, it occurred to me that we’ve changed so much over the last thirty something years. We married in October of 1984, and through all these years, we’ve persevered and have become what some have referred us to as a “power couple.”
IMG_20160507_110851408I laugh when I hear this because it’s usually in the context of hunting and fishing and all the things we do together. It’s quite a compliment, but honestly, it’s just about being together and enjoying what we do. Our kids are grown and off doing their own things with friends and family, so we have more time together that we didn’t have when we were raising our three kids. Hopefully they’ll take some of the times we spent hunting, fishing and wildlife watching with them and pass it onto their families.

So how did we get here?

My dad was pretty strict, but I think it was his own fears that made these rules. I remember not being allowed to go into the woods. My father’s house was only on two acres, but apparently he felt that was more than enough for us to get into trouble, so we (the kids) weren’t allowed to “wander off” and had to stay in the backyard. As an adult, this had lasting effects as I was dreadfully afraid of the woods and what might be lurking in those woods. The first time John and I went for a walk, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a partridge took off. I was never aware of my surroundings and all I remember was that I didn’t enjoy mosquitoes, and I certainly didn’t go looking for wildlife. Even when my family spent time at the camp lot, a parcel of land that my parents bought in the mid 70’s, that had an old school bus on it that we turned into a camper, we were not allowed to explore beyond our boundaries. Now when I hear partridge drumming, it only makes me want to find it.

From the age of 4, my oldest son Zack would want to go “hunting” with his BB gun, so he and I would put on our orange and take walks in the trails behind our house. We never saw anything, but he got the chance to work on his stalking skills and just loved every minute we were out there. I, on the other hand, never went beyond the trails because that’s all I knew.

One of these times, we hadn’t gotten further than 30 yards off the edge of the field, when I spied legs walking down the right trail. In my mind, I thought this was one of John’s cousins who is tall and skinny and who also lived next door. While I was wondering what he was doing out back, I soon realized it was a rutting moose coming down the trail. His head was down and his antlers…huge antlers…were going side to side as if to challenge us. I grabbed Zack by the arm and made a run for it back toward the house. I wanted Zack to see it, but I didn’t want the moose to charge us. I went into a full asthma attack as we hid behind a tree. We never saw it up close because I was so concerned about getting away from the scary monster, and meanwhile the moose changed course and headed down a different trail.

Zack grew to love the outdoors so much that he’d wander off all day. I’d worry and every night, I’d have to yell, “Zack-Ah-reeeeee“, for him to come home. He certainly explored beyond my boundaries, but would come home with stories of his travels and of all the stuff he saw in the woods.

When my husband was a young boy, he would sit around and listen to the men tell hunting stories, but moose hunting wasn’t allowed then so there were only stories of beastly moose and how scary and unpredictable they are. As a youth hunter, he had an encounter with a rutting moose that charged him, which left a lasting impression. John was set up in front of an oak tree while hunting deer. A moose came in to the smell of his buck lure, and when the moose saw John, he charged. John ended up yelling and kicking leaves at the moose and eventually shot over its head to scare it off. He retold this story  as a teenager and said it was one of the scariest moments as a kid he could remember. Then while in college, John was working the wood yard when a young moose wandered into camp. John decided to challenge himself and he was pretty impressed that he was able to make calls to the moose and eventually scare it off. It was then that he realized moose weren’t all that scary.

Thirty plus years later, we’ve grown to understand moose, and fully appreciate their presence in the woods. We’ve successfully hunted, tracked, and called them in just for the sake of seeing if they’d respond. There are no longer fears associated with moose or any animal for that matter.  If anyone had told me ten years ago, that I’d be hunting bear, or that I’d get my grand slam, I would have laughed. I am no longer afraid of the outdoors, the dark, the water (somewhat),  or going beyond my boundaries and stepping out of my comfort zone. I am still challenged when I face new adventures and those old fears creep in; however, I know I have the skills to be competent in the outdoors, so I just push forward challenging myself at every chance I get.

We’ve come a long way from where we were thirty years ago. I hope that if you’re thinking of getting into hunting and fishing or even just nature, that you’ll not put it off for another day. Don’t expect it to be perfect when you do venture out. Just take each time as a new and learning experience. I’m so thankful for who we’ve become both as people and as a couple. I can’t imagine life any other way.

 

Summer, Where art thou?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tribute

As Mother’s Day and Father’s Day fast approaches, I am facing my firsts without my parents. Many of you know that I unexpectedly lost my mother last June, then my father passed suddenly and unexpectedly in September 2018. Life was feeling pretty grim, and then I was dealt a sucker punch to the gut when my older sister, Kathi, passed away unexpectedly in February 2019. It’s been rough, and it honestly still hurts, but I’ve had some time to think about each of them, and how much they contributed to my being who I am today. This is a tribute to them.

When you’re born, you get “your mother’s eyes, or your father’s nose” and temperament falls in there somewhere. Yes, biology has a lot to do with who we are as people, but what really makes me who I am, is all the stuff  Mom, Dad, and all of us went through together as I grew up.

IMG_20180912_070021976I didn’t come from a hunting family. My mother’s family hunted and fished, and my mother loved to fish from the time she was old enough to hold a pole. I remember my mother telling me how hungry she was as a child so I can only imagine how much a caught fish meant to a hungry belly. I don’t have many photos of my mother, only a few in her youth, but the ones I found show her holding a nice fish.

My father’s family was known to be outright poachers in order to feed themselves. In fact, the one time my grandfather bought a license, he was teased by the town clerk. As a teenager, I remember asking my father why we didn’t hunt. His response was that he hated mosquitoes. At first this seemed odd since mosquitoes are gone by November then he told me that my grandfather made him go hunt with him in the spring and summer, and as my father batted off mosquitoes, my grandfather kept scolding my father for moving. And my inheriting my father’s mosquito magnet traits explains why I hate them so much.

Later in life, my dad fished on Serpentine stream in his party boat, but he really didn’t care if he ever caught anything; he preferred playing cribbage with his in-laws.

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So how is it possible that I love hunting and fishing so much? Yes, I am very thankful to have such a loving and supportive husband who has been willing to show me and share with me his love of hunting and fishing. John took me out on my first turkey hunt, my first deer hunt, and we learned how to fly fish together, but while some say it’s only one person that they credit as making it all possible, I say, it really isn’t all him. Without the love and support from my family, I never would have had the qualities necessary to try this new way of life or the belief that I could do it.

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My mom ❤

You see, my mother was way ahead of her time. She fished when none of her friends fished; however, she wasn’t a mother who just stood by while the kids fished. She fished and fished well, usually out-fishing all of us.

She was a survivor, never having it easy, but she persevered. My mother never emphasized beauty over brains. I watched my mother go to work every day in the shoe shop. We didn’t have the luxury of having a stay-at-home mom, but working gave my mother confidence and independence, and eventually, she worked her way up to having a salaried job that was typically held by men. She was never afraid to try anything, and she even coached the only girls baseball team in the league when only boys played ball and society hadn’t figured out how to indoctrinate girls into softball. As a young girl, I preferred to hit the baseball over softball. I loved the “crack” of the bat and the speed of the ball, and the fact that I truly believed I was a better baseball player than a lot of the boys I played against.

I also remember my mother donning a big orange jacket, loading her gun and in her little go-go boots, head out for an afternoon of deer hunting. That was my mom. She wasn’t afraid to try anything even though she wasn’t particularly athletic. I never heard my mother say she couldn’t do anything because she was a girl…never, ever. And for that, I am truly thankful.

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My Dad in his Army National Guard uniform

My father worked every day, never missing work even when he didn’t feel good or got hurt on the job. I remember my father pushing through the pain of two broken heels after falling from a ladder and going to work on crutches. My father showed hard work paid off, and taking care of the family came first.

He also worked on his education as a non-traditional student and earned his electrician’s license while also being enlisted in the Army National Guard, and working all the time.

My father could fix anything, and my father was smart. I always thought I got my smarts from him, but I realize that my mother was smart too.

Dad showed me that if you wanted something bad enough you had to work for it. He taught me the ability to stick to something and never give up. While my father teased me for being “butch” and liking to do “boy” things, he never made me stop doing what I loved to do. He let me, be me, and didn’t try to make me be someone I wasn’t. And for that, I am truly thankful.

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My Dad and I at my college graduation. I too was a non-traditional student.

FB_IMG_1552430135599My sister Kathi was my role model growing up. I watched her overcome adversity as a teen mother, and finish her nursing education. I was always so proud of her accomplishments. She worked full-time and went on to earn her college degree while maintaining a family, a house and home. I got to see the stability and independence she gained by being able to have a professional job. She too learned from my parents that perseverance and hard work pays off, and despite obstacles we may have encountered, we could do anything.

 

Kathi even began hunting long before me. I was so impressed to hear her stories, and listen how both she and my younger sister went hunting. Kathi was always my biggest cheerleader no matter what I did in life, including when it came to my blog and the hunting stories I wrote. And for that, I am truly thankful.

Time will heal my broken heart, and my loved ones will continue to influence who I am. Although I may not be everything, or any one thing, that my three family members were, there are bits and pieces of their genes and characteristics coursing through my veins, and in my heart and mind, they have given me the strength to be persistent, to persevere, and to know that I can do anything I set my mind to doing, including being the best outdoors woman I can be. And for that, I am truly thankful.

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Me and John sharing a turkey hunt together. And for that, I am truly thankful.

Winter Critters on the Game Camera

Winter is always a tough time for me. Once trapping season ends leaving only beaver trapping, the only things I have to choose from is snowshoeing, shed hunting, rabbit hunting, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.

Okay, so there’s lots to do but I never seem to have the time to get out and do as much. So many of these are weather dependent and the amount of snow we have directly affects how much rabbit hunting we get to do. I get to snowshoe, but it’s a lot harder when you still sink a foot in the snow on snowshoes, and sheds end up buried so you can’t find them. I had plans for a girls’ day out to ice fish last week, but the rain storm put the kibosh to that, and we ended up snowshoeing.img_20190202_155944751

However, the one thing I’ve continued is keeping the game camera out on our deer carcasses in hopes I’ll get to hunt a coyote or bobcat before the season ends. Frozen and buried under snow, I am shocked at how many critters find the deer carcasses. From chickadees, squirrels and owls to coyotes and bobcat, I’ve been having more fun checking the game camera and planning my next hunt!

I plan to try to hunt those stinking coyote and bobcat one way or another, and if I can get our FoxPro predator caller to work for more than a few seconds at a time, that would help. I made the mistake of leaving batteries in it and they’ve corroded. I cleaned it, but it’s still not working right. I may be buying a new one, but we’ll keep that here info on the blog…no one else needs to know.

Sometimes I’m lucky to get early evening or early morning pictures….which gives me hope to get a chance to hunt these critters. They’re even more eerie seeing them in color! Despite their reputation, they are really quite beautiful to see. I bet their fur is soft!

A Maine Moose Hunt to Remember

The first thing Tyler said when he found out he had been drawn? “I can buy a new gun!”

This was originally published in Boot Life Magazine, November 2018 issue. Be sure to subscribe to get these stories sooner.

Getting drawn for the Maine Moose Hunt is considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This year marked the fifth do-it-yourself moose hunt that my family went on, and the first time our youngest son, Tyler, got a permit.

Unlike his father, mother and older brother, Tyler doesn’t eat, sleep and hunt the entire hunting season. Although Tyler loves guns and shooting them, he’s never been much about hunting if it requires sitting for long periods of time or really putting in a lot of time.  In fact, Tyler has much more interest in shooting than in hunting. He can tell you almost anything about any gun we own, and he has far more fun seeing how many rounds we can go through in a single afternoon than getting up each morning and sitting in a tree stand.

We have a running joke in the family and how Tyler is known for his one-day hunts. The rest of us will hunt day and night, every day, never missing a single chance to hunt and sometimes end up with nothing at the end of the season. Tyler will go out one time and shoot a deer. So when Tyler was drawn for the moose permit, we should have known that his hunt would be nothing like any moose hunt we had experienced.

The first thing Tyler said when he found out he had been drawn? “I can buy a new gun!” And he did just that. I had used Tyler’s .270 rifle for my moose hunt, but for him, it was a great reason to buy another gun. He went to a local firearms dealer and purchased what he described as the “ultimate moose gun”, a 45-70 rifle with open sites. He bought 300 grain bullets to “break it in”, and then some 400+ grain bullets for the hunt. This gun is known for its ability to shoot through brush when a 30.06 rifle’s bullet might ricochet. I was so impressed by it, I used it for my bear hunt, but that’s another story.

For months, we prepped to make sure we had everything we needed. Learning from previous hunts, I stocked the camper with more food and water than the three of us would ever eat in one week, but the last thing I wanted to do was run out of food.

We packed the truck with all the equipment we would need to get the moose out of the woods. We brought the 125 feet of rope, pulleys, block and tackle, a winch, a chainsaw, the big generator as well as the smaller one, and extra gasoline and propane. This may seem excessive, but after two other hunts in the same zone, we knew what we’d need if we were there the entire week.

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Mt. Katahdin

Tyler drove his SUV and hauled the trailer for the moose while we hauled our camper. Once packed, we headed out to Ashland, Maine for a zone 5 hunt in the North Maine Woods.

Our trip began on Saturday; the day was a bright, sunny, but was downright cold. The weather was perfect for a good glimpse of Mount Katahdin on our four-hour drive. We arrived at the North Maine Woods gate in good time so that we could find one of the campsites we had picked out on the map. Once settled into our campsite, we had supper then sat around a camp fire and stargazed into the North Maine Woods’ skies.

Sunday was our scouting day. We started out by checking a couple roads next to the campsite as we made our way to where we “knew” we could find moose. We spotted a spike moose hanging out in a stand of trees only two roads down from our campsite. As we would say, it that was a moose we’d shoot on the last day, not the first. However, Tyler’s saying is, “don’t pass up on the first day, what you’d shoot on the last.”

In 2012, our oldest son, Zack, harvested a moose in zone 5, and then in 2016, I got my moose in the same zone. We were thinking that we knew exactly where to look for moose. We had forgotten how much the forests and areas change from year to year, and moose don’t stay in the same places either.

We scouted all day, only taking time out to have breakfast on the trail, and for Tyler to shoot his gun to make sure it was still sighted in after the trip.

By the end of the day, we had drove for hours, and had seen only one moose…right next to camp. By then Tyler was irritable and sick of driving. “Why, he asked, are we driving all over when we know there are moose right next to where we are camping?” He was resolved that the moose we had seen was “good enough” and that was a little hard to swallow for Mom and Dad as we figured Tyler would want something more…not necessarily a trophy, but certainly more than a yearling. His reasoning was that if he got a huge moose, he’d have to pay to have it mounted, and he had nowhere to put it in the house…okay son.

This was that moment when we had to say, this is Tyler’s hunt, not ours and the last thing we wanted was for Tyler to go home with nothing, and be upset that we made him hold out for a trophy. We wanted this to be a hunt that he could look back on and smile and say he had a great time with Mom and Dad. It was a tough moment, but instead of arguing or trying to change his mind, we all piled back in the truck, and decided to scout the roads right near our campsite.

Back on the morning road, we were able to find the young bull that we had seen in the morning. It turned out he was much bigger than we had thought. He had bedded down right where we left him. He was a heavy bodied moose with a small rack, but certainly a shooter. I felt a little better that he wasn’t as small as I had initially thought. We watched him for a while. We drove down a couple more roads with no moose sign. On the way back to the camper, I spotted a huge cow moose just standing off the road. We watched this moose for a good twenty minutes. She kept looking back and made no attempts to run away. Further down the road, we made some moose calls, and spotted yet another cow moose. Again, this moose kept looking back. We decided there had to be a bull moose nearby.

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We returned to the camper for a late supper and opted to stay in and watch a Tyler-approved movie since it was so cold out. The furnace ran all night in the camper, but a good night’s rest after a good end to the day meant cool heads in the morning.

Morning greeted us with a heavy frost and Orion in the sky brought a smile to our faces. We had our coffee and checked the legal shooting hours one more time. Good thing…because Mom read October instead of September and we barely made it out of the camper in time.

We drove up the road maybe 100 yards and parked. We got out of the truck and began walking. The light breeze was freezing on my ears, but we couldn’t ask for a better morning. It was cold and clear. We hadn’t walked 50 yards when we spotted a small cow moose on our right in a poplar chopping. A good sign! We made our way down to where we had seen the large cow the previous afternoon.

IMG_20180924_063608268John made cow calls and raked the cedars with his moose shoulder bone. A few grunts…and I heard what I thought was a moose or deer on the opposite side of the road breaking twigs. It was definitely large in my mind. The guys dismissed what I heard as three partridge, which I couldn’t seem to see. I sprayed my cow urine into the wind, which blew back to where we spotted the young cow. We heard no responses, so we turned and walked quietly back toward the truck. I gave a couple more sprays into the air, and got the look of death from my son as he whispered, ”That’s noisy!” Okay then, I’ll just follow along, I thought, as I felt slightly annoyed.

John and Tyler took the lead. We didn’t walk 50 yards before we were back to where we had seen the cow. And there instead of the cow, stood a bull. A bull looking for love. A bigger bull than the one Tyler was set on settling for…just standing there! A quick look at Dad, and Tyler took aim. The bull began to leave, and Tyler gave a grunt. The bull stopped in its tracks. One shot, then an immediate follow up shot, and the bull laid in the twitch trail. He literally dropped in the trail about 30 yards from the road! In less than ten minutes, Tyler’s hunt was over. I made a point to look at Tyler and tell him it was my cow urine that brought him in. A smile and hug from my son and we were good.IMG_20180924_131144_01

Then the real work began. After field dressing and using a pulley and rope to pull him to the edge of the berm on the side of the road, the guys went back and got Tyler’s SUV with the trailer. We backed the trailer up and repositioned the rope and pulley. Using the pickup, we pulled the moose onto the trailer. It was the fastest hunt and moose load we’d ever done.

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The moose weighed in at 630 pounds dressed, which is a good size. We submitted the tooth so in a few months, we’ll get to find out the age of the moose. We’re guessing three years old.

And it got even better. We don’t send our game to the butcher. We usually process together, but Tyler processed the entire moose for the remainder of the week. Our freezers are full and we’re enjoying the rewards of a successful hunt. Tyler’s making a European mount so he’ll be able to hang it in his room.

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The best part was that we let Tyler have his hunt, his way, and it turned out okay. My one-hunt son got it done on the first day, and there was nothing more satisfying than seeing the smile on his face. It was once again, a learning moment for us. It may not have been the way we would have done it, but it wasn’t about us, and that’s something we need to remind ourselves more often.

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DeerCast App: worth the download

So one of the great things about having friends that hunt and fish is that you also get to hear about things they’re doing. My friend Erin, has started writing for the the Drury Outdoors…yes, THE Drury Outdoors…and they have a new DeerCast App that you can download for free to your phone. It’s really cool because it helps you see when it’s a great time to hunt as well as some great articles written by Erin. Read more about it.

Watch the video

I haven’t had a lot of time to hunt, so seeing the best times is helpful. Now if only the deer would cooperate!WGI_0030

I’m Not a Turkey Hog, Honest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The opening in the treeline directly behind me.