Mentoring Women Trappers Begins with Bear Trapping

I am new to trapping. I’ve only been trapping since the last bear referendum, and when I got my trapping license, it was solely for bear trapping. During the bear referendum is also when I met my friend, Erin.

What I didn’t realize was how challenging and exciting all trapping is, and bear trapping got me hooked. Every year, I learn a little more about where to trap, what types of lures to use, which different types of traps to use, how to trap in water v. land, etc. There are so many different aspects and challenges to trapping, that there’s really never a dull moment. 

My husband, John, and I run a little trapline behind our house. When I can, I invite my friend Erin along for the trapline check so that she can see what we do. As I’ve become better at trapping in general, so has my bear trapping. We’ve adapted our trapping as we’ve learned from our mistakes, and that goes for bear trapping too.

This year, Erin got a moose permit, and she expressed wanting to complete the grand slam. I completed the grand slam in 2016, so I know how hard it is to make it happen. To help her out, I offered to help her get a bear by trapping if she didn’t go on a guided dog hunt, which is how she usually gets her bear. Even though Erin has had a trapping license for a few years, she had never trapped a bear, and this year, she was all for trying and taking me up on the offer.

To get started, John and I lent Erin one of our pipe traps, and I helped her set it, set up a bait site and then bait the trap.  In addition to the trap, we set cellular cameras up to monitor not only the bait site, but also the trap specifically. Two cameras on every site has become our go to method just in case one dies when you need it the most. 

Sitting in the treetops. I put up a second hang on stand beside Erin’s tree stand. The winds had me holding on for dear life! The whole tree would sway in every direction.

Once bear were coming in, they were all pretty much nocturnal except for one. The first night the cable was set, a bear got caught, but as quick as it was caught, it literally stepped out of the loop. Turns out the compression spring needed to be tightened.  Since we have to check traps each day, we decided to sit over the bait just in case that same bear came in during daylight hours. We went in early and reset the trap and fixed the compression spring with a wire rope clamp. We sat until almost the end of legal shooting and decided nothing would come in because of the crazy winds. The wind was swirling so much, there was no hope of seeing anything.

We drove home not really thinking we’d be so lucky to have a bear that night. We were wrong. No sooner had we gotten home and settled in, my phone started sending “you’ve got bear” notifications. As I went to send a text to Erin, I got a text from her, “Is that a #$@! Bear?!” “Trapped?” “Yup!” I said, “and you need to meet us and we’ll help you get it.” 

The three of us loaded into the truck and drove to the site, discussing how the harvest would happen. Once we got to the bait site, Erin loaded her gun before we headed in. We walked in without a word. I went up the tree stand first and helped Erin get settled. We used our flashlights to spot the bear while John stayed on the ground. John ended up having to shine his flashlight too, since the foliage and shadows were blocking Erin from getting a good shot. As I held my flashlight and the branches out of the way,  I told her to shoot when she had a good shot. There’s no hurry. Take your time. Erin made a clean one-shot kill. She had her bear! Erin gave me a big hug and thanked me for helping her. It was rewarding to see her so excited and seeing her adrenaline kick in. 

We gave Erin the whole experience down to the field dressing, loading and transporting of her bear.

Next up, I plan to help her in setting the fisher exclusionary trap that I made for her last Christmas.

With the explosion of women hunters interested in bear trapping, there is a great opportunity to get more women into trapping in general. I hope that if you are a bear trapper, you’ll consider helping a fellow hunter trap a bear, and invite them along for a day on your trapline. The addiction is real and once they see the challenge, they too will be hooked.

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!

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!

Being the Image of a Woman Hunter

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

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My buck (c) S. Warren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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