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.

Seriously, Leave No Trace

I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.

That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.

When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.

Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.

We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”

The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.

How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.

People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.

Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.

When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.

Even nature knows how to leave no trace.

Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.

The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.

The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.

The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.

A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.

If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.

I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.

Happy Summer!

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!

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.

IMG_20181024_193356604
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.