Moose Shed Hunting – A Beginner’s Guide

John and I have watched countless seasons of people hunting for “moose sheds”, antlers that are dropped (shed) sometime in January. It’s big business for a lot of people and with the introduction of mountain snowmobiles, many shed hunters can get into moose territory easily, and pick up a shed as soon as they’re dropped. The hardest part about shed hunting is finding a spot that someone else hasn’t already found.

Some shed hunters train their dogs to find antlers. This saves on many hours of walking and possibly walking right by one.

In both cases, we neither have the snowmobile, nor the trained shed dog.

Last fall, we went into an area totally off a well traveled road. The old road we walked in on was heavily overgrown with alders, but the moose path was evident. Once we made it past the alders, the area opened to a giant chopping with a small bog created by a now absent beaver. And moose sign everywhere, including several raked trees that a bull destroyed during the rut. This is important since only bulls have antlers and we wasted a lot of time hunting an area that we decided was wintered by a cow and calf.IMG_20200531_142932638 (1)

We stood on the hill, wind not in our favor, and made a moose call. By the second call we heard a moose answer with his grunt. A bull with a nice set of antlers, grunting and ready for love, emerged from the bog. Had we been hunting, it would have been all over.

 

Since the river was at levels too high to safely fish, we decided to go where we had seen the moose last fall. As we drove toward our destination, we couldn’t help but notice all of the saplings and new maple growth that had been browsed on during the winter. The broken over branches were evident on nearly every tree. This was definitely a place to start. To our advantage, it’s not a path that a snowmobiler would go down unless they knew there were sheds there, so we were hoping this meant it was unexplored.IMG_20200517_160930405

Moose winter up in areas with food. Looking in forests of soft maple that are chewed on with abundant tip browsing is the key. Incredibly, there was moose sign, a.k.a. moose poop and bark gone from trees, everywhere we looked.

We followed a skid trail that fingers off from the main clear-cut. The area is very deceiving from the trail, since I initially stumbled my way over slash and acres of raspberry bushes. As soon as we got to the edge of the forest, we entered a maple stand. It was easily walkable and open, and there, we found maple trees literally stripped of their bark. If you find trees like this and they’re softwood, it’s been raked by a bull with its antlers, and is not food.

 

We decided to grid walk the area. It wasn’t long before John turned and yelled, “I found one!” And there it was, leaning up against a tree as if someone had laid it there! It seemed the further in we ventured, the more sign we found. We never found the match to this beauty.

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A few more paces and he found a matched pair from the previous year lying in a small opening. It had some small chews on it, but to us they were still magnificent. By the end of the day, we had found five huge antlers: two different new antlers, a matched pair and another single from the previous year. Actually, John spotted most of them since he is faster and more agile in the woods than me with my cranky knees.IMG_20200517_162151304_HDR

After walking for what seemed hours, we finally made it out to the skid trail. I plunked down and said, “Have at it, I’m done”. So there I sat using one of the antlers for a seat, while he explored. I got to see how big these antlers are; I could barely get my hand around it. Remarkably, we had proof that at least three different mature bulls wintered in this area. We’ll be back for sure!

 

We went back the following day and hunted another parcel in the same area. I hadn’t actually found one all on my own so I had high hope of spotting a big old antler after the success we had the day before.

We split up again. I headed to the left, John to the right. And then it happened. I finally found an antler. Had I not known for sure that he hadn’t, I would have questioned whether John had planted it right in the middle of the road. It wasn’t huge, but I officially found my first antler!

Toward the end of the day, we went back to look one more time where we had scored the five. Sure enough, John managed to find an almost identical antler to the one I had found earlier. Both antlers were from the same side, so we knew we had two different two year old bulls in the area.

So it doesn’t take anything special to find moose antlers. You just need to know where to start, and then use those clues to help you find them. Remember to bring extra drinking water, a snack, and a manual compass, (that you know how to use) before you begin. It’s easy to lose your way when you’re busy looking for antlers. Note: our Garmin BackTrack units did not work properly and were pointing in the complete opposite direction of where we parked the truck. Had we followed them, we might still be lost in the woods!

My 2019 Bear Season – I Get My Bear!

There aren’t any biologists that are going to come free that bear for you just because it’s not what you want.

Sorry to make you wait so long for this final chapter of  my story. Now you know how I felt when I was waiting for a bear to come to my trap. Trapping is much more time intensive than hunting over bait. You don’t need to check your bait every day unless you want to, but trapping mandates daily checks, and many times I know nothing has been there, thanks to my Spypoint cameras, but still have to go and freshen up the spots. We’d put a good squirt of bear scent out,  changing it up each time, and we’d hang some beaver castor jelly from a tree to help lure the bear and to cover our scent in hopes of luring in a passing bear.paw in the pipe

It seemed like an eternity after John got his bear. My bait was totally dead with nothing coming in except for two rabbits. Even the squirrels weren’t taking over the bait as in years past. There just was just way too much natural food with berries and beechnuts everywhere. The site where John got his bear was continued for my oldest son. Zack hadn’t had a chance to bear hunt so we offered up to keep the spot running if he got his trapping license. Once Zack got his license, we baited his trap and checked it daily. At first, we only had a single bear visit Zack’s site. I was more than frustrated that nothing was coming to mine.

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Big boar smelling my trap.

Then came a flurry of activity. A small cold spell came through, and the bears were back. Two bear visited on a regular basis to Zack’s site. One would stay and eat for an hour, making itself comfortable by plunking down in front of the barrel. It never even smelled the trap. We had a different bear chasing off a smaller one from the barrel. The big boar finally made his rounds to both sites, but much later following the younger bears’ visits. One bear that came to my site actually tripped the snare so that when the big boar came in, he got all the goodies and didn’t get caught. This happened several nights in a row and each afternoon, we’d put bait in the trap, reset the cable, and put that huge rock back on top of the opening. No matter how many bear came in, they never stayed for long, and that darned boar would just toss that rock like a pebble.

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The big boar that I tried repeatedly to trap.

Then it finally happened. We had checked our traps, reset the huge rocks that are required over the trap, and hadn’t been home for long before my phone started going off with notifications from my Spypoint camera. We had bear on camera. As I lay on my bed, I watched in almost real-time action. At first there was a single bear, good size, at my bait. I was so excited. I watched as it sat down next to the frosting barrel and began to eat. It wasn’t long before it was checking out my trap. I was so excited. I kept saying, “just reach in.” Then I saw something black on the left of my screen.

My bear turned out to be a sow with a cub. I couldn’t believe it; I hadn’t seen any sow with cubs all season. The cub was not a baby, but a yearling and was a good size. In fact, the cub was almost the same size as the sow. The cub had circled in and approached from the woods on the left. I was so bummed, and now I was worried. I watched the cub eat from the barrel, while the sow ate frosting out of the bucket near my trap. I was so upset. The last thing I wanted to do was catch a sow with a cub. Then the sow started acting weird. She tried to climb a tree. She ran around the tree…then I realized, that sow was caught. All the anticipation and excitement was quickly replaced by dread.

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Hugging the tree…I didn’t realize the bear was trying to use the tree as leverage to get out of the snare.

I was sick to my stomach. I didn’t want a sow with a cub. I’ve passed on trapping in the past because all I had were a sow and three cubs, or a sow and two cubs at my site. I knew that cub would be okay because it was old enough, but it’s not the way I wanted it to happen. I wanted that big boar that kept coming in late at night. I wanted a dry sow–anything but a sow with one or more cubs. In my mind, I was trying to figure out a way out of this situation. I even considered trying to free it ourselves. At the same time, we started getting ready to head back up to the mountain. There aren’t any biologists that are going to come free that bear for you just because it’s not what you want. You either remove the bear yourself or hope it gets out before you get there; otherwise, you have to take it.

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Bear was caught by its right front paw…it was trying to get out on the right while the cub ate at the barrel.

Then my phone went silent. The last picture was the bear at the top of the screen, and a cub eating out of the trap barrel. Then a couple minutes later, I had the biggest relief of my life. The rear-end of that sow leaving, and her cub hanging out for a bit more before catching up with her. The saving grace was not making that loop stop as small as I could have. I had made it a little bigger so I’d catch a bigger bear and let the smaller ones get free. We decided to take the trip up to the mountain just in case the sow wasn’t free or was out of sight.

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No more sow in the snare! Goodbye Cubby!

Insert happy dance. She had escaped. She left a nice calling card with her claw marks on a tree as she had struggled to get free.

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We reset the trap, hoping the big boar might still come in that night, but I think being there so late might have clued him in. He never came in that night or several nights thereafter.

We decided to change out the cable setup we had for John’s and modify my trap with the Aldrich snare set up on the barrel trap in hopes that it would be easier to catch the big boar.  John thought that the compression spring was too slow and the boar wouldn’t get caught quick enough. The boar came back and the sow hadn’t. After a few days of watching the boar just trip the snare before eating, we knew we had made a mistake. And as quick as it started, it ended. The flurry was over and all the bear were gone from both sites. Zack decided he didn’t want to trap if there weren’t any bear. We removed the snare from his site and toiled with whether I wanted to keep trying. 

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The bear that had been coming in consistently to Zack’s site after John caught his bear.

Just when I was ready to call it quits and pull my trap, that sow and cub came back. I feared I’d catch her again. Part of me was thinking, “So what if I catch her, she’ll get out” , and the other part was thinking “I might not be so lucky next time”. After all, they are putting on weight for winter and she just might be fatter. At the same time, a nice big bear was coming to Zack’s barrel. I decided to discontinue trapping at my site and let the sow and cub eat to their hearts content, and I’d try to get the bear coming into the other site. 

I gave myself one week. Either I’d get a bear, or I’d be done. I reset the cable snare and compression spring setup on John/Zack’s site. The bear never showed the first night, or the second night. I was thinking I had missed my chance. The days were getting shorter and it was a lot harder to get into the site during daylight and before the bear started moving. And of course the big black-faced boar came in at 6:15 pm and had a feast, and no trap was set at that site.

It had been long season, and we had just gotten home from checking the traps. I was in my pajamas and getting ready to climb in bed when my phone started going off with notifications from my Spypoint cellular game camera. At first I thought it was just the regular nightly pics of the bear eating at the barrel, which as cool as it is to see bear, it gets frustrating when its not even looking at your trap where you’ve put fresh delectable bait. As usual, I couldn’t not look, so I started watching as the notifications came pouring in. I couldn’t believe it.

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The bear coming into the site

I had finally trapped a bear by the front paw, and it was going to try to get away as long as it could. I was so excited, I started yelling to John, “I have a bear!” We were dressed and in our camo in about five minutes, were headed out the door. I sent quick texts to my sons to let them know. Zack had already come with us on one false catch, so we decided it would be just John and I this time. I was excited and nervous. I would have to shoot the bear in the dark using only a flashlight to see. Luckily I bought a really nice LED flashlight for deer season, so I was going to see how well it worked.

 

As we drove to the mountain, the cell coverage died as always. There’s virtually no cell reception from North Anson and farther, until we get to the top of the mountain. The instant notifications stopped before then, so I was convinced my bear had escaped. Once parked at the top of the mountain, I was expecting the ping notification. Nothing. I was getting discouraged before we even went to look.

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Caught and looking for us as we approached

We loaded up the four-wheeler and drove up the mountain and this time we drove closer so that I’d have less distance to walk. My knees were screaming so I appreciated the shorter walk. I had thrown my phone in my backpack for pics, but wasn’t really thinking I’d be taking any. We loaded our guns and started in by flashlight. We walked silently and deliberately so that we wouldn’t agitate the bear if it was still caught.

As we ascended the trail, my phone in my backpack started pinging, and pinging and pinging.  John tapped me on the shoulder, and with a big smile whispered, “You’ve got a bear.” I just smiled back in disbelief that it hadn’t escaped.

As we approached, I would do the same as John did for his bear, only he would also be there holding the flashlight. I climbed into the tower stand, took a seat and readied my gun. John held the flashlight on my target. The bear continued to move and pull on the cable. Finally when it looked like it had settled down, I took my shot. But just as I shot, it moved again making the bullet further back than it was intended. I quickly jacked out my shell and took another shot. I knew the second shot was lethal when it gave the death moan, a sign that the last of the air had left its lungs. I had my bear thanks to my perseverance, to my husband for supporting my decision to keep trying, to my Spypoint camera for not failing me, and for the bear that had alluded me for so long. I thank the bear for its life. I shot a mature, dry sow that weighed at least 200 pounds live weight.

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I wasn’t able to tag my bear until the following morning, since it was late and by the time we field dressed my bear, loaded it into the truck, and drove home, it was close to midnight. It was pretty cool to have the locals see my bear, and for me to share my story with them, something that normally doesn’t happen.

I will not be bear hunting or trapping this year unless I have a lot of help to get me there. I’ve decided to replace my two very arthritic knees, and I won’t be able to hike the mountain or climb the stand by myself. Trying to fit surgery in between work and life and fun isn’t always that easy, so it is what it is. In the end, I’ll be able to do the things I love to do, without pain, something I’m definitely looking forward to, and that will give me many more years of bear hunting.

Stay tuned. I’m ready to go fly fishing!

 

 

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 exited, 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.

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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.

 

My Bear Season 2019 – The Beginning

I climbed on and tried to start the machine. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing.

Remember way back when I said I was prepping for bear season. July 27th kicked off the baiting season. We baited our spots and waited. It was nearly three weeks before I had even one bear on the bait. It was a scrawny little bear seriously needing some weight gain, but he pretty much stopped, smelled and left.

This year turned out to be particularly difficult due to the abundance of food. We had a very wet and cold spring. Summer wasn’t much warmer, but this kind of weather is perfect for growing lots of vegetation, berries and tree fruit. So it goes, the beech trees were top heavy with nuts, and the vegetation and berries were abundant. There was so much natural food, bears were busy trying to eat what nature gave them, and they had no reason to go looking for my barrel of goodies. My Spypoint game cameras showed bear coming in and spending all of five minutes at the bait before leaving. I set up a Wildgame Innovations non-cell camera as a backup and at a different angle since we have a history of not getting photos when we want them. As the season progressed, more bear eventually found the bait, and I even had some day time bear.

The daytime bear was exciting because you hunt bear in the afternoons and sit until half hour after sunset, not in the middle of the night. A week before the season opened, the hounds came through my site. They stayed longer than any bear ever had, and from that day, all of my daytime bears stopped showing up for almost two weeks. When they finally resurfaced, they were nocturnal for most of the remaining season, only showing up a couple times, when I wasn’t sitting in my stand.

I planned the whole first week of bear hunting by taking half-day vacation days and hoping to see a bear. Just as last year, John went his way into his stand, and I went the other route so that I wouldn’t go past his stand. I parked at the bottom of the mountain, and hiked in. It was hot and by the time I got to the top of the mountain and into my tower stand, I was one sweaty mess. I started out in the t-shirt, then as night closed in and the temps dropped, I had to put on several layers to get warm, but still ended up shivering before dark. I hadn’t brought enough warm clothes and legal time couldn’t come soon enough. On the up side, there wasn’t a bug to bite me.

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August 28th: No bear showed so I made my way out of the stand, down the hill, around the corner and back to my four-wheeler. There I was greeted by what I initially thought was a brand new pile of bear scat, but later turned out to be moose droppings. I climbed on and tried to start the machine. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. The battery seemed dead, but I knew I hadn’t left the lights on. I tried not to panic. I absolutely hate being in the dark with bear lurking around. I took out my flashlight which is a super duper LED light. I, at least felt better. I’d see a bear before he killed me.  I texted John that my machine wouldn’t start, and to come get me. I headed back up the hill and by the time I got to the road that leads to John’s stand, I could hear him coming on his machine. We went back down the hill to look at the machine. It started with no problem. I was not amused.

August 29th: I sat again. Still no luck, but I was pretty proud that I wasn’t afraid to walk down the mountain this year. I mean, not even nervous. Well, let me step back…not as comfortable as I would be if John was there, but I felt like I was fine. I started the machine and headed out over the grown up alders trail that we have yet to clear. As I made my way back, there are two different spots where a culvert was put in years ago by loggers, but has washed out. I have more than once gotten stuck on that culvert if I don’t hit it at the right angle. John and I had filled the dip in the old wood, rocks and logs but sure enough. I hit that blankety-blank culvert, and there I sat. Then the machine stalled, and I couldn’t get it to start again.

Now I was not a happy girl. At least last time it wasn’t totally dark, but me and my cup of courage thinking kept me until the end of legal sitting time and now I was broke down in the dark. I prayed I could reach John on my cell phone. I sent him a text: “Stalled come get me! I’m  at the first culvert.” I tried to call him. No answer, so I left him a “very urgent” message filled with a few expletives and to come get me! Okay, I was on the verge of freaking out.

I took out my trusty flashlight, and I took the seat off to see if the choke had stuck, as it had days before. Since gas wasn’t pouring out if it, that was quickly ruled out. I tried to start it again. I gave John another text that I needed help. One more try…and Oh my gosh, it started. Second text: “I got it started. I’m going to try to go out if I can get off this culvert.”  After a couple tries, I got over the culvert. The relief was heard in my text:  “I’m on my way out!”

As I got to the end of the trail, I saw the lights from John’s truck as he approached. When I finally go to him, I was so relieved. As I began telling him my tale, it turned out he hadn’t seen any of my texts or heard my messages.  I was just relieved I wasn’t still sitting there waiting for my rescue. We now have protocol to check our phones as we leave to make sure we’re okay.

Next week: Phase Two

No Land to Hunt? Ask….or Find It.

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

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

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

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Town map…find your spot and then find the owner

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

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

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LaGrange to Medford Trail

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

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Bigelow Preserve

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

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

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

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My moose from zone 5 in North Maine Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Cup of Courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Countdown is On!

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

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

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

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

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

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Black muzzle bear

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

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

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

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

Wish me luck in making another memory!

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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.

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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 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

So You Got a Moose Permit!

This also appeared in the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s September newsletter.

Hooray! Many of you have waited a long time for what you may consider a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bag a Maine moose. Your options are simple. You either hire a Registered Maine Guide or you Do-It-Yourself hunt with family and friends. You need to ask yourself what kind of hunt do you want. That will help determine your decision as to whether or not you hire a Registered Maine Guide (RMG).

If you opt for a RMG, there’s a few things you should know when choosing which outfitter you’ll hunt with. I have always assumed that a guided hunt was a rigorous hunt where you schlepped yourself through woods to find the big boy, which isn’t always true. My cousin was a last minute replacement in the lottery. She paid big bucks for a guide so she could literally drive the roads looking for a moose because the guide couldn’t walk far. She was so disappointed and in the end, settled for the one and only moose she saw. Yes, she got a moose, but it wasn’t her dream moose. This kind of hunt works for those who can’t get out into the woods, but if you’re expecting a physical hunt, then not only should you be prepared, but your guide should also be able to meet your expectations. Hiring a guide removes all the “what to do when you get one” and “how to get it out of the woods” dilemma, since they take care of that. You also don’t need to scout, because they’ve done all that…hopefully. Make a list of questions to ask and expect to get the hunt you want.

We just returned from going on my fifth DIY moose hunt for my youngest son, Tyler, who scored a September bull in zone 5. I’ve been lucky enough to score two moose permits of my own, but my hunts were very different.

102_6128My first permit in 2011 happened to be in zone 23 that was a November hunt, and was anything but my desired zone. If you have one of these permits, be sure to get out early and scout, and get permission to hunt the land. I found that more land is posted in these zones, and people are far less willing to let a moose hunter onto their deer hunting areas during the deer season. We called the local state biologist and got information from him. We spoke to locals at the store for leads on where to hunt. It was a physically exhausting hunt with many miles on foot. My husband and I would hunt all day Saturday, and I could barely move on Sunday. We never brought enough water, over-dressed for the temps, but luckily never got lost. It would have been easy to give up, but I wasn’t about to do that. In the end, I shot a cow, but we had to pack it out of the woods about a mile. At the end of the season, my moose was one of only two moose shot in a 50 permit zone. Lesson learned: Never ever put down a zone you really don’t want to hunt, and be more prepared.

Zack Bull 2012In 2012, I joined my husband, John, and oldest son, Zack, on their first moose hunts. Zack scored the first September bull in zone 5, while John’s hunt was in our home zone 16 for the November hunt. Again, these were two very different hunts from my first.

For Zack’s hunt, it required a lot more preparation because we were headed into the North Maine Woods. We used our Maine Gazeteer to spot swampy areas, and make a plan. We planned our hunt around camping in the NMW, and driving and scouting early. In order to bring the camper and the trailer for our moose, we needed two vehicles. We arrived two days before Zack could join us. On the first day of the hunt, John tried calling in a moose. It didn’t answer. As we were about to leave, we spotted a bear bait site, and went to check it out. As I came out of the trail, I spotted a pair of antlers above the brush. A moose! I ran back and told the guys. As we stood on the edge of the woods, Zack shot it. It was over that quick. We had scored a rope winch from a friend which worked like a charm to get the moose out to the clearing. Getting it onto the trailer was much harder. We were back home the next day. Lesson learned: be patient. Not all moose will answer early in the season.

John Bull 2012.jpgJohn’s hunt was fairly easy for him since as a logger and a deer hunter, he knew right where to find moose in our zone. I was more than bummed that he shot his moose while I was at work since it was the first day I hadn’t gone with him. He even got to use his skidder to haul it out since he was working on an adjoining wood lot.

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My 2016 was the hardest hunt I’ve done for the very reason that it was all week and there were no rest days. I scored a September bull permit in zone 5. I was pumped. In my mind I was thinking this would be easy since we hunted Zack’s bull only 4 years earlier. I chose to bring my son’s 270 rifle since I decided my .260 was too small to really do the job. Well, a lot had changed in that time. We went more prepared, this time we brought more water, more snacks, and various types of hunting clothes to adapt to the weather. We really thought we had it covered, but halfway through the week, we had to do a grocery run. I expected to put in the miles, but 12 hours or more of hiking, calling and dealing with everything from other hunter interference to being shot near made the hunt grueling. We could have just drove the roads, but I wanted more than that, and there were enough hunters already driving the roads that I knew I wouldn’t see one by “just driving”.

The moose never started answering until Thursday. After seeing moose every day, usually before and after shooting hours, and losing two good chances to shoot one due to interference and the inability to convince my husband to stop the truck, I was ready to get it done. On day five, having cleared the air and getting refocused, we set out down a new road.

We heard a cow calling and a bull responding. We climbed a tall hill only to find the moose had taken off, but we did hear another bull calling. We got back in the truck and drove down a road parallel to the one we had been on. We parked out at the entrance and snuck in. We stepped off the side of the road and made one cow call. We had instant response. That bull was on a dead run out of the wood and was coming straight down the road grunting the entire way. With John on my left calling, we hid behind alders as the moose made his way towards us. He stopped and turned his head to the right looking for his fair maiden. I made the decision to shoot him in his left shoulder instead of his neck just because I wanted to make sure I hit him. One shot and he dropped there. Relief overcame me as I said, “I got him.” And then in a split second that moose jumped up and ran in the woods. I was sick thinking I might lose him, until we found him only about 50 yards in the woods. Our easy load became a four hour process to get him out of the woods and onto the trailer. Lesson learned: be ready to fire a second shot, and prepare to be there the entire week and bring enough food, water, fuel, etc. with you. It’s a long ways back to town and after a long day of hunting, all I wanted to do was sleep.

No matter which hunt you decide to do, be prepared. Be prepared to work for your moose, and know that when you pull the trigger, you’ve earned it. Be physically and mentally prepared to put in the time. Be smart, follow the laws and most importantly, take it all in and enjoy yourself. Preparation, Patience and perseverance are the key.

Happy Hunting!

Take A Slow Wild Ride

I know that sounds confusing, but let’s face it; we miss a whole lot of stuff driving too fast. I can’t tell you how many people drive right by or into wildlife because they’re so intent on getting where they’re going that they don’t take the time to slow down and really see what’s around them.

When my children were younger, many of our Friday or Saturday nights were spent cruising the back roads hoping to see some wildlife. “Moose rides” we called them, but we often saw way more than moose. To this day, my kids can recount a certain ride where they saw a bull moose fight, a baby bunny, or where we stopped and caught fish in our travels.

The secret to seeing wildlife is: Number one: knowing where to go. Number two: going at the right time of the year, and number three: going at the right time of day. But really if you want to see wildlife, just take a ride into rural Maine. A slow ride. Grab a friend, lover or family, and get your eyes off your phone and into the fields, the woods, and the roads. I’m not saying you have to go 30 miles per hour the whole time…but 60 won’t do you any good and you might even hit one of the animals you’re trying to spot…so slow down. Be aware of your surroundings, including cars behind you who aren’t out for a wild ride, and be ready to slow to a stop, take a picture, and share the experience and make memories.

In the beginning of the spring, April, we start our rides to go fishing. This time of year, we see a lot of yearling moose who have just been cast off from their mothers who are getting ready to calve. These moose are extremely scared, tend to stay in the road, run up the road, and may even come up to your vehicle as one did for us this spring. The moose always look pretty scraggly, but it’s just the shedding of their winter coats.

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We also see a lot of rabbits. One of the games we play with the kids is that everyone gets to guess how many moose and rabbits we’ll see. The winner only gets bragging rights, but it gets the kids involved with looking to spot animals. We’ve seen woodcock with chicks, fox with kits, grouse alone, and with chicks, deer with fawn, moose with calves, bucks, coyotes, snakes, bear, turtles, turkey, rabbits, and sometimes we even spot mushrooms..all from the seat of our truck.

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Where to go: For moose, we go north/northwest of Norridgewock…areas include Bingham, Athens, road to Greenville, Rangeley and US Route 16, Oquossoc, Kingfield, and north of Lexington on the Long Falls Dam Road. For deer, just take a drive. They’re literally everywhere from the interstate, to farm fields, to within the city limits. Some of the biggest deer in velvet that I’ve ever seen have been in Augusta.

When to go: early spring to see turkeys gobbling in farm fields, deer getting their first taste of grass, pregnant cow moose, yearling moose, laying turtles in the gravel roadside, and if you’re lucky enough, a bear with cubs. Mid-spring  delivers for moose with calves, moose and deer in general, rabbits with babies, grouse with chicks, birds of all sorts including hawks and owls and even sand hill cranes. Fall is great to see moose in the rut, and partridge to shoot in October. Most of the time when we hunt for partridge, we’re riding roads looking on berms to spot roosting birds…use this time to start early and get to know where you see them for the fall bird season.

We always plan our rides so that we arrive at our destination around dusk. You should plan to drive slower than normal and keep an eye out. This is the time many animals come out to eat, hunt, or travel. We bring a spotlight to help spot animals. We never have any kind of hunting equipment in the car either, because it would look bad to a game warden or police officer. You can use lights except from September 1 to December 15, when “it is unlawful to use artificial lights from 1/2 hour after sunset until 1/2 hour before sunrise to illuminate, jack, locate, attempt to locate or show up wild animals or wild birds except raccoons which may be hunted at night with electric flashlights during the open season (IFW).”

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So no matter when you head out, you’re apt to see something. Just slow down and watch the sides of the roads, the trees, the skies, and take it all in. There’s always something out there to enjoy, to share, and to learn about. You won’t forget it, and neither will the kids.

Happy Riding!

PS Don’t forget your camera. Many of these are taken with my phone camera so the resolution isn’t as good as it could be.

Prepping for Maine’s Bear Season

I wrote this article for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s July 2018 newsletter, but this version is a bit longer with more detail.

I love to hunt, and nothing gets me more excited than the anticipation of Maine’s bear hunting season. I’m not sure if it’s the amount of preparation it takes leading up to opening day, or if it’s the actual hunt, but bear hunting has gotten under my skin, and it’s a hunt I highly recommend, if you have never tried it. I was able to harvest my first black bear two years ago, and even though I didn’t get one last year, I still can’t wait to do it all over again this year.

Not everyone has the ability to bait, and even if they do, not everyone owns or has access to land where they can hunt bear. If you don’t have land to hunt bear, then consider hiring a Registered Maine Guide or teaming up with someone who does. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting ready for a bear hunt, and this may even make you opt to hire a Registered Maine Guide when you see how much time and money it requires. It’s work, but work that my husband, John and I love to do together. It’s the challenge of getting everything perfect that makes it so rewarding.

We are fortunate enough to have permission from a landowner to hunt bear on land about an hour and a half away. Thank you again Mr. S! Since neither the hubby nor I are Maine Guides (though it is our dream to become ones some day) our day jobs prevent us from baiting in the morning, which is considered the best time to bait. Over the past couple years, we’ve changed up our baiting patterns so that bear would have less bumping off the bait. We originally baited three times a week, after work. We had our best year ever when we switched to once-a-week baiting on early Sundays. This issue is always debated among hunters…I say just do what you can and what works best for you. I like the fact we can camp all weekend, check bait, and still have enough time to get in some fly fishing before heading home.

Preparation is the key to success in baiting your own bear site. Following is a summary of supplies and items we use to set our own bait sites. First of all, good bait is essential. This winter, we called and made arrangements with our bait guy for four barrels of bait. When we first started out, it was frustrating to try to buy dated sweets since everyone else was trying to do the same thing. We didn’t know where to buy bait. We’d watch for ads or search the internet for bait locally, and would usually find some to buy. I also stock up on flavored marshmallows, cherry gelatin, unsweetened cherry drink mix, and popcorn for my popcorn-wheel barrel. I also buy a jug of honey to use as a honey burn if we decide we need one. Our bait guy can also get us frosting, peanut butter, pie fillings, nougat, marshmallows, trail mix, granola…whatever we decide to use. We avoid chocolate chips since the big controversy over too much chocolate can kill a bear. I don’t think the use of chocolate chips is outlawed in Maine, but it is in New Hampshire.

 

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Bait barrels are a necessity and can be found at local retailers, online or sometimes at yard sales. We have blue plastic ones, but I’ve seen white ones and rust colored ones too, as well as steel barrels. We bought one for $35 from a store, and I know we paid too much. Make sure you have some heavy rope or cable to secure the barrel to the tree. Nothing is worse than finding your barrel missing when you go to check bait. We also use a lot of 4-5 gallon buckets to carry bait. I found square buckets at a local national retailer that used to let you have them for free, but now they charge, but it’s still less than buying new. All you have to do is ask. They also fit better in our four-wheeler basket. We also use 5-galloon buckets for grease and frosting, and these can also go missing if not properly secured to a tree.

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Bear scents are a must. I’ve bought locally, ordered online, and stock up when I see them in my travels. At $20 a bottle, it can get expensive. I have my favorites, but there are plenty to choose from, and over the years, we’ve tried them all. We’ve had our best luck with bacon, cherry, anise, blueberry, and caramel. Bear Jelly works great to spread on trees so that the scent last longer. We add our own beaver castor to the jelly for added scent.

Bear love grease. We get fryer grease from a local Chinese restaurant, but any fryer grease will do. You can also buy additives for the grease that creates a sensational teeth tingling sweet-smelling concoction that promises to bring the bear running. I even have a video on my Facebook page with a bear practically bathing in it. I stock up on those water sprayers kids use in the summer. They work great to spray the trees with grease so that the scent will travel.

It wouldn’t be bear hunting without anise oil. We buy a big jar of it and use a Tiki Torch wick to soak up the oil and then hang it from a string high in young sapling that we can bend down, and then release. We re-dip the wick each time we bait.

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Game cameras are a must. Whether it’s a photo or a video type is personal preference and like anything, cost can be a factor. It takes a lot more time to review videos, but videos show you behavior you might not otherwise catch in a photo. I recommend at least two on each bait since we’ve been known to blunder more than once and not set the camera correctly. This also eliminates any fighting over whose fault it is that the camera didn’t work. And, in order to see if it’s even worth sitting for hours on opening day, you need to know whether bear are hitting the bait, and if so, what kind. Last year, I was graced with a sow and two cubs, and the year before, a sow with three cubs. I also had boars of all ages coming to my bait. Last year, I heard bear coming into the bait on a dead run, which is unusual. I caught a glimpse of them through the trees as they circled and approached the bait from the far side. I was thinking it was the pair of young boars that had visited the night before. I decided to wait to see “both” bears before taking a shot. No such luck! A sow stepped out, followed by her two cubs. I’m glad I knew they were a possibility and waited to shoot.

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Game cameras also let you identify bear year after year. I don’t know if he died or just wasn’t hungry enough to venture my way, but the bear I named Scrapper never showed. He is old and has the scars to show he’s ornery, and he’d been at my bait for three years. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get to see him reappear. Remember to secure your game cameras too. More than once, bear have tried to chew, or pull our cameras off the trees. We use black out infrared cameras too, which has reduced their attempts to attack the camera. Don’t forget to bring extra memory cards (labeled) so you can swap them out quickly.

 

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I still haven’t gotten the nerve to sit in a ground blind. Since bear like to approach my  bait site from behind me, I opt for a tall ladder stand. This year, I’ve purchased each of us, a tripod ladder stand that we can position in the ideal spot without having to rely on a tree. I gave up the blind since it prevented me from getting a shot at a huge boar that was under my stand two years ago. I still dream about that night and “if I could do it all over again.” Do what makes you comfortable; being scared wouldn’t be fun.

Taurus_444_Raging_Bull_2-444069_01Another must is the handgun we bring; it’s a bear gun-a 44 magnum Taurus Raging Bull-a two-handed cannon so to speak. I’ve shot it, and it’s about all I can handle. A few years ago, we encountered a bear. After we had set the bait and were walking the area to see about moving one of the bait sites, we were unexpectedly charged by a bear. It growled and charged from the trees, which reminded me of a Jurassic Park episode, but it never showed itself. We ended up yelling and clapping and the bear moved on without incident. Perhaps it’s just for peace of mind, but nonetheless, it’s always with us when we bait.

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Lastly, we have two four-wheelers and a trailer. Baiting would be too much for this girl if we had to lug everything a quarter mile into the woods. We register them, load it up with all our supplies and head up the mountain. We’re usually in and out of our site within fifteen minutes. Don’t forget to bring gas…and the key.

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One more last thing…don’t forget your license—that’s a big game hunting license, a bear permit, and archery license if you’re using a bow, and trapping license if you opt in to the trapping season. Know the laws and abide by them.

 

John and I prep for the bear hunt together, but we hunt separately on our own baits. The only thing left is saving up my vacation time to hunt, and having the nerve to walk into my bait alone. I’m usually jumped by a partridge, frog or a snake the first couple times in, then it’s just a matter of taking my time so that I make no noise on my way in. It gets easier the more I do it, but since we’ve jumped bear at night, hubby likes to walk in and meet me. Guides will do the same if needed.

The best is yet to come…bear arriving on your site while you’re sitting in your stand. I can’t wait to hunt, and I hope you give it a try. It won’t be long, and bear hunting will be under your skin too.

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Old lady eyes and no mascara and lipstick…sorry

I’m hoping I’ll get to bring my friend, Erin along again this year, and maybe she’ll even get to see a bear. Crossing our fingers that this will not be another banner beechnut year!

Happy hunting!bear claw

 

 

 

 

P.S. Don’t forget to label your bait site. I make a laminated card and hang it high on the tree. And for the first time, a bear got to the tag this spring and chewed it up. I’ll be making some new ones and hanging them a little higher. IMG_20160806_121616700_TOP

 

 

Spring Pussy Willows

There’s always a sure way of knowing that spring is really coming, and that’s when I start spotting pussy willows as I drive to work. I often hear friends say they can never find any.

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In the city of Waterville, but Augusta has some good ones too.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you really can’t miss them once you know where to look. The hardest part about spotting pussy willows is not being able to pick them off someone’s lawn…nope can’t do that. Since I haven’t got up the courage to ask and know that I can find them elsewhere, I just respect their land and move on…but I still sigh every time I drive by!

I’ve spent a good amount of time looking and some of the best and biggest pussy willows I’ve ever found have been in the city. You read right…the city. The The key is to pick them before they turn green, and you want willow trees…not poplar tree blossoms which look somewhat like a pussy willow.

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Some really tall ones!

Every year, John and I pick an enormous bunch of them to keep in the house. One year, we found the mother load of gigantic pussy willows and picked a bunch. The following year, we went back only to find that the owner of the property had wiped it clean of the willow trees, and put up a big old warehouse. Knowing that there had to be more somewhere in the city, I went to work scanning the for-sale lots in my travels.

 

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Score! At an industrial park, where land is for sale, I managed to spot some pussy willows. They didn’t appear too big from the road, but once we were up close, they were huge! They literally looked like cat paws…or rabbit paws…just a really awesome find. It’s amazing how much land right next to the highway is accessible and I’ve seen several people picking pussy willows in the same spot each year. Just know that the bigger ones are where no one’s picked yet.

So with the cold that’s been sticking around, the pussy willows haven’t bloomed out as quick as I expected they would…but the season is coming to a close. In fact, since these rains, the willows are getting too far gone as the leaves are trying to come out.

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These green buds are much more easy to spot…take note for next year.  You’ll want to remember where you saw them come spring. Don’t forget to take the kids along for some outdoor time and a great time to learn about the woods.

Happy Spring! Now go fishing!

A Day With the Bear Crew

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My son Zack, holding a cub during his college days.

It wasn’t that long ago that my son got to go along with the Bear Crew into the den of a sow and her three cubs, and ever since then, I’ve wished I could get the chance to do it too.

So when out of the blue, my friend Erin sends me a text asking if I wanted to go with the Bear Crew in January, you can bet I didn’t hesitate one second to say, “YES!”

After promising that I wouldn’t geek out too badly, Erin set the date with the Crew. I put  vacation time on the work calendar, we made our gear list, and we were set to go. The forecast was a perfect sunny, warm day so that was an extra.

We arrived bright and early at the headquarters and got ourselves into our wool pants and boots. We met Randy Cross, head bear biologist for Maine, and our day was set in motion. We had dressed right…wool pants make us quiet…we were off to a great start! We didn’t leave immediately. Instead, we met the entire crew in between their preparations and discussions of the bear we were going to see. Our bear had yearlings as it’s too early for new cubs; they don’t arrive until March or April. The Crew knew her location, how much she had traveled in the last year, and approximately where she was located thanks to the GPS collar she’s wearing. They actually know this bear well. She’s a 16 year old bear that had four cubs last year and they’ve been visiting her den yearly.

The bear crew talked about how much drug to give the sow and cub, throwing numbers, equations, and ratios around like it was a math class. I was amazed at how well everyone works together in gathering everything they need. They apologized because it was only their first few days, and they claimed to not have their routine down…I can’t imagine them doing any better!

I watched a very cool bear video on what to expect. We talked about the Bear Whisperer show, and they asked questions about me…whether I hunt or trap bears. I think they were a happy to hear I’m an avid bear hunter and trapper, but they were welcoming well before they knew anything about me.

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Once we were on the road, we actually didn’t go that far to find a bear. I got to ride on a snowmobile that literally can go ANYWHERE it’s driven…I need one of these! We literally broke trail through woods I’d never consider going, while we squeezed between trees zig zagging until we stopped. Although it had warmed up, the snow was still really deep. Being prepared, we had brought along our snowshoes!

Once we were on the trail, two of the crew members, Roach and Jake went ahead and circled the area while Lisa manned the radio to locate the bear. We quietly followed, making sure not to talk so that the bears wouldn’t hear us approaching. They’re seldom bothered by vehicles, machines, etc., but voices can send a bear bolting from her den. Randy had hoped she’d be denned up as she was last year; she had taken up residence in an old beaver house! The surrounding forest didn’t leave him too optimistic, and a ground nested bear is much harder to sneak up on and dart. So we moved as quietly as we could. To our advantage, the warm weather left trees dropping snow and it made for good sound cover.

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Waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once the sow was drugged, the cub didn’t try to run and they were able to give it a shot. In a matter of a few minutes, both were ready to be evaluated.

We were told that if we hear a whistle then to stop moving. This would mean one of the two crew members had spotted the bear. We watched Lisa and Randy move in while we waited. Little did we know that the bear was right there! They had moved in on her and now they were just waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once we got the okay to move in, we got to see our bear! She was in a ground nest. She literally had scratched the trees to make a bed of bark and laid down with nothing over her!

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As soon as they got the go ahead, the team went into action working diligently and methodically. The bears were placed on a sleeping bag to keep them off the snow. Randy replaced the sow’s collar while Roach and Jake took measurements and weighed the cub. Then once Randy was done with the sow, she was moved onto the bag, and weighed and measured as well. Lisa took information as numbers were called out in between discussions of what they should name the cub. The cub got new ear tags that had most likely been bitten out by other cubs, a tattoo inside her mouth and a GPS collar. Only one cub remained with the sow out of four. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all died, but they may have. Apparently the two male cubs were very big, and the mother had traveled hundreds of miles. It may be possible the two male cubs went off on their own to den, and there is even a possibility that they may be denned nearby as that is also common.

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In just a few minutes, both sow and cub were finished and then we got to get some photos with the bear. It’s entirely a different feeling holding up the head of a living breathing bear. This bear’s head is huge. If I had only seen her, I would might think she was a he.

IMG_0255Before the bears were returned to their nest, Lisa gathered a few armloads of boughs and lined it nicely to keep the bears dry. Their fur is so thick and full and it repels water. I was told that when it rains, the bears will literally get up, shake off, and then lay back down. Once the bears were brushed off of all the falling snow, they were placed back into their nest. A reversal drug was administered to each bear, and we left as quietly and quickly as we arrived.

I am forever grateful for this opportunity to go along with the Bear Crew. To see the professionalism, camaraderie, and true care for the future of our Maine black bears is  something I’ll always remember. Thank you Erin. Thank you Maine Bear Crew!

I wonder if we can go on an adventure with the Maine Moose Crew???…

ohhhh Errrinnnn!! 😉

 

Bears…We Have Bears!

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

We Happened Upon a Chanterelle

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A bowl full of chanterelles

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

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

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

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

Chanterelles right in the full sun!

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

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I filled my fanny pack!

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

The size of the Chanterelles kept us yelling in excitement!

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

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

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