I Finally Get My Bear!

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My bear on camera

I sat all week in my stand. I had an exciting night after only the second night, and that’s always hard to follow. You wonder if you’ve scared everything out with all the commotion of jumping two bear in one night. The following night had nothing except a pine marten to watch, and of course the red squirrels. They were unfazed by the action and were already at the bait when I arrived.

Friday was going to be a late day. I had to be in Bangor most of the day and wouldn’t get home until at least 2-3pm. We dropped the four-wheeler the night before because we planned to bring the camper to the mountain for the three day weekend. As soon as we got home, we were rushing to get everything packed. I had no time to stop for food so we’d have to get it on our way up or come back to town on Saturday morning.

We dropped the camper and got changed into our hunting clothes. By the time I made it to my bait site, it was close to 5:15 pm. This is the latest I have ever hunted, and I wasn’t very hopeful. I even texted to John, “Looks pretty quiet here :-\”. The two hour sit passed pretty quickly. I saw the pine marten again, and the red squirrels. I watched a Barred Owl land right beside me on a branch; I was in my blind and he couldn’t see me. Before I could get my phone out of my pocket to take a picture, he flew down to catch a mouse–or maybe one of those red squirrels–wishful thinking. I couldn’t move much because I was holding my gun on my lap. Last year, I used Tyler’s .270 rifle, but this year I had opted to use my Remington .260 rifle since I’m more comfortable with it, not to mention it’s a shorter gun, and that made it easier for me to maneuver inside of my blind.

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Perfect shot is to left of white bucket.

The blind had sagged down in the front a bit, and I found myself scrunching my neck to see at a distance out of the opening, which in turn, made my neck stiff. As shooting hours were coming to a close, I bent my neck down to stretch it, and I was thinking I wasn’t going to see anything that night. As I looked up, there he was. In that short time, the bear was within a few feet left of my bait barrel, making his way, standing broadside..in the perfect spot.
I still had about 13 minutes of shooting time.
He looked like one of the big ones!
I wasted no time. I pulled up my gun, I took aim, and I fired.
I hit him in the lungs with my first shot. He bolted to my right and went into the thick underbrush. He wasn’t down yet. I could still hear him gasping,  gurgling and pacing. I was pretty sure I had mortally wounded him, but I worried it might take a bit before he expired.

John texted me, “Was that you?” I responded, “Yes.” He then called me and told me to stay put, and that he’d come in for me in about five minutes. He didn’t want me to try to get down with an injured bear nearby. I was okay with that, even though I wasn’t scared.

John headed in armed with his flashlight, his .44 magnum rifle as well as his bear cannon on his hip. As he rounded the bottom of the hill in the trail, he met a bear. The bear bolted and ran straight up the hill to my stand, then made a sharp left turn crashing out into the woods. I watched John’s light come up the trail. By then, it was dark.

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I wouldn’t want those claws swiping at me!

About a minute later, he got to my stand. He thought the bear he had jumped was the one I shot…“No”, I said, “he’s still over there,” as I pointed right into the woods. He quickly climbed into the stand with me and sat down at my feet. Bears can be mean, and neither he nor I wanted to be mauled by a wounded bear. Most importantly, I didn’t want the bear’s death to linger. I wanted him to die sooner than later. He gave me his .44 rifle while I somehow put my gun behind me.

We shined our flashlights and tried to spot the bear with no luck. Since we could only hear it,  and not see it, John yelled, “Hey Bear!”

That’s all it took. The bear charged toward our lights out of the brush. John put a final shot into it with the canon. Then came the death moan. We waited to make sure the bear had died, and only then were we finally able to get out of the stand. There was no cheering, high fives or screams of conquer. I went over to see my bear. I thanked him for providing food for my family. The first thing I did was look to see where I had hit him. I was glad to see my shot had been a good one. I shot him in the lungs. He would have died, but it would have been slow if John hadn’t taken another shot.

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We dragged the bear out of the woods and put him onto the four-wheeler. We then went to another part of the property of field dress him. He wasn’t as big as I thought, but still an adult male bear (boar). He was about 120-130 pounds, the average size of a Maine bear. I’m proud of my bear. No, he wasn’t one of the monsters coming in, but he’s a good healthy bear that’s going to feed my family well.

We took him home and put him on ice since none of the tagging stations were open that late. In the morning, I tagged my bear at the local store and then did some quick poses for the camera. John tackled the skinning, and I took care of the meat. The bear meat will be much enjoyed part of our winter meals.

I’m proud my grandchildren also got to see their Momi’s bear. Mr. B. told me, “Good Job Momi”, and he wants to go bear hunting with me. Ms. Nat liked his soft furry bears ears and kept wanting to pet him. We talked about having a meal of bear roast at Momi and Paw Paw’s. It was pretty special showing the kids where our food comes from.

My bear is off to the taxidermist to be made into a mount. He’s really special and I want to remember this hunt. He’s not what some would call a trophy, but I do.

As happy as I was that I finally got a bear after three years of hunting, I couldn’t understand why my bear hadn’t died instantly. I pride myself in the fact that all of my animals die with one shot, and they die quickly. John explained to me that bear have tough coats and a lot of fat for a bullet to pass through…and bear just die a lot harder. Even though my gun works well for deer, we’re thinking it wasn’t enough for the bear. We’ve decided I need to use a bigger caliber gun for my next hunt; a moose hunt three weeks from now, and I want that moose down when I shoot.

This whole process has been a great learning experience for me–from lugging bait, checking cameras to shooting the bear, and the emotions that follow–the amount of work has been thoroughly enjoying to me. I’ve been able to do the entire process as Maine Guide would with John, my very best friend, and that in turn will help me in the future when I decide to guide other women.

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Getting ready to go tag my bear, then get some “fancy” pics.

As for my quest for the Grand Slam, I’m half way there. I have my spring turkey and my bear. I still have to get a moose and a deer, and then I’ll be one of the few hunters who get to claim this accomplishment. There still will be no high fives or cheering, but just contentment that I’m representing all those women hunters by being a woman of the Maine outdoors, and knowing I can help provide great tasting game for my family to enjoy.

Wish me luck in September!

Did I Just See A Bear?!

At times, the silence is so profound, you wonder if you’re deaf…until you hear something.

Day one of bear season was uneventful. The winds were gusting, and even though the temps were cooler, no bear showed. I had set since about 2pm until 8 pm. My butt was sore, but I wasn’t discouraged.

redbottleDay two was also cool, but with little to no wind. Bears would be moving. Instead of going at 2pm, we were there at 4:30. “Still plenty of time to get in our stand before a bear shows.” John and I decided to “scent up” the bait sites since it was nice and quiet. I took my time walking into the site, not only to walk with the breeze, but also to not become a sweat-fest after all the time I took to de-scent myself. The wind was blowing up the hill so in my mind, when you hunt the wind, you cover your scent downwind. To help me come in undetected, I decided to squirt a little Big Bear Scents Ultra Red Smoky Bacon scent attractant on a tree or fern ever fifty feet or so. Good thing I love bacon!

As I made my way up the trail, I kept a mental note of where the stumps are located in the woods. These stumps are black for some unknown reason, and on more than one occasion they have tricked me into thinking I was seeing a bear. As I approached the top of the trail, I spotted a black spot. I stood there trying to figure out if it was the stump located just behind my bait. About the time I took my gun off my shoulder to get a better look, that stump took off like a bolt of lightening. That “stump” was a small bear!

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About the size of the bear I jumped.

Now, I have never seen a bear in the wild, let alone while bear hunting. To put it mildly, I was relieved I wasn’t all out terrified by seeing it. In fact, I was excited. “Perhaps it will come back. I really want to get a bear.” 

In an effort to not make any more noise and in case there was another bear nearby, I decide against spraying up the bait site and go directly to my blind. It’s more noisy than I like and I don’t have a lot of room. In an effort to keep quiet, I decide to put my jug of spray on the ground between the ladder and tree. “I’m only 40 feet at the most, from my bait, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. And then I won’t knock it out somehow and make noise.”

I text John to let him know I jumped a bear. He said it would be back. In my mind I was sitting pretty. I sat and watched out into the woods. I see what I think is a bear cub. Are you freaking kidding me?! The animal hops like a baby animal. It has a longer tail. Not a cub. Phew! Porcupine? No. Porcupines don’t act like that. Then out of the bushes comes a pine marten. In an instant the squirrels and chipmunks run for cover. He doesn’t stay long, and later I spot it again off in the distance. Thinking back, I’m still not convinced I didn’t see a cub.

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Pine Marten on small white bucket…note stump.

At times, the silence is so profound, you wonder if you’re deaf…until you hear something. Around 7:20 pm, the time when bear have been showing up on my site, I hear a noise behind me. Twigs, many twigs, breaking with every step. Very deliberate stepping, very steady. Very big footed and heavy sounding unlike a deer. Definitely a bear.

The bear walked right up behind my stand and stopped right at it. “I CAN HEAR HIM SNIFF MY FREAKING JUG OF SPRAY, BUT I DON’T DARE MOVE TO SEE HIM! I AM SUCH AN IDIOT.”  I don’t dare breathe. I don’t dare move, or even swallow or blink my eyes. As fast as he was there, he turned and walked back down the trail. He had smelled my bear spray that I had sprayed on my way in.

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Might have been this bear..he’s a big one.

I figure my night is over. I get out my phone and text John, “Be careful, bear in trail.” and put my phone away. John won’t let me walk out alone so I sit until he arrives with his hand cannon (aka bear handgun) and retrieves me. I’m pretty proud that I didn’t get scared, and about the time I’m sitting there all smug, when I hear the bear AGAIN. He was coming back, but making a circle. Damn it. It’s now 7:30. He’ll never get to the bait before shooting hours close.  I didn’t know if I’d have enough light to see him. I sit still. He came back quicker than I thought he would.  He walked to the right of my stand where I had put some cherry flavored unsweetened cool-aid mix on some leaves. “It was meant for the site, but I didn’t want to scare anything off.”  He really liked it. I could hear him, but STILL couldn’t see him! I wasn’t moving a muscle. In concentrating on him, I hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten. I figured I only had about five more minutes of shooting time, and then I wouldn’t be able to shoot him.

Then my eyes spotted him. There he was about 10 feet out in front my stand in the underbrush. A big – HUGE – black blob just standing there! I’m thinking, “it’s now or never.”  I pull my gun up.
He’s still standing there. There is nothing but silence.

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The opening in the under-forest where I spotted the bear.

I carefully stick my gun out the window of the blind. If only I didn’t have a this damn blind around me! I never thought I’d hear myself thinking that.

Before I even get the gun to my eye, he bolted. He was gone. I could hear him circling and  running around out in front of me in the woods. He was gone. I hope he’s not gone for good. I think he’s the bear that left a big pile of poop for me the night before. For now, he was gone.

Now tell me that baiting is easy…that bear hunting is easy. It’s not. I’m still hoping my “Plan B” will be able to happen. It won’t unless I can find a way to not involve a sow and cubs that managed to be the only thing to come to my bait that night. The weirdest thing is that I had nothing on my camera from the bear I jumped nor the one the bolted in the end, so I’m still unsure which bear I had seen.

I will never forget this night of hunting. It was exciting, thrilling, challenging and in the end, a bit regretful for this things I did, and didn’t do. I try not to stew on the shoulda- woulda-coulda things and just take it as a learning experience. After all, how many people can say they got to experience what I did?

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The bear I think I saw…dang.

I’ll be back out in the woods tonight, scenting up the site, and not my tree stand…and hoping Mr. Bear (any bear but a sow with cubs) returns.

Wish me luck! I’m obviously going to need some.

 

 

I’m in the Dog (uh Bear) House

Baiting for bear requires a lot of steps: filling the bait barrel, putting out caramel, re-dipping the anise oil wick, filling the grease and nougat buckets, scenting up the area with grease…and lastly, setting the camera.

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My bait site with my new popcorn barrel…holes stuffed with marshmallows

I always start with the camera first to remove the SD card and put a new one in; however I never start the camera until we are done all of our work.

 

At my site, the bait was all gone. It was filled the most bait we’ve ever put in a barrel. I also had a popcorn wheel that was added bonus, and that too was emptied. I changed out the batteries in my game camera as they only showed 13% life, and I want them to make it through the week. The bear were busy this past week, and I couldn’t wait to see my videos

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First Bear in since adding popcorn barrel-perfect shooting time

Off to John’s site. As we approached the site, we scanned for bear and saw the barrel was down. That means we had bear. The videos will tell us how many, how big and most importantly what time  the bear were there. As we go to get the SD card, we found the camera was open. At first, I was hoping the bear had been there, but the SD card was never pushed in, and the camera was never activated. With bear season beginning Monday, August 29th, this week was the most important in collecting information for the hunt.

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To put it mildly, John was…well you know…PO’d. To make an argument short, he’s now in charge of his own camera.

We didn’t speak to each other until we got back to the truck. We loaded our gear and headed out to find mushrooms. We found an off-road and stopped in the shade to view the one card with videos.

As we moved through the videos, I had at least three different bear on my site. One video showed a shootable bear being chased off the bait by another bear. (See Facebook to see it.)  I think I actually heard the bear in the background on the previous video, but he didn’t actually show until dark.

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That was only until Tuesday. My camera batteries gave out on Tuesday and there were no more videos to watch. No videos of my popcorn wheel being emptied, no videos of whoever else came in and most importantly when. I do have a bear coming in right at dusk so my hopes are someone will be back on Monday. The sow and cubs hadn’t returned, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t come in later. Guess Monday will be a surprise for all of us. Stay tuned.

We ended our day with some fly fishing therapy on the Dead River. John broke the no-fish-caught streak all the campers were having when he hauled in a nice 15 inch landlocked salmon. What a beauty…Tomorrow nights supper.

PS…My blind is still up and no bear tried to eat a camera this week.

 

 

New Faces at My Bait Site

The sow didn’t like my camera any more than the big boar.

Week Three Woes

Week three is always the week that gets me either excited or worried for bear season. In years past, the bait site didn’t usually get hit until this week, or a big bruin who appeared once before showed up again. I thought this was going to be my year, but this week was a let down despite seeing three different bear on my bait.

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Nice bear that only comes in at night.

This year, many different bears have been visiting my site and I had been lucky enough to say that no sow with cubs have been hitting my bait…until this week. Not only did the giant bear show up, but so did a sow with two cubs.

She’s not the same sow that has been there for the last two years and showed up with three cubs last year.  The sow didn’t like my camera any more than the big boar. Thank goodness Moultrie makes their cameras bear proof since she tried to chew it off the tree. Honestly, one small scratch. Given she chewed and clawed on the camera for a half hour, I’m shocked it still works. I have since moved the camera to a less conspicuous spot.You can see the video on my Facebook page.

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My plan has been that if only bears come in at night, then I would begin trapping for a big one. I completed my trapper course in April, bought my approved Aldrich snare and am preparing to buy my trapping license. IMG_20160820_205259884(1)However, I cannot trap for a bear if there is a potential chance that I will trap this sow. The last thing I want to trap is a sow with cubs nearby. I’d have to release her, and that was not included in my training! Thank goodness for cameras and multiple shots. When she first came to the bait, her cubs did not appear until about 15 minutes later.

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Besides new bear, we also had red squirrels, gray squirrel and this vulture make a showing. Luckily no raccoons have shown. They can devour my bucket of bait much quicker than a bear.

This Saturday will be the tell tale of what immediate chances I’ll have at getting a bear this year. Fingers crossed they’re still actively eating, hanging out and leaving more piles of scat behind. Week three brought three new piles of bear scat filled with blackberry seeds. I guess we do have some berries, but not many, and let’s hope it stays that way! Monday the 29th is opening day!

PS: My blind is still up! The new poles worked beautifully!

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Bear Scat right next to my camera pole. When bears feel comfortable they do this sort of thing. Sometimes they don’t go far from the bait site as to guard it from other bears.

 

 

More Bear!!!

I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!

I Can Hardly Sleep at Night!

John and I decided to change things up this year. The plan was to bait only once a week. I had been dreaming of bear hunting all week, and I can hardly sleep at night! With hunting scenarios running through my head, I imagined what it would be like to finally have a bear…Saturday has been too long coming!

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Mr. Lefty

Well, plans change occasionally, and this week, I couldn’t bait on Saturday because I was attending the all-women guide school course in Augusta that Women of the Maine Outdoors organized. As I sat there all day, I wondered if John had seen any bear on our baits. Were they still hitting? How many? Any big ones? Any sows with cubs? So many thoughts filled my mind about the fact that I wasn’t there helping and that I was also missing out on the adventure with him. To my delighted surprise, John decided to wait for me and we went up to the mountain on Sunday. Even with the threats of thunderstorms and rain, I was excited…giddy in fact.

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Too little…I’ll pass on this one.

Prepping to get there takes a considerable amount of time. I brought an extra change of clothes, new batteries for the game cameras, new SD cards to switch out, and a jug of ice water to keep us hydrated. I helped load the  bait, caramel, nougat, scents, and grease. In no time, we were on the road; after a quick fuel stop and breakfast to fuel our bodies, we headed to the mountain. We had only one quick rain shower on our way so the woods weren’t too wet. Riding in wasn’t bad this time either. We re-distributed the weight of the bait so that the four-wheeler was less tipsy. There’s nothing better than riding down the dirt road in the wild and smelling the sweet smell of anise oil and bait.

IMG_20160816_214232269_HDRWhen we arrived at my bait site, we found all the bait gone from the blue barrel, most of the grease gone, but some pink nougat still left. The bears had been there every day taking turns throughout the day and night getting some much needed food. We still have one skinny one, but he just appears young, not tick infested as some other hunters have suggested. In the middle of the pile of bait left outside the barrel was the most beautiful 6 inch-ish wide bear track I’d ever seen. This was from a BIG bear. My heart raced as I wondered if it was Scrapper. I wouldn’t be able to tell if it was since I had crushed my digital camera the week before, so I no longer have a way to check cards until they go into the computer. Dang!

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Little white patch on the throat…he’s a new one.

To my delight, we believe there are FOUR (eeekkkk!!!) bear visiting my site. One in particular does not like my camera. He’s chewed and gnawed on it several times. Luckily Moultrie built it right and it’s still hanging on….not a scratch on it!! Even after he spun it around the tree, I was lucky enough that he spun it BACK to almost where it was in the beginning. Note to self: camouflage that camera. We weren’t so lucky on John’s bait. A bear finally hit it, but he also attacked the camera and although he didn’t break it, the camera wasn’t facing the bait for the last three days. As last week, I’ll post videos on my Facebook page since I can’t put videos here. Be sure to check out the bear bathing itself in the grease!

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OMG…biggest bear ever!

I sure hope I find a way to sleep before I start sitting in my stand; the last think I need to do is fall asleep and miss one! This weekend’s forecast looks spectacular; I can’t wait to see who’s come to eat this week.

We Have Bears!!!

Week One

Waiting all week to check the bear bait has been hard, but I think our new strategy for bear baiting is going to pay off. Instead of baiting during the week, we only bait once a week on Saturday in the early part of the day. No more after work baiting so that we don’t push bear out.We’ve never had bear come this early. It’s probably due to the lack of natural food since it’s such a dry summer. I also have my bait site in a stand of beech and it looks like we may have some beechnuts this year.

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We bring our four-wheeler to do bait. The sites are far into the woods and despite my being more of involved than ever, there’s no way I could lug bait in that far. However, the machine is too back heavy with the basket filled for both of us to ride. After I did wheelie up the trail, I let John drive the rig and I walked.

IMG_20160806_114252427When we arrived, the bait site was trashed. The barrel had been ripped from the tree and rolled a few feet away with bait dumped. All the trees were clawed up and the caramel was eaten. They didn’t spend a lot of time on the nougat, but did like the grease.

Not only do I have bear, I have three different bear coming to my bait, and at all times of the day. It’s fascinating to see their different characteristics and to see what makes so unique. I have a small bear and two larger bears. One bear can get his head in the barrel, the other two can’t. One is left handed and one is right handed…how cool is that?!

We set our camera to videos this year which is really cool to see them in action. I’ll post videos on my Facebook page where you can check them out.

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The small bear, probably last year’s cub, is the most skittish; he/she was in the bait site about the time we arrived to bait on Saturday. Most of his/her visits were in the early morning 7 am but this day, he/she was there around 11:00 am. We were in there a half hour later. Our camera actually caught the bear taking notice of us arriving and its subsequent leaving. I’m sure it was just hanging out in the outer edges of the woods waiting for us to leave. I won’t be taking aim at this bear unless he/she puts on considerable weight between now and hunting season.

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The bear that ripped off the barrel.

One bear is quite fat and the other quite lean (the one that ripped off the barrel) but definitely taller than the smaller bear. I’m hoping they’re hungry enough to stick around until it’s hunting season. Both of these bears are older and bigger than the small bear. I’m guessing a couple hundred pounds and more pounds to put on.

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The bear that is left handed

So Scrapper didn’t make a show, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be back. The sow that had the three cubs last year and showed the year before also wasn’t back. I’m glad we don’t have a sow with cubs on the site…yet. We have three more weeks of baiting before I get to sit in my tree stand, and a lot can change between now and then. As for John’s bait, he had no hits. I guess with all the bear activity, we’ll be bringing our handgun with us next time.

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John topping off the nougat into the pail at his bait site. I put out lots of grease and anise and caramel scent to hopefully lure a bear in.

Oh, and my nifty new blind’s poles that make it round…broke in the wind. I was pretty bummed since it’s supposed to be weather sturdy. I’m still hoping it works for me…I already have new improved poles coming free of charge from the company.

Until next week, I’ll be dreaming of my future bear hunt, and prepping for my September moose hunt.

 

 

Bear Baiting Season Begins!

I swear, every year I get more and more excited about bear hunting.

Bear baiting begins one month before we actually get to hunt. I swear, every year I get more and more excited about bear hunting. I haven’t been able to actually get a bear, but none the less, I enjoy every minute of the process, and the experience in the stand waiting for a big boar to show up.

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Last year’s bear site

This year, we moved our bait sites and eliminated one of them. It was too stressful to decide where to sit when all three sites were getting hit, and it seemed like the third bait only made the bear come less to the sites we wanted them at. With increasingly more human traffic on the mountain, we decided we needed to head deeper into the woods. I had only had my other bait site for two seasons, but moving it in deeper will mean a better chance of seeing bear during daylight hours. This year’s bait sits on top of a mountain in a beech tree growth. Claw marks from where they’ve climbed on the trees are everywhere, so I’m extra excited. I’ve already had moose and deer using my trail so I look forward to a wildlife filled hunt.

 

Black bears are naturally nocturnal, so to get a bear to come out during the daytime, it has to be very comfortable with its surroundings. In order to eliminate the interruptions we usually create by baiting during the week in the late afternoon, we’ve left enough bait in the barrel so that whomever decides to visit, will have some bait to come back to, and we’re only checking baits on Saturday mornings for now. That may change if the bears don’t come around. I also have an ace up my sleeve if the season drags on and no bear come during daylight hours…but I’ll keep that to myself for now.

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This year’s site all baited.

My new site is a good quarter-mile into the woods, so we use the four-wheeler to bring in the bait. This year, we bought one barrel of bait to supplement what we had left from last year, but for now it’s lots of yummy cinnamon, frosted danish and muffins from last year. Along with sticky marshmallow nougat, and grease in smaller pails, the bait is left in a big blue barrel. We also put out a wick of anise oil that smells like strong black licorice for those of you who have never smelled it. Bears have incredible sense of smell so the scent acts as an attractant to get them coming to the bait site, and the bait hopefully keeps them coming back. Hopefully, but no guarantees.

 

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My secret weapon for 2016

 

Speaking of sense of smell; last year, I worried I was too open and that my scent let the bear know when I was there. The wind was constantly changing. So this year, at the 2016 Sportsman’s Show in Augusta, I found and bought the hanging tree blind I had regretted not buying the year before. This blind will provide me with extra scent protection, and now the bear won’t be able to tell if I’m in the tree or not since I won’t be seen in the blind, and I won’t be rained on! My tree stand is situated so that my back is to sun, so in theory, the bear will squint from the sun if it looks my way. A strategic move on my part, I hope!

 

 

Let’s hope I don’t have the sow and three cubs like last year.  As much as I enjoy seeing cubs and a sow, I don’t want to meet them in the woods, and I would never shoot any of them. I really am hoping my big old boar, Scrapper, comes around… or another big boar would do too.

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Last year’s sow and cubs making their rounds to all of our bait sites.
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Scrapper my night bear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be keeping you up-to-date with happenings on the bait site and as I hunt. I hope I have exciting stories to write about…and eventually bear meat in the stew pot! Wish me luck!

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl- Part I

In case you don’t know me, I love to travel. I’m not well traveled, so even a trip that is routine for some is an adventure for me and my family. This year, we decided to go back to Florida for one more adventure. We were thinking this would be our last time there since we have a long bucket list. Our trips in the past have covered Disney, Universal Studios, and Sea World, but we had never been to Busch Gardens. So in the name of roller coasters, animals and white sandy beaches, Tampa it was.

However, this year, we wanted to expand our adventures to more than theme parks and water parks. I surprised John with a Florida hog hunt for his birthday. All the plans were made. I really wanted to go, but they charge a lot and even for a spectator, the price is almost the same. Then you have to add in butchering, taxidermy and shipping the meat home, it’s just not worth all that money…so Tyler and I planned an afternoon of our own adventure to keep busy while John hunted. We dropped John off in the middle of no where with his guide. We set our point on the GPS to find him later and then we headed to the Shell Factory in Fort Meyers. They had amazing display of taxidermy. If you’ve ever been to Cabela’s, then picture Cabela’s on steroids. Most were African animals but there were also some animals from North America. Many of the animals can no longer be hunted today.

The hunt gave John a chance to see what the Florida forests look like. We actually saw a place that wasn’t swamp but instead very sandy! The density of the forest is a lot like Maine only with different species of trees and plants. We saw lots of birds and Old Man’s Beard hanging from all the trees. I spotted a deer from the highway. No hogs. Yes, that’s a feeder and when it went off, John thought the hogs would come running. They didn’t. We did meet another woman hunter who, along with her husband, bagged an alligator that morning and was also sitting for a hog the same night as John. They didn’t get a hog either. Guess we’ll be going back to Florida, the company honored it’s pledge for a guaranteed hunt and gave John a certificate good for 5 years to try again.528_2

We took some time to talk with our guide and his helper. It’s pretty incredible to see them get all excited over what we hunt compared to what they hunt. We stood around sharing photos from our phone cameras of moose and deer hunts, turkey hunts, beaver trapping, and of course, fishing. Eventually the mosquitoes had the final say, and I retreated to the car. As we said our goodbyes, I spotted an armadillo running across the lawn. It was too dark to get a good photo. (Honestly, Tyler just an hour before, told me they carry Leprosy so I wasn’t about to go try to catch it.)

The following morning was our official last day of fun. As we left the hotel and headed to the car, we heard noises in the woods off to our right. I spied a cat spying something in the woods. Tyler spotted them first. I couldn’t believe it…there in the woods were about six baby hogs…I don’t know where Mom was, nor did I want to know! Pretty amazing no hogs showed up where they were supposed to be but then show up at our hotel! A little salt in the wound for John, but we had a good laugh afterward.

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Pigs in the underbrush…they’re there, but hard to see. (c) SWarren

Next week: Part II –  Air Boat Ride!

Prize in the Snow

Saturday morning we headed out with high expectations that we’d go down to the stand, get on a new track and find not only the first dropped antler, but also find the second one that “must” have fallen off the following day. I was convinced they couldn’t be far from the game camera.

Disappointingly, there were no new deer sign or feedings on the camera or in the snow. The camera batteries died due to the cold so we weren’t 100% sure, but there didn’t appear to be any new tracks in the snow. A full moon the night before and our playing with coyote sounds near the stand probably didn’t help.

We began at the Christmas tree grain pile and decided on the “divide and conquer” technique. I stayed on one track and John on another covering the entire area and then moving onto a new section. I had visions of what it would be like to find it. A scream of excitement kept going through my mind. I dressed light and my Under Armour heat gear kept me warm and even when I still managed to sweat, I was comfortable trekking through the shin/knee deep snow.

I managed to see some pretty cool animal sign that wasn’t deer and wasn’t my antler. Smithfield is known for its boulders in the woods left from the glacier (yes Mr. Lagasse, I was listening in seventh grade) and the area we were covering is no different. Boulder after boulder to navigate around or over, I came upon three different trails where porcupine had come out of their wintering shelters. The porcupine left neat little trodden down trails through the snow and with careful looking, you could find where they had climbed and chewed the bark off a nearby tree.

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Rabbit tracks and rabbit poop…(c) S. Warren

Given the amount of rabbit tracks one would think we were overrun with rabbits…I wish that was the case! I can’t wait to try rabbit hunting with Fly and John.

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One of three deer beds in a softwood growth. (c)S.Warren
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Happy hunters! (c) SW

Three hours later, half a mile away from my tree stand, we finally find newer tracks. We find more deer beds and then we find the prize we’ve been looking for–the antler, the left antler that had fallen off January 21st. The look on our faces says it all. Now I’m determined to find the match. I’ll be back out tomorrow tracking the shed hoping for my prize.

 

My biggest surprise about the antler was to see how golden brown the base is. Having only seen the antlers on his head in nighttime photos, in my mind, I imagined they would be all pale and not brown. A very nice surprise!

 

Deer Season Begins!

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Fireplace chase half skim coated for rock to be applied after. (c) S. Warren

Deer season began as it always does; a bunch of promising game photos, a night of no sleep, and excitement that I’ll be successful. This year’s season also includes us trying to do a DIY project involving installing a fireplace, applying mortar and stone to the outside, and getting it all done before the cold really hits and somehow making it work around the hunting season. We’re doing well, but we still have a lot to do.

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View from My Stand (c) S. Warren

I usually sit in My Stand right behind the house. This works for getting out and hunting each morning prior to my heading to work. It’s quick to get to and to get back. In past years, I’ve had some pretty awesome moments, and I expected to hear the deer in their travels as I always have. This year’s acorn crop is pretty small. I had hoped that my acorn stand would yield more deer this year because a nearby woodlot was cut making the oaks less abundant. Unfortunately, it’s not looking very good.

For the first time ever, I’m changing up my sitting spots. I have four spots: My Stand, the Robin Stand, the Buddy Stand, the New Stand, and a couple more options: the duck blind spot and the Tall Hemlock. The Robin stand is half way between my stand and the Buddy stand. Last year, I saw five does in this stand. We moved it so that I could see more and have more cover. I haven’t sat there yet because I need to add some foam to the rails to make it quiet and I just haven’t had time.

The Buddy stand is just that. It’s a double stand in an area that’s big and wide. This is the stand I was in on last year’s final day of muzzleloader season when Mr. Buck showed me a glimpse of his leg before hightailing it out of there. The one and only deer I’ve seen in that stand. I’ve played and replayed that day in my mind for the last year, hoping that Mr. Buck would still like to hang out and make some buck rubs and give me another shot at getting him. Things have been awfully quiet for me to believe he’s still around.

the New Stand (c) S. Warren
the New Stand (c) S. Warren

The New Stand is in a spot that takes me thirty minutes to get to, so it’s not feasible for weekday hunts unless it’s a holiday or vacation day. It’s not that far away, but walking into a stand in the still morning requires every step to be intentional and methodically placed so that you don’t break or snap a twig, so that the leaves done crunch, so that you don’t land on your face by tripping over the long grass, so that you get in undetected, and that’s not always easy. The stand sits on the edge of oaks and a dark softwood growth. Lots of deer sign and buck scrapes but it feels pretty dead most of the time…except when I least expect it.

the Buddy Stand (c) S. Warren
the Buddy Stand (c) S. Warren

I’ve been chasing deer in the area since I started hunting. The elusive big buck that I either jump or get busted yet never see. And this would be the case this year. My first time to the new stand that John put up for me. I usually go with him, but this day, we were going separate ways to get more done. Since my stand was pretty dead, I decided to try out the “new stand. John’s words exactly, ” Go straight, don’t turn right and it will be on your right. You’ll have NO problem finding it.” Now I know this neck of the woods, but after forty-five minutes of roaming around checking out every off shoot road, I finally found it. In fact, I stumbled upon it and then wondered if I’d be able to find my way out at dark. By then, I was a wash of sweat, possibly the result of cursing for the last hour. I had overdressed for that much walking, but was relieved to finally find my stand.

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Buck scrape (c) S. Warren

I wasn’t in my stand five minutes when I thought I heard a deer blow…which means it smelled me. I was busted. I heard the deer bound away. Legal shooting hours ended and I managed to find my way out. I was glad I had my flashlight because although I consider this a morning stand so I was surprised to hear a deer in the late afternoon. I have learned to be more comfortable in the woods, I have no intentions of getting lost.

This morning I had the opportunity to sit later due to the holidaym so I headed back down to the New Stand. Due to a back injury flare up from working on the DIY project, I hadn’t had a chance to hunt in two days so I was hoping my sciatica wouldn’t start in once I sat down. I quietly made my way down to stand. I managed to leave later than I wanted so by the time I was half way there, it was already starting to get light, but wasn’t close to legal shooting hours yet. I shut off my flashlight since I’ve memorized this trail and know where to step.IMG_20151105_064556970

As I made my way toward my stand, I think I hear a grunt…a deer grunt…a BUCK grunt…Brrrr. I question whether I really heard what I think I’ve heard. Afterall, I have an uncanny way of hearing things that sound like a deer walking in the woods, but it ends up being a squirrel or falling leaves. So I doubt myself. Rule number one: never doubt yourself!

I take one more step and then I hear it. A deer blows and all I see is a white tail VERY close to me. The wind is blowing in my favor. I was too close for him to smell me; he just heard me and reacted. Between me and Mr. Buck is a really large boulder. This is concealing me from him, and him from me, not to mention it’s still too dark to shoot. I can’t pick him up in my scope. I scan the woods knowing he isn’t very far way…maybe 25 yards. I decide I’ll make my way to the boulder for a chance to sneak up on him. I duck and take one step. He blows, stomps his feet and blows a couple more times. In an effort to have him want to stick around, I blow a Brrr on my buck grunt. He gets incredibly upset and wheezes and snorts three or four more turns. I in turn stomp my foot as he was doing to me. It’s a stand off, but it’s still dark. If only can get him to step my way. He continues to blow and then without any other warning, runs away from me…gone forever. I just pray I don’t hear a sudden shot from someone lucking out on My Buck.

I had a blast, but as always I analyze, reanalyze, and then shoulda, woulda, coulda scenarios run through my head. In the end, I am learning and experiencing things I never thought possible. I’ve seen a porcupine in a tree, an owl trying to catch squirrels at daylight, partridge walking around, ducks and geese flying overhead. I hear screech owls howling, loons calling and of course squirrels…lots and lots of those dang red and gray squirrels. And not once have I been afraid to be alone in the woods, and that’s my biggest and proudest moment thus far.

I hope I’ll eventually see a deer that I can harvest. Time is ticking but in the meantime, I’m enjoying every minute I’m out there. Lots of exercise and experiencing lots of exciting moments. After all, it’s the adventures you have in the process that make hunting so rewarding.

Happy Hunting!

Learning to Archery Hunt-Patience and Persistance Revisited

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This is what my bow looks like.
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My oldest son’s pibold, taken with a bow. (c) S. Warren

In order to evolve as a hunter, I’ve taken on the task of learning how to bow hunt. I am the only one in the family who hadn’t tried bow hunting, because I didn’t have a bow…until my youngest son dropped over $800 on a new one. I inherited the grow-with-you Parker bow that we had bought him for Christmas a few years ago. I am fine with that since I am cheap, and a tune up is definitely cheaper than a new bow. After finally getting a proper fitting and a tune up at L.L.Bean, my bow is now officially ready to use to hunt.My dream is to get a buck. A big one…maybe even a pibold like the one my son got a few years ago.

I was thinking this was going to be easy-peasy-deer-in-the-pot, but I soon found out that couldn’t be further from the truth. Reality check in process!

I know your’e thinking, “Can this girl even hit the target?” Yes, I can hit the target, and given the chance, I might actually be able to take a deer with it. I bought some broad head points for a lethal shot, and lighted knocks so that I can find my arrow after I shoot it, if I ever get to take aim. On my first trip out, I was very optimistic and thought I’d have a deer in no time.

After spending so much time bear hunting in ‘real” wilderness, hunting behind the house is painful, but it’s helping me adjust to the noise in case I do go to the city. I really do live in the country, but I also live along two major routes that intersect at the bottom of the hill..oh yay…cars, trucks, motorcycles, dump trucks, tractor trailer trucks…all going by. Add wind, rattling leaves, barking dogs, construction, mowers and you have the idea. I even bought the Expanded Archery license in case I need to go hunt in the city for a deer where I can harvest a doe and still be able to harvest a buck behind the house. The benefit of the expanded archery season is that it goes until December 31st, past the last Saturday in the November of the rifle season and it’s a two week extension into muzzleloader season. I’ve shot deer with a muzzleloader in the past, but if all else fails I’ll be hunting in the city. My plan is to have some deer meat in the freezer this year one way or another!

Hunting with a bow is much more challenging than I realized it would be. It’s not the bow itself, but all the gadgets, and the odd shaped size that turns my stealthy walk into my stand into a clumsy wobble into my stand. I think I managed to catch every stick, limb, fern and leaf possible with the cams of the bow in my travels. Trying to climb into my stand with a bow in my hand is stupid to say the least. Yes, I tried it, and I made more noise than I thought possible..and it was daylight!  I can’t ever imagine trying this in the dark before daylight.

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My new release to pull the string on my bow. It folds back to be “out of the way” which is a total advertising lie. It’s still very much attached to my wrist and makes noise no matter how I fold it.

Note to self: You can put the release on after you get in the stand so it doesn’t clink every rail of the ladder as you climb. My stand is hid among a bunch of fir, hemlock and spruce…with lots of branches that now need to be cut so I can use a rope to pull my bow up the proper way…and that darned quiver (arrow holder) is noisy too, so off that comes, but where to put it? The last thing I want is to drop that with my arrows, so I also need to put up a bow holder…and I have to fix my shooting lanes because I have none for a bow shot. My setup works for the rifle, but I need much more space to shoot a bow.

One of my main problems is that my bow hunting pants and shirt don’t offer up enough pockets for all my junk I tote along for the hunt, and I can’t throw a bow over my shoulder like my rifle. I have to have my windicator spray, deer scent and container, buck grunt, doe bleat, flashlight, phone, and on colder nights, I also need gloves, a neck warmer and a hat..and one pocket on my pants just doesn’t cut it. I have a backpack to bring, but that’s too noisy for mornings…SO I’m back to trying to store everything in my camo jacket liner.

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Buck grunt to mimic bucks in rut.
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Doe bleat to mimic does in heat. Calls in bucks. Anti roll edges which is new and very important…nothing to roll off the treestand.

If you’ve ever hunted in the morning, sound is amplified ten times more than in the middle of the day. Every leaf crunches, every movement makes noise, and every breath, every pulse seems to be there for you–and deer to hear…and that means every little bump, clink, swish of a leaf can be heard.

So, for now, I’ll keep you posted on my progress. I’ll need lots of persistence to get thru this clumsy phase. I’ll need lots of patience for the noise I have to contend with as I sit for what seems like hours in my treestand. There will probably be more stories of my being busted due to my clumsiness than deer success…and I will most likely switch back to my rifle in a couple weeks. For now, I’ll make sure I use my harness and hope for the best and enjoy the sit before it gets too dark and cold.

After all, it’s the adventures in the process, not just the harvest.

A Rude Awakening

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Me and John ❤

October is my favorite month. In fact, my husband John and I were married in October. We had initially picked the first Saturday in November to get married, but that was supposed to be the first day of deer season, so we bumped it back a week earlier so not to interfere with hunting. After all, nothing should come between a man and opening deer season. (I didn’t hunt then so it really was all about him.)

As luck would have it, the October date turned out to be the first year that Maine decided to make deer season earlier…and you guessed it. We were scheduled to be married on the first day of hunting season. After putting my foot down that I was not going to take a black marker to the invitations and change the date, John conceded and we got married as planned.

The first day of hunting season has always been a huge event in our family, so when our youngest son finally turned 10, John wanted to be ready to take him out. Friday afternoon was an iconic picture perfect Maine fall day. The sun was shining, and the Indian summer was in full force. John had scouted beforehand and decided to put up two hanging tree stands overlooking a well traveled deer lane on a knoll not far from the house. Buddy stand

When I first started hunting, we didn’t have many tree stands and we considered ourselves resourceful when John built some, since anything was better than the old rickety nailed on tree stands of the past. We owned hanging stands, and some of those were homemade. We also had some screw-in tree steps, some strap-on ladder steps, and homemade ladders to get into our stands. Ladder stands were the newest thing on the market and we had purchased a “buddy stand” which seats two people, to use when John and I first hunted together. I really, really like that stand.

The majority of the time, I used the homemade or a combination of the homemade stands since we had several places to hunt and we wanted as many options as possible as the season went on. When I look back, it’s amazing I even continued to hunt given how hard it was for me to climb into stands. I really thought John was testing me because some of these stands were so challenging to get into. I was always athletic and strong, so realizing I couldn’t climb into these stands as easy as I thought I could made me try even harder to succeed.

I had the stand that had strap-on ladders, that led to climbing several feet of hemlock limbs only to be totally spent by the time I reached the actual stand. More than once, I’d have to stop and catch my breath, take a break and pray I wouldn’t fall out of that tree. By the time I finally made it into the stand, I’d be a wash of sweat.

Another stand we still use requires climbing a pine about 25 feet high to get the stand. I’ve only climbed that tree three times because it literally takes all the strength I have to climb it. This big old tree overlooks a swail grass area known for deer crossings. After climbing tree steps, I have to hold onto limbs so big it requires me to hug the branches, not hold onto them with my hands. Every step has to be calculated so that I can step onto my stand, and unlike a lot of my stands, coming down is just as scary.

Then there was “tall stand” because it was in a tall tree. It was located down in the bog which wasn’t some place I craved to be. It consisted of a small maple tree with it’s top broke out and a board perched on top of it. After climbing screw in steps set too far apart for my short legs, and then shimmying up two pine saplings I finally made it onto the platform where I threw myself across it and lay there trying to figure out how to actually maneuver into a sitting position.

And finally, there was the tree that wasn’t that bad to climb into, except that I had been sick with the flu for a couple days and when I sat in the stand, the wind blew so hard that the tree swayed back and forth all night; it moved and bent so hard I had to hang on in fear of falling out of the stand. I’m not sure if it was the flu or the swaying, but I was not a happy hunter.

That’s right, I was afraid of falling out of all those trees because not once did I ever wear a safety harness or use any type of system to protect me from a fall. None of us used a safety harness.

Getting ready to bear hunt...safety harness in place!
Selfie….Getting ready to bear hunt…safety harness in place! (c) S. Warren

Rude Awakening Day: On October 30, 2009, John had found the perfect spot to take our youngest son. He remembered he had a stand already hanging from the previous year, so he decided to check it out. Climbing about twenty five feet up the tree, he hung the second stand next to the existing stand. Then he cautiously climbed onto the existing stand. He tested the tree stand as he hugged the tree, putting his weight on it, and then gave a couple jumps. “Good to go”, he thought. He settled into the stand and looked out over the oak stand, just enjoying the fall afternoon view. A minute later, all our lives changed.

The tree stand made a loud snap; it was the weather-rotted strap breaking. John fell to the ground, landing with his back onto a stump. He laid there unable to move. After what seemed like forever, he rolled over onto his hands and knees and began coughing up blood. He knew he was hurt and had to get out of the woods fast because he didn’t think anyone would find him. After not being able to reach anyone with his cell phone, he decided to walk out. John made it to his truck, and then he drove himself to our house. Our daughter rushed him to the hospital in Waterville. After being examined, he was transferred to Portland for trauma care for seven days. He suffered broken vertebrae, ribs, shoulder blade, a ruptured spleen, punctured lung and several smaller breaks and bruises.

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John baiting before he sits in his tree stand. Note the climbing harness is on. 😉 (c) S. Warren

Fast forward to today. John is lucky to have come away not crippled or permanently injured from his fall. He still hunts, but he and none of us hunt unless we wear a safety harness. “I never thought I needed a harness, but I’ll never go into a tree stand without one now” says John, “and I’ll never use a tree stand that’s been hanging for a long period of time.”

We also gave up our homemade stands, not because they weren’t sturdy, but because the price of metal tree stands have come down. We change our straps every couple years and never leave them hanging anymore. We’ve added Prusik knot life lines to the big pine and I only use ladder stands now. I’m a much happier hunter knowing that not only can I climb into stands but also my family is safe from tragedy.

Bear hunting season is about to begin and that means the beginnings of sitting or standing in tree stands, so when you go out this season, please use a safety harness system. Happy Hunting!