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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

I’m Not a Turkey Hog, Honest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The opening in the treeline directly behind me.

 

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.

Silence Is NOT Golden When It’s Turkey Season!

Each year, I usually bag my turkey on the first day, so this year, I expected nothing less.

I absolutely love turkey hunting. It was the first hunt I ever tried, and was the hunt that got me hooked on hunting. Each year, I usually bag my turkey on the first day, so this year, I expected nothing less.

Two weeks before the season started, turkeys showed up in our horse pasture daily. We could sit on the back deck and listen to the gobbles in the woods. A slam of a car door and the bark of a dog would send gobbles throughout the woods.

The Friday before open season, I went down to my closest treestand. I brought along a Bluetooth speaker and hung it in a nearby tree with the volume cranked. The speaker amplified my turkey calls I had downloaded on my phone. I climbed into my treestand and opened up the turkey call application. A push of the “Turkey Cackle 1” and I had an answer. Gobbles nearby on my left.
I played it again.
Another response on my right!
Before I knew it, I had three jakes and a hen approaching on my right. The hen was actually chasing after the three jakes to keep up.

turkeys 4aThey were confused. Where is that hen? The turkeys walked by and once out of sight, I gave another call. They answered, came back and circled around me. The leading jake is almost fully mature, and he began to do his strut dance followed by a gobble. They weren’t alarmed since they continued to scratch and peck the ground as they moved.

As the turkeys circled me, they still didn’t know I was in the treestand. Off to my right a second gobbler also answered my call. I was having a blast!

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Turkey on the left ruffled up for the dance.

Finally the two groups of birds found each other, and I no longer mattered. They all headed away from me. Silence. Once they were gone, I climbed out my treestand and went back to the house.

Sunday, the day before the season opened, I headed back to my treestand. I used my same method of calling with the Bluetooth, but got no response. I covered a large amount of ground trying to call in a turkey while also checking my two game cameras. Just when I was about to give up, I got a response on the far end of the woods. They were still in the area! I quickly turned around and walked away.

Opening day and it was pouring. Pouring and my hunting partner was in no mood to venture out into it. By 2 p.m., the rain seemed to stop until we actually stepped out of the house. It was just a few intermittent showers to keep us moving, but listening for gobbles was not easy.

 

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We tried calling. No answers. We made a big circle and got to where I heard turkeys the day before. They weren’t responding to the mouth call John was using, so he took out the slate call and gave a try.

Instantly we had cackling, but no gobbling. We quickly set up the decoys and waited. No more replies, no responses and no gobbling.
Did they see us? Did we scare them off?
Did they hear us?
Perhaps I need to bring my Bluetooth next time…
Obviously they didn’t fall for our attempts to call them in.
We never heard any more turkeys the remainder of the hunt.

Silence. Nothing but silence. Let’s hope a couple days of rest and rain and they’ll come back and be ready for some gobbles. I have more tricks up my sleeve, so I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

turkey tracks

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Few years back when I went turkey hunting with John and my oldest son, Zack.

Earth Day is Every Day

Last summer I had the opportunity to attend a week long conference in Boston. It was a new adventure and learning experience for me that I hadn’t ever done before.

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Freeport, Maine

Driving the turnpike into Massachusetts was depressing. I couldn’t but help notice the overwhelming amount of garbage on the side of the road, not just the highway, but also the local streets, the lawns, and the rotary intersections littered with trash. I actually wrote a letter to the city of Revere, and told them that the trash is a huge disappointment for someone who’s visiting. After all, who wants to see trash everywhere? When I go to Florida, I don’t see this kind of trash unless a trash truck catches on fire, and has to be dumped in order to put the fire out, which actually happened.

I’ve always had a certain pride for the fact that Maine’s highways don’t look like Massachusetts’ highways. Or do they?

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Litter on all sides of the roads on the highway

Now that snow has melted and the grass is showing, my family went in search of a used Jon boat for the son to bass fish. As we cruised down I-295 on Saturday, I couldn’t stop looking at the huge amounts of trash. Where does all this come from? Commuters, I suspect. There were beer boxes, beverage cups, plastic bags, wrappers, more cups, broken plastic from vehicle crashes, but mostly trash that had been tossed out the car window during the winter. The closer we got to Portland, the more trash I saw on the sides of the road.

Sunday wasn’t much better. We were on the road again, and cruised our way an hour beyond Portland. We took the Maine Turnpike, and even though there was a considerable amount of trash in the beginning, it seemed to taper off until we were past Portland. I think this directly relates to the cost of travel on the Interstate, and that more people use I-295 to commute. The result is the same…trash. Lots of trash thrown out, and now clearly visible since the snow melt.

litter crewThis got me looking in other places. On Monday, I traveled to Norridgewock and to Farmington. Hardly any trash compared to the highway. I did see a worker with a large garbage back picking up trash along Route 2. The worker was from the Waste Management landfill just down the road. I can bet that most of that trash wasn’t from their trucks, but from other trash carrying vehicles or people who feel the need to toss their cup. Was it his job to pick up the trash along US Route 2?  No, but the trash guy was out there picking it up because they get blamed for all the trash. Image maybe, but at least someone was picking it up. But just think of how much money it is costing to pick up this trash? The numbers are staggering. Just type in roadside trash pickup and see millions of dollars quoted to pick up litter.

So why do I bring this up? Earth Day was April 22 with a March for Science planned in  spots through Maine. The theme for 2017 is Environmental and Climate Literacy. I have a real problem with this because not one time did I ever see anything that mentioned a simple clean-up day. There was no call to action to save our planet by picking up trash, a clear environmental issue. There was no mention of it all. Marches everywhere, but no action to truly love our planet by doing something.

EPA logoAs a kid, we always had a clean-up day on Earth Day. Neighbors, kids, Boy and Girl Scouts, churches, and organizations all planned a day of beautification. I remember as a kid getting my free EPA sticker kit from a KIX box of cereal. We had the saying, “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” and the unforgettable television ad, “Keep America Beautiful” from the 1970’s that made us all aware of our actions. We rarely, if ever, hear these types of messages now.

It is not the job of the state or interstate commission to pick up all the trash on the highway. Eventually the plastic and trash will be mowed over and spread out so it won’t be as noticeable, but it will still be there. It is everyone’s job to not litter in the first place. No matter how many demands for paper cups instead of plastic and to do away with the plastic grocery bags, if it becomes litter, it’s still litter, and it’s still polluting our precious Earth.

I for one, love to be out in the woods enjoying nature. The last thing I ever want to see is trash. I don’t want to see trash anywhere except the trashcan or the landfill. The next time you have the urge to toss out that small wrapper because it won’t really matter, take a gander around and see how much trash you’re contributing to the problem. Lots of little litters make for big pollution that can affect our waters we fish in, and lakes we swim in, and that can mean big problems for our health.

If you really want to celebrate Earth Day, do it every day.

It doesn’t take a march or even a special day to make a difference. Truly love the Earth in the little ways you can make a difference. How you ask?

  1. Don’t litter.
  2. Pick up litter when you see it.
  3. Set an example for others.
  4. Bring a trash bag with you to put trash in.

See you in the woods, and remember to Make Every Day an Earth Day.

 

Distracted Driving of the Wildlife Kind

distracted drivingThere’s lots of talk these days about cell phone usage, texting while driving and distracted driving. Distracted driving does involve many scenarios, and I recently experienced a new sort of distracted driving even I had never considered. I’ve always prided myself in the fact that I never text and drive, only answer calls if I think I can, never make calls while driving, and never, ever, put on makeup while driving…well okay, I hardly wear makeup and I put it on at home.

My commute from home to work is roughly thirty minutes. Most of the time, I take the rural route, but with roads beginning to heave and buckle from frost and my fearing the car would be damaged, I opted for the smooth interstate route from Waterville.

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Turkey flying over the road Route 8 & 11, Belgrade. I pulled over to get this shot.

I have a tendency to speed on the interstate, so I set my cruise control and go into auto-pilot. Just like many people, I arrive at work not remembering the commute unless I see wildlife along the way. Traffic usually runs pretty good with little congestion, and I cruise my way to work. As many of you may know from my Wonderful Week of Wildlife Facebook posts, I see a lot of animals in my travels. I love spotting animals in my travels, especially ones just inside the treeline.

On the interstate, I have several spots that I look for wildlife. Once the snow starts to melt, the critters begin moving. I spend a considerable amount of time with my head turned sideways looking for them. I’ve seen more deer, groundhog, skunk, racoon, and turkeys from the road than from hunting, and this day was no different.

One particular morning, as I was cruising, a red fox ran across the road some 500 yards ahead of me. I didn’t get a good look because it was so far away. I was particularly excited since I rarely see fox, and had never seen one on the interstate before. Ahead of me, drove a black Toyota, but it was some 300 or so yards away. As I approached where the fox crossed, I cranked my head left to see if I could spot him. No luck.

I look back to driving. As I looked up I found myself almost on top of the black Toyota that had also decided to slow down for the fox. I slammed on my breaks and veered left, just missing the Toyota. I broke out in a sweat, totally embarrassed by the near miss. As I passed the Toyota, the driver never even looked, apparently completely unphased or unaware of what had just happened.

I learned my lesson, and I’m so thankful I didn’t crash. I’ve had to tame my urges to look for wildlife. If I see something, I no longer try to see it run off into the woods. I’ll still get plenty of opportunity to see wildlife…that’s why John drives when we go for rides. I get to do all the looking then!

In the meantime, my eyes are on the road. Make sure yours are too.

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Being the Image of a Woman Hunter

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

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My buck (c) S. Warren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TBT: Turkey Hunting 2003- John’s Turn

In 2002, I scored the first turkey I had ever hunted. So when John got a permit in 2003, to say John was excited that he had a chance to hunt turkey for the first time, was an understatement. If you remember, my turkey hunt went off just like text book schooling. We did X,Y, Z, and the bird did A, B and C. In a matter of minutes I had my bird. We made a plan, and we stuck to it. From turkey school, that was one of the main things they told us. Me being a creature of habit, I was ready to make a plan.

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A tom posing for my game camera

The morning of John’s first turkey hunt brought us to a new farm in Albion. This farm sits on top of a big hill and has big green fields. The view is absolutely spectacular especially at sunrise. This particular farm has a lovely little pond that we had to tip toe by so the frogs wouldn’t stop peeping. We parked our truck making sure not to slam the doors and gathered all of our turkey gear. We headed across the fields and made our way to the line of trees between two fields. On the way across the field, we were greeted by a small porcupine that wanted to follow us. The field was deceivingly rough and walking wasn’t that easy, but finally we made it and got set up without the porcupine keeping us company. The previous day we had set up a nice blind where we could see in both directions into the fields. One field had round bales of hay and there had been a fox den in one of them, so I was hoping we’d see some fox to go with the turkeys.

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The berm that we hid in. (c) S. Warren

We were sitting two-thirds the way up the hill as turkeys prefer to go up the hill when being called. We had seen birds the day before dusting at the bottom of the hill near a giant berm created by trees and brush being bulldozed when they cleared the field. On the far side of the berm was a tangled mess of thorns, bushes and washouts, so I wasn’t too interested in going that way in search of birds.IMG_20160314_202709239

The morning was remarkably quiet despite seeing distance lights traveling the roads. Eventually we watched the sky turn light and could hear turkeys begin to gobble far off. Just as daylight began to appear, we started our fly down and cackling. Nothing seemed to happen. No birds. No gobbles. When we were about to give up and were considering trying somewhere else, we spied a lone hen at the bottom of the field near the berm. John continued to call and the hen continued to make her way towards us. We really hoped this would roust a tom to come defend his hen, but nothing came. The hen eventually walked right up to us. At about five feet, she stopped and kept looking, and looking, and looking at us. I didn’t dare blink. She finally just turned around and returned to where she came from. By then a couple more birds had joined her, but no toms. We could have been easily busted if she’d got scared and started cutting, but she didn’t so we were good.IMG_20160314_202631180

Then turkeys decided to gobble…WAY, WAY, AWAY from us. And John thought we needed to go find these birds. I wanted to stay, but in good sport, I agreed and off we went chasing after gobbling turkeys. Now keep this in mind: in the world of turkey hunting, people get shot by chasing after turkeys. Stay put and put your back to a tree….There’s lots of rules to keep hunters safe, and this was one of them. The turkeys never materialized. Every where we went, the turkeys were always five steps (miles more like it) ahead of us. My knee was just beginning to hurt and all the walking we did had it screaming after three hours of chasing. We had covered nearly every field surrounding our original one. And then the turkeys started gobbling…back where we started in the dark.

That’s when I lost it. I was tired of chasing nothing. I wanted to go back where we knew there were turkeys and just wait for them. They spent all of the time in that field….and “we had made a plan and needed to stick to it.” After some major grumbling on my part and finally agreeing to go back on John’s part, we headed back to the original field.

We decided to go down the corn field and get closer to the berm and set out a decoy. No sooner had we approached the end of the field, we heard gobbles close by…REALLY CLOSE. In an instant we dashed up on top of the berm and into a hole made by caved in dirt.We were completely concealed by all the weeds growing around us.IMG_20160314_202819563

John worked his magic on the slate call and sure enough Mr. Tom answered. He came around from the end of the berm, took one look at the decoy and made a beeline for it. Mr. Tom didn’t have a chance; John downed his turkey with one shot.IMG_20160314_202746550

There were lots of smiles in the end, but John’s never been able to live down turkey chasing. And, now he knows we make a plan and stick to it–most of the time. We can giggle about it now, and that’s what’s kept us hunting together all this time. You can’t take it too seriously or it’s no fun.

None of these hunts would have been possible if not for the farmers who were willing to share access to their properties. Sadly, our field has become several house lots so we’ve lost access, but we’ll always have our memories. So if you get a chance to go turkey hunting on someone else’s property, be sure the take the time to say thank you. Hope to see you out there!

 

 

TBT: My First Turkey Hunt

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Strutting jake

Maine’s turkey hunting season will begin on May 1st this year. Turkey hunting has a special place in my heart. It’s the hunt that got me into hunting. It’s the hunt where my oldest son got to see his mom shoot a turkey for the first time. It’s the hunt where my oldest son and I shared a hunt together and each shot a turkey at the same time. It’s the hunt that started it all. But what’s most special is that this is a hunt that John and I continue to do together to this day.

Let’s go back to 2002. Maine was holding a lottery drawing for turkey hunting. John asked me if I would put my name in for a permit. I said “sure, but if I get a permit, I get to decide if I’ll shoot it.” Back then you had a sub-permittee who could also shoot if the permit holder didn’t.

Sure enough, I was the only family member drawn for the permit! Even better, I was picked for season A, which meant the first week of the hunt. So the real test came when I had to fire the shotgun. If I could shoot it, I would shoot the turkey; if not, then John would get the honors. Although he never let on, I’m sure John was somewhat disappointed (although he denies it to this day) when I shot the 12 gauge and hit the milk jug…and I was still standing afterward. I would be hunting for turkey!

John and I started scouting for turkeys by driving around Albion since that’s where we always saw them. Unlike now, turkeys weren’t throughout Maine and were found primarily near big silage piles on big cattle farms. We managed to get permission from several places but some of the other farms were pretty free about giving permission to everyone who asked, so the chances of hunter interference was pretty certain. We got sole permission at this farm where a monster tom strutted regularly for the hens on the farm.  This farm required us to drive into a gravel pit, then hike up the hill to the other high side of the pasture and set up for the hunt. It was a physically demanding climb without my gun in tote. I knew that was going to be my biggest obstacle once I would be carrying all of my hunting gear.

We signed up for turkey school through Inland Fisheries and Wildlife which was a lot of fun. We were clueless about turkey hunting. No orange required, but don’t wear blue, red or white either…and all kinds of other do and don’t rules meant to keep hunters safe. We also learned about turkey poop which I’ll never forget. Toms and jakes  poop “J” shaped and hens poop ice cream cone shaped poops. This really is important when scouting for turkey!

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Year no. 2, and still wearing my cotton camo.

I bought my first set of camouflage clothing including a hat, a mask and gloves. I even bought John some camo since we didn’t have much, and I’ve never lived down that camo became ‘important’ only after I started hunting. Okay, I admit it…I enjoy buying camo (not pink either) especially when I buy it for me…lol. Everything was the new camo pattern, but everything was also cotton; I had a lot to learn about hunting clothes. We bought turkey box calls, locator calls, turkey shot ammo, turkey vests, seats, turkey decoys, slates…we were prepared. All we needed was a turkey.

We set up the blind under a bunch of hemlocks that hung over a fence line the weekend before the first day of the big hunt. We placed a big camo drape in front with brush concealing our bodies. We had perfect cover. The first day of the season was almost at the end of the April so the field was not only free of snow, but also greening up.

The Sunday night before opening day, we were hit with a freak spring snowstorm. I mean it snowed about five or six inches. We had not counted on needing winter clothes, or rain coats since the temps were supposed to rise into the 50’s later that day. Any way we looked at it, it was going to be a gross wet mess. But we threw together some rain ponchos, rain pants and off we went. The snow didn’t help hide us as we crossed the field, but we were there before daylight and that’s all that mattered. John strategically placed our one hen decoy out about 20 yards, the distance for a great shot.

As soon as the sky began to lighten and daylight broke, John began to work his magic on the slate call. He purred, and did the fly down with his hat just like we learned. The then slowly added clucks and yelps. Turkeys gobbled! John began purring and calling on that slate call and just like text book, out of nowhere, that huge tom came barreling over the hill on a dead run headed right for our decoy. He was so fat that he waddled from side to side as he ran. Once he got to the decoy, he stopped, plumped himself up and began strutting. John purred. He dropped his feathers, stuck out his neck and let a gobble and I shot.IMG_20160302_202438591 The hunt was over in about five minutes. We barely made it past legal hunting time, but we had a turkey. A beautiful wet turkey. By the time we retrieved him, his feathers were soaked from the flapping of his wings before he died.

 

IMG_20150504_112303247_HDRJohn carried my turkey out because I knew when I held it that I’d never make it to the truck. He still carries my birds…two last year! We knew he was big. My turkey topped the scales at 24.5 pounds! The state record was just over 25 pounds at the time. Unfortunately, I never had the man at the tagging station certify my weight and records are only kept for 10 years, so I never got my Maine Wild Turkey Club patch. It’s a club for all turkeys over 20 pounds. I mounted his beautiful tail and 9-7/8 inch beard. His spurs were 7/8″ long but I did not keep them.

IMG_20160302_203726142Within five minutes of returning to the truck we were met by two game wardens. They knew of this big bird and they heard me shoot. It was an interesting conversation because they assumed it was John who shot the turkey and kept directing questions to him. When John told them I shot the turkey their eyes showed the surprise, and then came the questions. I really did shoot that turkey Mr. Game Wardens! My how things have changed since then! I’m glad to see more women are out there so that I’m no longer the exception to the rule.

We baked Mr. Turkey but it wasn’t all that good; he was pretty dry. Unlike a store bought turkey, wild turkey has a much deeper and narrower breast so laying him on his back to roast was near impossible. We’ve since adopted other ways to prepare wild turkey; my favorite is just putting it in a stew with lots of gravy.

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2015 – Two birds with one shot!

This girl still holds the family record for the biggest turkey, but I haven’t shot one with a bow. Perhaps 2016 will be the year! I hope no matter who you are, that you’ll get out and try turkey hunting. Don’t forget to bring a wife, husband, daughter, son, or a friend. Even if you don’t get a turkey, watching the sun rise above the horizon on a brisk spring morning, and watching the world awaken before your eyes, is enough to get you hooked.