Mentoring Women Trappers Begins with Bear Trapping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Find Fiddleheads for Next Year’s Harvest

Now is the time to start searching!

Every year, at the beginning of the fiddlehead season, I see countless people asking, “Is this a fiddlehead?” It seems like a no brainer finding them, but I forget that when I was growing up, my mother would have done anything to know how to find fiddleheads and not have to buy them. Since fiddlehead spots are heavily guarded as sacred, it’s just much easier to find your own spot than to even think of asking someone or possibly contributing to over-harvesting on a popular spot.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can find fiddleheads even now for next year, and perhaps even easier than when the season starts and definitely with less competition.

Best of all, finding fiddleheads out of season means you’ll be well prepared for next year. Chances are, you will find fiddleheads where you least expect to find them, and they’ll be bigger and less picked-over than the popular picked spots on the river.

Yes, fiddleheads do grow on the river banks, but that’s not the only places they grow. In fact, the biggest fiddleheads I’ve ever found weren’t found on the river, but in the woods, along a road, far away from the river. John and I spend a great deal of time driving logging roads all over Maine. This is the time of year when you can easily spot the ostrich a.k.a. fiddlehead fern.

There are two things you look for when scouting for fiddleheads; fern fronds (the leaves), and spores. Fiddleheads are the beginnings of the ostrich fern, which are easy to spot now that they are in full display. Another distinguishing attribute is the grooved stem of the fern. There are only 12 ferns in Maine, and most of them don’t look anything like the ostrich fern, so once you learn the twelve, it makes it far easier to finding fiddleheads, but really, just learn what the ostrich fern looks like and you won’t have a problem finding fiddleheads.

Fiddlehead ferns have very distinct foliage with very sharp points and slender leaves. Once the fiddlehead season is over, the ferns unravel and fill the roadsides along with other ferns that are often mistaken as fiddleheads. They are taller than most ferns. They look rather majestic and stand upright like ostrich feathers. If the ferns are large and are around three feet tall, then you most likely have found a mature batch with nice sized fiddleheads to found next spring.

So look carefully and look for sharp edged ferns. I’ve included photos so that you can really see the difference.  The first picture is fiddlehead fern. The others are not fiddlehead ferns, and when you compare them side by side, it’s easier to tell them apart. Fiddleheads will often grow amongst other ferns. In the picture with John picking fiddleheads, there are other ferns already up and open…and they’re not fiddleheads. Look at the photo of the fiddleheads up close; you will see the leaf structure of the fiddlehead fern before it opens up.

Fiddlehead ferns are bright green like a fiddlehead, not lemon green, or blue green…and not glossy like a Christmas fern.
Fiddleheads emerge from a cluster of root ball. You can usually find the dried spore pods as an indicator of where to look for fiddleheads.
John picking fiddleheads. See the other ferns that are not fiddleheads. They are paler green and have rounded leaves. Also note the seed pods from last year’s fiddlehead crop. New fiddleheads are emerging from the base of each bunch of dried fronds.

So the next time you get the chance to ride some roads, bring along your Gazeteer and mark locations that you can return to next spring. You won’t find those beautiful ferns, but you will most likely spot the dried spore pods that are left behind. So if you find yourself still not finding fiddleheads by the ferns, then try concentrating on the spore pods. Ostrich fern spore pods are very distinct, and you’ll know for sure you’ve found your spot. Not only are they neat to discover, but they make great decorations in a simple vase.

Ostrich fern spore pods look like a brown ostrich feather.
Remember that the fiddlehead has to have a grooved stem.

The other important thing to remember is timing. Since most of our fiddleheads are found north of where we live, we find that our mountain fiddleheads can be as much if not more than two weeks later before they’re ready to harvest, so don’t get discouraged if they’re not readily found the first time you check. Patience and persistence will get you the prize!

One other thing to consider if you are foraging on paper company land is to look for herbicide use nearby. Large clear-cuts will get sprayed yearly, so I like to make sure there aren’t any signs of herbicide use before I pick.

Happy Foraging!

Seriously, Leave No Trace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even nature knows how to leave no trace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Summer!

My First Solo Turkey Hunt

I love to turkey hunt. It’s what got me hooked on hunting, but it’s never been a favorite for John. He’d go along, being the voice and calling in turkeys. I would sit waiting to take my shot. I never had to deal with any type of call, let alone trying to call a turkey while waiting for a shot.

After losing my job, I had nothing but time, but John had to work. I decided I’d take advantage of the time and do some turkey hunting on my own. For the last two years, I’ve been trying to learn how to use a mouth call. While I can do all of the calls on my slates, it’s entirely different trying to call and actually sound like a turkey using a mouth call. It takes a lot of practice and patience getting used to the feel of a call in your mouth. When I first started trying to call, the vibration was almost unbearable. I soon learned I needed smaller calls and then I started getting better.

Once I felt that I actually sounded somewhat remotely like a turkey, I decided to try going solo.

Turkey hunting solo is much harder that it sounds. Damn hard actually.

Add my bow to the mix and I had a challenge I really wasn’t prepared for. I’ve never shot a turkey with a bow, but I wanted to challenge myself.

For the past two weeks, I listened to turkeys gobbling. I had pictures on my game cams of turkey strutting every day at the same time. The tom had the biggest beard I think I’d ever seen.

The very first day out, I made calls. I called turkeys in consistently, but literally got busted every time I tried to draw my bow.

In an attempt to outsmart the tom, I went into my tree stand. I hung my bow and made my calls. I instantly had turkeys responding. The turkeys came in just as the deer I had shot came in. From my left, I heard them coming, but not one gobble. As they emerged, I decided I’d take whatever presented itself.

Five. Five birds busted through the bushes and straight out in front of me stood two jakes and three hens. They took one look at my decoys and started cutting and you could almost see the panic in their behavior. Before I reached for my bow, they spotted me. A few more cutting sounds and they made a sprint for the woods.

Just when I thought I was done, I gave one more call. And there it was. A gobble. A single gobble on a mission. That bird circled me from the left, up behind me and down to my right. There it stalled. I could call and get answers continuously, but I could not get that bird to come in close enough for a shot.

After it decided there was no hen, it lost interest and just stopped responding to my calls. The tom was gone. Turkeys 2, Staci 0.

After three days of chasing turkey with my bow, I decided to bring my shotgun along instead. I headed out back to find that longbeard that had been just out of reach each day. This bird had a pattern, but just when I thought I had it figured out, he didn’t show up. I followed the trails until I came along a ridge. I gave a call. Instantly a turkey gobbled back. I was at the top of a hill and no matter how much I called, that turkey wouldn’t go up hill. So I waited about twenty minutes and headed down the hill. I stepped behind this huge boulder that had a fallen fir tree on the top. I gave a call, and boom. That turkey was back answering and coming my way. I debated whether to stand or sit, then in an all out ditch effort to hide, I plunked myself on the ground in the leaves. My butt on the ground, legs stretched out and gun across my lap, I took out my slate and gave some soft purrs, and then raked the dry leaves.

That turkey came gobbling in. He was so close I could hear his feathers ruffle and puff as he strutted. He was directly on the opposite side of that boulder. I didn’t dare move. My heart was racing. I prayed to the turkey gods he wouldn’t come in on my right, since I’m right handed and was facing left. He strutted there but I couldn’t get him to cross over that rock wall to where I could get a shot at him.

Not until I decided one more time to make a soft call. Gun across my lap, I picked up my slate call and striker. As I look up, the tom hopped over the wall and stopped dead in its tracks. It saw me and there I was caught red-handed with my call in my hands. I dropped the call and drew my shotgun. I popped off a Hail Mary shot, but that bird took off running before I even had the bead on him. Then he flew. My morning was over.

Not to be defeated, I opted to try at another piece of land I have permission to hunt. I headed out. When I got there, I could see a group of turkeys strutting in the far corner of the field. Not to be busted, I made my way through the woods along the tree line, making calls with my mouth call. I had continuous answering, but they never ventured my way. I continued to work my way through the woods until I was past the end of the field. I slowly made my way to a group of trees where I would have good cover. I set up and made my first call. Immediately I had an answer. The birds (yes, there was more than one!) kept coming and calling. And then there was no sound. I sat waiting, just giving some soft purrs. I sat silently and motionless.

And then I saw them. They were making their way right to me! The birds crossed out in front of me. As they stepped behind a tree, I pulled my gun up and made ready. When the first bird stepped out from behind the tree, I shot.

My bird dropped, and the other took off leaving his buddy for dead.

I was ecstatic. I had my first solo bird.

I carried that bird out to my truck along with my gun slung over my shoulder. I was just about drained by the time I got him there, and somehow, I managed to lose my brand new camo hat. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t gotten the monster tom. I got a bird, and I accomplished my goal.

I’m already practicing my calling for this year. I have my spots all picked out. I have a new hat. Now if only I can find the time to take a couple days off from work. That big tom is still around, and I’m a bit smarter this year. I hope that if you’ve never tried turkey hunting, that you’ll give it a try. I’ve already told my friend, that I’ll take her. We haven’t gotten one yet with her as the hunter, but maybe this will be the year!

Fish Tales from the Dead

The Fish That Almost Wasn’t

It’s been an better-than-average spring thus far for fishing the Dead River. We’ve fished it enough to learn what to use when, and have worked our way up from not catching anything to catching pretty often. Unlike last year, this year, it’s been a bonanza as we’ve been very successful in the spring catch of landlocked salmon and native brook trout. Knowing what to use is the key to catching fish.

Fishing the Dead River can be frustrating. If it’s down at night, it could be high in the morning because often times the river levels are determined by the white water rafting schedules. I keep the release dates bookmarked on my phone so I can check to see if the river will rise. If it does, it doesn’t drop until 1 p.m. “They say” the best fishing is right after the drop. Honestly, the best fishing is first thing in the morning before they open the dam, and at night when the mayflies hatch or when the fish are feeding just before sunset. This coincides when fish usually feed.

One Sunday, as soon as the river dropped, the trucks poured in. Men in their waders grabbed spots quicker than I could get my waders on despite the fact the water wasn’t even fish-able yet. My mistake. So as I got ready to fish, there was ONE spot open on the island…one spot that was also one of my favorites. As I got ready to cross onto the island, a guy fishing to the left looked over his shoulder and quickly scooted into the spot I had eyed for myself. I was annoyed, but there was still one spot left on the far right near the rapids, IF I could get there first. I quickly changed direction and tried to get over there as quick as I could.

DEAD RIVER AREAAs I made my way across the pools and around to the end, I notice a hatch taking place. I felt like I as being invaded by tiny blue-green bugs and they floated and flew all around me. Some type of mayfly, but to me it didn’t matter. I had my sinking line on my rod that I use with nymphs. There was no chance I was going back to change my lines since this was my ace in the hole, and the only spot open.

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My fly boxes sorted by fly type

I pulled out my dry fly box and retrieved a Blue Wing Olive and tied it onto my tippet (the end of my line). I made my way to my spot. The guy fishing where I originally wanted to fish was throwing his line about half way down to me on my left. Perfect. I’d fish more to the left and have access to the deeper water and where the fish were jumping on my right. Meanwhile another fisherman came up and started fishing behind me in the large pool. I kept thinking, “Please don’t hook me”.

I took a couple casts to get the hang of the sinking line with the lure. The lure would float at first, then quickly sink from the weight of the line and the fast current. I took a third cast and landed a small 10 inch salmon. I let it go. The fish were jumping, so I concentrated on placing my fly above the jumps and drifting the fly toward the fish. My confidence was building…I cast again. On the fifth cast, just as my fly started to sink, I got a hit!

The hit was so hard and strong that fish began to run and fight, and the line was stripping out of my hand that was holding the line. As I began reeling in my excess line,  the entire reel fell off my rod!!!! Luckily I was still holding onto it! I tried for a brief moment to put it back on, but a one-handed attempt was asking to lose the fish I had fighting at the end of my line. I quickly stuffed the reel into my waders so I was once again using two hands to fight this fish.

I finally got the line stripped back in so that I could net my beast. He was huge! It’s the biggest salmon I’ve ever caught. The net barely held it. Its tail hung out and in one giant flop, he was out of the net again. After netting the fish a second time: this time holding onto the tail through the net, and schlepping all my gear and line out of the deep water, I blurted out to the guy fishing behind me that I had caught my biggest fish ever. He seemed undaunted. The girl on shore with the cell phone trying to get reception (LMAO- as if) looked at me like I was a crazed woman. The guy off to my left was now changing out his fly/lure…lol.

IMG_20170529_145015211I was elated, and at that point, I decided I wasn’t stopping until I got my fish on the tailgate of the truck so I gave up my spot and headed up. I killed my fish, (which is really humane) and set him on the tailgate. I tried to take a selfie but my arm wasn’t long enough and the fish was too big!

To my surprise, NO ONE had taken my spot in the ten minutes I took to deliver my fish to the truck. I headed back down and reclaimed my spot. Three casts later I was hauling in my second largest fish I’ve ever caught. I was so excited. The kid fishing behind me now had questions and was offering up his help to keep this fish in my net. What are you using? What are you catching? Where should I cast? The guy to my left was still changing out his flies. Me, I was on Cloud 9! Worst part was that hubby had made his way up the upper pool and had no idea I was slamming the fish.

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Hubby finally showed up to get a photo of my fish…me out of my waders.

I gave up my spot. I had my two limit salmon and the kid behind me was dying to try my spot. I gave him a few pointers before I left. The guy who had been fishing on my left…left.

I took my fish up the truck and laid it next to the first one. Fish number one measured 21.5 inches, and fish number two measured 19.5 inches. A number of people who showed up to fish just as I was trying to take pictures of my fish had lots of questions. It felt great to share my experience…and to see the little glean of envy from the men. It’s not often I get to catch a big one, let alone two, so it felt wonderful.

So all those guys thought they had the best spot, but I was the one who had the best catch. Lesson learned. There’s fish everywhere…you just have to know how to catch em…

Happy Fishing and always remember to share your knowledge, and to be a courteous fisherman.

 

 

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!