Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stay Safe, Dry, Warm and Comfortable In Your Treestand

            During the months of September- December, I spend a lot of time sitting in treestands. This means that over the years, I have accumulated a considerable amount of knowledge in how to stay safe, dry, warm and comfortable sitting for 8-10 hours a day 15-20 feet off the ground.
According to the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, more than 90 percent of hunters use some type of tree stand for hunting. This means that most of us out there hunting are doing so from some type of elevated platform. As such, we owe it to ourselves and out families to understand as much as possible about treestand safety.
Researchers from the University of Alabama estimate about 10 percent of hunters who use tree stands are injured while using the platforms; this averages to be 5,875 treestand related injuries per year. Treestands to be safe, require a physical and visual inspection every time before climbing. Make sure to shake and attempt to move the ladder, tug on ropes and inspect ratchet straps. Also, don’t use “homemade” treestands as they are typically not constructed to the same standard as those commercially purchased and as such are much more prone to failure.
All commercially purchased stands these days are required to come with a full body harness, unfortunately most are complicated, uncomfortable to wear, and not easily adjustable for XXL and petite hunters. These drawbacks lead to the harnesses not being worn and hundreds of hunter injuries every year. To make sure a harness is comfortable and adjustable, it pays to spend the extra money on a custom harness like the ones made by Muddy Outdoors, Hunter Safety Systems, Tree Spider and Summit Treestands. Having an easy to use harness means it will always be used and a hunter saved from possible death or traumatic injury. With care, these harnesses will last hunters for years and are well worth the investment.
Researchers at the University of Alabama also found that injury rates were highest among those 15 to 24 years old, young hunters who were more willing to “risk” climbing into a tree stand without the benefit of safety equipment. All the companies mentioned above sell youth model harnesses, specially designed for smaller hunters. This piece of equipment is as critical as wearing a cars seatbelt or bike helmet, get it wear it, everytime.
A full body harness is great for protecting a hunter while they are sitting or standing, from a treestand’s elevated seat or platform, but unfortunately, a majority of falls happen while climbing up or down ladders. My newly purchased treestand, the “Hawk Destination”, is a whopping 21 feet off the ground so to protect myself while climbing up and down, I recently purchased the Muddy Safe-Line. This simple device is basically a heavy-duty rope that attaches to the top and bottom of the treestand. As the hunter climbs, he or she simple slides the prusik knot up the rope. Should a fall occur, the knot cinches tight and the hunter is saved from a fall. Other similar systems include the Tree Spider Livewire Descent and Life-Line by Hunter Safety System.
Stay Dry and Warm
Sitting for hours is relatively easy, until the ambient temperature reaches fifty degrees Fahrenheit. This is when I typically have to reach for my heavy jacket. Wind and rain can quickly turn a relatively mild day in the 50s unbearable, unless a hunter is properly prepared. A layering system comprised of a polyester undershirt, fleece jacket, waterproof over jacket and emergency heat packs usually do the job until temperatures sink into the forties. I actually don’t mind being slightly chilled, as it helps to keep me awake and alert, but what I absolutely cannot stand is being wet. Even with proper rain gear, water always seems to seep in, hands go numb and equipment gets saturated. Last year, I decided to try one of those treestand umbrellas that attached to the tree over the treestand. First, I looked at the Field and Stream Tree Umbrella and while budget friendly; I was not impressed by its flimsy construction. I finally settled on the “Wingspan Ultimate” treestand umbrella by Hawk. While expensive, it is solidly built and provides considerable overhead coverage to keep a hunter dry in even the hardest downpour.  
More Helpful Hints
Its never seems to fail that after sneaking quietly into my treestand, on a still morning, that my monumental efforts at silence are thwarted by a squeaky treestand. To combat this problem, I carry in my pack a can of Pam cooking spray. The canola oil based spray lubricates and any odor doesn’t seem to disturb deer. Last season, I watched a doe deer walk under my treestand and casually sniff the ground where the canola oil had dripped.
Remember, hunting deer from treestands in Maine’s relatively deer poor Washington county region doesn’t make sense unless stands are placed in areas that contain deer. This means stand hunters need to be vigilant in their scouting well before November to find areas rich in deer sign, that contain landform funnels created by topography or are in locations containing natural deer attractants like apple orchards or food plots. Once a location is found, be sure to secure written landowner permission, label stands with name and address and hang treestrands in early August. If needing to cut brush for shooting lanes, also be sure to get written landowner permission.
For those looking for a deer hunting adventure, “The Great Heath” (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 25, C-3) is sure to satisfy. Also, Allen Heath (Map 25, A-2) and Beech Hill Heath (Map 25, B-3) located in close proximity to Pleasant River Lake (Map 25, A-2) contains wide open expanses of open timber, clear cuts and blueberry barrens, bring a tree climber and plan to spend the whole day, this is BIG country!

 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Lost Art of Sitting and Shoot Ducks and Chill?

The Lost Art of Sitting
The entire month of November, I spend a lot of time sitting in trees. While many prefer to stalk deer rather than sit, I am one of those hunters who likes to sit, content to simply pass the time, collecting my thoughts, watching the birds and squirrels play and patiently waiting for a deer to walk out and present a shot. I find this entire process incredibly relaxing and in few endeavors in these hectic times do I truly feel quite so at peace and connected to the natural world around me.
Sitting is becoming a lost art, a hunting skill comprised of equal parts physical endurance and mental patience. I feel that many sportsmen are losing the ability to master this skill as our growing dependence on technology seems to be robbing us of our ability to just sit peacefully. For a growing number of sportsmen, a few minutes in the stand and they become “bored” and begin playing with their phones, txting friends, taking tree stand selfies or playing video games. This deer season, leave the cell phone in a pocket and reconnect with the woods. In the end, the re-connections made back to the Maine wilds, just might put a deer on the game pole this month.
Other suggestions hunters can take to increases their chances of seeing more deer when sitting for long periods of time, include making sure to position themselves so that the sun is at their back for better visibility and also to reduce eye fatigue on bright days. This is accomplished by facing west in the morning and east in the evening. Also a comfortable thick foam seat goes a long way in helping to avoid unnecessary movement. When hunting season begins, I always find the first day of sitting is the worst, I feel fidgety, uncomfortable and have difficulty maintaining focus. As the season progress, however, the days get progressively easier and seem to move faster as I settle into a regular routine of hunting.
            A lot of deer hunters in Washington County still hunt, preferring to stalk after the areas sparse population of whitetails. Stalking is effective as it allows hunters to assess larger tracts of land than is possible simply sitting and waiting for deer. Stand hunting however can still be highly effective even in deer poor Washington County if hunters use the pre-season to scout out prime stand areas that funnel deer between bedding and feeding areas, overlook concentrated sources of food (food plots, apple orchards, corn fields, etc.). Simply setting up a stand in Washington County and hoping for a deer to walk by without doing any pre-scouting and a hunter might well be waiting years before a deer shows up!
            When deer hunting in Washington County, it is hard to beat the rugged lands accessible via the Birch Hill Road (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 36, D-1, C-1 and C-2), just outside of the town of Crawford. The Birch Hill road snakes over and around Hawkins, Huntley and Seavy Ridge as well as Pocomoonshine Mountain to the west and borders heavy swamp land and spruce growth to the east. This creates great ambush opportunities between bedding and feeding areas for hunters willing to invest a little time scouting to find the travel corridors between these two zones boasting the highest level of deer activity.
Shoot Ducks and Chill?
Duck hunting in November is wrought with challenges overcome by only the heartiest of sporting men and women. Frigid north winds blow a gale, typically throwing snowstorms or freezing rain down from the heavens, soaking even the most prepared foul weather fowler. With inland waters rapidly freezing, water fowlers head Down East where the regions salty bays and tidal inlets typically take longer to ice up.
Sportsmen feeling they possess the intestinal fortitude to hunt in these inclement and fickle weather conditions would be well served to dress warm and try their luck on Maine’s rugged coast. Areas such as the mouth of the Machias River (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, C-4) and Chandler River (Map 25 B-5) both offer protection from the icy north winds while still providing opportunities to harvest ducks late into December.
A majority of the hunting done in these locations is accomplished by pass shooting, a practice of hunting requiring no decoys and no calling; it is simply about being in the right place at the right time. Hunters successful in employing this technique choose set-up locations wisely, using pinch points, ledges and sheltered coves to force ducks into effective shotgun range. Ducks refusing to fly into shooting range, can sometimes be persuaded by employing a rudimentary understanding of duck sounds and behavior. The quack, quack, quack is the basic call of the mallard and black duck and is the “King” of duck vocalizations. Use it heartily when the winds howl, to call to ducks at a distance and lightly in the stillness of the early morning. Always call to wing tips and tails, to turn ducks toward your position and do not call repeatedly as overdoing it often frightens ducks. Simply in theory complicated in actually delivery, calling to duck and having them favorably respond is as much science as art form and one can only improve by spending years watching and listening to ducks.
Hunters should not be seen, so limit movement and cover up the often forgotten face and hands with camouflage face paint or a face mask and gloves. Often glaringly white faces staring up into the heavens, from the relative darkness of the swamp or forest, spook approaching ducks.
Decoy spreads should be seen and contain a lot of movement. This is accomplished by including spinning wing decoys, jerk chords and any other products that create water disturbances, mimicking happily feeding ducks.

Later in the season it pays to add white colored decoys to your set-up, as doing so will yield visits from both hooded and red crested mergansers. Take old mallard decoys and paint them white and black to mimic mergansers.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - The Ruffed Grouse

The Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) exists as the most widely distributed resident game bird in North America and Canada. Due to its non-vocal courtship display, in which males rapidly beat their wings creating a “thumping” sound, they have been lovingly called “Thunder Chickens”. Even in thickly wooded timber, the drumming sound can attract mates from over a quarter mile away. During courtship rituals, males display to females their thick black ruff of neck feathers; this is where the “ruffed” grouse gets its name. Often, the grouse is mistakenly called a partridge, a name meant to identify a different species of bird.
Grouse spend a vast majority of their time on the ground, where it’s dappled; gray and black coloration makes it extremely difficult to see in mixed hardwoods. When frightened, grouse typically explode wildly into flight, beating their wings very loudly and typically giving heart palpitations to anyone within immediate earshot.
Grouse feed almost exclusively on vegetation, including buds, leaves, berries, seeds, and woody plants but will also feed on small insects. The grouse’s ability to consume foods high in cellulose allows it to feed on buds and twigs of trees and other plant species that most other animals would be incapable of digesting. Since ruffed grouse lack teeth, they frequently seek out gravel roads in the late afternoon and early mornings where they swallow small pieces of grit which pass into the gizzard and help them grind up hard food items like nuts.
Historically, ruffed grouse populations follow a 10-year cycle from high to low. The cycle occurs independent of hunter harvest numbers and scientists predict it depends on a number of various factors including, availability of feed and populations of other prey animals like the snowshoe hare.

Questions
  1. What is the range of the Ruffed Grouse?
  2. What are Ruffed Grouse lovingly called?
  3. What do male Ruffed Grouse do to attack mates?
  4. What do Ruffed Grouse do when frightened?
  5. What do Ruffed Grouse eat?
  6. Why do Ruffed Grouse eat grit?
  7. How long is the “Ruffed Grouse Cycle”?
  8. Does hunter harvest numbers predict the 10 year “grouse cycle”?
Answers
  1. The range of the Ruffed Grouse includes all of Canada and North America.
  2. Ruffed Grouse are lovingly called “Thunder Chickens”
  3. Ruffed Grouse attract mates by rapidly beating their wings creating a “thumping” sound.
  4. When frightened, Ruffed Grouse typically explode wildly into flight, beating their wings very loudly.
  5. Ruffed Grouse feed almost exclusively on vegetation, including buds, leaves, berries, seeds, and woody plants but will also feed on small insects.
  6. Ruffed Grouse swallow small pieces of grit which pass into the gizzard and help them grind up hard food items like nuts.
  7. The “Ruffed Grouse Cycle” is 10-years.
  8. No, hunter harvest numbers do not predict the 10 year “grouse cycle”, instead scientists believe it depends on a number of various factors including, availability of feed and populations of other prey animals like the snowshoe hare.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

BEST Smartphone Hunting Apps

inteliSCOPE Mounted on a 12g Shotgun
There was a time not long ago when people would actually be bored. This psychological condition most likely occurred during periods of time when an individual was not involved in a particular event or activity and they simply had to lounge around with nothing specific to do. I guess more precisely what I mean to say, is that there existed just a short while ago a time when a person couldn't possibly expect to have every single moment of their existence filled with mental stimulus and distraction. Strange as it may sound, there was actually a time when a man could be alone with his thoughts and just reflect, plan and think.
It is comical, to hold in my hand a "smart" phone that often makes me feel anything but "smart". I no longer remember phone numbers, trivial facts or a hundred other minute details that I used to store in my cranium. Now, instead of having a viable memory, I just “Google it” and instantly, I can profess to know practically any piece of trivial information, including the entire history of the shalalie (Yes, I actually looked this up!). Though I am sure the original plan for the “smart” phone was well meaning, it appears that instead my "smart" phone has made me well, kind of stupid. I note lately that even my attention span seems to be waning. Activities that I once relished for their peace and quiet now seem quite frankly mundane.
This past hunting season, I spent a lot of time sitting in trees. While I would like to say I was completely content and at peace the entire time, I must confess that quite frequently, I was extremely bored. After four hours of sitting, entertained only by watching the squirrels play, I would invariably begin to feel a little nuts.
Fortunately, I have a handheld entertainment unit called a Smartphone, which if used correctly actually holds great promise to the sporting public. This hunting season, I tried hard to use my “smart phone” in a way that enhanced rather than inhibited my hunting experience. This was accomplished by using several different apps (an abbreviation for application, specialized programs downloaded onto mobile devices, like smart phones and iPads) that allowed me to maximize my time afield by assisting me in better understanding of prime feeding times, moon phase, wind direction and navigation within the large property I was hunting. Below is a listing of the apps I used this season and their primary functions:

- GPS Tracks:  This handy navigational aid does a superior job of assisting hunters, back packers, hikers, etc. in virtually mapping out a property to allow for a better understanding of deer movements and behaviors. Sportsmen can save roads, trails scrape lines, etc. as “tracks” that can be overlaid on a satellite map of the area, providing a great aerial overview of the area in which you are hunting.
- Best Hunting: This app is a computerized version of the old solunar hunting and fishing tables. Just type in the hunting date and the program calculates moon phase, sunrise and sunset and computes the optimal hunting and fishing times. While I believe many other conditions influence deer movement, the biggest deer I saw all season was on a day picked by the app to be the most optimal day of the month.
- Deer Calls Pro: Never worry about making that perfect doe in esterous bleat, buck grunt or fawn bleat again. With a simple press of the button, hunters can pick from twelve different deer vocalizations, with sounds emanating from the phone speaker. If hunters don’t find the sound from the phone speaker loud enough, adding a small Bluetooth speaker greatly enhances the sound capabilities. Also with the remote speaker, hunters can place the speaker 10-20 yards from their hunting stand.
- Quiver: The perfect scouting tool, Quiver allows a hunter to take notes, pictures, record hunting time and enter deer sightings in a simple to use interface. By collecting all of this data, hunters are better able to remember critical hunting information that can be built upon each season.
- Instagram: An online photo/video-sharing social networking service that enables users to share photos/videos either publicly or privately, as well as through a variety of other social networking platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. All in all, a great app for connecting with other sportsmen and sharing hunting photos and videos.
-inteliSCOPE: Is an app that allows a Smartphone to be used as a targeting system for your shotgun or rifle. If impressed by the app, the company sells a mounting system that attaches a Smartphone directly to a firearm, allowing it to be used as a scope and video recording device. I used this set-up with great success with my 7 and 9 year old during the spring turkey hunt. The sighting system allowed me to make sure I was able to see the exact same shot my kids were seeing to help ensure a quick kill.
- iHunt By Ruger: App contains a number of different hunting tool, including the Solunar times, activity log, weather updates and a compass. However, what is most impressive is the number of game calls the app has available. While vocalizations from everything from Alligators to Zebras might be overkill for us Mainers, the other calls available include bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, moose, fox, crows, and 30 different whitetail deer calls.

The failure of the smart phone isn’t in the design, the failure is in the user who doesn’t understand that in some situations it is better to put the phone in their pocket. In many hunting situations the unit distracts the hunters from completely tuning into their hunting environment and enjoying the experience. With a pursuit of any game animal, sportsmen owe it to the creature they are pursuing to devote the entirety of their attention to the hunt or at least cut back on the number of unnecessary distractions. This will not only increase your chances of taking game, it will ultimately make a better hunter, one more connected to the environment and their natural surroundings. Tune in this hunting season and refuse to tune out!

Coyote Trapping During the October Early Season

           Predator control (primarily for coyotes) has an extremely positive impact on whitetail deer survival rates. As such, every sportsman should do their part to help keep this wilily invader on the retreat. While many sportsmen pursue coyotes with firearms, luring canines into range with bait sites and wounded rabbit calls, another effective means of controlling this predator is by trapping.
Traps allow for the “passive” taking of game animals, meaning that traps work while a sportsman is involved doing other tasks. For the busy sportsman, running a short trap line consisting of half a dozen traps makes sense. The only constraint on time being that Maine law stipulates that traps must be checked every 24 hours to ensure a trapped animal is not left to suffer. While technically classified as a “passive” means of catching and killing predators, a person thinking of trapping coyotes should understand that this is a challenging endeavor. I like to describe trapping as a sport simple in principle but complex in the undertaking.
            To begin with, those new to trapping should start with a good solidly build leg-hold trap. For the money, there are few traps better designed and simpler to use than the #3 Bridger dog less coil spring trap with off set jaws. This sized trap is practically guaranteed to have enough strength to hold even the largest Maine coyote. Traps need to be secured to the ground or a tree using stakes or cabling to prevent trapped coyotes from dragging the traps into the wilds and never found. Traps, connectors, stakes and/or cabling will all need to be “dipped” to prevent rust, I suggest using “full metal jacket”, as this product is easy to apply and works very well.
Prime areas to place traps include abandoned skid roads, game tails leading in and out of fields, old sandpits and dried up creek beds, all make great spots to trap coyotes. Gravel pits like the expansive pit bordering Route 9 in T31 (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 25, A-4), the roads surrounding the Great Heath (Map 25, C-3) in Columbia Falls and the extensive network of roads surrounding the blueberry barrens in T24 (Map 25, B-3) all provide almost limitless opportunities to trap coyotes.
Once a suitable location has been found, a trapper needs to make some type of “set” to lure the coyote into the jaws of the trap. While dozens of books and videos have been made showing how to trap coyotes, for me, I prefer the tried, true and simple method of constructing a dirt hole set. The dirt hole set is simply a hole in the ground with the trap positioned in front of it. The trap should be securely fastened to the ground with a stake or cabled to a nearby tree so that the animal cannot escape. Once the trap is set, it should be carefully camouflaged with sifted soil and blended into the forest floor using pine needles and leaves. Some type of bait is then placed in the hole. When the coyote comes close to investigate, SNAP, he is trapped.
The early coyote and fox trapping season runs from October 16 to October 29, 2016, while the general trapping season for coyote and fox as well as bobcat, marten, mink, muskrat, opossum, otter, raccoon, red squirrel, skunk, weasel runs from October 30 to December 31, 2016.

Scout Bobcats with Game Cameras Now, for Winter Success
Sportsmen looking for a unique challenge should try their hand at hunting bobcats. Being primarily nocturnal, sporting a well-camouflaged coat and possessing the ability to sit motionless for long periods of time, bobcats are elusive creatures and despite years in the woods, many sportsmen have never seen a bobcat in the wild. This leads some uninformed individuals to believe that bobcats are rare or endangered. Scientists, however, estimate bobcat populations to be quite large, with as many as two-thousand existing in Maine and close to one million bobcats in the United States.
Most harvested bobcats are incidentals, shot while hunting other predators like coyotes so to specifically target bobcats; hunters need to know the particular habits of these crafty and methodical felines. To be successful, hunting bobcats, hunters must identify areas where cats are concentrated. The first tactic to employ when hunting bobcats is to locate where they are hiding.
Game cameras provide a viable means of tracking the movement of bobcats and while October may seem early to begin scouting, the last two bobcats I shot were initially seen in game camera photographs taken during the early fall. While I was originally attempting to capture deer movements, seeing these capable deer killing predators on my property lead me to devise a plan to hunt them during the open season running December 1st to February 14th. While territory sizes vary widely for bobcats, measuring up to thirty-six square miles for males to about eighteen square miles for females, I knew that it would be highly probable that a bobcat seen on camera during the summer would likely be prowling nearby come December.
Bobcats have short attention spans, when it comes to erratic prey sounds, so an effective technique employed, to call them to within shooting range, is to turn on an electronic call and letting it play constantly. Popular sounds for luring bobcats into shooting range include a variety of bird and rodent distress noises with wounded woodpecker being a personal favorite. Because of this, electronic calls are superior for bobcats, over hand held calls, as they alleviate the necessity of the caller to attempt to blow on a call for long amounts of time.
Motion decoys also work well for cats as they rely on their eyesight more than their noses when stalking prey. Decoys need not be overly complicated and can be as simple as a turkey feather or tin can lid suspended from a tree branch with a piece of thread and allowed to move in the breeze.
Success at calling in a bobcat is an incredible undertaking and any sportsman able to accomplish the feat certainly deserves a pat on the back. The Stud Mill Road parallels many swampy spruce thickets that hold healthy populations of small game and are magnets for bobcats. Past favorites include the area surrounding Monroe Lake and Monroe Brook and stretching north up South Brook and the Little River (Map 25, C-4, C-5).


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - The Mallard Duck

The Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos) distribution spreads throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and North Africa. Mallards have also been introduced in countries all over the world, making it one of the most widely distributed and therefore well known ducks on the planet. Easily recognized, males or drakes have vibrant glossy green heads, a white neck collar and grey wings and underbelly. Females or hens have mainly brown-speckled feathers. The bill of the male is a yellowish orange tipped with black while that of the female is generally darker.

Categorized as a dabbling duck, Mallards feed by tipping their bodies forward and grazing on underwater plants. Because Mallards feed in this manner, rarely diving, they prefer to inhabit areas possessing water less than 3 feet deep. Mallards live in both fresh and saltwater wetlands where they have easy access to water plants and small invertebrates that comprise a vast majority of its diet.

Mallard pairs form long before the spring breeding season, usually during October and November. While mallard pairs are generally monogamous, paired males will pursue females other than their mates if provided an additional chance to breed. Once breeding is complete, male leaves the female alone to construct a nest and provide all care for the eggs and young. Females typically lay 8–12 eggs that are incubated for about 30 days.

Upon hatching, ducklings are fully capable of swimming a critical part of their evolution allowing them to evade predators. Ducklings instinctively stay near the mother for protection and learn how to forage for food. After 50 to 60 days, ducklings leave the safety of the nest on their first flights. If able to successfully avoid a long list of predators, including raptors, snakes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, red fox, turtles, northern pike, bobcats and domestic dogs and cats, Mallards can live to be 27 years of age.

Questions
1. What is the distribution range of the Mallard?
2. What does the plumage of a male Mallard look like?
3. What comprises a vast majority of a Mallards diet?
4. When do Mallards breed?
5. Do male Mallards care for their young (ducklings)?
6. How many eggs do female Mallards typically lay?
7. What predators feed on Mallards?
8. How old can Mallards live?

Answers
1. The Mallard Duck distribution rage is spread throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and North Africa.
2. Male or drake Mallards have vibrant glossy green heads, a white neck collar and grey wings and underbelly.
3. A vast majority of a Mallards diet is comprised of water plants and small invertebrates.
4. Mallards breed in the spring.
5. No, once breeding is complete, male leaves the female alone to construct a nest and provide all care for the eggs and young.
6. Female Mallards typically lay 8–12 eggs.
7. Mallards are preyed upon by a long list of predators, including raptors, snakes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, red fox, turtles, northern pike, bobcats and domestic dogs and cats. 8. Mallards can live to be 27 years of age.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Modern Firearms Movement

The history of hunting firearms in the United States started in 1860 with the introduction of the Spencer rifle during the civil war. After the war, Spencer rifles were well know and wide spread and readily available. These elements set the stage for “military” rifles to become the hunting guns. This trend continued again in 1903 when Springfield bolt-action rifles were developed for WWI. At the conclusion of the conflict, these bolt-actions became the standard among hunting rifle and the .30-06 cartridge went on to become one of the most used hunting rounds in the world. Because of this trend of sportsmen adopting military style firearms, for hunting purposes, it should be no surprise that the AR-15 platform rifles (also known as Modern Sporting Rifles or MSRs) are slowly gaining momentum and acceptance within the hunting community.

The evolution of modern day firearms, like the AR-15, has occurred through our well developed and informed understanding about what truly makes a rifle great. First built by ArmaLite in 1959, as a small arms rifle for the US armed forces, the design was later sold to Colt who modified and redesigned the rifle, later selling it to the US military as the M16. In 1963, Colt started selling the semi-automatic version of the M16 for civilians under the name AR-15 and AR-15s even today, are refined versions of the original M16 design. Since its introduction to civilian service, the AR-15 has inherited a slew of nicknames, being called, "America's Gun", “the Black Rifle”, “Automatic Rifle” and even “Assault Rifle”. Some have even called it the “Barbie Doll” or “Lego Set” for men due to the rifle’s impressive “modular” design allowing it to be customized in a wide variety of configurations. This flexibility has spawned a huge number of aftermarket modifications, available for installation with just a few simple tools and a limited technical knowledge.

The AR-15 platform continues to evolve to advance our understandings about what a modern day rifle should look like and how it should operate. “Out of the box”, AR-15s contains many advance features that put them light years ahead of other older firearm platforms. Perhaps most impressive is the rifles straight forward and ergonomic design that places the charging handle, safety, magazine release, and bolt assembly all readily accessible by the shooter. This allows for superior fast handling, quick shots, light recoil, rapid magazine changes and makes the AR-15 unequaled by any other semiautomatic design. The almost unlimited available personalizations, along with the rifles modern design, have made the AR-15 the most popular rifle in the United States, with an estimated four million in circulation. So given the widespread distribution of the AR-15, across a vast section of the US population, why is it that the AR-15 platform has been so slow to be embraced by the hunting community. In this world where everyone wants to “update”, update to Blue Ray, update to plasma TV, update Apps, update to the new iPhone, why is it that as sportsmen we seem so unwilling to embrace the “update” available to our hunting arsenal? Part of this apprehension, to adopt the AR-15, as the next evolution of the modern day firearm, is based on the rocky road it has endured since its inception. Frequently attacked by politicians, the AR-15 has been painted by the media as a vile harbinger of death and destruction, a firearm having no place in civilized society. In part this “bad press” that has forced the AR-15 to the hunting “fridge”, viewed by many sportsmen as more of a passing fad then serious hunting tool. In surveys of AR-15 owners, across the US, it was determined that the number one reason for owning an AR-15 is self defense. The second major identified reason, for owning an AR-15, was for the pure enjoyment and participating in shooting sports and competitions.

I have to admit that the self defense capabilities inherent in the AR-15 are impressive. While defense was never my major reason for purchasing one, I can see how that would be attractive to a large section of the population, considering our societies current attraction to the “zombie apocalypse” and “doomsday” scenarios. While occasional trips to the range with friends can be entertaining, I am not interested in going to the range and firing off 1,000 rounds of ammunition, mostly because I am much too cheap but also because I find that practice boring. One can only reduce so many cans and bottles into small fragments before the need for a greater challenge emerges. I would much rather fine tune my skills at the range and then move on as quickly as possible to “live” fire targets like squirrels, ground hogs, coyotes, fox, bobcats and other small game animals.

Regardless of society’s perception, the AR-15 platform is, at its core, simply a semi-automatic rifle. Being a semi-automatic, the AR-15 fires lead down range at a rate closely matching the Browning BAR, Remington Woodsmaster 742 or Ruger Mini-14. The only difference, between each of these fine hunting firearms, being the AR-15s more modernized shooting platform and compact design. What most don’t realize is that compared to its more “antique” brethren, the AR-15 actually shares many of the same design elements only in a more updated and modern edition. The AR-15 is a good hunting rifle because of its proven history as a durable, reliable, versatile and accurate firearm. Made to handle combat, AR-15s are constructed primarily of polymer and aluminum, which is tough and corrosion resistant. In addition, few rifles shoot better with most AR-15s capable of putting three shots within an inch apart at 100 yards. Since AR uppers and lowers are easily swapped, it is common to have multiple uppers for the same lower, now hunters have the ability to transform their favorite varmint rifle into a deer rifle in less than 30 seconds. The AR-15 is available in a wide selection of calibers, including my favorites, the flat shooting .223 for predators and heavy hitting .308 for everything else. These reasons makes the AR-15 worthy of serious consideration by sportsmen as a primary hunting firearm.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Brook Trout Hot Spots and Fall Turkeys

September’s arrival brings with it a slight nip to the evening air, a marked decrease in the number of biting insects and dramatic changes in the foliage. September is also the time of year when hunters begin to develop that wild and crazy look in their eye, as the excitement of the impending arrival of hunting season builds to crescendo.

For anglers, September is the last chance to score a few trout and salmon before many rivers, streams and brooks are closed to all fishing beginning October 1st. Trout Fishing As the laws, rules and regulations, provided by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, require a team of lawyers to interpret; here are the basics for those who don’t want to spend money on a legal team just to go fishing for an afternoon. From August 16 to September 30, fishing in rivers, streams and brooks in Washington County is restricted to the use of artificial lures or flies only, and the combined total daily bag limit for trout, landlocked salmon, and togue is 1 fish. Also, unless otherwise indicated, lakes and ponds in Washington County have a daily bag limit on brook trout is 2 fish. To help sportsmen interpret the overly complex Maine fishing laws, here is a breakdown of rules and S-codes on three of my favorite lakes to fish, in September.

Number one on my list is Keen’s Lake in Calais (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 37, C-1), ruled by four different s-codes: Closed to taking smelts (S-2), except by hook and line and tributaries closed to taking smelts codes (S-3). Also, from October 1 to November 30 anglers must use Artificial lures only (S-6) and all trout, landlocked salmon, and togue caught must be released alive at once (S-7). Fortunately, none of the listed s-codes interfere with fishermen wanting to catch trout with live bait in September. Therefore, fishermen wanting to chuck a bobber and worm into Keen’s Lake during the month of September can catch 2 brook trout for the fry pan as long as they are a minimum of 6 inches in length. IFW regularly stocks Keens Lake and in October of 2015 dumped 4,000 seven inch and one-hundred fifty, fourteen inch trout in the lake.

Number two on my list is Indian Lake (MAP 26, B-5) in Whiting, ruled by three different s-codes: No size or bag limit on bass (S-13), a daily bag limit on trout of 5 fish, (only 1 may exceed 12 inches) and from October 1 – November 30 anglers must only use artificial lures (S-6) and lastly during October and November, all trout, landlocked salmon, and togue caught must be released alive at once (S-7). Again, as with Keen’s Lake, none of the listed s-codes interfere with fishermen wanting to catch trout with live bait in September. A word of warning however to anglers, Indian Lake was stocked on 11/17/2015 with twenty-five, twenty inch brook trout. Given that many of these beauties are likely still swimming around in the lake, fishermen should after catching four fish hold out for the possibility of one of these large fish. Indian was also stocked on 4/20/2016 with six-hundred, ten inch brook trout, on 5/5/2015 with six-hundred, nine inch brook trout, 10/5/2015 with six thousand, seven inch brook trout and on 10/26/2015 with two hundred, fourteen inch brook trout.

Number three on my list is Six Mile Lake (MAP 26, B-2) in Marshfield is ruled by a daily bag limit on trout of 5 fish and three different s-codes: First, there is no size or bag limit on bass (S-13), use or possession of live fish is prohibited, however, the use of dead fish, salmon eggs, and worms is permitted (S-4), the lake also remains open to open water fishing from October 1 - November 30 to artificial lures only but all trout, landlocked salmon and togue must be released alive at once. Six Mile Lake is closed to open water fishing from December 1 - March 31 (S-10). Again, as with the other two lakes, none of the listed s-codes interfere with fishermen wanting to catch trout with live bait in September. Six Mile Lake was also stocked on 5/7/2015 with three-hundred, eleven inch brook trout, on 10/13/2015 with sixty, thirteen inch brook trout and on 10/15/2015 with one-thousand-nine-hundred-fifty, seven inch brook trout.

The Wildman Scores at Just 9 Years Old!
Fall Turkey
The fall wild turkey hunting season is open statewide to hunting with bow and arrow or shotgun and is set to coincide with the regular archery season on deer: September 29 through October 28. Those pursuing turkey this fall in Washington County (Wildlife Management Districts 27, 28, 19 and 11), depending on the district they plan to hunt, will need to understand three different sets of harvest regulations Wildlife Management District 28 is open with a two of either sex, wild turkey bag limit, while Wildlife Management District 11 and 19 are open with a one (1) of either sex, wild turkey bag limit. Wildlife Management District 27 is closed during the 2016 fall wild turkey hunting season. Typically fall hunters still have the “spring” mindset that they can only shoot a gobbler but fall hunters can also harvest hens and poults. Shooting a hen is no more wrong than shooting a doe deer, and after eating a tender hen or poult deliciously slow cooked in a crock-pot, hunters may never want to eat a gobbler again. Hunters chasing turkeys in the fall need to modify their tactics, compared to what they employed during the spring season. Unlike the spring hunt, fall turkeys are a completely different animal. One of my favorite fall turkey hunting tactics involves spot and stalk on single birds. Using binoculars, I locate a solo bird and work to intercept its path. Having a decoy and employing soft clucks and purrs helps to nudge the bird toward you if it starts to wander off track. With luck, the bird will continue on its trajectory and walk directly in the path of your awaiting gun barrel. Another favorite technique is patterning flocks and simply setting up between the roost and their food supply. Game cameras can be extremely effective tools to help pattern turkeys. By showing exactly where and when birds are walking through or visiting a particular area hunters can use this information to be precisely where the birds are, thereby maximizing hunter time and energy afield.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) exists as one of the most commonly seen hummingbirds seen in Maine. The summer range of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird stretches across most of northern continental United States and Canada while wintering in Mexico, Central America and southern Florida. Adaptable to a wide range of habitats, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds live in open woodlands, forest edges, meadows, grasslands and parks.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds thrive in areas populated by humans and are typically seen in flower gardens and at backyard humming bird feeders. Nectar from flowers as well as small insects exists as its main source of food. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have a brilliant metallic green back and crown with a grayish white underbelly and near-black wings. Adult males have a throat patch of iridescent ruby red while female’s posses white throats with gray streaks. Both males and females have long, slender bills with male bills slightly shorter than females.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds evolved to be able to rotate its wings almost 180 degrees. This adaptation allows great agility in flight, enabling the bird to fly not only forward but backward and to hover in mid-air.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds do not form breeding pairs; after reproduction, males leave females alone to construct a nest and provide all care for the eggs and young. Females typically lay two small white eggs and produce one to two broods each summer. Chicks develop rapidly over a period of 18 to 22 days, by which point they are feathered and able to leave the safety of the nest on their first flights. If able to successfully avoid predators like raptors, spiders and even praying mantis, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds to can live to be 9 years of age.

Questions
1. What is the range of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird?
2. Where can Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds be found?
3. What do Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds eat?
4. What is the basic coloration of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird?
5. What is special about the flight characteristics of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird?
6. Do male Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds help care for young?
7. How old are Ruby-Throated Hummingbird chicks when they are able to leave the nest?
8. How old have Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds been known to live?

Answers
1. The range of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird stretches across most of northern continental United States and Canada while wintering in Mexico, Central America and southern Florida.
2. Adaptable to a wide range of habitats, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds live in open woodlands, forest edges, meadows, grasslands and parks.
3. Nectar from flowers as well as small insects exists as its main source of food.
4. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have a brilliant metallic green back and crown with a grayish white underbelly and near-black wings.
5. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have great agility in flight, equipped with special wings enabling the bird to fly not only forward but backward and to hover in mid-air.
6. No, female Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds alone construct nests and provide all care for eggs and young.
7. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird chicks develop rapidly over a period of 18 to 22 days, by which point they are feathered and able to leave the safety of the nest on their first flights.
8. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have been known to live to be 9 years of age.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Bear Hunting - Secrets of the Long Sit and Killing MORE Crows


Bear Hounds
At the end of August, I will be sitting on a bear bait in a remote corner of Washington County. Not being my first rodeo, there are certain things I understand I must do to achieve success in seeing bears and being offered a good shot opportunity. While scent control is important, an even more critical factor leading to success is a hunter’s ability to effectively control movement while at a bait site.

Many people these days lack the ability to intently and quietly sit. Fortunately, with practice, hunters can greatly improve on their ability to sit motionless for longer and longer periods of time. Over the years, I have come up with a comprehensive list of elements guaranteed to help hunters be more comfortable sitting for extended amounts of time. Of primary importance, when preparing for a long sit, is bodily comfort. If possible, hunting in a ground blind seated in a portable “camp” chair is a great option. This set-up hides a hunter, allowing for limited stretching and movement when needed. Just be sure to select a chair that doesn’t squeak or make any unnecessary noise. Also, chairs equipped with head rests and lumbar support allow for the longest sits. Taking over the counter pain relief products like Ibuprophren or Aleve and wearing loose fitting clothing work in tandem to ease circulation, additionally guarding against discomfort. Before sitting down for the evening, clear away leaves, sticks, rocks and any other material around the feet that may make noise should it be necessary to switch position.

Sitting in tree stands can be a benefit, if they are well concealed, however this is not always the case on bear bait sites. Hunters should anticipate being somewhat exposed on tree stands and because of this, it is necessary to employ even greater steps to control movement. Several millions of years of evolution have provided mankind with the ability to quickly distinguish movement in our peripheral range. Use this trait, to scan areas on the right and left without moving the head, the less movement, the more likely a bear will not notice a hunter’s presence. A term, I heard last season, well worth mentioning is “managed dehydration”. This means that as a hunter prepares for a long evening sit, they should avoid caffeine (no morning coffee) and consume no more than a few small glasses of water throughout the day. This leaves a persons body at a point of “managed dehydration”, where during a 5-6 hour afternoon sit they should not need to urinate. This can, however, leave a person with a dry throat so bring a small amount of water and have a few cough drops (honey flavored) handy to ensure a coughing fit doesn’t ruin the evening. Some hunters bring along media such as a book or magazine to read, while the more technologically advanced outdoorsmen bring smart phones. Either approach will allow less “boredom” while hunting, which hopefully increases the chance of the hunter encountering a bear. While allowing some to hunt longer, these distractions can also cause missed shot opportunities. For me, it has always been easier to sit and enjoy the simple pleasures Mother Nature has to offer. My advice is put away the smart phone!

Over a dozen different guide companies lead bear hunts within the borders of Washington County. While all inclusive hunt, meal and lodging plans can be pricy, typically ranging from $1,800-$2,200, some outfitters provide budget conscious hunters with “hunt” only plans where the sportsman provides his/her own food and lodging. This option drops a bear hunt into a price from $800-$1,000, a much more economically feasible option for some. When considering the costs of maintaining a bear bait site, including the fuel, bait and guides time cutting lanes, setting up and maintaining stands and baiting, the “hunt” only plan is a deal! If offered, most guide companies list this option on their website.

Kill More Crows
In the 1940's a biological survey, conducted by a Canadian research team, showed that crows consumed an average of 120 duck eggs or fledglings per year. The survey also indicated that crows took a heavy toll on upland game bird populations, including at least 5 percent reduction in ruffed grouse reproduction rates. Shooting crows can make a real difference in providing farm crops, nesting waterfowl and upland game birds a small degree of relief from this crafty scavenger. With healthy numbers and no limit to the number of birds taken per day, crows provide excellent shooting opportunities.

In its basic form, crow hunting requires decoys and a crow call. Decoys are essential as crows expect to see other crows as they approach the call. Hunters should deploy a minimum of six flocked plastic decoys, more decoys add realism. Motion decoys like the wing flapping “Mojo Crow” work to help bring set-ups “alive” additionally bolstering crow confidence. Place decoys in a field and a few in the nearby trees as “sentinels”. Dead crows can also be placed on the ground or hung on tree limbs, and used as decoys.

As hunters get more advanced, an owl decoy set on top of a fence post, or hoisted up into a tree works well to fire up large groups of crows. An electronic remote controlled game call adds yet another dimension to decoy spreads and increases success. Beginning calling sequences, the volume should be kept low. As shooting begins, gradually turn the volume up slightly every 10 to 15 minutes until the volume is adequately pulling in distant crows. It pays to have a rifle handy in these set-ups, as on occasion, I have had coyotes run in to investigate the crow calls.

The most common methods of hunting crows are “run and gun” and “still” hunting from a blind. During run and gun hunting decoys generally aren’t used and hunters spend only a limited amount of time in a single place. Simply get hidden, call, shoot and leave. In colder weather, sitting in a permanent or portable blind near a feeding area is highly effective; just remember to bring plenty of shells! Crows tend to be destructive and cause considerable crop damage.

Much open farmland exists along Route 1 between Danforth and Topsfield in northern Washington County (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 45, D-5, C-4 and B-4). Most farmers/landowners understand this problem and are happy to have hunters eliminate crows from their properties. Just please remember the cardinal rule of “leave only foot prints” when accessing someone else’s land to ensure it remains accessible to future hunters. Crow hunting start on August 1st and goes to September 23rd.
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