Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ice Fishing Cusk and Whitefish

This is a short article I wrote for the Jan/Feb 2016 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

The Electric Ice Auger
After suffering a back injury, battling blizzards last December, I realized that if I wished to have any hope of continuing my passion for ice fishing, I needed to find a better way of hacking a hole through the ice. My old gas powered ice auger, had been a valuable workhorse, in my ice fishing arsenal, for over 20 years but its imposing back breaking heft and ability to shake the fillings out of my mouth had me searching for a more viable option. A year ago, I would have scoffed at the prospects of an “electric” powered ice auger but the Ion Electric Ice Auger is an amazing piece of equipment. Powerful, fast and QUIET, the 8 inch ION will drill up to 40 holes through 2 feet of ice on a single charge. At just 22 pounds, the ION is just shy of half the weight of my old gas powered ice auger and boasts special blades that create smooth breakthroughs and no jarring stops. Add the ION’s ability to reverse its blade and flush slush down the hole and it’s plainly obvious that this auger should be on every anglers most wanted list.

Cusk Fishing
Now suitably equipped, why not try out your new ice auger on the hard waters, chasing the elusive and often underappreciated cusk. Although perhaps a less glamorous fish to pursue than the prized salmon and trout, these freshwater members of the codfish family are one of the finest freshwater fish to consume. Bearing an eel like resemblance and broad head with an enormous mouth, cusk have a strange appearance that has unfortunately caused many an ice fishermen to leave this odd looking fish on the ice for the scavengers. Those individuals, who specifically fish for cusk, will profess that they having a delicious firm white meat and delicate flavor. Cusk are even sometimes described as the poor man’s lobster. Primarily nocturnal bottom-feeders, cusk are rarely caught during the day by ice fishermen, further adding to their misunderstood nature. By the end of February, however, cusk begin leaving their deep-water hideaways to spawn leaving them decidedly more vulnerable to anglers. At this time, cusk can readily be taken during the early morning or late afternoon, near dawn and dusk.

Cusk can be jigged quite easily using lake trout lures (Silver Leadfish or Swedish Pimples) or phosphorescent light emitting jigs, sweetened with chunks of sucker, minnow or shiner. Since cusk locate food by smell, for increased success crush the bait slightly to allow the oils to better disperse in the water. After dropping your jig on bottom, slowly lift the lure and bait up to 6 to 10 inches and let it drop to bottom again. Cusk will normally grab the bait as it sits motionless on bottom, just before the upward stroke. Maine fisheries biologists report that Maine cusk average 18 inches and 24 ounces in their eight year of growth, 20 inches and 32 ounces in their tenth year, and 24 inches and 62 ounces in their thirteenth year. The largest angler-caught cusk recorded in Maine was 18 pounds 8 ounces.

Well-known cusk fishing lakes include: East Grand, West Grand, Pocumpus and East Musquash. Outside of Down East, healthy cusk populations exist in Sebago, Chesuncook, Pemadumcook, Brassua, Spencer and Musquacook.

Lake Whitefish
Another savory fish that frequently takes a backseat to the trout and salmon is the whitefish. Lake whitefish normally grow 14-20 inches long and weigh 1-3 pounds. One look at the silvery white sides and bellies of these fish and it is easy to see from where their name “white” fish is derived. Many anglers catch whitefish by accident while targeting other species like lake trout. While these two species share the same deep, oxygen-rich waters, whitefish congregate in large schools and aren’t “slope-oriented”, tending to instead prefer “flats”. For anglers, this means that by carefully drilling holes in the right locations and using the correct lures and presentations whitefish can be specifically and successfully targeted. Whitefish prefer depths in the 40 to 60-foot range. While whitefish are bottom dwellers, feeding primarily on larvae found in the lakes muddy substrate, they will frequently strike lures jigged well above where they are schooling. It therefore pays to begin your jigging well above where fish are congregating on the bottom and work the jig in slowly.

Proper jigging technique for whitefish is critical, start by pointing the rod tip toward the hole, then slowly lift, pause, let the lure fall under controlled slack, pause, gently shake the lure, pause again, then repeat the entire sequence. Popular jig include the diminutive half ounce C60 Williams Whitefish Spoon and the #6 Swedish Pimple. Both lures can me made more attractive by adding a small piece of florescent glow tape that can be periodically recharged by anglers with a small flashlight. Whitefish have keen senses of smell and taste, so jigs should always be tipped with a small piece of shiner. Maine ice anglers will frequently have an old wrench or other heavy instrument on a long piece of fishing line that is typically used to stir up the mud on the lake bottom. This simple trick simulates a school of whitefish feeding and will sometimes whip a group of whities into a feeding frenzy. Those interested in trying their luck fishing for “whities” would be well served to follow the lead of these long time angling experts.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Trail Riders vs. Utility Users - Snowmobiles

Modern day snowmobiles are highly specialized machines designed to meet the precise demands of today’s sporting public. Present day sleds come in a wide variety of categories such as trail riding, touring, utility and even “performance”, a classification built to satisfy event the most extreme riders. Each of these classes of sled come fully equipped with a laundry list of advanced features that would not even have been deemed feasible even a decade ago. This specialization of features has helped ensure that the snowmobile chosen for purchase will likely be exactly what is needed, for the task at hand, and not simply something close enough.

For the purpose of this article, discussed will be the strengths and benefits of trail and utility sleds, since these two categories encompass the two most widely purchased snowmobiles by consumers. Trail Riding It is certainly no secret that trail riding as a sport is enjoying continued yearly growth among snowmobile enthusiasts. Proof of this is a recent statistic released by the International Snowmobile Association estimating that 230,000 miles of snowmobile trails exist in the United States and Canada, with the state of Wisconsin leading the pack with over 25,000 miles of snowmobile trails. According to the Maine snowmobile association, Maine's snowmobile Interconnected Trail System (ITS) includes over 3,500 miles of trail. An additional 10,000 miles of trail, not covered by the ITS map, is maintained by local landowners and snowmobile clubs. This brings the total snowmobile trail system in Maine to over 14,000 miles of trail! Given the amount of access, to our most beautiful and pristine areas of Maine, that these trails provide snowmobile riders, it’s easy to understand why so many people have a passion for trail riding. Currently 265 clubs exist in Maine, affiliated with the Maine Snowmobile Association, with members riding an average of 920 miles per year. Trail riding sleds strike a nice balance between speed of performance and comfort of touring snowmobiles. While not providing the same level of comfort afforded by touring sleds and lacking the raw power of performance sleds, trail snowmobiles still have plenty to offer. Trail sleds are typically lighter, more maneuverable and speedier than touring machines and have beefier suspensions allowing them to tackle rough trails.

In the market for a trail riding sled, it’s hard to beat the Yamaha Vector X-TX, Ski-Doo’s Enduro 1200, the easy on the pocketbook Polaris 550 Indy or the 2016 snowmobile of the year, the Arctic Cat ZR 8000. Anyone of these choices would provide years of trail riding comfort and reliable service. Utility Use Trappers, ice fishermen, loggers and even ski patrol operations rely heavily on utility sleds to simply get the job done. Utility snowmobiles are the workhorses’ of the sledding world, where having no fail equipment isn’t critical, it’s mandatory.

A good utility sled can tow heavy loads, carry gear and even offer basic weekend trail riding fun after the work week is done. Utility snowmobiles feature extra wide tracks and broad skis designed to plow easily through deep snow and support the additional weight these sleds carry. Tow hitches and low gearing ratios assist these behemoths in hauling logs, heavily laden sleds and even ice shack where lesser sleds would struggle. Built to take plenty of abuse, these snowmobiles aren’t typically high on performance but instead rugged and reliable. In the market for a utility sled, I suggest taking a good look that the Yamaha VK Professional (author favorite), the Arctic Cat’s Bearcat Z1 XT, the Polaris 500 Widetrak LX or Ski-Doo Expedition. These snow machines have the required nuts . . . and bolts, to satisfy any utility sled rider and guarantee that by days end the job gets done.

Final Considerations
Given all the choices of snow machines in today’s market, it really pays for the consumer to do a little research. If an opportunity presents itself, to be able to try out a particular sled before purchasing, be sure to do so. Sometimes a sled that seems to be a good fit for an individual at the dealership is a completely appears to be a completely different animal after just a few hours of operation. Snowmobile clubs are a great way to meet individuals who share your passions and many may own or at least possess valuable information on the sled you wish to purchase. In addition, some dealerships offer customers free events where sleds are available for test rides. With a small investment of time, customers ensure that the sled purchased will provide them, for years to come, with a piece of equipment matched to the intended riding conditions and required use.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Benefit Statewide Maine Ice Fishing Derby

A great ice fishing derby and a great cause, honoring the memory of a passionate ice fisherman Alec Cyr, who passed in October of 2011 after a courageous battle with colon cancer. All proceeds from the derby go to support his son Chase Cyr's college fund.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Evolution of the Modern Day Snowmobile

Man for the first time flew into the great blue yonder in 1903 but the first vehicle capable of effectively traveling over snow wasn’t built until 1914 by O. M. Erickson and Art Olsen. Their creation was made out of a modified Indian motorcycle and featured side-by-side seating and a set of sled runners fore and aft. Named the “motor-bob”, it lacked the tracks of a true snowmobile but was otherwise similar to the modern version of the snowmobile and it stands as one of the earliest examples of a personal motorized snow vehicle.

Over the next decade, numerous people had some other wild ideas for allowing man to effectively travel over snow, including equipping early Model T Fords with tractor treads and skis. In 1924 by a man named Carl Eliason built what is considered to be the first true “snowmobile”. The machine consisted of a 2.5 HP engine set upon a wooden toboggan and while a true dinosaur by today’s standards, Eliason’s creation continued to paved the way for what has eventually evolved to become the modern day snowmobile.

As time past, several other snow machine prototypes attempted to expand and improve upon Eliason’s original design but it wasn’t until 1959 that the Ski-Doo company forever changed the history of the snowmobile. Ski-Doo patented endless track technology and was soon joined by several other companies, including Polaris and Arctic Cat who further worked to innovate snowmobile design. Sleds from these companies were soon rolling off the assembly lines with upgraded suspension systems, slide rails, more powerful engines and a laundry list of other advancements.

Snowmobiles during the 1950-60 weren’t regulated and local, state and federal governments sought to put restrictions on sleds. The largest complaint from the public was that sleds were just too loud. To answer these complaints and make sleds more “public” friendly, sled makers poured resources into reducing the sound output. Exhaust systems were improved and hoods sealed. This, of course, led to higher under hood operating temperatures which prompted the creation of liquid-cooled engines.

Eventually, more and more people began to purchase sleds, with a staggering 500,000 sold annually in the early 1970s. This shear volume of sleds created an entire culture of snowmobile riding enthusiasts who kick started the creation of thousands of miles of groomed trail that previously did not exist. The creation of this extensive trail system, lead to the possibility of longer rides, further prompting snowmobile companies to improve track suspensions systems and replace leaf springs with more back pleasing options. Early snowmobiles also used rubber tracks, but as snowmobile riders began logging more and more miles per year, tracks needed to be more resistant to wear and are now made from a Kevlar composite.

Snowmobiles continued to evolve throughout the 1980s and 1990 with the advent of fuel injections engines and electronic reverse, both of which added much more comfort and convenience to the sport. Many credit Jim Hollander, the creator of heated hand warmers in 1981, with inventing the biggest advancement in snowmobile history since the continuous track. Since the mid-2000s two stroke engines have been mostly replaced in new models by quieter and more environmentally friendly four-stroke engines.

Currently, snowmobiling is a $22 billion business in the United States and $6 billion in Canada with about 130,000 snowmobiles sold annually. The snowmobile industry employs more than 90,000 people, with jobs related to manufacturing, dealerships and tourism. In 1997 the University of Maine and the Maine Snowmobile Association conducted a study showing the economic impact of snowmobiling in Maine to be $225 million with snowmobilers on average spending about $4,000 per year on snowmobile recreation.

 Overall, snowmobiles certainly have come a long way in roughly 100 years and even today snowmobile companies still continue to innovate, allowing snowmobile to continue to evolve with today’s performance engines providing more power, increased fuel economy and cleaner emissions. While most snowmobiles today are powered by either a four or two-stroke internal combustion engine, engineers are currently exploring the feasibility of battery-powered snowmobiles. It is certainly difficult to predict specifically what other new advancements will be made in the future to continue to allow the snowmobile to evolve and become even better adapted to its environment but it is exciting to watch it continue to evolve!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

7 Tips for Buying a Quality Hunting Scope

For rifle scope reviews and full buyer guides check out Rifle Optics World.

Don’t get wrapped around Magnification This seems to be the biggest mistake people make when purchasing an optic, they assume the more magnification the better the scope is. To a degree this may be true, but not for hunting scopes. The vast majority of people do not need an incredibly powerful optic, and most hunters do not shoot beyond two hundred yards.

A typical 3 to 9 power optic is suitable for most ranges people are hunting at. Using too powerful of a scope makes close and medium range shots difficult. You may attempt to sight in on your chosen game with your 5 to 25 power scope on a deer less than 50 yards out and have issues actually finding the animal in your crosshairs. Instead of investing into an ultra powerful scope, invest into an ultra high quality scope in the 3 to 9 or 2 to 7 power range.

Know your Weapon To buy a good scope for your weapon you need to know your weapon. Your rifle may be too powerful for the scope, and if that’s the case you’re looking at a possible damage to it, or vice versa you may spend a ton of money on a scope for a rifle in 308 that’s unnecessarily rated for the 50 BMG round. Others factors could include scopes being designed around a single load of a single round like the Nikon P-300. The Nikon P-300 is designed for a 155 grain 300 Blackout round, and its bullet drop compensator isn’t going to work well with a 243 round.

Understand Light Transmission and Lens Coatings Light transmission is a more accurate term for light gathering that’s commonly associated with scope terminology. Light transmission with a rating of 85 percent or more is very high, with the top optics reaching 98 percent. Light transmission is important for hunters due to the fact most game is taken as the sun rises and as it sets, and many hunters may be under a canopy which reduces light.

Lens coating has a lot to do with how much light transmits through an optic, reduces glare, and reduces loss of light transmission through reflection. Lens coating go hand in hand with quality glass but in general lens coatings rank as so, with 1 being the ‘best’ and declining.
1. Fully Multi coated
2. Multicoated
3. Fully Coated
4. Coated.

First Focal Plane Rules
Scopes come into two focal planes the second and first focal plane. Without going into the nitty gritty of how focal planes work I’ll explain why the first focal plane rules. FFP scopes have a reticle that changes as you change the magnification. Scopes with mil dot reticles or any reticle that is used for measurement is accurate at any magnification with a FFP scopes, whereas with a second focal plane scope the reticle is only accurate at one magnification. A FFP scope allows users to make more accurate and precise shots using holdovers at any magnification. This could be 3 xs to 18x and reticle measurements will always be the same.

Survival Conditions
Going hunting can be a rather rough sport on your equipment. The world in the field is an unpredictable place, where hunters can face a variety of different threats and challenges to their equipment. Optics are somewhat fragile objects, they are made mainly from aluminum and glass. A good high quality scope for a hunting rifle needs to be sealed against water, moisture and dust. In the field it’s easy for your rifle to bang around, crash into things, and even be dropped. Who’s never slipped down a hill trying to a drag a deer out of a holler? An optic should be shock proof, and bonus points its fog proof, and has a lens coating like Bushnell’s Rain guard HD, or Vortex’s Armortek lens. In terms of construction, a solid aluminum is a great place to start, and an optic with single piece tube construction is going to be even tougher.

A simple reticle is often the easiest way to go. A simple duplex reticle is okay for short range hunting, but if you are looking at two hundred or three hundred yards look into a mil dot reticle. A simple vertical and horizontal mil dot scale will allow shooters to make adjustments for both windage and bullet drop. A bullet drop compensator is tempting, but you are isolated to one caliber, with one bullet weight and one velocity, so keep these limitations in mind. If you mind that limitation a BDC is surprisingly accurate, and I’ve enjoyed my ACOG’s BDC’s accuracy a lot. Anything too complicated will make observation difficult, and will slow your time to the trigger. Also illuminated reticles are a poor choice for hunting if the reticle is not glass etched. A glass etched reticle can be used if the battery dies, or the electronics short.

Tyrannical Turrets
It’s very tempting to go for the biggest, easiest to use target turrets on the market. In reality though these target turrets are made for target shooting for a reason. They tend to move very easily, and in the field this means they can get bumped and changed radically, destroying your zero. In reality in the field, hunting, you’ll often only get one single shot, so target turrets are often useless. Low profile turrets are often a better choice for hunters, and even turrets that require a tool to make adjustments are a better choice than target turrets. Target turrets are not as tough as low profile turrets and more apt at breaking.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - The Landlocked Atlantic Salmon

The Landlocked Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) exists as a freshwater form of the sea-run Atlantic salmon. A fish species native to Maine waters, the Landlocked Salmon originally only inhabited the St. Croix, Penobscot, and the Presumpscot river basins. Today, Landlocked Salmon inhabit over 300 lakes and close to 50 rivers and streams throughout Maine. Though a native species, only 49 Maine lakes support natural salmon reproduction.

The remaining lakes require regular stocking efforts by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to remain viable Landlocked Salmon fisheries. Without regular stocking efforts, these lakes would become barren of salmon populations. From 1996-2000 approximately 125,000 salmon were annually stocked in Maine lakes. Maine anglers normally catch Landlocked Salmon between averaging 17 inches and weighing 1 1/4 pounds. Occasionally a lucky angler will land a fish exceeding 5-6 pounds.

The current state of Maine record Landlocked Salmon was 22 pound 8 ounce behemoth pulled out of Sebago Lake by Edward Blakeley in 1907.

Landlocked Salmon possess a vibrant silvery coloration overlaid with small black spots predominantly distributed above the lateral line. A forked tail distinguishes it from trout species. Landlocked Salmon will feed on a variety of bait fish for sustenance but their preferred prey species is the rainbow smelt. Landlocked Salmon spawn from mid-October to late November. Female Landlocked Salmon deposit eggs in gravel where the male fertilizes the eggs, covers them with gravel and leaves them to incubate and hatch in the early spring. After hatching, young Landlocked Salmon swim free of the gravel and begin searching for food. Young salmon spend approximately 2 years in the stream, in which they were hatched, before migrating to a lake. With luck, stream dwelling fry will avoid predators, eventually growing-up and living 1-10 years. The oldest landlocked salmon on record in Maine was 13 years old.

Wildlife Quiz Questions
1. Are Landlocked Salmon an introduced species in the state of Maine?
2. How many lakes, streams and rivers for Landlocked Salmon inhabit in the state of Maine?
3. How many Maine lakes support natural salmon reproduction?
4. What is the average size Landlocked Salmon that anglers catch in Maine?
  5. What is the current state of Maine record Landlocked Salmon?
6. What is the prey species preferred by the Landlocked Salmon?
7. When do Landlocked Salmon spawn?
8. What was the oldest Maine Landlocked Salmon on record?

Wildlife Quiz Answers
1. No, Landlocked Salmon are a fish species native to the state of Maine.
2. Landlocked Salmon inhabit over 300 lakes and close to 50 rivers and streams throughout Maine.
3. Only 49 Maine lakes support natural salmon reproduction.
4. Maine anglers normally catch Landlocked Salmon between averaging 17 inches and weighing 1 1/4 pounds.
5. The current state of Maine record Landlocked Salmon was 22 pound 8 ounce behemoth pulled out of Sebago Lake by Edward Blakeley in 1907.
6. Landlocked Salmon will feed on a variety of bait fish for sustenance but their preferred prey species is the rainbow smelt.
7. Landlocked Salmon spawn from mid-October to late November.
8. The oldest landlocked salmon on record in Maine was 13 years old.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Kill more Coyotes with Scent Control, Ice fishing & Snowmobile Riding

Scent Control Kills More Coyotes
A coyote appeared suddenly, 50 yards downwind of my position. The wily dog weaved between spruce trees, offering me no shot opportunity. With the distance closing fast, I knew at any moment he would pick up my scent and the jig would be up. Fortunately, he kept coming and at just 10 yards, he suddenly stopped, finally smelling something that just wasn’t right. At that precise moment, my rifle cracked, and a single .223 round put that coyote down for good. I am not absolutely sure what happened that day; maybe that particular coyote wasn’t exactly the smartest of his breed. Instead, however, what I would like to believe is that I would not have shot that coyote had I not take extensive measures to control my scent.

I believe that many times when hunters fail to succeed in shooting coyotes, they simply have not taken the proper measures need to adequately control their scent profile. When the stakes are high and we are chasing whitetails, it is easy to invest the time and energy required to control our scent. When hunting coyotes however, maintaining that same level of discipline can be difficult. Scent control is not rocket science and even a basic level of scent control, when hunting coyotes, will often go a long way in allowing hunters to put more fur on the ground. No-scent soaps and deodorants are effective but should be used each day 3-4 days before hunting to ensure that residual smells from scented shampoos and body washes are eliminated. Also, wear hunting clothes no more than two outings before rewashing in no-scent laundry soap, drying and then storing in sealed plastic bags with spruce or pine boughs.

Done right, more coyotes will see their last Maine winter. Hunting coyotes is practically a sport in Down East, almost as exciting as the high school basket ball tournaments. To get in on the action, use the Stud Mill road to access a massive road network, providing access to thousands of miles of prime coyote hunting opportunities. One of my personal favorite spots is located in and around Cranberry Mountain (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35 E2) and Lower Sabao Lake (Map 35, D1, E1) both of these areas hold enough song dogs to make any hunter happy.

Ice Fishing
West Grand (Map 35, B-3, B-4) exists as a hugely successful salmon fishery, standing as one of the premier salmon lakes in Maine. The lake’s 14,340 acres and 128 ft watery depths provide excellent habitat for salmon, perhaps one of the most consistent salmon fisheries in eastern Maine. The lake provides superb habitat for coldwater sport fish, yielding trophy sized togue and salmon every season. Currently, the lake is being managed by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) to produce a high percentage of 2-pound salmon. Salmon caught by ice anglers typically range from 17 to 19-inches with the chance to pull up a larger trophy fish always a possibility. In years, boasting high smelt population densities, between 40-50% of the salmon harvested weigh 2 pounds or greater.

Show me a map of West Grand Lake and it would be difficult to indicate a specific spot where I have fished and not caught many fine salmon. Whitney Cove, the Throughfare, Hardwood Island, Pineo Point and many, many other locations are great choices for catching old silversides through the ice. Anglers targeting salmon will encounter more success if they bring smelts. While salmon will bite shiners, a much larger degree of success will be managed by those willing to invest a little more expense and effort and use smelts. If unaccustomed to using this baitfish, know they are notoriously difficult to keep alive. Bait buckets equipped with small aerators will increase the chances of keeping bait actively swimming all day long.

West Grand Lake should not be trifled with any time of year but especially during the winter. Those wishing to fish its icy depths need to have a backup plan should weather turn nasty. This plan should include extra layers of clothing, food, fire starting materials and being sure to leave an itinerary with someone should you not arrive back home by a specified time.

Snowmobile Riding
My idea of the perfect snowmobile ride includes a maximum of about 50 miles of trail done at around 10-20 miles an hour. At this speed, a rider is able to fully appreciate his or her surrounding and enjoy the beautiful scenery that the Maine winter offers. Often, I see riders flying down trails and across lakes at such unsafe speeds, it has me wondering why they appear to be in such a big hurry. It isn’t that I am an old fossil; it’s simply that I enjoy taking things slow. When I ride, I like to take my time and enjoy the moments spent outside, I stop to talk to ice fishermen, other snowmobile riders, cross country skiers and have even been known to stop at a store to get a snack and drink piping hot cocoa.

If looking for a slow ride with plenty of beauty and nice places to stop for hot drinks and an afternoon snacks, I suggest taking a ride on the Sunrise Trail ( from Machias (Map 26, C-3) to Dennysville (Map 27, A-1) or Cherryfield (Map 25, D-2). This scenic trail passes through some beautiful country and can be accessed by parking at the causeway in Machias. While the scenery is spectacular, even more fun is stopping after a long afternoon of riding at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias for a hot cup of coffee and a slice of one of their delicious pies.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - Owls

Owls belong to the order Strigiformes, a group of birds that includes 205 different species. These species are divided into two groups, categorized as true owls and barn owls. True owls are the largest group, comprised of 189 species, while there exists only 16 species of Barn owls. The Maine Audubon Society lists, 11 species of owls live in or call Maine home for a portion of the year. Owls live in a wide variety of habitats including dense forests, open woodlands, clear-cuts, and even urban environments.

Owls have well-developed binocular vision and special designed faces and ear tufts that funnel sounds, allowing them to hunt effectively at night. Owls feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, reptiles, birds, insects and rabbits. Since owls do not have teeth, they swallow small prey whole and later regurgitate bone, fur and feathers.

In January through March, male owls pick a nest site. Owls make little effort to construct elaborate nest, instead preferring to nest in hollowed out trees, on rock ledges, the top of power-line towers or in hay lofts. Some species will even take over the nests of other bird species. During this time, male owls will attempts to attract females. Owls produce a wide distribution of calls to both find potential mates and frighten off any potential competitors. Female owls lay two to three eggs that incubate for about a month before hatching. Both parents feed and care for the young till they can fly by ten weeks of age. The mortality rate on owlets is about 50 percent, with many dying due to predators and accidents with man. Owls in the wild have been known to survive to 13 years of age with a few captive birds living to 30 years of age.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. To what order do owls belong?
2. How many different species of owls exist?
3. What are the two different categories of owls?
4. How many owls live in or frequent Maine?
5. In what kind of habitats do owls live?
6. What do owls eat?
7. At what time of year do owls pick out nesting sites?
8. How many eggs do owls typically lay?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. Owls belong to the order Strigiformes
2. There exist 205 different species of owls.
3. The two categories of owls are true owls and barn owls.
4. Eleven different species of owls live in or frequent Maine.
5. Owls live in a wide variety of habitats including dense forests, open woodlands, clear-cuts, and even urban environments.
6. Owls feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, reptiles, birds, insects and rabbits.
7. Owls pick out nesting sites in January-March.
8. Female owls lay two to three eggs that incubate for about a month before hatching.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top Holiday Environmental Hazards for Your Dog

Authors Labrador "Onyx" on Top of Cadillac Mt. 
Best friend, hiking buddy, confidant, dogs are such a critically important part of our lives, as responsible pet owners, it pays huge to understand your dogs needs, as they relate to the holiday season. Even the best behaved dogs can have their manners tested as new treats, strange visitors and other distractions enter the household. While a vast majority of these interactions will be benign, to properly protect your pet, owners should be prepared. Preparation comes in the form of having the right knowledge, skills and even equipment, to ensure that your holiday's are peaceful and not disrupted by a emergency trip with Fido to the veterinarian!

The holidays are fun, festive times filled with things like parties, gift exchanges, and decorating, and the cold weather causes most people to send a lot of their time indoors. As a dog owner, you’re unlikely to overlook man’s best friend during the hustle and bustle, but many people are unaware of the holiday hazards to their dogs that they bring into their homes. What are these common environmental dangers? And what can do owners do - short of erecting a giant DIY dog fence and barricading the Christmas tree - to protect their dogs?

Toxic Holiday Plants
Bringing plants into your home is a great way to bring in some of the life of the outdoors, but you must be particularly careful when you have a dog. Many common houseplants - especially the ones most common at the winter holidays - are toxic to dogs. The safest bet is to opt for the artificial versions, if possible. If not, it’s important to place these plants out-of-reach of your dog, and be sure to clean up any fallen foliage from the ground before your dog does.

Mistletoe will upset your dog’s stomach, and it can cause heart collapse in severe cases. Poinsettia can upset your dog’s stomach, too, and cause severe mouth blisters. Holly can cause pain and vomiting. All of these plants can be fatal if your dog ingests too much of them. Hibiscus and lily plants can also be toxic to dogs. You should also make sure these plants are not growing inside your yard or within the boundaries of your electronic dog fence.

Christmas Tree Concerns
An authentic Christmas tree is the most iconic decoration, but bringing one inside your home creates some unique concerns if you have a dog. Pine needles are toxic to dogs, especially in large amounts (although smaller dogs are more at risk). Even in small amounts, pine needles can irritate your dog’s mouth or stomach. Don’t allow your dog to chew on the branches of an artificial tree, either, because the chemicals used to produce the tree could be toxic.

The water inside your Christmas tree stand is also a potential danger. Stagnant water always breeds bacteria, and any chemicals or pesticides used in growing your Christmas tree will pool inside the stand. If your dog drinks the water, they can become very sick or even die, so it’s a good idea to change the water on a daily basis.

If your dog enjoys chewing on electrical cords, light strands can pose a problem. Glass ornaments, tinsel, and ornament hooks can also cause serious internal damage if ingested. If your dog won’t leave the tree alone, a good solution is an indoor electric fence for dogs. Placing an invisible dog fence around your tree will block your dog’s access to it. Your dog will be kept at a safe distance, and you won’t have to make any changes to the way your Christmas tree looks.

Signs of Stress
Lots of people, noise, and activity might stress you out, but your dog is at a much greater risk of becoming stressed in busy situations. Most dogs are overwhelmed at holiday parties, for example, and they require quiet and solitude to recover. If your dog is too stressed, they can become dehydrated and physically ill, so it’s important to take them to a separate, quieter area, along with plenty of water, so they can rest and recharge.

Dogs can exhibit many different signs of stress, but here are some common ones to look for: cowering, trying to escape, pacing, growling, panting, staring, freezing up, jumping, showing the whites of their eyes, fur standing on end, hiding, or rapid breathing. Since you know your dog better than anyone else, take any behavior that is unusual for them as a sign of stress. If you’re traveling, try to identify a quiet place for your dog to de-stress before they need it. For dogs that are trained with an e-collar, a portable electric dog fence is a good tool for establishing a safe zone for your dog anywhere, including a campground or yard without a fence.

It’s a good idea for all dog owners to know basic dog first aid and CPR, just in case they’re faced with any significant emergencies. As always, keep the phone number to your vet’s emergency line on-hand, and call at the first sign of trouble. If you notice your dog acting strangely or becoming sick, call your vet or an animal hospital for guidance immediately.

Working dogs deserve the best protections available. If you are considering electric dog containment visit our educational partner for portable and static dog fencing solutions.

Any readers commenting on this post with automatically be entered to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card! Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Tradition of Hunting

This is a short article I wrote for the Nov./Dec. 2015 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

Bedtime this past Saturday evening was highlighted by my 6 year old confidently pronouncing, "Daddy today was the best day evah!" Considering the achieved levels of decadence of his past birthday parties and how badly he was spoiled at Christmas, I considered this an extraordinarily bold statement. So, one might ask, what life-altering event could be so incredibly spectacular as to spur my young son to utter such a statement?

To the dedicated sportsman, it should come as no surprise that this proclamation came on the heels of his first day duck hunting. For me, starting to hunt was a relatively easy endeavor, having grandfathers, father, and an uncle who were all registered Maine guides and passionate about the outdoors. From a time shortly after I began walking, they helped me take the steps in my outdoors training that eventually led me to become interested in hunting.

What most people don’t understand is that hunting is much more then handing a young boy a rifle and pointing him in the direction of the woods. A hunter is someone who has undergone years of instruction and guidance, developing an understanding a large number of individual skills and eventually building to the mastery of a diverse set of abilities. Most importantly, before venturing forth into the wilds, one need to learn to be safe and comfortable in the woods, how to use a map and compass and know what to do should they become lost or injured. A hunter knows how to properly dress for the bitter north winds and how to start a fire in the wettest and direst of circumstances. These are fundamental skills that should be learned early by all outdoorsmen. To hunt game ethically and well, one must understand the animal they are pursuing, know its tracks, behaviors and where it is likely to bed, habituate and feed. A hunter must know how to shoot from a variety of stances, understand the inner workings of firearms, including how to clean and care for them. To humanely kill game, a hunter must know the animal’s anatomy and where to place a shot to quickly dispatch it. A hunter must know what to do should that bullet not be perfectly placed and an animal need to be tracked. A hunter must understand how to field dress, butcher and properly care for a killed animal, so the meat is not wasted. Lastly, it is the best of hunters who know how to properly cook game and prepare it for the dinner table.

All of these lessons are important as they’re the basic building blocks of creating an understanding and respect of the outdoors and the animals we as hunters pursue. Most people go to a supermarket, pickup a piece of meat, secured in plastic and don’t think: “Where did this meat come from? Did the animal suffer? Was it raised in captivity?” When a hunter shoots a deer, he has a pretty good understanding where that meat came from, whether the deer was taken humanely and know that the meat he is harvesting is completely organic. Hunters understand what hard work it is to take an animal from the field, clean it, butcher it, package it and make it ready for the dinner table. We as a society aren’t passing this connection on to the next generation and teaching the importance of these skills.

Our society reeks of trouble, too many things vie for our attentions, frequently removing us from the natural world and keeping us inside. Videogames, movies, the Internet, smart phones . . . we’re always connected, absorbed, distracted, multitasking and whether we know it or not, overwhelmed. Kids simply aren’t bored anymore; they always need to be entertained. And when those kids are put in an educational setting, unless the teacher is jumping on the desk or standing on their head, they just can’t hold the students’ attention long enough to teach them anything. That’s unfortunate. The education side of introducing women, kids and people who have never had a chance to hunt has come full circle for me now that I have kids. I have 6 and 8 year old boys, and while I would like them to grow up sharing my passion for hunting and fishing, I’ve always said it’s their choice and I’d never force it on them. I provide all of the entry points, but if they don’t want to take it up, that’s up to them. Their “wild” education started out identifying animal tracks in the winter, chasing rabbits and squirrels through the spruce thickets. Now they’re of an age where I take them hunting with me. This past October they joined me in the duck blind and on frequent walks hunting gray squirrels, rabbits and partridge, sometimes during these outings there is whining, often they struggle to be quiet and typically we arrive back home empty handed, having invested hours in the wilds with not a game animal to show for our exhaustive efforts.

However, hunting is so much more than harvesting a game animal; hunting at its roots is all about bringing family and friends together, connecting to the food eaten, having respect for animals and working to preserve this heritage for future generations. Hunting is ultimately only 10 percent about harvesting an animal. The remaining 90 percent is about hanging out with family and friends, spending time afield enjoying Mother Nature, and the frequent quiet, self-reflective moments.
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