Monday, February 12, 2018

Critical Ice Fishing Updates

My old Jiffy ice auger coughed, wheezed and finally sputtered to life like an asthmatic struggling for a last strained breath at a dust mite convention. Loaded with last year’s “un-stabilized” ethanol fuel and operating in an ambient temperatures just above freezing, the poor old girl’s carburetor strained to maintain a healthy purr. Despite her initial complaints, the beast to tore four impressive ten inch holes through the ice and in the process, just about rattle every filling out of my skull. Then suddenly and quite unexpectedly something inside the machine made a loud “clank”, the motor whined, bucked and then died. A quiet calm settled onto the lake, as the last echoes of the augers final belches of exhaust spewed out of its muffler. This incident marked for me the end of an era, a final goodbye salute to an old friend. It also proved to be the last time I ever picked up a gasoline powered ice auger.
ION Ice Auger ROCKS!
Years 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 blatantly obvious that this auger should be on every anglers most wanted list. I purchased my ION about 4 years ago and since that time, the company has continued to make numerous updates and changes to the original ION to make it even more effective in cutting ice.
The newest addition to the ION line-up is the ION X, 40-Volt High-Performance Auger. This new ION auger boasts numerous improvements including the ability to drill through almost double the amount of ice as the older models. It also has a center point blade, like the old Jiffy’s that makes pin point blade positioning possible. Also, integrated LED lights for drilling in low-light situations and an new trigger and handle design make it even easier to operate than the original. Even with all of these ergonomic and performance upgrades, the ION still weighs a mere 22 pounds. When you can hand your auger to your 11 year old son and have him safely drill all of the ice holes, you realize that the initial investment is well worth the money.
Ice Chisel Valuable Tool
Another investment I made last year, in my ice cutting arsenal, was a new ice chisel. Now a sane person might wonder why an individual with a power ice auger would also need an ice chisel but be assured there was a need. My previous spud, was a relic used by my grandfather that was basically a long iron pipe that had one end flattened with a hammer and had then been sharpened with a file. While it would eventually hack through the ice, I always felt using this “tool” to bludgeon my way through the hard water was likely a task that could be vastly improved upon. The Eskimo Redneck Ice Chisel is truly the lamborghini of ice chisels. While I would not use it to hack my way through 3 feet of ice, it is a fantastic tool for easily chopping out day old holes previously fished by yourself or other fishermen. Also, if like me you enjoy trapping your own live bait, the chisel is indispensable in keeping the holes open and clear of ice.
Let’s go Fishing
            Properly outfitted with the latest in ice fishing gear, anglers this month would be well served to begin chasing brook trout on many of the stocked ponds in Central Maine.  In historical alignment with previous yearly stocking reports, Togus pond (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 13 C-2) in Augusta was stocked with approximately 1,000 brook trout in the 12-13 inch range during the month of November. While Togus receives heavy fishing action, good fishing exists on this 676 acre pond right through early spring. In addition to brook trout, the pond also contains a healthy population of delectable white and yellow perch and largemouth bass of the size that will turn heads. Access to the pond is available off route 105, approximately 5 miles outside of Augusta. Parking is limited along the road as well as at a small parking lot next to the bridge. Since the access is at the extreme southern end of the lake, on windy days there is very little protection. Many anglers bring small portable shelters or haul in via snowmachine large, comfortable ice shacks complete with wood fueled heaters.
            If anglers are looking for lots of popping flags, Little Togus Pond (Map 13, C-2) offers explosive action for largemouth bass, pickerel and yellow perch. Anglers should just make sure that they walk at least half way across the pond before drilling holes as the pond is extremely shallow. Again, as with Togus Pond, out in the middle of the lake there is very little shelter from the wind so plan accordingly. When I fish big and little Togus with my children, I wait for calm and sunny days or bring my small portable ice shack and little buddy heater. Having them warm and comfortable means they enjoy the experience and I get to spend more time fishing!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Choosing the Perfect Generator

If there is one thing that the wind storm of October 29th, 2017 taught me, it’s the importance of having a generator to run critical appliances during an extended power outage. If not for a friend allowing me to borrow his generator, 7 days without power would have caused all of the food in my freezer to spoil.

Determined never to be caught in such an awkward situation again, I recently purchased a generator of my own. Purchasing a generator was not a task I took lightly and my final selection was done after completing considerable research on several of the most popular generators on the market. The first thing anyone will notice when selecting a generator is that there are a vast number of makes and models available. Finding the perfect fit is accomplished by determining a balance between, price, weight, wattage, decibel (db) rating and fuel type.

Generators come in two main categories, stationary and portable. Stationary generators are large, powerful, expensive devices designed to run entire households, businesses and hospitals. Portable generators are relatively light, easier on the wallet and of course transportable. In this article, I will be discussing portable generators.

Determining Power Needs 
There is no question that a generator is practical during a power outage but aside from that, generators are also valuable for providing power while tailgating, at “off-grid” cabins, when RV camping or running and charging tools at construction sites. For me, I needed a generator that would provide emergency power at my home and when not needed at home, provide electrical power for a small “off-grid” cabin. Generally, higher wattage generators cost more, are heavier and consume more fuel. For these reasons, it’s important when selecting a generator to first determine how much power (wattage) is need. To answer this question, determine what electronic devices you plan to simultaneously run as well as the wattage of the largest appliance requiring power. Most electrical devices require more power to start than they do to run, so be sure to look at an appliances start-up wattage as well as its running wattage. For my situation, I only needed enough power to run a couple lights (180w), charge my cell phone (25w) and run a refrigerator (700w), coffee maker (1000w), microwave (1000w) and a selection of power tools during construction projects, circular saw (1400w) and table saw (2000w). Since it would never be necessary to run all of these appliances and tools in unison, I calculated that a 2000 watt generator would likely provide me with all of the power needed. The Internet contains charts listing the power requirements of hundreds of different appliances so when determining exact power needs be sure to conduct a Google search for “wattage calculator”.

Fuel Choices 
Generators run on a variety of different fuels including, natural gas, propane, diesel, regular gasoline, mixed gasoline and even solar. To simplify the available choices, two fuels stand out as the most viable options, propane and regular gasoline. Deciding on one or both of these fuels (some generators can run on both propane and gasoline) is really up to the individual. Dual fuel generators cost more, single fuel generators cost less. Also, how often will the generator be in operation, once a year or practically all the time? Gasoline has a shorter shelf life than propane and if planning to pull out a generator 1-2 times a year for emergency power, a consumer could potentially want a propane model. For me, running a generator practically all of the time, for a variety of different purposes, regular gasoline seemed the best option both for its widespread availability and ease of use.

Finding a Balance 
Now with an understanding of my anticipated power needs, I then began looking at the next two critical factors, weight and decibel rating. Since my generator was going to be transported between home and camp, it was important to select a model I could easily load and unload from my truck. Also, because the generator was going to be used at my cabin, I really wanted a model that was quiet, thus maintaining the serenity of the locale.

Making a Final Selection 
After compiling all of the information, I began searching the Internet for a generator that would fit all of my anticipated needs. After looking at several different brands, I finally settled on four of the mostly highly reviewed and consumer recommended models. On this list were the Honda EU2000, $899, 59 db, 51 lbs, Champion 2800, $899, 58 db, 95lbs, Yamaha EF2000isv2, $989, 51.5 db, 44.1lbs and Generac GP2200, $599, 60 db, 46.6 lbs. Given how close all of the generators were in what they were able to provide and the similarities in costs, my final decision was made by eliminating the Champion model because of weight, eliminating the Yamaha model due to price and eliminating the Generac model because it received a lower consumer recommendation than the Honda.

As such, my final decision on a generator was the Honda EU2000, a machine possessing the perfect mix of all of the key ingredients and power I needed. An important additional item is that if not concerned about a generators weight and decibel rating, a considerable amount of money can be saved. For example the Champion 3650 is a loud 68 db and heavy at 98lbs but provides well over 3500 watts at a bargain price of $319.

Cautions and Dangers 
Generators are NEVER to be operated inside an enclosed area, as they emit carbon monoxide that can kill people and pets in minutes. Care should even be taken not to run a generator in close proximity to an open door or window, as dangerous fumes can still enter interior spaces. Generator can safely provide power by either using extension chord(s) to provide power to a homes electronics or by hard wiring directly into a homes fuse box. Portable “emergency” generators (2000w and lower) tend to be used by a majority of homeowners using extension chords. Larger generators (2000w and greater) tend to be hard wired, as this is a safer and more convenient model. Homeowners wishing to hardwire their generator should have the installation completed by a certified electrician and thoroughly understand how the generator is connected to the house’s electrical system and the power grid.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Pike Fishing Primer

I am excited at having been chosen as the new Central Maine writer and I look forward to chronicling my outdoor adventures with family and friends throughout this region for many, many years to come. It is my hope that through this sharing, I am able to provide knowledge and information that enriches the outdoor experiences of my readership and helps nurture our sporting heritage and traditions. Thanks for following along!

Pike Fishing Primer 
Ask most Northern Pike enthusiasts about ice fishing and you will hear a lot of stories about catching them early and late in the hard water season. This is because both during early ice (December) and in the spring (late February), Northern Pike can be found in fairly shallow water, clustered around weed beds and the mouths of tributaries in search of food. By January, however, Pike have moved out of the shallows and into deeper waters in their relentless pursuit of food. This migration makes the job of finding pike a much more difficult endeavor. To turn the odds in your favor, anglers need to first target lakes containing Pike.

Location, Location, Location In central Maine, finding a lake containing pike is becoming an increasingly easier and easier task. This is both unfortunate to angling traditionalists and exciting to those of us who simply like to catch monstrous sized fish. When in pursuit of Pike, it is important to note that not all central Maine lakes are created equal. Some lakes simply produce larger pike than others. Lakes in central Maine that consistently produce trophy sized Pike include: Great Pond, (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 20 ,E-4) Messalonskee Lake, (Map 21 ,E-1) Long Pond, (Map 20 ,E-4) North Pond, (Map 20 ,D-4) and Annabessacook Lake (Map 12 ,C-3).

No matter what time of year, Pike are still ambush feeders. Even though pike may have departed from their classic shallow water territories, they will still congregate around some type structure where they can lay and wait for unsuspecting prey. Structure in deep water includes rock piles or steep drop offs. Study lake maps to find shelfs, corners or dips that interrupt these drop offs, as they provide places for Pike to hide as they wait for bait fish to swim along these breaklines. Spot and Stalk After selecting a promising location, start drilling holes, a lot of holes. Those who lament at this tedious chore would be well served to invest in an ION electric ice auger. Light enough to be lifted with a single finger; this amazing device really simplifies the chore of pounding holes through the ice.

I like to compare Pike fishing to deer hunting. There are stand hunters and there are spot and stalk deer hunters. By drilling only a few holes, anglers are waiting and wishing that a Pike will swim by their jig or bait. Instead of using this passive technique, I recommend actively stalking the Pike by drilling 15-20 holes in varying depths along a section of promising structure. Jig each hole for a maximum of 20-30 minutes to actively locate fish. Using modern electronics, like a flasher, can help find fish faster but anglers can still have great luck by simply being proactive in their drilling and jigging.

Pike will eat almost anything and as such, have been caught by anglers on almost every type of fishing lure imaginable. With that said, however, there are certain lures that tend to work better than others when in pursuit of big, wall hanger Pike. Vertical Spoons like the Swedish Pimple and Acme Kastmaster, are favorites and their performance can be improved by adding a piece of cut bait on one of the hooks, a killer combination. Drop the lure to the bottom, lift, drop and lift 5-6 more times then hold it still. Pike often hit the lure when it stops moving. Often I let the lure sit for a couple seconds, then proceed to give it a slight twitch before jigging again. Often that little twitch is all it takes to elicit a brutal strike. Tip-ups While jigging catches a lot of Pike, anglers should not limit themselves to only one line in the water. When done in unison, jigging and using tip-ups serve up a lethal combination of techniques that put Pike on the ice. As Pike are generally curious creatures, aggressively jigging lures, creating a disturbance around a tip-up will often increase the number of catches in a day dramatically Tip-ups are an extremely effective means of presenting big bait to big Pike.

A sturdy tip-up with a large spool capable of holding 300 feet of line and having a tension adjustment, helps to keep large bait from continually triggering the flag. Generally, the bigger the Pike being targeted the bigger the bait that should be used. A live Sucker or Golden Shiner in the 6-8 inch range will be an irresistible meal to an 18-20 pound pike. Just make sure to anchor it solidly in place, using a 1/2 ounce sinker, so that it cannot escape. Big Pike are notoriously lazy and don’t like to expend a lot of energy in pursuit of a meal. This past ice fishing season, I used dead bait and had a higher catch rate than with live bait. Often with Pike fishing, it pays dividends to mix it up now and then.

Speaking of mixing it up, Google and buy the “Quick Strike Rig for Pike” and watch your rate of successful hook-ups soar! I have checked with my contact at the Maine warden service and been assured that these devices are legal for fishing purposes as long as “both of the devices hooks penetrate a single bait, so as to catch a single fish.” When drilling holes and rigging tip-ups, I like to drill my holes parallel to promising structure and set baits at two feet off the bottom. If after a couple hours, I don’t elicit a strike, I will move the tip-ups to alternate pre-drilled holes in other promising locations. FLAG!

When a pike grabs the bait line typically flies off the spool at such a rate of speed that a roster tail of water flies off the back of the spool. I usually allow the fish to run until it stops. This is when a pike typically swallow the bait. As soon as the line again begins to spool out, immediately set the hook. In deep water this technique is usually very effective in making sure the Pike is well hooked. In shallow waters or in waters with a lot of underwater structure, it is better to simply set the line as fast as possible. Once caught, Pike will try everything they can to break off and will quickly become entangled in rocks, branches, submerged trees and any other structure so they can to escape.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wildlife Quiz - Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch
The yellow perch, (Perca flavescens) belongs to the Percidae or perch family of fishes. Yellow perch are native to the North American continent but dispersed widely from its original predominant range of the eastern United States and Canada due to its popularity as a sport and commercial game fish. Yellow perch have gold or yellow colored bodies and possess unmistakable dark vertical stripes. This unusual color pattern has given them the nickname “tiger trout” by anglers. The dorsal fin, contains several sharp spines that work to protect the fish from predators and provide unsuspecting anglers with an unpleasant surprise. Yellow perch are a relatively diminutive species of game fish, averaging between 5-8 ounces. It is not uncommon in health yellow perch waters, to occasionally catch large adults reaching 10 inches and weighing 10 ounces. The largest yellow perch caught in Maine was a monsterous 1 pound 10 ounces behemoth taken out of Worthley Pond in East Peru, it currently stands as the state record.
A gregarious species, yellow perch often travel in large schools, making fishing for this delectable game fish exciting once anglers locate them. Rarely taken from waters more than 30 feet deep, yellow perch tend to prefer living a majority of their lives eating and breeding in shallow waters. Perch are prolific breeders, with male yellow perch reaching sexual maturity at three years of age, females at four. Perch spawn in the spring, typically in April and June. Mating occurs with females first releasing a sticky, gelatinous mass of eggs that adheres to dense vegetation and fallen trees. During the spawning season, males release milt around the eggs to fertilize them. Eggs and sperm are randomly mixed and soon after fertilization, the young hatch. Yellow perch typically live 9-10 years
Body size predominantly determines the diets of yellow perch. Juvenile yellow perch eat small insects like mosquitoes while the larger adult yellow perch dine on crayfish and the eggs and fry of other fish. In turn, bass, walleye and northern pike all prey on perch.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What family of fishes do yellow perch belong?
2. What is the primary defense weapon of the yellow perch?
3. What is the native range of the yellow perch?
4. What do male yellow perch release on the female yellow perch eggs to fertilize them?
5. What was the weight of the biggest yellow perch caught in Maine?
6. What is the average weight of an adult yellow perch?
7. When is the mating season for the yellow perch?
8. What is the average life span of a yellow perch?
9. What fish species prey on yellow perch?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. Yellow perch belong to the Percidae or perch family of fishes.
2. The primary defense weapon of the yellow perch is a dorsal fin, containing several sharp spines that help protect the fish from predators.
3. The native range of the yellow perch runs across the eastern United States and Canada.
4. The male yellow perch releases milt onto the female’s eggs to fertilize them.
5. The biggest yellow perch caught in Maine weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces.
6. The average weight of an adult yellow perch is 5-8 ounces.
7. The mating season for the yellow perch runs from April to June.
8. The average life span of a yellow perch is 9-10 years.
9. Yellow perch are preyed upon by bass, walleye and northern pike.

Monday, December 4, 2017


"There's something not quite right with you!?!?!" and thus started an interesting conversation with my Dad, one blustery Saturday afternoon while ice fishing. Inquiring, with the slightest bit of hesitation, I asked, "Why would you say that?" The old man took a deep breath and then started in on his tirade . . . "Well, you and your friends layer up in all this newfangled super insulated clothing, and then proceed to sit out in the middle of the lake all day long, in weather conditions not fit for man nor beast, then at lunch time, you heathens chow down a can of sardines, a couple little Debbie snack cakes and call it a meal!?! Lastly, if you do manage to catch a fish you take it home and throw it in the freezer where it may not get eaten for months!"

At that point, I stared blankly at the old man trying to figure out exactly what was wrong with the series of events he had just relayed. Clearly exasperated, the old man took another deep breath and continued . . . "I taught you better than that! Don't you remember all those times fishing pickerel ponds as a kid? Don't you remember warming frozen toes and fingers on a warm lake side fire? Don't you remember eating freshly caught fish wrapped in tinfoil and gently steamed on the coals of a fire? Don't you remember cooking hot chocolate in an old tea pot? AND lastly PLEASE tell me you remember eating red hotdogs and marshmallows cooked on freshly cut alder branches?"

I again stared blankly . . . Now nearly frantic in his level of disgust, the old man staggered across the deep snow and dragged a large dead tree out of the shoreline brambles. As I drilled holes and prepared lines, he worked tirelessly to organize a sheltered "hangout" area by piling up blocks of snow to make a windbreak and constructing a small teepee of sticks to serve as the beginnings of a small fire.

Scientists have proven that the sense of smell is the sense most closely linked to memory and of that I am not surprised. As I finished baiting the last hook, the smell of acrid wood smoke began drifting across the hard water, bringing with it a lifetime of happy ice fishing memories that slowly began leaking back into my conscious mind. As I walked over to the old man, I asked "Hey Dad did you bring any of those red hotdogs and marshmallows?" A wide smile appeared on the old man’s face, "Certainly" said Dad, "I thought you would never ask."

I wanted to share this story as it really is interesting how ice fishing has changed tremendously from my Dad's generation to mine. He and his friends were without snowmobiles and ice augers, they would hike up to 5 miles through deep snow to access good ice fishing waters. They enjoyed only tea (who can walk 5 miles with a buzz-on!) and ate almost everything that they caught fresh from the icy waters over a blazing lake side fire. When I compare that to our "modern" ice fishing lifestyle, I begin to feel a little bit disgusted with myself and what I have allowed to be stolen from the enjoyment of this great outdoor activity. With eyes now open, I vow to make more of a concerted effort this season to embrace the "old" ways and make sure these excellent traditions and treasured memories are passed on to my children!

I had believed for many years that a fire on the ice was not permissible under Maine law. A review of the Maine statutes and an email to the Maine warden service proves my belief incorrect. Maine’s revised statute on open burning (9325) reads that “open burning without permit is permissible on frozen bodies of water, when not prohibited by state rule, local ordinance or water utility regulation and as long as no nuisance is created.” The Maine warden service reports that “a fire on the ice is permissible except when specifically prohibited such as on water supplies. Litter left behind is generally what creates the greatest issue, such as beer cans and other non-burning materials.”

Ultimately, according to the law and law enforcers, if ice fishermen are not on a regulated water supply and remain responsible, there is no reason why a warming/cooking fire on the ice cannot be built. Now before heading for the shoreline to collect firewood to build a raging bonfire, please make sure you are acquainted with the law on the frozen body of water on which you are fishing and even more importantly, be prepared to follow good sporting ethics when building a fire on ice. Remember that every shoreline belongs to someone, so being respectful and thoughtful should be high on everyone’s priority list. Being responsible means keeping fires at a manageable and easily controllable size. Fires should not be constructed in close proximity to camps and other shoreline structures. Wood for fires should either be brought in or deadwood salvaged from shorelines. Live trees should never be cut and bark should never be stripped from trees and unless in very remote areas, even dead trees should be left standing. Most of the time, a small cooking/warming fire can be constructed from driftwood and dead branches salvaged from 3-400 yards of shoreline.

For the uninitiated, building a fire on the ice is an act in futility unless the person first understands a couple critical construction details. First heat from the fire melts the surrounding ice creating steam that makes starting a fire and keeping it going almost impossible. Secondly, a pool of water forms directly under the fire pit, due to the heat from the fire melting the surrounding snow and ice, this also will eventually extinguish the fire. Before building a fire on the ice, first create a platform of wooden logs on which the fire sits. Doing this eliminates both the issues discussed above.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Little Brown Bat - Wildlife Quiz

The Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) exists as one of the eight different species of bat that live in Maine. The range of the Little Brown Bat stretches across the northern half of the United States, southern Canada and has been spotted in Alaska, the Yukon and even Iceland. Both male and female Little Brown Bats, as their name suggests, have uniformly dark brown fur and matching dark brown wing membranes. A diminutive bat species, adults rarely exceed a length of 4 inches and weigh less than half an ounce.

Contrary to popular opinion, less than one bat in twenty thousand has rabies, and no bats in Maine feed on blood. Instead, of being viewed as disease ridden, blood sucking vermin, bats should be respected for the critical role they play in helping to maintain healthy ecosystems by preserving the natural balance of insect populations like mosquitoes, blackflies, wasps and midges. For example, a Little Brown Bat typically consumes its body weight in insects each night during active feeding. Scientists estimate bats save the U.S. agricultural industry $3 billion a year in pest control. In the summer, Little Brown Bats sleep approximately 20 hours a day, conserving their small fat reserves of energy, by primarily hunting during dusk and dawn when insect prey are most readily available. Little Brown Bat possesses the ability to survive harsh climates, like Maine winters, by both migrating and hibernating.

When fall arrives, Little Brown Bats fly to more southern locales where they join hundreds of other bats in a hibernaculum or “winter quarters”. These hibernaculum typically include caves and mines, where they hibernate for the winter. If successful in avoiding predators, like fisher cats, weasels, raccoons, birds, rats and snakes and disease, Little Brown Bats live approximately 6 to 7 years. White-nose syndrome has decimated Little Brown Bat populations since its discovery in 2006.

1. How many species of bat live in Maine?
2. What is the range of the Little Brown Bat?
3. What color is the Little Brown Bat?
4. How much does the Little Brown Bat weigh?
5. How many insects does the Little Brown Bat consume every night?
6. How much money does the Little Brown Bat save the U.S. agricultural industry in pest control every year?
7. Does the Little Brown Bat hibernate?
 8. How long does the Little Brown Bat live?

1. Eight different species of bat that live in Maine.
2. The range of the Little Brown Bat stretches across the northern half of the United States, southern Canada and has been spotted in Alaska, the Yukon and even Iceland.
3. As their name suggests, the Little Brown Bat, has uniformly dark brown fur and matching dark brown wing membranes.
4. A diminutive species, Little Brown Bat adults rarely exceed a length of 4 inches and weigh less than half an ounce.
 5. The Little Brown Bat typically consumes its body weight in insects each night during active feeding.
6. Scientists estimate bats save the U.S. agricultural industry $3 billion a year in pest control.
7. Yes, the Little Brown Bat hibernates.
8. Little Brown Bats live approximately 6 to 7 years.

Fox Hunting and Have the Woods Become Unsafe?

Fox Hunting
For dedicated sportsmen, the winter season means a relentless pursuit of coyotes. With Maine’s low deer densities, this activity ranks high on everyone’s to-do list. While a noble endeavor, I also enjoy occasionally hunting red fox. While certainly no dummy, red can typically be more easily duped than this larger cousin the coyote, making shot opportunities slightly more plentiful. Fox season runs from October 15th to February 28th, affording predator hunter’s ample time to harvest one of these truly beautiful canines. Attention should be paid to blending into your environment and this time of year, snow camouflage is king. For those not looking to spend a fortune, military surplus stores offer budget priced white nylon cover suits or in a pinch, white painter coveralls from Home Depot work quite nicely.
Electronic calls, set on low volume and transmitting the sounds of a wounded field mouse, crying rabbit or kitten usually bring old red running within minutes. For increased success, do not begin calling until completely ready, as many a fox has arrived with the hunter never anticipating such a quick response! Calling sequences start low and steadily increase in volume over a period of 20-30 minutes. If no action, move to another location and try the entire sequence again.
Fox are nimble and extremely fast, so it should be no surprise that veteran hunters pursue them with shotguns, modified chokes and loads firing hevi-shot #2. As with coyotes, fox prefer approaching calling set-ups with their noses pointed directly into the wind, therefore having good visibility and shot options on the downwind side become critical. Field edges, railroad tracks and power lines all offer hot spots for chasing red this February. While hunting, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for other predators, as you sometimes never know what will respond to a calling sequence, both coyotes and bobcats on occasion have been known to investigate a fox calling sequence.
Have Maine’s Woods and Waters Become Unsafe?
At what point did the human race decide it would be a good idea to vilify the outdoors and stir up national panic? Where did the days go of unstructured play, riding bikes, kicking the can and building dams? Have we as a society finally decided that these activities are considered dangerous? With everything that parents must now do to "protect" their kids, are we instead doing them a disservice and creating unnatural fear?
Like little soldiers preparing for chemical warfare, my children go outside in bug suits, bathed in Deet, carrying Thermacells and wearing helmets. Even gloves protect their little hands from biting insects and poison ivy and upon entering the house those bodies are thoroughly inspected for ticks and little hands are scrubbed with antibacterial soap.
With just a few moments thought, I created a list of everything I now (must to be considered a good parent) worry about whenever my kids partake in exploring our natural world. Please feel free to plug any of these concerns into Google to receive a full and complete warning of the impending dangers associated with each item. If I have missed something, please make sure to email me, lest I forget some critical danger or unseen hazard yet unlisted. Dangers include: West Nile, poison ivy , poisonous berries and plants, ticks/Lyme disease, Equine Encephalitis, mercury in fish, contaminated play sand, Giardia and Cryptosporidium, Nalgene bottles w/ PBA, pesticides, swine flu, lead fragments in game meat, lead fishing sinkers, falls, bumps and crashes received while not wearing a bicycle helmet, rabid animal attacks, brown recluse spiders, dry drowning, loss of sight from staring at a solar eclipse, stepping in dog poo, bee stings and anaphylactic shock and being eaten by bears. I guess the only safe activity left is sitting on the couch playing video games. Oh wait, I forgot about childhood obesity, carpal tunnel, diabetes and heart disease!
We as a society are most certainly creating unnatural fears in our offspring. This remains an unfortunate trend that seems to be quickly building a following. As more and more of us distance or even remove ourselves from the natural world and traditional outdoor pursuits, we begin to develop unnatural fears of the great outdoors. These fears are then passed on to our offspring and the entire cycle perpetuates. Don’t foolishly ignore the hazards of the outdoors but also don’t let them rule your existence and scare you into living a life devoid of a more "natural" world!
Lead Fragmentation in Game Meat
            Of all of the fears listed above, lead fragmentation in game meat is one fear that actually does cause me concern. Fortunately, lead free bullets from companies like Federal, Hornady and Nosler are readily available and have undergone extreme upgrades over the past several years, solidly placing them in a class as good if not better than lead based loads. Lead-free bullets are also cost effective and sportsmen can expect to pay about the same for premium lead-core bullets vs. premium lead-free bullets.
Considering ammo represents a small percentage of the total costs involved in any big game hunt, selecting a bullet that not only quickly and humanely kills your quarry but also saves you and your family from consuming lead (an element clinically linked to brain damage) and added “costs” quickly become relative. Do you and your family a favor this hunting season and go lead free!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Shoot more ducks and pheasants NOW!

Shoot More Ducks 
The nip of the early morning air, frost and the brilliance of the fall foliage all work in unison to signal the arrival of my favorite month, October. During this magical time of year, I can think of no better place to be than sitting on the edge of a marsh with my dog, watching the sun creep up to the horizon anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first ducks of the season.
Being successful during the waterfowl season requires scouting, scouting and more scouting. Every season, I go through extensive lengths to find new areas, to find that hidden, off the grid, ducking hunting nirvana. While location certainly is a huge component linked to success, several other items are also critical.
Calling, ducks into shooting range is important and doing it effectively takes a refined understanding of basic duck sounds and behavior. Hundreds of instructional videos have been created to teach people how to call effectively. Watch those videos and out call the guy hunting in the blind next door practically every time. Busy and lack the time to invest in receiving a master’s degree in duckology? Well, let me share five quick and easy secrets to help increase success this October.

  1. Buy a teal and wood duck call. These two additions are extremely effective in calling in these two species when standard “quack” calls will fail to do so. Both the teal and wood duck call are easy to learn by reading the instructions on the back of the package. These calls will add an entirely new dimension to any sportsperson’s duck-hunting arsenal.
  2. Hunters should not be seen, so limit movement and cover up the often forgotten face and hands with camouflage face paint or netting so as not to spook approaching ducks.
  3. Decoy spreads to be properly seen from the air need to 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.
  4. Quack, quack, quack is the basic call of the mallard and black duck. This is the “King” of duck vocalizations. Use heartily to call to a ducks wing tips and tails to turn them and lightly in the morning when the marsh is coming alive. Do not call loud and repeatedly, overdoing it frightens ducks.
  5. Late 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.

In Washington county wood duck and teal become almost non-existent after the first two weeks of October, so get on them fast and hard before they disappear! Find your own secret waterfowl hot spot by exploring Fourth Machias Lake (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, C-2). This lake has a great boat launch on the northern end and a healthy population of resident Canada geese and late season mergansers.
Let’s Shoot Pheasants!
For those of us in Washington County, we will need to drive several hours south if we want to shoot a pheasant this month. Pheasant season runs from October 1 – December 31 and hunters may harvest 2 birds of either sex per day. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in cooperation with several Fish and Game Clubs, stocks approximately 2,300 pheasants throughout York and Cumberland counties every year.
According to Brad Zitske a biologist with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, “the pheasant program was initiated many decades ago to include only Cumberland and York counties because it was believed that the birds would not be able to over-winter further north. Interest in the pheasant hunt is mostly locals, many of whom are members of local rod and gun clubs and their participation is vital in helping stock and maintaining sites and acquiring landowner permissions for new sites.”
Odd I know, but that original law (L.D.2193, “An Act to Institute a Pheasant Stamp Program for Cumberland and York Counties”, has not been challenged, to my knowledge, since the law was implemented in 1993. Considering the effects of global warming and the successful expansion of the wild turkey into all areas of Washington County, I think we need to contest this law and get some pheasant hunting sites established in Washington County as well as other areas around the state!
Pheasants are typically hunted with the help of specially trained dogs but that should not dissuade those lacking such a specialized K9 from hunting them. Teaming up with another hunter or hunters will help to tip the odds in your favor but a solo hunter can still take pheasants.
If hunting with others, have one hunter slowly walk the edge of cover, occasionally stopping to panic birds into flushing, and post a buddy at the end of the cover. Birds that do not flush will often run to the end of a row of cover before erupting in a whirlwind of feathers. Having a hunting partner block this escape route, practically guarantees more birds in the bag. Safety is critical when hunting with multiple hunting partners, so make sure everyone is wearing blaze orange and obeys the safe shooting zone rules. Talk continuously to rattle birds and ensure everyone knows the locations of the other hunters.
If hunting alone, walking and stopping will often panic birds, forcing them to flush in range. Some birds will flush as the hunter approaches, but even more will hide in the last few feet of cover. Once a hunter nears the end of a row of cover, a fast walk will often surprise birds that assumed they had more time, hunters should just be very careful where their firearm is pointing and watchful of their footing. Sometimes birds that still refuse to flush can be forced to do so if the hunter kicks the brush or speaks loudly.
Once a bird is shot, a hunter should not take their eyes off it until it either goes down or flies out of sight unharmed. If the bird does go down, the shooter keeps his eyes on the mark and directs the other hunter(s) to the spot. If hunting solo be sure to carefully mentally mark the exact spot but marking it with an unusual tree or other landform. Walk straight toward where the spot and use care to not let your eyes drift off the location.
Pheasants are also a good bird to start young hunters on because they usually hold tight and are larger and more predictable targets than ruffed grouse and woodcock.
Hunters must purchase a pheasant permit in addition to their regular hunting license. The permit is available online or from the normal license vendors. With prices at local shooting preserves exceeding $30 per pheasant released (not necessarily harvested!) the pheasant permit is considered a very good value for the hunter. For information on updated 2018 release sites be sure to Google, “Maine Pheasant Hunting Program”.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wildlife Quiz - American Herring Gull

American Herring Gull
The American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus), a member of the “gull” species of avian, inhabits an impressive range stretching across a majority of the United States, Canada, Cuba and even coastal strips of Central America. Look for Herring Gulls soaring along coastal shorelines or perched in groups sometimes numbering several hundred on almost any large open space near large bodies of water.
American Herring Gulls or just plain “Sea Gulls”, as they are more commonly called, exist as one of the most familiar gulls in North America. Gulls nest near sources of water where they construct nests that they simply scrape into the ground lined with vegetation and feathers. Females lay between 3-4 eggs that hatch in approximately one month. While adult Herring Gulls have light-gray backs, black wingtips, white heads and bellies, juveniles have mottled brown back feathers that turn grayer and feathers on the head and belly that whiten as they mature. Juvenile Herring Gulls take approximately four years before finally reaching adult plumage.
Herring Gulls communicate by producing a variety of calls that can be heard over long distances. Most calls heard occur when gulls are squabbling during fights over food or territorial disputes. Juvenile birds emit high-pitched plaintive cries to elicit feeding behavior from a parent and a clicking call when threatened.
Herring Gulls inhabit a wide array of rural and urban environments from coastal and inland beaches to garbage dumps and fishing piers. Aggressive consumers of practically any food stuffs, Herring Gulls eat a broad diet that includes everything from human refuge to fresh and salt water fish, crustaceans and a wide array of small invertebrates. Scientists studying gulls have watched them pick-up crabs and clams, fly them high into the sky and drop them on the rocks below. This behavior allows this crafty scavenger to break the prey animal’s protective shell and access the meat inside with minimal effort.
  1. What is the range of the Herring Gull?
  2. Where can Herring Gulls be found?
  3. By what other name is the Herring Gull called?
  4. What is the difference between an adult and juvenile Herring Gull?
  5. How long does it take for a juvenile Herring Gull to reach full adult plumage?
  6. Why do Herring Gulls typically call?
  7. Where can Herring Gulls be found?
  8. What do Herring Gulls eat?


  1. The Herring Gull inhabits an impressive range stretching across a majority of the United States, Canada, Cuba and even coastal strips of Central America.
  2. Herring Gulls can be found soaring along coastal shorelines or perched in groups sometimes numbering several hundred on almost any large open space near large bodies of water.
  3. Herring Gulls are also known simply as “Sea Gull”.
  4. Juvenile Herring Gulls take approximately four years before finally reaching adult plumage.
  5. Adult Herring Gulls have light-gray backs, black wingtips, white heads and bellies, juveniles have mottled brown back feathers that turn grayer and feathers on the head and belly that whiten as they mature.
  6. Most calls made by Herring Gulls occur when they are squabbling during fights over food or territorial disputes.
  7. Herring Gulls inhabit a wide array of rural and urban environments from coastal and inland beaches to garbage dumps and fishing piers.
  8. Herring Gulls eat a broad diet that includes everything from human refuge to fresh and salt water fish, crustaceans and a wide array of small invertebrates.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Moose Hunting Washington County

    For most sportsmen there is no greater thrill than seeing your name listed among the fortunate few who each year get randomly selected for a moose hunting tag. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be drawn twice as a primary hunter, harvesting a cow moose in 2004 and a large bull moose in 2015. I also had the pleasure of serving as subpermittee with my Dad, guiding him to shoot his bull moose in 2012.
            Hunting moose is not a task to be taken lightly. Extensive preparations must be taken to prepare for a successful harvest. Through the years, I have passed on several secrets to success that I have learned and here are a few more tips to help ensure hunters don’t go home empty handed this moose season.
It amazes me how many hunters employ game cameras to track bear and deer movements but when it comes to pursuing moose many seem to completely forget this valuable tool.  Instead a vast majority of hunters prefer to ride dirt roads and monitor clear cuts, watching and waiting for that moose to arrive. While this type of hunting is sometimes productive, often times it is not and the moose simply doesn’t show. Moose populations over the last several years have grown smaller and smaller in number and these days often finding that shooter animal requires diverting from these well traveled logging roads.
Instead of driving and wishing, hunters can vastly increase their chances of success by employing the use of game cameras before and during the season to track and monitor moose movements. Just like deer, moose are creatures of habit and maintain a relatively small core area. By using game cameras, hunters can identify these core areas and estimate when the moose are moving through. Once this data is gathered, a hunting plan is organized to harvest the animal.
While cameras can be placed in high traffic areas, such as pinch points, game trails and old logging roads, hunters can also bring moose to cameras by using attractants. Placing sexual scents, like cow in heat is a great way to put moose in viewing distance of the camera. I prefer to take old socks (washed in no-scent of course!), cut them into strips and then tie them as high as I can reach into tree branches. This I then soak with “cow in heat” urine. By placing the rags up high instead of on the ground, the scent is widely dispersed in even the smallest amount of wind, completely permeating the entire area.
An often underused function on game cameras, that works really well for moose hunting is the “plot camera” mode. Of course different game camera companies all have different words to describe this mode but they all function in basically the same way. Say a hunter wants to monitor an entire small pond, open bog or clear cut for moose movement. Typically, unless the animal walks in front of the game camera at a distance of less than 30 yards the camera will not take a photograph. In plot camera mode however, the camera is set to automatically snap photos in various intervals from 5-30 minutes during the last hours of daylight and first light of the morning when moose are most active. By setting the camera back from these areas and 10-12 feet up in a tree, the hunter can monitor a sizeable amount of acreage. To assist hunters in placing the camera high in a suitable tree, consider carrying around a couple ladder climbing sticks. Having these available really simplifies camera placement and checking.
An interesting product that recently arrived on the game camera market is remote monitoring. Remote monitoring allows a hunters game camera to send pictures to his/her smartphone from anywhere in the world with a cellular signal. For the moose hunter, this means that you could set a game camera up to take photos of a clear cut in Van Buren and monitor it from Kittery or even outside of the state! Just remember that game cameras are unfortunately a favorite of thieves so be sure to hide game cameras using camouflage or natural cover. Hiding game cameras from thieves is a relatively easy task accomplished by simply gluing bark or tying on camouflage fabric to break up their outline. The number one way cameras are often identified in the woods is by individuals noticing the horizontal black strap that wraps around the tree to secure the game camera. This can be eliminated by using the screw in mounts that are widely available online or sold at your local Walmart.
            My last bit of advice for those heading afield this season in pursuit of moose is to employ the use of a moose decoy. Having a decoy on hand simply helps to add a small bit of additional realism to calling and the placing of sexual scents. A decoy need not be complicated, as moose have poor vision. A cut out made from cardboard and spray painted black works great but hunters could use something as simple as a black bed sheet suspended between two poles with heavy string.
Moose hunters heading Down East (Wildlife Management District (WMD 19) will be well served exploring the vast network of logging roads around Little Musquash Lake (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, D-4), West and East Monroe Ponds (Map 35, D-4) and Musquash Stream (Map 35, C-5). Moose can frequently be found, during early mornings and late evenings, patrolling these shallow ponds, dipping their heads under the water to uproot their favorite food, the common water lily. These salt rich plants are a moose favorite. Hunters finding small ponds filled with these treats would be well served to stake out these spots during dusk and dawn.

Good luck to the lucky few who scored a moose tag this season, I wish you all the best!
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