Monday, November 23, 2015

Going to the Dogs, Hounding Bear with Spaulding Lake Outfitters

The echoing chorus of the pack, suddenly fractures the early morning silence and the chase is on. My heart rate quickens as the howls of the excited hounds reaches crescendo, indicating they are hot on the trail of a bruin. Early game camera pictures had indicated that a bear well in excess of 200 pounds had been a regular visitor to this bait site and I hoped the hounds were on his track.

As the sounds of the hounds begin to grow distant, I wander over to the guide to examine his handheld GPS dog tracking unit. A true marvel, the GPS unit is capable of tracking the movements of each individual dog, as well as indicating when a dog is sitting (resting) or has treed a bear. Given the massive size of the territory we are hunting, I cannot fathom how difficult hounding must have been before these units and their predecessors radio collar telemetry were created. How a hound man ever recovered his dogs after chasing a bear across this massively expansive country must have required a Herculean effort. Watching the hounds give chase to the bear on the small screen is addictive. The track of the hounds is overlaid on a detailed topographical map and shows the bear following streams and crawling through cedar bogs in an effort to evade the rapidly advancing hounds.

As the hounds chase the bear toward another accessible road, the guide shouts that we need to roll and in seconds we begin rocketing down the gravel backroad in an effort to cut off the bear. We arrive at the location, shut off the truck and quietly wait and watch the GPS tracker. "Bear should be on top of us any second", says the guide. My adrenaline surges as I intently watch the woods for movement. A minute passes and suddenly I see something moving through the bushes toward us at a great rate of speed. The animal erupts from the spruce thicket and instead of a bear, it's lead dog Nash. Nash blows by me without even a look, wild on the hot scent of bear. "Must have just missed him crossing", says the guide "let's catch the trailing dogs, throw them in the truck and replace them with fresh dogs".

Maine law only allows 6 dogs be used at a time be to chase a bear and so several hounds wait impatiently in the back of the truck for their chance to join the chase. The trailing dogs, despite being hot and thirsty, don't want to quit the chase and whine incessantly when placed back in the truck. The fresh dogs, now released, charge into the underbrush, eager to join their friends at the party. The fresh dogs rapidly catch the lead dog and soon I see on the screen that all of the dogs have stopped, their icons all indicating that they are placing their paws on a tree or looking up, a sure sign a bear is treed.

"850 yards", says the guide and I begin thinking this will be easy. As I step into the forest, however, I see that this journey is going to be anything but "easy". Tangled alder bogs, spruce thickets, blow downs and all sorts of woodland challenges stand in our way and as the temperature soars, I know this is going to be an adventure. We move slowly, methodically watching our footing and taking care to avoid mechanical injury. After about an hour, the once distant howls of the hounds have grown to high intensity. Through the thick underbrush, I can see the hounds and as we edge closer, I can see the black outline of a large bear about 35 feet up a large pine tree.

The massive bear, to my surprise, appears comfortable and almost relaxed sitting on his high perch, seemingly unconcerned at the commotion occurring at the base of the tree. As we nudged closer, the guide warns that despite the bears lasai fair attitude, I should not be lulled into complacency. A bear's actions can be erratic and a treed animal can rapidly develop a change of temperament the moment it begins to feel threatened.

I slowly pull up my weapon of choice for this expedition, a small video camera, and begin recording the event. It's exciting, fascinating really to be this close to a black bear if this size. While I enjoy hunting bears with a firearm, this day we are not hunting, instead we are training dogs for the upcoming bear hounding season. Even absent of a fatal end for Mr. Bear, I am relishing the opportunity to be involved in this spectacle. The guide asks me to stand back and one at a time he begins pulling the excited hounds off the base of the tree, tethering each in turn to a nearby tree. As the guide starts to pull the last dog, he warns that the bear will likely descend rapidly, seeing his chance to escape. I back up a few additional yards and while I keep video taping with my left hand, my right hand instinctively drops to rest on the grip of my .357 Magnum.

As soon as the guide pulls the last dog, the bear slides down the tree and rockets into the underbrush faster than a person can blink. The bears movement is so unnaturally fast, that it makes you realize how quickly this situation could go bad, if not for the experience of a professional hounds man, his aggressive hounds and a little luck. As the bear races off, the hounds again go crazy, wanting, no needing to do that one amazing thing they were bred to do, give chase.

The walk out is again tiring, dragging out the obstinate dogs but I also relish that my back is not also loaded with 150 pounds of de-boned bear meat and hide. Upon reaching the truck, we box the hounds and enjoy a quiet lunch. The dogs, finally accepting that the chase for today is done, peacefully drink water and settle down in the hay to nap. Tired but elated, by the entire experience, I began to ponder how fun it would be for others, both hunter and non-hunter to participate in such a traditional hunting method as the running of the hounds.

I think that no matter how you feel about hunting, everyone should at least participate this event at least once in their lives. Special thanks to Jeff Fey of Spaulding Lake Outfitters for allowing me to join hums and his rambunctious hounds on an adrenaline packed morning in Maine's wild lands. If interested in joining Spaulding Lake Outfitters for the 2016 season to run bears with hounds or hunt bears with hounds or over bait, be sure to give Jeff Fey a call!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Hunting Whitetails from Ground Blinds

Author with 8-Point Buck from 2014 Maine Deer Season
As I “mature”, I am less and less interested in deer hunting from elevated tree stands. While these devices allow a hunter to climb high into the tree canopy, well out of the visual range of most whitetails, what they don’t provide is security and comfort, two items that have become more and more critical as I have gotten older. Perhaps the greatest benefit of a ground blind is that a hunter is on the ground, there is no need to wear a safety harness, chance a fall or be afraid to take a mid afternoon nap.

When a hunter pairs a blind with a folding camp chair, one elevates their deer hunting to a whole new level of safety and comfort. Modern day ground blinds come in a wide variety of models that are lightweight, portable and can accommodate between 1-6 hunters. These blinds are constructed of wind blocking fabric that not only keep a hunter warmer but also helps confine a hunter’s scent within a small area.

Some of the more expensive blind models are even waterproof and do a fine job of keeping a hunter dry throughout a long rainy afternoon. Ground blinds have the added benefit of allowing a hunter to be mobile and flexible on where they plan to hunt. Ground blinds do not require hunters to locate a suitable tree, allowing for easy setups on field edges, power lines, clear cuts and other areas where tree growth won’t support a ladder or climbing tree stand.

Because ground blinds will be in direct view of an approaching deer, it pays to either put the blind out a few days before hunting or make sure that the blinds are blended well into their surroundings by covering them with cut brush and foliage. Also, even though some blinds are constructed of scent blocker material, care should still be taken to ensure blinds are setup downwind of the predominant wind direction for the hunting area.

Hunters wishing to pack light can quickly construct ground blinds onsite by utilizing dead branches and camouflaged burlap cloth. If these blinds are constructed on land where hunters have secured permission, the blinds can even be left up for the entire season or multiple seasons of use. On my private property, I have constructed rugged deer blinds out of freight pallets that I use season after season. After deer season is complete, ground blinds serve as a great way to stay warm throughout the winter while hunting coyotes.

Some people even use their ground blinds as ice fishing shacks, just be sure to strongly stake them to the ice so they don’t blow away! Pursuing whitetails Down East may require sitting in a blind for long periods of time. Even when hunting from a ground blind with a good quality chair, sitting relatively motionless for hours can get uncomfortable. Aleve, also know as sodium naproxen is an over-the-counter pain reliever that provides temporary relief of minor aches and pains and also really helps deer hunters from being fidgety when their back, legs and neck starts to ache after sitting for long periods of time.

Also, wearing loose fitting clothing, letting out a few belt notches or wearing one piece hunting clothing similar to coveralls allows for better blood circulation and added comfort. Allen Heath (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 25, A-2) and Beech Hill Heath (Map 25, B-3) located in close proximity to Pleasant River Lake (Map 25, A-2) contains wide open expanses of open timber, clear cuts and blueberry barrens, perfect for hunting whitetails using ground blinds.

In my travels around Down East this summer, I was impressed with the amount and quality of deer sign that seems to be beginning to return to the woods. While the population is still struggling, I would not be surprised if this season harvest numbers, in Washington County, are higher than previous years. For those sportsmen looking to increase their odds, get off the roads and into the woods!

While heater hunting is a popular pastime in Washington County, big bucks will be going nocturnal and pushing well off the beaten path as soon as hunters begin entering the woods on November 1st. For those hunters looking for an adventure and big racks, I suggest exploring the northern most reaches of Washington County and visiting Danforth (Map 45, B-3) and the spider web of unimproved roads around Stetson Mountain (Map 45, C-2), Howard Ridge (Map 45, C-3) and Hays Bog (Map 45, C-3). While these areas don’t hold lots of deer they do hold big deer and during a visit, be sure to check out the deer harvest sheet in the Danforth country store to verify what hunters are pulling out of the local woods!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - American Woodcock

The American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), also known simply as Woodcock or Timberdoodle, inhabits forests, brushlands and agricultural areas throughout the United States and Canada. A migratory creature by nature, Woodcock spend the cold winter months in the south and return north in the spring to breed. During breeding season, males attract females by putting on an impressive courtship ritual that courtship involves the male flying hundreds of feet into the air and rapidly descending back to earth while loudly chirping. Hens, of breeding age, watch these impressive aerial displays and pick mates.

Once bred, the hen makes a nest on the ground comprised of leaves and twigs. Hens lay one to four eggs that hatch in about 20 days. The female woodcock care for the fledglings, feeding and warning them of danger, until they become self-sufficient at about five weeks of age. In the wild, those woodcock that survive predation by fox, coyotes and bobcats live to about 8 years of age.

The American woodcock posses a plump torso, short legs and large rounded head with unassuming body plumage in various shades of muted browns, grays, and black and a tan colored chest. More predominant identifying features include its large eyes and long prehensile bill. The eyes boast an incredible visual field larger than any avian species, while its unique bill is perfectly adapted to capture, its primary food source, earthworms. The population of the American woodcock has been on a continual decline since the 1960s. Scientists attribute the decline to a loss of habitat, caused by urban development.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What other names is the American Woodcock known by?
2. What is the primary habitat and range of the American Woodcock?
3. Does the American Woodcock migrate?
4. Where does the American Woodcock nest?
5. How long does it take for an American Woodcock egg to hatch?
6. How long does an American Woodcock live?
7. What are the predominant features of an American Woodcock?
8. What is the biggest factor in the declining population of the American Woodcock?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The American Woodcock is also known simply as Woodcock or Timberdoodle.
2. The American Woodcock inhabits forests, brushlands and agricultural areas throughout the United States and Canada.
3. Yes, the American Woodcock spend the cold winter months in the south and return north in the spring to breed.
4. The American Woodcock nests on the ground.
5. American Woodcock eggs hatch in about 20 days.
6. An American Woodcock lives to approximately 8 years of age.
7. The predominant features of an American Woodcock include its large eyes and long prehensile bill.
8. The biggest factor in the declining population of the American Woodcock is loss of habitat caused by urban development.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Wood Duck Hunting with Dad

I took Dad out this past weekend for a bit of duck hunting and in the process, I think I blew the poor guys mind. Though he certainly shot ducks in the past, his last experience waterfowl hunting occurred almost 40 years ago. In his youth, a majority of his waterfowling consisted of crawling on his belly along marsh edging and jump shooting. When I inquired how the downed ducks were retrieved, he responded that he and his brothers would simple swim out and get them. BRRRR! Apparently duck hunters were tougher back then!

Dad laughed at the number of decoys I put out and almost fell over backwards when I pulled out the battery powered spinning wing “Mojo” and placed it on a long steel pole in the center of the marsh. He gave me one of those "looks" and then inquired if that THING would actually attract ducks. I insured him that it would and was shot a highly skeptical glance. We had a beautiful morning, the ducks flew well and Dad and I both had our fair share of shooting. Well, as you can imagine, Dad called last night and wants to go out hunting again this weekend . . . I am going to go out on a limb and assume he had a GREAT time! After I hung up the phone, I began to ponder just why Dad had such a fantastic time? Granted anytime a father and son are able to spend quality time together it is always a special occasion but what other elements combined to offer Dad such a thrilling adventure? The secret I determined is that whether hunting with veteran hunters, newbies, youth or practically anyone, it is critical over all other aspects, to end the day on a positive note.

While being warm, well fed, hydrated and comfortable certainly rank high on the list of factors contributing to a successful outing, a man, woman or child will temporarily ignore minor discomforts when the prospects of game are plentiful. With duck hunting, success is contingent on knowing well the area you hunt. Start scouting well before the season begins and watch and listen for ducks flying at dawn. While extensive scouting is critical, hunters short on time and looking for that special “waterfowl nirvana”, contains the proper balance of food, shelter and security that the ducks find intoxicating, should explore “fowl” spots like the East Machias River (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, A-2) in the vicinity of Oak Point Meadow (Map 26, A-2) and the junction of Rocky Lake Stream (Map 26, A-3). These areas have long held healthy populations of waterfowl guaranteed to end anyone’s hunt on a positive note.

While sharing time with friends and family in the warmth and comfort of a duck blind is fun, some days it pays to stay mobile, pursuing ducks on small rivers, streams and creeks with a canoe. When these areas are filled with aquatic vegetation and surrounded by overhanging oak trees they are also typically filled to the brim with wood ducks.

As a waterfowler, there is no greater prize than the harvesting of a wood duck drake. An incredibly vibrant colored creature, it is easily the prettiest duck and a true personal trophy. Small, speedy and often times difficult to call, they are an immensely challenging duck to shoot on the wing. I shoot a Franchi semi-automatic 12-gauge, with a modified choke and prefer 2 ¾ inch loads of No. 4s for wood ducks. Shooting is typically close and fast and the generous pattern and low recoil combine to allow a hunter to more easily stay on target and deliver follow-up shots if necessary. Shoot fast at the first good opportunity as wood ducks won’t make multiple swings.

When a wood duck is shot, carefully mark where it falls and be ready for a finishing shot. For such a small duck woodies are tough and notorious for diving and never returning to the surface. Wood ducks prefer cover, so while canoeing backwaters, pay close attention to heavy vegetation, stumps, downed branches, toppled trees and other places where the birds are out of the water but still close by while resting. Often times a hunter won’t even see the ducks till they burst wildly out of cover, screaming their characteristic WEEEEP, WEEEEP, WEEEEP call.

A slow canoe trip down the Little River (Map 35, C-4) or Musquash Stream (Map 35, C-5) and other similar waterways are sure to produce wood ducks early in the season before cooler temps force them south. Hunters harvesting wood ducks or “woodies” are richly rewarded, as their delicate, light red meat is tender, mild, and juicy, ranking them as the most delectable of all duck species.

Care must be taken however as any duck thrown into the muddy reeds on a warm October day is going to taste bad. Instead, carry a small (camouflaged) cooler with some ice and place the ducks inside until returning home where they can be properly cleaned. Wood ducks are naturally delicious and as such many hunters make the mistake of “over preparing” them for the dinner table. The best wood duck recipe is one that allows the natural rich flavor of the duck to present itself and not be drowned out by sauce or other flavors. One of my favorite recipes for wood ducks is cutting breast meat into one inch cubes and placing on a skewer alternated with chunks of canned pineapple. Cook the meat to medium rare, allowing the pineapples to lightly caramelize on the breast meat, leaving behind a light, sugary irresistible flavor.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Old Man Shoots a Moose

Article featured in The Maine Sportsman Magazine, September 2015 Special Edition

Sitting in the hot and crowded gymnasium in Rangeley, I almost fell out of my seat when I heard the old man’s name called over the loud speaker. After over 20 years of applying, Dad’s dream of being drawn for a coveted moose tag had finally come true. The months, after the initial exhilaration of the drawing, dragged by slowly but as September edged closer, Dad’s excitement reached crescendo. Having participated on my own moose hunt in 2004, I well understood the difficulties inherent in hunting moose. Despite all these complications, I relished the challenge of helping Dad shoot a moose.

Drawn for a bull permit in zone 2, Dad’s chances of shooting a bull moose were exceptionally high and even further increased, by our stay at Red River Camps, a remote outpost located deep in the middle of the zone. Due to challenging work schedules, Dad would be unable to arrive at Red River until late Tuesday afternoon. Further complicating matters, my brother and his strong back would only be with us until Wednesday evening . . . we need to shoot a moose and quick!

Having a more flexible work schedule, I arrived on Sunday and spent all day Monday and Tuesday scouting. While scouting, I watched 20 bulls get hauled out of clear cuts, shot by other hunters…it was a scene I found both thrilling and frustrating. Dad and my brother arrived at camp Tuesday afternoon and after quickly dropping off supplies and a large trailer at camp, we proceeded to inspect a few of the locations, I had scouted previously. We pulled onto a short secondary road, carefully got out of the trucks and using a small electronic hand held caller, set forth a few loud cow in heat bellows and were shocked when a bull responded only 60-70 yards away. Quietly picking our way down a short logging road, a huge bull violently emerged from the underbrush, took three steps into the road, turned and disappeared as quickly as he had originally appeared. I could hear Dad’s heart beating from 10 yards away and I motioned for him to take a knee and brace his rifle. After an hour of cow calling, the light began to fade and we were forced to give up on the old behemoth bull. Meandering back to our vehicle, our conversation was energized, hopeful and filled with the promise of what the next day would bring.

After a night of restless sleep, we plowed full force into Wednesday but despite monumental efforts including hours of driving, sitting in clear cuts and calling, we were only successful in spotting several cows and a calf moose, not a single bull was seen. As quickly as the bulls had appeared, they had also as quickly vanished. With the setting of the sun, we said our goodbyes to my brother and we retired Wednesday night with tempered hopes.

Thursday morning we were beginning to feel the pressure and despite the urge to explore new logging roads, ultimately we decided to stay in our core area, knowing that moose were plentiful and if we were persistent, luck would eventually turn in our favor. Slowly driving down the first road of the morning, I remarked to Dad that he had to stay vigilant as a moose could at first look like a rock, bush or even that fallen tree . . . just as I said the words “tree”, the “tree” we had booth been looking at moved and standing broadside was a large cow moose.

I stopped the truck and told dad to get out load his gun. While I was not completely certain that the cow was traveling with a bull, I determined it was better to be prepared than scramble at the last minute. Dad and I sat for over 20 minutes watching the cow quietly feeding and were just about to give up hope when a small bull emerged from the woods only 20 yards behind the cow. For such a large creature, the moose is a master of camouflage, practically impossible to see in the deep dark Maine woods when not moving. Seconds later, a thunderous shot erupted from Dad’s Marlin XL7 .30-06 and the moose dropped. Standing there in amazement, at how quickly our luck had changed, we watched in disbelief as the bull slowly began to stand. Again the .30-06 barked and again the moose dropped, this time for eternity.

As the adrenaline subsided, Dad and I began to comprehend the impossibilities of the situation. The moose lay 200 yards up wildly overgrown tangle of spruce swamp, filled with sink holes, fallen logs, stumps and hazards where no man should ever venture. Even equipped with tow ropes and a come-along, the situation looked grim. Our woes were further compounded, by a temperature that at 8:30AM had climbed to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While we had brought plenty of gear and ice filled coolers to properly extract, butcher and pack out the moose, all this equipment was back at camp, a two hour round trip. We had both made the cardinal mistake of complacency, firmly believing that Dad would likely not shoot a moose that morning.

While guiding bear hunters, I once witnessed two men dissect a 365 pound black bear in a little over an hour. Knowing this, I determined that Dad and I equipped with axes and knifes, could dissemble this small bull and hand carry it to the truck in a relatively short expanse of time. Working together, with one man cutting and another carrying, we could potentially transport the entire moose out of the woods, without the need to tow it out and use a trailer. Though understandably a herculean effort, it was still highly feasible. Though this solved our problem of not having ropes or a trailer, it did little to solve our issue of not having a viable place to put the meat where it could be kept from spoiling. Eyeing the large blue tarp in the back of the truck, I hatched a plan to construct a large container in the trucks back seat to hold the meat and by running the air conditioner on high, keep the meat at a cool temperature until it could be transported into town for butchering. With a plan in place, the old man and I began cutting and carrying and by 12:30 PM had managed to cram the entire back of my Toyota extend cab with moose meat. The head we placed in the back of the truck, to comply with Maine law requiring a visual presentation of a harvested big game animal. Pulling into the game tagging station in Patton, Dad and I received a very surprised look from the attendant as he noted the moose carcass crammed into the back of my truck. While I am certain that he likely has seen some pretty amazing bull moose in this day, I doubt he will ever forget the day the guys showed up with a moose in their back seat.

Sometimes despite how much you plan and prepare, things still go wrong. Being resilient and able to overcome problems is the key to “Yankee ingenuity” or our exceptional ability as Mainers to understand and overcome difficulties.

Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme

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

 I have to admit that standing half naked in the middle of the Maine woods with two individuals I had met only hours before was a little unnerving (especially as the sound of the dueling banjos from “Deliverance” began to play in the back of my head) but this was my first bear hunt and I was determined to take every step possible to insure I provided myself with the highest level of opportunity to tag a massive bruin. I guess what I had forgotten to think about, as I reveled in the brilliance of my advanced preparations in scent control was how I was going to change into my scent free clothes once I had arrived at the bait spot.

Unfortunately, things had not gone as planned and upon arriving I was forced into putting on a “show” for my new friends; while taking a barrage of sarcastic comments on how they planned to rent me out to a few bachelorette parties that weekend for beer money. 

 To better understand how I had allowed myself to arrive at this point of humiliation, I need to rewind to October 2006 when in a casual conversation I mentioned to my Uncle Kim (a registered Maine guide from Grand Lake Stream) that I would like to go on a bear hunt. A few months later, my Uncle called to inform me that he had cashed in a couple favors and come September 2007 I would be going on a bear hunt. As I hung up the phone I had a huge smile on my face and could barely contain my excitement with the anticipation of fulfilling one of my lifetime dreams. Like many of my other adventures this one began with educating myself with the task at hand and almost immediately I began researching all things “bear” in books, on the Internet and on hunting shows trying to learn as much as possible about their habits, haunts and behaviors. Part of this research, had informed me that a bear’s sense of smell is as sensitive if not better than a deer and because of his fact, I planned to take the same precautions as I would on a deer hunt and washed all of my hunting clothes in no scent soap, dried them outside and finally packed them in a dry bag with pine and spruce boughs to preserve them from absorbing any offensive odors. My plan had been simple, to wear my regular street clothes on the drive to the bait site and then change into my hunting apparel once I arrived. So perhaps now you can see how I ended up with very little clothing on in a desolate and unnamed Township somewhere in the wilds of Washington County with two individuals I barely knew.

Well, I can honestly tell you that during that first evening on the stand I knew that I was hooked on bear hunting. Every squeaking tree branch, changing shadow and crunching leaf set my heart racing. Though I can’t put my finger on precisely what it is about bear hunting that makes it so definitively different from other hunts but for me there is a thrill to it that sets it far apart for other big game. For over three hours, I sat overwhelmed with my good fortune at being able to be in this place and mesmerized by a gymnastics display by what I believe to be one of the largest red squirrel colonies in the state of Maine. Those of you who have never sat over a bear bait let me assure you that doughnuts and cake are as much liked by red squirrels as by bears. As I watched the sun slowly sink to the horizon, I heard several shots in that critical half an hour before the end of legal hunting time when bears become increasingly more active and I waited intently hoping that my chance might be next. However, by the end of my first night on the stand no bear arrived but I was still filled with excitement and hope as to what the next evening might bring.

 Upon arriving back at the truck the CB radio crackled with activity that indicated the other members of the various parties had taken sizeable bruins. I was very excited at the chance to see a bear up close and personal, as until this evening the few bear I had seen in my lifetime had either been by chance encounter while deer or partridge hunting. With suicidal intent, we raced back toward town down the twisting dirt roads narrowly missing large boulders protruding from the road surface and washouts the size of the Grand Canyon. We incredibly managed to arrive back in town, shaken but not stirred, and immediately went to check out the bruins. Two of the harvested bears were in the 300 lb range and each where beautiful specimens both with thick black coats and one with a large white chest patch. The third bear (actually filmed by the hunter and watched by me about half a dozen times) was hit with what appeared to be a beautiful shot just behind the huge bruins forward shoulder with a Marlin 45-70. Unfortunately, although tracked with hounds and my very enthusiastic cousin until about 1:00 AM that evening and then again at first light the following morning the bear even after these exhaustive measures was not recovered.

During a late dinner that night that consisted of appetizers of deer venison jerky, jalapeƱo cheese and crackers and a main course of ½ lb moose burgers, fresh corn on the cob and garlic mashed potatoes my uncle expressed a list of concerns with the “limited” power of my 30-30 Marlin. As many of you know the Marlin 45-70 is a sizeable caliber capable of launching a projectile that packs an incredible amount of down range energy (especially at a bear bait site where most shots are less than 25 yards) but after the previous nights unfortunate recovery debacle and my inexperience with bear hunting I listened intently to his argument. I attempted to explain that I had used the 30-30 Marlin extensively on whitetails for over 15 years with zero recovery problems, however, he was adamant that I needed to take this hunt to the “extreme” and use a more substantial firearm. My presented weaponry of choice, produced from his extensive arsenal, consisted of either a pump action 760 Remington .308 or Remington semi-auto .270. That afternoon after taking both guns to the gravel pit and poking at a target at about 50 yards from various sitting and standing positions I decided that the .270 was a better fit and even though I was shooting a gun that I was completely unfamiliar with, typically a BIG no-no for me personally on any hunt, I relented to his pleas.

The second night I arrived at the stand around 3:00 PM and once again put on a show for my new friend and another buddy of his who was planning to shoot his bear with a Smith and Wesson 500 magnum. I noted that the other hunter was wearing his hunting clothes and seemed unconcerned that my “extreme” scent control measures were the least bit necessary. Having come this far, however, I decided not to change my tactics and I put on my clothes and sprayed down with a healthy dose of activated carbon scent eliminator.

I sat on the bait for the entire evening watching the red squirrels and listening to the calls of the chickadee and as the shadows lengthened and as the golden hour approached I heard a single distant shot from the Smith and Wesson 500 but as the sun sank below the horizon I knew that a bear this year for me was not going to happen. I arrived back at camp and was pleased to see that the other hunter was excited to have been able to shoot his bear with a pistol and he was busy making plans to butcher it for future table fare and of his good fortune I could not have been happier. To say that I was disappointed would not be entirely correct but I had been hopeful. In the end, it was an “extreme” privilege to be able to get a chance to hunt for bear this season and the people of Grand Lake Stream always make my visits incredibly enjoyable. I have a saying that hunting is only about 5% about the actual taking of a game animal and the other 95% is about the friends you meet, memories that are made, stories that are swapped and time spent in the field learning about the many wonders that Mother Nature has to offer.

As I sat in the camp on Wabassus lake that evening playing a friendly game of cribbage with my uncle I rejoiced that I had been allowed to spend this time with him and in my mind I was already making plans to come back again on another “extreme” bear hunt.

Wildlife Quiz - Small Mouth Bass

The Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) exist as freshwater member of the sunfish family. The Smallmouth Bass differs from the Largemouth Bass in that its upper jaw of does not extend beyond the back of the eye. The Smallmouth Bass goes by many other names such as Smallie, Bronzeback, Brownie, Black Bass, Brown Bass, and Bareback Bass. Originally a native to the Mississippi River, Saint Lawrence River, Great Lakes, and Hudson Bay, through stocking the Smallmouth Bass can now be found inhabiting lakes, streams and rivers across Canada and the United States.

Smallmouth Bass commonly live 5-7 years, with a few impressive individuals reaching 10-20 years of age. Older adult Smallmouth Bass can attain lengths up to 27 inches and weigh as much as 12 pounds but in Maine, only a few individuals ever exceed 5 pounds. Male Smallies weigh around two pounds, while females tend to be larger, averaging three to five pounds.

The Maine state record smallmouth bass stands at 8 pounds and was caught in Thompson Lake by George Dyer in 1970. The current world record for a smallmouth bass is 11 lb 15 oz. 

When water temperatures warm to the mid-50s, smallmouths begin move into the shallow flats to spawn. Spawning occurs in water 3-15 feet deep, in small diameter gravel nests that border underwater stumps, boulders and vegetation. The female can lay up to 20,000 eggs, which are guarded by the male until they hatch.

Voracious eaters, Smallmouth Bass prey upon almost anything they can fit in their mouths and have even been observed eating frogs, mice and birds. Their tenacity makes Smallmouth Bass one of the most popular game species, regarded for its size by many anglers as, "the gamest fish that swims".

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is the difference between a Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass?
 2. What was the original native range of the Smallmouth Bass?
 3. How long does a Smallmouth Bass typically live?
4. What is the largest Smallmouth Bass caught in Maine?
5. What is the weight of the world record Smallmouth Bass?
6. When do Smallmouth Bass spawn?
7. How many eggs do Smallmouth Bass lay?
8. What large prey species have Smallmouth Bass been seen feeding upon?

 Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. The Smallmouth Bass differs from the Largemouth Bass in that its upper jaw of does not extend beyond the back of the eye.
 2. The Smallmouth Bass was originally a native to the Mississippi River, Saint Lawrence River, Great Lakes, and Hudson Bay.
3. Smallmouth Bass commonly live 5-7 years.
4. The Maine state record smallmouth bass stands at 8 pounds and was caught in Thompson Lake by George Dyer in 1970.
5. The current world record for a smallmouth bass is 11 lb 15 oz.
6. Smallmouth Bass begin move into the shallow flats to spawn, when water temperatures warm to the mid-50s.
7. Female Smallmouth Bass can lay up to 20,000 eggs.
8. Smallmouth Bass have been observed eating frogs, mice and birds.

The 12 Month Grand Slam

This September, I will be working to complete my lifelong dream of harvesting each of Maine’s big game animals (deer, turkey, bear and moose) in a single calendar year. Know as the Maine “grand slam”, it is an achievement only made possible by drawing a coveted moose tag, being a skilled and lucky hunter and heavily supported by gracious family and friends. After harvesting an 8 point buck last hunting season and shooting a turkey this spring with my bow, I realized after being drawn in the lottery for a September bull tag in zone 2, that if I was successful on the moose hunt and harvested a bear my dream could potentially become a reality.

The first week of September, I will be participating in the Maine bear hunt, sitting at a bait site and patiently awaiting the arrival of a bruin. This hunt will be followed by a few weeks off, before I head back into the wilds of the far north for a chance at a bull moose. Both hunts will require months of plotting and planning, if I hope to have any chance of achieving my goal.

Tantamount to success, will be a solid understanding of the strengths and limitations of my hunting rifle. These skills can only be learned through regular shooting practice. I am convinced that a majority of hunters simply do not spend the proper amount of time on the range, needed to really learn their favorite hunting rifle. This lack of comfort causes a hunter to be much slower to shot and additionally less confident in their abilities, when a shot opportunity arises, slight out of their comfort range. For me, shooting practice will mean weekly visits to the local gravel pit, taking shots at targets from 25-300 yards and from various shooting positions (sitting, kneeling, standing and from shooting sticks).

I encourage all hunters to spend time on the range before heading afield; it will ultimately make a person a better more confident sportsman. Though a truly monstrous size animal with bulls nudging over 1200 pounds, they are still very difficult to locate in the thick woods of Down East, Maine. Low numbers create the proverbial “needle in the hay sack” scenario, creating much difficulty in finding these titanic creatures. To locate a moose, you first need to find appropriate moose habitat. This can be done by studying your Gazeteer or using Google earth to virtually scout areas with limited human access, swamps and areas bordering small lily pad ponds.

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.

While a majority of hunters are familiar with calling moose, most do not realize that moose, like deer, can be lured by sexual as well as curiosity scents. Moose are inquisitive creatures and will frequently investigate the smells of other moose or strange smells that are not perceived as dangerous. Hunters can use this trait to their advantage, using scents to pull moose out of the deep Down East woods and into shooting range. Several companies make moose lures but my personal favorite is the type that is ignited and burns like an incense stick. The trick to successfully using this product is to take a 5 gallon bucket and drill 8-10 ½ inch holes in the top sides about 1 inch up from the bottom. Take a shovel and clear a patch of earth down to bare earth in an area slightly bigger than the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket. This “clearing” is to ensure that nothing catches fire while the incense sticks burn. Next take 2 incense sticks, poke them into the ground, light them and place the bucket over the top. The bucket will protect the slowly burning sticks from rain or strong winds that could extinguish them, while still allowing the smoke to slowly escape. This set-up creates a huge scent cloud that saturates the entire target area. Once allowed to burn all night, it is sometimes a simple matter of arriving early the next morning and shooting your love sick bull moose as he stands drooling over the smoldering bucket.

Moose hunters looking for a location to base their zone 19 hunt should consider staying at the Machias River Campsite (Map 25, A-3). While few camp sites exist (one lean-to, two RV and three tent sites) at this first come first serve location, several additional camping opportunities exists further north up the Machias River Corridor, accessible via the Stud Mill Road. Harvesting a moose is the pinnacle of an outdoorsman’s hunting career. To be fortunate enough to be chosen to pursue and potentially harvest the largest game animal in North America is truly a unique experience.

I like nothing better than to help facilitate a sportsman successfully harvesting a moose, as their excitement in the endeavor is always infectious. Anyone is planning a central Maine moose hunt Down East, please contact me and ask questions, I would be happy to assist.

Wildlife Quiz - Butterflies

Butterflies exist within the order Lepidoptera, a word derived from the Greek words "lepido" (scale) and "ptera" (wings), which refer to the scales that cover the wings of most adult butterflies. Butterfly wings vary in color and pattern from species to species, making most easy to identify from a distance. Scientists have identified about 17,500 different species of butterflies, spread throughout almost the entire world with more species identified each year.

The Maine Butterfly Survey, conducted in 2015, through a joint effort by Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and several other partner agencies, lists over one-hundred different butterflies as “breeding residents” or those butterflies most common to the state of Maine.

Perhaps the most amazing of Maine’s butterflies is the Katahdin Arctic (Oeneis polixenes katahdin). This medium-sized (1.5 inch), yellowish-brown subspecies of the arctic tundra butterfly is found no where else in the world but the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park. On windless days with no rain, that Katahdin arctic can be seen by an astute observer flitting over and among the Tablelands granite boulders and sparse growth of grasses and sedges. Because of its isolation, limited distribution and small population, the state currently lists the Katahdin Arctic as endangered.

From egg to adult, butterflies undergo a series of physical changes known as metamorphosis. This process all begins, when female butterflies deposit their eggs on a suitable plant. Caterpillars hatch from the eggs and feed voraciously to help fuel the change process. When the time is right, caterpillars find a sheltered spot to form a chrysalis from which fully developed winged adult emerge to begin the cycle anew. While many different birds and animals feed upon butterflies, by far the greatest threat to this winged insect comes from habitat loss cause by human encroachment into their territory.

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 
1. What does the Greek word “lepido” mean?
2. What does the Greek word “ptera” mean?
3. How many species of butterflies exist?
4. According to the Maine Butterfly Survey, how many different species of butterflies can commonly be found in Maine?
5. What is the name of the species of butterfly that only exists on Mt. Katahdin’s expansive Tablelands?
6. What is the life cycle of the butterfly called?
7. What is the name of the structure caterpillars create to protect themselves during their transition into a butterfly.
8. What animal species poses the greatest threat to butterflies?

 Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. The Greek word “lepido” means “scale”.
2. The Greek word “ptera” means “wings”.
3. Scientists have identified about 17,500 different species of butterflies.
4. Over one-hundred species of butterflies can commonly be found in Maine.
5. The species of butterfly that only exists on Mt. Katahdin’s expansive Tablelands is the Katahdin Arctic butterfly.
6. The life cycle of the butterfly is called metamorphosis.
7. The structure caterpillars create to protect themselves during their transition into a butterfly is called a chrysalis.
8. The animal species posing the greatest threat to butterflies is man.

Escape to Coastal Washington County and Avoid the Summer Heat

By August, the heat of the Maine’s summer can still be brutally unrelenting. Those searching for cooler temperatures should explore coastal Washington County, where cool sea breezes bring pleasant relief to stifling summer temperatures. A perfect destination for those looking to escape is the small town of Eastport (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 27, A-4). Despite its diminutive size, Eastport provides a large number of opportunities for hikers, campers and fishermen, guaranteed to keep even the most energetic outdoorsman busy. To have enough time to explore all Eastport has to offer, individuals should plan to stay overnight at Seaview campground ( This pet friendly campground has numerous cottages to rent and tent/RV ocean side lots that border the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. During the summer season reservations are strongly suggested so please call 853-4471 for more information.

Visitors to Eastport looking for less rustic accommodations should consider staying at the exquisite Kilby House bed and breakfast ( Located on Water Street, guests are only a short walk to local shops and restaurants. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-853-4557. From Water Street, a short stroll down Sea Street brings visitors to one of the best lobster rolls Down East, served fresh caught from the fine folks at Quoddy Bay Lobster. Combined with coleslaw, roll and the impressive water view and you’ve got all of the ingredients necessary to create the perfect lunch. Quoddy Bay Lobster will also pack lobster to go, so that those not lucky enough to come to Eastport can also enjoy!

After lunch, consider heading out on the pier to take in the expansive views of Passamaquoddy Bay and Canada’s Campobello Island. Seals and Minke whales frequent these waters so be on the look out. Anglers looking to try their luck may fish off the pier and are often treated to Flounder, Pollock and Mackerel. In fishing for flounders, the most successful fishermen use worms, either the garden or sand variety instead of clams as this tends to keep the bait from being constantly eaten by the Sculpins. Those fishermen looking to explore the salt waters beyond the pier, should book a trip with Fundy Breeze Charters ( or phone 207-853-2849. Captain Skip Harris offers off shore fishing for Cod, Pollock, Halibut, shark and Giant Bluefin Tuna along with light house, puffin and whale watching tours aboard his 33 foot sport fishing boat the Vonnie and Val.

Just a few miles outside of the city of Eastport sits 95-acre Shackford Head State Park. Managed by the Bureau of Parks and Recreation, this hidden gem contains miles of family-friendly hiking trails and a chance to see over 100 different plants and 28 species of birds, including nesting bald eagles. Parking and start of the trail system is next door to the Marine Trades Center. The park is pet friendly and has picnic tables but does not have drinking water or restrooms so plan accordingly. The 1.2 mile trail from the parking area to the "Viewpoint" is an easy hike that can be accomplished by young and old alike. From the Viewpoint, hikers will enjoy panoramic views of Campobello, Lubec, Perry, Pembroke and a sweeping view across Cobscook Bay. For a longer more challenging hike, continue following the Schooner Trail to its terminus at Ship Point. This trail leads hikers through grassy meadows, patches of wild blueberries, along several impressive rocky granite outcroppings and through thick pine and birch woodlands. Upon reaching the point, be sure to keep a watchful eye on the expansive Cobscook Bay as whale sighting are always a high probability. Another nearby local secret is state-operated Gleason Cove Park (Map 37, E-3).

Upon leaving Eastport on Route 109 drive to Route 1 and take a right in the town of Perry. Drive approximately half a mile, crossing the Little River and immediately turning right onto the shore road. Follow the shore road for a few hundred yards and turn right onto Gleason Point Road. There are no signs but continue down this dirt road three quarters of a mile until reaching the park. The park is a great place to take kids as it contains miles of great beach-combing opportunities and broad vistas of Passamaquoddy Bay and nearby Deer Island. Picnic sites are available and offer the perfect location for families to enjoy a lunch packed by Quoddy Bay Lobster. For boaters there is an excellent launching ramp where anglers can access the western passage and Passamaquoddy Bay.

Remember when hiking that Maine’s weather and temperatures in August are notoriously fickle and can change dramatically in a short period of time. Make sure when hiking to bring along plenty of water and always carry a rain jacket. Also, tides in Cobscook and Passamaquoddy Bay can fluctuate daily by more than 20 feet so when exploring the shoreline always keep an eye on the ocean.
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