Monday, June 1, 2020

Canadian Bear Hunt Spring 2019

One of my favorite hunts is the spring bear hunt in Canada. This past season makes my third consecutive year chasing the elusive black bruins of St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Bear densities here are high, in 2019, my guide had his clients shoot 18 bears, 4 shy of his highest total season of 22. This year, that translated to a success rate of over 90%. This of course excludes the clients (like me), who passed on smaller bears that could have been shot.
Spring Bear vs Fall Bear Weights
Spring bears will be 30% heavier come fall, meaning a bear weighing 150 pounds in the spring will be close to 200 pounds come fall. Because of this, spring bears, fresh out of hibernation, are notoriously hard to judge weigh. Two hunting seasons ago, I pulled the trigger on a 170 pound bear that’s back was even with the top of a 55 gallon drum. I was positive the bruin would be over 200 pounds, I was wrong. The bear had the apparent high, gait, nose and ears that lead me to believe he was bigger, of course by fall that same bear would have weighed close to 220 pounds.
Crossing the Border
While some my cringe at the prospect of making the border crossing with a firearm, I have found that with a passport and proper paperwork, this to be an extremely simple endeavor. Local guides provide licenses and provide the single page of paperwork required to bring a firearm into Canada. Upon return to the US, the American customs will require you to have a declaration form, so before entering Canada be sure to stop by the U.S. customs office and get one. Hunters who wish to hunt with crossbow have an even easier entry into Canada as crossbows require no declaration paperwork. Clients have the option of staying in Canada throughout the entirety of the hunt to eliminate the necessity of crossing the border each day. Personally, I stayed with family in Calais and crossed the border everyday with my firearm and never encountered any issue.
Picking the Right Guide Service
What I like best about the guide service I used for my hunt was the meticulous care he employs in prepping bait sites, monitoring bear activity and especially the comfortable wooden blinds he has constructed to better hide hunters and protect them from the elements. While tree stands are available, I always request a blind as they are extremely comfortable. As a matter of fact, I am sitting here in the blind writing this story!
Bait Sites
Sites are baited with a huge assortment of goodies (not just doughnuts) that seem to appeal to the tastes of hunger roaming bears fresh out of hibernation. The food stuffs include, mixed nuts, confectionary sugar, fry oil, candy and yes, even Tim Horton doughnuts. The guide also sprays down the site every night with Liquid Smoke. This strong smelling product seems to serve the dual purpose of attracting bears and also covering up any human odors.
The guide has cameras on every bait site and when I arrive he asks me, “Do you want to shoot “a” bear or “the” bear?” What he means to say, is he has sites where he is seeing smaller bears (110-130 lbs) almost every evening and other sites where larger bears (175-300) are being seen occasionally. This really blew my mind, the guide had such close tabs on the bear population, he could practically tailor a hunt to each hunter. I opted for the “the” bear hunt and saw a massive bruin creep in from the shadows on Tuesday night about 5 minutes past legal but offer no ethical shot.
Have a Seat
When picking out a guide service for a bear hunt it is important to ask a lot of questions. I have been on multiple bear hunts over the years and seen it all. Perhaps the worst was in two occasions, when I went with outfitters who sat me in a chair 20 yards from the bait site in minimal cover and told me not to move a muscle for 5 hours. Now, I’m sure there are some amazingly talented hunters out there who could accomplish this feat but not me. I always have a tickle in my throat and need a drink, have to pee or just get plain bored and fidgety. If an outfitter puts a sport in a blind or tree stand with minimal cover and their answer to this inadequacy is “don’t move”, you are with the wrong guide service.
I’m sitting here writing this story on my cell phone, in a high back plastic lawn chair with a padded seat, my gun hangs from a piece of string from the ceiling and all I need to do to shoot is lean forward, aim, turn off the safety and pull the trigger. The front window is covered in a screen, to partially protect me from the ravenous hordes of mosquitoes (thought I also have brought a Thermacell). It’s currently raining buckets, but inside the blind I am warm and dry. In the 10 bear hunts I have been on, with 7 different guides, this is certainly the most enjoyable.
Meat Processing
Another important consideration when choosing a guide is how will the best be processed after the shot? A majority of guided simply quarter or debone the animal and leave everything else up to the hunter. Are you prepared with coolers, vacuum packing supplies, knives, ice, etc. to make sure your meat doesn’t go to waste? Make sure you understand in very clear terms what the guide provides and cannot provide. Local butchers maybe available, if hunters are looking for an easier alternative, it pays to ask ahead and even call them to make sure they are operating.
Care for that Hide
When skinning, the guide will ask the hunter what he/she is planning to do with the hide as the skinning cuts will be determined by the choice. What about that beautiful bear hide? Will it become a piece of taxidermy? If yes, what specifically? Rug? Shoulder mount? Full body mount? The hunter should be aware if the costs associated with each and plan accordingly.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Turkey Talk
The opening day of deer season used to get me excited more than any other hunting pursuit, however, after having kids, youth day of the spring turkey season is truly what I live for. Unbridled excitement is how to best describe my children as turkey season approaches. The kids and I bring out the calls and talk turkey just about every night, music to our ears, the dog … not so much. We all talk tactics and weeks before the opener, they accompany me on scouting trips and mornings are spent walking the woods and driving dirt roads in anticipation of spotting a truly giant beard dragger. Our hunts have also grown increasingly more fun over the years, as the kids have gained enough strength and knowledge to spot and stalk, a hunting technique infinitely more enjoyable for them than sitting over a decoy and playing the waiting game. During the 2018 season, both boys were able to shoot birds by stalking, hunts that will remain cherished memories for years to come.
Sleep In, Shoot More Birds
            One of the things that I had to be more flexible about when hunting with kids is that they don’t tend to want to get up super early and as they have crept into the teen years this has become a less and less enjoyable experience for them. Often these days we sleep in till about 8-9:00 and then hunt. By this time of morning the gobbles have typically gone silent but big birds are still on the prowl for love and the hunting can be excellent. As the hens head for their nest and the early morning crowd of hunters heads home for breakfast, the woods become the perfect place to ambush old Tom. By patrolling the wood line paralleling small fields, small groups of birds can readily be spotted. Often by creeping in close and employing light yelps and purrs and scratching in the leaves toms and jakes alike will make the mistake of crossing into the danger zone. This is where knowing yardage is important to ensuring a lethal shot. I carry a range finder so when a bird enters 30 yards, I know the kids can effectively hit their target. My rule, however, is if the turkey is coming let him come, it’s always better to have a slam dunk at 10-15 yards, if the bird is going to be corporative. This isn’t just good advice for kids though as I have hunted with many friends who have missed birds at 40 yards that were practically running into a decoy. Always wait for a better shot, if you anticipate a better shot.
Augila Mini Shells
            Aguila Ammunition Company recently released a new 1 ¾ inch 12 gauge shot shell. I picked up a box to check their effectiveness thinking they might be perfect for a youth hunter wanting to make the transition from a 20 gauge pump to a 12 gauge automatic, without having to invest in a brand new firearm. After testing them in my 12 gauge automatic, I encountered feed problems and ultimately decided against their use. I then began to think that maybe if an adult hunter wanted to introduce their son or daughter to turkey hunting and only had a single shot 12 gauge available for use, the mini shells would enable a youth hunter to use the firearm with less recoil and again without having to purchase a new firearm. DO NOT DO THIS! 
Mini Shells ARE NOT Legal for Turkey Hunting
Maine law states that for turkey hunting: A person can use shotgun gauges 10 through 20, using shot sizes 4 through 6 or mixed loads that include shot sizes 4 through 7. In addition, shotgun gauges 10 through 28, including .410, may be used with shot sizes 7 through 9 in Tungsten Super Shot (TSS).
I found this verbiage slightly confusing since mini shells don’t fit perfectly within this description. To clarify, I contacted the Maine Warden Service and asked if mini shells were legal for turkey hunting. The reply from the Maine warden service was that mini shells can NOT be used for turkey hunting, since at this time of this writing, Augila is only loading mini shells with slugs, #4 buckshot or shells filled with 7 1/2s, 8s and 9s. Unfortunately, all of those loads are outside of what is allowed to hunt turkey, Augila Mini Shells cannot be used legally. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Phantom Brook Trout of the Union River

Last spring, I was visiting with some old college buddies in Mariaville and staying in a rustic camp, a stone’s throw from the Union River. I had been lured to this area by sweet promises of 12-14 inch brook trout, so plentiful that they had to be practically beaten off an angler’s line with a canoe paddle. Upon arriving at camp, however, I was greeted by my good friend Pat who proclaimed, “Watahs too high and there ain’t nuf blackflies, fish jus won’t bite.” Apparently, I had been inadvertently bamboozled. According to Pat, a spring flood of unusually high water and an uncharacteristically poor blackfly mating season, had combined to extinguish my plans of landing numerous brook trout. Unfazed by the dreary forecast, my companions and I, over the next two days, threw just about every conceivable lure into the Union River, in an all-out effort to perhaps entice one brook trout to bite.
No Trout, Try Turkeys
After two days fishing, I grew tired of the drudgery and asked my friend Pat if he would like to try turkey hunting. Pat, a dyed in the wool deer hunter, had never hunted turkeys and he was excited to give the sport a try. One thing that I quickly learned, however, was that chasing old Tom around the blueberry fields of Mariaville is VERY different than chasing turkeys in Central Maine. While we did manage with several hours of effort to see a few hens, the lack of gobbles sent us back to camp well before lunch time.
            Unlike Pat and me, my other friends decided that despite days of not catching fish, today was THE day and their glass half full philosophy could not be challenged. Their plan was to travel several miles upstream, on the Union, and try a couple untouched pools, Pat’s only warning to my friends was, “Do not attempt to cross the river, it’s treacherous.”
A Cryptic Txt Message
            Pat and I were returning to camp, when I received a cryptic txt message asking if Pat had a come-along or if he knew where we could get one. A few minutes later, I received another txt message asking if Pat had rope. We both grew concerned that my friends had not heeded Pat’s warning, so I immediately called my friend Dave to find out what had happened. Dave answered his phone and relayed that he and another friend had buried one of the vehicles in the Union river and it was in danger of being washed downstream. I hung up the phone, concerned that we would now all soon be involved in what could potentially be a dangerous extraction of an ATV or potentially a truck (it was still unclear) from a hazardous section of the Union River.
Missing Wheeler!?!
             As we pulled into camp, I quickly scanned Pats camp yard and counted trucks and ATVs. I looked at Pat and said, “Odd, all the vehicles are here.” Pat replied, “Not all the vehicles Bub, where’s your ATV?” I immediately looked into the woods where I had parked my ATV and it was in fact gone.
The Apology
            Dave immediately came apologetically groveling out of the camp, spewing out comments like, “Thought I put it in neutral.”, “I shouldn’t have parked it on a hill.”, “I think the four of us can extract it.”, “There really isn’t much damage.”  At this point, it’s pouring buckets, so while Pat was digging through the woodshed for rope and a come-along, I proceeded to go into the camp to don my rain gear. This was also my chance to take a few calming breaths, so as not to choke my friend Dave to death. Dave, unable to contain his guilt, followed me into camp and continued his barrage of apologies. At that point, I was honestly kind of beyond it, the wheeler was insured and replaceable/repairable if necessary. Instead, I grew increasingly concerned that someone could potentially get seriously injured trying to extract it from the rushing water. Seeing the concerned look on my face, Dave told me to look out the camp window as a deer was walking by, as I looked up, there was my ATV safe and sound parked right next to the woodpile in back of the camp. It might not have been “April Fool’s Day”, but that was one fantastic practical joke.
            The four of us proceeded to retell this story over the next two days, to anyone who would listen and laugh hysterically every time and with each retelling, the story grew more and more outlandish, as all great stories do. I feel extremely fortunate that I have such good friends who are willing to invest their precious time in making sure my days on this earth are as exhilarating as possible.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Kill More Coyotes with the Right Light

Spotlight Right         
By mid-March, the ice on many of Maine’s lakes and ponds begins to grow thin. For those who don’t enjoy the possibility of taking an icy plunge, we begin to think of other outdoor pursuits. One of my favorite March activities is chasing coyotes. As with deer hunting, there always seems to be something new to learn about hunting these wily creatures.
Red, Green or White Light
            One of the latest discussions is around the use of spotlights. Basically, spotlights for night hunting come in three basics colors, red, green and white. While red is more traditional, green appears to be increasingly more popular and the new kid on the black is white. A search online will yield testimonials singing the praises of each of these lighting systems. So how does a hunter choose?
            In my experience and from what I have read about the experiences of other hunters, green lights, though exceedingly popular, seem to be the poorest choice for predator hunting. Red and white lights tie for second, with a slightly higher number of hunters preferring red, including me. There is even scientific research indicating most manufactured “red” spotlights emit visible light in the 620 nm wavelength but a true red and the best “red” for predator hunting are spotlights that emit light in the 660 nm wavelength. White lights have gained a lot of popularity over the past several years and more and more hunters are using them, especially those who enjoy videotaping their hunts.
Quick Scan
Ultimately, despite the color employed, hunter success in the field is dependent more on how the spotlight is used and less on the chosen color. For example, coyotes can't see red light but that doesn't mean a direct blast with a spotlight (of any color) won't send them running. When scanning fields for coyotes, quickly scan back and forth looking for eyes. Red lights are extremely effective in picking up a coyotes eyes. This is because coyotes have a “mirror”, called a tapetum lucidum, beneath their retina that collects and focuses light back into the retina, enhancing their ability to see in low light conditions. Looking for that eye reflection is the key to success and all that is required to do so is a 3-4 second sweep of a field. Scanning is of course much easier, if it is done with two people, with one person operating the spotlight and the other operating the firearm. 
Properly Identify Target
            After identifying a reflection, it is critical that hunters properly identify their target, a task that is exceedingly difficult when only an animals eyes are identified. Most coyotes will spook, if hit with the direct beam of a spotlight for more than a few seconds. Instead, use the softer light on the edge of the spotlight beam to identify the target without sending it running off. 
Shooting at Night
            For those unaccustomed to shooting at night, it is critical that one is extremely familiar with the area. Houses, domesticated animals, non-target wild animals, other hunters, etc. can quickly turn a fun night in the woods into a nightmare. I prefer to hunt coyotes at night with a shotgun rather than a rifle as shots tend to lose velocity quickly, limiting the lethal range which a bullet can fly. Also, a majority of the successful hunting at night is up close and personal with a most shots occurring at 30-40 yards. A cardinal rule of all hunting but especially night hunting is if you aren’t 100% sure of your target don’t shoot.  
Full Moon
My favorite time to hunt coyotes is under a full moon. The moon illuminates the night better than any spotlight ever made and it’s completely natural. Placing an electronic call on the edging of a small frozen pond and sitting back in the woods 10-20 yards creates a fantastic ambush location. When things work perfectly, a coyote will creep down the woods edging, exposing itself against the ponds snow covered surface, just as a hunter has a perfect shot. More often than not, however, the coyote winds the hunter or spooks but that is the challenge of hunting coyotes, close range at night.
Light, light, light!
            When the full moon isn’t shining, a hunter’s best friend is a spotlight. My best advice when selecting a quality light is don’t penny pinch. A good quality spotlight, that will perform well in Maine’s cold climate and won’t easily break, is somewhat pricy. Good spotlights include the Orion H30 ($129.95), the Predator Tactics Reaper ($199) and the Wicked Lights W403IC ($219.95). All of these models also have the ability to throw light well over 100 yards, a feature that will come in handy as a coyote hunter’s knowledge of an area and skill level increases and they decided to transition to using a rifle. Also, these high power light systems are incredibly helpful in picking out coyotes on bait sites where extended range is likely to be needed.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Northern Pike The Scourge of Maine

Photo – 44” Northern Pike caught by Chris Stevens on 1/1/19 on 6-lb test while crappie jigging on Unity Pond, Photo taken by Michael Dubois.

Northern Pike The Scourge of Maine
According to the 2008 NORTHERN PIKE ASSESSMENT Prepared by Francis Brautigam Regional Fisheries Biologist Region A of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Division of Fisheries & Hatcheries, “Northern Pike were initially introduced into Maine during the 1970’s, as a result of an illegal introduction to the Belgrade Chain of Lakes. Pike became well established and subsequently colonized other lakes within the Belgrade Lakes drainage. Early spawning, early utilization of fish forage and subsequent rapid growth, opportunistic foraging habits, and large size potential are qualities that enabled pike to successfully establish as a dominant predator in the Belgrades, where habitat is not limiting. The recreational fisheries that initially developed were characterized by large size quality. Pike averaged over 30 inches long and exceeded 7 pounds. This exciting new fishery was producing fish of larger average size than that offered by more traditional existing fisheries and the popularity of this sportfish grew. The perceived success of the Belgrade Lakes pike fisheries likely contributed to numerous subsequent illegal pike introductions to new waters within central and southern Maine.”
Pike Continue to Expand Distribution
In the 2008 assessment, IFW listed 28 lakes and ponds that held viable populations of Northern Pike. Currently, IFW has since revised this distribution to now include 3 additional lakes and ponds, with many more first-hand reports being submitted by ice fishermen, yet to be confirmed by IFW. These new bodies of water, include, the Saint George drainage, Round Pond, White Oak Pond, Sennebec Lake and Unity Pond (see photo). In order to confirm a species presence, IFW biologists/wardens must actually collect the fish.
The Belgrade Lakes Region is one of Maine’s top fishing destinations for anglers looking to catch big pike. Of the Belgrade Lakes, Great Pond, (Map 20, E-4) Messalonskee Lake, (Map 21, E-1) Long Pond, (Map 20, E-4) North Pond, (Map 20, D-4) all contain trophy pike upwards of 20 plus pounds. Northern Pike enthusiasts enjoy fishing for this toothy and aggressive species in late February and March, when trophy size adult pike concentrate in shallow water areas with the approach of the spawning season.
North Bay on Great Pond
Late season typically finds me fishing the shallow waters of North Bay on Great Pond. The area of the large bay in and around Snake Point are typically my favorite spots. Access to this location can best be made by parking at the “Sweet Dreams” convenience store located at 164 Village Road in Smithfield (362-2010), just make sure you buy something at the store before heading out, to help support the continued use of this gracious access point. North Bay is accessible by a 1.25 mile snowmobile trail leading directly from the store to the lake.
Jigging for Pike
Pike will eat almost anything and as such, have been caught by anglers on almost every type of fishing lure imaginable, including the apparently new hot bait, red hot dogs (Google it!). 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.
The Story of the Unity Pond Pike as Told by Michael Dubois       
While jigging for Crappie with a 24 in rod and 6 lb test line, Chris Stevens from Waterville hooked a massive Northern Pike (see photo).
The day before we caught the Pike, Chris Stevens and I were on Unity Pond fishing and spoke with the local IFW biologist Scott Davis. We specifically asked him if there were Pike in the pond to which he replied, not to his knowledge. He also has a shack on the pond and fishes there quite often, so we figured he was accurate. We would have large schools of Crappie on our flasher and suddenly they would disappear only to reappear a few minutes later, so we had surmised that a large fish like a Pike was moving the school around. This happens to us on Messalonskee and quite often we get bit off by Pike.
Suddenly, all of the Crappie disappeared, a large image appeared on the flasher and then Chris’s pole folded in half. When he set the hook, we knew that Scott Davis was wrong! 
Chris had just had carpal tunnel surgery and after 10 minutes or so, he asked me to take the rod as his hand was getting sore. I fought the fish for about 10 minutes and gave the rod back to Chris, as his hand felt better and it was in fact his fish. Again, Chis fought the fish for some amount of time and then relinquished the rod back to me for the same sore hand.
The first time I brought the fish to the hole, we both agreed that there was no way for us to land it and that no one was going to believe us. We could see the lure hooked on the furthest tip of the upper jaw thus preventing the line from getting near any of the teeth. I gave Chris a pair of rubber insulated gloves and told him that he would need to reach into the hole and grab the pike.  He did just that, lifting the pike out of the water about 2 feet, then with one shake the Pike was back down the hole and ran out most of the line on the reel yet again. We then decided to use the ice scoop to try and scoop the Pike out. Same deal except this time Chris had the pike 2 feet out of the hole a second time, the scoop broke and away went the pike for another lengthy fight.
I gave Chris the pole back and said, “I would show him how it’s done”. I too grabbed the pike with the gloves and lifted it 2 feet out of the hole and it shook and I too dropped it back in the hole. One last fight for Chris and this time, I was able to grab the fish and drag it out onto the ice. 
We walked over to the biologists shack and took a picture in front of his name tag as we figured no one would believe that it came out of Unity Pond. We also contacted Scott who did pick-up the head and aged the Pike at 9-11 years old. We estimated it at about 20-25 lbs and she was carrying about 4 lbs of eggs.

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