Monday, November 2, 2020

Game Cameras, Laws Rules and the Ethics of Fair Chase

For the sportsman who regularly uses game cameras, to track the movements of deer and other game animals, there is no arguing that they are extremely effective tools. Proper positioning and use of these devices have over the years put me in front of deer time and time again. As deer tend to be creatures of habit, frequently their movements can be predictable. It certainly isn’t an exact science, however, these devices can take the guess work out of when to hunt and when not to hunt a particular location. A few years ago, I noted that a large doe was walking through a section of my property in the afternoon around 5-6:00 pm about every two to three days. The camera showed no sign of the deer moving through at any other time other than this narrow window. Positioning my climbing stand in a tree about 20 yards from this thoroughfare, I was not entirely surprised when the doe walked right past my stand at 5:45 pm on the second day of my sit. 

When hunting with youth hunters, many of whom lack the ability to sit for more than a few hours, game cameras become invaluable. Why sit in a stand in the morning, if the deer are only being seen on camera in the evening or vice versa. If deer are only coming through at 9:00 am why get up at the crack of dawn and sit for hours in the cold. Using modern game cameras to precisely pinpoint deer movements really allows hunters the ability to put deer in the crosshairs much more effectively than any previous scouting technology.

Remotely Monitored Game Cameras

One of the biggest advances in game cameras has occurred over the last few years with the invention of remotely monitored game cameras. These devices allow sportsman to receive instant notification to their cell phone when the camera is triggered. Hunters no longer have to disrupt an area with scent or sound to alert deer or other game animals to their presence. Instead, camera settings can be changed, battery life monitored and photographs received in real-time from the comfort of your easy chair. While this “real time” data, can provide a distinct advantage for sportsmen, some states are making the use of these devices illegal for hunting.

Laws, Other States

Some state lawmakers believe game cameras give hunters an unfair advantage. The state of Montana, for example, has made scouting camera use illegal during the hunting season. A Montana wildlife law enforcement official confirmed that the driving force behind the law was “for fair chase reasons, not game management reasons.” And, their regulations state the following: “It is illegal for a person to possess or use in the field any electronic or camera device whose purpose is to scout the location of game animals or relay the information on a game animal’s location or movement during any Commission-adopted hunting season.”

Fair Chase and Ethics

Probably no one spends more time on deciding what is fair chase and what is not than the Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club. According to the presidents of both B&C and P&Y, neither have any issue with the use of traditional trail cameras that require hunters to visit the camera site to retrieve data cards or film (as far as fair chase goes). But, both oppose the use of cameras that transmit images directly to a location where they may be viewed by a hunter. Animals taken with the use of a direct transmit camera are not eligible for inclusion in their record books. B&C provided this statement: “Trophies taken with the use of trail cameras, including scouting, are eligible for entry in B&C, but only if the hunter has to manually remove film and/or a card from the trail camera itself to retrieve the images. Trophies taken with the use of trail cameras, including scouting, that transmit images to a computer/base station for viewing are not eligible for entry in B&C.”

High Tech Remotely Monitored Game Cameras

No question, properly used, game cameras put more deer on the ground. A sportsman’s chances of success increase even more dramatically, when hunters employ the use of some of the latest remotely monitored game camera technology. The CreativeXP 3G Cellular Trail Camera ($299.27 on Amazon) ranks as one of the highest rated remote game cameras on the market. The camera operates on the AT&T data network and provides a data plan allowing 1,500 photos for only $8.00. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Hunting Teaches Valuable Life Lessons

The Duck Hunting Fiasco of 2019
With early goose season starting this month and duck hunting right around the corner, I am reminded of my duck hunting fiasco of 2019. I suppose, more accurately, I should say the NON-duck hunting fiasco of 2019. 

October 2019 marked my first missed opening day of duck hunting in 20 years. The reason for my non-participation wasn’t sickness, lack of motivation, foul weather or any other of the standard reasons a typical sportsman might encounter to force such a dire circumstance. No, I didn’t go hunting because I didn’t have the required federal migratory waterfowl stamp. Now of course, here come the story. . .

Two days before the waterfowl opener, I realize that I had forgotten to purchase my waterfowl stamp from my local post office. While this is a task that I typically accomplished much, much earlier, the demands of job, a dog and a family sometimes force me to push to the back burner tasks that aren’t critical till they become critical. Well, after visiting four local post offices and calling two others, I realized that things had suddenly become critical. Time and time again, I was given the same story, every postal office was sold out of stamps and none knew even when a new supply of stamps would arrive. Discouraged, I simply didn’t go hunting and didn’t bother to check back in for the remainder of the season. 

Weeks after the end of the 2019 duck hunting season I was talking about the entire fiasco with a (much younger) hunting friend and he asked why I didn’t go online to purchase my waterfowl stamp?? I’m guessing that by the dumbfounded look on my face he could immediately see that I was noticeably confused, so he elaborated. Pulling out his fancy phone, he “Googled”, “migratory waterfowl stamp” and several links immediately appeared where stamps can be purchased online. Hunters can simply print off proof of payment or save it to their phone and voila, instant waterfowl stamp! In my sheer state of absolute disbelief, I wove a web of obscenities that likely still hangs like a dark cloud over the north end of Messalonskee Lake. What gets me most about this entire ordeal, is that in contacting 6 different postal offices, not ONE postal worker knew enough to help direct me to this online service. In a day and age where nationally we are trying to attract youth into our outdoor traditions and retain the hunters we currently have, it seems to me these individuals need to be better educated in their own internal processes.

Bella’s First Year Hunting 

This October will be the first season of duck hunting for my new Labrador retriever, Bella. Bella is my second dog, my first being Onyx who survived 15 great hunting seasons, before finally succumbing to an aggressive form of nasal cancer. After Onyx passed, I swore that I would never get another dog, the heartache had been too great, watching her sicken and finally needing to be euthanized. Time, however, heals all wounds and after a few months, I was on the phone with our breeder asking when the next litter would be available. I’m a dog person, my wife’s a dog person and my kids are dog people, being without a dog feels like some critical component of life is missing.

Training Bella has been fun, frustrating, easy and difficult. There has been good, there has been bad. I’ve had days where I felt like a complete failure as a dog trainer and other days when I felt we could compete at Westminster. This month will be the litmus test to all the time and effort we have spent together training and I can’t wait for the day she brings that first duck to hand. 

Dogs teach sportsmen patience and unconditional love . . . even when they chew a hole through your brand new waders, it is still no wonder why through the ages, the dog has been and always will be, man’s best friend. 

Hunting Accidents
Last November, at our annual deer camp, I was at camp busily preparing a feast for the guys, who I knew would be ravenous after a long day in the woods. As I prepared to transfer a boiling pot of moose stew from the stove top to the crockpot, the entire cauldron of scorching hot fluid slipped out of my gloved hands and spilled all down the front of my pants. At first, the shock of what had happened had me temporarily paralyzed and all I could think was, “Damn! I just ruined a perfectly good pot of stew”! Seconds later, however, the pain hit and I realized that I had done some real damage. 

A few friends were fortunately already at camp and I was ordered to immediately remove my pants and socks. Fumbling to remove them, I then sat down and was provided wet towels to place over my legs and feet. It is likely the quick action of my buddies that assured even more harm did not befall me. Over the next few hours, my legs and feet turned red and the skin on my right foot started to peel away. Though the pain in my foot was intense, the actual damage appeared minor. After soaking my foot for about an hour, the pain seemed to subside and I put on a loose fitting pair of slippers and proceeded to carry on for the remainder of the evening like everything was fine.

Awakening the next morning, I felt an odd sensation in my right foot, it felt as though it was badly swollen. Swinging my foot out from beneath the covers, I was a little shocked at the amount and size of the blisters that had formed overnight. Showing my friends and family, I was instructed to go immediately to the hospital. At first I refused, but after a few hours of hobbling around, I decided that maybe they were right. At Urgent Care, I was told I had suffered second and potentially third degree burns on my right foot. My foot was swabbed in sanitizing ointment, bandaged and I was instructed to keep it extremely clean. Despite doctor’s orders, I still woke up early the next morning, crammed my badly swollen foot into a boot and helped my friend Dave haul his deer out . . . I’m a horrible patient. 

So what does all this have to do with hunting, everything! After the accident, I began thinking of how inadequate my first aid kit was at camp, how I needed to make sure to use my safety harness each and every time I climb into a deer stand and I even ordered a wound sealing powder called Celox, a product designed to stop bleeding almost immediately if a person suffers a traumatic injury. The life lesson here, is the same as it was when I was in the scouts, always be prepared!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Maine Expanded Archery

Expanded Archery Opener… Done In 15 minutes!
Arriving at my hunting blind about an hour before legal, I settled in for what I anticipated would be a fairly uneventful morning.
Though I had scouted out and picked a spot that I felt would be productive, upon arriving at the parking lot, in the wee hours of the morning, I was surprised to see that several other vehicles were also parked and several other archers were also preparing to hunt the property. After talking with the other hunters, a game plan was formulated so that we wouldn’t interfere with each other’s hunt. Barely had I sat down and I noted multiple headlights headed in my direction. Apparently, nobody listened. Well, it’s easy to get worked up about things and much harder to let things go . . . I opted to have a great morning regardless and just let things go. Both hunters walked by my blind casually chatting, neither had any clue I was sitting there. 

Staring at my phone, I impatiently counted down the minutes till legal, trying to remain optimistic. Unknown to me, at the time, was that the two hunters, that had previously passed, bumped a doe that slowly walked by my stand only 15 minutes into legal shooting. Taking careful aim, I fired and had my first deer down of the expanded season. 

Friends of mine were also hunting the property and assisted me in hauling the deer back to the truck. Through these friends, I later found out I was the only hunter on the property to shoot a deer on the first day. It just goes to show, that even when the odds don’t seem to be in your favor, sometimes they actually are and sweating the small stuff never does any good. When hunting this season, stay positive, be considerate, be kind, help others whenever you can, be ethical and if necessary even turn the other cheek.

No Crossbows in Expanded Archery

Governor Janet Mills expanded hunting opportunities by signing into law Legislative Document 27 (LD 27), "An Act to Allow the Use of a Crossbow for a Limited Duration during the October Archery Season on Deer and the Fall Season on Wild Turkey.” The purpose of LD 27 is to provide additional opportunities for hunters to pursue deer. Currently, the archery season on deer is four weeks long, and the average whitetail take during a season is 500 deer taken by approximately 10,000 hunters. This is obviously an abysmal success rate. IFW feels that the use of crossbows during the October archery season will not markedly increase harvest rates on bucks or result in negative consequences for the deer population. Additionally, research studies, conducted by states who have implemented similar laws, have shown that allowing more crossbow hunting would increase hunter recruitment numbers, adding more new hunters to the sport. Overall, more crossbow hunting is good for our wildlife, our hunters and our state.

The new crossbow law officially began on January 1, 2020 and will last for 3 years and then be re-evaluated. The law expands crossbow hunting to the regular October archery season on deer and the fall wild turkey hunting season. The law specifies, however, that, “a person using a crossbow during the open archery season may not harvest an antlerless deer unless that person possesses an antlerless deer permit. Also, by Maine law, a crossbow is not considered a firearm. A person may hunt any wild bird or animal with a crossbow during any open season on that bird or animal while still following all the other laws pertinent to that species, except that a licensed crossbow hunter 64 years of age or younger may not hunt wild turkey during the fall turkey season or hunt deer during the expanded archery, special October archery or muzzleloader seasons. Hunters 65 years or older, or who have a special handicap permit to use a crossbow, may use a crossbow for any species in season with the appropriate permits.

Unfortunately, even though this law certainly is progressive and a step in the right direction for the sportsmen in this state, it still comes up short, first in its limited duration or “test” implementation and second in not allowing sportsmen to hunt with crossbows in the September expanded archery season.

Trackable Nock

        Those sportsmen who can’t seem to get enough of technology, will love the Breadcrumb Bluetooth Trackable Nock. This nock enables hunters to track their arrow or crossbow bolt right from their smart phone. Using the Breadcrumb Tracking App, hunters can accurately locate arrows or bolts from distances of 50+ yards away. Once in range, simply follow the signal strength indicator on the App to lead directly to the arrow or bolt. Hunters may also use their phone to activate the nock’s sound beacon in order to reveal an arrow’s or bolt’s hidden location. MSRP: Three Nocks for $119.99. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A Big Hole in the Water into Which is Poured Money

In the summer of 2019, I acquired a new to me 16 foot Lund with a 30 hp Honda 4 stroke. This was of course a huge upgrade from my previous boat, a 14 foot “Portaboat” propelled by a 3.5 hp Nissan. What I soon came to find out about owning a big boat is that with it comes big problems. Now I am not saying that I don’t enjoy the new boat, but whenever more complexity is added to any situation, the higher the degree of chance that something will ultimately go wrong. 

Plan for the Worst

When I inherited this boat, I also inherited a sizeable trailer. For those unaccustomed to towing a long trailer with a heavy boat, this is not a task that should be entered into lightly. Backing up such a rig and navigating around town is enough to make a novice queasy. I attempted to address my many and varied worst case scenarios and in the end, determined that I needed a spare tire. I had after all seen through the years many a boat owner stranded on the side of the road, an unfortunate victim of the “flat tire”. 

Hope for the Best

It was weeks before I finally managed to get all of the boat’s critical parts operational but ultimately, the day came when I was prepared to take it out on its maiden voyage. I make sure I didn’t encounter any issues, that I couldn’t effectively handle, I even invited along two friends to make sure that if I need additional horsepower (help paddling home) I would be ready. Unfortunately, the boat didn’t even make it to the water before I encountered my first issue. Remember, my innate fear of towing a trailer. As my friends and I motored into the boat launch, I have to admit I was excited. In moments I would be enjoying a relaxing day of fishing, in my new boat with my good friends. In my brief few seconds of inattention, I neglected to properly negotiate the sharp turn into the landing and the trailer tire tapped the edge of a large granite boulder. After the large “bang”, the next sound I heard was the rapid high pitch squeal of air escaping through the tires sidewall. Thankfully, the day was saved due to my forethought at having purchased a spare, but the tire was a total loss. 

Get Back on that Horse

I determined that this little set back wasn’t going to ruin my excitement about being a new boat owner and through the course of the summer, my boating experiences were relatively free of drama. Sometimes you can’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff. 

Great Pond, Belgrade

Great Pond is the largest body of water in the famed Belgrade Chain of Lakes. For a new boat owner its grand size can be intimidating. On my first outing on the lake, however, all of these initial fears were dispelled. The boat launch located on Boat Way Lane off of Sahagian Road in Belgrade is fantastic. The launch has ample parking, a beautiful dock and a great place to launch a boat. The launch can get very busy during the summer but most of the traffic can be avoided if anglers get an early start. What also impressed me about Great Pond is that almost every single rock, submerged point and potential boating hazard is well labeled with buoys. As long as even a novice boater, new to the pond, navigates with caution, it would be very difficult to encounter issues. 

Three Mile Pond, Vassalboro

Three Mile Pond is another of my favorite drama free boating destinations. The Pond’s boat launch, located off Route 202 in South Vassalboro is well maintained, has a large concrete launch, ample parking and a sizeable dock. Though the pond’s hazards are not quite as well marked as Great Pond, as long as the lake is edging is navigated at slow speeds, boaters shouldn’t have any rocky encounters. The center of the lake has between 25-37 feet of water so if you feel the need to “open’r up”, go right ahead. 

Sheepscot Pond, Palermo

Sheepscot Pond in Palermo is an expansive (1,193 acre) pond situated among the rolling, wooded hills of southeastern Waldo County. A moderately developed lake (unusual for Central Maine!) it remains an attractive setting for anglers and boaters alike. A state-owned boat ramp, located off Rt. 3 on the lake's north shore, provides access for anglers and other recreational users. For the angler who believes that variety is the spice of life, they will find no better thrill than a day spent fishing Sheepscot Pond. On previous trips to the lake I managed to pull up 7 different species of fish including, salmon, largemouth bass, pickerel, white perch, yellow perch, lake trout and brook trout. According to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the lake additionally contains, brown trout, smallmouth bass and even splake, which were originally introduced to the lake in 1993. While we were unsuccessful in catching any of these additional species, the possibility of going to a lake and catching 10 different species of fish is exciting!

Other Suggestions for New Boaters

Something that helped me immensely in increasing my confidence in navigating new bodies of water was a good quality depth finder. I also carry a lake/pond survey map (available through the website) of the bodies of water I am navigating. As long as I am always sure of my position, these simple maps can really take the guess work out of navigating unfamiliar bodies of water. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Katahdin 2019

In 2019, I succeeded in climbing the Hunt trail on Mt. Katahdin, reaching the summit with my eldest son, the Wildman, on what can only be described as a truly epic day. On that same hike, my younger son was forced to retreat at tree line due to feelings of acrophobia. Having his brother reach the summit and not him, only ignited my younger son’s desire to hike to the Mt. Katahdin summit and a year later he had his second chance. 

Calculated Risk

After not reaching the summit, I understood that I had one year to help my younger son gain more control over his fear of heights. Having also been afraid of heights as a child, I well understood his trepidation. I also understood that in order for him to conquer his fears, he would need to hike in progressively more challenging situations so that he was capable of seeing heights as a calculated risk. Meaning that in life there are thousands of things that can potentially kill you everyday . . . car crashes, ticks, crossing the road, riding a bike but it is unhealthy to live in a constant state of fear of what “could” be. Instead by managing and rationalizing your fears you can learn to overcome them. Except fear of spiders, of course, nothing can help with that. 

Progressive Hike 1: Ragged Mountain (1,300 ft.)

Maine has some truly great hikes for beginners, looking to train for bigger mountains. One of my favorites is Ragged Mountain which is accessible through the Camden Snowbowl, small community-owned ski area in Camden. The two primary trailheads are on the right side of the A-frame lodge, and at the pond end of the main parking lot, beyond the double chairlift. There is also a set of kiosks with information and maps available near the boat launch, just before entering the main parking lot. The Ragged Mountain trails have no real “height” exposure, only the summit has a steep edge where hikers should exhibit caution. 

Progressive Hike 2: French Mountain (716 ft.)

A short climb leads hikers up French Mountain which provides gorgeous, expansive view over small Whittier Pond. The trailhead is off Watson Pond Road, which leaves from the west side of ME Route 27 about a mile north of the intersection of ME Routes 27 and 225 in Rome. Continue down Watson Pond road 0.7 miles from ME route 27 and look for a paved pullout for parking on the eastern (left) side of the road.

Progressive Hike 3: Mt. Phillip (755 ft.)

The Mount Phillip Trail is a loop trail. The trail, marked with blue blazes, leaves from the northeast corner of the parking lot heading east and in less than 0.1 miles splits. Bear right to follow the trail counterclockwise. The trail passes through a grove of tall mature pines then heads northwest gently climbing upward through a mixed forest of hardwoods and evergreens. It continues up to a rocky ledge on Mount Phillip’s eastern side at 0.6 miles and crosses the ledge westward to a rocky, partial summit clearing (755'). After enjoying views of Great Pond to the south and the Kennebec Highlands to the west, continue the loop trail by descending to the west, then turning in a southerly direction and dropping down into a stand of mature hemlock and back to the junction and parking lot. The trailhead and parking lot for the trail are located on the north side of Route 225, directly across from Starbird Lane, 1.5 miles east of the Rome Corner (the junction of Routes 27 and 225).

Three Mountain Overview

All three mountains each have cliffs and overlooks that could be potentially dangerous if conditions were slippery or a hiker was not attentive to their footing. These areas were mostly located on the mountain summits and overlooks. A hiker, like my son, was able to only get as close to the edge as he felt comfortable and so was able to see drops and hazards without having to be immersed in them like during our 2018 Katahdin hike. We spent a good part of the spring and early summer hiking and by August I felt my younger son was ready for his second Katahdin attempt.  

A Better Plan for Katahdin Success

In 2018 my younger so had attempted the Hunt trail, which I would classify as “airy”. In several spots, a single misstep would leave a hiker severely injured or dead. Knowing that my younger son had not yet completely overcome his fear of heights, in 2019 we decided to hike the Saddle Trail to the summit. Additionally to get a super early start, we also reserved a spot at Roaring Brook. I have to admit the training and planning worked out perfect and by 10:00 AM (about 5.5 hours of hiking) the four of us, my brother, his daughter and my two sons were at the summit of Katahdin. Only at one spot on the Saddle trail, did I see that my youngest son was getting “sketched” but a quick pep talk got his head back in the game and he never had any other problems. We ended the hike back at Roaring Brook campground at about 2:30 PM a total of about 11 miles which we covered in 10 hours. I have hiked Mt. Katahdin, in every season, via every trail and touched the summit over 30 times. During all those hikes, I have on many occasions seen adults not perform as well as my 11 and 13 year old sons and my 12 year old niece. Upon settling into our campsite, my brother and I collapsed into our zero G lounge chairs and watched the kid play tag, hide and seek and swim in the stream until it was time for bed. To be that young again and have just an ounce of that vigor! 

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