Monday, January 16, 2017

A Swing and a Miss

 A Maine grand slam consists of harvesting each of Maine’s large game animals (Turkey, Moose, Bear and Deer) within a single hunting season and the pinnacle sporting achievement. For me, the possibility to achieve this dream became a reality, when I was drawn in the 2015 moose lottery for a bull tag in zone 2. At the time of the drawing, I had already shot my spring turkey with a bow and so was excited with the prospects of what was sure to be a VERY exciting hunting season.
Immediately after returning home form the lottery, I began researching bear guides and after considerable thought, finally settled on an outfitter in the Millinockett area. The bear hunt occurred during the first week of the season and was truly everything I had hoped it would be. I was served great food, treated to fantastic lodging, lead by a knowledgeable guide and joined by several other sports of truly the finest quality. The hunt was exciting and I had two perfect opportunities to shoot bears on Monday and Thursday evenings. Both bears, however, weighted around 125 pounds and while considered “average” sized bear, they were below my personal expectations and so I passed on shooting.
Over the next several weeks of bear season, I was invited by other guides, who had heard of my plight, to hunt over their baits. These hunts yielded no results but even as the season began to come to a close, I still remained hopeful right down to last night I had available, before heading off on my moose hunt the last week of September. The final evening was sweltering hot, and with little wind, the aroma of fermented doughnuts hung heavy in the air, offering a perpetual assault on my olfactory senses. I was sitting in a folding camp chair about 25 yards from the bait site in a small cluster of spruce trees in an area bordered by a large cedar swamp. A maze of bear trails intersected the bait site from numerous directions, making it a guessing game determining what direction a bear would approach the bait. Old washed-out tracks indicated a monstrous bruin had visited the site but after 3 days of hunting, no additional clue of his existence could be found. I still persisted and on the final night was rewarded by what is perhaps one of the most amazing events in my hunting career.
Late in the afternoon of the final day, as the sun started to dip below the horizon, I noted movement in the woods directly over my right-hand shoulder. Slowly turning my head, I could see that it was a bear, a BIG bear at about 40 yards, slowly approaching the bait. Being a right handed shooter, I was in a position where the muzzle of my .30-06 was in exactly the opposite direction of the approaching bruin. I knew, that considering a bears impressive speed, the option of quickly turning, shooting and placing an ethical shot into Mr. Bear were likely zero. My only option was to have the massive bear walk by me as he made his way to the bait. With what was painful slowness, the bear creeped into the bait site, his nose pointed high in the air constantly tasting the air to ensure it was safe. I figured that at any moment, the bear would bolt but instead he just kept coming. Amazed I watched the bear close the distance, 20 yards, 10 yards, 15 feet . . . finally the bear, which I judged to be close to 400 pounds, walked down the trail and by me at 9 feet as I sat on the ground in my camp chair! My adrenaline hitting critical, I struggled to keep my breathing under control and my heart rate from red lining but was rapidly losing the battle. As the bear edged by me, the wind swirled and I noted an immediate change in the bruin’s demeanor and I knew the jig was up. He stopped, took one final hesitated step and bolted into the woods like his tail was on fire, ending my bear hunting for 2015.
After my bear troubles, the rest of the “grand slam” went like clock work, as I managed to shoot my moose, a 750 pound, 13 pointer with a 51 inch spread, exactly 30 minutes into the first day. The beast even landed on the road and within a few hours my brother, father and I had removed the moose from the woods, tagged it and delivered it to the butchers and by noon were sitting on the deck, at our cabin at Red River Camps, enjoying an ice cold beverage.
My deer hunt also ended without incident, as I shot a 110 pound doe with my bow during mid October. After tracking the deer for several weeks using a game camera, I noted that she always walked by my deer stand, every three to four days, always in the evening, about an hour before last light. I went out and sat in my stand for the last three hours on the evening of the third day and encountered only squirrels but on the fourth day, like clock work, the doe walked right by my stand on her regular schedule. I drew back and fired a Rage expandable that impaled her behind the forward shoulder and dropped her only 10 yards from where she was initially hit.

I still think occasionally about my choice to pass on those two bear, but ultimately, if I had to do it all over again I would still have passed the second time. My close encounter would not have been possible had I pulled that trigger early in bear season and while I didn’t harvest that monstrous animal, being that close in its presence was well beyond the word amazing.  While it would have been a great accomplishment to have completed the “grand slam”, it was still an amazing hunting season and one that I will cherish for all time. Like I have said many times before, hunting is only about 10% about the killing the other 90% is about the time spent with family, friends, spending time afield enjoying Mother Nature and the frequent quiet, moments of self-reflection.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Scent Control Kills More Coyotes

Author's son "The Wildman" with his first coyote
Scent Control Kills More Coyotes
A coyote appeared suddenly, 50 yards downwind of my position. The wily dog weaved between spruce trees, offering me no shot opportunity. With the distance closing fast, I knew at any moment he would pick up my scent and the jig would be up. Fortunately, he kept coming and at just 10 yards, he suddenly stopped, finally smelling something that just wasn’t right. At that precise moment, my rifle cracked, and a single .223 round put that coyote down for good. I am not absolutely sure what happened that day; maybe that particular coyote wasn’t exactly the smartest of his breed. Instead, however, what I would like to believe is that I would not have shot that coyote had I not take extensive measures to control my scent.
I believe that many times when hunters fail to succeed in shooting coyotes, they simply have not taken the proper measures need to adequately control their scent profile. When the stakes are high and we are chasing whitetails, it is easy to invest the time and energy required to control our scent. When hunting coyotes however, maintaining that same level of discipline can be difficult. Scent control is not rocket science and even a basic level of scent control, when hunting coyotes, will often go a long way in allowing hunters to put more fur on the ground. No-scent soaps and deodorants are effective but should be used each day 3-4 days before hunting to ensure that residual smells from scented shampoos and body washes are eliminated. Also, wear hunting clothes no more than two outings before rewashing in no-scent laundry soap, drying and then storing in sealed plastic bags with spruce or pine boughs. Done right, more coyotes will see their last Maine winter.
            Hunting coyotes is practically a sport in Down East, almost as exciting as the high school basket ball tournaments. To get in on the action, use the Stud Mill road to access a massive road network, providing access to thousands of miles of prime coyote hunting opportunities. One of my personal favorite spots is located in and around Cranberry Mountain (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35 E2) and Lower Sabao Lake (Map 35, D1, E1) both of these areas hold enough song dogs to make any hunter happy.

Ice Fishing
West Grand (Map 35, B-3, B-4) exists as a hugely successful salmon fishery, standing as one of the premier salmon lakes in Maine. The lake’s 14,340 acres and 128 ft watery depths provide excellent habitat for salmon, perhaps one of the most consistent salmon fisheries in eastern Maine. The lake provides superb habitat for coldwater sport fish, yielding trophy sized togue and salmon every season. Currently, the lake is being managed by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) to produce a high percentage of 2-pound salmon. Salmon caught by ice anglers typically range from 17 to 19-inches with the chance to pull up a larger trophy fish always a possibility. In years, boasting high smelt population densities, between 40-50% of the salmon harvested weigh 2 pounds or greater.
Show me a map of West Grand Lake and it would be difficult to indicate a specific spot where I have fished and not caught many fine salmon. Whitney Cove, the Throughfare, Hardwood Island, Pineo Point and many, many other locations are great choices for catching old silversides through the ice. Anglers targeting salmon will encounter more success if they bring smelts. While salmon will bite shiners, a much larger degree of success will be managed by those willing to invest a little more expense and effort and use smelts. If unaccustomed to using this baitfish, know they are notoriously difficult to keep alive. Bait buckets equipped with small aerators will increase the chances of keeping bait actively swimming all day long.
West Grand Lake should not be trifled with any time of year but especially during the winter. Those wishing to fish its icy depths need to have a backup plan should weather turn nasty. This plan should include extra layers of clothing, food, fire starting materials and being sure to leave an itinerary with someone should you not arrive back home by a specified time.
Snowmobile Riding
My idea of the perfect snowmobile ride includes a maximum of about 50 miles of trail done at around 10-20 miles an hour. At this speed, a rider is able to fully appreciate his or her surrounding and enjoy the beautiful scenery that the Maine winter offers. Often, I see riders flying down trails and across lakes at such unsafe speeds, it has me wondering why they appear to be in such a big hurry. It isn’t that I am an old fossil; it’s simply that I enjoy taking things slow. When I ride, I like to take my time and enjoy the moments spent outside, I stop to talk to ice fishermen, other snowmobile riders, cross country skiers and have even been known to stop at a store to get a snack and drink piping hot cocoa.
            If looking for a slow ride with plenty of beauty and nice places to stop for hot drinks and an afternoon snacks, I suggest taking a ride on the Sunrise Trail (http://sunrisetrail.org) from Machias (Map 26, C-3) to Dennysville (Map 27, A-1) or Cherryfield (Map 25, D-2). This scenic trail passes through some beautiful country and can be accessed by parking at the causeway in Machias. While the scenery is spectacular, even more fun is stopping after a long afternoon of riding at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias for a hot cup of coffee and a slice of one of their delicious pies.  



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - The Snowshoe Hare

           The Showshoe Hare (Lepus americanus), also called the varying hare, has a home range spanning across all of North America. Snowshoe hare have evolved to become well adapted to their snow covered environments. Hare’s have the amazing ability to shed their brown summer coats and grow white winter coats that help them better blend into winter environments. As summer approaches, the brown coat replaces the white, allowing the hare to hide better in the earthy tones of its summer habitat. 
The name snowshoe comes from the hares second incredible adaptation, its sizeable hind feet, appearing almost too large for its diminutive body size. The animal's large hind feet help it from sinking into the deep snow when it walks and hops. Snowshoe hares also posses heavily furred feet and ears shorter than most other hares, both critical adaptations designed to protect it from freezing Maine the temperatures.
Mostly crepuscular (creature of the dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (night time dweller) snowshoe hare do a majority of feeding at night. Hares feed on a wide variety of plants such as ferns, buds, twigs and grasses but will also less commonly feed on dead animals such as mice. During the day, hares do not rest in burrows but instead prefer to conceal themselves from predators by hiding in shallow depressions under heavy spruce thickets and brush piles.
Prolific breeders, hares may birth between up to 30 young per year. Females (does) have the ability to become pregnant by males (bucks) while already pregnant with young (kits) because female hares have two uteri. Typically the hare breeding season begins in March and continues till around June. The gestation period lasts an average of 37 days, with birthing of kits starting in April and stretching into late July.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is another name for the snowshoe hare?
2. What is the home range of the snowshoe hare?
3. What trick of camouflage has the snowshoe hare evolved to better evade the sharp eyes of predators?
4. How have snowshoe hare adapted to their cold environments?
5. Do snowshoe hare eat meat?
6. Do snowshoe hare dig burrows?
7. What are baby rabbits called?
8. How many young can snowshoe hare birth in a single year?
9. What are female rabbits called?

 Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. A snowshoe hare is also known by the name varying hare.
2. The home range of the snowshoe hare stretch across all of North America.
3. Snowshoe hares have evolved to evade predators by growing white winter coats and brown summer coats to better blend into their natural environments and fool the sharp eyes of predators.
4. Snowshoe hare have adapted to their cold environments by having short ears and feet covered with thick fur.
5. When food is limited, snowshoe hare have been documented eating meat.
6. Snowshoe hare do not dig burrows, instead the prefer to conceal themselves from predators by hiding in shallow depressions under heavy spruce thickets and brush piles.
7. Baby rabbits are called kits.
8. Snowshoe hares can birth as many as 30 young per year.
9. Female rabbits are called does.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stay Safe, Dry, Warm and Comfortable In Your Treestand

            During the months of September- December, I spend a lot of time sitting in treestands. This means that over the years, I have accumulated a considerable amount of knowledge in how to stay safe, dry, warm and comfortable sitting for 8-10 hours a day 15-20 feet off the ground.
According to the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, more than 90 percent of hunters use some type of tree stand for hunting. This means that most of us out there hunting are doing so from some type of elevated platform. As such, we owe it to ourselves and out families to understand as much as possible about treestand safety.
Researchers from the University of Alabama estimate about 10 percent of hunters who use tree stands are injured while using the platforms; this averages to be 5,875 treestand related injuries per year. Treestands to be safe, require a physical and visual inspection every time before climbing. Make sure to shake and attempt to move the ladder, tug on ropes and inspect ratchet straps. Also, don’t use “homemade” treestands as they are typically not constructed to the same standard as those commercially purchased and as such are much more prone to failure.
All commercially purchased stands these days are required to come with a full body harness, unfortunately most are complicated, uncomfortable to wear, and not easily adjustable for XXL and petite hunters. These drawbacks lead to the harnesses not being worn and hundreds of hunter injuries every year. To make sure a harness is comfortable and adjustable, it pays to spend the extra money on a custom harness like the ones made by Muddy Outdoors, Hunter Safety Systems, Tree Spider and Summit Treestands. Having an easy to use harness means it will always be used and a hunter saved from possible death or traumatic injury. With care, these harnesses will last hunters for years and are well worth the investment.
Researchers at the University of Alabama also found that injury rates were highest among those 15 to 24 years old, young hunters who were more willing to “risk” climbing into a tree stand without the benefit of safety equipment. All the companies mentioned above sell youth model harnesses, specially designed for smaller hunters. This piece of equipment is as critical as wearing a cars seatbelt or bike helmet, get it wear it, everytime.
A full body harness is great for protecting a hunter while they are sitting or standing, from a treestand’s elevated seat or platform, but unfortunately, a majority of falls happen while climbing up or down ladders. My newly purchased treestand, the “Hawk Destination”, is a whopping 21 feet off the ground so to protect myself while climbing up and down, I recently purchased the Muddy Safe-Line. This simple device is basically a heavy-duty rope that attaches to the top and bottom of the treestand. As the hunter climbs, he or she simple slides the prusik knot up the rope. Should a fall occur, the knot cinches tight and the hunter is saved from a fall. Other similar systems include the Tree Spider Livewire Descent and Life-Line by Hunter Safety System.
Stay Dry and Warm
Sitting for hours is relatively easy, until the ambient temperature reaches fifty degrees Fahrenheit. This is when I typically have to reach for my heavy jacket. Wind and rain can quickly turn a relatively mild day in the 50s unbearable, unless a hunter is properly prepared. A layering system comprised of a polyester undershirt, fleece jacket, waterproof over jacket and emergency heat packs usually do the job until temperatures sink into the forties. I actually don’t mind being slightly chilled, as it helps to keep me awake and alert, but what I absolutely cannot stand is being wet. Even with proper rain gear, water always seems to seep in, hands go numb and equipment gets saturated. Last year, I decided to try one of those treestand umbrellas that attached to the tree over the treestand. First, I looked at the Field and Stream Tree Umbrella and while budget friendly; I was not impressed by its flimsy construction. I finally settled on the “Wingspan Ultimate” treestand umbrella by Hawk. While expensive, it is solidly built and provides considerable overhead coverage to keep a hunter dry in even the hardest downpour.  
More Helpful Hints
Its never seems to fail that after sneaking quietly into my treestand, on a still morning, that my monumental efforts at silence are thwarted by a squeaky treestand. To combat this problem, I carry in my pack a can of Pam cooking spray. The canola oil based spray lubricates and any odor doesn’t seem to disturb deer. Last season, I watched a doe deer walk under my treestand and casually sniff the ground where the canola oil had dripped.
Remember, hunting deer from treestands in Maine’s relatively deer poor Washington county region doesn’t make sense unless stands are placed in areas that contain deer. This means stand hunters need to be vigilant in their scouting well before November to find areas rich in deer sign, that contain landform funnels created by topography or are in locations containing natural deer attractants like apple orchards or food plots. Once a location is found, be sure to secure written landowner permission, label stands with name and address and hang treestrands in early August. If needing to cut brush for shooting lanes, also be sure to get written landowner permission.
For those looking for a deer hunting adventure, “The Great Heath” (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 25, C-3) is sure to satisfy. Also, Allen Heath (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, bring a tree climber and plan to spend the whole day, this is BIG country!

 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Lost Art of Sitting and Shoot Ducks and Chill?

The Lost Art of Sitting
The entire month of November, I spend a lot of time sitting in trees. While many prefer to stalk deer rather than sit, I am one of those hunters who likes to sit, content to simply pass the time, collecting my thoughts, watching the birds and squirrels play and patiently waiting for a deer to walk out and present a shot. I find this entire process incredibly relaxing and in few endeavors in these hectic times do I truly feel quite so at peace and connected to the natural world around me.
Sitting is becoming a lost art, a hunting skill comprised of equal parts physical endurance and mental patience. I feel that many sportsmen are losing the ability to master this skill as our growing dependence on technology seems to be robbing us of our ability to just sit peacefully. For a growing number of sportsmen, a few minutes in the stand and they become “bored” and begin playing with their phones, txting friends, taking tree stand selfies or playing video games. This deer season, leave the cell phone in a pocket and reconnect with the woods. In the end, the re-connections made back to the Maine wilds, just might put a deer on the game pole this month.
Other suggestions hunters can take to increases their chances of seeing more deer when sitting for long periods of time, include making sure to position themselves so that the sun is at their back for better visibility and also to reduce eye fatigue on bright days. This is accomplished by facing west in the morning and east in the evening. Also a comfortable thick foam seat goes a long way in helping to avoid unnecessary movement. When hunting season begins, I always find the first day of sitting is the worst, I feel fidgety, uncomfortable and have difficulty maintaining focus. As the season progress, however, the days get progressively easier and seem to move faster as I settle into a regular routine of hunting.
            A lot of deer hunters in Washington County still hunt, preferring to stalk after the areas sparse population of whitetails. Stalking is effective as it allows hunters to assess larger tracts of land than is possible simply sitting and waiting for deer. Stand hunting however can still be highly effective even in deer poor Washington County if hunters use the pre-season to scout out prime stand areas that funnel deer between bedding and feeding areas, overlook concentrated sources of food (food plots, apple orchards, corn fields, etc.). Simply setting up a stand in Washington County and hoping for a deer to walk by without doing any pre-scouting and a hunter might well be waiting years before a deer shows up!
            When deer hunting in Washington County, it is hard to beat the rugged lands accessible via the Birch Hill Road (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 36, D-1, C-1 and C-2), just outside of the town of Crawford. The Birch Hill road snakes over and around Hawkins, Huntley and Seavy Ridge as well as Pocomoonshine Mountain to the west and borders heavy swamp land and spruce growth to the east. This creates great ambush opportunities between bedding and feeding areas for hunters willing to invest a little time scouting to find the travel corridors between these two zones boasting the highest level of deer activity.
Shoot Ducks and Chill?
Duck hunting in November is wrought with challenges overcome by only the heartiest of sporting men and women. Frigid north winds blow a gale, typically throwing snowstorms or freezing rain down from the heavens, soaking even the most prepared foul weather fowler. With inland waters rapidly freezing, water fowlers head Down East where the regions salty bays and tidal inlets typically take longer to ice up.
Sportsmen feeling they possess the intestinal fortitude to hunt in these inclement and fickle weather conditions would be well served to dress warm and try their luck on Maine’s rugged coast. Areas such as the mouth of the Machias River (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, C-4) and Chandler River (Map 25 B-5) both offer protection from the icy north winds while still providing opportunities to harvest ducks late into December.
A majority of the hunting done in these locations is accomplished by pass shooting, a practice of hunting requiring no decoys and no calling; it is simply about being in the right place at the right time. Hunters successful in employing this technique choose set-up locations wisely, using pinch points, ledges and sheltered coves to force ducks into effective shotgun range. Ducks refusing to fly into shooting range, can sometimes be persuaded by employing a rudimentary understanding of duck sounds and behavior. The quack, quack, quack is the basic call of the mallard and black duck and is the “King” of duck vocalizations. Use it heartily when the winds howl, to call to ducks at a distance and lightly in the stillness of the early morning. Always call to wing tips and tails, to turn ducks toward your position and do not call repeatedly as overdoing it often frightens ducks. Simply in theory complicated in actually delivery, calling to duck and having them favorably respond is as much science as art form and one can only improve by spending years watching and listening to ducks.
Hunters should not be seen, so limit movement and cover up the often forgotten face and hands with camouflage face paint or a face mask and gloves. Often glaringly white faces staring up into the heavens, from the relative darkness of the swamp or forest, spook approaching ducks.
Decoy spreads should be seen and contain a lot of movement. This is accomplished by including spinning wing decoys, jerk chords and any other products that create water disturbances, mimicking happily feeding ducks.

Later in the season it pays to add white colored decoys to your set-up, as doing so will yield visits from both hooded and red crested mergansers. Take old mallard decoys and paint them white and black to mimic mergansers.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - The Ruffed Grouse

The Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) exists as the most widely distributed resident game bird in North America and Canada. Due to its non-vocal courtship display, in which males rapidly beat their wings creating a “thumping” sound, they have been lovingly called “Thunder Chickens”. Even in thickly wooded timber, the drumming sound can attract mates from over a quarter mile away. During courtship rituals, males display to females their thick black ruff of neck feathers; this is where the “ruffed” grouse gets its name. Often, the grouse is mistakenly called a partridge, a name meant to identify a different species of bird.
Grouse spend a vast majority of their time on the ground, where it’s dappled; gray and black coloration makes it extremely difficult to see in mixed hardwoods. When frightened, grouse typically explode wildly into flight, beating their wings very loudly and typically giving heart palpitations to anyone within immediate earshot.
Grouse feed almost exclusively on vegetation, including buds, leaves, berries, seeds, and woody plants but will also feed on small insects. The grouse’s ability to consume foods high in cellulose allows it to feed on buds and twigs of trees and other plant species that most other animals would be incapable of digesting. Since ruffed grouse lack teeth, they frequently seek out gravel roads in the late afternoon and early mornings where they swallow small pieces of grit which pass into the gizzard and help them grind up hard food items like nuts.
Historically, ruffed grouse populations follow a 10-year cycle from high to low. The cycle occurs independent of hunter harvest numbers and scientists predict it depends on a number of various factors including, availability of feed and populations of other prey animals like the snowshoe hare.

Questions
  1. What is the range of the Ruffed Grouse?
  2. What are Ruffed Grouse lovingly called?
  3. What do male Ruffed Grouse do to attack mates?
  4. What do Ruffed Grouse do when frightened?
  5. What do Ruffed Grouse eat?
  6. Why do Ruffed Grouse eat grit?
  7. How long is the “Ruffed Grouse Cycle”?
  8. Does hunter harvest numbers predict the 10 year “grouse cycle”?
Answers
  1. The range of the Ruffed Grouse includes all of Canada and North America.
  2. Ruffed Grouse are lovingly called “Thunder Chickens”
  3. Ruffed Grouse attract mates by rapidly beating their wings creating a “thumping” sound.
  4. When frightened, Ruffed Grouse typically explode wildly into flight, beating their wings very loudly.
  5. Ruffed Grouse feed almost exclusively on vegetation, including buds, leaves, berries, seeds, and woody plants but will also feed on small insects.
  6. Ruffed Grouse swallow small pieces of grit which pass into the gizzard and help them grind up hard food items like nuts.
  7. The “Ruffed Grouse Cycle” is 10-years.
  8. No, hunter harvest numbers do not predict the 10 year “grouse cycle”, instead scientists believe it depends on a number of various factors including, availability of feed and populations of other prey animals like the snowshoe hare.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

BEST Smartphone Hunting Apps

inteliSCOPE Mounted on a 12g Shotgun
There was a time not long ago when people would actually be bored. This psychological condition most likely occurred during periods of time when an individual was not involved in a particular event or activity and they simply had to lounge around with nothing specific to do. I guess more precisely what I mean to say, is that there existed just a short while ago a time when a person couldn't possibly expect to have every single moment of their existence filled with mental stimulus and distraction. Strange as it may sound, there was actually a time when a man could be alone with his thoughts and just reflect, plan and think.
It is comical, to hold in my hand a "smart" phone that often makes me feel anything but "smart". I no longer remember phone numbers, trivial facts or a hundred other minute details that I used to store in my cranium. Now, instead of having a viable memory, I just “Google it” and instantly, I can profess to know practically any piece of trivial information, including the entire history of the shalalie (Yes, I actually looked this up!). Though I am sure the original plan for the “smart” phone was well meaning, it appears that instead my "smart" phone has made me well, kind of stupid. I note lately that even my attention span seems to be waning. Activities that I once relished for their peace and quiet now seem quite frankly mundane.
This past hunting season, I spent a lot of time sitting in trees. While I would like to say I was completely content and at peace the entire time, I must confess that quite frequently, I was extremely bored. After four hours of sitting, entertained only by watching the squirrels play, I would invariably begin to feel a little nuts.
Fortunately, I have a handheld entertainment unit called a Smartphone, which if used correctly actually holds great promise to the sporting public. This hunting season, I tried hard to use my “smart phone” in a way that enhanced rather than inhibited my hunting experience. This was accomplished by using several different apps (an abbreviation for application, specialized programs downloaded onto mobile devices, like smart phones and iPads) that allowed me to maximize my time afield by assisting me in better understanding of prime feeding times, moon phase, wind direction and navigation within the large property I was hunting. Below is a listing of the apps I used this season and their primary functions:

- GPS Tracks:  This handy navigational aid does a superior job of assisting hunters, back packers, hikers, etc. in virtually mapping out a property to allow for a better understanding of deer movements and behaviors. Sportsmen can save roads, trails scrape lines, etc. as “tracks” that can be overlaid on a satellite map of the area, providing a great aerial overview of the area in which you are hunting.
- Best Hunting: This app is a computerized version of the old solunar hunting and fishing tables. Just type in the hunting date and the program calculates moon phase, sunrise and sunset and computes the optimal hunting and fishing times. While I believe many other conditions influence deer movement, the biggest deer I saw all season was on a day picked by the app to be the most optimal day of the month.
- Deer Calls Pro: Never worry about making that perfect doe in esterous bleat, buck grunt or fawn bleat again. With a simple press of the button, hunters can pick from twelve different deer vocalizations, with sounds emanating from the phone speaker. If hunters don’t find the sound from the phone speaker loud enough, adding a small Bluetooth speaker greatly enhances the sound capabilities. Also with the remote speaker, hunters can place the speaker 10-20 yards from their hunting stand.
- Quiver: The perfect scouting tool, Quiver allows a hunter to take notes, pictures, record hunting time and enter deer sightings in a simple to use interface. By collecting all of this data, hunters are better able to remember critical hunting information that can be built upon each season.
- Instagram: An online photo/video-sharing social networking service that enables users to share photos/videos either publicly or privately, as well as through a variety of other social networking platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. All in all, a great app for connecting with other sportsmen and sharing hunting photos and videos.
-inteliSCOPE: Is an app that allows a Smartphone to be used as a targeting system for your shotgun or rifle. If impressed by the app, the company sells a mounting system that attaches a Smartphone directly to a firearm, allowing it to be used as a scope and video recording device. I used this set-up with great success with my 7 and 9 year old during the spring turkey hunt. The sighting system allowed me to make sure I was able to see the exact same shot my kids were seeing to help ensure a quick kill.
- iHunt By Ruger: App contains a number of different hunting tool, including the Solunar times, activity log, weather updates and a compass. However, what is most impressive is the number of game calls the app has available. While vocalizations from everything from Alligators to Zebras might be overkill for us Mainers, the other calls available include bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, moose, fox, crows, and 30 different whitetail deer calls.

The failure of the smart phone isn’t in the design, the failure is in the user who doesn’t understand that in some situations it is better to put the phone in their pocket. In many hunting situations the unit distracts the hunters from completely tuning into their hunting environment and enjoying the experience. With a pursuit of any game animal, sportsmen owe it to the creature they are pursuing to devote the entirety of their attention to the hunt or at least cut back on the number of unnecessary distractions. This will not only increase your chances of taking game, it will ultimately make a better hunter, one more connected to the environment and their natural surroundings. Tune in this hunting season and refuse to tune out!

Coyote Trapping During the October Early Season

           Predator control (primarily for coyotes) has an extremely positive impact on whitetail deer survival rates. As such, every sportsman should do their part to help keep this wilily invader on the retreat. While many sportsmen pursue coyotes with firearms, luring canines into range with bait sites and wounded rabbit calls, another effective means of controlling this predator is by trapping.
Traps allow for the “passive” taking of game animals, meaning that traps work while a sportsman is involved doing other tasks. For the busy sportsman, running a short trap line consisting of half a dozen traps makes sense. The only constraint on time being that Maine law stipulates that traps must be checked every 24 hours to ensure a trapped animal is not left to suffer. While technically classified as a “passive” means of catching and killing predators, a person thinking of trapping coyotes should understand that this is a challenging endeavor. I like to describe trapping as a sport simple in principle but complex in the undertaking.
            To begin with, those new to trapping should start with a good solidly build leg-hold trap. For the money, there are few traps better designed and simpler to use than the #3 Bridger dog less coil spring trap with off set jaws. This sized trap is practically guaranteed to have enough strength to hold even the largest Maine coyote. Traps need to be secured to the ground or a tree using stakes or cabling to prevent trapped coyotes from dragging the traps into the wilds and never found. Traps, connectors, stakes and/or cabling will all need to be “dipped” to prevent rust, I suggest using “full metal jacket”, as this product is easy to apply and works very well.
Prime areas to place traps include abandoned skid roads, game tails leading in and out of fields, old sandpits and dried up creek beds, all make great spots to trap coyotes. Gravel pits like the expansive pit bordering Route 9 in T31 (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 25, A-4), the roads surrounding the Great Heath (Map 25, C-3) in Columbia Falls and the extensive network of roads surrounding the blueberry barrens in T24 (Map 25, B-3) all provide almost limitless opportunities to trap coyotes.
Once a suitable location has been found, a trapper needs to make some type of “set” to lure the coyote into the jaws of the trap. While dozens of books and videos have been made showing how to trap coyotes, for me, I prefer the tried, true and simple method of constructing a dirt hole set. The dirt hole set is simply a hole in the ground with the trap positioned in front of it. The trap should be securely fastened to the ground with a stake or cabled to a nearby tree so that the animal cannot escape. Once the trap is set, it should be carefully camouflaged with sifted soil and blended into the forest floor using pine needles and leaves. Some type of bait is then placed in the hole. When the coyote comes close to investigate, SNAP, he is trapped.
The early coyote and fox trapping season runs from October 16 to October 29, 2016, while the general trapping season for coyote and fox as well as bobcat, marten, mink, muskrat, opossum, otter, raccoon, red squirrel, skunk, weasel runs from October 30 to December 31, 2016.

Scout Bobcats with Game Cameras Now, for Winter Success
Sportsmen looking for a unique challenge should try their hand at hunting bobcats. Being primarily nocturnal, sporting a well-camouflaged coat and possessing the ability to sit motionless for long periods of time, bobcats are elusive creatures and despite years in the woods, many sportsmen have never seen a bobcat in the wild. This leads some uninformed individuals to believe that bobcats are rare or endangered. Scientists, however, estimate bobcat populations to be quite large, with as many as two-thousand existing in Maine and close to one million bobcats in the United States.
Most harvested bobcats are incidentals, shot while hunting other predators like coyotes so to specifically target bobcats; hunters need to know the particular habits of these crafty and methodical felines. To be successful, hunting bobcats, hunters must identify areas where cats are concentrated. The first tactic to employ when hunting bobcats is to locate where they are hiding.
Game cameras provide a viable means of tracking the movement of bobcats and while October may seem early to begin scouting, the last two bobcats I shot were initially seen in game camera photographs taken during the early fall. While I was originally attempting to capture deer movements, seeing these capable deer killing predators on my property lead me to devise a plan to hunt them during the open season running December 1st to February 14th. While territory sizes vary widely for bobcats, measuring up to thirty-six square miles for males to about eighteen square miles for females, I knew that it would be highly probable that a bobcat seen on camera during the summer would likely be prowling nearby come December.
Bobcats have short attention spans, when it comes to erratic prey sounds, so an effective technique employed, to call them to within shooting range, is to turn on an electronic call and letting it play constantly. Popular sounds for luring bobcats into shooting range include a variety of bird and rodent distress noises with wounded woodpecker being a personal favorite. Because of this, electronic calls are superior for bobcats, over hand held calls, as they alleviate the necessity of the caller to attempt to blow on a call for long amounts of time.
Motion decoys also work well for cats as they rely on their eyesight more than their noses when stalking prey. Decoys need not be overly complicated and can be as simple as a turkey feather or tin can lid suspended from a tree branch with a piece of thread and allowed to move in the breeze.
Success at calling in a bobcat is an incredible undertaking and any sportsman able to accomplish the feat certainly deserves a pat on the back. The Stud Mill Road parallels many swampy spruce thickets that hold healthy populations of small game and are magnets for bobcats. Past favorites include the area surrounding Monroe Lake and Monroe Brook and stretching north up South Brook and the Little River (Map 25, C-4, C-5).


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - The Mallard Duck

The Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos) distribution spreads throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and North Africa. Mallards have also been introduced in countries all over the world, making it one of the most widely distributed and therefore well known ducks on the planet. Easily recognized, males or drakes have vibrant glossy green heads, a white neck collar and grey wings and underbelly. Females or hens have mainly brown-speckled feathers. The bill of the male is a yellowish orange tipped with black while that of the female is generally darker.

Categorized as a dabbling duck, Mallards feed by tipping their bodies forward and grazing on underwater plants. Because Mallards feed in this manner, rarely diving, they prefer to inhabit areas possessing water less than 3 feet deep. Mallards live in both fresh and saltwater wetlands where they have easy access to water plants and small invertebrates that comprise a vast majority of its diet.

Mallard pairs form long before the spring breeding season, usually during October and November. While mallard pairs are generally monogamous, paired males will pursue females other than their mates if provided an additional chance to breed. Once breeding is complete, male leaves the female alone to construct a nest and provide all care for the eggs and young. Females typically lay 8–12 eggs that are incubated for about 30 days.

Upon hatching, ducklings are fully capable of swimming a critical part of their evolution allowing them to evade predators. Ducklings instinctively stay near the mother for protection and learn how to forage for food. After 50 to 60 days, ducklings leave the safety of the nest on their first flights. If able to successfully avoid a long list of predators, including raptors, snakes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, red fox, turtles, northern pike, bobcats and domestic dogs and cats, Mallards can live to be 27 years of age.

Questions
1. What is the distribution range of the Mallard?
2. What does the plumage of a male Mallard look like?
3. What comprises a vast majority of a Mallards diet?
4. When do Mallards breed?
5. Do male Mallards care for their young (ducklings)?
6. How many eggs do female Mallards typically lay?
7. What predators feed on Mallards?
8. How old can Mallards live?

Answers
1. The Mallard Duck distribution rage is spread throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and North Africa.
2. Male or drake Mallards have vibrant glossy green heads, a white neck collar and grey wings and underbelly.
3. A vast majority of a Mallards diet is comprised of water plants and small invertebrates.
4. Mallards breed in the spring.
5. No, once breeding is complete, male leaves the female alone to construct a nest and provide all care for the eggs and young.
6. Female Mallards typically lay 8–12 eggs.
7. Mallards are preyed upon by a long list of predators, including raptors, snakes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, red fox, turtles, northern pike, bobcats and domestic dogs and cats. 8. Mallards can live to be 27 years of age.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Modern Firearms Movement

The history of hunting firearms in the United States started in 1860 with the introduction of the Spencer rifle during the civil war. After the war, Spencer rifles were well know and wide spread and readily available. These elements set the stage for “military” rifles to become the hunting guns. This trend continued again in 1903 when Springfield bolt-action rifles were developed for WWI. At the conclusion of the conflict, these bolt-actions became the standard among hunting rifle and the .30-06 cartridge went on to become one of the most used hunting rounds in the world. Because of this trend of sportsmen adopting military style firearms, for hunting purposes, it should be no surprise that the AR-15 platform rifles (also known as Modern Sporting Rifles or MSRs) are slowly gaining momentum and acceptance within the hunting community.

The evolution of modern day firearms, like the AR-15, has occurred through our well developed and informed understanding about what truly makes a rifle great. First built by ArmaLite in 1959, as a small arms rifle for the US armed forces, the design was later sold to Colt who modified and redesigned the rifle, later selling it to the US military as the M16. In 1963, Colt started selling the semi-automatic version of the M16 for civilians under the name AR-15 and AR-15s even today, are refined versions of the original M16 design. Since its introduction to civilian service, the AR-15 has inherited a slew of nicknames, being called, "America's Gun", “the Black Rifle”, “Automatic Rifle” and even “Assault Rifle”. Some have even called it the “Barbie Doll” or “Lego Set” for men due to the rifle’s impressive “modular” design allowing it to be customized in a wide variety of configurations. This flexibility has spawned a huge number of aftermarket modifications, available for installation with just a few simple tools and a limited technical knowledge.

The AR-15 platform continues to evolve to advance our understandings about what a modern day rifle should look like and how it should operate. “Out of the box”, AR-15s contains many advance features that put them light years ahead of other older firearm platforms. Perhaps most impressive is the rifles straight forward and ergonomic design that places the charging handle, safety, magazine release, and bolt assembly all readily accessible by the shooter. This allows for superior fast handling, quick shots, light recoil, rapid magazine changes and makes the AR-15 unequaled by any other semiautomatic design. The almost unlimited available personalizations, along with the rifles modern design, have made the AR-15 the most popular rifle in the United States, with an estimated four million in circulation. So given the widespread distribution of the AR-15, across a vast section of the US population, why is it that the AR-15 platform has been so slow to be embraced by the hunting community. In this world where everyone wants to “update”, update to Blue Ray, update to plasma TV, update Apps, update to the new iPhone, why is it that as sportsmen we seem so unwilling to embrace the “update” available to our hunting arsenal? Part of this apprehension, to adopt the AR-15, as the next evolution of the modern day firearm, is based on the rocky road it has endured since its inception. Frequently attacked by politicians, the AR-15 has been painted by the media as a vile harbinger of death and destruction, a firearm having no place in civilized society. In part this “bad press” that has forced the AR-15 to the hunting “fridge”, viewed by many sportsmen as more of a passing fad then serious hunting tool. In surveys of AR-15 owners, across the US, it was determined that the number one reason for owning an AR-15 is self defense. The second major identified reason, for owning an AR-15, was for the pure enjoyment and participating in shooting sports and competitions.

I have to admit that the self defense capabilities inherent in the AR-15 are impressive. While defense was never my major reason for purchasing one, I can see how that would be attractive to a large section of the population, considering our societies current attraction to the “zombie apocalypse” and “doomsday” scenarios. While occasional trips to the range with friends can be entertaining, I am not interested in going to the range and firing off 1,000 rounds of ammunition, mostly because I am much too cheap but also because I find that practice boring. One can only reduce so many cans and bottles into small fragments before the need for a greater challenge emerges. I would much rather fine tune my skills at the range and then move on as quickly as possible to “live” fire targets like squirrels, ground hogs, coyotes, fox, bobcats and other small game animals.

Regardless of society’s perception, the AR-15 platform is, at its core, simply a semi-automatic rifle. Being a semi-automatic, the AR-15 fires lead down range at a rate closely matching the Browning BAR, Remington Woodsmaster 742 or Ruger Mini-14. The only difference, between each of these fine hunting firearms, being the AR-15s more modernized shooting platform and compact design. What most don’t realize is that compared to its more “antique” brethren, the AR-15 actually shares many of the same design elements only in a more updated and modern edition. The AR-15 is a good hunting rifle because of its proven history as a durable, reliable, versatile and accurate firearm. Made to handle combat, AR-15s are constructed primarily of polymer and aluminum, which is tough and corrosion resistant. In addition, few rifles shoot better with most AR-15s capable of putting three shots within an inch apart at 100 yards. Since AR uppers and lowers are easily swapped, it is common to have multiple uppers for the same lower, now hunters have the ability to transform their favorite varmint rifle into a deer rifle in less than 30 seconds. The AR-15 is available in a wide selection of calibers, including my favorites, the flat shooting .223 for predators and heavy hitting .308 for everything else. These reasons makes the AR-15 worthy of serious consideration by sportsmen as a primary hunting firearm.
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