Monday, June 30, 2008

Kennebec Striper Report by Fish Dog

Fish Dog's Striper Report

*Fish Dog is a beautiful 65 lb black lab who has been an integral part of our pack for the past three years. She is passionate about all water related sports and is never far from my side whenever we find the time in our busy schedules to go fishing, duck hunting or swimming.

Woof . . . the early morning rains managed to hold off and Big Boss and I decided to head out under lead gray skies down to a new fishing spot on the Kennebec River. Big boss rigged up a couple poles, organized an assortment of lures, poured me a bowl of “K9 Krunchies” (Did I mention that I LOVE to eat?) and we were off to try our luck with the striped bass. I was so excited that I paced back and forth in the truck the entire drive and finally had to stick my head out the window to keep from hyperventilating! Did I mention that I LOVE fishing? From the moment we arrived at the deserted pier, I knew it was going to be a great morning. Big Boss opened the door and immediately the smell of brackish water, strange dog poop and gopher drifted lazily across the parking lot . . . in an completely unladylike manner perhaps I drooled a little.

Big Boss put on my leash in case we encountered anyone and we walked down the steep incline toward the river. Did I mention I LOVE to excitedly greet people by sometimes jumping on them? I pulled perhaps a little bit hard on my leash and Big Boss tripped and spilled nuclear hot coffee on his leg . . . he is so funny when he screams like a little girl!

Looking up on Big Boss's wrist, I noted the time was 6:30 AM. Already several other dedicated fishermen were trolling and casting along the shoreline but as we watched nobody seemed to be catching anything. Around 6:45 AM the first sturgeon cleared the water and splashed down with a force that sounded like a stick of cord wood being dropped from an airplane. Big Boss didn't see it but I estimated the length at between 4-5 feet. Did I mention I LOVE sturgeon? One sturgeon broke the surface so close to me that I had to give case!

The leap off the high dock granite dock was exhilarating and the cool waters of the Kennebec refreshing! Swimming across the strong current unfortunately was harder than I anticipated and the fish escaped. Did I mention I LOVE fish? Big Boss was so funny, he worried that I might drown. Doesn't he know labs are born with webbed feet? Big Boss had to crawl down the 8 foot high granite dock to lift me out of the water. Did I mention I LOVE swimming? Why Big Boss didn't just jump in with me and swim around I will never know. He looked pretty “heated” from the whole incident, so to cool him down I shook drenching him . . . he seemed very appreciative . . . or maybe relieved?!?!?

Big boss looked up in the sky and told me that a front was moving in and a dropping barometer combined with the current tidal conditions could possibly entice the fish to bite at anytime. I whined a little bit just thinking about possibly catching a slot sized fish! We stayed a couple hours and threw every lure we had in the arsenal at them but by the time it was ready to go home we were fishless.

On the ride back home Big Boss told me that one of the state marine resource employees had said the water temperature was still to cold and that the really big fish had not yet migrated this far up the river. Perhaps Big Boss and I will try again next weekend! (Did I mention that I LOVE Big Boss and that he LOVES me?)

BONUS: Here is a close-up picture of the granite dock where we were fishing. Big Boss and I thought some of you might like to use it as a desktop background. Take Care!

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Perfect Desktop Background

Sea Duck Hunting on the Atlantic

Digital shot currently set as my laptop background and taken during one of our many hunts for Eiders and Old Squaws (Long Tailed Duck) on the Atlantic. I know that anyone who enjoys extreme duck hunting as much as the members of Duck Power Inc. do are going to eat this up! Enjoy!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Maine’s Greatest Hits – (#8 of 10)

Being Picked for the Moose Lottery by Stephen Vose

For most sportsmen there is no greater thrill then seeing your name listed among the fortunate few who each year get randomly selected for a moose hunting tag. For me this lifelong dream became a reality in 2004, when after 8 years of applying my name was finally drawn. I consider myself extremely fortunate since most friends and family have applied for more than a decade without the coveted prize. Receiving a tag, a hunter takes on a large amount of responsibility related to finding, dispatching and processing an animal of this size. Many hunters who take these tasks lightly go home disheartened with a tag and lifetime dream unfulfilled. For me many of these requirements were simplified. Not only had I managed to pull a tag that allowed for the shooting of a male or female moose but also my predefined area was in my uncle’s (a registered Maine guide) backyard. While hunting is a fickle sport to say the least I had the benefit of not only having my scouting done before I arrived but the support of my Uncle’s compatriots should I shoot one of these mammoth beasts. With so many elements in my favor, I must say I was feeling a little cocky and perhaps boasted a little bit that I planned to harvest a new state record bull.

Exquisite fear is what I felt as Thursday morning arrived and I still had not shot my moose. Despite the fact that we drove hundreds of miles in the truck down back roads and had been stalking for almost a week with only two days of hunting remaining I still had not harvested a moose. In sheer desperation, I borrowed a moose call from one of the local old timers and bellowed away all morning in a small cedar swamp but by noon no moose had arrived. Somewhat disheartened I headed back to the camp for lunch and then immediately set out again for the swamp I had visited that same morning.

As I walked down the long dirt road leading into the swamp, I could head some splashing like two ducks splashing and my heart began to race. With all of the calling I had done previous I wondered if by chance someone had perhaps answered my call. Upon rounding the corner, I looked down into the swamp and could see a large cow moose slowly feeding on the swamp vegetation. From my elevated position I had a clear broadside shot so I slowly raised my bolt action 30-06 and put the scope on her forward left shoulder. I slowly began to pull the trigger but had to stop twice as I was shaking so hard that the cross hairs seemed to be moving under their on volition. Finally managing to gain my composure with a deep breath I re-centered and pulled the trigger. The sound was deafening and despite being excited I pulled back the bolt, loaded another round and required the cow in my sights. In my amazement she was still standing there and slowly starting to move forward . . . I had missed!?! I immediately dropped to one knee bracing the gun with my skeletal structure, centered the scope just behind the ear and pulled the trigger. At that point the moose dropped immediately and didn’t move again. Not taking any chances, I chambered another round and sat there on the knoll for 20 minutes to calm down.

Connections were made with my Uncle (the Famass Guide) and his friends and in less than 30 minutes I had most of the town of Grand Lake Stream ready to assist me in getting the moose out of the swamp. Taking a short swim across a beaver flowage in late fall I managed to reach the moose to attach a rope and with large trucks, heavy tackle and ropes we managed to within an hour gut the animal and load it onto the bed of a Ford F150. Upon inspection of the carcass it was revealed that I had in fact hit the moose directly through both lungs with my first shot and a follow up had been unnecessary.

Elation is probably a good word for how I felt that day and no doubt there are individuals that will not understand how someone can feel that way shooting an animal as large and beautiful as a moose. However, how many cows, pigs, chickens, etc are eaten by these same people with no thought as to the life and death of the animal they are putting in their mouths. Many non-hunters lack a direct connection to their food and do not understand anything beyond what they find neatly wrapped on a styrofoam tray in the supermarket. The sportsman finds pleasure in all aspects of hunting including personal connections made and renewed with family and friends and even the hard and messy yet rewarding work of butchering and processing their game. This direct connection to what hunters eat allows us to gain an appreciation and respect for what nature provides that is vastly unappreciated by anyone who does not participate in this sport.

Think we as a society we don’t create disconnections? Then why do we call much of the furry critters we commonly eat by other names? Cow is beef, sheep is mutton, pig is pork, deer is venison . . . think about it!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Maine’s Greatest Hits – (#9 of 10)

Family Light House Tour by Stephen Vose

My family and I have been taking weekend excursions to photograph some of the lighthouses that dot the Maine coast. Our grand plan is to capture all of them but as of yet we have only managed to add three to our iPhoto collection. While the lighthouses are a fun intermediate goal our real focus is on quality family time and investigating and exploring more of this great state of ours.

The first location we visited was Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse in York. It was an overcast day and the area was swarmed with tourists so getting a good picture was difficult. I would really like to return to this spot to capture an incoming storm or possible some dramatic cloud cover . . . maybe next visit. Kids and parents alike will also enjoy York Beach just a short distance away . . . just get there early during the summer!

For more check out: http://www.nubblelight.com/.

While visiting family in Ellsworth, we decided to drive down to Mt. Desert Island one afternoon and check out Bass Harbor Light in Acadia National Park. The lighthouse is situated so that you will be required to navigate some fairly twisty stairs so watch your footing and pay careful attention to small children. At the bottom of the stairs, you will immediately see the standard photo options that line the postcard racks in Downtown Bar Harbor. We managed to capture a lobster boat cruising through the scene but still missed capturing any clouds or outstanding weather disturbances.

For more check out: http://www.acadia.ws/bass-harbor-light.htm

Most recently we all traveled over to Rockland to checkout the Light House Museum and while in the area decided to go and see the Owl’s Head Light. As we drove over to Owl’s Head I began to get a little excited as I noticed dark storm clouds steadily building in the distance. I was hoping that I would finally get an interesting backdrop for my lighthouse shot! We arrived at the parking lot and started up the short walk to the lighthouse. The rains thankfully held off and we managed several shot opportunities. Including this favorite of mine.

For more on the Light House Museum check out: http://www.mainelighthousemuseum.com/

For more on the Owl’s Head Light check out:
http://www.lighthouse.cc/owls/

Any novice photographers who want to get out and take some great shots of lighthouses should spend a few minutes online googling or in the tourist shops looking over the racks of postcards. Weather and perfect lighting will always be beyond your control but this "research" should give you the background on how to properly frame the shot and even include some interesting elements.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Maine's Greatest Hits - (#10 of 10)

Otter Cliffs Yields Climbing for all Ability Levels by Stephen Vose

Looking through my iPhoto album, I ran across several photos of a climb done with family and friends on Mt. Desert Island a few years ago. As I remember, the day was glorious with a cool sea breeze that beat back the oppressive summer heat and kept temperature in the mid 70s. We also had timed the climb to take place in mid July well after the initial hatching of “Maine's state bird” the blackfly.

Otter Cliff is located a few miles down route three just outside of the town of Bar Harbor. Just look for the Otter Cliff road on the left, park, cross the road, go left and follow the path. It is typically quite busy with guides teaching summer tourists how to rock climb so if you plan to check it out get there early. The area contains many routes that will challenge a wide variety of ability levels. Individuals who wish to try climbing for the first time should note that all routes are climbable via a top rope system that allows for minimum exposure and a high comfort level. Top roping in this situation, means that you will be lowered down the cliff face and then be able to climb back up to the top with tension in the rope at all times. A fall will constitute a drop of less than a foot. Novice climbers should note that several of the simpler routes (Wonder Wall area) have permanent anchor points that will greatly aid in the set-up of their safety systems. More difficult routes will require intermediate and advanced climbers to set anchors and the challenges range from a slippery 5.8 (Razor Flake) to a sinister 5.11+ (Riptide). Our climbs that day in order included: “In the Grove”, “Easy Corner”, “Great Chimney”, “Overhanging Corner” and “Razor Flake”.

If you decide to go, you will enjoy a great day of climbing and will also be treated to the most spectacular scenery you can imagine. Feel free to post a comment if you have additional questions, comments or want to inquire about other climbs in the immediate area. Take care and climb safe.

Monday, June 16, 2008

L.L. Bean V.S. Cabelas by Steve Vose


As I stood in the entryway of the new L.L. Bean hunting and fishing store, I have to admit the layout was really splendid. Artisans and architects alike had worked together to design not only an elegant but extremely functional space. Door handles made in the shape of fly rod and reels, a large stone fireplace, an assortment of mounted animals, a giant fresh water aquarium and a number of other accents showed an attention to detail that would appeal to any sportsman. So, perhaps it was this initial heightened impression that caused the remainder of my visit to be such a disappointment. It made me wonder, had L.L. Bean, in their infinite wisdom with all things outdoors, accidentally created a space that sets the stage for making hunters and fishermen disgruntled? In the past, I have mistakenly bought books with fantastic and beautiful cover art only to find that they actually contained no prose or words of substance? Has L.L. Bean created the proverbial “book judged solely by its cover”?

For a company that started out with “the Maine Hunting Shoe” you would think that over the decades they would have managed to learn something about the basic wants and needs of sportsmen. However, as I looked over the limited selection of duck decoys and nearly drowned in yuppie wear, I began to get that sick feeling in my stomach that indicated that once again L.L. Bean had failed to market to the outdoors men and women of this state. Oh, I suppose you could say I am a little embittered concerning the whole fiasco of their decision those many years ago to distance themselves from the whole hunting and fishing thing. I mean, why else would they have moved the entirety of these two operations to their own separate space on the Freeport campus? Oh sure, if you talk to the execs in the big offices they will tell you that statement is completely inaccurate, but that is what I and many other sportsmen actually saw. L.L. Bean physically moving away from hunting and fishing and instead servicing the large fat cash cow that is the modern yuppie.

Being a Maine based company that has rich roots in this state I really want L.L. Bean to succeed. I applaud them for staying in our state all of these years and employing the thousands of Maine individuals that are necessary to make the business run. In addition, they help to support a huge portion of the local tourism industry (restaurants, hotels, outlets, etc.) as out of state visitors flock to Freeport and the surrounding towns in the summer months to visit their flagship store. It therefore really pains me that they appear to just now be making a last ditch effort to appease the sporting public before mega giant Cabelas establishes a firm foothold. See their fear is based on the fact that most people have a brand name that we look to for knowledgeable, dependable and reliable service. L.L. Bean is no longer the only game in town and perhaps a little too late, they have realized they have been failing for years to address the needs of sportsmen. If as a consumer we feel undervalued or that our needs are not being met, we will shop elsewhere and our chance of return is slim. Don't think this is the case? The next time you go to your mail box and it is filled with magazines which ones immediately go to the trash and which ones end up on your night stand? See we recognize certain companies as being our “go to guys” and establishing “go to” status is the ticket to cashing in on the multi-millions of dollars sportsmen spend every year.

I have a statement that should scare the hell out of L.L. Bean and this is the fact that Cabelas is awesome. I didn't come to this conclusion by traipsing around their new store in the southern part of the state, nor when pestering their excellent customer service representatives with dozens of questions. No, oddly enough I came to this simple conclusion while sitting on the porcelain throne and thumbing through their “hardcover” catalog. You see, what I had failed to grasp until that very moment was the extent of the genius behind Cabelas marketing. They had eloquently appealed to their customers sense of self worth by sending “highly valued” customers a hard covered edition. I thought back and remembered my surprise when upon opening my mailbox that wondrous afternoon, I realized that Cabelas had selected me for hard covered status. I remember immediately calling all of my family and friends to see if they too had been selected, and I was thrilled to hear that only my brother (another rabid outdoors man) had also been hand picked for this coveted prize. Pondering on this entire sequence of events, I thought of the hundreds of catalogs I had thrown out in the trash Orvis, Bass Pro, L.L. Bean, etc. over the previous year without a second glance and it was at this time that I looked down in my hands at the heavily worn hard covered edition and knew that L.L. Bean was in trouble. Not only do the boys at Cabelas understand the needs of the hunter and fishermen but they also work hard to show us that we are special and our sport is valued. They understand the complete needs of the outdoors man, and are equipped with not only the merchandise, but the extensive expertise to prepare you for absolutely any hunting expedition you can dream up. I don't care if you are hunting Reticulated Pythons on the Amazon, chances are someone at Cabelas had been there and done that and can provide you with the information you need to be successful. I challenge anyone to stop into L.L. Bean and try to get outfitted for a trip as simple as a Caribou hunt in Northern Quebec. I am going to bet they won't have a clue.

If there is one tiny shining hope that I can see in the new L.L. Bean hunting and fishing expansion it would be their addition of a few high quality used firearms at prices that are very reasonable. I have on three occasions stopped by the store since its opening with the expressed purpose of seeing what was newly available. On one of those rare trips, I even purchased a 20+ year old Browning 30-06 that was in mint condition for much less than same model at Kittery Trading Post in “fair” condition. In addition, the small number of firearms means that they are polished and not “well handled” like the firearms at Kittery and the sales person appeared knowledgeable.

I suppose to be fair in my assessment of L.L. Bean and Cabelas it is only fair that I take a trip to see the new Cabelas store in the Portland area and walk around and talk to some of their sales men and women. I hear it is great and that they too have an impressive collection of firearms, but for now I guess I will have to wait. For you see, I don't have enough money to buy the fuel it would take to travel down to Portland on a joy ride just to check out a retail establishment . . . so sadly, I will have to just wait until I am in the neighborhood. Until then, I will just have to be happy continuing to read through my well worn Cabelas catalog.

Also be Sure to Read: L.L. Bean where is Your Shame

Grandma's Baked Beans Enjoyed Outdoors by Stephen Vose

A word of caution when working around open flames. Be sure to have a fire extinguisher, water hose and shovel handy should the flames escape the pit. Carefully remove any hazards that may cause an individual to trip or fall in the pit area. Wear fire retardant clothing that will not combust if hit by an errant spark. Lastly use your head and think as there will always be unforeseen hazards and listing them all would be an impossible task.

“Tender, golden brown and swimming in juice . . . baked beans are a favorite food of most men who live in the woods, whether baked in a camp stove, in the ground nearby, or forked from a can. Beans are inexpensive and they stick to your ribs.” - “Nature I Loved” by Bill Geagan

Close to home this weekend attending to an extensive list of house chores, I was muddling over the above quote when I thought it might be fun to pull out Grandma's old baked bean recipe and see if I could possibly imitate her classic mix that had over the course of many decades brought our family together for so many occasions. In reflection, what I was really trying to create wasn't necessarily “baked beans” that I knew would never complete with Grandma's but rather the signature tastes and smells that I knew would trigger so many happy memories. Outside working through a plethora of yard work, I decided that rather than settling for the easy set and forget “crock potting” method I would instead bake my beans over the open flames of a campfire. Those uninitiated with the art of cooking anything outside need to understand that cooking in this manner is an art form. Using a difficult to regulate heating source (like the MSR Whisperlite . . . LOL!) is a skill that I have honed over the years. Some of these acquired skills, I would like to share with you in hopes that you pass this tradition on to your loved ones.

Maybe I am just a caveman, perhaps an individual misplaced in time, but for me there is primitive allure associated with cooking over open flames of a wood fueled fire that cannot be duplicated by a kitchen stove or gas grill. It stirs something deep in my soul to gather firewood, build a fire pit and organize a strategy for the food preparation. Cooking outside for me is a labor of love, this is not LOW stress cooking this is NO stress cooking, a time for relaxation and reflection.

Before we start cooking we need to discuss preparation. As the saying goes an ounce of preparation will save you pound of perspiration. Lets start with looking at sample baked bean recipes (Hey you didn't really think I was just going to hand you Grandma's!). “Beenies” are usually comprised of a couple key ingredients that are the same across most recipes. An Internet search, will yield you tons of choices but when finally deciding remember simple is best. Typically, quality baked beans rely on the combination of a few key ingredients; dried beans (typically Great Northern, Navy or even the small California pea beans or large Yellow Eyes), salt pork, onions, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, salt and plenty of water.

Check these sources for a interesting options that play to the original ingredients but have their own unique flavors:
1. http://gonewengland.about.com/cs/recipes/a/aabakedbeans.htm
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baked_beans
3. http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Boston-Baked-Beans/Detail.aspx

Thursday evening using a few common gardening tools, I managed to dig a small but functional key hole shaped fire pit. Lesson one, large bonfire size pits are worthless for cooking. Lining the inside with a few concrete paving stones and the top ring with stones picked out of the nearby flower gardens I was on my way to creating a “heat sink” that would trap the heat from the initial fire and slowly radiate it into the bean pot over the course of 4-5 hour cooking time. For safety, I raked the debris away from the sides of the pit and covered the areas with pit dirt from to make sure escaping sparks wouldn't ignite the surrounding vegetation. In the photo you will note the “keyhole” shape of the cooking pit and how it differs from the standard “round” shape of most campfires. The keyhole shape allows regulation of applied the heat by moving hot coals into and out of the bowl area based on specific need.

When building your fire, use small pieces of hard wood like maple and oak as they will create a slow and long burn that will allow for more control over cooking temperature. Steer clear of softwoods like spruce and pine as they tend to burn fast and hot and will make temperature regulation difficult. Having a large pile of cut and properly seasoned (dried) wood ready the evening before will keep you from scrambling to find acceptable wood the next day. Though these tips will assist you greatly, it is not a perfect system and there are a multitude of variables. A good cook will carefully monitor the heat and frequently check the water level to insure no burning occurs. If you do happen to burn your beans you may be able to salvage you feast by quickly pouring out the beans and leaving the burnt remnants on the bottom. If you catch it fast enough you may keep the burned smell from permeating through the rest of the meal and you may just be able to save your supper.

Friday night I soaked the beans in water to reconstitute them and assembled all of the other ingredients. This allowed me to only have to concentrate on getting the fire going Saturday morning and preparing the coals. This I accomplished by starting a large blaze and over the course of about 1 hour (about the time it took to mow the lawn) letting it burn down to brilliant red glowing embers. I next assembled my tools. As with most pursuits, having the proper tools is essential. Cooking over open flames is certainly no exception. Cast iron cooking pots like a large dutch oven make this an easier task as they are specially built to take the abuse of the wild outdoors and if properly cared for with regular “seasoning” will last a lifetime. Heavy grade leather work gloves, long handled metal spoon and a specially designed lid lifter will go a long way in insuring that you do not get burned during the cooking process. When cooking outside remember that practice makes perfect and it is very likely that in your initial attempt(s) you are going to make mistakes. Do not attempt to use your newly acquired outdoor skills cooking for a dinner party or large group of relatives. You are learning a new skill and this degree of cooking mastery requires a stress free environment. In this fast paced world, many of you may find this mindset difficult to comprehend but in the end I hope that many of you embrace this mantra.

With everything now ready to go, the dutch oven was placed in the cooking area and monitored over the course of the next 5 hours. It was necessary to add approximately 32 oz of additional water to the cook pot as it simmered and stirring the contents about 2-3 times per hour seemed sufficient to keep things evenly heated. In the end, my family and I were treated to that delectable nirvana of properly cooked baked beans neither to hard or to soft but rather a good match for your taste buds and the perfect accompaniment for a nicely chilled IPA.

As I sat on the deck Saturday evening, I reflected on the last several days. I thought about the quality of the time I spent with my two year old son who had worked with me building the fire pit, helping to get the wood ready and mixing the ingredients. I began thinking of how many meals I had eaten over the years hurriedly prepared and with no thought of anything of substance. It made me realize that life is sometimes about slowing down and taking a day one step at a time, about not how much you can accomplish but about how much you can enjoy. In the end activities accomplished in the company of family and friends are really the key to happiness and in doing so you create lasting memories that will echo an eternity.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme by Stephen Vose

The Maine Sportsman - New England's Largest Outdoor Publication – Will be publishing this short stories in their July 2008 edition. The article will be part of the magazines “special sections” and will highlight my adventures with family and friends during the 2007 bear hunt. For more information on the Maine Sportsman Magazine or to order a subscription click this link: http://mainesportsman.com/. The following is a copy of the submitted article in its original (unedited) version. Enjoy!

Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme - I have to admit that standing half naked in the middle of the Maine woods with two individuals I had met only hours before was a little unnerving (especially as the sound of the dueling banjos from “Deliverance” began to play in the back of my head) but this was my first bear hunt and I was determined to take every step possible to insure I provided myself with the highest level of opportunity to tag a massive bruin. I guess what I had forgotten to think about, as I reveled in the brilliance of my advanced preparations in scent control was how I was going to change into my scent free clothes once I had arrived at the bait spot. Unfortunately, things had not gone as planned and upon arriving I was forced into putting on a “show” for my new friends; while taking a barrage of sarcastic comments on how they planned to rent me out to a few bachelorette parties that weekend for beer money.

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

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

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

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

The second night I arrived at the stand around 3:00 PM and once again put on a show for my new friend and another buddy of his who was planning to shoot his bear with a Smith and Wesson 500 magnum. I noted that the other hunter was wearing his hunting clothes and seemed unconcerned that my “extreme” scent control measures were the least bit necessary. Having come this far, however, I decided not to change my tactics and I put on my clothes and sprayed down with a healthy dose of activated carbon scent eliminator. I sat on the bait for the entire evening watching the red squirrels and listening to the calls of the chickadee and as the shadows lengthened and as the golden hour approached I heard a single distant shot from the Smith and Wesson 500 but as the sun sank below the horizon I knew that a bear this year for me was not going to happen.

I arrived back at camp and was pleased to see that the other hunter was excited to have been able to shoot his bear with a pistol and he was busy making plans to butcher it for future table fare and of his good fortune I could not have been happier. To say that I was disappointed would not be entirely correct but I had been hopeful. In the end, it was an “extreme” privilege to be able to get a chance to hunt for bear this season and the people of Grand Lake Stream always make my visits incredibly enjoyable. I have a saying that hunting is only about 5% about the actual taking of a game animal and the other 95% is about the friends you meet, memories that are made, stories that are swapped and time spent in the field learning about the many wonders that Mother Nature has to offer. As I sat in the camp on Wabassus lake that evening playing a friendly game of cribbage with my uncle I rejoiced that I had been allowed to spend this time with him and in my mind I was already making plans to come back next season on another “extreme” bear hunt.

Southwest Photo Tour

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Southwest Journal of Events
In July of 2007, work had me attending the national College Board convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. As could be expected, I had mixed feelings about the whole endeavor as I don’t gamble and had kind of “been there and done that” long ago.

Though thrilled at the chance to able to attend, I was still hopeful that with some planning it might be possible to explore some of the southwestern landscape beyond the glitz of the over the top hotels and gluttony of the all you can eat buffets. Fortunately for me, also attending was a co-worker of exceptional photographic prowess and he had invited me to join him on a tour of various state and national parks throughout California, Nevada and Arizona.

Barely had the last session ended when we piled into a rented SUV, loaded it with assorted camera gear and supplies and were cruising through the desert heading for a Death Valley sunset. Now since I mentioned “gear” let me take a moment to mention the extremely wide divide between camera equipment that is used by “professionals” and that of “amateurs”. While David carried an impressive Cannon (Type??) with an array of lens, polarizing filters, remote shutter activator, tripods, etc. filling up much of the back seat, in comparison my Sony “Cybershot” DSC-W5 (5.1 MP) fit snugly in my shirt pocket. Thus armed, I was challenged to take at least one photo from the trip that would be a genuine “wall hanger”.

With online research and an intimate knowledge of Death Valley, David knew how to use the magical light of sunrise and sunset to maximize the most scenic areas. Temperatures approaching 120 F did little to deter us from our intended mission. I watched in a state of amazement as tourists actually fried eggs on the parking lot pavement at Badwater, the world’s lowest point. From the very first day, shooting at Zabriskie Point, the Devils Golf Course and Badwater, I was able to capture several outstanding shots and my excitement started to build knowing that ahead in our journey were yet even more impressive areas.

Over night, found us staying at the only park hotel open during the summer months. I had to laugh knowing that I had first seen the hotel on the travel channel several months previous and thinking “who would ever be stupid enough to stay in that blast furnace?”.

After an early morning wake-up by my over anxious friend, we were racing through the pre-dawn to catch the first rays of morning light. Within a few miles we arrived at a place simply called “Stovepipe Dunes”. I was quickly given my “assignment”. It appeared that during our morning endeavor, we would both choose separate areas to explore and as a team attempt to digitally document the enormity of this impressive place. Now beginning to feel energized, despite the lack of caffeine assistance, I began trekking toward the largest of the dunes. With sneakers loaded with fine desert sand, I managed to arrive on the top of the mammoth distant dune just as the sun was cresting the horizon. The sight was awe-inspiring but unfortunately, in my attempt to reach the summit, I had forgotten my intended purpose on this trip was not the conquering of peaks but rather furthering the development of a keen eye. As the flaming ball of hydrogen gas rose higher in the sky, I frantically began scanning the arid landscape for a shot. Panic began to over take me, as I feared I had squandered my chance at this truly great local. As I traipsed back toward the vehicle I caught a point of interest out of the corner of my eye and decided to stop and take a few shots. I spent the next half an hour in this spot taking shots at different angles and maximizing the limited aperture functions available on my camera. My hopes soared at the thought of maybe getting lucky and capturing something worth framing. Walking slowly back to the vehicle, the Fahrenheit started to rapidly rise and I attempted to walk back in the shadow of the dunes just to find glimmers of relief. I left the dunes feeling fairly confident that I had managed to display at least a beginner’s level of artistic talent.

Of all of the places on earth the “Race Track” in Death Valley is one of the strangest. Large boulders haphazardly strewn across a dried lake bed called the plia appear to move under their on volition. While some argue that these erratic movements are linked to strong winds and heavy seasonal rains other (like David) believe that it is magic. Several other opportunities were noted and documented; however, the real story was in a leaking rear tire and a short cut that lead nowhere. Using what amounted to a worthless map of the area David and I attempted to save time by using an “unimproved” road to cut directly across the desert. While the landscape was beautiful and we did get to tour some lovely Borax mines ultimately a steep incline in the road and a near death experience on a cliff face meant we had to backtrack an hour a half to our original starting point.

After a lengthy discussion on where our path should lead us next, we decided to follow the flow of the Colorado River to impressive Arches National Park in Utah. Of the multitude of photographic choices available, limited time meant we needed to choose only one or two locations. After a brief discussion, we decided to attempt an evening shoot at “Delicate Arch”. Morning and evening light is best for photography and I have even heard tell of certain artistic individuals spending years studying its interaction with the vibrant shades of reds throughout the southwestern landscape. It was therefore no surprise to me that these locations were packed with professional and amateur photographers looking to expand their portfolios. I managed to steal away with a few images from my time spent at Delicate Arch . . . and the moon lit trek back to the vehicle through rattle snake country with a dying headlamp will always hold a special place in my heart.

The next morning found us at Mesa Arch located in Canyonlands NP. Though I really did try to capture an acceptable shot it seemed to be beyond the limits of my equipment and my untrained eye. In another area of the park, I was able to scale some rock cliffs to get a shot of Turret arch through the large opening of the Window arch. At first I was disappointed at not able to get a shot free of people, however, after further consideration I realized that having the people in the shot allowed for an element of scale.

Feeling physically exhausted from the heat, pre-dawn mornings, late evenings and long car rides with my bad back I was pleased that our final day shooting was to be spent in locations easily accessible from the vehicle. Canyonlands National Park is filled with spectacular monoliths of rock and stretch to the heavens in monumental proportions. My first view of the area was called “Park Place” and it made me think I was looking into an impressive picture. I had some challenges shooting in this location and had to resort to taking two photographs to get what I needed. In the first photo, I exposed for the sky and in the second for the ground. Later in Photoshop I was able to overlap the two photos and come out with an acceptable middle ground.

Dead Horse State Park treats visitors to expansive views of the Green river. In a previous trip, David had photographed in this area and already knew of a couple shots that were well worth exploring. With our limited time we were able to take several photos that highlighted the canyon and to increase the balance included a couple ravaged bristle cone pines in the foreground.

The ride back to Vegas for our flight was a very long drive but I was able to sleep some and work on my photos. I was very fortunate that David seems to actually like driving and has a tolerance for these tasks well beyond mine. Upon reflection, I feel strongly that I would return to this area of the United States. The wild beauty of the southwest is so impressive that it ranks well above most f the other areas of the world I have been fortunate enough to visit.
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