Monday, September 29, 2008

Rabid Outdoorsman Interview on the BIRDIST

The following is a recent interview I was asked to participate in by Nick Lund of the Birdist Blog. More on this blog at the following URL.

When did you start bird hunting? What birds do you currently hunt?
I suppose mine is a classic tale of being introduced into hunting from a very young age. First following along behind Dad as he hunted for grouse and woodcock and then progressing to using a BB gun to learn proper gun handling techniques. As I aged, I progressed to more powerful gauge firearms and finally began going out on my own by the age of 14. In my current phase of hunting, I have incorporated the use of a dog that adds an entirely new level of hunting enjoyment. Not only is she a loving and faithful companion but she also aids in the discovery and recovery of game. I currently hunt or have hunted all legal game birds.

Were you interested in birds before you started hunting them, or did hunting lead you to birds?
I have always been interested in all animals big and small. I remember as a kid my brother and I had an old TV that was gutted and fitted with a Plexiglas front that we filled with bird nests, animal skulls and small fake birds we would buy in craft stores. Hunting to me is another outlet used for enjoying the outdoors as much as the other pursuits I enjoy such as fishing, rock climbing/mountaineering, photography, hiking or kayaking.

Can you briefly describe some different hunting techniques for hunting different birds?
Volumes of books have been written concerning this question. A majority of the fun associated with hunting is that you are constantly trying to outsmart the game animals you are pursuing. I currently hunt turkeys, grouse, snipe, woodcock, sea and puddle ducks. Each of these endeavors requires a completely different skill set. Just hunting turkey will vary in technique depending if it is spring or fall, hunted with bow or gun, from a blind or by actively stalking. If there is one “technique” that not enough hunters understand it is that one must thoroughly scout outside of hunting seasons to determine where game animals are in the highest densities. Unfortunately most hunters do not invest enough time in this most critical of steps and seriously negatively impacts their success rate.

What is the process in Maine for someone to become a bird hunter?
An individual who wishes to begin bird hunting should first take a “Hunter Safety Course”. Bottom line is that attendance at these now mandatory courses have saved countless lives since their inception. Interested individuals should also hunt for their intended species with a licensed Maine guide or a competent and safe hunting companion that knows how to successfully hunt for that game animal. Scheduled youth hunting days are also a great option for kids under 16 as they allow kids to hunt in the woods during periods of time when adults are unable. In theory this allows game animals to be much more plentiful, available and less pressured.

What does a hunter do with his killed birds? If he eats them, does he eat ALL of them?
Ethically killing for the sake of killing is not hunting. For many individuals outside of the hunting world I think this is an extremely difficult concept to grasp. Hunting is much more than pulling a trigger it is about an individuals primal connection back to the woods and waters as a source of sustenance that dates back a million years. Legally Maine has a “Wanton Waste” law that requires hunters to consume all reasonable parts of every game animal. Additionally, hunters legally can only be in possession of a certain number of game birds (same as daily bag limit) so they must be immediately eaten. Aside from the “law” a good hunter has an obligation to eat what he kills.

I almost hate to ask this as a birder, but what do they taste like (and you can't just say "like chicken!")? What are the different tastes between categories of game birds (i.e., grouse v. ducks)? Do freshwater ducks taste different than sea ducks? Do, say, Green-winged Teal taste different than Blue-winged Teal?

The tastes are unique and varied with every species having different and unique textures, tastes and aromas. As an “outdoor” chef you need to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives. Obviously some species are more desirable to eat than others. Sea ducks and mergansers (fish and mussel eaters) are at the low end while wood ducks (acorn eaters) and teal are at the higher end.

I personally have different recipes for every different game animal depending on its specific culinary qualities. Turkey is typically deep fried in peanut oil, sea ducks and mergansers are combined with pork and beef and made into sausage links that I then hickory smoke, grouse are slow cooked in a dutch oven with bacon and baked beans over the coals of a campfire and puddle ducks are plucked and roasted with apple or honey glaze.

Do you ever run into birders while you're hunting? What do you see as the differences between birders and bird-hunters, and what do you think about those differences?
Sadly, I rarely see others out and enjoying the great outdoors like I have seen in decades past. It is unfortunate that a high percentage of kids these days do not seem connected with the outdoor like they used to. If you get a chance read “Last Child in the Woods” by Louv it is a wake-up call.

There are many similarities; both sets of individuals are “hunters” one group simply uses a camera and the other a gun. Both are serious about their respective sports and both are searching for opportunities to experience nature and the great outdoors in their own unique way. Unfortunately, both groups also have individuals that poorly represent their peers. I have meet inconsiderate hunters in the woods and I have also met inconsiderate nature watchers.

Do you ever feel guilty for killing birds?
If anyone says that while hunting they are never disturbed or “guilty” I would wonder if they are telling the whole truth. No ethical hunter ever wants an animal to suffer needlessly, however, there is nothing “planned” or “perfect” in the hunting world. Whether I get my steak wrapped in plastic and resting on Styrofoam from a slaughterhouse or direct from nature something ultimately had to die for me to eat it and no matter how you cut it this is not a “pretty” process. Eventually, if you hunt long enough something will disturb you and it is how you handle this pressure as a human being that will ultimately determine how and if you develop as a hunter.

What was your most memorable bird hunt?
I literally have gigs of photos and video from different bird hunts from present back several decades. Certainly tops on my list are times spent hunting with family. I remember back in 2001 hunting with my brother for 4 days in Washington County on a productive grouse hunting trip. The weather was beautiful and the birds plentiful but even more importantly was the quality time I was able to spend with my brother. Hunting is only about 10% about pulling the trigger the other 90% is about the family and friends you spend quality time with and the memories shared.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Scouting For Wood Ducks

Yes, folks this is the face of a man at the end of his wits and buried up to his armpits in a swampy foul smelling marsh death trap. You may wonder how I allowed myself to come to this unfortunate end point and let me tell you that my near death experience was not in vain. Like all good hunters I was simply practicing the fine art of "scouting". On this particular outing I was checking out a particularly promising marsh that had me "ducking" (Pardon the waterfowl humor) in the canoe to avoid being hit in the head with fleeing Wood Ducks. Upon finding a great set-up point deep in the marsh I was more than a bit disappointed that our recent high rainfall had severely flooded an otherwise perfect hunting location.

Despite my better judgement (a common error I make quite frequently) I decided to "go for it" and upon setting foot out of the canoe was immediately up to my armpits and wishing that I had decided to put on my life jacket. With considerable effort I managed to pull myself free and noted that I had stepped square into a bottomless murky hole in the marsh mud. One step to either side and I would have remained dry and avoided the near death experience. Well, after scraping off the foul smelling stench of death I managed to construct a rough blind using old decking planks and some of the surrounding flora. While not an optimal location it should allow me to at least get to the woodies and only time will tell if my scouting pays dividends.

Oh, I almost forgot take a look at these shots of pitcher plants I saw in the marsh!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Northern Maine Bear Hunt

Well let me just sit back with a cup of coffee here at camp and tell you my BEAR hunting story. This is my second year chasing Ursus americanus and let me tell you the bears are seriously winning! I honestly tried hard not to get my hopes up this year as early reports were showing very few bears being harvested and those that were taken most were 150-165 pounds or MUCH smaller. A huge production year of blackberries, acorns and beech nuts were keeping the bears fat and happy and well away from the "baits". I managed to find the time in my busy schedule to hunt 4 total nights for the black bruins and despite my better judgement my excitement was running high. Of the 4 nights the second night was perhaps the most interesting with 2 coyotes walking by me at 10 yards, a 8 point buck running through and lastly mister bear paying me a visit about 20 minutes after legal shooting. I like to think of myself as an ethical Sportsman but let me tell you that after not even seeing a bear last year I was VERY tempted to pull the trigger. Fortunately, common sense reigned and as my heart rate died back down I realized immediately I had done the right thing. My last two nights slid silently past with only the red squirrels to keep me company and as the sun set on the last day I was once again bear-less.

Eventually persistence, patience and consistency will all come together for me and I will undoubtedly shoot a massive black bear and at that time I will realize that all my waiting paid off big time! I plan to write an article for the Maine Sportsman (a follow-up to "Bear Hunt Taken To the Extreme" submitted last season) about this latest attempt at bear hunting and if accepted should be out sometime next August . . . wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hunting in Northern Maine

As the sun rose on another beautiful day in the North woods of Maine my cousin and I slid my Brant II Scull boat silently into the waters of No Name Pond. We were immediately greeted by the sound of distance geese and using a combination of electric and man made power were able to stalk to within 10 yards of a flock of several geese before they realized something was amiss.

The video below is of my cousin (at 18 a registered Maine guide!) dispatching one of the cripples. While we hunted for two additional days only on this first day were we successful in even seeing any geese. While we heard geese every morning the shear size of the body of water on which we were hunting and the amount of available feed in the surrounding areas made getting to them with the scull boat and/or coaxing them into our spread difficult.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Maine Hunting Season Finally Arrives!

It seemed like it took forever but hunting season is finally here! As you have probably noted my posts have slowed down a bit as I have been busy in the woods and on the waters. I have managed a couple trips out goose hunting and one attempt at deer hunting in the expanded archery zone. Am heading to the Northern part of the state this weekend on a bear hunt . . . I can't wait!

Managed to find a dial-up connection in the middle of the Maine woods that reminds me of what it must have been like communicating by telegraph . . . Stop
Geese were raining from the sky yesterday and today . . . Stop
Had to buy a baseball bat to beat the geese off the decoys . . . Stop
Sitting on the bear stand last night had 2 coyotes, 8 point buck and lastly large black bear come into the bait . . . Stop
Unfortunately, it was to dark to even see the crosshairs and even though it was a struggle I forced myself into the only ethical option . . . Stop
Heading out in a few hours for another night on the stand and my excitement is building as I reach the 1/2 way point of my vacation . . . Stop
I already have enough pictures and stories to write for two months of blog posts as this place is absolutely beautiful . . . Stop.

**Moderated the pending comments and can't wait to write back next week but doing so currently with this dial up connection is painful! Well, have to head back out to camp and get ready for this evening . . . wish me luck!!! :)
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