Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Katahdin - Winter Hiking

I realized that I have a fair number of photos on the blog related to hunting and fishing but I had yet to include any stories or pictures from my expeditions hiking and climbing various high altitude peaks across the Americas. Here is a picture of me and some friends on a winter training hike into Mt. Katahdin, ME the tallest peak in Maine . . . does anyone know the second tallest Maine peak?

After several years of preparation climbing peaks such as Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helens I decided that I wanted to attempt one of the truly BIG mountains of the world. After some discussion with my long time climbing partner we determined it was time for us to attempt one of the infamous 7 summits of the world (highest points on each continent). Mt. Aconcagua (22,843 ft) was our final choice and after 8 months of training we were ready to head to the top! Though the story to the summit is long and sorted I am currently attempting to review my 80 pages of journal entries in order to hopefully sometime write an extensive article.

For anyone who is interested, soon after my return I was interviewed by Lynn Ascrizzi of the Kennebec Journal and a brief outline of the tale was published March 12th, 2006.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Deer Hunting Success Increased with Preparation by Steve Vose

Do you really want to harvest a deer this hunting season? This question I pose to my family and friends every summer, as I begin my preseason scouting and preparations for the upcoming deer season. Many of you will think this a dumb question to ask considering you would undoubtedly answer a resounding “YES”, however, it amuses me to no end to see these individuals traipsing through the woods each season with no apparent understanding of what degree of discipline it takes to shoot a quality whitetail.

These relatives and acquaintances can be easily spotted as they are usually seen still hunting while smoking an unfiltered cigarette, carrying a rifle that hasn’t been fired let alone cleaned in years and think that urinating in a bottle is just plain gross. By some strange twist of fate, and thereby proving that exceptions really do exist to every rule, there are rare occasions when one of these individuals somehow miraculously manages to shoot a deer. Unfortunately, these rare occurrences trick their peers into thinking sub par preparation and operation leads to success when hunting the wily whitetail.

I pass no judgment on these individuals and have too been lured by this siren song, however, when the buck of a lifetime appears this season remember that an ounce invested beforehand in preparation will save a pound of perspiration when you take that critical shot.

Positive Attitude
I am going to share with you the surprising number one secret to successful deer hunting and that is a mental preparation. It might sound strange, but if you truly believe you will shoot a deer this season there is an exponentially better chance that it will actually occur. For those of you shaking your heads in disbelief, let me remind you of the power the mind has over the body. Ask any survival expert, why some individuals perish and others live in exactly similar survival situations and they will tell you it all hinges on a persons positive mental state. In other words, if you believe you will survive in most cases you actually will.

A positive attitude is infinitely more important to an outdoorsman than scent block clothing, a high end ATV or the latest fad in ballistics. Success in the field is about the ability to remain positive despite the weather forecast, moon phase or season of the rut. A motivated individual will hunt longer, harder and through more adverse conditions then someone who is unprepared mentally to go the distance. Hunters that truly believe that “this is going to be their day”, are much more likely to be in the woods during that critical time when deer are moving.

Most individuals are already prone to invoke certain skills to allow them to sharpen their mental focus and attitude. For example, taking a deep breath to settle ones shooting hand, counting footfalls while climbing a steep incline or even pinching ones self to keep from falling asleep in a tree stand placed ridiculously high off the ground. I even have a friend, who until this past deer season had been on a seven year losing streak, who claims his recent success was due to the purchase of a rabbit’s foot! Obviously, rabbit extremities have little direct connection with success in the field, however, their indirect effect is that they instill confidence and that characteristic is the key to filing your tag.

Pre-Season Scouting
This may seem like a no brainer but to shoot deer you have to be where they are located. You may pick out a beautiful spot for your tree stand with long shooting lanes and a beautiful lakeside view (sorry Uncle Frank) but if there are no deer signs (rubs, scrapes, tracks or droppings) then you could go the entire season without seeing a single deer.

Topographical maps and word of mouth from friends and family should only serve as a rough guide when choosing your intended hunting area. The notorious issue with these sources is that they are frequently inaccurate in their depiction and unable to reliably translate to what you will see on the ground. To find that perfect spot and increase your chances of putting a whitetail in your crosshairs this season you need to start walking.

Absolutely no replacement can be made to thoroughly and personally scouting the area(s) you intend to hunt. Maine’s subtle terrain features and the obvious physical signs of deer can only be effectively used to your advantage through intimate first hand knowledge. Pay close attention to the minute details and bring a notebook to write down GPS coordinates, prevalent wind direction, food sources, game trails, sign and location of sheltered bedding areas. Use this information to devise a plan as to where to set-up stands or still hunt.

Scent Control
Hunters over the years have gotten lazy with this item. Today’s highly technical clothing creates the illusion to most hunters that they can pull off miracles in body odor elimination by simply putting on specialized scent blocking apparel or using a bottled spray.

A more traditional approach relies on impeccable personal hygiene and using wind direction to gain the advantage. Every year, I advocate the use of this approach at deer camp only to find that my lamentations fall short on the ears of individuals dressed head to toe in scent blocker and chain smoking cigarettes. To be more effective this season, plan to implement using a pee bottle and no scent detergent, shampoo and deodorant. No scent hygiene products are available at your local drug store (for individuals with fragrance allergies) and are typically cheaper than at a sporting goods store. Wash hunting clothes frequently (not once a season) and seal in a plastic bag to lessen the chance for cross contamination with smells that may be lingering in your basement. If you drive to your hunting location, dress in your hunting clothes and boots when you arrive, as this will avoid the possibility of picking up odors from your car, gas station or the local convenience store.

Since Maine’s finicky weather rarely allows us to predict meteorological conditions with anything but marginal accuracy, a logical choice is to have alternate hunting locations that allow you to adapt to wind direction incase the forecasted conditions do not work in your favor.

Shooting Practice
How many hunters have missed a deer only to find after that their weapon was not shooting true to its mark? When there is a very real possibility that you may only get one good chance to take a shot all season isn’t it worth a morning practicing at the local gun range? It stuns me that a person would take the time and effort in following everything I have discussed previously to only disregard this last component.

While modern firearms and optics can make even an average shooter infinitely better, practicing in a variety of settings and conditions is the key to consistency. Shoot from a variety of positions (standing, sitting, kneeling) and remember that just because the professionals on television can produce kill shots out to 300 plus yards doesn’t mean that you can, know your personal effective range. Don’t be afraid to spend a couple bucks on a few boxes of ammo, trust me when I say it is an investment that will pay big dividends later.

Packing and Dressing for Success
Time spent in the woods is never wasted, even if at seasons end a tag is left unfilled. However, time spent in the woods wet, cold, hungry and thirsty can add up to a miserable or even dangerous situation. Maine had several days last November where within twenty-four hours the temperature changed over forty degrees Fahrenheit. On a long day outdoors, high quality clothing that insulates and keeps you dry is critical to comfort as are food and fluids that fuel the body.

Comfort is the key as the happier you are the longer you will stay in the woods and the longer you stay in the woods the better your chances at shooting a deer. My family and friends may have their “evil” ways but they also spend a huge amount of time in the woods. While considerably more sporting to be good rather than lucky, from a purely statistical point their investment of time means that eventually, even if by chance, a deer will walk past them.

When possible, pack for your day afield the evening before, as this initial preparation will save you from forgetting some crucial element. Lastly, finalize your mental preparations by believing one hundred percent that you will shoot a deer this season. So to enforce this belief, make sure to include a gutting kit (sharp knife, drag rope, dish washing gloves, paper towels and a 1 gallon zip loc bag for the heart and liver) in your pack to make it easier to field dress and bring that trophy to the tagging station.

Big Old Fish - Northern Pike

Northern Pike (38 in. 15 lbs.) caught by the Rabid Outdoorsman on a Heritage ice fishing trap spooled with 8 lb mono and a number 6 hook while ice fishing on North Pond in the Belgrade Lakes Chains just outside of Augusta, Maine.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Snipe Hunting on Merry Meeting Bay

Snipe Hunting
By Steve Vose

Ok, now what you need to do is stand here on this snipe path real still and quiet and hold this burlap sack real steady like and we will go back up in the woods and scare the snipe down the path toward you. When the little critters come running down the path and into the sack you close it and we should have a bunch of snipe for supper tonight. I can’t tell you the number of times that we played this prank on friends and family while growing up. Every time a new kid moved into the neighborhood or we found some unknowing guy or gal someone was always bamboozled and left holding the proverbial snipe “bag”. What the unsuspecting never truly anticipated was that instead of us herding snipe through the woods and into their sack we walked back to the campfire and proceeded to laugh our heads off and eating marshmallows until the newly initiated realized that they had been tricked and returned. Very few in our group had been spared the embarrassment of being left standing in the woods anxiously awaiting a group of snipe to come running down the trail and into the burlap sack. This youthful right of passage usually occurred at night during summer camping trips and was as closely linked to my fond childhood memories as ghost stories and flashlight tag.

So, as you can imagine the first time I seriously heard about hunting the common snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Virginia (Rallus limicola) and Sora (Porzana Carolina) rail I was more than a little bit skeptical. Mentioned to me originally by an old timer I met during a friendly game of cribbage at deer camp several years back. I originally figured that the old boy was trying to play a little prank on me. But truth be told he was being completely honest and I listened intently as he told stories of the days when he and others would pole the waters of the bay in cedar strip canoes and scull floats during the highest of the September tides with the hopes of shooting a few of these small species of marsh birds.

I was so enthralled with his stories that I decided that come that next September I would give it a try. Well, I have found that as I have grown older time has a way of moving faster and faster and before I even realized it another year had slipped by and the end of August had arrived. I had still yet to make any preparations for my anticipated hunt on the bay and realized that without any pre-scouting my chances were most likely going to be slim. I had remembered parts of the old timers advice and I pulled out the tide tables and noted that the highest tide was scheduled for September 10th at sometime around late afternoon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince any of my other friends that hunting small marsh birds was a worthy pursuit and my plan further began to unravel as I realized that managing to both pole a canoe and shoot at quick flying marsh birds without assistance would be something of a challenge. Never one to be easily discourage and let common sense stand in my way I headed out on the 10th with plans to arrive at Merry Meeting Bay with about two hours before high tide to find a suitable hunting spot. As I drove down I95 from Augusta it was raining quite heavily and I was really beginning to question my degree of sanity.

After driving about 45 minutes down I95 I finally reached the Merry Meeting Bay Wildlife Management Area and drove my four wheel drive vehicle to the end of the road and parked under a stand of large pine trees. By this time, the rain had tapered down to a drizzle and the sun even started to peak out of the cloud cover. Using my binoculars I carefully studied the water and reeds to the left of the parking area (toward Brick Island) and noted a few birds of differing species (none I was able to identify from the distance) flying over the rice grass landscape. Without two people to manage my 16 foot Grumman aluminum canoe I was left with few options of watercraft light enough for one person to launch from this spot and I quickly realized I was going to have to resort to plan B. Reaching into the back of the pick-up I pulled out my life vest and waders and began to contemplate how much energy I was about to expend wading across half a mile of waist deep water and ankle deep mud. I loaded my 12-gauge Ithaca model 37 with number 4 steel shot (which at the time was the smallest shot size I could find) and began the long and incredibly labor intensive process of wading across the small bay. Progress through the marsh was slow in the weeds and mud and I had several encounters with snapping turtles the size of manhole covers that made the theme from “Jaws” begin to play in the back of my head but all things considered I was making progress. As I moved forward, several small marsh birds flew up from the grass but I found identification extremely difficult and my fear of misidentifying and shooting the wrong species far outweighed my need to harvest one of the diminutive marsh birds.

Finally, after about an hour of wading I saw a small bird hiding in the grass approximately 5 feet off to my left and I could tell by the unmistakable bright yellow beak and black face that I was looking at a Sora. A few steps more and the small (woodcock size) bird flushed and flew a few dozen yards and settled back into the safety of the marsh grass and I found myself much to startled and amazed to even lift the shotgun. Now knowing my query, I slowly moved forward and the bird again flushed but this time I was ready and one shot easily brought the small bird down. Over my time in the marsh, I was able to take a total of 4 Sora Rails, which is well short of the liberal limit of 20 set by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

I later realized that I had missed several early opportunities at shooting the Sora rails, while I heeded on the side of caution in my identification. In the end, I had an amazing time and was happy that I had a chance to “relive” some of the old stories I had heard about snipe hunting on “The Bay”. I look forward to the day when I can talk someone crazy enough to accompany me in canoe snipe hunting as my days of wading the Bay are done!

Puddle Duck Hunting Photos - 2006

This bit of artistry was done by the infamous Matt Diesel. Photo was taken one early morning on Graham Lake in Ellsworth, ME during a very foggy morning of puddle duck hunting.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Duck Power Inc. on YouTube

Listed below is a link to the video highlights from the 2007-08 waterfowl season by Duck Power Incorporated.  I am currently working on a written summary of the season that I plan to post shortly.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hunting the Snowshoe Hare

Hunting the Snowshoe Hare
By Steve Vose

At 7:00 AM the air temperature was negative two degrees Fahrenheit and as the first rays of morning light filtered down through the tangle of spruce trees it provided little warmth. Using a handcrafted pair of ash snowshoes three of us trudged through the deep snow, every breath of frosty morning air making our lungs ache. It made no difference, however, as the distant sounds of about half a dozen beagles made our hearts race and blood boil.

This was February hare hunting in Maine at its finest and my brother, father and I were working ourselves to various points within a spruce thicket to patiently await the moment when the hounds would stir the snowshoe hares from the comfort of their daytime resting spots. I maneuvered myself slowly into position, at times crawling on my hands and knees until I finally managed to find an opening were I had an area of limited but acceptable visibility.

As the dogs began to work the property, their infrequent howls and barks quickly rose to an excited crescendo as they picked up the fresh scent of hares. About 100 yards to my right, three rapid shots rang out from my Brothers Stoger 12 gauge semiautomatic and I had just enough time to ponder if he had bothered to remove his duck plug when two additional rounds thundered into existence.

Moments later, the sounds of the small collar bells began to mix with the howls and I knew that the dogs would be on top of my position any minute. I readied my Franchi 612 semiautomatic 12 gauge and prepared to ambush the unsuspecting hare by delivering a lethal load of 2 ¾ inch Federal number 7 ½ s. Being my first hare hunt, however, I was unprepared for the sight of a single frantic hare and 7 highly excited beagles that practically ran me over. My composure wavered and belly rolled with laughter and in that instant my chance to safely discharge my weapon vaporized. Insult was added to injury as the last beagle stopped put two paws up on my knee and looked at me as if to say “next time pull the trigger dummy”.

The party rolled off to my left and was quickly out of sight and once again I could only hear the chorus of excited beagles. I marveled at the pitch and cadence of the dogs as it changed and fluctuated as they would lose the hare’s scent and then find it again.

About 5 minutes passed and about 75 yards to my right, I heard the roar of my Dad’s Ithaca model 37 pump action 12 gauge come alive. One shot and then it seemed an eternity passed before the second shot stretched out over the snowy landscape. I listened intently and half expected to hear an excited yell but eventually determined that the snowy thick spruce landscape had deadened Dad’s celebration.

Time passed slowly as the hounds tracked the hares in a giant circle around my position and I finally had a chance to catch my breath and acclimate to my surroundings. The air temperature had started its slow climb from the negative to the positive and rich sunlight filtered down through the tangled spruce branches. I took off my heavy insulated parka and hung it on a nearby branch and used my snowshoes to pack down a small area. These two actions allowed me a much higher degree of maneuverability and I practiced a swing with the shotgun in the tight quarters.

All morning, the tireless hounds moved with speed and agility through the area and at times I would see a quick flash of movement but I was unsuccessful in being able to determine with enough confidence and speed what was dog and what was hare. Frequent shots bellowed to my left and right and I was pleased to know that my Brother and Dad were working overtime to significantly decrease the hare population in Bingham, Maine.

As the sun crept high overhead, the smell of frying onions wafted up the slope and made my stomach rumble. I heard a horn blast from our guide Bob’s Suburban and my thoughts quickly turned from hare hunting to a hot cup of black coffee and a decadent lunch of one of the best outdoorsman foods of all time, the hot dog. Upon arriving back at the road, I was excited to see that Bob had on his Coleman cook stove prepared for us a feast fit for a king.

Slowly, my Brother and Dad appeared out of the woods both rabid with the adventures of the morning, covered in spruce needles and looking like snowmen. As they walked down the road toward the truck, I was more than a little bit surprised to see that neither of them seemed to be carrying any hares. I breathed a barely perceptible sigh of relief, as I realized that their morning of hunting had been as productive as mine and in the end I has saved more money on shells. Through lunch and an impressive desert of chocolate brownies, we relayed to each other our missed shot opportunities. Stories relayed by my brother, included a description of one impressive rabbit that had managed to entrench himself in a bunker of dead logs and somehow narrowly escaped the barrage of lead that rained down upon him. We all laughed until we all thought we better get back to hunting before we completely wore ourselves out.

Fortunately for the hares, our afternoon was filled with much of the same general mayhem and missed shot opportunities that we had encountered during the morning hours. While I finally managed to get one shot off before the hunt ended, I too was unable to harvest even a single hare.

Though the day ended without a single hare to show for our Herculean efforts, we all agreed that we would not have changed a single instant. As we get older, life has a way of adding more responsibilities to young men and as the years have passed it has becomes increasingly harder to manage a getaway with my Dad and Brother. Because of these limitations, I will always hold these treasured moments more valuable than the harvesting of any game animal.
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