Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who is the Hunter and Who is the Hunted?

After a day of hunting the backside of the property, I noted a couple buck tracks and decided to set-up a camera on them and see if I could catch a glimpse of the potential rack of the deer that left them. On the way back home, I pulled a camera out of my backpack and hung it on a tree. 

The next weekend I went out and reclaimed the camera and began reviewing the photos and that is when I noted that a coyote had likely been following me. I finished setting up the camera at 5:59 PM and at 6:11PM along comes Mr. Coyote. Considering it took me a few minutes to re-pack my backpack and put it on, the amount of time separating me and the coyote was probably less than 5 minutes. The coyote was likely watching me from a distance the entire time, attempting to determine if I was a target worth tackling. 

While attacks by coyotes on humans are extremely rare, I am curious if had it been joined by others or had I been a woman or a child and of smaller build, if an attack would have occurred. While Maine law requires you to have an unloaded firearm, after the end of legal hunting hours, it does not limit your ability to carry a fully locked and loaded concealed weapon. Each of us needs to make his/her own choices about what it means to be safe and protected in the wilds, for me, peace of mind comes in the form of a handgun. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wild Life Quiz - American Crow

The following blog post is copied from my regular monthly column titled "Wildlife Quiz" in The Maine Sportsman. This excerpt is from the December 2012 edition. Enjoy!
The American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, of the family Corvidae exists as a common and widespread species throughout Maine, as well as almost all of North America. Animal behaviorists consider crows to be among the world's most intelligent animals, with some species capable of tool use and construction. American crows measure approximately 20 inches in length, have a wingspan around 36 inches and weigh between 12 to 22 ounces.

American crows are easy to identify, having brilliant iridescent black feathers, black legs, feet and bill. From a distance, the American crow can sometimes be mistaken for the common raven. A discriminating eye looks for the raven’s larger size, heavier bill, feather tufts at the neck and wedge-shaped tail feathers in flight.

The American crow’s diet includes small mammals, other birds, insects, fruits, earthworms, seeds, frogs, eggs, and carrion. The most usual sound made by the American crow is a loud caw-caw-caw, but this crafty and wise avian can also produce a wide variety of sounds, sometimes mimicking noises made by other animals.  
1. How long do crows live?
2. Do male and female crows mate for life?
3. What is a group of crows called?
4. How many broods of young can a crow family produce in one year?
5. Can crows be hunted in Maine?
6. Do crows collect shiny objects?
7. When is the crow breeding season?
8. What does a crow nest look like?
9. What color are crow eggs?

1. Females live average 3 years, males 5 years. The oldest known American Crow was almost 30 years old! 2. In general, unless a mate is killed, crows stay with the same mate year after year.
3. The literary term for a group of crows is a "murder”, the scientific name is a “flock”.
4. American crows generally have one brood a year with an average clutch size of 4.
5. Crow hunting is open in WMDs 1-6 February 6-April 15 and August 1-September 22, 2012. WMDs 7-29 January 21-March 31 and August 1-Spetember 22, 2012.
6. American crows do not collect anything but food.
7. Breeding occurs between March and August.
8. Nests are constructed of sticks and lined with grass and moss. The nest is about 12 inches in diameter and in trees 20 to 50 feet off the ground.
9. Crow eggs are greenish blue with dark marks.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Maine's Hidden Gems

It certainly is no secret that Maine contains many hidden or secret “gems”, places so beautiful and pristine, that you might at first believe they could only exist in one’s imagination. The location of these amazing destinations is only whispered between local Mainah’s and NEVER revealed to those classified as tourists or “not from round heah”. To even breathe a suggestion, as to the whereabouts of these enchanted spots, could be enough to warrant a public flogging or at the very least, a horrific tongue lashing by the family elders.

Now being a pretty nice guy and one heck of a Maine guide, you might be under the impression that upon ample prodding and copious amounts of alcohol, I might be talked into openly sharing the particulars, of a couple of these extraordinary locations. Well, I’m here to tell you mistah that it just ain’t gonna happen! I haven’t yet given up great Grandma’s blue ribbon winning dill pickle recipe and I certainly ain’t tellin’ you about the remote corners of Down East, Maine.

Damn, now do you see what you have made me do!?! I done went and let the proverbial cat out of bag! Well, since it is highly likely that I will suffer a beating due to my indiscretion, I might just as well tell you the rest of the story! Truth be told, Maine contains many impressive wilds and waters that even the “natives” don’t know exist. By straying off the beaten path, locals and tourists alike will be treated to many truly unique and beautiful areas of our state that are rarely explored. The impressive Down East coast and the endless expanse of logging roads above the infamous Route 9, provide access to remote areas of the state still only bearing surveyed number designations, such as TWP 24 MD BPP.

Due to the geographically isolated nature of this area of the state, visitors will enjoy vast stretches of interrupted solitude. The large crowds of tourists that flock places along Rt. 1 south, typically never chance to drive to its beautiful Down East section. Down East Maine is the area of the state where I was born and raised. Even with a rabid love of the outdoors, this rural area of the state still contains many remote sections that even I have yet to fully explore. Simply stated, it is just too damn big. For the local and tourist alike, Down East contains something for every adventurer’s ability level, including hiking trails, remote campsites, ATVing and off road 4x4 opportunities.

Down East Maine’s Granite Coast: 
Great / Western Head Trail – Cutler – This trail is a bit tricky to find BUT for the person willing to put in a little extra effort, the views are truly impressive. This loop trail can be found in the town of Cutler. If traveling to Cutler from nearby Machias on Rt. 191, you will note a sharp bend in the road and immediately after a narrow road on the right that parallels the Little River. Follow this road to a tiny parking lot at the end. The Great /Western Head Trail roughly follows the tree line on the right hand side. After walking a short way down the small field, the rest of the trail becomes apparent.

Great Wass Island – Two trails begin together at the eastern edge of the parking lot, then diverge 100 yards into the woods. They may be difficult or even dangerous in bad weather -- especially in the frequent fogs. Please come well prepared for any kind of weather and be sure to wear sturdy shoes that will comfortably take you on a long hike through all kinds of terrain. Click HERE for more information!

ATV Riding in Washington County – Calais - Opened in 2010, the Downeast Sunrise Trail project has preserved 85 miles of the Calais Branch railroad corridor for future rail use, while additionally providing a wide, compact gravel-based trail for recreational opportunities. The scenic trail runs from Calais to Ellsworth, along the entire Downeast coastal area, connecting to multiple scenic conservation areas, intersecting the Downeast salmon rivers, and closely shadowing two state designated scenic highways. Click HERE for more information!

Wild Crows Motorcycle Tour  - Join me for an exciting motorcycle tour or Washington County!

The Wildlands: 
Lead Mountain - TWP 28 - Those interested in exploring this small 1,479 ft. monolith, the directions are relatively simple. Driving from Bangor toward Calais you will pass the Airline snack bar on your left and Rt. 193 shortly after on your right. Drive (approximately 1 mile) turn left onto the 3000 road at the Ranger Station. If you cross the bridge over the Narraguagus River, you will want to turn around. In about 150 yards, turn left . . . accidentally following the road straight will take you up the 3000 road into great partridge hunting territory but not to Lead Mt. Simply follow this dirt road to the end and you will see a small parking area.  Click HERE for more information.

Boulder Erratic - GPS Location: N 44 41.365 W068 18.748 - From Ellsworth, Maine take Route 179 North to the intersection of Route 200 heading toward Eastbrook. In a mile or so turn right onto Leona Wilbur Road. Turn right at the intersection and pull into the small parking area. The immensity of this boulder is truly awesome. Click HERE for more information.

Remote Camping at a Primitive Campsite - Wildlands- The most remote wilderness camping locations can be visited with the help of a Registered Maine Guide. From an island in a remote lake to a mountainside lookout, an expert guide can safely bring campers to remarkable places while sharing their knowledge of local history and geography.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Alive and Well in Lonely Country

Maine Magazine - November 2012 (pgs. 63-67)
Almost a year has passed since the Vose family deer camp was invaded for the first time by WOMEN! That sordid tale was already partially told last year in a series of blog postings (For more see: Girls at Deer Camp? -  Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Maine Magazines Response

What had not yet been revealed from this adventure, was the actual professionally published story written by Sophie Nelson and photographed by Erin Wallace (ALOVESUPREMEPHOTO).  

Please visit Maine Magazine ( to see the article as published in the November 2012 edition, titled "Alive and Well in Lonely Country". As they have the photographic rights, the online version contains dozens more photographs than I am allowed to publish! So, be sure to take a look! So with that little introduction complete, here is the REST of the story . . .

ALIVE AND WELL IN LONELY COUNTRY - Written by Sophie Nelson, w/Photographs by Erin Wallace - The leaves have fallen and turned to rot, and the sky can only manage varying shades of gray. Photographer Erin Wallace meets me in Augusta and together we continue north into the fast-falling night. Beyond Brewer, we follow a scar of highway through endless forest, navigate gnarly back roads, and eventually find it: a camp with a set of caribou antlers over the doorway, the place my friend Steve Vose escapes to every autumn. In the warm interior, I encounter a blur of camouflaged limbs and Bean boots, rag rugs, and a wood stove. I take a seat and drink when they’re offered to me. Faces come into focus. I smile and receive several smiles in return.
Dad plays the banjo
Steve’s father is also named Steve. He wears a soft, green corduroy shirt, worn jeans, and a neon-orange hat, and welcomes me with a warm handshake. Steve senior is joined by his friend John, and when I inquire about how they know each other, John kindly offers the backstory. John is originally from Caribou and met Steve in the 262 Engineer Battalion in Calais/Brewer. Steve, John, and their other military buddies gather at Deer Camp as often as they can, but this year just the two of them could make it.

“I want to tell you about a year when shooting a deer really mattered.” Steve senior says, confirming my suspicion that Deer Camp often has little to do with deer. He throws a glance toward John, who shifts his position and drops his gaze to hear Steve senior trace the story already etched in his memory. “Deer Camp 2005. It was the military group so we met in Calais. We were bummed because two were going to be deployed to Afghanistan. I had promised I would take John’s boys ice fishing while he was gone. After breakfast, we went out for a hunt and John shot a buck. It was the first deer we ever shot at Deer Camp, and it boosted moral so much we went to Walmart and bought one of those talking heads. It became the mascot. We didn’t meet again for another two years because of the war.” It’s Veteran’s Day, and I think about the way Portland’s Congress Street looked in the morning, filled with proud men in crisp suits and little boys and girls waving miniature flags with a fervor that didn’t quite fit the gray day.

As with any tradition, a healthy degree of nostalgia comes into play at Deer Camp. It’s clear that Steve and his brother Matt know the 2005 story well. I imagine that similar stories filled their home when they were kids, and that those stories, like this one, made them wonder—however subconsciously—what about Deer Camp wasn’t being communicated, or couldn’t be. “How old do you have to be to come to Deer Camp?” I ask, and Steve senior answers without hesitation: “Old enough to drink.”

John and my brother Matt trade stories
The camp we’re in is Matt’s. Unlike the neighboring camp, a sizable house topped with a satellite dish, Matt’s is fairly small and rustic. Steve senior recently renovated his own camp, which is about an hour and a half from the one we’re in, and the men tell me that modernizing old camps, or building them from the ground up with all the amenities, is a growing trend. I’m glad they met me here, in a camp with neither running water nor cell-phone reception, but I also wonder about the less quaint aspects of Deer Camp that I may be missing out on. I am, after all, here with the sole intention of breaking the cardinal rule: “What happens at Deer Camp stays at Deer Camp.”

As a group, they are quiet at first. Steve is his usual jokester self, and I sense familial playfulness in Matt, but it takes a little while to emerge. John, in head-to-toe camouflage, seems to prefer listening to talking, and the same goes for Preston, Matt’s friend and a fellow engineer at the Bucksport Mill. They tell me that another one of their colleagues, a “city boy” from Waterville, will be joining us later. Preston pipes up when I ask the men about the first time they ate an animal they had killed. “It was a frog with a BB gun,” he says. “I shot it and my dad said, ‘You shot it, you eat it.’ So I cooked up some frog legs. They really taste like chicken.” Matt adds, “Partridge for me. It always tastes better when you killed it.”

Erin plays us a song
After a dinner of meat and potatoes, I help Preston pump water for the dishes and Matt places a pot on the woodstove at his dad’s request—Steve senior wants to be sure Erin and I have the option of washing up with warm water before bed. We reconvene around the stove, and Steve senior brings out his banjo. Over the course of the evening, Steve and Matt never seem more like brothers than when they’re singing and tapping their muddy boots in unison. Their voices are good and strong and gruff around the edges. “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille/With four hungry children and a crop in the field…,” they sing. I’m the only one familiar with Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” and offer a sloppy solo, nodding my head in time with Steve senior’s, watching his mouth shape the words I almost know, watching a smile come over his face when I get a line just right. I’m unsure of myself, but he keeps pulling the song from me; he is the kind of teacher that tricks a kid out of thinking she has nothing left. When Steve senior and John leave— they’re heading to Calais to hunt that spot where John got a deer half a dozen years ago—I am sad to see them go. Chris from Waterville has brought his iPad, and we resort to his hip-hop playlist. Preston nods off on the couch with Mally, Matt’s affable yellow lab, asleep on his knee.

In the morning, I head to the dock with a steaming cup of coffee. The air tastes sweet it’s so clean, and I imagine the water does too but don’t dare disrupt it with a dip of my hand. In the spirit of trying new things, I eat corned-beef hash along with the eggs Steve scrambles, and don an orange vest and hat over my odd assemblage of winter gear. Hunting starts up with Steve’s truck. Erin, Steve, and I bump along back roads toward a location he has in mind, scanning the ditches for partridge collecting pebbles for their gullets. I try to concentrate but I’m preoccupied with the gun rattling between my thigh and the truck’s center console.

Dad tells a story about a really  BIG fish that got away!
As the car slows to a stop on the side of an old logging road, I sense a shift in Steve; his mood takes on a new and appropriate depth. He moves soundlessly down the path, rolling his feet carefully over the stones so that they don’t crunch under his weight while pointing out moose prints, nibbled branches, and scat containing tufts of coyote fur. Steve sets up speakers that correspond with an electronic game caller so that, from within the blind, we need only push a button to fill the silence with the wails of a wounded hare. We are in for coyote, not deer. In a whisper, Steve tells me about overpopulation and the trouble coyotes have caused. He doesn’t eat coyote, but he does make pelts with their hides.

We wait. My fingers and toes prickle as they freeze. Steve tells me about the season he spent 200 hours in a deer stand. He saw some deer, but none that were shooting size. The rule is one deer per year, and Steve is after a deer that will meet or exceed the 10 pointer his Mom shot in 2008. He speaks bitterly about the hunters who “go out at night and kill 15, 16 a year.” As a boy, he used to wander around his family’s many acres in Calais without spotting a single deer, and he worries that his sons will never have the opportunity to hunt.

 I can never stop smiling at deer camp!
The wail of the electronic hare crescendos. After about an hour, we call it quits, pack up the blind, and begin talking at normal volumes—though after so much whispering it seems inconsiderate somehow. Steve tells me it’s time for target practice. I lean the butt of the .223 R15 rifle into my shoulder, center the log between the crosshairs, and pull the trigger. The sound and the kickback I expect, but the feel of the bullet ripping though the barrel of the gun is terrifying. We spend the morning shooting, driving down logging roads en route to somewheres that seems like nowheres, listening to country music and gnawing on home-smoked duck jerky, passing only hunters in trucks and men driving 18-wheelers. Maine is a vast and empty state, and that is precisely what Steve loves most about it. I understand the appeal on a theoretical level, but in actuality I find these woods coarse and lonely.

View from the porch at deer camp
Late in the afternoon, cold to the bone and marveling at Steve’s dogged approach to the day, I somehow spot three partridge on the side of the road. I holler and point and, in the blink of an eye, Steve is out of the car poised to shoot. His excitement is palpable, rippling off of him and warping the air around us. At some point, we startle the partridge into flight and a vague shape—a brown smear on the gray sky—appears over the treetops. He shoots and the bird plummets. Soon afterward, he emerges from the woods carrying the floppy carcass by the feet. With his calloused and bloodied hands, Steve spreads open the bird’s intricate wings. Then, still intoxicated with adrenaline, he pulls the carcass apart to reveal the perfect pink breast that will be his dinner.

Later that afternoon, I see another partridge on the side of the road and it’s my turn to approach it with a gun in hand. I hold the heavy shotgun to my shoulder and “He tells me that he has the right shotgun, but the wrong bullets, and as if on cue the ducks ascend to form a flying V and come curling toward us, honking irreverently.” Steve follows closely behind, whispering instructions in my ear. Raw excitement overcomes him again, and rather than focus on the task at hand, I wonder about the source of it. I wonder where to aim to kill the bird, and whether or not I am capable of pulling it apart in the event that I somehow manage to shoot it, and, in that case, if I have any business killing it in the first place. I shoot and miss. To my relief, the partridge disappears into a dense, moss-covered patch of forest. Steve checks for it. We wait for a while. It never reappears.

The young men of deer camp
Toward the end of the day, as pinkish dusk settles over a swamp, Steve spots a flock of ducks at the mouth of a river. I can hear them but not see them, despite his best efforts to point them out. He tells me that he has the right shotgun, but the wrong bullets, and as if on cue, they ascend to form a flying V and come curling toward us, honking irreverently.

On the way back to camp, I think about the photos that hunters collect of themselves holding their kill by the antlers. Despite their unsteady smiles—or perhaps because of them—they don’t look happy, exactly. To me, hunting seems more about thrill than kill, about appreciating life in an acknowledgement of death and thereby living with a rare acuteness, even if only for the amount of time it takes a doe to flick her white tail. I think about Steve, who describes the habits of animals with the knowledge and tenderness of a parent prepping a babysitter. He wakes when they wake and sleeps when they sleep. He studies their miraculous anatomy and warps his mouth to mimic their sounds. This part of Maine is not in fact empty.

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