Monday, September 16, 2013

Reflector Oven Cooking with the "Sproul Baker"

I am regularly impressed by the quality of Maine based products found throughout the state. You certainly do not have to look very far to find skilled craftsmen plying their trade out of small shops, building superior pieces of handmade merchandise. These individuals have honed their skills over decades and are masters of their craft. Because of the huge number of craftsmen, around the state, creating truly exquisite pieces of what I would categorize as “art”, I am always on constant alert as to what could be the next new and interesting Maine made outdoor product.

Enter the innovative Maine company campfirecookware, located in the town of Bowdoinham, Maine. Here operating out of a small workshop, proprietor and master metalworker Chas Gill builds what can easily be described as simply the best campfire reflector oven on the market, the “Sproul Baker”.

 The "Sproul Baker" was originally designed and built by Harley Sproul from Lincoln, Maine. Harry was displeased with the quality and effectiveness of the reflectors ovens available on the open market and decided in the late 90's to build a reflector oven that worked properly. Harry’s initial idea for the “Sproul Baker” was based on historic sketches of reflector ovens used by woodsman, trappers and loggers in the 1800s, prior the modern cooking ovens. This original design was further improved upon by 7 years of research and development, fueled by a grant from Maine’s Institute of Technology.


Finally, in 2004 the “Sproul Baker” reached a point of perfection and the first ovens began being sold. After many years of success, Harley discontinued production and for a period of time it appeared that the infamous “Sproul Baker” might fade into oblivion. Thankfully, in the spring of 2011, after over a year of communications, Harry came to an agreement with current owner Chas Gill who took over the business in the fall of 2012, continuing the “Sproul Baker” legacy.

What makes the “Sproul Baker” so wildly successful is its elegant and simplistic design. Easy to assemble, collapse and store it is truly a marvel of engineering. Its tinned steel construction makes it lightweight (2 lbs 4 ozs), rugged and sturdy allowing a single unit to be enjoyed by generations of outdoorsmen.


What makes this oven so amazing is the quality construction and the care and attention to detail that goes into the creation of each unit. All the forming and assembly of the oven is painstakingly completed by hand, over the course of approximately 2 hours. The oven boasts many critical features, lacking in the “competition”. These include a baking pan coated on the sides and bottom with high heat black paint, allowing complete heat absorption to maintain proper baking temperatures. Also, an innovative handle that remains cool (not requiring the use of hot mitts!) enough to allow the unit to be picked up and moved to facilitate proper baking results. Lastly, the shiny interior surface of the oven provides complete reflection of heat from the flames of a campfire, allowing the oven to absorb heat better, allowing the ability to bake anything just like at home.


Reflector ovens have been around since the Maine woodsmen and river drivers started cutting Maine's forest down, starting back in the early 19th century. Almost all meals were prepared in the outdoors and the only way they could prepare baked goods was with the reflector oven. No better method has since been invented and with the proper procedure the results are always excellent.


Chas is well acquainted with reflector oven baking from his many years, spent working at the Wilderness Bound camp owned and operated by Pierce Pond camps. Every summer Chas would lead groups of 12-20 campers on treks around the Allagash and Katahdin areas. Chas knew well that the key to a fun and enjoyable trip is the quality of food. During these adventures, Chas would use his reflector oven to bake biscuits, cornbread, brownies, cake, and even fresh raspberry and blueberry pies for the ravenous campers. Chas is currently working on recipe book based on Harleys Sproul’s original Reflector Oven cookbook!

Need a few recipes to hold you over before Chas releases his new cook book? Why not try these two sure to please camping favorites!

Cheese-Garlic Biscuits
2 cups Bisquick baking mix
2/3-cup milk
1/2-cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup margarine or butter, melted
1/4-teaspoon garlic powder
*Mix Bisquick, milk and cheese until a soft dough forms. Beat vigorously 30 seconds. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto a sheet of lightly greased aluminum foil cut to fit the shelf of your reflector oven. Bake 8-10 minutes or till golden brown. Mix margarine and garlic powder; brush over tops of warm biscuits.

Easy Cobbler 
3/4 cup melted butter
1-cup sugar
1-cup flour
2/3-cup milk
1 large can sliced fruit
*Pour butter in 8-inch square casserole. Combine sugar, flour and milk. Pour over butter. Add fruit. Bake until golden brown.

Please consider purchasing your very own SPROUL BAKER and make sure when you do to tell Chas  Gill that the Rabid Outdoorsman sent you! Thanks!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wildlife Quiz - White Perch

White Perch - The white perch, Morone americana, actually do not belong to the perch or Percidae family of fishes but instead scientists classify them as Moronidae, members of the temperate bass family. Possessing completely silver bodies, white perch look similar to juvenile striped bass but with a slight humpback appearance and no stripes. A hard, scaly body along with a dorsal fin, containing several sharp spines, works to protect the fish from predators and stands to provide unsuspecting anglers with an unpleasant surprise.

White perch range from Nova Scotia to South Carolina and have been illegally introduced into the Great Lakes, causing destruction to native fish species. A voracious feeder, white perch can easily consume so many fish eggs and fry that they can effectively take over an entire landlocked body of water. A delectable species of game fish, anglers pursue white perch with intensity and frequently enjoy catching average specimens measuring 8-9 inches and weighing 1 pound.

In 2009, Daniel Dolloff pulled a trophy 3.24-pound white perch from the waters of Ellis Pond in Brooks, Maine and it currently stands as the state record. White perch migrate throughout April to June into tidal fresh and slightly brackish waters to spawn. Mating occurs with females first releasing a sticky, gelatinous mass of over 150,000 eggs that adheres itself to the first thing it touches. During the weeklong spawning season, males in the area then release milt around the eggs to fertilize them. Eggs and sperm are randomly mixed and 1 to 6 days after fertilization, the young hatch. Juveniles hide in protected inshore estuaries and creeks, feeding on aquatic insects and small crustaceans until old enough to school together with adults in open water. White perch typically live 9-10 years with some bruisers living as long as 15 years!

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. Are white perch members of the “perch” family of game fish?
2. What is the primary defense weapon of the white perch?
3. What is the native range of the white perch?
4. Do white perch exist in the great lakes?
5. What was the weight of the biggest white perch caught in Maine?
6. What is the average weight of an adult white perch?
7. When is the mating season for the white perch?
8. What is the average life span of a white perch?
9. How long does it take after fertilization for white perch eggs to hatch?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. No, perch are not members of the “perch” or Percidae family of fishes but rather classified as Moronidae, members of the temperate bass family.
2. The primary defense weapon of the white perch is a dorsal fin, containing several sharp spines that protect the fish from predators.
3. The native range of the white perch runs from Nova Scotia to South Carolina.
4. White perch do exist in the great lakes where they were illegally introduced.
5. The biggest white perch caught in Maine weighed 3.24 pounds.
6. The average weight of an adult white perch is 1 pound.
7. The mating season for the white perch runs from April to June.
8. The average life span of a white perch is 9-10 years.
9. After fertilization white perch eggs hatch in 1-6 days.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Black Bear Predator Calling, Last Minute Fishing & Crow!

September arrives, bringing with it a marked decrease in the number of biting insects, a slight nip to the evening air and dramatic color changes in local foliage. It is also this time of year when hunters begin to develop that wild and crazy look in their eye, as the excitement of the impending arrival of hunting season builds to a crescendo.

Bear Hunting
Bear hunting provides an adrenaline pumping adventure, guaranteed to raise goose bumps on even the steadiest and most reserved outdoors people. A primal urge exists deep within the primitive mind that signals an instinct to run when an immense meat eating animal lumbers out of the woods, suddenly and mere yards from a hunters shooting position. Few other creatures appear quite so mighty and powerful as a truly massive black bear and even professional hunters feel their hearts beat heavy just at the sight of these bruins. Washington County is home to one of the most productive black bear habitats in the state and is well know for growing trophy black bears. If you have never tried bear hunting, I strongly suggest giving it a try!

While black bear are primarily hunted in Maine over bait or by using dogs another method of hunting them quickly growing in popularity now includes using predator calls. Hunters can hunt bears without using bait or dogs from August 26, 2013 through November 30, 2013. Calling bears offers a different type of hunt and it can be extremely difficult to trick them into shooting distance. Unlike calling other predators like the finicky fox and the caution coyote, calling bears requires either a lot of lungpower or an electronic calling device. Bruins have extremely short attention spans and when the calling stops, so will the approaching bear. Screaming rabbit, is a popular Maine choice but hunters will need to practice an extreme level of patience and maintain continuous calling sequence lasting for an hour or more before they can expect a bear to lumber into shooting range.

When choosing a location to set-up your calling sequence, a number of factors must be considered. Sites should preferably be in thick wooded spots beside swamps or near small streams where food and water is readily available. Hot September days can often find big bears hiding out in these damp areas as a way of staying cool in the full heat of the day. The cedar swamps closely bordering blueberry patches or beechnut-laden ridges are prime black bear habitat. Extensive scouting for sign and the use of game cameras will greatly help hunters pinpoint prime areas and maximize their time spent calling. Determining the predominant wind direction and placing stands or ground blinds directly downwind or crosswind from the expected direction of approach will increase the chance of fooling the sensitive noses of these bruins. Hunters should still always be cautious; as a bear coming in to what it believes is lunch is often anything but predictable.

Up for the challenge of calling in a bear this September? I suggest exploring the area around “Fletcher Field”, DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, D-3, D-4, D-5.

Last Minute Angling 
To anglers looking to get in some last minute fishing this month, I offer a gentle reminder about an easy to forget August rule that can quickly get you in hot water with the local game warden. Starting on August 16, fishing in brooks, streams and rivers in Washington County is restricted to the use of artificial lures or flies only and the combined total daily bag limit for trout, landlocked salmon and togue is 1 fish. Local convenience stores will continue to sell trout worms and crawlers but anglers should remember to be cautious of the limitations. Instead of bait, fish favorite flies or small spinners and try your luck on the small streams along Route 9 in early evening and morning. Though along a major travel route a majority of these small streams are not fished much beyond 100 yards from the roadside. A quick walk through the streamside underbrush will yield fishing hot spots that have remained untouched.

Crow Hunting 
Crow hunting begins on August 1st and runs until September 21st. With a little invested effort, hunters can create a dozen or so simple handmade silhouette decoys that are fun to make. Having kids assist with the sanding and painting makes this an even more enjoyable activity and a good way to get them to understanding how decoys function as a way to lure in wary avian species. Be glad you never threw out even the smallest scraps of ½ inch plywood as they can be easily converted to crow shape with just a few minutes work with the jigsaw. For a pattern, do an Internet search using Google with the key words “crow silhouette pattern” this will load up several different design options. By drilling a small hole in the bottom for a stake made from the remains of a metal coat hanger the silhouettes can be set out in fields or with a small eyelet screwed into the top, suspended from trees to add even more realism to your decoy spread. Once the silhouettes are in place all it takes is a hand held crow call to complete the ruse and hunters will enjoy fast action.

Crows tend to be destructive and cause considerable crop damage. Most landowners understand this problem and are happy to have you work to eliminate crows from their properties. Just please remember the cardinal rule of “leave only foot prints”, when accessing someone else’s land to ensure it remains accessible to future hunters.
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