Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wildlife Quiz - Chain Pickerel

The chain pickerel ranks as the most aggressive of all game fish. Though primarily fish eaters, pickerel they will take just about any kind of food, including frogs, crayfish and mice. Their explosive strikes and desire to attack just about any kind of lured offered to them, make them a favorite of young and old anglers alike.

While native to Maine, the home range of the pickerel stretches far beyond our state boundaries, to far into the Midwest and southern United States. According to Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists, most pickerel caught in Maine range from 14-19 inches and average 2-3 pounds. The state record, caught in 1992 in Androscroggin Lake weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces. The largest pickerel ever caught was a 9-pound 6-ounce fish caught in Georgia in 1961.

Members of the Esocidae family of fishes, pickerel are closely related to Muskellunge and Northern Pike. Pickerel have scaled gill covers and green bodies marked by yellow-green areas broken by dark, interconnecting lines resembling the links of a chain. This unusual color pattern provides this ambush predator with excellent camouflage for staking out edges of weed beds where it prefers to lay silently in wait for prey.

Pickerel posses a mouth full of razor sharp teeth that serve to both protect the fish from predators and provide unsuspecting anglers with an unpleasant surprise. When water temperatures begin to rise in the spring, pickerel move into the shallows to spawn. Females lay gelatinous strings of eggs up to 3 feet long over vegetation, sticks and logs which are then fertilized by the males. After fertilization, the parents abandon the eggs, forcing the fry to fend for themselves. In the wild, pickerel live approximately 7-9 years.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What do pickerel prefer to eat?
2. Are pickerel native to Maine?
3. What is the home range of the pickerel?
4. What is the average length and weight of an adult pickerel?
5. What was the biggest pickerel caught in Maine?
6. How can a pickerel be identified?
7. What feature of the pickerel must anglers be very careful to avoid?
8. How long do pickerel live in the wild?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. Pickerel prefer to eat fish but will also eat frogs, crayfish and mice.
2. Pickerel are native to Maine.
3. Pickerel range far into the Midwest and southern United States.
4. An average adult pickerel is 14-19 inches long and average 2-3 pounds.
5. The largest pickerel caught in Maine weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces.
6. Pickerel can be identified by their scaled gill covers and green bodies marked by yellow-green areas broken by dark, interconnecting lines resembling the links of a chain.
7. Pickerel posses a mouth full of razor sharp teeth that can inflict bad wounds on unsuspecting anglers.
8. In the wild, pickerel live approximately 7-9 years.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Killing Animals for Sport

I admit I sometimes struggle with the thought of killing an animal that I don’t intend to eat. I typically overcome these feelings when I know that the harvested animal will be used for some practical purpose. Bobcat, coyote and fox are all furbearing animals, killed mainly for the purposes of population control, furs for clothing or hunting for sport. In hunting there is no catch and release and when a sportsman wants to pursue an animal that is a challenge to stalk and kill, success in this endeavor occurs with the death of that animal. Sure, I could photograph these animals but for me, it just isn’t the same . . . it is like eating a delicious meal but not being allowed to swallow.

Hunting bobcats, coyotes and fox is an extremely challenging endeavor, typically with 100 hours of time invested before a hunter is even presented with a CHANCE to see one of these wily and elusive creatures. The season under which these animals are typically hunted is winter where hunters must sit motionless for hours, in extreme cold, sometimes in the dead of night for that minuscule 1% chance at success. Harvesting one of these furbearers is the ultimate test of a sportsmans skill, perseverance, patience and mental fortitude. It the achievement of this monumental challenge that is the ultimate reward. The last bobcat I harvested was in 2010 and that amazingly beautiful creature adorns a wall in my house. A permanent taxidermied trophy, my mind replays every moment of that hunt, every time I gaze upon it. The skins of several other fur bearing animals adorn the walls of my house and the number of taxidermied mounts I own is approaching the level of obsession.

My 2014 bobcat (Pictured Above) will be made into a very expensive rug that will never see a muddy boot tread upon it and will cost me more money than I make in two months of writing. It is the price I am willing to pay to ensue my trophies are remembered and honored in some special way.

 Lastly, I have mixed feelings about the obligatory photo of a hunter posed over a game animal that they have just harvested. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy pictures of young hunters smiling, posed next to their first deer or a proud hunter sitting beside that animal of a lifetime. I am not opposed to these photographs, I just tend to shy away from them, choosing to instead attempt to capture the animals end in the most respectful and picturesque way possible. Even with this statement, however, comes the fact that for an outdoor writer it is extremely difficult to build credibility, in the outdoor community, without proof of some level of hunting success and hunter success is typically documented with a picture of that sportsman posed next to their fallen quarry. In other words, if I write a story on shooting bobcats, I better have a picture of me sitting next to a bobcat as it is truly the only way to add credibility to a story.

 Thank you for listening to my short explanation. While it doesn’t throughly explain all the reasons why I hunt, I hope that for non-hunters my words help to better explain how the mind of this hunter works. No doubt some will look upon the killing of any animal that is not intended to be eaten as wasteful and the thought of pursuing animals for trophies just shy of obscene. Other people wear fancy shoes, flash expensive watches, dress in thousand dollar suits, drive sports cars and adorn themselves with diamonds and gold . . . I ask, are these “trophies” and “symbols of status” any more or less destructive than my collection of a few wild animals?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Woodsman's Pal

The Woodsman’s Pal is more than just the outdoorsman’s best friend; it is also perhaps the most versatile tool a man could even dream of owning. Instantly upgrade your “Man Factor” by getting a Woodsman’s Pal. Nothing gets the testosterone pumping quite like a man ready to unleash rampant destruction at a moments notice. Astonish friends, frighten the neighbors and impress the old lady with 16.5 inches of cold, hard, steel dangling haphazardly from your tool belt.

Be amazed as the Woodsman Pal chops effortlessly through 4 inches of rock solid hardwood! 

video

While this elegant tool is designed for the uncharted wilds, I wonder how it will fare in a test under the rigors of suburbia. Oh sure, any man could wander into the wilderness, equipped only with his Woodsman’s Pal and emerge weeks later clean shaven, well fed and dressed in animal skins but how well does the Woodsman’s Pal thrive in the battlefield of America’s backyards, patios, garages and kitchens? Would it not be the ultimate test of this stylish “man tool”, were it subjected to the trials and tribulations of the urban jungle?

To better explore this “challenge”, I have devised a series of tests designed to push the woodsman’s pal to its breaking point and determine if this is truly the right tool for the job. Man law eloquently states that there be no more divine trinity than bacon, beer and boobies . . . BUT since this is a PG rated show, we are going to eliminate boobies. Given my devout and undying respect for the man trinity, the Woodsman’s Pal will be subjected to two tests of its functionality, based on these, the most holy of holy.

Test one BACON: Ummm, nothing is quite more intoxicating than the smell of bacon cooked over the open flame. Unfortunately, you already demolished the old ladies frying pans and the gas grill looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since the birth of Jesus. Fear not, for your need for fried pork belly will not go unanswered for, on this day, you have your Woodsman’s Pal.


Challenge one PASSED! 



Test two BEER: Hanging out around the fire and find you have misplaced your bottle opener? Have no fear; the Woodsman’s Pal comes fully equipped with a bottle opener.

video

Challenge two PASSED! 

Slash more than prices this holiday season, slice, split and cut away to your hearts content and remember, whether your trimming St. Nicks beard, carving the holiday season Turduckin, hacking down O’Tannenbaum, flipping reindeer burgers, cutting wrapping paper or even popping the top off a bottle Christmas ale the best tool for the job will always be the Woodsman’s Pal!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Tradition of Hunting

This short article was recently published int he Sportsman Alliance of Maine (SAM) November/December 2014 Newsletter . . . enjoy! 

The Wildman and Savage at Rangeley Lake
Bedtime this past Saturday evening was highlighted by my 6 year old confidently pronouncing, "Daddy today was the best day evah!" Considering the achieved levels of decadence of his past birthday parties and how badly he was spoiled at Christmas, I considered this an extraordinarily bold statement.

So, one might ask, what life-altering event could be so incredibly spectacular as to spur my young son to utter such a statement? To the dedicated sportsman, it should come as no surprise that this proclamation came on the heels of his first day duck hunting.

For me, starting to hunt was a relatively easy endeavor, having grandfathers, father, and an uncle who were all registered Maine guides and passionate about the outdoors. From a time shortly after I began walking, they helped me take the steps in my outdoors training that eventually led me to become interested in hunting. What most people don’t understand is that hunting is much more then handing a young boy a rifle and pointing him in the direction of the woods.

A hunter is someone who has undergone years of instruction and guidance, developing an understanding a large number of individual skills and eventually building to the mastery of a diverse set of abilities. Most importantly, before venturing forth into the wilds, one need to learn to be safe and comfortable in the woods, how to use a map and compass and know what to do should they become lost or injured. A hunter knows how to properly dress for the bitter north winds and how to start a fire in the wettest and direst of circumstances.

Hopeful Duck Hunters Scan the Horizon
These are fundamental skills that should be learned early by all outdoorsmen. To hunt game ethically and well, one must understand the animal they are pursuing, know its tracks, behaviors and where it is likely to bed, habituate and feed. A hunter must know how to shoot from a variety of stances, understand the inner workings of firearms, including how to clean and care for them. To humanely kill game, a hunter must know the animal’s anatomy and where to place a shot to quickly dispatch it. A hunter must know what to do should that bullet not be perfectly placed and an animal need to be tracked. A hunter must understand how to field dress, butcher and properly care for a killed animal, so the meat is not wasted. Lastly, it is the best of hunters who know how to properly cook game and prepare it for the dinner table.

All of these lessons are important as they’re the basic building blocks of creating an understanding and respect of the outdoors and the animals we as hunters pursue. Most people go to a supermarket, pickup a piece of meat, secured in plastic and don’t think: “Where did this meat come from? Did the animal suffer? Was it raised in captivity?” When a hunter shoots a deer, he has a pretty good understanding where that meat came from, whether the deer was taken humanely and know that the meat he is harvesting is completely organic. Hunters understand what hard work it is to take an animal from the field, clean it, butcher it, package it and make it ready for the dinner table.

Spring Turkey Hunters Ready to do Battle
We as a society aren’t passing this connection on to the next generation and teaching the importance of these skills. Our society reeks of trouble, too many things vie for our attentions, frequently removing us from the natural world and keeping us inside. Videogames, movies, the Internet, smart phones . . . we’re always connected, absorbed, distracted, multitasking and whether we know it or not, overwhelmed. Kids simply aren’t bored anymore; they always need to be entertained. And when those kids are put in an educational setting, unless the teacher is jumping on the desk or standing on their head, they just can’t hold the students’ attention long enough to teach them anything. That’s unfortunate.

The education side of introducing women, kids and people who have never had a chance to hunt has come full circle for me now that I have kids. I have 6 and 8 year old boys, and while I would like them to grow up sharing my passion for hunting and fishing, I’ve always said it’s their choice and I’d never force it on them. I provide all of the entry points, but if they don’t want to take it up, that’s up to them.

Their “wild” education started out identifying animal tracks in the winter, chasing rabbits and squirrels through the spruce thickets. Now they’re of an age where I take them hunting with me. This past October they joined me in the duck blind and on frequent walks hunting gray squirrels, rabbits and partridge, sometimes during these outings there is whining, often they struggle to be quiet and typically we arrive back home empty handed, having invested hours in the wilds with not a game animal to show for our exhaustive efforts. However, hunting is so much more than harvesting a game animal; hunting at its roots is all about bringing family and friends together, connecting to the food eaten, having respect for animals and working to preserve this heritage for future generations. Hunting is ultimately only 10 percent about harvesting an animal. The remaining 90 percent is about hanging out with family and friends, spending time afield enjoying Mother Nature, and the frequent quiet, self-reflective moments.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sportsman's Christmas Wish List 2014

Shopping for that Rabid Outdoorsman on your Christmas list is never an easy task. These individuals seem to have every gadget and piece of outdoor related equipment imaginable. Then when you finally do manage to miraculously find them something they like, they complain that you spent too much money on them and threaten to return it. If this sounds like anyone you might potentially know, then please look below for a few holiday suggestions for these curmudgeons.

The Byer Manufacturing Company has been creating what I like to call "The Goud Stuff” since 1880. This Maine based company has reinvented itself numerous times over the decades in order to keep pace with the American market place and a rapidly evolving global economy. Currently, Byer of Maine produces a wide assortment of products, most interesting perhaps its furniture and equipment specifically designed to make summah days wick’d comfortable and relaxing. Be sure to check out these gift ideas for the Slacker, Swinger, Napper or Chief Cook and Bottle Washer on your Christmas list!

The WOODMAN'S PAL® machete is described as "A Machete with the Power of an Axe". Designed to trim, prune, chop, split, blaze trails, clear campsites, chop firewood, split kindling, build hunting blinds or lean-to-shelters, it is THE tool preferred by Surveyors, Foresters, Fire & Rescue, Hunters, Campers, Hikers, Survivalists, Pilots, Land Managers, Gardeners, Farmers and Highway Crews. The multipurpose Woodman''s Pal® machete can efficiently perform the tasks of many tools including machetes, axes, hatchets, pruning saws, pruning shears, pruning knives, bow saws, loppers, Bowie knives and for certain jobs, even chain saws. Handcrafted in Pennsylvania with all American made raw materials.Unsurpassed quality since 1941.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Foul Weather Fowl, Biddies, Wabbits and Rainbow Trout

December Ducks 
Duck hunting in December is wrought with challenges and only the heartiest of sporting men and women brave the frigid north winds in an effort to perhaps get lucky enough to bring home a late season mallard or black duck for the stew pot. With inland waters rapidly freezing, waterfowlers head Down East where the regions salty bays and inlets typically take longer to freeze. In years past, some of my most memorable outdoors adventures have occurred during these late season hunts, fighting extreme cold, battling against spitting snow squalls and struggling to stay dry in showers of freezing rain. This type of hunting builds determination, strength and character.

A thin layer of ice creaked under the weight of my kayak as it slid through the water, questioning the sanity of my actions and causing me to ponder how long a person could dwell in these frigid waters before losing consciousness and succumbing to eternal sleep. I estimated the life would drain from a body in less than 10 minutes and considering my distance from shore, my lifejacket would serve only as a body recovery device, a thought that made me shiver. I needed to concentrate and make each paddle stroke with care, no mistakes. After a tentative few minutes, I managed to find a secluded spot in the bay, below the intertidal zone, on the end of a small island. Hidden behind the roughly fractured granite boulders and rockweed, I was buffeted against the wind and confident in the location, I awaited the time of legal shooting with unbridled excitement.

A slow morning dragged along, thankfully made considerably more enjoyable with hot coffee, hand warmers and the scattering of ducks flying just out of lethal range that kept my heart-pounding heavy in my chest. Finally after many hours, cold fingers and frosty toes dictated it was time to return to civilization. Though not a duck fell that morning, hunting in this environment is always a triumph . . . a win in the classic battle of man against the elements and against his own perceived capacities. This positive outlook in the face of the impossible seems a trait of most hunters but even more so in waterfowlers who always manage to find their glasses half full despite the adversities they may face and understand that it is always better to try and fail then never to have tried at all.

Sportsmen and women feeling they possess the intestinal fortitude to join the ranks of this brave group of late season salty hunters, calling themselves foul weather fowlers, would be well served to dress warm, pack heavy loads of shot to penetrate the thick down of late season ducks and head Down East to try their luck on Maine’s rugged coast. Areas such as the mouth of the Machias River (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, C-4) and Chandler River (Map 25 B-5) both offer protection from the icy north winds while still providing opportunities to harvest ducks late into December. A majority of the hunting done in these locations is accomplished by pass shooting, a practice of hunting requiring no decoys and no calling; it is simply about being in the right place at the right time so choose your set-up locations wisely, using pinch points, ledges and sheltered coves to your advantage.

The Publication, “Public Shoreline Access in Maine A Citizen’s Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law”, produced by the Marine Law Institute, states that Maine law allows public access to the intertidal zone as long as the access is related to the purposes of fishing, fowling, and navigation. Unfortunately, this law does precious little to stop a landowner from filing unfounded complaints with the local authorities or disrupting a hunt in progress with their screaming curses of displeasures. Having lived though past encounters with these individuals, as much as one would like to teach them a lesson in the letter of the law, it is frequently more advantageous to simply walk away and find a different area to hunt.

The South Zone is open from November 3 - December 23, 2014 while the Coastal Zone is open from November 14, 2014 to January 3, 2015. Please see IFW law book for daily bag limits and species information.

Last chance Hunters looking to chase ruffed grouse, gray squirrel and snowshoe hare rather than ducks will be excited to note that many woods roads throughout Washington Conty remain open throughout December as global warming takes its toll on Maine’s early season snowfall totals. Typically there’s not a lot of snow this month so there’s good access to some fantastic late season hunting spots for small game. Maine’s primary wilderness artery the Stud Mill Road provides easy access to prime hunting areas but is hit hard by hunters in October and November, this late in the hunting season hunters should explore areas well off this main thoroughfare. Consider heading north by Brandy Pond (Map 34, D-3) and Upper Oxhead Pond (Map 34, C-3) and continuing to Spring Lake (Map 34, B-4). Hunters may harvest ruffed grouse and gray squirrel until December 31st, 2014 and snowshoe hare until March 31st, 2014

Jones Pond Rainbows 
Anglers looking for excitement should head over to chase rainbow trout in Jones Pond in Gouldsboro (Map 17, A-1). This 467-acre pond is primarily populated with brown trout, smallmouth bass and chain pickerel but last fall IFW stocked the lake with 930 rainbow trout, averaging 13 inches in length. Though Jones Pond is open throughout December to catch and release fishing with artificial lures only, starting January 1, anglers will be able to fish with live bait and keep rainbows in accordance with general law, stating 2 fish over 12 inches. IFW fisheries biologist Greg Burr states that “fishing through the ice for rainbows is extremely difficult and that they don’t respond well to shiners.” The best way to fish for rainbows is by jigging with worms, maggots or mealworms on diminutive hooks rigged with lightweight lines. Any angler landing a rainbow through the ice has managed to achieve a trophy catch and should be pleased with their efforts at pursuing this crafty species of trout. Anglers that do not achieve success through the ice will be well served to return to Jones Pond shortly after ice out when rainbows feed more actively. Spring time Rainbows can be caught, employing the same trolling techniques used for salmon.
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