Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - Owls

Owls belong to the order Strigiformes, a group of birds that includes 205 different species. These species are divided into two groups, categorized as true owls and barn owls. True owls are the largest group, comprised of 189 species, while there exists only 16 species of Barn owls. The Maine Audubon Society lists, 11 species of owls live in or call Maine home for a portion of the year. Owls live in a wide variety of habitats including dense forests, open woodlands, clear-cuts, and even urban environments.

Owls have well-developed binocular vision and special designed faces and ear tufts that funnel sounds, allowing them to hunt effectively at night. Owls feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, reptiles, birds, insects and rabbits. Since owls do not have teeth, they swallow small prey whole and later regurgitate bone, fur and feathers.

In January through March, male owls pick a nest site. Owls make little effort to construct elaborate nest, instead preferring to nest in hollowed out trees, on rock ledges, the top of power-line towers or in hay lofts. Some species will even take over the nests of other bird species. During this time, male owls will attempts to attract females. Owls produce a wide distribution of calls to both find potential mates and frighten off any potential competitors. Female owls lay two to three eggs that incubate for about a month before hatching. Both parents feed and care for the young till they can fly by ten weeks of age. The mortality rate on owlets is about 50 percent, with many dying due to predators and accidents with man. Owls in the wild have been known to survive to 13 years of age with a few captive birds living to 30 years of age.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. To what order do owls belong?
2. How many different species of owls exist?
3. What are the two different categories of owls?
4. How many owls live in or frequent Maine?
5. In what kind of habitats do owls live?
6. What do owls eat?
7. At what time of year do owls pick out nesting sites?
8. How many eggs do owls typically lay?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. Owls belong to the order Strigiformes
2. There exist 205 different species of owls.
3. The two categories of owls are true owls and barn owls.
4. Eleven different species of owls live in or frequent Maine.
5. Owls live in a wide variety of habitats including dense forests, open woodlands, clear-cuts, and even urban environments.
6. Owls feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, reptiles, birds, insects and rabbits.
7. Owls pick out nesting sites in January-March.
8. Female owls lay two to three eggs that incubate for about a month before hatching.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top Holiday Environmental Hazards for Your Dog

Authors Labrador "Onyx" on Top of Cadillac Mt. 
Best friend, hiking buddy, confidant, dogs are such a critically important part of our lives, as responsible pet owners, it pays huge to understand your dogs needs, as they relate to the holiday season. Even the best behaved dogs can have their manners tested as new treats, strange visitors and other distractions enter the household. While a vast majority of these interactions will be benign, to properly protect your pet, owners should be prepared. Preparation comes in the form of having the right knowledge, skills and even equipment, to ensure that your holiday's are peaceful and not disrupted by a emergency trip with Fido to the veterinarian!

The holidays are fun, festive times filled with things like parties, gift exchanges, and decorating, and the cold weather causes most people to send a lot of their time indoors. As a dog owner, you’re unlikely to overlook man’s best friend during the hustle and bustle, but many people are unaware of the holiday hazards to their dogs that they bring into their homes. What are these common environmental dangers? And what can do owners do - short of erecting a giant DIY dog fence and barricading the Christmas tree - to protect their dogs?

Toxic Holiday Plants
Bringing plants into your home is a great way to bring in some of the life of the outdoors, but you must be particularly careful when you have a dog. Many common houseplants - especially the ones most common at the winter holidays - are toxic to dogs. The safest bet is to opt for the artificial versions, if possible. If not, it’s important to place these plants out-of-reach of your dog, and be sure to clean up any fallen foliage from the ground before your dog does.

Mistletoe will upset your dog’s stomach, and it can cause heart collapse in severe cases. Poinsettia can upset your dog’s stomach, too, and cause severe mouth blisters. Holly can cause pain and vomiting. All of these plants can be fatal if your dog ingests too much of them. Hibiscus and lily plants can also be toxic to dogs. You should also make sure these plants are not growing inside your yard or within the boundaries of your electronic dog fence.

Christmas Tree Concerns
An authentic Christmas tree is the most iconic decoration, but bringing one inside your home creates some unique concerns if you have a dog. Pine needles are toxic to dogs, especially in large amounts (although smaller dogs are more at risk). Even in small amounts, pine needles can irritate your dog’s mouth or stomach. Don’t allow your dog to chew on the branches of an artificial tree, either, because the chemicals used to produce the tree could be toxic.

The water inside your Christmas tree stand is also a potential danger. Stagnant water always breeds bacteria, and any chemicals or pesticides used in growing your Christmas tree will pool inside the stand. If your dog drinks the water, they can become very sick or even die, so it’s a good idea to change the water on a daily basis.

If your dog enjoys chewing on electrical cords, light strands can pose a problem. Glass ornaments, tinsel, and ornament hooks can also cause serious internal damage if ingested. If your dog won’t leave the tree alone, a good solution is an indoor electric fence for dogs. Placing an invisible dog fence around your tree will block your dog’s access to it. Your dog will be kept at a safe distance, and you won’t have to make any changes to the way your Christmas tree looks.

Signs of Stress
Lots of people, noise, and activity might stress you out, but your dog is at a much greater risk of becoming stressed in busy situations. Most dogs are overwhelmed at holiday parties, for example, and they require quiet and solitude to recover. If your dog is too stressed, they can become dehydrated and physically ill, so it’s important to take them to a separate, quieter area, along with plenty of water, so they can rest and recharge.

Dogs can exhibit many different signs of stress, but here are some common ones to look for: cowering, trying to escape, pacing, growling, panting, staring, freezing up, jumping, showing the whites of their eyes, fur standing on end, hiding, or rapid breathing. Since you know your dog better than anyone else, take any behavior that is unusual for them as a sign of stress. If you’re traveling, try to identify a quiet place for your dog to de-stress before they need it. For dogs that are trained with an e-collar, a portable electric dog fence is a good tool for establishing a safe zone for your dog anywhere, including a campground or yard without a fence.

It’s a good idea for all dog owners to know basic dog first aid and CPR, just in case they’re faced with any significant emergencies. As always, keep the phone number to your vet’s emergency line on-hand, and call at the first sign of trouble. If you notice your dog acting strangely or becoming sick, call your vet or an animal hospital for guidance immediately.

Working dogs deserve the best protections available. If you are considering electric dog containment visit www.dogfencediy.com our educational partner for portable and static dog fencing solutions.

Any readers commenting on this post with automatically be entered to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card! Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Tradition of Hunting

This is a short article I wrote for the Nov./Dec. 2015 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

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. 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. 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.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Like Oil and Water, Ethanol and Snowmobiles Don’t Mix

In the 1990s, the federal government changed the Clean Air Act to require the addition of oxygenates to gasoline in order to generate higher octane ratings. This allowed fuel to burn more efficiently, producing cleaner emissions. The original fuel additive chosen to oxygenate gas tanks was Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE). Unfortunately, MTBE was found to be contaminating ground water supplies, creating a wide array of health and environmental concerns. Ethanol was chosen as a safer replacement and has been used almost exclusively since MTBE was discontinued in 2003.

Experts have argued for years over the positive and negative effects of ethanol in gasoline, unfortunately, after years of scientific study, a majority of these stories have been proven true. Many groups, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have even publicly released reports, warning the public about the negative effects of ethanol in gasoline. Marv Klowak, vice president of research and development for Briggs & Stratton, has even publicly stated that, "Ethanol has inherent properties that can cause corrosion of metal parts, including carburetors, degradation of plastic and rubber components, harder starting, and reduced engine life”.

As consumers, we have all heard whispers of these reports and also the multitude of horror stories about how ethanol in gasoline is destroying small engines, including snowmobiles. Given the sizeable investment many of us make in the purchasing and upkeep of our snowmobiles, how can we continue to enjoy our sport without worrying about costly repairs? The key to dealing with ethanol in gasoline is knowledge and prevention. As consumers, we need to understand what makes ethanol bad and take the steps needed to make sure these issues do not negatively affect our snowmobile engines. Snowmobiles are more susceptible to ethanol “enhanced” fuels than almost any other small engine due to the environment and conditions in which snowmobiles operate.

Challenges inherent with ethanol fuels in snowmobiles include:
1. Ethanol has more difficulty absorbing water than straight gasoline, meaning any water accidentally introduced to the fuel mixture tends to collect at the bottom of the gas tank. Water is then pulled into the snowmobile engine, causing it to run rough and stall. Continued operation of the machine, under these conditions, can eventually lead to catastrophic engine damage.
2. In extremely cold temperatures, ethanol stays in a liquid form rather than the gaseous state needed for effective combustion to occur. This issue hampers the ability of a snowmobile engine to start in temperatures below 0F.
3. Ethanol is an alcohol which over time works to dry out and degrade plastic and rubber components, including fuel lines and gaskets. Consequently, snowmobiles built in the 1980s and earlier typically require heavy upgrading to stay running on today's “enriched” gasoline.
4. Alcohol is a solvent that will scour out older fuel systems, eventually clogging filters and choking off the engine's fuel supply.
5. Over time, ethanol ¬oxidizes in fuel tanks leaving behind a thick residue that gums up engine components, leading to engine failure.

Given all of the apparent issues with ethanol enhanced fuels, what can consumers do to protect their equipment for the negative effects?
1. Obviously, the best thing that consumers can do is to buy ethanol free fuels. Sears, Home Depot, Lowes and many retailers sell ethanol-free fuel, though at a premium price. While this is a very viable option for the individual looking to occasionally operate a chainsaw, lawnmower or leaf blower, for the snowmobile enthusiast, the costs and availability of these fuels likely do not warrant their use.
2. Always use Sta-Bil, StarTron or other similar enzyme products designed to treat blended gasoline. These products work by dispensing water equally throughout the gasoline/ethanol mixture instead of allowing the water to collect at the bottom of the gas tank. These products also work to help keep engines running more effectively by cleaning existing gum and varnish out of the engine.
3. Never store blended gasoline for longer than three months. If only needing smaller amounts of fuel, use a small 2 gallon plastic gas storage tank rather than a larger 5 gallon tank. This will encourage more trips to the gas station to refill; ensuring fresh fuel is delivered to equipment.
4. Use a good quality synthetic snowmobile oil with detergents and lubricants such as AMSOil and LUCAS oil. These further help keep engines clean and combat the effects of ethanol based fuels.
5. At the conclusion of the snowmobiling season, drain the fuel tank and run the engine until it quits.
This draws all of the ethanol gasoline out of the tank and fuel lines, avoiding many of the problems outlined above.

Armed with this knowledge and prevention tips, snowmobile riders should find themselves more equipped this season to better understand ethanol based fuels, avoid potential problems and prolong the life of their machine. Drive safe, wear a helmet and enjoy this snowmobile season!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Smoking Cold Whitetails and Ice Hot Fishing Action

Muzzleloader Whitetails
For some hearty sportsmen, the first two weeks of December mean hunting the state’s whitetail deer population with muzzleloader. For those looking to join in on this challenging pursuit, the hunt is open statewide November 30th to December 5th and in WMD’s 12, 13,15 through 18, 20 through 26 and 29 from December 7-12th. In the past several seasons, hunters have enjoyed light snow on the ground during the first few weeks of December, allowing an excellent opportunity for sportsmen to track deer.

Compared to stand hunting, chasing deer on the ground is an exciting way to pursue this elusive and crafty game animal. A popular method of locating deer tracks still employs driving logging roads at first light and looking for fresh tracks. Once a fresh track of suitable size is located, the hunter slowly and methodically follows the track until the animal is found, the track is lost, the hunter tires or night falls. While a process simple in thought, tracking and still hunting is an art form and more often than not the deer wins.

Hunters can increase their chances in this endeavor by continued practice and by pre-scouting prime areas using game cameras and putting boots to the ground. Hunters looking to try their luck during this year’s muzzleloader season would be well served to begin their search for tracks by driving the roads surrounding First Lake (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, E-4) and Second, Third and Fourth Lake (Map 35, D-4). These areas not only contain a vast maze of navigable logging roads but also contain direct access to suitable deer habitat.

Ice Fishing White Perch on Baskahegan Lake
By late December, my thoughts turn to hardwater fishing and part of my regular daily routine is the monitoring of ice conditions on area lakes and ponds. Depending on the year, early ice fishing can be had on Baskahegan Lake (Map 45, C-3) in Topsfield, Maine. At 6,815 acres Baskahegan Lake is the third largest lake in Washington County and boasts a highly productive warm-water fishery. The lake is open to ice fishing for all fish except salmon, trout, togue and bass from ice in until December 31; and then open to ice fishing for all fish species from January 1 through March 31. Early season anglers tend to target the hearty white perch population, where there currently exists a generous 25 fish bag limit.

Ice fishing for white perch is one of my favorite things to do, as they are relatively easy to catch and rank as one of the most delectable fresh water game species. Generally white perch populations consist of large numbers of undersized fish, which some anglers perceive as fish that should be released to grow to a larger size. Smaller fish are however the product of an overabundant, slow growing population and need to be harvested to increase the growth potential of the overall population. Thinning of overpopulated white perch populations also has the added benefit of enhancing the growth and production of other desirable sport species in those waters.

When fishing Baskahegan or other lakes and ponds containing white perch, anglers should temporarily put aside their catch and release philosophies and instead work to fill their freezers. The best times to fish for “Whites” is dawn and dusk, when the species is at its most voracious. Anglers should target these aggressively feeding fish in a zone approximately 2-4 feet off the bottom. Drilling 3-4 times the number of holes needed at the beginning of the day allows anglers to later quickly and efficiently cover a large area to locate fish without added fish scaring noise and physical effort. A wide variety of lures and baits can be employed to put fish into the bucket but for anglers preferring to jig, the Swedish pimple in size 0 and small perch jigs in pink, red and orange seem to be perch favorites. If bites don’t begin occurring quickly, anglers should switch lure color, jigging speed and location until fish begin biting; this is all part of the excitement for the perch angler, figuring out that perfect combination that will trigger an explosion in the action.

For those employing the use of ice fishing traps, a light weight line of 4 pound is recommended. A smelt or shiner presented about 4 feet off the bottom can typically entice even the most finicky of whites to bite. Once a trap springs, pull up the perch and immediately drop a jig into the hole. The struggling of the caught fish is sometime all that is required to whip the rest of the school into a feeding frenzy and anglers can often pull several additional fish out of one hole. While it is perfectly acceptable to employ this method on your own holes, etiquette dictates anglers refrain from employing this method on the holes of their friends.

Baskahegan is an extremely large body of water but a majority of the fishing occurs in close proximity to the boat access site in Brookton about one mile from U.S. Rt. #1. Those wishing to encounter more fish would be better served to travel by snowmobile or ATV to some of the more remote areas of the lake such as Lindsey Cove at the mouth of Baskahegan Stream or the northern tip of Long Island.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Going to the Dogs, Hounding Bear with Spaulding Lake Outfitters

The echoing chorus of the pack, suddenly fractures the early morning silence and the chase is on. My heart rate quickens as the howls of the excited hounds reaches crescendo, indicating they are hot on the trail of a bruin. Early game camera pictures had indicated that a bear well in excess of 200 pounds had been a regular visitor to this bait site and I hoped the hounds were on his track.

As the sounds of the hounds begin to grow distant, I wander over to the guide to examine his handheld GPS dog tracking unit. A true marvel, the GPS unit is capable of tracking the movements of each individual dog, as well as indicating when a dog is sitting (resting) or has treed a bear. Given the massive size of the territory we are hunting, I cannot fathom how difficult hounding must have been before these units and their predecessors radio collar telemetry were created. How a hound man ever recovered his dogs after chasing a bear across this massively expansive country must have required a Herculean effort. Watching the hounds give chase to the bear on the small screen is addictive. The track of the hounds is overlaid on a detailed topographical map and shows the bear following streams and crawling through cedar bogs in an effort to evade the rapidly advancing hounds.

As the hounds chase the bear toward another accessible road, the guide shouts that we need to roll and in seconds we begin rocketing down the gravel backroad in an effort to cut off the bear. We arrive at the location, shut off the truck and quietly wait and watch the GPS tracker. "Bear should be on top of us any second", says the guide. My adrenaline surges as I intently watch the woods for movement. A minute passes and suddenly I see something moving through the bushes toward us at a great rate of speed. The animal erupts from the spruce thicket and instead of a bear, it's lead dog Nash. Nash blows by me without even a look, wild on the hot scent of bear. "Must have just missed him crossing", says the guide "let's catch the trailing dogs, throw them in the truck and replace them with fresh dogs".

Maine law only allows 6 dogs be used at a time be to chase a bear and so several hounds wait impatiently in the back of the truck for their chance to join the chase. The trailing dogs, despite being hot and thirsty, don't want to quit the chase and whine incessantly when placed back in the truck. The fresh dogs, now released, charge into the underbrush, eager to join their friends at the party. The fresh dogs rapidly catch the lead dog and soon I see on the screen that all of the dogs have stopped, their icons all indicating that they are placing their paws on a tree or looking up, a sure sign a bear is treed.

"850 yards", says the guide and I begin thinking this will be easy. As I step into the forest, however, I see that this journey is going to be anything but "easy". Tangled alder bogs, spruce thickets, blow downs and all sorts of woodland challenges stand in our way and as the temperature soars, I know this is going to be an adventure. We move slowly, methodically watching our footing and taking care to avoid mechanical injury. After about an hour, the once distant howls of the hounds have grown to high intensity. Through the thick underbrush, I can see the hounds and as we edge closer, I can see the black outline of a large bear about 35 feet up a large pine tree.

The massive bear, to my surprise, appears comfortable and almost relaxed sitting on his high perch, seemingly unconcerned at the commotion occurring at the base of the tree. As we nudged closer, the guide warns that despite the bears lasai fair attitude, I should not be lulled into complacency. A bear's actions can be erratic and a treed animal can rapidly develop a change of temperament the moment it begins to feel threatened.

I slowly pull up my weapon of choice for this expedition, a small video camera, and begin recording the event. It's exciting, fascinating really to be this close to a black bear if this size. While I enjoy hunting bears with a firearm, this day we are not hunting, instead we are training dogs for the upcoming bear hounding season. Even absent of a fatal end for Mr. Bear, I am relishing the opportunity to be involved in this spectacle. The guide asks me to stand back and one at a time he begins pulling the excited hounds off the base of the tree, tethering each in turn to a nearby tree. As the guide starts to pull the last dog, he warns that the bear will likely descend rapidly, seeing his chance to escape. I back up a few additional yards and while I keep video taping with my left hand, my right hand instinctively drops to rest on the grip of my .357 Magnum.

As soon as the guide pulls the last dog, the bear slides down the tree and rockets into the underbrush faster than a person can blink. The bears movement is so unnaturally fast, that it makes you realize how quickly this situation could go bad, if not for the experience of a professional hounds man, his aggressive hounds and a little luck. As the bear races off, the hounds again go crazy, wanting, no needing to do that one amazing thing they were bred to do, give chase.

The walk out is again tiring, dragging out the obstinate dogs but I also relish that my back is not also loaded with 150 pounds of de-boned bear meat and hide. Upon reaching the truck, we box the hounds and enjoy a quiet lunch. The dogs, finally accepting that the chase for today is done, peacefully drink water and settle down in the hay to nap. Tired but elated, by the entire experience, I began to ponder how fun it would be for others, both hunter and non-hunter to participate in such a traditional hunting method as the running of the hounds.

I think that no matter how you feel about hunting, everyone should at least participate this event at least once in their lives. Special thanks to Jeff Fey of Spaulding Lake Outfitters for allowing me to join hums and his rambunctious hounds on an adrenaline packed morning in Maine's wild lands. If interested in joining Spaulding Lake Outfitters for the 2016 season to run bears with hounds or hunt bears with hounds or over bait, be sure to give Jeff Fey a call!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Hunting Whitetails from Ground Blinds

Author with 8-Point Buck from 2014 Maine Deer Season
As I “mature”, I am less and less interested in deer hunting from elevated tree stands. While these devices allow a hunter to climb high into the tree canopy, well out of the visual range of most whitetails, what they don’t provide is security and comfort, two items that have become more and more critical as I have gotten older. Perhaps the greatest benefit of a ground blind is that a hunter is on the ground, there is no need to wear a safety harness, chance a fall or be afraid to take a mid afternoon nap.

When a hunter pairs a blind with a folding camp chair, one elevates their deer hunting to a whole new level of safety and comfort. Modern day ground blinds come in a wide variety of models that are lightweight, portable and can accommodate between 1-6 hunters. These blinds are constructed of wind blocking fabric that not only keep a hunter warmer but also helps confine a hunter’s scent within a small area.

Some of the more expensive blind models are even waterproof and do a fine job of keeping a hunter dry throughout a long rainy afternoon. Ground blinds have the added benefit of allowing a hunter to be mobile and flexible on where they plan to hunt. Ground blinds do not require hunters to locate a suitable tree, allowing for easy setups on field edges, power lines, clear cuts and other areas where tree growth won’t support a ladder or climbing tree stand.

Because ground blinds will be in direct view of an approaching deer, it pays to either put the blind out a few days before hunting or make sure that the blinds are blended well into their surroundings by covering them with cut brush and foliage. Also, even though some blinds are constructed of scent blocker material, care should still be taken to ensure blinds are setup downwind of the predominant wind direction for the hunting area.

Hunters wishing to pack light can quickly construct ground blinds onsite by utilizing dead branches and camouflaged burlap cloth. If these blinds are constructed on land where hunters have secured permission, the blinds can even be left up for the entire season or multiple seasons of use. On my private property, I have constructed rugged deer blinds out of freight pallets that I use season after season. After deer season is complete, ground blinds serve as a great way to stay warm throughout the winter while hunting coyotes.

Some people even use their ground blinds as ice fishing shacks, just be sure to strongly stake them to the ice so they don’t blow away! Pursuing whitetails Down East may require sitting in a blind for long periods of time. Even when hunting from a ground blind with a good quality chair, sitting relatively motionless for hours can get uncomfortable. Aleve, also know as sodium naproxen is an over-the-counter pain reliever that provides temporary relief of minor aches and pains and also really helps deer hunters from being fidgety when their back, legs and neck starts to ache after sitting for long periods of time.

Also, wearing loose fitting clothing, letting out a few belt notches or wearing one piece hunting clothing similar to coveralls allows for better blood circulation and added comfort. Allen Heath (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 25, A-2) and Beech Hill Heath (Map 25, B-3) located in close proximity to Pleasant River Lake (Map 25, A-2) contains wide open expanses of open timber, clear cuts and blueberry barrens, perfect for hunting whitetails using ground blinds.

In my travels around Down East this summer, I was impressed with the amount and quality of deer sign that seems to be beginning to return to the woods. While the population is still struggling, I would not be surprised if this season harvest numbers, in Washington County, are higher than previous years. For those sportsmen looking to increase their odds, get off the roads and into the woods!

While heater hunting is a popular pastime in Washington County, big bucks will be going nocturnal and pushing well off the beaten path as soon as hunters begin entering the woods on November 1st. For those hunters looking for an adventure and big racks, I suggest exploring the northern most reaches of Washington County and visiting Danforth (Map 45, B-3) and the spider web of unimproved roads around Stetson Mountain (Map 45, C-2), Howard Ridge (Map 45, C-3) and Hays Bog (Map 45, C-3). While these areas don’t hold lots of deer they do hold big deer and during a visit, be sure to check out the deer harvest sheet in the Danforth country store to verify what hunters are pulling out of the local woods!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - American Woodcock

The American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), also known simply as Woodcock or Timberdoodle, inhabits forests, brushlands and agricultural areas throughout the United States and Canada. A migratory creature by nature, Woodcock spend the cold winter months in the south and return north in the spring to breed. During breeding season, males attract females by putting on an impressive courtship ritual that courtship involves the male flying hundreds of feet into the air and rapidly descending back to earth while loudly chirping. Hens, of breeding age, watch these impressive aerial displays and pick mates.

Once bred, the hen makes a nest on the ground comprised of leaves and twigs. Hens lay one to four eggs that hatch in about 20 days. The female woodcock care for the fledglings, feeding and warning them of danger, until they become self-sufficient at about five weeks of age. In the wild, those woodcock that survive predation by fox, coyotes and bobcats live to about 8 years of age.

The American woodcock posses a plump torso, short legs and large rounded head with unassuming body plumage in various shades of muted browns, grays, and black and a tan colored chest. More predominant identifying features include its large eyes and long prehensile bill. The eyes boast an incredible visual field larger than any avian species, while its unique bill is perfectly adapted to capture, its primary food source, earthworms. The population of the American woodcock has been on a continual decline since the 1960s. Scientists attribute the decline to a loss of habitat, caused by urban development.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What other names is the American Woodcock known by?
2. What is the primary habitat and range of the American Woodcock?
3. Does the American Woodcock migrate?
4. Where does the American Woodcock nest?
5. How long does it take for an American Woodcock egg to hatch?
6. How long does an American Woodcock live?
7. What are the predominant features of an American Woodcock?
8. What is the biggest factor in the declining population of the American Woodcock?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The American Woodcock is also known simply as Woodcock or Timberdoodle.
2. The American Woodcock inhabits forests, brushlands and agricultural areas throughout the United States and Canada.
3. Yes, the American Woodcock spend the cold winter months in the south and return north in the spring to breed.
4. The American Woodcock nests on the ground.
5. American Woodcock eggs hatch in about 20 days.
6. An American Woodcock lives to approximately 8 years of age.
7. The predominant features of an American Woodcock include its large eyes and long prehensile bill.
8. The biggest factor in the declining population of the American Woodcock is loss of habitat caused by urban development.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Wood Duck Hunting with Dad

I took Dad out this past weekend for a bit of duck hunting and in the process, I think I blew the poor guys mind. Though he certainly shot ducks in the past, his last experience waterfowl hunting occurred almost 40 years ago. In his youth, a majority of his waterfowling consisted of crawling on his belly along marsh edging and jump shooting. When I inquired how the downed ducks were retrieved, he responded that he and his brothers would simple swim out and get them. BRRRR! Apparently duck hunters were tougher back then!

Dad laughed at the number of decoys I put out and almost fell over backwards when I pulled out the battery powered spinning wing “Mojo” and placed it on a long steel pole in the center of the marsh. He gave me one of those "looks" and then inquired if that THING would actually attract ducks. I insured him that it would and was shot a highly skeptical glance. We had a beautiful morning, the ducks flew well and Dad and I both had our fair share of shooting. Well, as you can imagine, Dad called last night and wants to go out hunting again this weekend . . . I am going to go out on a limb and assume he had a GREAT time! After I hung up the phone, I began to ponder just why Dad had such a fantastic time? Granted anytime a father and son are able to spend quality time together it is always a special occasion but what other elements combined to offer Dad such a thrilling adventure? The secret I determined is that whether hunting with veteran hunters, newbies, youth or practically anyone, it is critical over all other aspects, to end the day on a positive note.

While being warm, well fed, hydrated and comfortable certainly rank high on the list of factors contributing to a successful outing, a man, woman or child will temporarily ignore minor discomforts when the prospects of game are plentiful. With duck hunting, success is contingent on knowing well the area you hunt. Start scouting well before the season begins and watch and listen for ducks flying at dawn. While extensive scouting is critical, hunters short on time and looking for that special “waterfowl nirvana”, contains the proper balance of food, shelter and security that the ducks find intoxicating, should explore “fowl” spots like the East Machias River (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, A-2) in the vicinity of Oak Point Meadow (Map 26, A-2) and the junction of Rocky Lake Stream (Map 26, A-3). These areas have long held healthy populations of waterfowl guaranteed to end anyone’s hunt on a positive note.

While sharing time with friends and family in the warmth and comfort of a duck blind is fun, some days it pays to stay mobile, pursuing ducks on small rivers, streams and creeks with a canoe. When these areas are filled with aquatic vegetation and surrounded by overhanging oak trees they are also typically filled to the brim with wood ducks.

As a waterfowler, there is no greater prize than the harvesting of a wood duck drake. An incredibly vibrant colored creature, it is easily the prettiest duck and a true personal trophy. Small, speedy and often times difficult to call, they are an immensely challenging duck to shoot on the wing. I shoot a Franchi semi-automatic 12-gauge, with a modified choke and prefer 2 ¾ inch loads of No. 4s for wood ducks. Shooting is typically close and fast and the generous pattern and low recoil combine to allow a hunter to more easily stay on target and deliver follow-up shots if necessary. Shoot fast at the first good opportunity as wood ducks won’t make multiple swings.

When a wood duck is shot, carefully mark where it falls and be ready for a finishing shot. For such a small duck woodies are tough and notorious for diving and never returning to the surface. Wood ducks prefer cover, so while canoeing backwaters, pay close attention to heavy vegetation, stumps, downed branches, toppled trees and other places where the birds are out of the water but still close by while resting. Often times a hunter won’t even see the ducks till they burst wildly out of cover, screaming their characteristic WEEEEP, WEEEEP, WEEEEP call.

A slow canoe trip down the Little River (Map 35, C-4) or Musquash Stream (Map 35, C-5) and other similar waterways are sure to produce wood ducks early in the season before cooler temps force them south. Hunters harvesting wood ducks or “woodies” are richly rewarded, as their delicate, light red meat is tender, mild, and juicy, ranking them as the most delectable of all duck species.

Care must be taken however as any duck thrown into the muddy reeds on a warm October day is going to taste bad. Instead, carry a small (camouflaged) cooler with some ice and place the ducks inside until returning home where they can be properly cleaned. Wood ducks are naturally delicious and as such many hunters make the mistake of “over preparing” them for the dinner table. The best wood duck recipe is one that allows the natural rich flavor of the duck to present itself and not be drowned out by sauce or other flavors. One of my favorite recipes for wood ducks is cutting breast meat into one inch cubes and placing on a skewer alternated with chunks of canned pineapple. Cook the meat to medium rare, allowing the pineapples to lightly caramelize on the breast meat, leaving behind a light, sugary irresistible flavor.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Old Man Shoots a Moose

Article featured in The Maine Sportsman Magazine, September 2015 Special Edition

Sitting in the hot and crowded gymnasium in Rangeley, I almost fell out of my seat when I heard the old man’s name called over the loud speaker. After over 20 years of applying, Dad’s dream of being drawn for a coveted moose tag had finally come true. The months, after the initial exhilaration of the drawing, dragged by slowly but as September edged closer, Dad’s excitement reached crescendo. Having participated on my own moose hunt in 2004, I well understood the difficulties inherent in hunting moose. Despite all these complications, I relished the challenge of helping Dad shoot a moose.

Drawn for a bull permit in zone 2, Dad’s chances of shooting a bull moose were exceptionally high and even further increased, by our stay at Red River Camps, a remote outpost located deep in the middle of the zone. Due to challenging work schedules, Dad would be unable to arrive at Red River until late Tuesday afternoon. Further complicating matters, my brother and his strong back would only be with us until Wednesday evening . . . we need to shoot a moose and quick!

Having a more flexible work schedule, I arrived on Sunday and spent all day Monday and Tuesday scouting. While scouting, I watched 20 bulls get hauled out of clear cuts, shot by other hunters…it was a scene I found both thrilling and frustrating. Dad and my brother arrived at camp Tuesday afternoon and after quickly dropping off supplies and a large trailer at camp, we proceeded to inspect a few of the locations, I had scouted previously. We pulled onto a short secondary road, carefully got out of the trucks and using a small electronic hand held caller, set forth a few loud cow in heat bellows and were shocked when a bull responded only 60-70 yards away. Quietly picking our way down a short logging road, a huge bull violently emerged from the underbrush, took three steps into the road, turned and disappeared as quickly as he had originally appeared. I could hear Dad’s heart beating from 10 yards away and I motioned for him to take a knee and brace his rifle. After an hour of cow calling, the light began to fade and we were forced to give up on the old behemoth bull. Meandering back to our vehicle, our conversation was energized, hopeful and filled with the promise of what the next day would bring.

After a night of restless sleep, we plowed full force into Wednesday but despite monumental efforts including hours of driving, sitting in clear cuts and calling, we were only successful in spotting several cows and a calf moose, not a single bull was seen. As quickly as the bulls had appeared, they had also as quickly vanished. With the setting of the sun, we said our goodbyes to my brother and we retired Wednesday night with tempered hopes.

Thursday morning we were beginning to feel the pressure and despite the urge to explore new logging roads, ultimately we decided to stay in our core area, knowing that moose were plentiful and if we were persistent, luck would eventually turn in our favor. Slowly driving down the first road of the morning, I remarked to Dad that he had to stay vigilant as a moose could at first look like a rock, bush or even that fallen tree . . . just as I said the words “tree”, the “tree” we had booth been looking at moved and standing broadside was a large cow moose.

I stopped the truck and told dad to get out load his gun. While I was not completely certain that the cow was traveling with a bull, I determined it was better to be prepared than scramble at the last minute. Dad and I sat for over 20 minutes watching the cow quietly feeding and were just about to give up hope when a small bull emerged from the woods only 20 yards behind the cow. For such a large creature, the moose is a master of camouflage, practically impossible to see in the deep dark Maine woods when not moving. Seconds later, a thunderous shot erupted from Dad’s Marlin XL7 .30-06 and the moose dropped. Standing there in amazement, at how quickly our luck had changed, we watched in disbelief as the bull slowly began to stand. Again the .30-06 barked and again the moose dropped, this time for eternity.

As the adrenaline subsided, Dad and I began to comprehend the impossibilities of the situation. The moose lay 200 yards up wildly overgrown tangle of spruce swamp, filled with sink holes, fallen logs, stumps and hazards where no man should ever venture. Even equipped with tow ropes and a come-along, the situation looked grim. Our woes were further compounded, by a temperature that at 8:30AM had climbed to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While we had brought plenty of gear and ice filled coolers to properly extract, butcher and pack out the moose, all this equipment was back at camp, a two hour round trip. We had both made the cardinal mistake of complacency, firmly believing that Dad would likely not shoot a moose that morning.

While guiding bear hunters, I once witnessed two men dissect a 365 pound black bear in a little over an hour. Knowing this, I determined that Dad and I equipped with axes and knifes, could dissemble this small bull and hand carry it to the truck in a relatively short expanse of time. Working together, with one man cutting and another carrying, we could potentially transport the entire moose out of the woods, without the need to tow it out and use a trailer. Though understandably a herculean effort, it was still highly feasible. Though this solved our problem of not having ropes or a trailer, it did little to solve our issue of not having a viable place to put the meat where it could be kept from spoiling. Eyeing the large blue tarp in the back of the truck, I hatched a plan to construct a large container in the trucks back seat to hold the meat and by running the air conditioner on high, keep the meat at a cool temperature until it could be transported into town for butchering. With a plan in place, the old man and I began cutting and carrying and by 12:30 PM had managed to cram the entire back of my Toyota extend cab with moose meat. The head we placed in the back of the truck, to comply with Maine law requiring a visual presentation of a harvested big game animal. Pulling into the game tagging station in Patton, Dad and I received a very surprised look from the attendant as he noted the moose carcass crammed into the back of my truck. While I am certain that he likely has seen some pretty amazing bull moose in this day, I doubt he will ever forget the day the guys showed up with a moose in their back seat.

Sometimes despite how much you plan and prepare, things still go wrong. Being resilient and able to overcome problems is the key to “Yankee ingenuity” or our exceptional ability as Mainers to understand and overcome difficulties.

Bear Hunt Taken to the Extreme

This is a short article I wrote for the Sept/Oct 2015 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

 I have to admit that standing half naked in the middle of the Maine woods with two individuals I had met only hours before was a little unnerving (especially as the sound of the dueling banjos from “Deliverance” began to play in the back of my head) but this was my first bear hunt and I was determined to take every step possible to insure I provided myself with the highest level of opportunity to tag a massive bruin. I guess what I had forgotten to think about, as I reveled in the brilliance of my advanced preparations in scent control was how I was going to change into my scent free clothes once I had arrived at the bait spot.

Unfortunately, things had not gone as planned and upon arriving I was forced into putting on a “show” for my new friends; while taking a barrage of sarcastic comments on how they planned to rent me out to a few bachelorette parties that weekend for beer money. 

 To better understand how I had allowed myself to arrive at this point of humiliation, I need to rewind to October 2006 when in a casual conversation I mentioned to my Uncle Kim (a registered Maine guide from Grand Lake Stream) that I would like to go on a bear hunt. A few months later, my Uncle called to inform me that he had cashed in a couple favors and come September 2007 I would be going on a bear hunt. As I hung up the phone I had a huge smile on my face and could barely contain my excitement with the anticipation of fulfilling one of my lifetime dreams. Like many of my other adventures this one began with educating myself with the task at hand and almost immediately I began researching all things “bear” in books, on the Internet and on hunting shows trying to learn as much as possible about their habits, haunts and behaviors. Part of this research, had informed me that a bear’s sense of smell is as sensitive if not better than a deer and because of his fact, I planned to take the same precautions as I would on a deer hunt and washed all of my hunting clothes in no scent soap, dried them outside and finally packed them in a dry bag with pine and spruce boughs to preserve them from absorbing any offensive odors. My plan had been simple, to wear my regular street clothes on the drive to the bait site and then change into my hunting apparel once I arrived. So perhaps now you can see how I ended up with very little clothing on in a desolate and unnamed Township somewhere in the wilds of Washington County with two individuals I barely knew.

Well, I can honestly tell you that during that first evening on the stand I knew that I was hooked on bear hunting. Every squeaking tree branch, changing shadow and crunching leaf set my heart racing. Though I can’t put my finger on precisely what it is about bear hunting that makes it so definitively different from other hunts but for me there is a thrill to it that sets it far apart for other big game. For over three hours, I sat overwhelmed with my good fortune at being able to be in this place and mesmerized by a gymnastics display by what I believe to be one of the largest red squirrel colonies in the state of Maine. Those of you who have never sat over a bear bait let me assure you that doughnuts and cake are as much liked by red squirrels as by bears. As I watched the sun slowly sink to the horizon, I heard several shots in that critical half an hour before the end of legal hunting time when bears become increasingly more active and I waited intently hoping that my chance might be next. However, by the end of my first night on the stand no bear arrived but I was still filled with excitement and hope as to what the next evening might bring.

 Upon arriving back at the truck the CB radio crackled with activity that indicated the other members of the various parties had taken sizeable bruins. I was very excited at the chance to see a bear up close and personal, as until this evening the few bear I had seen in my lifetime had either been by chance encounter while deer or partridge hunting. With suicidal intent, we raced back toward town down the twisting dirt roads narrowly missing large boulders protruding from the road surface and washouts the size of the Grand Canyon. We incredibly managed to arrive back in town, shaken but not stirred, and immediately went to check out the bruins. Two of the harvested bears were in the 300 lb range and each where beautiful specimens both with thick black coats and one with a large white chest patch. The third bear (actually filmed by the hunter and watched by me about half a dozen times) was hit with what appeared to be a beautiful shot just behind the huge bruins forward shoulder with a Marlin 45-70. Unfortunately, although tracked with hounds and my very enthusiastic cousin until about 1:00 AM that evening and then again at first light the following morning the bear even after these exhaustive measures was not recovered.

During a late dinner that night that consisted of appetizers of deer venison jerky, jalapeƱo cheese and crackers and a main course of ½ lb moose burgers, fresh corn on the cob and garlic mashed potatoes my uncle expressed a list of concerns with the “limited” power of my 30-30 Marlin. As many of you know the Marlin 45-70 is a sizeable caliber capable of launching a projectile that packs an incredible amount of down range energy (especially at a bear bait site where most shots are less than 25 yards) but after the previous nights unfortunate recovery debacle and my inexperience with bear hunting I listened intently to his argument. I attempted to explain that I had used the 30-30 Marlin extensively on whitetails for over 15 years with zero recovery problems, however, he was adamant that I needed to take this hunt to the “extreme” and use a more substantial firearm. My presented weaponry of choice, produced from his extensive arsenal, consisted of either a pump action 760 Remington .308 or Remington semi-auto .270. That afternoon after taking both guns to the gravel pit and poking at a target at about 50 yards from various sitting and standing positions I decided that the .270 was a better fit and even though I was shooting a gun that I was completely unfamiliar with, typically a BIG no-no for me personally on any hunt, I relented to his pleas.

The second night I arrived at the stand around 3:00 PM and once again put on a show for my new friend and another buddy of his who was planning to shoot his bear with a Smith and Wesson 500 magnum. I noted that the other hunter was wearing his hunting clothes and seemed unconcerned that my “extreme” scent control measures were the least bit necessary. Having come this far, however, I decided not to change my tactics and I put on my clothes and sprayed down with a healthy dose of activated carbon scent eliminator.

I sat on the bait for the entire evening watching the red squirrels and listening to the calls of the chickadee and as the shadows lengthened and as the golden hour approached I heard a single distant shot from the Smith and Wesson 500 but as the sun sank below the horizon I knew that a bear this year for me was not going to happen. I arrived back at camp and was pleased to see that the other hunter was excited to have been able to shoot his bear with a pistol and he was busy making plans to butcher it for future table fare and of his good fortune I could not have been happier. To say that I was disappointed would not be entirely correct but I had been hopeful. In the end, it was an “extreme” privilege to be able to get a chance to hunt for bear this season and the people of Grand Lake Stream always make my visits incredibly enjoyable. I have a saying that hunting is only about 5% about the actual taking of a game animal and the other 95% is about the friends you meet, memories that are made, stories that are swapped and time spent in the field learning about the many wonders that Mother Nature has to offer.

As I sat in the camp on Wabassus lake that evening playing a friendly game of cribbage with my uncle I rejoiced that I had been allowed to spend this time with him and in my mind I was already making plans to come back again on another “extreme” bear hunt.

Wildlife Quiz - Small Mouth Bass

The Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) exist as freshwater member of the sunfish family. The Smallmouth Bass differs from the Largemouth Bass in that its upper jaw of does not extend beyond the back of the eye. The Smallmouth Bass goes by many other names such as Smallie, Bronzeback, Brownie, Black Bass, Brown Bass, and Bareback Bass. Originally a native to the Mississippi River, Saint Lawrence River, Great Lakes, and Hudson Bay, through stocking the Smallmouth Bass can now be found inhabiting lakes, streams and rivers across Canada and the United States.

Smallmouth Bass commonly live 5-7 years, with a few impressive individuals reaching 10-20 years of age. Older adult Smallmouth Bass can attain lengths up to 27 inches and weigh as much as 12 pounds but in Maine, only a few individuals ever exceed 5 pounds. Male Smallies weigh around two pounds, while females tend to be larger, averaging three to five pounds.

The Maine state record smallmouth bass stands at 8 pounds and was caught in Thompson Lake by George Dyer in 1970. The current world record for a smallmouth bass is 11 lb 15 oz. 

When water temperatures warm to the mid-50s, smallmouths begin move into the shallow flats to spawn. Spawning occurs in water 3-15 feet deep, in small diameter gravel nests that border underwater stumps, boulders and vegetation. The female can lay up to 20,000 eggs, which are guarded by the male until they hatch.

Voracious eaters, Smallmouth Bass prey upon almost anything they can fit in their mouths and have even been observed eating frogs, mice and birds. Their tenacity makes Smallmouth Bass one of the most popular game species, regarded for its size by many anglers as, "the gamest fish that swims".

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is the difference between a Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass?
 2. What was the original native range of the Smallmouth Bass?
 3. How long does a Smallmouth Bass typically live?
4. What is the largest Smallmouth Bass caught in Maine?
5. What is the weight of the world record Smallmouth Bass?
6. When do Smallmouth Bass spawn?
7. How many eggs do Smallmouth Bass lay?
8. What large prey species have Smallmouth Bass been seen feeding upon?

 Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. The Smallmouth Bass differs from the Largemouth Bass in that its upper jaw of does not extend beyond the back of the eye.
 2. The Smallmouth Bass was originally a native to the Mississippi River, Saint Lawrence River, Great Lakes, and Hudson Bay.
3. Smallmouth Bass commonly live 5-7 years.
4. The Maine state record smallmouth bass stands at 8 pounds and was caught in Thompson Lake by George Dyer in 1970.
5. The current world record for a smallmouth bass is 11 lb 15 oz.
6. Smallmouth Bass begin move into the shallow flats to spawn, when water temperatures warm to the mid-50s.
7. Female Smallmouth Bass can lay up to 20,000 eggs.
8. Smallmouth Bass have been observed eating frogs, mice and birds.

The 12 Month Grand Slam

This September, I will be working to complete my lifelong dream of harvesting each of Maine’s big game animals (deer, turkey, bear and moose) in a single calendar year. Know as the Maine “grand slam”, it is an achievement only made possible by drawing a coveted moose tag, being a skilled and lucky hunter and heavily supported by gracious family and friends. After harvesting an 8 point buck last hunting season and shooting a turkey this spring with my bow, I realized after being drawn in the lottery for a September bull tag in zone 2, that if I was successful on the moose hunt and harvested a bear my dream could potentially become a reality.

The first week of September, I will be participating in the Maine bear hunt, sitting at a bait site and patiently awaiting the arrival of a bruin. This hunt will be followed by a few weeks off, before I head back into the wilds of the far north for a chance at a bull moose. Both hunts will require months of plotting and planning, if I hope to have any chance of achieving my goal.

Tantamount to success, will be a solid understanding of the strengths and limitations of my hunting rifle. These skills can only be learned through regular shooting practice. I am convinced that a majority of hunters simply do not spend the proper amount of time on the range, needed to really learn their favorite hunting rifle. This lack of comfort causes a hunter to be much slower to shot and additionally less confident in their abilities, when a shot opportunity arises, slight out of their comfort range. For me, shooting practice will mean weekly visits to the local gravel pit, taking shots at targets from 25-300 yards and from various shooting positions (sitting, kneeling, standing and from shooting sticks).

I encourage all hunters to spend time on the range before heading afield; it will ultimately make a person a better more confident sportsman. Though a truly monstrous size animal with bulls nudging over 1200 pounds, they are still very difficult to locate in the thick woods of Down East, Maine. Low numbers create the proverbial “needle in the hay sack” scenario, creating much difficulty in finding these titanic creatures. To locate a moose, you first need to find appropriate moose habitat. This can be done by studying your Gazeteer or using Google earth to virtually scout areas with limited human access, swamps and areas bordering small lily pad ponds.

Moose hunters heading Down East (Wildlife Management District (WMD) 19) will be well served exploring the vast network of logging roads around Little Musquash Lake (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, D-4), West and East Monroe Ponds (Map 35, D-4) and Musquash Stream (Map 35, C-5). Moose can frequently be found, during early mornings and late evenings, patrolling these shallow ponds, dipping their heads under the water to uproot their favorite food, the common water lily. These salt rich plants are a moose favorite. Hunters finding small ponds filled with these treats would be well served to stake out these spots during dusk and dawn.

While a majority of hunters are familiar with calling moose, most do not realize that moose, like deer, can be lured by sexual as well as curiosity scents. Moose are inquisitive creatures and will frequently investigate the smells of other moose or strange smells that are not perceived as dangerous. Hunters can use this trait to their advantage, using scents to pull moose out of the deep Down East woods and into shooting range. Several companies make moose lures but my personal favorite is the type that is ignited and burns like an incense stick. The trick to successfully using this product is to take a 5 gallon bucket and drill 8-10 ½ inch holes in the top sides about 1 inch up from the bottom. Take a shovel and clear a patch of earth down to bare earth in an area slightly bigger than the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket. This “clearing” is to ensure that nothing catches fire while the incense sticks burn. Next take 2 incense sticks, poke them into the ground, light them and place the bucket over the top. The bucket will protect the slowly burning sticks from rain or strong winds that could extinguish them, while still allowing the smoke to slowly escape. This set-up creates a huge scent cloud that saturates the entire target area. Once allowed to burn all night, it is sometimes a simple matter of arriving early the next morning and shooting your love sick bull moose as he stands drooling over the smoldering bucket.

Moose hunters looking for a location to base their zone 19 hunt should consider staying at the Machias River Campsite (Map 25, A-3). While few camp sites exist (one lean-to, two RV and three tent sites) at this first come first serve location, several additional camping opportunities exists further north up the Machias River Corridor, accessible via the Stud Mill Road. Harvesting a moose is the pinnacle of an outdoorsman’s hunting career. To be fortunate enough to be chosen to pursue and potentially harvest the largest game animal in North America is truly a unique experience.

I like nothing better than to help facilitate a sportsman successfully harvesting a moose, as their excitement in the endeavor is always infectious. Anyone is planning a central Maine moose hunt Down East, please contact me and ask questions, I would be happy to assist.

Wildlife Quiz - Butterflies

Butterflies exist within the order Lepidoptera, a word derived from the Greek words "lepido" (scale) and "ptera" (wings), which refer to the scales that cover the wings of most adult butterflies. Butterfly wings vary in color and pattern from species to species, making most easy to identify from a distance. Scientists have identified about 17,500 different species of butterflies, spread throughout almost the entire world with more species identified each year.

The Maine Butterfly Survey, conducted in 2015, through a joint effort by Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and several other partner agencies, lists over one-hundred different butterflies as “breeding residents” or those butterflies most common to the state of Maine.

Perhaps the most amazing of Maine’s butterflies is the Katahdin Arctic (Oeneis polixenes katahdin). This medium-sized (1.5 inch), yellowish-brown subspecies of the arctic tundra butterfly is found no where else in the world but the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park. On windless days with no rain, that Katahdin arctic can be seen by an astute observer flitting over and among the Tablelands granite boulders and sparse growth of grasses and sedges. Because of its isolation, limited distribution and small population, the state currently lists the Katahdin Arctic as endangered.

From egg to adult, butterflies undergo a series of physical changes known as metamorphosis. This process all begins, when female butterflies deposit their eggs on a suitable plant. Caterpillars hatch from the eggs and feed voraciously to help fuel the change process. When the time is right, caterpillars find a sheltered spot to form a chrysalis from which fully developed winged adult emerge to begin the cycle anew. While many different birds and animals feed upon butterflies, by far the greatest threat to this winged insect comes from habitat loss cause by human encroachment into their territory.

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 
1. What does the Greek word “lepido” mean?
2. What does the Greek word “ptera” mean?
3. How many species of butterflies exist?
4. According to the Maine Butterfly Survey, how many different species of butterflies can commonly be found in Maine?
5. What is the name of the species of butterfly that only exists on Mt. Katahdin’s expansive Tablelands?
6. What is the life cycle of the butterfly called?
7. What is the name of the structure caterpillars create to protect themselves during their transition into a butterfly.
8. What animal species poses the greatest threat to butterflies?

 Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. The Greek word “lepido” means “scale”.
2. The Greek word “ptera” means “wings”.
3. Scientists have identified about 17,500 different species of butterflies.
4. Over one-hundred species of butterflies can commonly be found in Maine.
5. The species of butterfly that only exists on Mt. Katahdin’s expansive Tablelands is the Katahdin Arctic butterfly.
6. The life cycle of the butterfly is called metamorphosis.
7. The structure caterpillars create to protect themselves during their transition into a butterfly is called a chrysalis.
8. The animal species posing the greatest threat to butterflies is man.

Escape to Coastal Washington County and Avoid the Summer Heat

By August, the heat of the Maine’s summer can still be brutally unrelenting. Those searching for cooler temperatures should explore coastal Washington County, where cool sea breezes bring pleasant relief to stifling summer temperatures. A perfect destination for those looking to escape is the small town of Eastport (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 27, A-4). Despite its diminutive size, Eastport provides a large number of opportunities for hikers, campers and fishermen, guaranteed to keep even the most energetic outdoorsman busy. To have enough time to explore all Eastport has to offer, individuals should plan to stay overnight at Seaview campground (http://www.eastportmaine.com). This pet friendly campground has numerous cottages to rent and tent/RV ocean side lots that border the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. During the summer season reservations are strongly suggested so please call 853-4471 for more information.

Visitors to Eastport looking for less rustic accommodations should consider staying at the exquisite Kilby House bed and breakfast (http://www.kilbyhouseinn.com). Located on Water Street, guests are only a short walk to local shops and restaurants. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-853-4557. From Water Street, a short stroll down Sea Street brings visitors to one of the best lobster rolls Down East, served fresh caught from the fine folks at Quoddy Bay Lobster. Combined with coleslaw, roll and the impressive water view and you’ve got all of the ingredients necessary to create the perfect lunch. Quoddy Bay Lobster will also pack lobster to go, so that those not lucky enough to come to Eastport can also enjoy!

After lunch, consider heading out on the pier to take in the expansive views of Passamaquoddy Bay and Canada’s Campobello Island. Seals and Minke whales frequent these waters so be on the look out. Anglers looking to try their luck may fish off the pier and are often treated to Flounder, Pollock and Mackerel. In fishing for flounders, the most successful fishermen use worms, either the garden or sand variety instead of clams as this tends to keep the bait from being constantly eaten by the Sculpins. Those fishermen looking to explore the salt waters beyond the pier, should book a trip with Fundy Breeze Charters (http://www.fundybreeze.com) or phone 207-853-2849. Captain Skip Harris offers off shore fishing for Cod, Pollock, Halibut, shark and Giant Bluefin Tuna along with light house, puffin and whale watching tours aboard his 33 foot sport fishing boat the Vonnie and Val.

Just a few miles outside of the city of Eastport sits 95-acre Shackford Head State Park. Managed by the Bureau of Parks and Recreation, this hidden gem contains miles of family-friendly hiking trails and a chance to see over 100 different plants and 28 species of birds, including nesting bald eagles. Parking and start of the trail system is next door to the Marine Trades Center. The park is pet friendly and has picnic tables but does not have drinking water or restrooms so plan accordingly. The 1.2 mile trail from the parking area to the "Viewpoint" is an easy hike that can be accomplished by young and old alike. From the Viewpoint, hikers will enjoy panoramic views of Campobello, Lubec, Perry, Pembroke and a sweeping view across Cobscook Bay. For a longer more challenging hike, continue following the Schooner Trail to its terminus at Ship Point. This trail leads hikers through grassy meadows, patches of wild blueberries, along several impressive rocky granite outcroppings and through thick pine and birch woodlands. Upon reaching the point, be sure to keep a watchful eye on the expansive Cobscook Bay as whale sighting are always a high probability. Another nearby local secret is state-operated Gleason Cove Park (Map 37, E-3).

Upon leaving Eastport on Route 109 drive to Route 1 and take a right in the town of Perry. Drive approximately half a mile, crossing the Little River and immediately turning right onto the shore road. Follow the shore road for a few hundred yards and turn right onto Gleason Point Road. There are no signs but continue down this dirt road three quarters of a mile until reaching the park. The park is a great place to take kids as it contains miles of great beach-combing opportunities and broad vistas of Passamaquoddy Bay and nearby Deer Island. Picnic sites are available and offer the perfect location for families to enjoy a lunch packed by Quoddy Bay Lobster. For boaters there is an excellent launching ramp where anglers can access the western passage and Passamaquoddy Bay.

Remember when hiking that Maine’s weather and temperatures in August are notoriously fickle and can change dramatically in a short period of time. Make sure when hiking to bring along plenty of water and always carry a rain jacket. Also, tides in Cobscook and Passamaquoddy Bay can fluctuate daily by more than 20 feet so when exploring the shoreline always keep an eye on the ocean.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - The Atlantic Mackerel

The Atlantic Mackerel’s (Scomber scombrus) impressive range stretches from Labrador to North Carolina in the western Atlantic and from Iceland to Northern Africa in the eastern Atlantic. Populations of Atlantic Mackerel have also been found in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black seas. Closer to home, the Atlantic Mackerel inhabits the gulf of Maine and frequent visitor to our coastal bays and inlets during the mid summer months.

Close to thirty different species, share the common name “mackerel”, a term meaning "marked" or "spotted." The Atlantic Mackerel’s nickname originates from the 20-30 dark wavy bands, overlaying the fishes blue-green colored back. The bands run across the back, from the fish’s head to tail and stretching down the body to approximately the midline. From the midline to the fish’s belly, the coloration changes to a brilliant silvery white iridescence. The stripes at first may appear to provide camouflage but that is not the case, scientists have determined that the strips help the Atlantic Mackerel properly communicate body movements with each other while schooling and feeding.

The Atlantic Mackerel reproduces in early summer, with a majority of the spawning occurring in the Gulf of Maine during the months of June and July. Prolific broadcast spawners, females produce and distribute as many as 1,000,000 eggs that in turn receive fertilization by males. After spawning, Atlantic Mackerel do not protect their eggs and offspring; instead eggs float free in the open ocean until hatching. Juveniles feed on plankton until reaching a size where they become capable of consuming small crustaceans, fish, shrimp and squid.

Most of the Atlantic Mackerel caught in Maine waters reach an average length of around 15-16 inches and weigh approximately 2-3 pounds. A few luck anglers occasionally pull larger, trophy size Atlantic Mackerel out of Maine’s coastal waters each summer reaching a hefty 4+ pounds. A mackerel for the record books would weigh 7+pounds.

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 
1. What is the range of the Atlantic Mackerel?
2. How many species of “Mackerel” exist?
3. What does the term “mackerel” mean?
4. What is the purpose of the “stripes” on the back of an Atlantic Mackerel?
5. When does the Atlantic Mackerel reproduce?
6. How many eggs does a female Atlantic Mackerel produce?
7. What does the Atlantic mackerel feed upon?
8. How big is an Atlantic Mackerel?
9. What would a record book Atlantic Mackerel weigh?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The Atlantic Mackerel’s range stretches from Labrador to North Carolina in the western Atlantic and from Iceland to Northern Africa in the eastern Atlantic. Populations of Atlantic Mackerel have also been found in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black seas.
2. Close to thirty different species, share the common name “mackerel”.
3. The term “mackerel” means "marked" or "spotted."
4. Scientists have determined that the strips on the back of an Atlantic Mackerel help it properly communicate body movements with each other while schooling and feeding.
5. The Atlantic Mackerel reproduces in early summer, with a majority of the spawning occurring in the Gulf of Maine during the months of June and July.
6. Female Atlantic mackerel produce and distribute as many as 1,000,000 eggs.
7. The Atlantic Mackerel feeds upon plankton until reaching a size where they become capable of consuming small crustaceans, fish, shrimp and squid.
8. Most of the Atlantic Mackerel caught in Maine waters reach an average length of around 15-16 inches and weigh approximately 2-3 pounds. A few luck anglers occasionally pull larger, trophy size Atlantic Mackerel out of Maine’s coastal waters each summer reaching a hefty 4+ pounds.
9. An Atlantic Mackerel for the record books would weigh 7+ pounds.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Take a Kid Fishing

This is a short article I wrote for the July/August 2015 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

Fishing and kids seem to go together better than helpless women and railroad tracks. It's one of those activities that youngster’s just pick-up easily and enjoy naturally, without any added pressure or encouragement. Put a fishing pole in the hands of a child and watch a strange transformation occur. Eyes glazed from watching too much TV are awakened, tongues wag no stop from exhilaration and little legs and arms vibrate with the excitement and anticipation of a possible catch. Even the most bored and despondent kids, will be transformed into industrious sportsmen in training, as their inquisitive minds attempt to unravel all of the mysteries of the fishing sport. As they delve deeper they will eventually come to realize that all aspects of “fishing” simply cannot be learned in a lifetime. Perhaps this is part of the attraction, the sport of fishing can be as complicated OR as simple as one desires. It need be no more complicated (unless one chooses) than a simple stick, line, hook and worm. It is a sport of the rich and poor alike and each has an equal chance of scoring a true personal trophy.

Casting and Retrieving: A four year old can be fairly proficient in understanding the dynamics of casting and reeling, and both these skills were taught to my sons soon after they began walking. Kids readily learn these introductory fishing skills, as long as parents take the time to provide instruction in a fun and supportive manner. Small “kid sized” rods and reels fit well tiny hands and short arms and are well worth the investment. With fun designs like Batman, Diego and Barbie your child is sure to go wild when they are unveiled. Even if your budget is more modest, have no worry that any kid will be entertained for hours with a stick having a bit of line attached to the end. Neither fishing nor the equipment for fishing needs to be complex for kids to become hooked. What is most important is the quality of time you spend with your child in these situations and how enthusiastic you are about being outside. Practice sessions, casting and reeling in lures, are done absent of hooks, until kids develop the motor control to cast and retrieve effectively. Even then, parents will be wise to keep a watchful and vigilant eye on an exuberant youngsters back casts. Casting is made more enjoyable for kids when you tie a plastic bait (salamanders, worms, crayfish, fish, etc) onto the end of their line. The often wildly colorful lures and combined wiggling, jiggling action make it difficult for any kid to resist exhibiting strong interest. Casting and retrieving on a lawn or driveway, affords a place for instruction that is readily accessible and free of some of the distractions found in more “fishy” situations. Parents need not worry about lures stuck in trees, on lake bottoms or anyone falling into the water. Start by having kids cast beyond a specific point, so they can increase their distance. As distance improves, have them cast lures into hula hoops to help them improve accuracy. With continued practice, 5 year old kids should be able, with guidance, to cast a hooked lure and reel in live fish, eels, mudpuppies, bullfrogs and anything else that manages to bite their hook. Once the introductory practice and preparations finally start to come together, little fishermen are afforded the opportunity to graduate to becoming big fishermen. During this transition, parents should still closely supervise and direct fishing activities but hooked lines can now be used. (*Of course kids can start MUCH younger using hooked lines, if jigging for sunfish or ice fishing and under direct parental supervision. Casting and retrieving is a completely different skill set, requiring a higher level of muscular control. Younger kids are likely not to have the physical ability to safely cast a hooked line without impaling themselves or others, therefore caution should be exercised.)

Introduce Hooks: Kids are introduced to hooks by allowing them to handle them and practice hooking them into soft plastic lures (like worms, frogs and salamanders) and then removing them. This practice allows them to understand how hooks work and helps to develop the fine motor skills necessary to hook wiggly worms, squirming grubs and soft rubber baits correctly later when in actual fishing scenarios. Be sure to describe the parts of the hook (Point, shank, barb, eye, etc.) to your child and how different size hooks and styles are used to catch different types of fish and unique fishing situations. Also, describe how a hook can be safely removed from skin and clothes, if an accident occurs, so that children do not panic should there be a mishap. At five years old they will be too young to tie mono to the hook so parents can tie the mono to a large swivel and let kids attach the swivel to the eye of the hook. Large hooks are easier for small fingers to manipulate but parents may want to switch to using smaller hooks once the fishing actually begins, depending on fish being targeted.

Casting a Bobber: When fishing, a large bobber rigged to the line helps with casting distance and allows an excellent visual reference for kids. The anticipation of watching and waiting for the bobber to go under the water is exciting for kids, when the fish cooperate.

Know the Lingo: Fishing lingo, vernacular and jargon is often picked-up by sportsmen over a lifetime of pursuing fish. These words and catch phrases (no pun intended) are unique to the sport and when uttered for the first time by young kids, utterly adorable. Imagine a four year old telling you, with a look on his face as serious as a heart attack, that he thinks he just had a “dribble” and he better reel in the line to see if it still has a worm. If that doesn’t make you smile, how about picturing a five year old approaching a perfect stranger at the boat launch and asking “Hey Mistah, whatcha usein for bait?” When you finally reach the point in your child’s fishing education, where the kiddos are having random conversations with other “rival” fishermen at boat launches, it’s important that you sit them down and have a serious heart to heart talk about two of the most important aspect of fishing, secrets and exaggeration. In these ensuing conversations, children must be taught who can and cannot be trusted with fishing secrets and to whom and when it is perfectly acceptable to blatantly lie. For parents looking to speed up their child’s education, this might also be a good time to work in the “We don’t need to tell Mommy everything” discussion. Speaking of secrets, I almost rolled off the dock last week when my five year old brought his mouth close to my ear and in a low whisper said, "Daddy, I have a fishing secret, you haftah be careful when your fishing to be quite so you don't scare away the fish". This was funny, because it wasn’t something that I had ever directly taught him but rather was most likely something he garnered himself from our quiet interactions at the lake.

Whenever possible, ensure fishing with a child is a safe and enjoyable experience. Don’t expect every second to be perfect but make sure to create scenarios that kids will want to return to again and again. If something unexpected occurs (like someone gets hooked or falls off the dock), at least make sure to salvage the day with a trip to get ice cream. The trick is to always end on a good note AND while the kiddos are still wanting more. If they start screaming and crying when you tell them its time to go home, you have done your due diligence.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Beat Summer's HEAT with DULUTH!

The hike to the summit was typical for summer in Maine, hot, muggy and buggy. Tough conditions requiring long sleeves and pants to keep the biting hordes away but also requiring a light enough fabric to allow one to remain dry and comfortable. These are not the conditions where cotton thrives, as once damp; cotton stays damp and uncomfortable and tends to rub a person in the most delicate places.

Fortunately on this day, I was trying out the Armachillo shirt and Dry on the Fly "work" pants by Duluth Trading Company. While most envision clothing from Duluth as “work wear”, let me assure you that these clothes are as suitable for use by fishermen, canoeists, backpackers and climbers.

Basically, if you plan to be outside in the oppressive summer heat, you want to be swathed in these two finely constructed Duluth products. While the shirt and pants are lightweight and breathable, they are constructed with a fabric that is incredibly tough and surprisingly soft.

The Armachillo Shirt contains “made-in-the-jade” technology and the Dry on the Fly pants are constructed with integrated UPF 40 sun protection, creating a barrier to the suns rays that will allow you to have fun in the summer sun without feeling its wrath.

Do yourself a favor this summer and bring an end to being uncomfortable. Start enjoying your favorite outdoor pursuits with clothing from your hard working friends at Duluth Trading Company!

For more Maine outdoor adventure pictures, please join me on Instagram and Twitter as I tour our amazing state protected, dry and comfortable in  "work" equipment and clothing by Duluth!
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