Monday, December 4, 2017

Fire!

"There's something not quite right with you!?!?!" and thus started an interesting conversation with my Dad, one blustery Saturday afternoon while ice fishing. Inquiring, with the slightest bit of hesitation, I asked, "Why would you say that?" The old man took a deep breath and then started in on his tirade . . . "Well, you and your friends layer up in all this newfangled super insulated clothing, and then proceed to sit out in the middle of the lake all day long, in weather conditions not fit for man nor beast, then at lunch time, you heathens chow down a can of sardines, a couple little Debbie snack cakes and call it a meal!?! Lastly, if you do manage to catch a fish you take it home and throw it in the freezer where it may not get eaten for months!"

At that point, I stared blankly at the old man trying to figure out exactly what was wrong with the series of events he had just relayed. Clearly exasperated, the old man took another deep breath and continued . . . "I taught you better than that! Don't you remember all those times fishing pickerel ponds as a kid? Don't you remember warming frozen toes and fingers on a warm lake side fire? Don't you remember eating freshly caught fish wrapped in tinfoil and gently steamed on the coals of a fire? Don't you remember cooking hot chocolate in an old tea pot? AND lastly PLEASE tell me you remember eating red hotdogs and marshmallows cooked on freshly cut alder branches?"

I again stared blankly . . . Now nearly frantic in his level of disgust, the old man staggered across the deep snow and dragged a large dead tree out of the shoreline brambles. As I drilled holes and prepared lines, he worked tirelessly to organize a sheltered "hangout" area by piling up blocks of snow to make a windbreak and constructing a small teepee of sticks to serve as the beginnings of a small fire.


Scientists have proven that the sense of smell is the sense most closely linked to memory and of that I am not surprised. As I finished baiting the last hook, the smell of acrid wood smoke began drifting across the hard water, bringing with it a lifetime of happy ice fishing memories that slowly began leaking back into my conscious mind. As I walked over to the old man, I asked "Hey Dad did you bring any of those red hotdogs and marshmallows?" A wide smile appeared on the old man’s face, "Certainly" said Dad, "I thought you would never ask."

I wanted to share this story as it really is interesting how ice fishing has changed tremendously from my Dad's generation to mine. He and his friends were without snowmobiles and ice augers, they would hike up to 5 miles through deep snow to access good ice fishing waters. They enjoyed only tea (who can walk 5 miles with a buzz-on!) and ate almost everything that they caught fresh from the icy waters over a blazing lake side fire. When I compare that to our "modern" ice fishing lifestyle, I begin to feel a little bit disgusted with myself and what I have allowed to be stolen from the enjoyment of this great outdoor activity. With eyes now open, I vow to make more of a concerted effort this season to embrace the "old" ways and make sure these excellent traditions and treasured memories are passed on to my children!

I had believed for many years that a fire on the ice was not permissible under Maine law. A review of the Maine statutes and an email to the Maine warden service proves my belief incorrect. Maine’s revised statute on open burning (9325) reads that “open burning without permit is permissible on frozen bodies of water, when not prohibited by state rule, local ordinance or water utility regulation and as long as no nuisance is created.” The Maine warden service reports that “a fire on the ice is permissible except when specifically prohibited such as on water supplies. Litter left behind is generally what creates the greatest issue, such as beer cans and other non-burning materials.”

Ultimately, according to the law and law enforcers, if ice fishermen are not on a regulated water supply and remain responsible, there is no reason why a warming/cooking fire on the ice cannot be built. Now before heading for the shoreline to collect firewood to build a raging bonfire, please make sure you are acquainted with the law on the frozen body of water on which you are fishing and even more importantly, be prepared to follow good sporting ethics when building a fire on ice. Remember that every shoreline belongs to someone, so being respectful and thoughtful should be high on everyone’s priority list. Being responsible means keeping fires at a manageable and easily controllable size. Fires should not be constructed in close proximity to camps and other shoreline structures. Wood for fires should either be brought in or deadwood salvaged from shorelines. Live trees should never be cut and bark should never be stripped from trees and unless in very remote areas, even dead trees should be left standing. Most of the time, a small cooking/warming fire can be constructed from driftwood and dead branches salvaged from 3-400 yards of shoreline.

For the uninitiated, building a fire on the ice is an act in futility unless the person first understands a couple critical construction details. First heat from the fire melts the surrounding ice creating steam that makes starting a fire and keeping it going almost impossible. Secondly, a pool of water forms directly under the fire pit, due to the heat from the fire melting the surrounding snow and ice, this also will eventually extinguish the fire. Before building a fire on the ice, first create a platform of wooden logs on which the fire sits. Doing this eliminates both the issues discussed above.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Little Brown Bat - Wildlife Quiz

The Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) exists as one of the eight different species of bat that live in Maine. The range of the Little Brown Bat stretches across the northern half of the United States, southern Canada and has been spotted in Alaska, the Yukon and even Iceland. Both male and female Little Brown Bats, as their name suggests, have uniformly dark brown fur and matching dark brown wing membranes. A diminutive bat species, adults rarely exceed a length of 4 inches and weigh less than half an ounce.

Contrary to popular opinion, less than one bat in twenty thousand has rabies, and no bats in Maine feed on blood. Instead, of being viewed as disease ridden, blood sucking vermin, bats should be respected for the critical role they play in helping to maintain healthy ecosystems by preserving the natural balance of insect populations like mosquitoes, blackflies, wasps and midges. For example, a Little Brown Bat typically consumes its body weight in insects each night during active feeding. Scientists estimate bats save the U.S. agricultural industry $3 billion a year in pest control. In the summer, Little Brown Bats sleep approximately 20 hours a day, conserving their small fat reserves of energy, by primarily hunting during dusk and dawn when insect prey are most readily available. Little Brown Bat possesses the ability to survive harsh climates, like Maine winters, by both migrating and hibernating.

When fall arrives, Little Brown Bats fly to more southern locales where they join hundreds of other bats in a hibernaculum or “winter quarters”. These hibernaculum typically include caves and mines, where they hibernate for the winter. If successful in avoiding predators, like fisher cats, weasels, raccoons, birds, rats and snakes and disease, Little Brown Bats live approximately 6 to 7 years. White-nose syndrome has decimated Little Brown Bat populations since its discovery in 2006.

Questions 
1. How many species of bat live in Maine?
2. What is the range of the Little Brown Bat?
3. What color is the Little Brown Bat?
4. How much does the Little Brown Bat weigh?
5. How many insects does the Little Brown Bat consume every night?
6. How much money does the Little Brown Bat save the U.S. agricultural industry in pest control every year?
7. Does the Little Brown Bat hibernate?
 8. How long does the Little Brown Bat live?

 Answers 
1. Eight different species of bat that live in Maine.
2. The range of the Little Brown Bat stretches across the northern half of the United States, southern Canada and has been spotted in Alaska, the Yukon and even Iceland.
3. As their name suggests, the Little Brown Bat, has uniformly dark brown fur and matching dark brown wing membranes.
4. A diminutive species, Little Brown Bat adults rarely exceed a length of 4 inches and weigh less than half an ounce.
 5. The Little Brown Bat typically consumes its body weight in insects each night during active feeding.
6. Scientists estimate bats save the U.S. agricultural industry $3 billion a year in pest control.
7. Yes, the Little Brown Bat hibernates.
8. Little Brown Bats live approximately 6 to 7 years.

Fox Hunting and Have the Woods Become Unsafe?

Fox Hunting
For dedicated sportsmen, the winter season means a relentless pursuit of coyotes. With Maine’s low deer densities, this activity ranks high on everyone’s to-do list. While a noble endeavor, I also enjoy occasionally hunting red fox. While certainly no dummy, red can typically be more easily duped than this larger cousin the coyote, making shot opportunities slightly more plentiful. Fox season runs from October 15th to February 28th, affording predator hunter’s ample time to harvest one of these truly beautiful canines. Attention should be paid to blending into your environment and this time of year, snow camouflage is king. For those not looking to spend a fortune, military surplus stores offer budget priced white nylon cover suits or in a pinch, white painter coveralls from Home Depot work quite nicely.
Electronic calls, set on low volume and transmitting the sounds of a wounded field mouse, crying rabbit or kitten usually bring old red running within minutes. For increased success, do not begin calling until completely ready, as many a fox has arrived with the hunter never anticipating such a quick response! Calling sequences start low and steadily increase in volume over a period of 20-30 minutes. If no action, move to another location and try the entire sequence again.
Fox are nimble and extremely fast, so it should be no surprise that veteran hunters pursue them with shotguns, modified chokes and loads firing hevi-shot #2. As with coyotes, fox prefer approaching calling set-ups with their noses pointed directly into the wind, therefore having good visibility and shot options on the downwind side become critical. Field edges, railroad tracks and power lines all offer hot spots for chasing red this February. While hunting, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for other predators, as you sometimes never know what will respond to a calling sequence, both coyotes and bobcats on occasion have been known to investigate a fox calling sequence.
Have Maine’s Woods and Waters Become Unsafe?
At what point did the human race decide it would be a good idea to vilify the outdoors and stir up national panic? Where did the days go of unstructured play, riding bikes, kicking the can and building dams? Have we as a society finally decided that these activities are considered dangerous? With everything that parents must now do to "protect" their kids, are we instead doing them a disservice and creating unnatural fear?
Like little soldiers preparing for chemical warfare, my children go outside in bug suits, bathed in Deet, carrying Thermacells and wearing helmets. Even gloves protect their little hands from biting insects and poison ivy and upon entering the house those bodies are thoroughly inspected for ticks and little hands are scrubbed with antibacterial soap.
With just a few moments thought, I created a list of everything I now (must to be considered a good parent) worry about whenever my kids partake in exploring our natural world. Please feel free to plug any of these concerns into Google to receive a full and complete warning of the impending dangers associated with each item. If I have missed something, please make sure to email me, lest I forget some critical danger or unseen hazard yet unlisted. Dangers include: West Nile, poison ivy , poisonous berries and plants, ticks/Lyme disease, Equine Encephalitis, mercury in fish, contaminated play sand, Giardia and Cryptosporidium, Nalgene bottles w/ PBA, pesticides, swine flu, lead fragments in game meat, lead fishing sinkers, falls, bumps and crashes received while not wearing a bicycle helmet, rabid animal attacks, brown recluse spiders, dry drowning, loss of sight from staring at a solar eclipse, stepping in dog poo, bee stings and anaphylactic shock and being eaten by bears. I guess the only safe activity left is sitting on the couch playing video games. Oh wait, I forgot about childhood obesity, carpal tunnel, diabetes and heart disease!
We as a society are most certainly creating unnatural fears in our offspring. This remains an unfortunate trend that seems to be quickly building a following. As more and more of us distance or even remove ourselves from the natural world and traditional outdoor pursuits, we begin to develop unnatural fears of the great outdoors. These fears are then passed on to our offspring and the entire cycle perpetuates. Don’t foolishly ignore the hazards of the outdoors but also don’t let them rule your existence and scare you into living a life devoid of a more "natural" world!
Lead Fragmentation in Game Meat
            Of all of the fears listed above, lead fragmentation in game meat is one fear that actually does cause me concern. Fortunately, lead free bullets from companies like Federal, Hornady and Nosler are readily available and have undergone extreme upgrades over the past several years, solidly placing them in a class as good if not better than lead based loads. Lead-free bullets are also cost effective and sportsmen can expect to pay about the same for premium lead-core bullets vs. premium lead-free bullets.
Considering ammo represents a small percentage of the total costs involved in any big game hunt, selecting a bullet that not only quickly and humanely kills your quarry but also saves you and your family from consuming lead (an element clinically linked to brain damage) and added “costs” quickly become relative. Do you and your family a favor this hunting season and go lead free!


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Shoot more ducks and pheasants NOW!

Shoot More Ducks 
The nip of the early morning air, frost and the brilliance of the fall foliage all work in unison to signal the arrival of my favorite month, October. During this magical time of year, I can think of no better place to be than sitting on the edge of a marsh with my dog, watching the sun creep up to the horizon anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first ducks of the season.
Being successful during the waterfowl season requires scouting, scouting and more scouting. Every season, I go through extensive lengths to find new areas, to find that hidden, off the grid, ducking hunting nirvana. While location certainly is a huge component linked to success, several other items are also critical.
Calling, ducks into shooting range is important and doing it effectively takes a refined understanding of basic duck sounds and behavior. Hundreds of instructional videos have been created to teach people how to call effectively. Watch those videos and out call the guy hunting in the blind next door practically every time. Busy and lack the time to invest in receiving a master’s degree in duckology? Well, let me share five quick and easy secrets to help increase success this October.

  1. Buy a teal and wood duck call. These two additions are extremely effective in calling in these two species when standard “quack” calls will fail to do so. Both the teal and wood duck call are easy to learn by reading the instructions on the back of the package. These calls will add an entirely new dimension to any sportsperson’s duck-hunting arsenal.
  2. Hunters should not be seen, so limit movement and cover up the often forgotten face and hands with camouflage face paint or netting so as not to spook approaching ducks.
  3. Decoy spreads to be properly seen from the air need to contain a lot of movement. This is accomplished by including spinning wing decoys, jerk chords and any other products that create water disturbances, mimicking happily feeding ducks.
  4. Quack, quack, quack is the basic call of the mallard and black duck. This is the “King” of duck vocalizations. Use heartily to call to a ducks wing tips and tails to turn them and lightly in the morning when the marsh is coming alive. Do not call loud and repeatedly, overdoing it frightens ducks.
  5. Late in the season it pays to add white colored decoys to your set-up, as doing so will yield visits from both hooded and red crested mergansers. Take old mallard decoys and paint them white and black to mimic mergansers.

In Washington county wood duck and teal become almost non-existent after the first two weeks of October, so get on them fast and hard before they disappear! Find your own secret waterfowl hot spot by exploring Fourth Machias Lake (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, C-2). This lake has a great boat launch on the northern end and a healthy population of resident Canada geese and late season mergansers.
Let’s Shoot Pheasants!
For those of us in Washington County, we will need to drive several hours south if we want to shoot a pheasant this month. Pheasant season runs from October 1 – December 31 and hunters may harvest 2 birds of either sex per day. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in cooperation with several Fish and Game Clubs, stocks approximately 2,300 pheasants throughout York and Cumberland counties every year.
According to Brad Zitske a biologist with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, “the pheasant program was initiated many decades ago to include only Cumberland and York counties because it was believed that the birds would not be able to over-winter further north. Interest in the pheasant hunt is mostly locals, many of whom are members of local rod and gun clubs and their participation is vital in helping stock and maintaining sites and acquiring landowner permissions for new sites.”
Odd I know, but that original law (L.D.2193, “An Act to Institute a Pheasant Stamp Program for Cumberland and York Counties”, has not been challenged, to my knowledge, since the law was implemented in 1993. Considering the effects of global warming and the successful expansion of the wild turkey into all areas of Washington County, I think we need to contest this law and get some pheasant hunting sites established in Washington County as well as other areas around the state!
Pheasants are typically hunted with the help of specially trained dogs but that should not dissuade those lacking such a specialized K9 from hunting them. Teaming up with another hunter or hunters will help to tip the odds in your favor but a solo hunter can still take pheasants.
If hunting with others, have one hunter slowly walk the edge of cover, occasionally stopping to panic birds into flushing, and post a buddy at the end of the cover. Birds that do not flush will often run to the end of a row of cover before erupting in a whirlwind of feathers. Having a hunting partner block this escape route, practically guarantees more birds in the bag. Safety is critical when hunting with multiple hunting partners, so make sure everyone is wearing blaze orange and obeys the safe shooting zone rules. Talk continuously to rattle birds and ensure everyone knows the locations of the other hunters.
If hunting alone, walking and stopping will often panic birds, forcing them to flush in range. Some birds will flush as the hunter approaches, but even more will hide in the last few feet of cover. Once a hunter nears the end of a row of cover, a fast walk will often surprise birds that assumed they had more time, hunters should just be very careful where their firearm is pointing and watchful of their footing. Sometimes birds that still refuse to flush can be forced to do so if the hunter kicks the brush or speaks loudly.
Once a bird is shot, a hunter should not take their eyes off it until it either goes down or flies out of sight unharmed. If the bird does go down, the shooter keeps his eyes on the mark and directs the other hunter(s) to the spot. If hunting solo be sure to carefully mentally mark the exact spot but marking it with an unusual tree or other landform. Walk straight toward where the spot and use care to not let your eyes drift off the location.
Pheasants are also a good bird to start young hunters on because they usually hold tight and are larger and more predictable targets than ruffed grouse and woodcock.
Hunters must purchase a pheasant permit in addition to their regular hunting license. The permit is available online or from the normal license vendors. With prices at local shooting preserves exceeding $30 per pheasant released (not necessarily harvested!) the pheasant permit is considered a very good value for the hunter. For information on updated 2018 release sites be sure to Google, “Maine Pheasant Hunting Program”.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wildlife Quiz - American Herring Gull

American Herring Gull
The American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus), a member of the “gull” species of avian, inhabits an impressive range stretching across a majority of the United States, Canada, Cuba and even coastal strips of Central America. Look for Herring Gulls soaring along coastal shorelines or perched in groups sometimes numbering several hundred on almost any large open space near large bodies of water.
American Herring Gulls or just plain “Sea Gulls”, as they are more commonly called, exist as one of the most familiar gulls in North America. Gulls nest near sources of water where they construct nests that they simply scrape into the ground lined with vegetation and feathers. Females lay between 3-4 eggs that hatch in approximately one month. While adult Herring Gulls have light-gray backs, black wingtips, white heads and bellies, juveniles have mottled brown back feathers that turn grayer and feathers on the head and belly that whiten as they mature. Juvenile Herring Gulls take approximately four years before finally reaching adult plumage.
Herring Gulls communicate by producing a variety of calls that can be heard over long distances. Most calls heard occur when gulls are squabbling during fights over food or territorial disputes. Juvenile birds emit high-pitched plaintive cries to elicit feeding behavior from a parent and a clicking call when threatened.
Herring Gulls inhabit a wide array of rural and urban environments from coastal and inland beaches to garbage dumps and fishing piers. Aggressive consumers of practically any food stuffs, Herring Gulls eat a broad diet that includes everything from human refuge to fresh and salt water fish, crustaceans and a wide array of small invertebrates. Scientists studying gulls have watched them pick-up crabs and clams, fly them high into the sky and drop them on the rocks below. This behavior allows this crafty scavenger to break the prey animal’s protective shell and access the meat inside with minimal effort.
           
Questions
  1. What is the range of the Herring Gull?
  2. Where can Herring Gulls be found?
  3. By what other name is the Herring Gull called?
  4. What is the difference between an adult and juvenile Herring Gull?
  5. How long does it take for a juvenile Herring Gull to reach full adult plumage?
  6. Why do Herring Gulls typically call?
  7. Where can Herring Gulls be found?
  8. What do Herring Gulls eat?

Answers

  1. The Herring Gull inhabits an impressive range stretching across a majority of the United States, Canada, Cuba and even coastal strips of Central America.
  2. Herring Gulls can be found soaring along coastal shorelines or perched in groups sometimes numbering several hundred on almost any large open space near large bodies of water.
  3. Herring Gulls are also known simply as “Sea Gull”.
  4. Juvenile Herring Gulls take approximately four years before finally reaching adult plumage.
  5. Adult Herring Gulls have light-gray backs, black wingtips, white heads and bellies, juveniles have mottled brown back feathers that turn grayer and feathers on the head and belly that whiten as they mature.
  6. Most calls made by Herring Gulls occur when they are squabbling during fights over food or territorial disputes.
  7. Herring Gulls inhabit a wide array of rural and urban environments from coastal and inland beaches to garbage dumps and fishing piers.
  8. Herring Gulls eat a broad diet that includes everything from human refuge to fresh and salt water fish, crustaceans and a wide array of small invertebrates.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Moose Hunting Washington County

       
    For most sportsmen there is no greater thrill than seeing your name listed among the fortunate few who each year get randomly selected for a moose hunting tag. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be drawn twice as a primary hunter, harvesting a cow moose in 2004 and a large bull moose in 2015. I also had the pleasure of serving as subpermittee with my Dad, guiding him to shoot his bull moose in 2012.
            Hunting moose is not a task to be taken lightly. Extensive preparations must be taken to prepare for a successful harvest. Through the years, I have passed on several secrets to success that I have learned and here are a few more tips to help ensure hunters don’t go home empty handed this moose season.
It amazes me how many hunters employ game cameras to track bear and deer movements but when it comes to pursuing moose many seem to completely forget this valuable tool.  Instead a vast majority of hunters prefer to ride dirt roads and monitor clear cuts, watching and waiting for that moose to arrive. While this type of hunting is sometimes productive, often times it is not and the moose simply doesn’t show. Moose populations over the last several years have grown smaller and smaller in number and these days often finding that shooter animal requires diverting from these well traveled logging roads.
Instead of driving and wishing, hunters can vastly increase their chances of success by employing the use of game cameras before and during the season to track and monitor moose movements. Just like deer, moose are creatures of habit and maintain a relatively small core area. By using game cameras, hunters can identify these core areas and estimate when the moose are moving through. Once this data is gathered, a hunting plan is organized to harvest the animal.
While cameras can be placed in high traffic areas, such as pinch points, game trails and old logging roads, hunters can also bring moose to cameras by using attractants. Placing sexual scents, like cow in heat is a great way to put moose in viewing distance of the camera. I prefer to take old socks (washed in no-scent of course!), cut them into strips and then tie them as high as I can reach into tree branches. This I then soak with “cow in heat” urine. By placing the rags up high instead of on the ground, the scent is widely dispersed in even the smallest amount of wind, completely permeating the entire area.
An often underused function on game cameras, that works really well for moose hunting is the “plot camera” mode. Of course different game camera companies all have different words to describe this mode but they all function in basically the same way. Say a hunter wants to monitor an entire small pond, open bog or clear cut for moose movement. Typically, unless the animal walks in front of the game camera at a distance of less than 30 yards the camera will not take a photograph. In plot camera mode however, the camera is set to automatically snap photos in various intervals from 5-30 minutes during the last hours of daylight and first light of the morning when moose are most active. By setting the camera back from these areas and 10-12 feet up in a tree, the hunter can monitor a sizeable amount of acreage. To assist hunters in placing the camera high in a suitable tree, consider carrying around a couple ladder climbing sticks. Having these available really simplifies camera placement and checking.
An interesting product that recently arrived on the game camera market is remote monitoring. Remote monitoring allows a hunters game camera to send pictures to his/her smartphone from anywhere in the world with a cellular signal. For the moose hunter, this means that you could set a game camera up to take photos of a clear cut in Van Buren and monitor it from Kittery or even outside of the state! Just remember that game cameras are unfortunately a favorite of thieves so be sure to hide game cameras using camouflage or natural cover. Hiding game cameras from thieves is a relatively easy task accomplished by simply gluing bark or tying on camouflage fabric to break up their outline. The number one way cameras are often identified in the woods is by individuals noticing the horizontal black strap that wraps around the tree to secure the game camera. This can be eliminated by using the screw in mounts that are widely available online or sold at your local Walmart.
            My last bit of advice for those heading afield this season in pursuit of moose is to employ the use of a moose decoy. Having a decoy on hand simply helps to add a small bit of additional realism to calling and the placing of sexual scents. A decoy need not be complicated, as moose have poor vision. A cut out made from cardboard and spray painted black works great but hunters could use something as simple as a black bed sheet suspended between two poles with heavy string.
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.

Good luck to the lucky few who scored a moose tag this season, I wish you all the best!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wildlife Quiz - Northern Pike

Northern Pike
The Northern Pike (Esox lucius) exists as a freshwater species native to the Northern Hemisphere. The elongated and pointed head of the Northern Pike bears a resemblance to the pole like weapon known as the pike and therefore lead to the fish’s common name of “Pike”. Various other unofficial names exist for the fish including, green snake, northern and gator.
Ambush predators, Pike use their olive green shading to blend seamlessly into shallow vegetated areas where they quietly wait to attack unsuspecting prey species. Once an unsuspecting animal swims into striking distance, Pike move with alarming speed and voracity, using it’s razor sharp teeth to capture and decimate any small creature unfortunate enough to cross its path. Scientists studying Pike have examined their stomach contents and found consumed all manner of creatures, including ducks, muskrats, mice, baby loons, amphibians, invertebrates and all variety of fish.
Northern pike were initially introduced into Maine in the 1970’s, as the result of an illegal introduction into the Belgrade Chain of Lakes. Subsequent migration within the Belgrade lakes drainage and additional illegal introductions have expand the distribution to many lakes and ponds throughout the central and southern parts of the state.
In late March or early April mature Pike (2 years or older) move into the shallows and slow moving water in preparation of the act of spawning. Females deposit their adhesive eggs in aquatic vegetation where males widely distribute milt over the course of several days. Once successfully fertilized, the eggs typically hatch in about two weeks.
If able to successfully avoid predators, these small fry growth rapidly, reaching 15 inches in length at the conclusion of one year. The life expectancy of pike may exceed 15 years, with females generally living longer and achieve greater size than males. Northern pike are among the largest freshwater fish in Maine, topping the scales in excess of 31 pounds.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
  1. What is the native range of the Northern Pike?
  2. How did the “Pike” get its name?
  3. Scientists studying Pike have found what matter of creatures in their stomachs?
  4. When were Pike introduced to Maine waters?
  5. When do Pike reach sexual maturity?
  6. When do Pike spawn?
  7. How many inches long does a Pike grow at the conclusion of its first year?
  8. How long does a Pike live?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:

  1. The native range of the Northern Pike includes the entire Northern hemisphere.
  2. The elongated and pointed head of the Northern Pike bears a resemblance to the pole like weapon known as the pike and therefore lead to the fish’s common name of “Pike”.
  3. Scientists studying Pike have examined their stomach contents and found ducks, muskrats, mice, baby loons, amphibians, invertebrates and all variety of fish.
  4. Northern pike were initially introduced into Maine in the 1970’s, as the result of an illegal introduction into the Belgrade Chain of Lakes.
  5. Pike reach sexual maturity at around two years of age.
  6. Pike typically spawn in Late March or early April.
  7. If able to successfully avoid predators, these small fry growth rapidly, reaching 15 inches in length at the conclusion of one year.
  8. The life expectancy of pike may exceed 15 years, with females generally living longer than males.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Coyote Hunting, Bass Fishing and Hiking Chick Hill

Coyote Hunting
While hunters can shoot coyotes in Maine all year round, a special night hunting permit allows hunters to shoot coyotes at night until Aug. 31st. While use of spotlights is certainly extremely beneficial, hunting under the added illumination of a full moon offers an even higher degree of visibility, providing more accurate species identification and faster target acquisition in a larger kill zone. The full moon on August 7th will afford the last really good opportunity to pursue these critters at night until the coyote night hunting season re-opens in mid December.
Those new to predator hunting will find August the perfect time to get out and try their luck, as young coyotes will be out and about in the early evenings. These awkward, uneducated teenage coyotes are typically much easier to dupe and will often forgive calling mistakes that would typically run off more wary mature coyotes. If wanting to try hunting coyotes this is the month!
The Stud Mill road is a dirt highway through the vast Maine wilderness, providing access to thousands of miles of prime coyote hunting opportunities. One of my personal favorite spots is located in and around Cranberry Lake (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35 E2 and 3). Hunting in groups of 3 or 4 people a common technique involves using a vehicle to drop off individuals at set intervals and have them try calling. A couple miles between each caller is sufficient spacing and allows each person plenty of breathing room. Once the driver parks the vehicle and is in place, they call for about an hour and then drive back and collect the other hunters. This sequence can be repeated over and over and allows a group to cover a lot of miles calling. Just remember to take turns being the last man out of the truck as stud mill coyotes seem to be forgiving of vehicles that simply drive by but a stopping vehicle makes them extremely cagey and the last man out of the truck usually shoots the least number of coyotes.
Please remember that the Stud Mill road and all of the connecting side roads are a titanic and complex maze for the uninitiated. When dropping off hunters, be sure to have a plan in place for pick-up that involves colored marking ribbons at drop off positions, a set meeting time to be by the roadside and GPS waypoints. Being lost in the Maine woods anytime of year isn’t an enjoyable option and a simple plan makes this scenario completely preventable.
Good Night Bass Fishing
The warm waters of summer mark the return of the bass’s feisty attitude. Early mornings, late evenings and even the dead of night certainly top my list as favorite hours to fish. These times typically see less boat traffic and paddlers are less abused by high winds that tend to blow throughout the day. Add to these benefits, the possibility of viewing beautiful sunrises and sunsets and it isn’t hard to understand why the best time to be on the water usually starts or ends in the dark.
Big bass tend to emerge from their shadowy underwater lairs to feed long after boat traffic has departed. Dark colored lures like Jitterbugs and other surface disturbers are the preferred lures and are guaranteed to elicit brutal strikes from hungry aquatic predators hiding in the shadows. Crawford Lake (Map 36, D-2) is a great spot to begin the night angling obsession and promises excellent after dark bass fishing action.
Hiking Chick Hill
At 1,160 feet above sea level, Chick Hill (Map 24, A-1) provides a fantastic place to take the family for a short hike. For the minimal effort expended, Chick Hill boasts impressive views, sure to be enjoyed by everyone. To get there, from the intersection of Route 180 and Route 9 in Clifton, drive east on Route 9 for 3.3 miles, then turn left onto Chick Hill Road. Drive 0.3 and veer right at the fork, then drive another 0.3 mile to where Chick Road ends at a rough, gravel parking area.

The hike to the summit from the parking lot is less than a mile and a half and is comprised of moderate terrain. The summit is the prefect sport to enjoy a picnic lunch, boasting expansive views of Little Little Chick Hill, Schoodic and Tunk mountains.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wildlife Quiz - Beaver

Beaver
Beavers (Castor canadensis) spend most of their lives living a semi-aquatic existence. Beavers are slow on land, but good swimmers. Evolution has provided the beaver with the unique ability to close off its ears and nose to keep out water and they can hold their breath underwater for approximately 15 minutes. A large flat tail and webbed hind feet make them efficient swimmers and well adapted to watery environments.
Once widely distributed across all of North America, beavers were almost eliminated, in the late 1800s, because of unregulated trapping. With proper management, however, beavers have been reestablished and are now common in many areas. Maine’s many marshes, lakes, ponds and streams are almost guaranteed to hold abundant populations of this omnivorous rodent.
Telltale signs of beavers, inhabiting these biomes, include beaver dams. Engineering marvels, beaver dams work to increase water depth, allowing beavers to store food where it will not be frozen into the ice during the winter season. Within these small ponds, beavers build domed houses (lodges) constructed of mud, small sticks and vegetation. Beavers construct underwater entrances to their lodges, which helps protect them from predators. Though dens provide effective protection from predators, beavers are still preyed upon by black bears, coyotes, lynx, bobcats, fisher, and dogs while they forage for food onshore. If able to avoid predators, beavers typically live 5-10 years in the wild. When frightened, a swimming beaver will slap the water with its broad tail. This alarm serves as a warning to other beavers that danger is near.
Herbivores, beavers feed on the leaves, twigs and inner bark of hardwoods such as aspen, birch, willow, oak and maple. Beavers cut down trees using their sharp front teeth. These teeth continually grow must constantly be worn down by cutting down trees, stripping bark and feeding.
The soft and warm pelts of muskrats remain a valued commodity in the fur trade. The Maine trapping season for beaver starts in October and runs until April or March depending on the Wildlife Management Area.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What unique ability do beavers have that allow then to swim without water entering their airways and ear canals?
2. How long can a beaver hold its breath underwater?
3. What adaptation do beavers possess that allows them to be very efficient swimmers?
4. What animals prey upon beavers?
5. How long do beavers live in the wild?
6. What does a beaver do to alert other beavers that danger is near?
7. What do beavers eat?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. Evolution has provided the beaver with the unique ability to close off its ears and nose to keep out water.
2. Beavers can hold their breath underwater for approximately 15 minutes.  
3. Beavers have a large flat tail and webbed hind feet making them efficient swimmers and well adapted to watery environments.
4. Beavers are preyed upon by black bears, coyotes, lynx, bobcats, fisher, and dogs.
5. Beavers typically live 5-10 years in the wild.
6. When frightened, a swimming beaver will slap the water with its broad tail to warm other beavers of danger.

7. Herbivores, beavers feed on the leaves, twigs and inner bark of hardwoods such as aspen, birch, willow, oak and maple.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fishing for Sculpin

Fishing for Sculpin
Fishing off the commercial pier in Eastport (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 27 A-4) has always ranked as one of my fondest childhood memories. We used to catch a lot of mackerel back then but I don’t recall ever keeping any of the fish; instead we likely threw them back into the Atlantic or gave them to one of the many other anglers fishing the pier. In those days, the fishing was always furious and a young boy had all the mackerel he could dream of catching by just lobbing a single weighted hook into the large schools. I remember the schools being so massive, that anglers could watch the mackerel whip the water frothy as they chased baitfish around the entire harbor. While the fishing these days certainly isn’t as good as it once was, fishing off the Eastport pier still has all the makings of a fun adventure for young and old alike.
This past July, I had the pleasure of taking my two young sons angling for the first time off the pier in Eastport. Unfortunately, luck was not on our side and over the course of several hours, we never managed to land even a single mackerel. My understanding, from talking to several locals, was that we were a few weeks early and the schools of tinker mackerel had not yet reached this section of the Washington County coast. While the mackerel didn’t corporate, what we did manage to have fun catching were several sizeable sculpin.
Within the Gulf of Maine there exist several different fish that are members of the sculpin family. Included in this list are the Hook-eared sculpin, Mailed sculpin, Shorthorn sculpin, Longhorn sculpin, Stag horn sculpin and Arctic sculpin. Of the species listed, the Longhorn sculpin is the most plentiful and the fish most frequently caught off Maine piers. While not a massive fish, the Longhorn sculpin can grow to 18 inches in length, although few of them ever get any longer than 10 to 14 inches.
Not a fish that will ever win a beauty pageant, the homely sculpin has been known to elicit screams of fright from unsuspecting anglers who haul one out of the brine. Oddly proportioned with a head and mouth seemingly too small for its body, strangely colored and possessing spines that jut out from its head and fins, the sculpin is truly an ugly looking fish. In its defense, however, the lowly sculpin has evolved over the millennium to become a master of camouflage, possessing the ability to vary its skin color to match its surroundings. Additionally, those predators unlucky enough to attempt to attack or eat a sculpin will quickly be dissuaded as they are covered with numerous needle sharp spines. Because of these impressive defenses, once caught by anglers, sculpin are bothersome to unhook. The easiest way to remove the hook and return the fish to the water without getting stuck is to subdue the fish by firmly grasping it by the mouth. Never attempt to kick a sculpin off the pier and back into the water as their spines can easily penetrate the thin fabric of a sneaker.
Sculpin have a voracious appetite, readily taking any type of bait or lure that is presented. What type of lure doesn’t seem all that important as they will strike about anything dangled in from of their gaping mouths. Adding a small morsel of clam, squid or fish belly helps to encourage a strike but anglers can still enjoy a high degree of success by simply jigging a lure close to bottom. Fishermen who specifically target sculpin do so using dropper rigs. These simple set-ups consist of taking 4 feet of 20 lb monofilament line and attaching a 4 oz weight to the end. Twelve inches up from the weight tie on a 2/0 hook using a dropper knot, go up another twelve inches and tie on a second 2/0 hook again using a dropper knot. At the end of the line, opposite the weight, attach a barrel swivel. Instead of using bare hooks, some anglers prefer to attach small bucktail flies to the dropper knots as these have the benefit of still eliciting strikes even if the bait falls off or is stolen. So greedy were the sculpin inhabiting the waters around the Eastport pier that I am confident the kids caught several of the same sculpins multiple times and would have continued to catch these fish over and over had we not moved further down the pier.  

In Maine, the longhorn sculpin is considered a “trash fish”. In the past, they were processed into fishmeal, dog food or used to bait lobster traps. Sculpin is, however, an extremely tasty fish to eat. The one caution to preparing this fish for the dinner table is to use great care when filleting it to avoid getting stuck by one of its many spines. The easiest way to avoid being stuck is to simply cut off all of the spines with a pair of pliers and filet like any other normal fish. The delicious flesh can then be battered and deep fat fried or simply pan fried in a drizzle of olive oil. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wildlife Quiz - Dragonflies

Dragonflies
Dragonflies belong to the “insect” family of creatures and as such, possess segmented bodies divided into a head, thorax and abdomen. Each of the divided sections houses specialized organs, the head the compound eyes and antenna, the thorax the three pairs of jointed legs and transparent wings, the abdomen the dragonflies’ reproductive and execratory organs. Dragonflies exist within the order Odonata, a Greek word meaning “uneven wing”. This nickname was given to the dragonfly because their hind wings are broader than their fore wings. This adaptation allows their two sets of wings to work independently, allowing dragonflies to maneuver effortlessly through the air in pursuit of prey. Voracious eaters, a dragonfly can eat food equal to its own weight in about 30 minutes. Dragonflies regularly consume a vast array of insects including, house flies, butterflies, moths and even bees. One scientific study even showed that a single dragonfly can consume well over 100 hundred mosquitoes a day!
Fossil evidence indicates that dragonflies inhabited the earth over 325 million years ago. These prehistoric relatives were monstrous compared to modern day dragonflies with some having wingspans over 30 inches.
            Dragonflies undergo a three stage life cycle (egg, nymph, adult) which is classified as incomplete metamorphosis. Most other insects undergo a four stage life cycle (egg, larva, pupa, adult). During its life cycle, a dragonfly actually spends very little of its life as an adult dragonfly. Most of its life is instead lived out in the nymph stage underwater. Only after living this underwater existence for a period of several years, does the nymph complete its final molt and emerge from the shallows as a winged adult.
Upon emerging, adults typically survive for just a few weeks, just long enough to find a mate and reproduce. During mating, the male grasps the female at the back of the head and the female curls her abdomen under her body to pick up sperm from the front of the males abdomen. This is typically called the "heart" or "wheel" posture. After mating, the female dragonfly will find a calm body water where she will deposit her eggs on a plant in the water. The following spring, the eggs hatch and the life cycle of the dragonfly begins again.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
  1. To which family of creatures do dragonflies belong?
  2. What three parts is a dragonfly’s body divided into?
  3. What does the Greek word Odonata mean?
  4. How many mosquitoes can a dragonfly eat in a single day?
  5. How long ago does fossil evidence indicate dragonflies existed on earth?
  6. How wide was the wingspan of the prehistoric dragonflies?
  7. What are the three stages of the dragonfly cycle of incomplete metamorphosis?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:

  1. Dragonflies belong to the “insect” family of creatures.
  2. Dragonflies bodies are divided into a head, thorax and abdomen.
  3. The Greek word Odonata means “uneven wing”.
  4. A dragonfly can consume well over 100 hundred mosquitoes in a single day!
  5. Fossil evidence indicates that dragonflies inhabited the earth over 325 million years ago.
  6. The wingspan of the prehistoric dragonflies was over 30 inches.
  7. Dragonflies undergo a three stage life cycle (egg, nymph, adult) which is classified as incomplete metamorphosis.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fishing for Snapping Turtles

Fishing for Snapping Turtles
A large percentage of Americans feel that the consumption of anything not found on a grocery store shelf, sitting on a sterilized bed of Styrofoam and double wrapped in plastic, is unfit for human consumption. Travel to most other countries in this world and a person quickly realizes that many cultures on this planet have a much more open view of what is considered “fit for human consumption”. This isn’t to say that pockets of hardcore outdoorsmen, are not scattered throughout the United States, willing to eat just about anything, as I have watched sportsmen eat raccoon, porcupine and squirrel, as well as much “wilder” game like alligator, snake, kangaroo, wild hog and even camel. While these animals may seem wild to some, to others these critters are considered normal everyday food. 
With sufficient arm-twisting, many individuals can be pried out of their comfort zones and convinced to try a small morsel of the above mentioned game animals. Where the line exists that few negotiate is with the eating of organ meats such as lung, stomach, intestines, tongue and even the magnificent tasting heart and liver. I encourage readers to be more open to trying new foodstuffs, as in the end, many will be pleasantly surprised.
This long rather long introduction leads me to my latest outdoor adventure, the trapping, cleaning and the eating of a snapping turtle. Yes, you heard that right, those scary looking dinosaurs of the depths that many swimmer and anglers have seen lurking in the waters of Maine’s various lakes, and ponds. 
The Plan Forms
This adventure all started, as many do, with an alcohol fueled late night discussion on how one would actually go about trapping, cleaning, preparing and lastly preserving the shell of a snapping turtle. With all of the unknowns and the added possibility of an unscheduled finger amputation, this escapade had all the important elements needed for a truly grand time.
Arriving upta camp, armed with the necessary gear for trapping a massive snapper, we were greatly encouraged by several turtle sightings as the sun dipped below the horizon. We watched with particular attention, as an enormous prehistoric head protruded out of the lake, as a massive snapping turtle began its nightly ritual of searching for food in the lakes quiet shallows. Examining my meager fishing tackle, consisting of a handful of large hooks and 45-pound test steel leader, I debated if my limited gear stood a chance of holding such a hefty and powerful amphibian. In all honestly, my brother and I believed our chances, at actually catching one of these beasts, were zero.
Early the next morning, well before sunrise, my brother and I baited our hooks with chicken livers, then secured the hook to a steel leader and lastly to a 20 lb monofilament fishing line. To suspend the chicken liver about 2 feet under the surface, we used an empty bleach bottle as a bobber. Once set, I began chuckling at the ridiculous thought that our line might actually be effective.
            About 30 minutes after sunrise, I noted a sizeable turtle head protrude from the lakes mirror smooth surface about 10 yards from our “bobber”. Not even a minute later, the beast struck! I violently set the hook and after about a 10 minutes battle had the hissing and very angry snapping turtle on the shore.
With a hatchet in my right hand and wielding a large knife in the other, I stared at the turtle with slight dread knowing the extensive task that lay before me. Of course the most obvious place to start the dissection was with the removal of the creature’s mouth implements, capable of removing a man’s hand at the wrist. (I was told later that because of the low oxygen environment in which a turtle’s brain exists, its brain still functions hours after it is severed from its body!) With any animal, it is always a sportsman’s desire to dispatch it as quickly and humanely as possible. Given snapping turtles impressive defensive capabilities, the most direct and safest approach, is to deliver a hard blow to the back of its neck with a sharp axe, completely removing the head in 2-3 quick blows. 
Eating Turtle
Turtle meat is somewhat tough so it is best to parboil it for an hour or so before planning to incorporate it into any recipe. One of the favorite methods of preparing is including the delicate bits in a soup. In our “experiment”, the turtle parts were boiled and then allowed to cool. The bones were picked of meat and placed in a shallow casserole dish then lightly sprinkled with pineapple chunks and a small handful of diced summer sausage. The end result was predictably as described in most of the literature, each of the different turtle parts all having uniquely different tastes. Perhaps my favorite was the white, rubbery neck meat that had a texture and taste similar to lobster. Also, the dark leg meat was what one would expect were it possible to combine beef with chicken. 
All in all an enjoyable eating experience, albeit a tough sell among the rest of the tribe. While everyone was willing to “try” a small morsel of the final meal, few were wiling to make the commitment to fill their plate. It appeared that, try as I might, some of the preconceived notions and ideals about what food should look and taste like were difficult for some individuals to overcome. In the land of plenty, the snapping turtle has little worry about becoming extinct due to over harvesting.
Preserving the Turtle Shells
The shell of the turtle we harvested was gorgeous. In order to preserve it, a fair amount of work had to be done to make sure that the connective cartilage between the turtles plates did not decompose and cause the shell to crumble. Of prime importance was the removal from the shell of all flesh. This was done initially during the cleaning process and repeated in more details once the shell were allowed to dry in the sun for a few days. The beef jerky texture of the flesh that remained was easy to scrape out of the shells with a sharp knife. Next the shells were washed in soap and scrubbed with Comet cleaner to help remove the dried on algae. If we had things to do over again this step would have been done before the drying as the algae would have been easier to remove. Lastly, the shells were again set aside to dry and we dusted a good heap of Borax into each. After about a week of drying in a cool dry spot the shells were ready to begin accepting their coats of lacquer. About 8 coats provided a beautiful “wet” look to the shells and preserved them for future mounting on the wall of the man cave.
Final Thoughts
Since snapping turtles are not considered either endangered, game or a sport fish, there are no specific laws related to harvest regulations, gear and season.  The gray area arises when considering the potential by-catch of fish that do have rules and regulations associated with them. So, while personal snapping turtle trapping is legal without specific permits or licenses, anglers must consider the anticipated methods and whether or not they could potentially take other species (by-catch) that do have laws/rules associated with them. So with that said, while a fishing license isn’t “required” to fish for snapping turtles, it’s a good idea to have one incase one accidentally catches a regulated fish species.  
Snapping turtles are top level predators in most of the water bodies in which they live and as such carry high levels of mercury, PCB's, and other bio-accumulates.  Therefore limiting consumption of snapping turtle meat (and avoid if pregnant, etc) is a good practice to follow.

Snapping turtles take years to reach sexual maturity (18+ years for snappers), have very low hatching success, and as such need to live a long time in order to replace themselves.  While limited personal take should allow populations to persist, commercial harvesting of snapping turtles in Maine would quickly decimate the population.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Planning Your Budget for the Entire Season

Written By: Mckinley Downing from Outdoor Empire.

Money isn’t everything. But its importance shouldn’t be overstated especially when it comes to affording good-quality equipment, travel, and property for hunting. Budgeting is simply taking the amount of money you have and using it as wisely as possible.

Hunting doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, in some cases, you can borrow a rifle to shoot a deer from your back porch for $.80 and a cheap round of $.30-.60 costs.

If you have dreams of a rocky mountain elk hunt, a new bow, or just a few days off to hunt the rut in your back 40, having a written, well-planned budget is going to help out in getting the best hunt possible.

The Real Cost of Days Off 
This is the most expensive part of a typical hunting season.

Not because you don’t get paid for the day off, everyone has a different situation there. In fact, everyone only gets a few precious days per year and hunting season falls just in time to compete with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Damn.

The key here is to communicate with your family and friends exactly when and where you’re expected to make an appearance. You’ll find that many of the best hunting times, you’re going to be needed. Well, too bad.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t care, but the rut only peaks once a year!

It’s been a huge help in the past years to get a calendar and write on each day when you’re going to have to entertain family and what religious or charitable commitments you should have.

Then fill in the days when you’re going to hunt and place the calendar somewhere you and your spouse or family can see it.

Use your days off wisely but try not to step on anyone’s toes or waste any vacation time. Especially because you’ll start to see that the cost of equipment pales in comparison to the cost of taking days off can be.

Try not to take unpaid days for hunting, use your vacation days. That way, even if you saw nothing and had a miserable time, at least you got paid for it!

Tags & Licenses 
This is the most significant fixed cost you’ll encounter. Everyone needs them, and everyone pretty much pays the same price.

Sometimes, you can avoid paying because some states offer programs not to charge deployed military members, disabled veterans, and hunting on family owned property. Even some species like hogs don’t require licenses in some states.

Look for ways to reduce the prices of tags and licenses by:
⦁ renewing early
⦁ only buy what you know you’ll use
⦁ buying online

On western hunts, shop around! You’d be shocked by the price differences between states for a big game like elk. Popular states like Colorado charge double compared to sleeper states like Idaho and Utah.

As far as budgeting goes, licenses are the easiest part because of the fixed price. Use this to your advantage by reserving the money early because you already know the exact cost. Unlike fuel, land taxes or taxidermy fees.

Travel
Traveling to hunt isn’t just going across the country to a western bear hunt. You need to plan for the costs of fuel and oil to go to and from your hunting location; not just your truck, but also your ATVs if you use them.

If you hunt just six times per year, for all seasons, and travel an hour one way to your lease, you’ll likely end up spending up to $200 per year in gas just to get there and back. The solution is to carpool!

Whether you’re driving, flying in, or taking a train to your hunting location, if you have enough cargo space, you can carpool on your weekend deer hunts and cross-country pursuits.

The further you go, the better this tactic works. Not only do you save money, but you can also travel much faster by sleeping and driving in shifts.

Make sure to stay away from restaurants, hotels, and food from gas stations because it wastes money and valuable time. Either drive in shifts or plan your itinerary around camping at campgrounds close to the interstate. It's cheaper, faster, and there’s nowhere to really waste money.

Equipment 
Budgeting for gear is simple. Buy the best you can afford with the money left after the costs of travel, time off work, and licenses.

This is one of the fun parts of hunting, but there’s still planning. Remember, 80% of your budget is going to be spent on the gear you’ll use 20% of the time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend some money on a good rifle, bow, or tree stand because those are the critical pieces of kit.

In reality, you’ll spend just as much on rain gear, layers, packs, boots, and all the little stuff that make the hunt more enjoyable and easier than you will on essential equipment. What you don’t want is to spend too much on gear and then be forced to skimp on travel or time off.

It can be tough to strike that balance of good-quality equipment that lasts and the cheap bargain basement kit that is sold at discount shops.

When it comes to disposable items like hand warmers, fuel canisters, and camouflage duct tape, buy the cheapest you can find that gets the job done. As long as it serves its purpose, don’t sweat on the brand.

For critical pieces of gear like weapons, stands, and vehicles, remember: if you’re on a budget, you can’t afford to buy it twice.

Things to Consider When Budgeting 

Allow Wiggle Room 
Maybe gas will go up. Maybe the cost of corn will go up. Maybe you won’t get paid for that extra vacation day.

Set aside 10% or so of the entire budget to save just in case. That can cover emergencies that may happen while on the field, or it can be the starting point for next season’s budget.

Have a Wish List 
When you plan your budget, make sure you have an “on deck” or “wish” list should you have a bit of extra cash or a gift you want to take advantage of.

That could mean new gear, more cash on hand for a long-distance trip or more money for range trips.

Factor in Range Costs 
Unless you’re shooting from your back porch, you’re going to spend considerable amounts of money for range use -- range fees, gas, time, and of course ammo.

If your range offers punch cards, memberships or group rate, they’re never a bad idea. Same with bulk ammunition for training purposes.

Get Discounts 
Use coupons, loyalty cards, and rewards points. Try squeezing out every dollar that you can. It may only amount to $50 saved per year, but that can be gas money or an extra range trip.

Use a Warranty 
Don’t just sit idly when your gear fails. Make sure to use a warranty or replacement policy. You can’t afford to replace equipment if it fails prematurely. Take advantage of every warranty or replacement policy that you can, just get some risk protection.

Image Sources: Pixabay
https://pixabay.com/en/adult-blur-book-business-color-1850177/ 
https://pixabay.com/en/wallet-credit-card-cash-investment-2292428/
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