Monday, November 2, 2020

Game Cameras, Laws Rules and the Ethics of Fair Chase

For the sportsman who regularly uses game cameras, to track the movements of deer and other game animals, there is no arguing that they are extremely effective tools. Proper positioning and use of these devices have over the years put me in front of deer time and time again. As deer tend to be creatures of habit, frequently their movements can be predictable. It certainly isn’t an exact science, however, these devices can take the guess work out of when to hunt and when not to hunt a particular location. A few years ago, I noted that a large doe was walking through a section of my property in the afternoon around 5-6:00 pm about every two to three days. The camera showed no sign of the deer moving through at any other time other than this narrow window. Positioning my climbing stand in a tree about 20 yards from this thoroughfare, I was not entirely surprised when the doe walked right past my stand at 5:45 pm on the second day of my sit. 

When hunting with youth hunters, many of whom lack the ability to sit for more than a few hours, game cameras become invaluable. Why sit in a stand in the morning, if the deer are only being seen on camera in the evening or vice versa. If deer are only coming through at 9:00 am why get up at the crack of dawn and sit for hours in the cold. Using modern game cameras to precisely pinpoint deer movements really allows hunters the ability to put deer in the crosshairs much more effectively than any previous scouting technology.

Remotely Monitored Game Cameras

One of the biggest advances in game cameras has occurred over the last few years with the invention of remotely monitored game cameras. These devices allow sportsman to receive instant notification to their cell phone when the camera is triggered. Hunters no longer have to disrupt an area with scent or sound to alert deer or other game animals to their presence. Instead, camera settings can be changed, battery life monitored and photographs received in real-time from the comfort of your easy chair. While this “real time” data, can provide a distinct advantage for sportsmen, some states are making the use of these devices illegal for hunting.

Laws, Other States

Some state lawmakers believe game cameras give hunters an unfair advantage. The state of Montana, for example, has made scouting camera use illegal during the hunting season. A Montana wildlife law enforcement official confirmed that the driving force behind the law was “for fair chase reasons, not game management reasons.” And, their regulations state the following: “It is illegal for a person to possess or use in the field any electronic or camera device whose purpose is to scout the location of game animals or relay the information on a game animal’s location or movement during any Commission-adopted hunting season.”

Fair Chase and Ethics

Probably no one spends more time on deciding what is fair chase and what is not than the Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club. According to the presidents of both B&C and P&Y, neither have any issue with the use of traditional trail cameras that require hunters to visit the camera site to retrieve data cards or film (as far as fair chase goes). But, both oppose the use of cameras that transmit images directly to a location where they may be viewed by a hunter. Animals taken with the use of a direct transmit camera are not eligible for inclusion in their record books. B&C provided this statement: “Trophies taken with the use of trail cameras, including scouting, are eligible for entry in B&C, but only if the hunter has to manually remove film and/or a card from the trail camera itself to retrieve the images. Trophies taken with the use of trail cameras, including scouting, that transmit images to a computer/base station for viewing are not eligible for entry in B&C.”

High Tech Remotely Monitored Game Cameras

No question, properly used, game cameras put more deer on the ground. A sportsman’s chances of success increase even more dramatically, when hunters employ the use of some of the latest remotely monitored game camera technology. The CreativeXP 3G Cellular Trail Camera ($299.27 on Amazon) ranks as one of the highest rated remote game cameras on the market. The camera operates on the AT&T data network and provides a data plan allowing 1,500 photos for only $8.00. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Hunting Teaches Valuable Life Lessons

The Duck Hunting Fiasco of 2019
With early goose season starting this month and duck hunting right around the corner, I am reminded of my duck hunting fiasco of 2019. I suppose, more accurately, I should say the NON-duck hunting fiasco of 2019. 

October 2019 marked my first missed opening day of duck hunting in 20 years. The reason for my non-participation wasn’t sickness, lack of motivation, foul weather or any other of the standard reasons a typical sportsman might encounter to force such a dire circumstance. No, I didn’t go hunting because I didn’t have the required federal migratory waterfowl stamp. Now of course, here come the story. . .

Two days before the waterfowl opener, I realize that I had forgotten to purchase my waterfowl stamp from my local post office. While this is a task that I typically accomplished much, much earlier, the demands of job, a dog and a family sometimes force me to push to the back burner tasks that aren’t critical till they become critical. Well, after visiting four local post offices and calling two others, I realized that things had suddenly become critical. Time and time again, I was given the same story, every postal office was sold out of stamps and none knew even when a new supply of stamps would arrive. Discouraged, I simply didn’t go hunting and didn’t bother to check back in for the remainder of the season. 

Weeks after the end of the 2019 duck hunting season I was talking about the entire fiasco with a (much younger) hunting friend and he asked why I didn’t go online to purchase my waterfowl stamp?? I’m guessing that by the dumbfounded look on my face he could immediately see that I was noticeably confused, so he elaborated. Pulling out his fancy phone, he “Googled”, “migratory waterfowl stamp” and several links immediately appeared where stamps can be purchased online. Hunters can simply print off proof of payment or save it to their phone and voila, instant waterfowl stamp! In my sheer state of absolute disbelief, I wove a web of obscenities that likely still hangs like a dark cloud over the north end of Messalonskee Lake. What gets me most about this entire ordeal, is that in contacting 6 different postal offices, not ONE postal worker knew enough to help direct me to this online service. In a day and age where nationally we are trying to attract youth into our outdoor traditions and retain the hunters we currently have, it seems to me these individuals need to be better educated in their own internal processes.

Bella’s First Year Hunting 

This October will be the first season of duck hunting for my new Labrador retriever, Bella. Bella is my second dog, my first being Onyx who survived 15 great hunting seasons, before finally succumbing to an aggressive form of nasal cancer. After Onyx passed, I swore that I would never get another dog, the heartache had been too great, watching her sicken and finally needing to be euthanized. Time, however, heals all wounds and after a few months, I was on the phone with our breeder asking when the next litter would be available. I’m a dog person, my wife’s a dog person and my kids are dog people, being without a dog feels like some critical component of life is missing.

Training Bella has been fun, frustrating, easy and difficult. There has been good, there has been bad. I’ve had days where I felt like a complete failure as a dog trainer and other days when I felt we could compete at Westminster. This month will be the litmus test to all the time and effort we have spent together training and I can’t wait for the day she brings that first duck to hand. 

Dogs teach sportsmen patience and unconditional love . . . even when they chew a hole through your brand new waders, it is still no wonder why through the ages, the dog has been and always will be, man’s best friend. 

Hunting Accidents
Last November, at our annual deer camp, I was at camp busily preparing a feast for the guys, who I knew would be ravenous after a long day in the woods. As I prepared to transfer a boiling pot of moose stew from the stove top to the crockpot, the entire cauldron of scorching hot fluid slipped out of my gloved hands and spilled all down the front of my pants. At first, the shock of what had happened had me temporarily paralyzed and all I could think was, “Damn! I just ruined a perfectly good pot of stew”! Seconds later, however, the pain hit and I realized that I had done some real damage. 

A few friends were fortunately already at camp and I was ordered to immediately remove my pants and socks. Fumbling to remove them, I then sat down and was provided wet towels to place over my legs and feet. It is likely the quick action of my buddies that assured even more harm did not befall me. Over the next few hours, my legs and feet turned red and the skin on my right foot started to peel away. Though the pain in my foot was intense, the actual damage appeared minor. After soaking my foot for about an hour, the pain seemed to subside and I put on a loose fitting pair of slippers and proceeded to carry on for the remainder of the evening like everything was fine.

Awakening the next morning, I felt an odd sensation in my right foot, it felt as though it was badly swollen. Swinging my foot out from beneath the covers, I was a little shocked at the amount and size of the blisters that had formed overnight. Showing my friends and family, I was instructed to go immediately to the hospital. At first I refused, but after a few hours of hobbling around, I decided that maybe they were right. At Urgent Care, I was told I had suffered second and potentially third degree burns on my right foot. My foot was swabbed in sanitizing ointment, bandaged and I was instructed to keep it extremely clean. Despite doctor’s orders, I still woke up early the next morning, crammed my badly swollen foot into a boot and helped my friend Dave haul his deer out . . . I’m a horrible patient. 

So what does all this have to do with hunting, everything! After the accident, I began thinking of how inadequate my first aid kit was at camp, how I needed to make sure to use my safety harness each and every time I climb into a deer stand and I even ordered a wound sealing powder called Celox, a product designed to stop bleeding almost immediately if a person suffers a traumatic injury. The life lesson here, is the same as it was when I was in the scouts, always be prepared!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Maine Expanded Archery

Expanded Archery Opener… Done In 15 minutes!
Arriving at my hunting blind about an hour before legal, I settled in for what I anticipated would be a fairly uneventful morning.
Though I had scouted out and picked a spot that I felt would be productive, upon arriving at the parking lot, in the wee hours of the morning, I was surprised to see that several other vehicles were also parked and several other archers were also preparing to hunt the property. After talking with the other hunters, a game plan was formulated so that we wouldn’t interfere with each other’s hunt. Barely had I sat down and I noted multiple headlights headed in my direction. Apparently, nobody listened. Well, it’s easy to get worked up about things and much harder to let things go . . . I opted to have a great morning regardless and just let things go. Both hunters walked by my blind casually chatting, neither had any clue I was sitting there. 

Staring at my phone, I impatiently counted down the minutes till legal, trying to remain optimistic. Unknown to me, at the time, was that the two hunters, that had previously passed, bumped a doe that slowly walked by my stand only 15 minutes into legal shooting. Taking careful aim, I fired and had my first deer down of the expanded season. 

Friends of mine were also hunting the property and assisted me in hauling the deer back to the truck. Through these friends, I later found out I was the only hunter on the property to shoot a deer on the first day. It just goes to show, that even when the odds don’t seem to be in your favor, sometimes they actually are and sweating the small stuff never does any good. When hunting this season, stay positive, be considerate, be kind, help others whenever you can, be ethical and if necessary even turn the other cheek.

No Crossbows in Expanded Archery

Governor Janet Mills expanded hunting opportunities by signing into law Legislative Document 27 (LD 27), "An Act to Allow the Use of a Crossbow for a Limited Duration during the October Archery Season on Deer and the Fall Season on Wild Turkey.” The purpose of LD 27 is to provide additional opportunities for hunters to pursue deer. Currently, the archery season on deer is four weeks long, and the average whitetail take during a season is 500 deer taken by approximately 10,000 hunters. This is obviously an abysmal success rate. IFW feels that the use of crossbows during the October archery season will not markedly increase harvest rates on bucks or result in negative consequences for the deer population. Additionally, research studies, conducted by states who have implemented similar laws, have shown that allowing more crossbow hunting would increase hunter recruitment numbers, adding more new hunters to the sport. Overall, more crossbow hunting is good for our wildlife, our hunters and our state.

The new crossbow law officially began on January 1, 2020 and will last for 3 years and then be re-evaluated. The law expands crossbow hunting to the regular October archery season on deer and the fall wild turkey hunting season. The law specifies, however, that, “a person using a crossbow during the open archery season may not harvest an antlerless deer unless that person possesses an antlerless deer permit. Also, by Maine law, a crossbow is not considered a firearm. A person may hunt any wild bird or animal with a crossbow during any open season on that bird or animal while still following all the other laws pertinent to that species, except that a licensed crossbow hunter 64 years of age or younger may not hunt wild turkey during the fall turkey season or hunt deer during the expanded archery, special October archery or muzzleloader seasons. Hunters 65 years or older, or who have a special handicap permit to use a crossbow, may use a crossbow for any species in season with the appropriate permits.

Unfortunately, even though this law certainly is progressive and a step in the right direction for the sportsmen in this state, it still comes up short, first in its limited duration or “test” implementation and second in not allowing sportsmen to hunt with crossbows in the September expanded archery season.

Trackable Nock

        Those sportsmen who can’t seem to get enough of technology, will love the Breadcrumb Bluetooth Trackable Nock. This nock enables hunters to track their arrow or crossbow bolt right from their smart phone. Using the Breadcrumb Tracking App, hunters can accurately locate arrows or bolts from distances of 50+ yards away. Once in range, simply follow the signal strength indicator on the App to lead directly to the arrow or bolt. Hunters may also use their phone to activate the nock’s sound beacon in order to reveal an arrow’s or bolt’s hidden location. MSRP: Three Nocks for $119.99. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A Big Hole in the Water into Which is Poured Money

In the summer of 2019, I acquired a new to me 16 foot Lund with a 30 hp Honda 4 stroke. This was of course a huge upgrade from my previous boat, a 14 foot “Portaboat” propelled by a 3.5 hp Nissan. What I soon came to find out about owning a big boat is that with it comes big problems. Now I am not saying that I don’t enjoy the new boat, but whenever more complexity is added to any situation, the higher the degree of chance that something will ultimately go wrong. 

Plan for the Worst

When I inherited this boat, I also inherited a sizeable trailer. For those unaccustomed to towing a long trailer with a heavy boat, this is not a task that should be entered into lightly. Backing up such a rig and navigating around town is enough to make a novice queasy. I attempted to address my many and varied worst case scenarios and in the end, determined that I needed a spare tire. I had after all seen through the years many a boat owner stranded on the side of the road, an unfortunate victim of the “flat tire”. 

Hope for the Best

It was weeks before I finally managed to get all of the boat’s critical parts operational but ultimately, the day came when I was prepared to take it out on its maiden voyage. I make sure I didn’t encounter any issues, that I couldn’t effectively handle, I even invited along two friends to make sure that if I need additional horsepower (help paddling home) I would be ready. Unfortunately, the boat didn’t even make it to the water before I encountered my first issue. Remember, my innate fear of towing a trailer. As my friends and I motored into the boat launch, I have to admit I was excited. In moments I would be enjoying a relaxing day of fishing, in my new boat with my good friends. In my brief few seconds of inattention, I neglected to properly negotiate the sharp turn into the landing and the trailer tire tapped the edge of a large granite boulder. After the large “bang”, the next sound I heard was the rapid high pitch squeal of air escaping through the tires sidewall. Thankfully, the day was saved due to my forethought at having purchased a spare, but the tire was a total loss. 

Get Back on that Horse

I determined that this little set back wasn’t going to ruin my excitement about being a new boat owner and through the course of the summer, my boating experiences were relatively free of drama. Sometimes you can’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff. 

Great Pond, Belgrade

Great Pond is the largest body of water in the famed Belgrade Chain of Lakes. For a new boat owner its grand size can be intimidating. On my first outing on the lake, however, all of these initial fears were dispelled. The boat launch located on Boat Way Lane off of Sahagian Road in Belgrade is fantastic. The launch has ample parking, a beautiful dock and a great place to launch a boat. The launch can get very busy during the summer but most of the traffic can be avoided if anglers get an early start. What also impressed me about Great Pond is that almost every single rock, submerged point and potential boating hazard is well labeled with buoys. As long as even a novice boater, new to the pond, navigates with caution, it would be very difficult to encounter issues. 

Three Mile Pond, Vassalboro

Three Mile Pond is another of my favorite drama free boating destinations. The Pond’s boat launch, located off Route 202 in South Vassalboro is well maintained, has a large concrete launch, ample parking and a sizeable dock. Though the pond’s hazards are not quite as well marked as Great Pond, as long as the lake is edging is navigated at slow speeds, boaters shouldn’t have any rocky encounters. The center of the lake has between 25-37 feet of water so if you feel the need to “open’r up”, go right ahead. 

Sheepscot Pond, Palermo

Sheepscot Pond in Palermo is an expansive (1,193 acre) pond situated among the rolling, wooded hills of southeastern Waldo County. A moderately developed lake (unusual for Central Maine!) it remains an attractive setting for anglers and boaters alike. A state-owned boat ramp, located off Rt. 3 on the lake's north shore, provides access for anglers and other recreational users. For the angler who believes that variety is the spice of life, they will find no better thrill than a day spent fishing Sheepscot Pond. On previous trips to the lake I managed to pull up 7 different species of fish including, salmon, largemouth bass, pickerel, white perch, yellow perch, lake trout and brook trout. According to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the lake additionally contains, brown trout, smallmouth bass and even splake, which were originally introduced to the lake in 1993. While we were unsuccessful in catching any of these additional species, the possibility of going to a lake and catching 10 different species of fish is exciting!

Other Suggestions for New Boaters

Something that helped me immensely in increasing my confidence in navigating new bodies of water was a good quality depth finder. I also carry a lake/pond survey map (available through the website) of the bodies of water I am navigating. As long as I am always sure of my position, these simple maps can really take the guess work out of navigating unfamiliar bodies of water. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Katahdin 2019

In 2019, I succeeded in climbing the Hunt trail on Mt. Katahdin, reaching the summit with my eldest son, the Wildman, on what can only be described as a truly epic day. On that same hike, my younger son was forced to retreat at tree line due to feelings of acrophobia. Having his brother reach the summit and not him, only ignited my younger son’s desire to hike to the Mt. Katahdin summit and a year later he had his second chance. 

Calculated Risk

After not reaching the summit, I understood that I had one year to help my younger son gain more control over his fear of heights. Having also been afraid of heights as a child, I well understood his trepidation. I also understood that in order for him to conquer his fears, he would need to hike in progressively more challenging situations so that he was capable of seeing heights as a calculated risk. Meaning that in life there are thousands of things that can potentially kill you everyday . . . car crashes, ticks, crossing the road, riding a bike but it is unhealthy to live in a constant state of fear of what “could” be. Instead by managing and rationalizing your fears you can learn to overcome them. Except fear of spiders, of course, nothing can help with that. 

Progressive Hike 1: Ragged Mountain (1,300 ft.)

Maine has some truly great hikes for beginners, looking to train for bigger mountains. One of my favorites is Ragged Mountain which is accessible through the Camden Snowbowl, small community-owned ski area in Camden. The two primary trailheads are on the right side of the A-frame lodge, and at the pond end of the main parking lot, beyond the double chairlift. There is also a set of kiosks with information and maps available near the boat launch, just before entering the main parking lot. The Ragged Mountain trails have no real “height” exposure, only the summit has a steep edge where hikers should exhibit caution. 

Progressive Hike 2: French Mountain (716 ft.)

A short climb leads hikers up French Mountain which provides gorgeous, expansive view over small Whittier Pond. The trailhead is off Watson Pond Road, which leaves from the west side of ME Route 27 about a mile north of the intersection of ME Routes 27 and 225 in Rome. Continue down Watson Pond road 0.7 miles from ME route 27 and look for a paved pullout for parking on the eastern (left) side of the road.

Progressive Hike 3: Mt. Phillip (755 ft.)

The Mount Phillip Trail is a loop trail. The trail, marked with blue blazes, leaves from the northeast corner of the parking lot heading east and in less than 0.1 miles splits. Bear right to follow the trail counterclockwise. The trail passes through a grove of tall mature pines then heads northwest gently climbing upward through a mixed forest of hardwoods and evergreens. It continues up to a rocky ledge on Mount Phillip’s eastern side at 0.6 miles and crosses the ledge westward to a rocky, partial summit clearing (755'). After enjoying views of Great Pond to the south and the Kennebec Highlands to the west, continue the loop trail by descending to the west, then turning in a southerly direction and dropping down into a stand of mature hemlock and back to the junction and parking lot. The trailhead and parking lot for the trail are located on the north side of Route 225, directly across from Starbird Lane, 1.5 miles east of the Rome Corner (the junction of Routes 27 and 225).

Three Mountain Overview

All three mountains each have cliffs and overlooks that could be potentially dangerous if conditions were slippery or a hiker was not attentive to their footing. These areas were mostly located on the mountain summits and overlooks. A hiker, like my son, was able to only get as close to the edge as he felt comfortable and so was able to see drops and hazards without having to be immersed in them like during our 2018 Katahdin hike. We spent a good part of the spring and early summer hiking and by August I felt my younger son was ready for his second Katahdin attempt.  

A Better Plan for Katahdin Success

In 2018 my younger so had attempted the Hunt trail, which I would classify as “airy”. In several spots, a single misstep would leave a hiker severely injured or dead. Knowing that my younger son had not yet completely overcome his fear of heights, in 2019 we decided to hike the Saddle Trail to the summit. Additionally to get a super early start, we also reserved a spot at Roaring Brook. I have to admit the training and planning worked out perfect and by 10:00 AM (about 5.5 hours of hiking) the four of us, my brother, his daughter and my two sons were at the summit of Katahdin. Only at one spot on the Saddle trail, did I see that my youngest son was getting “sketched” but a quick pep talk got his head back in the game and he never had any other problems. We ended the hike back at Roaring Brook campground at about 2:30 PM a total of about 11 miles which we covered in 10 hours. I have hiked Mt. Katahdin, in every season, via every trail and touched the summit over 30 times. During all those hikes, I have on many occasions seen adults not perform as well as my 11 and 13 year old sons and my 12 year old niece. Upon settling into our campsite, my brother and I collapsed into our zero G lounge chairs and watched the kid play tag, hide and seek and swim in the stream until it was time for bed. To be that young again and have just an ounce of that vigor! 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Canadian Bear Hunt Spring 2019

One of my favorite hunts is the spring bear hunt in Canada. This past season makes my third consecutive year chasing the elusive black bruins of St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Bear densities here are high, in 2019, my guide had his clients shoot 18 bears, 4 shy of his highest total season of 22. This year, that translated to a success rate of over 90%. This of course excludes the clients (like me), who passed on smaller bears that could have been shot.
Spring Bear vs Fall Bear Weights
Spring bears will be 30% heavier come fall, meaning a bear weighing 150 pounds in the spring will be close to 200 pounds come fall. Because of this, spring bears, fresh out of hibernation, are notoriously hard to judge weigh. Two hunting seasons ago, I pulled the trigger on a 170 pound bear that’s back was even with the top of a 55 gallon drum. I was positive the bruin would be over 200 pounds, I was wrong. The bear had the apparent high, gait, nose and ears that lead me to believe he was bigger, of course by fall that same bear would have weighed close to 220 pounds.
Crossing the Border
While some my cringe at the prospect of making the border crossing with a firearm, I have found that with a passport and proper paperwork, this to be an extremely simple endeavor. Local guides provide licenses and provide the single page of paperwork required to bring a firearm into Canada. Upon return to the US, the American customs will require you to have a declaration form, so before entering Canada be sure to stop by the U.S. customs office and get one. Hunters who wish to hunt with crossbow have an even easier entry into Canada as crossbows require no declaration paperwork. Clients have the option of staying in Canada throughout the entirety of the hunt to eliminate the necessity of crossing the border each day. Personally, I stayed with family in Calais and crossed the border everyday with my firearm and never encountered any issue.
Picking the Right Guide Service
What I like best about the guide service I used for my hunt was the meticulous care he employs in prepping bait sites, monitoring bear activity and especially the comfortable wooden blinds he has constructed to better hide hunters and protect them from the elements. While tree stands are available, I always request a blind as they are extremely comfortable. As a matter of fact, I am sitting here in the blind writing this story!
Bait Sites
Sites are baited with a huge assortment of goodies (not just doughnuts) that seem to appeal to the tastes of hunger roaming bears fresh out of hibernation. The food stuffs include, mixed nuts, confectionary sugar, fry oil, candy and yes, even Tim Horton doughnuts. The guide also sprays down the site every night with Liquid Smoke. This strong smelling product seems to serve the dual purpose of attracting bears and also covering up any human odors.
The guide has cameras on every bait site and when I arrive he asks me, “Do you want to shoot “a” bear or “the” bear?” What he means to say, is he has sites where he is seeing smaller bears (110-130 lbs) almost every evening and other sites where larger bears (175-300) are being seen occasionally. This really blew my mind, the guide had such close tabs on the bear population, he could practically tailor a hunt to each hunter. I opted for the “the” bear hunt and saw a massive bruin creep in from the shadows on Tuesday night about 5 minutes past legal but offer no ethical shot.
Have a Seat
When picking out a guide service for a bear hunt it is important to ask a lot of questions. I have been on multiple bear hunts over the years and seen it all. Perhaps the worst was in two occasions, when I went with outfitters who sat me in a chair 20 yards from the bait site in minimal cover and told me not to move a muscle for 5 hours. Now, I’m sure there are some amazingly talented hunters out there who could accomplish this feat but not me. I always have a tickle in my throat and need a drink, have to pee or just get plain bored and fidgety. If an outfitter puts a sport in a blind or tree stand with minimal cover and their answer to this inadequacy is “don’t move”, you are with the wrong guide service.
I’m sitting here writing this story on my cell phone, in a high back plastic lawn chair with a padded seat, my gun hangs from a piece of string from the ceiling and all I need to do to shoot is lean forward, aim, turn off the safety and pull the trigger. The front window is covered in a screen, to partially protect me from the ravenous hordes of mosquitoes (thought I also have brought a Thermacell). It’s currently raining buckets, but inside the blind I am warm and dry. In the 10 bear hunts I have been on, with 7 different guides, this is certainly the most enjoyable.
Meat Processing
Another important consideration when choosing a guide is how will the best be processed after the shot? A majority of guided simply quarter or debone the animal and leave everything else up to the hunter. Are you prepared with coolers, vacuum packing supplies, knives, ice, etc. to make sure your meat doesn’t go to waste? Make sure you understand in very clear terms what the guide provides and cannot provide. Local butchers maybe available, if hunters are looking for an easier alternative, it pays to ask ahead and even call them to make sure they are operating.
Care for that Hide
When skinning, the guide will ask the hunter what he/she is planning to do with the hide as the skinning cuts will be determined by the choice. What about that beautiful bear hide? Will it become a piece of taxidermy? If yes, what specifically? Rug? Shoulder mount? Full body mount? The hunter should be aware if the costs associated with each and plan accordingly.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Turkey Talk
The opening day of deer season used to get me excited more than any other hunting pursuit, however, after having kids, youth day of the spring turkey season is truly what I live for. Unbridled excitement is how to best describe my children as turkey season approaches. The kids and I bring out the calls and talk turkey just about every night, music to our ears, the dog … not so much. We all talk tactics and weeks before the opener, they accompany me on scouting trips and mornings are spent walking the woods and driving dirt roads in anticipation of spotting a truly giant beard dragger. Our hunts have also grown increasingly more fun over the years, as the kids have gained enough strength and knowledge to spot and stalk, a hunting technique infinitely more enjoyable for them than sitting over a decoy and playing the waiting game. During the 2018 season, both boys were able to shoot birds by stalking, hunts that will remain cherished memories for years to come.
Sleep In, Shoot More Birds
            One of the things that I had to be more flexible about when hunting with kids is that they don’t tend to want to get up super early and as they have crept into the teen years this has become a less and less enjoyable experience for them. Often these days we sleep in till about 8-9:00 and then hunt. By this time of morning the gobbles have typically gone silent but big birds are still on the prowl for love and the hunting can be excellent. As the hens head for their nest and the early morning crowd of hunters heads home for breakfast, the woods become the perfect place to ambush old Tom. By patrolling the wood line paralleling small fields, small groups of birds can readily be spotted. Often by creeping in close and employing light yelps and purrs and scratching in the leaves toms and jakes alike will make the mistake of crossing into the danger zone. This is where knowing yardage is important to ensuring a lethal shot. I carry a range finder so when a bird enters 30 yards, I know the kids can effectively hit their target. My rule, however, is if the turkey is coming let him come, it’s always better to have a slam dunk at 10-15 yards, if the bird is going to be corporative. This isn’t just good advice for kids though as I have hunted with many friends who have missed birds at 40 yards that were practically running into a decoy. Always wait for a better shot, if you anticipate a better shot.
Augila Mini Shells
            Aguila Ammunition Company recently released a new 1 ¾ inch 12 gauge shot shell. I picked up a box to check their effectiveness thinking they might be perfect for a youth hunter wanting to make the transition from a 20 gauge pump to a 12 gauge automatic, without having to invest in a brand new firearm. After testing them in my 12 gauge automatic, I encountered feed problems and ultimately decided against their use. I then began to think that maybe if an adult hunter wanted to introduce their son or daughter to turkey hunting and only had a single shot 12 gauge available for use, the mini shells would enable a youth hunter to use the firearm with less recoil and again without having to purchase a new firearm. DO NOT DO THIS! 
Mini Shells ARE NOT Legal for Turkey Hunting
Maine law states that for turkey hunting: A person can use shotgun gauges 10 through 20, using shot sizes 4 through 6 or mixed loads that include shot sizes 4 through 7. In addition, shotgun gauges 10 through 28, including .410, may be used with shot sizes 7 through 9 in Tungsten Super Shot (TSS).
I found this verbiage slightly confusing since mini shells don’t fit perfectly within this description. To clarify, I contacted the Maine Warden Service and asked if mini shells were legal for turkey hunting. The reply from the Maine warden service was that mini shells can NOT be used for turkey hunting, since at this time of this writing, Augila is only loading mini shells with slugs, #4 buckshot or shells filled with 7 1/2s, 8s and 9s. Unfortunately, all of those loads are outside of what is allowed to hunt turkey, Augila Mini Shells cannot be used legally. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Phantom Brook Trout of the Union River

Last spring, I was visiting with some old college buddies in Mariaville and staying in a rustic camp, a stone’s throw from the Union River. I had been lured to this area by sweet promises of 12-14 inch brook trout, so plentiful that they had to be practically beaten off an angler’s line with a canoe paddle. Upon arriving at camp, however, I was greeted by my good friend Pat who proclaimed, “Watahs too high and there ain’t nuf blackflies, fish jus won’t bite.” Apparently, I had been inadvertently bamboozled. According to Pat, a spring flood of unusually high water and an uncharacteristically poor blackfly mating season, had combined to extinguish my plans of landing numerous brook trout. Unfazed by the dreary forecast, my companions and I, over the next two days, threw just about every conceivable lure into the Union River, in an all-out effort to perhaps entice one brook trout to bite.
No Trout, Try Turkeys
After two days fishing, I grew tired of the drudgery and asked my friend Pat if he would like to try turkey hunting. Pat, a dyed in the wool deer hunter, had never hunted turkeys and he was excited to give the sport a try. One thing that I quickly learned, however, was that chasing old Tom around the blueberry fields of Mariaville is VERY different than chasing turkeys in Central Maine. While we did manage with several hours of effort to see a few hens, the lack of gobbles sent us back to camp well before lunch time.
            Unlike Pat and me, my other friends decided that despite days of not catching fish, today was THE day and their glass half full philosophy could not be challenged. Their plan was to travel several miles upstream, on the Union, and try a couple untouched pools, Pat’s only warning to my friends was, “Do not attempt to cross the river, it’s treacherous.”
A Cryptic Txt Message
            Pat and I were returning to camp, when I received a cryptic txt message asking if Pat had a come-along or if he knew where we could get one. A few minutes later, I received another txt message asking if Pat had rope. We both grew concerned that my friends had not heeded Pat’s warning, so I immediately called my friend Dave to find out what had happened. Dave answered his phone and relayed that he and another friend had buried one of the vehicles in the Union river and it was in danger of being washed downstream. I hung up the phone, concerned that we would now all soon be involved in what could potentially be a dangerous extraction of an ATV or potentially a truck (it was still unclear) from a hazardous section of the Union River.
Missing Wheeler!?!
             As we pulled into camp, I quickly scanned Pats camp yard and counted trucks and ATVs. I looked at Pat and said, “Odd, all the vehicles are here.” Pat replied, “Not all the vehicles Bub, where’s your ATV?” I immediately looked into the woods where I had parked my ATV and it was in fact gone.
The Apology
            Dave immediately came apologetically groveling out of the camp, spewing out comments like, “Thought I put it in neutral.”, “I shouldn’t have parked it on a hill.”, “I think the four of us can extract it.”, “There really isn’t much damage.”  At this point, it’s pouring buckets, so while Pat was digging through the woodshed for rope and a come-along, I proceeded to go into the camp to don my rain gear. This was also my chance to take a few calming breaths, so as not to choke my friend Dave to death. Dave, unable to contain his guilt, followed me into camp and continued his barrage of apologies. At that point, I was honestly kind of beyond it, the wheeler was insured and replaceable/repairable if necessary. Instead, I grew increasingly concerned that someone could potentially get seriously injured trying to extract it from the rushing water. Seeing the concerned look on my face, Dave told me to look out the camp window as a deer was walking by, as I looked up, there was my ATV safe and sound parked right next to the woodpile in back of the camp. It might not have been “April Fool’s Day”, but that was one fantastic practical joke.
            The four of us proceeded to retell this story over the next two days, to anyone who would listen and laugh hysterically every time and with each retelling, the story grew more and more outlandish, as all great stories do. I feel extremely fortunate that I have such good friends who are willing to invest their precious time in making sure my days on this earth are as exhilarating as possible.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Kill More Coyotes with the Right Light

Spotlight Right         
By mid-March, the ice on many of Maine’s lakes and ponds begins to grow thin. For those who don’t enjoy the possibility of taking an icy plunge, we begin to think of other outdoor pursuits. One of my favorite March activities is chasing coyotes. As with deer hunting, there always seems to be something new to learn about hunting these wily creatures.
Red, Green or White Light
            One of the latest discussions is around the use of spotlights. Basically, spotlights for night hunting come in three basics colors, red, green and white. While red is more traditional, green appears to be increasingly more popular and the new kid on the black is white. A search online will yield testimonials singing the praises of each of these lighting systems. So how does a hunter choose?
            In my experience and from what I have read about the experiences of other hunters, green lights, though exceedingly popular, seem to be the poorest choice for predator hunting. Red and white lights tie for second, with a slightly higher number of hunters preferring red, including me. There is even scientific research indicating most manufactured “red” spotlights emit visible light in the 620 nm wavelength but a true red and the best “red” for predator hunting are spotlights that emit light in the 660 nm wavelength. White lights have gained a lot of popularity over the past several years and more and more hunters are using them, especially those who enjoy videotaping their hunts.
Quick Scan
Ultimately, despite the color employed, hunter success in the field is dependent more on how the spotlight is used and less on the chosen color. For example, coyotes can't see red light but that doesn't mean a direct blast with a spotlight (of any color) won't send them running. When scanning fields for coyotes, quickly scan back and forth looking for eyes. Red lights are extremely effective in picking up a coyotes eyes. This is because coyotes have a “mirror”, called a tapetum lucidum, beneath their retina that collects and focuses light back into the retina, enhancing their ability to see in low light conditions. Looking for that eye reflection is the key to success and all that is required to do so is a 3-4 second sweep of a field. Scanning is of course much easier, if it is done with two people, with one person operating the spotlight and the other operating the firearm. 
Properly Identify Target
            After identifying a reflection, it is critical that hunters properly identify their target, a task that is exceedingly difficult when only an animals eyes are identified. Most coyotes will spook, if hit with the direct beam of a spotlight for more than a few seconds. Instead, use the softer light on the edge of the spotlight beam to identify the target without sending it running off. 
Shooting at Night
            For those unaccustomed to shooting at night, it is critical that one is extremely familiar with the area. Houses, domesticated animals, non-target wild animals, other hunters, etc. can quickly turn a fun night in the woods into a nightmare. I prefer to hunt coyotes at night with a shotgun rather than a rifle as shots tend to lose velocity quickly, limiting the lethal range which a bullet can fly. Also, a majority of the successful hunting at night is up close and personal with a most shots occurring at 30-40 yards. A cardinal rule of all hunting but especially night hunting is if you aren’t 100% sure of your target don’t shoot.  
Full Moon
My favorite time to hunt coyotes is under a full moon. The moon illuminates the night better than any spotlight ever made and it’s completely natural. Placing an electronic call on the edging of a small frozen pond and sitting back in the woods 10-20 yards creates a fantastic ambush location. When things work perfectly, a coyote will creep down the woods edging, exposing itself against the ponds snow covered surface, just as a hunter has a perfect shot. More often than not, however, the coyote winds the hunter or spooks but that is the challenge of hunting coyotes, close range at night.
Light, light, light!
            When the full moon isn’t shining, a hunter’s best friend is a spotlight. My best advice when selecting a quality light is don’t penny pinch. A good quality spotlight, that will perform well in Maine’s cold climate and won’t easily break, is somewhat pricy. Good spotlights include the Orion H30 ($129.95), the Predator Tactics Reaper ($199) and the Wicked Lights W403IC ($219.95). All of these models also have the ability to throw light well over 100 yards, a feature that will come in handy as a coyote hunter’s knowledge of an area and skill level increases and they decided to transition to using a rifle. Also, these high power light systems are incredibly helpful in picking out coyotes on bait sites where extended range is likely to be needed.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Northern Pike The Scourge of Maine

Photo – 44” Northern Pike caught by Chris Stevens on 1/1/19 on 6-lb test while crappie jigging on Unity Pond, Photo taken by Michael Dubois.

Northern Pike The Scourge of Maine
According to the 2008 NORTHERN PIKE ASSESSMENT Prepared by Francis Brautigam Regional Fisheries Biologist Region A of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Division of Fisheries & Hatcheries, “Northern Pike were initially introduced into Maine during the 1970’s, as a result of an illegal introduction to the Belgrade Chain of Lakes. Pike became well established and subsequently colonized other lakes within the Belgrade Lakes drainage. Early spawning, early utilization of fish forage and subsequent rapid growth, opportunistic foraging habits, and large size potential are qualities that enabled pike to successfully establish as a dominant predator in the Belgrades, where habitat is not limiting. The recreational fisheries that initially developed were characterized by large size quality. Pike averaged over 30 inches long and exceeded 7 pounds. This exciting new fishery was producing fish of larger average size than that offered by more traditional existing fisheries and the popularity of this sportfish grew. The perceived success of the Belgrade Lakes pike fisheries likely contributed to numerous subsequent illegal pike introductions to new waters within central and southern Maine.”
Pike Continue to Expand Distribution
In the 2008 assessment, IFW listed 28 lakes and ponds that held viable populations of Northern Pike. Currently, IFW has since revised this distribution to now include 3 additional lakes and ponds, with many more first-hand reports being submitted by ice fishermen, yet to be confirmed by IFW. These new bodies of water, include, the Saint George drainage, Round Pond, White Oak Pond, Sennebec Lake and Unity Pond (see photo). In order to confirm a species presence, IFW biologists/wardens must actually collect the fish.
The Belgrade Lakes Region is one of Maine’s top fishing destinations for anglers looking to catch big pike. Of the Belgrade Lakes, Great Pond, (Map 20, E-4) Messalonskee Lake, (Map 21, E-1) Long Pond, (Map 20, E-4) North Pond, (Map 20, D-4) all contain trophy pike upwards of 20 plus pounds. Northern Pike enthusiasts enjoy fishing for this toothy and aggressive species in late February and March, when trophy size adult pike concentrate in shallow water areas with the approach of the spawning season.
North Bay on Great Pond
Late season typically finds me fishing the shallow waters of North Bay on Great Pond. The area of the large bay in and around Snake Point are typically my favorite spots. Access to this location can best be made by parking at the “Sweet Dreams” convenience store located at 164 Village Road in Smithfield (362-2010), just make sure you buy something at the store before heading out, to help support the continued use of this gracious access point. North Bay is accessible by a 1.25 mile snowmobile trail leading directly from the store to the lake.
Jigging for Pike
Pike will eat almost anything and as such, have been caught by anglers on almost every type of fishing lure imaginable, including the apparently new hot bait, red hot dogs (Google it!). With that said, however, there are certain lures that tend to work better than others when in pursuit of big, wall hanger Pike. Vertical Spoons like the Swedish Pimple and Acme Kastmaster, are favorites and their performance can be improved by adding a piece of cut bait on one of the hooks, a killer combination. Drop the lure to the bottom, lift, drop and lift 5-6 more times then hold it still. Pike often hit the lure when it stops moving. Often I let the lure sit for a couple seconds, then proceed to give it a slight twitch before jigging again. Often that little twitch is all it takes to elicit a brutal strike.
The Story of the Unity Pond Pike as Told by Michael Dubois       
While jigging for Crappie with a 24 in rod and 6 lb test line, Chris Stevens from Waterville hooked a massive Northern Pike (see photo).
The day before we caught the Pike, Chris Stevens and I were on Unity Pond fishing and spoke with the local IFW biologist Scott Davis. We specifically asked him if there were Pike in the pond to which he replied, not to his knowledge. He also has a shack on the pond and fishes there quite often, so we figured he was accurate. We would have large schools of Crappie on our flasher and suddenly they would disappear only to reappear a few minutes later, so we had surmised that a large fish like a Pike was moving the school around. This happens to us on Messalonskee and quite often we get bit off by Pike.
Suddenly, all of the Crappie disappeared, a large image appeared on the flasher and then Chris’s pole folded in half. When he set the hook, we knew that Scott Davis was wrong! 
Chris had just had carpal tunnel surgery and after 10 minutes or so, he asked me to take the rod as his hand was getting sore. I fought the fish for about 10 minutes and gave the rod back to Chris, as his hand felt better and it was in fact his fish. Again, Chis fought the fish for some amount of time and then relinquished the rod back to me for the same sore hand.
The first time I brought the fish to the hole, we both agreed that there was no way for us to land it and that no one was going to believe us. We could see the lure hooked on the furthest tip of the upper jaw thus preventing the line from getting near any of the teeth. I gave Chris a pair of rubber insulated gloves and told him that he would need to reach into the hole and grab the pike.  He did just that, lifting the pike out of the water about 2 feet, then with one shake the Pike was back down the hole and ran out most of the line on the reel yet again. We then decided to use the ice scoop to try and scoop the Pike out. Same deal except this time Chris had the pike 2 feet out of the hole a second time, the scoop broke and away went the pike for another lengthy fight.
I gave Chris the pole back and said, “I would show him how it’s done”. I too grabbed the pike with the gloves and lifted it 2 feet out of the hole and it shook and I too dropped it back in the hole. One last fight for Chris and this time, I was able to grab the fish and drag it out onto the ice. 
We walked over to the biologists shack and took a picture in front of his name tag as we figured no one would believe that it came out of Unity Pond. We also contacted Scott who did pick-up the head and aged the Pike at 9-11 years old. We estimated it at about 20-25 lbs and she was carrying about 4 lbs of eggs.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Maine's New Crossbow Law

New Crossbow Law
There seems to be a fair amount of confusion around the recently passed crossbow legislation, which allows for the use of crossbows during the October archery season and the fall season on wild turkey. To help answer some of these questions, here are the facts as provided by a review of the legislation and feedback from Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Background Information on the Law
Governor Janet Mills expanded hunting opportunities by signing into law Legislative Document 27 (LD 27), "An Act to Allow the Use of a Crossbow for a Limited Duration during the October Archery Season on Deer and the Fall Season on Wild Turkey." Sponsored by Rep. Tim Theriault (R-79), the bills intent is to expand crossbow hunting opportunities during archery season for three years beginning in 2020. There is currently some uncertainty as to whether the law will allow the use of crossbows during the expanded archery seasons.
In my discussion with IFW, it was explained that there are still some aspects of the law that will require clarification before fall 2020. In fact, the legislature may make modifications to the current legislation language when they reconvene in January. Possible changes include clarifying whether crossbows can be used in expanded archery zones during the September season and a discussion on whether some crossbow hunters would be allowed to shoot an antlerless deer during the October archery season without an any-deer permit. From my conversation with IFW, it appears that hunters may want to wait before running out to invest in a crossbow until they realize exactly what the state is selling us.
New Laws Purpose
            The purpose of LD 27 is to provide additional opportunities for hunters to pursue deer. Currently, the archery season on deer is four weeks long, and the average whitetail take during a season is 500 deer taken by approximately 10,000 hunters. This is obviously an abysmal success rate. IFW feels that the use of crossbows during the October archery season will not markedly increase harvest rates on bucks or result in negative consequences for the deer population. Additionally, research studies, conducted by states who have implemented similar laws, have shown that allowing more crossbow hunting would increase hunter recruitment numbers, adding more new hunters to the sport. Overall, more crossbow hunting is good for our wildlife, our hunters and our state.
Law Not Popular with Everyone
Despite the positive impact this law could potentially have, not all of the state’s sporting groups were willing to support the bill and it was opposed by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the Maine Professional Guides Association and the Maine Bowhunters Association. Fortunately, the hunters of this state rallied, during the legislative hearing, to assist in making the bill a law. 
The Dilemma
            I feel that this new law is a step in the right direction, with crossbows having full inclusion in the firearm seasons in 26 states and legal during archery and firearms seasons, in some capacity, in 23 other states, the time for Maine to progressively move forward and allow the use of crossbows during the October archery season and the fall season on wild turkey makes sense. What does not make sense to me is that the law is only, at this point, valid for three years and that some aspects of the law still require clarification. Given that a crossbow is a sizeable investment and that IFW requires a special course to use this weapon during hunting season and that sportsmen will need to practice to operate this weapon safely and effectively to harvest game, limiting the law to three years is badly flawed logic. It is my belief that because of the current three year limitation, few hunters will take up the crossbow until the law is finalized and implemented to last for good.
Currently Allowed Crossbow Special Usage in Maine
Only those hunters 65 years of age or older or hunters with a permanent disability, who have been issued a special handicap permit, may use a crossbow to hunt deer during the archery season. This is of course as long as they have the required permit, license and have successfully completed the required crossbow safety education courses.
I Own a Crossbow
            Despite my reservation with the new law, I am a crossbow owner. Though I have only had my crossbow for two years, I have been thoroughly impressed with the capabilities of this impressive weapon. The TenPoint Turbo GT ($999) fires a bolt at 360 feet per second and comes with almost everything needed (bolts, scope and quiver) to start hunting immediately. My model also includes the Accudraw which allows the shooter to pull back the bow limbs with a hand crank mechanism instead of having to pull back the draw string by hand or by using a special pulley device. Given the power of this weapon, I find the Accudraws mechanical assistance mandatory. In future articles, I plan to talk more about using a crossbow for hunting in Maine to support others who are looking to explore the capabilities of this weapon. 
I would like to thank Nate Webb of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for his assistance in helping to make sure that the information provided in this article was as accurate as possible.

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