Thursday, December 24, 2015

Old Friends Hunt for Moose

       The morning after the 2015 moose drawing, my phone rang.  I picked up and on the other end of the line was a gentleman named Arnie Clay from southern Maine.  Arnie was the fortunate recipient of a 2015 October moose permit for zone 9.  Arnie with many years in human resources was interviewing me and I with a few moose hunts under my belt was interviewing him to see if we would be a good match to hunt together in October.  I guess I passed the test as shortly after Arnie and I finished our talk, he was able to call his hunting partner of many years, John McMorrough and reach a consensus to hire me to guide them in October in search of a bull moose to fill their tag.  Arnie called back and secured me as their guide for their October moose hunt.
     Wildlife management zone 9 is a rugged zone roughly between Moosehead Lake and Millinocket.  I am located about 5 miles from one of the boundaries to the zone.  Two years prior to this hunt I had a different client fill a tag right up the street from my home, and I was in hopes we could do the same this year.  Towards the end of September I began scouting in earnest to find some areas where there was good moose sign.  What I found in the area where we filled a tag just two years prior was the cuts had been sprayed by herbacide to kill the young hardwood that moose eat.  With no food there were no moose in that area.  So I had to widen my search for a spot to fill a tag.  Many miles in my truck and several on foot, I had called a few bulls and found several areas with good sign.  So when my hunters arrived I had a plan and was looking forward to working the plan.  What was against us was the timing of the hunt.  It was late in the year and bulls were going to be less responsive to calling.
     The Sunday prior to the hunt found Arnie and John arriving at my home where they met myself, my lovely wife Nancy and our dog Ranger.  After exchanging pleasantries and showing the hunters to their accommodations, we had a fine lunch prepared by my bride.  During and after lunch we discussed my plan for Monday and the days following to find a bull for John to shoot.  We then went to the range to check the sights on John and Arnie's rifles and then returned home to swap stories about past experiences.  We all were looking forward to Monday with great expectations.
     Monday found me rising in the early morning to brew some coffee, pack some lunches and get ready to hunt some moose.  We headed out in the predawn darkness to an area where just the week before I had seen a couple of cows, lots of bull sign and had called out a pretty good bull.  We parked the truck, exited the vehicle and walked into the cut to try to call that bull out again.  We gave it our best effort, but came up empty on our first attempt.  We gathered our gear and headed off on foot.  We repeated our efforts in several locations throughout the morning and met with the same results, no responses that we could detect.  We saw some beautiful country, found plenty of new and old moose sign, but failed to call out any moose.  John, Arnie and I hunted throughout the day right to the final minutes of legal hunting and called it a day.  While heading back to the lodge I was deep in thought trying to put together a plan to find a responsive bull on Tuesday.
     Tuesday morning we arose a little earlier in the morning as we were going to drive a bit deeper into zone 9 in search of a bull.  I had been to the spot we were going to hunt the prior week and had a young bull come trotting down the road to me shortly after I had cow called while scouting.  There was lots of sign in the area of large bulls so we were going to give it a thorough hunt this day.  We parked the truck and headed off on foot along the overgrown roadway.  We made several calling attempts as we trekked further and further into the overgrown logging area.  Finally we reached an intersection of roads that had several small lakes, old cuts and heavy timber all in close proximity.  There was also lots of moose sign.  I set up my call, sprayed some cow urine, then John and I hid in the bushes where John had a pretty decent field of view.  Arnie sat a few yards away watching our backs.  I began calling to try and entice a bull to step out of the thick cover.  After 15 to 20 minutes I heard the unmistakable grunt of a bull.  I took the initiative and tapped John on the shoulder to tell him to get ready a bull was coming.  Well just seconds later John turned to tell me he could see it as it had just stepped into the road about 20 yards from our location.  John sized up the bull, decided it met his requirements, placed the cross hairs on the animal and fired his rifle.  The bull turned and John fired again, then Arnie squeezed the trigger on his rifle and finally the bull fell to the ground.
     So mid morning Tuesday we were able to help John fulfill a lifelong dream of successfully hunting a bull moose.  We spent much of the rest of the day getting the moose out of the woods, and drove it to a processing facility where the meat of this animal was professionally handled and processed into steaks, burger, sausage and more.  Moose is excellent table fare, and John and Arnie each have many meals and stories to share about hunting moose together.  Nancy and I were privileged to play a part in this as well.  Congratulations to John and Arnie.  A couple of real gentleman that have hunted together for many many years.  Our wish for you both is that you have many more years to share some other adventures together and continue to relive some of your past experiences over a fine glass of scotch and good cigar.
John and Arnie with their bull

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Second week of Bear Camp 2015

The second week of the 2015 bear season started off long before the guests arrived.  A contact in the early spring with Mike Walker about he and one of his sons possibly hunting with me.  He decided to book his first bear hunt for he and his son Damon for the second week of the 2015 bear season.  He and Damon arrived in camp where they met a veteran bear hunter and good friend Matt Miller.  It was a light week with just three guests, but we were looking forward to it.

We had our orientation, and then headed to the range to check rifle zeros and prepare for what could be a long week of sitting in the woods waiting for an opportunity to shoot a mature black bear.  After lunch on Monday we headed into the woods in one of my core bear hunting areas.  I got Mike out into his ground bling, then his son Damon and finally I got Matt to his location.   Later that afternoon My cell phone received a text from Mike letting me know he had a short wait and had shot a bear.  I headed to his location where I found him waiting for me.  His bear had dropped at the bait.  We took a couple of photos of he and his trophy on location, and then loaded it onto a litter to carry it to my truck.  We then proceeded to head close to where Damon was sitting in his blind where I had hopes of hearing the rifle shot with his dad.  Well shortly after parking the truck we were rewarded with the sound of a rifle shot followed quickly with a second shot.  Well since Damon was hunting with a single shot rifle I knew immediately it was Matt that fired.  A minute or two later a text arrived saying he had shot a BIG bear.  I was just 2 miles away so I quickly drove to the location and found the large boar dead just a few feet from the bait pile.  It was too large for the three of us so I went to pick up Damon as this bear required 4 men to carry it to the truck.  What a day.  Two nice bears in the truck and Damon had seen a bear, so 100% shot opportunity and it was only Monday.
Matt Miller and Mike Walker and Their Bears
Matt and His Boar Bear

On Tuesday Damon and I headed out to the woods.  He spent the afternoon quietly and did not shoot a bear.  I sat on a stand nearby and had a bear come within a few feet of me from behind me.  I had no shot as it was away like a rocket once it decided to leave.  I picked Damon up and we headed back to the lodge for some of Nancy's good cooking and entertaining stories from Damon about his level of nervousness sitting in the woods waiting on bears.

On Wednesday  Damon and his dad decided to sit together.  I put them on a good bait way off the beaten path.  They did see a real large sow, but she had cubs and as such is off limits to my hunters.  Then the skies opened up in a torrential downpour.  Matt and I headed in to get the duo from the  monsoon like downpour and head back to the lodge to dry off and recharge for the next day.

Thursday Damon and Mike moved to a different bait that appealed to Mike, as he had accompanied me that morning as I freshened some of my locations.  I sat at a different location and as the sun set watched two small bears feed on the bait.  Damon and his dad did not see anything this afternoon.  We headed back to the lodge and I meditated on where to put Damon for his final sit for the week.  I decided on a site with a pretty steady history of being a productive location.

Damon and I headed out on this Friday afternoon.  I placed him in his blind, went over the best bear hunting practices, and headed off to a stand to sit in while I waited for Damon.  Well here is where it gets interesting.  While I watched a small bear at my location, Damon felt tremors in the ground.  As he explained at dinner that evening, it was like a scene from the movie, Jurassic Park.  A small tremor could be scene in a puddle, and it grew larger and larger and then there it was, T-Rex.  Well T-rex wasn't at his bait site, but apparently a pretty BIG bear was.  Damon raised his rifle, settled his sights and then his hood from his jacket fell forward over his eyes and the bear that came to be known as "Ground Shaker" ran off.  Well as Damon tells the story he tried to sit still which is 1 of the three rules for successful bear hunting.  The other two rules are also, sit still.  Well anyways, he was jumping at every sound as he feared "Ground Shaker" was going to turn him into nitrogen rich humus.  As he struggled internally to try and sit still, he had almost decided it was pointless, and to gather his things and leave the stand, when a large bear appeared on the bait.  Damon made the shot and then sent me a text message.  I hurriedly left my stand and headed to the truck to go find his bear.  It took a little effort as bears do not leave much sign, but in a short time we found his 200 plus pound mature bear in a thicket.  It was a struggle for the two of us to carry it to the truck, but we managed.  I am starting to feel my age a bit though.  We made the trip back home where the successful trio of hunters gathered to admire the final bear of the week, taken in the final moments of the day.  A very successful week of hunting Maine black bear and Mountain View Drifter Lodge & Outfitters.
Damon Walker and his mature Maine Bear

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Adventures in the Maine Woods

The 2015 bear season was looking to be tremendously challenging as the natural food sources were very high.  Bears prefer to eat natural foods and come to bait site less frequently and more nocturnally as a rule during years of abundance.  I set about preparing my sites for the arrival of my hunters for the first two weeks of the fall bear baiting season. 

This year presented a few automotive challenges as my first outing with my trusty 2002 F250 guide  truck found me limping along with a stuck brake caliper.  I had to call my gracious wife on her day off and have her meet me in the woods to off load my bait onto my newer truck so I could finish setting my baits for the day.  once we had my baits out, Nancy followed me to the repair shop so I could leave my truck to have the caliper replaced.  Several days later after the shop repaired the brake, I picked it up and headed off to set another string of baits.  On the 3rd stop the truck failed to restart.  The location just happened to be 1 mile back in the woods in an area that would necessitate me walking out and coming up with a plan to retrieve my truck.  A couple hours later I managed to get the truck restarted and finished my baiting for the day.  When I got it back to the repair shop they found a neutral safety switch was the culprit which was an intermittent electrical problem.  They repaired the faulty switch and thank-fully that was the last major problem for the season.

The first week of the season arrived with 4 guests arriving to hunt with us.  One was a returning gust Dave B. from the Pittsburgh area.  One was a Maine resident Steve Vose from the Augusta area and the the final two were Alissa Stieler and Brandon Hollier from Michigan.  My wife prepared a Maine lobster dinner for the guests and then we had our hunter orientation.  I use this time to talk about ethics, bear behavior, judging bears, shot placement etc.  After orientation my two firearms hunters and I drove to a gravel pit to check the sights of their rifles and then we returned to watch Alissa and Brandon shoot their bows on my 3-D target.  We then had a bit of my wife's homemade dessert to wrap up the arrival day.

Monday found me rising early in the a.m. and Dave B. joining me to head out to rebait some of my bait sites scattered around the greater Katahdin region.  We got back in time for a great lunch and then the hunters donned their scent free clothing and gathered their gear to ride with me out to the bait sites.  It takes awhile to get everyone out to their stands, but by 3 p.m. everyone was tucked in for the afternoon.   The afternoon passed with no one shooting any bear, but everyone saw a bear or bears on their site.  So the excitement level was pretty high around the dinner table that evening.  We also celebrated Alissa's birthday with her, as she had chosen to hunt black bear on her birthday.  She made a wish as the custom dictates as she blew out the candles.  I wonder what that wish was for?

Alissa's Birthday Wish Bear
Tuesday morning Alissa joined me as we headed out to bait some of my bait sites in the morning.  I find these outings with my guest great opportunities to converse at length and get to know them all the better.   We had lunch, and we headed back to the woods in search of bear.  On the way in to Alissa’s stand I reiterated that you need to sit still and allow the bear to fully commit to the bait.  Alissa and I headed into the bait site, she climbed into her stand, I baited the bait and slipped away.  Later that afternoon I received a text message; “Bear down!  Dead 15 yards from tree”.   Well that was good news.  I responded; “who shot”, since there was no name on the text.  I received the following,”Me!”.  Well I sort of knew who shot, but I had to be certain, rather than accidently walk in on the wrong hunter.  So I wrote,”name”.  To which I received,”Alissa”.  Well now I was off and running.  I arrived at the site, Alissa pointed to the bear that had been perfectly shot laying dead just a few yards from her stand.  She climbed down and we went to admire her trophy.  After some photos Alissa assisted me in carrying the bear through the swamp to the truck.  We met up with the other hunters and headed back to the lodge for some well deserved congratulations.

The next day my remaining hunters headed back out to their sites to see if they could fill their bear tag as Alissa had done the previous night.  Although there were several bears seen this evening, no one saw a "shooter" so we returned to the lodge for some food and camaraderie.  I worked on a gameplan to try to get a few more bear for the lodge as Thursday approached.

Thursday I typically change the locations for the hunters to give them a fresh start so to speak.  i find it helps to keep their head in the game to give them some different scenery and sometimes it takes a day or two to dial in a hunter on what they need to do to be successful hunting bear over bait.  So I headed to the woods this Thursday with my 3 remaining hunters and got them all tucked in for the afternoon.  Somewhere around 6 p.m. I received a call from Brandon who had released an arrow at a bear.  He felt his shot may have been affected by a twig, so I was a bit apprehensive myself as we began the process of following the blood trail.  After about 20 minutes and 100 yards or so I spotted the bear lying dead a few yards ahead of us.  Brandon's arrow had not been off at all.  A large boar with a double lung shot was lying there for us to admire.  We took a few photos on the site, then set about getting the bear to the truck.  We gathered up the remaining hunters who had not taken any shots and headed back to the lodge.
Brandon and his Boar Bear       
Friday found me with just two hunters remaining to sit on stand for the afternoon.  It was a great day to hunt for bear, but no one else shot a bear this week.  Everyone had at least one good opportunity to fill their tag, but they didn't see the bear they were looking for.  We did have a great week filled with some laughs and friendships being kindled.  All in all it was a very good 1st week of bear hunting for the 2015 season. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Bears, Bass and Blueberry Pie

     I decided to begin the process of getting my gear in the woods in preparation for bear baiting to begin in a few weeks.  As an outfitter that year after year produces nice bears for our clients, it doesn't happen by accident.  It takes a lot of planning, preparation and hard work.  Many people the day after Independence Day are doing something other than hanging tree stands, but I decided today would be a good day to begin getting my stands out into the woods, and get a few shooting lanes cleared and bait barrels set out. 
     The area I hunt is what is termed a working forest.  The landowners make their living cutting and selling trees, and I lease hunting areas from these landowners.  Sometimes a logging operations impact my hunting areas and I need to make some adjustments.  I had to move a few bait sites this season due to some ongoing logging operations.  I located some good looking areas a few weeks ago, and went out to set my barrels in place as well as build my ground blinds, clear the shooting lanes and hang tree stands.
     I figure I have about two weeks of work to do before I will be ready for baiting to begin.  Since the temperature is close to 90 degrees during the day time, I will try to do my prep work early in the morning when the temperature is a bit easier to deal with.  A few of my bait sites are quite far off the beaten path, along old logging roads.  This past winter was hard on small trees along roads, bending many trees across the roads.  I will have to cut my way in as much as a mile in a few cases to reach the spots where we will hunt bear in a couple of months.
     What I am trying to produce is an opportunity for a hunter to take a nice bear like this one taken by Jim Balog. 
This is what I would say is a good quality Maine black bear.  Jim has hunted bears a few times, but last season was his first here at Mountain View Drifter Lodge & Outfitters.  The above bear is his largest to date, and he'll be back in the fall of 2014 to hunt again.  We are fortunate to have a great population of black bears, but it takes a lot of attention to detail to get a bear to come to a bait in the fall during day light hours when a hunter is sitting in the area.  It definitely is not easy.
     We have been providing bear hunting opportunities for our clients for over 12 years now, and I believe we just keep getting a little bit better year after year.  If you have never hunted bear over an active bait, you really should put it on your list of things to do.  When a bear comes in through the shadow filled woods, you will be hooked.  It is an amazing experience.
     During the September bear hunt the bass fishing is still very good in the area.  I have had people come a week early just to fish prior to their bear hunting week.  It is that good.  Many of my clients will fish in the morning prior to hunting in the afternoon, or after they fill their bear tag.  A good day on the river will produce dozens of bronze colored bass like this one.
Jason Balog boated quite a few bass on this trip after he tagged his first Maine black bear.  I have just a few weeks left to get everything in order so that my clients can experience world class bear hunting and bass fishing.  One of the things I do not have to worry about is the food that my amazing wife, Nancy, will prepare for our guests. 
     My responsibility lies on in the woods and on the waters, but Nancy's domain is the kitchen, and she does an outstanding job of preparing home cooked meals for our guests.  She makes a fantastic Maine wild blueberry pie that you really owe it to yourself to try.  Here is a typical meal my wife may prepare for you.
I can't wait for bear season to get here to share some of my bears, bass and blueberry pie with you.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tar Babies or Trucks?

     I thought I would write about a topic I have been thinking about for some time now, and that is the state of the U.S. auto industry and how it relates to those of us that actually use a pick-up truck to do some sort of work.  In my case that work involves riding on some of the roughest roads in the northeast.  I believe the auto makers are missing the boat in a big way when it comes to their product line of 4x4 pick-ups.  They do make a wide variety of 4x4's with any number of options.
    The truck line up that is currently available with a price point that a working man can afford does not have a strong enough suspension system to withstand the daily beating it is subjected to in my guiding business.  My current work truck was purchased new in 2002.  Since I have owned it I have replaced every shock, every spring several ball joints, all of the universals and the first thing I needed to do when it left the lot was trash the tires it came with to get some 10 ply's to withstand the rocky roads in this area.
     The truck is mechanically sound at this point, but is very tired and a new truck would be a nice tool to have, but the price point on the trucks made that have a beefed up suspension, skid plates and enhanced 4x4 system with truly locking differentials is $50-$60, 000.  Which is way more money than I am willing to spend on a truck that will be driven where few people venture.
     Part of the problem as I see it, is that the 4x4's that have the enhanced suspension, tires, and 4x4 system also are the top of the line offerings from the auto dealers.  They come with leather seats, every electronic gizmo known to man and chrome everything.  They have monickers like Rubicon or Raptor and are truly gorgeous vehicles, but they are definitely NOT work trucks.  They are Tar Babies.  These vehicles are generally purchased by someone that lives in an urban area, they never get any scratches from brush or dings from rocks, as they never get of the beaten path.  What I need in a vehicle, and I am sure I am not the only one, is a stripped down Raptor or Rubicon.  I need the guts not the glitz.  I have written to Ford about this dilemma and was told they decide what vehicles are needed by the market place and do not take suggestions from the public.  That kind of stunned me as I thought business typically looked for a need and then filled it.
     What I learned in trying to find a vehicle that has everything I need but none of what I do not need, is that you can not get it.  You can't even order a truck at a dealership without ending up with  a Tar Baby.  I believe there is a need for real trucks  made for those of us that work our trucks.  We need the guts available from some of the top of the line offerings, but  do not need all of the glitz.  I work my vehicles, they are a tool to me, not a toy.  I take care of them, but I do not baby them.  If you work your trucks as well, and think some of the points I touched on are valid, maybe you should write the auto manufactures too.  If the market place starts to rebel a bit and refuses to buy Tar Babies when we need trucks, maybe the auto dealers will start making trucks.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Maine's Fifth Season, Mud Season

     One of the things you often hear from people that live in New England is that they really enjoy the 4 seasons.  Spring with its new growth, summer with its great weather, fall with its vivid colors and winter with its snow and stark beauty.  I am no different in my opinions of the seasons, although I also enjoy the hunting and fishing opportunities that go along with the changing season.  Maine is also a place that has a fifth season which is called by locals, mud season.
     Mud season is the time when other parts of the country are enjoying spring, we are still locked in a tug of war between winter and spring.  Currently it is April 6, 2013 at my home in Millinocket.  There is still over 2 feet of snow in the woods surrounding my home, and the lake out back is still locked in ice.  Places where the sun is better able to reach are devoid of snow, but in many cases the ground is now  mud. 
    This is the time of year that people in the logging industry work on their equipment, as the logging roads and forest floors are too soft to work in.  This is mud season.  Usually it lasts 4-6 weeks, and then the ground has dried and firmed enough to be able to safely travel on a logging road without too much danger of burying your truck in the mud.  I tend to wait for mud season to pass before venturing too far from home. 
     I have the privilege of watching another indicator of mud season at my lodge.  This is the time of the year that the eagles clean up the carrion I have hunted coyotes over during the winter.  Every day here until either the ice goes out or the carrion is gone bald eagles land on the ice a short distance from my deck and feed on remains of coyotes and beaver.  Sometimes there are several eagles there at once.  A few years ago there were 13 eagles on the bait pile at one time.  So while I wait a bit for the snow to melt along the area trout streams, and the roads to firm enough to travel to some of my favorite spring fishing holes, I'll watch the eagles.  The calendar says it spring, but I know it is mud season.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Fall Paddle

     This past November I decided to spend a bit of time pursuing one of Maine's abundant resources, and that is the beaver.  Maine is blessed to have a lot of water, and in those many bodies of water reside a large population of one of North America's most prolific fur bearers, the beaver.  Beaver inhabit streams, rivers, brooks, ponds, lakes, virtually everywhere there is water and feed.  Often times this puts the beaver at odds with man.  Many times they build their dams and lodges in locations that cause roads to wash out and require time, money and labor to repair the damage.  Since the roads the beaver often damage are maintained by the same people that give me permission to hunt bears on their property, I look upon my trapping of the beaver as a service for them.  A sort of good neighborly deed.
Soldier Pond
     Beaver trapping is a solitary pursuit of mine.  A time when I can load my canoe and paddle for a bit, clearing my head.  A friend of mine who has a small cabin on a remote pond in Maine, asked me to see if I could trap a few beaver from that waterway.  I agreed to load my canoe and go for a paddle and set up any beaver colonies I found, and hope to reduce the population to a manageable level.  I loaded up my gear and headed off to his cabin where I off loaded my canoe and trapping gear and headed off to see if I could find any beaver to trap. 

     I hadn't been on the water too long, when I began to notice the tell tale sign of beaver activity.  in this case the sign was small peeled twigs on the edge of the pond in numerous locations.  A short paddle later I was greeted by a typical beaver lodge with a large feed pile of twigs in front of it.
Beaver Lodge
The group of beavers had built a large lodge on the edge of the stream connecting two small ponds.  In front of the lodge was a cache of twigs and small saplings.  This cache is the beavers stored food for when the stream is covered by ice and snow.  Beaver, during the winter, swim under the ice.  They are prevented by the ice from being able to gather any food on land, so they must plan accordingly.  Usually the month of October and early November is spent by the beaver in building or enlarging their lodge, and cutting enough food to store for the long months of winter.  This lodge probably housed between 6 and 12 beaver.  I pulled a shore and located a few spots that I could set traps to catch some of the beaver.  I placed four traps in the immediate area.  I then continued to paddle further up the stream.
     I paddled my canoe along the main channel until it became impassable.  I was seeing beaver sign so I knew there was another colony close by.  I could hear flowing water, so I paddled off in that direction on a small side channel.  I soon found a small beaver dam with another beaver house and feed pile behind it. In this particular location the best opportunities for me to set any sets was in the vicinity of the dam.
     I tend to be a minimalist when I make my beaver sets.  Some other trappers build elaborate sets, I try to pick a good location and use just enough material to make an effective set.  I am not saying this is the only way to trap beaver, but it is my method.
     After setting up this second colony of beaver I made the return trip to my truck for the trip home.  I returned to check my sets on two future paddles.  I was able to catch eight beaver and an otter from the two locations.  I am certain I can return next year and do the same.  Beaver are a sort of passion of mine.  I enjoy the solitary pursuit of this abundant fur bearer.I hope to be able to continue this for many more fall paddles.