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Thursday, October 23, 2014

New photos show deer in the rut

This could be the best season ever when it comes to trail cam photos of the deer around the Sky Condo.  Hunter or not, how can you not love and respect these great animals?!  I can not wait until deer season starts.






Monday, October 20, 2014

In search of the iconic Maine moose

It rained.  Rained hard and the wind blew.  It was anything but ideal for finding moose in the Maine woods.  But Brian, Jenn and I knew that the weather was going to be clear and with some rain gear, we were off for an adventures.  Last year, I was spoiled; beautiful calm weather and moose first thing in the morning.  This year, our normal 4:30am start was pushed back to 10am.

About an hour after we left, we were winding down dirt roads heading further into the woods. We pulled into an old skidder road, grabbed our cameras and were off.  The sun had finally come out but the wind was still whipping through the trees and causing bursts of leaves to drop from their branches. 
Brian calling for moose
We walked along the trail, stopping every once in a while to call and attempt to listen between gusts of wind.  It was turning out to be a beautiful fall day and we had high hopes for seeing some wildlife.  The first chopping that we came to was beautiful - the photo does not do it justice - with Black Spruce below us, hardwoods to our left, swamp to our right.  If the day had started off nicer, this would be prime moose territory.


Brian called a few times and we listened hard to hear grunts or bellows when the wind would die down but it was apparent that no moose were coming in to see what was going on.  We headed back to the main roadway and continued on into some boggier areas.


Three years ago when Dad was drawn for a moose permit and we were searching for our moose, he would take me down these paths and down some even thicker and I was sure he was out of his mind.  Spaces that deer seemed too big for, would have great moose sign.  It still amazes me how animals with huge antlers can get through places like this without getting stuck. 

Brian began pointing out places on the trees that had been rubbed by moose.  Similar to deer, moose will make rubs to leave scent, get velvet off or to relieve some frustration.  The tree had this great rub at the bottom and several smaller nicks all the way to the top that were probably made by the tines further out on the antlers.
Jenn and I checking out the moose rub
We walked and walked and walked looking for moose and hoping to hear a call back in response to one of Brian's but nothing came.  We headed back to the truck for lunch and to move on to a new spot. 

As the afternoon wore on, we tried a couple different spots and could not get a moose to call back to us.  Brian wanted to try one specific clearing before we called it a night and headed home.  The temperature was steadily dropping and the sun was beginning to set.  The moon was high and bright and the wind was finally gone.

We stopped along the edge of the clearing and sat down on a couple of stumps.  Brian started calling.  We listened and kept scanning the tree line for movement.  When he called a few minutes later, Brian heard the first response.  He started pointing behind us and Jenn and I moved to get out of the open.  Brian called again and this time, I heard the muffled grunt.  I looked off to my left and saw the antlers coming through the trees, along the same path we had taken to come in.

It was a young bull and he came within 30 feet of us.  He was not scared but seemed more curious as to what was making the noises of a moose but didnt look like a moose.  Jenn and I snapped frantically trying to get the best shots.  In the end, Brian was the one who snapped these great photos.


We stood there for about 30 minutes with this young bull as he checked us out, moved away from us, came back to check on us and eventually headed off into the woods below the ridge we were on.

It was exciting to have one so close and the payoff, after hours of hearing nothing, was great!  Brian came through with a wonderful adventure in the woods and great photos of this young bull moose.  You never know what kind of adventure you will have in the Maine woods!

Friday, October 17, 2014

A once in a lifetime Black Bear

I was glad that I had brought extra layers when we stepped into the 29 degree October air.  It was going to be a perfect hunting day with bright sun, cool temps and a great view that showed off Maine's fall foliage.

Tim Cote of Cote & Sons Guide Service was taking me out on a guided bear hunt with his friends Al, Scott and Scott's two boys.  And Tim's six Walkers, pups Boy and Lady, Jill, Emma, Garth and Moose.  We headed for the Maine woods when it was still dark out and as the first light was breaking, we turned off the paved road and started to head deeper into the woods on some old dirt roads.  Tim let the dogs out to stretch and run around the truck as we slowly drove down the road.

I was taking in the view and talking to Tim when the dog's demeanor changed and they began to bark. First one, then two, then all of them were barking and running up the mountain and into the thick forest Maine in known for.  Tim pulled out the GPS to see where the dogs were.  We watched them run as Tim explained that each dog has their own GPS collar that allows him to see where they are, how far away they are and he can make sure they do not go onto the paved roads and into any potential danger.  In the 19 years that Tim has been raising and hunting with dogs, he has used technology and thorough training to make sure that none of his dogs were seriously hurt on hunts.  He has never lost a dog.

Listening to their barks change and watching their location on the GPS, Tim announced, "They have a bear." He showed me on the GPS where the dogs were and in what position they were in.  For example, Moose was sitting, "Because he likes to sit back and look up at the bear."  Emma and Boy were at the base of the tree with their front paws on the tree and their back paws on the ground.  They may have had a bear in the tree but was it a sow with cubs? was it a cub? or a small bear that would be too small to shoot?  And would the bear stay there?  There were a lot of variables in play.

We drove slowly up the road until we came to a washout and had to pack up our gear and start hiking.  I was focused more in my awe of these incredible dogs than I was the realization that we were hiking towards a bear.  The sun was totally up now and the cool air felt good as all of us hiked up and up and up, bushwhacking for most of the way.  The dog's barks were getting louder and louder but I could not see them.  Tim stopped in front of me and pointed up, "There's your bear."  All I could see was a black blob in the Maple tree.  We were slow and cautious as we walked up to the tree.
"That is a nice bear"
"That's a good bear"
"He's a shooter!"

I had seen bear before on two occasions; once when I was in grad school and a sow and cub came to eat at the bird feeder and once when I went out with Randy Cross to tag bear cubs.  I had no way of being able to size up the bear that was now in the tree in front of me. Tim and I walked around the tree until I could get a broadside shot.  While Tim, Al and Scott tied up the dogs, I found a spot and settled in.  "When we pull the dogs back, if the bear starts to come down, you need to shoot" Tim advised.  I was nervous.  I am not religious, but I said a prayer for a good, clean shot that would instantly kill the bear and feed my family.  With the dogs still barking, but tied up behind me and everyone safely out of the way, I found my spot, took a breath and squeezed the trigger. 

I remember hearing Al off to my right telling me to jack another bullet into the chamber.  Tim stepped out from my left and yelled to hold.  I watched as the bear let go of the tree and landed on the ground.  I cried.

Right after I shot my bear
The emotion that came from a successful hunt and the respect for the animal I had just harvested got to me.  The dogs had worked hard to be able to give me the opportunity to harvest that incredible animal.  Tim and his group had put in hour upon hour, week after week and month after month of work to train his dogs and pull those big bears from the depths of the woods.  I was extremely grateful to all of them.  I looked at my bear in awe.  He was beautiful and I kept shaking my head, unable to believe that I had just shot him.



Tim Cote and me
We pulled to tooth to turn into Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.  They will let me know how old he was.
After we took photos and guessed how much he weighed (best guess was 350-400lbs), we marked the GPS with the bear's location and headed back to the truck with the dogs, to get the 4-wheeler, Jet Sled and more man power.  Tim's son Devon came along with his friend Julian and Tim's friend Dave.  We all hiked back up, took some more pictures and got the bear in the Jet Sled.  The guys were a well organized machine.  Scott drove the 4-wheeler, Al, Dave, Tim, Devon and Julian all took turns moving blowdowns and rocks from our path and helping to keep the bear in the sled.  It was an impressive operation, with all six men bringing my bear down to the truck.


We finally got the bear down from the mountain and onto the back of the truck.  Then it was off to the tagging station to see just how much this bear weighed.

It was a proud moment to walk into the tagging station and ask to register and weigh MY bear. Two couples came over to look him and I was able to talk to them about why we needed them to Vote NO on the referendum.  We removed a tooth and gave it to the guy processing my tag, so that he could pass it on to be aged by Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (we are guessing that my bear is 8-10 years old). Finally, it was the moment of truth. The 350-400lb guess was blown out of the water when the scale started climbing, climbing, climbing... all the way up to 457! This beautiful creature that I was lucky enough to harvest was also one hell of a Black Bear. 

Our fifteen hour day finally ended at Dave Finocchietti's butcher shop Dave's Deer Cutting in Gray.  Tim and I had said goodbye to everyone who was with us throughout the day and we stood talking with Dave as he began to skin my bear.  Under his long, thick pelt was about 5-6 inches of white jiggly fat.  My bear was impressive even while being butchered.
I had not intended to go bear hunting with hounds... I had not intended to go bear hunting at all this season (or ever) but circumstances and opportunities had paved the way for me to learn what it means to set out bait, hunt over bait, learn about trapping and now, learn what it meant to hunt bear with hounds. And I got a magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime bear.



Monday, October 13, 2014

When trail cameras give you hope and dispair

I was so excited when I looked at the trail camera pictures from the past week.  I finally was able to figure out that the deer I had been studying was (and is) the same deer.  Here is my proof.  Note the time and position of the deer. 




YEAH!  Mystery solved.  I am looking for one deer, who is probably 3.5 or 4.5 years old.  I have pictures of him from last year and this year. He is smart, stays nocturnal for most of the season but likes to come back to the same areas.  I know that no matter who sees him (us or the nearby neighbors) he will be shot at.  I just need to formulate my plan of attack and be smart about it. 

Finally, some peace of mind...


... And then, there were two. The deer above is not this deer.

I am not going to get a wink of sleep the night before opening day!