Friday, May 30, 2014

For Military Appreciation Month - House in the Woods

Visiting a cemetery days after Memorial Day was surprisingly emotional for me.  As I pushed my almost 1-year old in his stroller past the rows of stones, I was touched by the number of those sites that had American flags next to them.

I thought about those who had given their lives for the freedoms that my son will enjoy. 

I also started thinking about an incredible family that I met at a Sportsmans show earlier this spring.  Paul and Dee House turned their tragedy into something that I want to support and tell you about:

There is some notoriety that you don't want to have.  If you Google "Lee, Maine" you will find articles about the documentary "Welcome to Lee, Maine" and see that Lee is known for being the smallest town in the US to lose more than one soldier in war - specifically the Iraq war.  Sgt. Blair Emery, 24 and Sgt. Joel House, 22 were killed five months apart from one other.  I encourage you to watch this clip from the movie that is a little longer than the trailer but is a great view into the world of this small community and the impact that the loss of both men had.

Sgt. Joel House died seven years ago this June and since then his parents, Paul and Dee house have created a way to honor Joel's memory and passions.  The result is an amazing non-profit called House in The Woods.  It's goal is to give soldiers the opportunity to go hunting with their peers and Maine guides to relax, talk and enjoy nature and the beauty of Maine.

House in the Woods welcomes all vets into their programs to enjoy the magic of the outdoors, the comradery of being among fellow soldiers and once you get to Maine, the program is FREE!  If you talk with Dee and Paul, you can instantly tell how passionate they are about the outdoors, hunting and honoring their son.  You can't help but want to be a part of something like that, especially as a fellow hunter and Mainer.

My goal since first meeting the Houses, is to be more involved with this organization and learn more about what they do and who they help.  One of the hardest challenges (besides the fact that I have a young family, work full time and write as my hobby) is that I live about four hours south of Lee, Maine and having the time to get up there has not been as easy as I had hoped.  But - I can spread the word and encourage all of you to look into this great organization and maybe even help them continue their mission by sending a few dollars their way.  They are working on raising $50,000 for the Legacy campaign.

As time and my schedule allows, I hope to bring you more stories about House in the Woods and its impact on soldiers, especially since Maine has one of the highest percentages (10.5%) of veterans in the US.  Organizations like this are too important not to talk about and share.  It helps hunters, it helps Vets and it gets people into the great outdoors - is there really anything better than that?

On June 23, 2007 his mother’s birthday, Joel House was killed by an IED while on patrol in Taji, Iraq. He was 22. On November 30, 2007 Blair Emery was killed by an IED while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq. Blair was 24. Both soldiers were from Lee, Maine. - See more at:
On June 23, 2007 his mother’s birthday, Joel House was killed by an IED while on patrol in Taji, Iraq. He was 22. On November 30, 2007 Blair Emery was killed by an IED while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq. Blair was 24. Both soldiers were from Lee, Maine. - See more at:
On June 23, 2007 his mother’s birthday, Joel House was killed by an IED while on patrol in Taji, Iraq. He was 22. On November 30, 2007 Blair Emery was killed by an IED while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq. Blair was 24. Both soldiers were from Lee, Maine. - See more at:
On June 23, 2007 his mother’s birthday, Joel House was killed by an IED while on patrol in Taji, Iraq. He was 22. On November 30, 2007 Blair Emery was killed by an IED while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq. Blair was 24. Both soldiers were from Lee, Maine. - See more at:

Friday, May 23, 2014

A little nostalgia to make you smile

A little while ago, I wrote about George Smith's book, "A Life Lived Outdoors." At the time, I had not finished the book.  Now that I have I want to share more of my thoughts.

If you love the outdoors and have hunting and fishing stories of your own, you will immediately connect with George and his retelling of those days in the woods.  There is an immediate smile that comes across your face as you read about camp and the sounds, smells and feel of being in a small building surrounded by the Maine North Woods.  I couldn't help but be jealous of George's ability to leave the hussle and bussle of  daily life to retreat to a place where the windows may need to be replaced but the fish bite, the moose are neighbors and the ability to read all of those books on your to-do list can actually happen.  Someday, I will have a place to call 'camp.'

A few stories are focused on just day to day living in rural Maine; the sadness that spreads across those of us who try to keep the woods/roads/streams clean as we view the trash left by those who think it's ok to chuck garbage out of their vehicle.  Spring is the worst time as the snow disappears and exposes bottles, fast food containers and junk left along the roadsides.  While I can relate, George's description of these items and those who left it behind is priceless and entertaining and had me smiling and nodding as I read along.  His writing about yard sales also had me smiling and wishing that I had been able to land that LL Bean screen house!  Having attempted to sell my stuff in a yard-sale, I sympathized with George as he watched everything else leave but the items on his table.  Sometimes our trash is not someone else's treasure.

I would have liked to have read more of George's stories about hunting and fishing but until the next book comes out, I will have to rely on his blog to keep me connected to the woods, lakes and the new laws dealing with both.  It probably would have been easy for George to fill a book twice it's size with stories and adventures from the hunting and fishing world and those dealing with his family.  As I begin to grow my family and figure out ways to get them outdoors, I hope that I can pass on my passion for hunting and fishing to them in the same ways that George has with his kids.

Any outdoors enthusiast should have this book on their bookshelf.  It will make you smile and fill you with nostalgia of those hunts and adventures of years ago.  Plus, when you find that story or two that makes you relax and dream of being in the middle of nowehere, you can always go back and reread the story!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Birds swimming in junk

There are few places were I live that are open and green.  There are pockets of city forests or walking trails but there are no real places to get out and explore the woods and ponds.  I forget that until I happen to see ducks or geese swimming in these ponds along side fast-food containers, rusty, broken hockey goals, empty plastic water bottles and plastic bags from department stores.  For a city full of people who claim to be passionate about wildlife, this speaks volumes.

Monday, May 19, 2014

One road and SO many signs!

In search of our turkeys, we walked down this camp road.  It was around noon and there were some great spots to sit and call from along the way.  Right from the start we knew this was an animal haven!  The tracks and scat were all over the place.  Some of the tracks actually surprised us. 

A fresh bear track. Check out those claws.
Two bear tracks.  A better view of the palm of the paw.
It was like Grand Central Station for turkey up and down both sides of the road.

Turkey tracks and turkey scat.

While we did not see any turkey that day, Brian did call in five Toms the next day.  The great thing about hunting and being outdoors is that you never know what sort of adventures you will have during the day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The beating of the drum

I have been thinking about it since Friday.  The gobbling that just got closer and closer, seeing the quick movement in the dense trees and brush just in front of me, that black band across the top of those dark brown feathers and his white head stretching above the blow downs to find that purring hen that he was after.  I could hear the drumming and strutting as he got closer.  Finally, there he was in front of me.  He stepped out, his long neck leading his puffed out body into the slight clearing...

The field where we started calling.
 Dad and I woke up a little before 2:30am in order to have breakfast and meet our guide, Brian for our turkey hunt.   We got to these fields around 4:30am with just enough light coming up that we didnt need flashlights. Brian knew that there was a Tom around and that it would be a good place to start.   He brought along a blind for Dad and I.  It was raining a little as the first light of the day came up over the trees. Brian sat behind us and off to our right with his box call, slate call and mouth call, he was ready to call in some turkeys.  We were incredibly impressed when he started calling - it sounded as though there were two turkeys calling at once (when we moved spots, Brian said it was he and a hen nearby that were calling).  Within minutes of the first call, we heard a gobble back.  It must have been the turkey that Brian knew was there.  He continued to gobble back at us, but never got closer, regardless of where we went along that field and tree line.  That turkey was not leaving his hens, no matter what.

We left the field and headed to the truck to search the nearby fields.  We found a couple of jakes that we tried to call back to no avail.  It was getting warmer and warmer by the time we headed down this long camp road.  It was one of those roads that was filled with tracks of all sorts of animals - a mecca for hunting. 

Camp road with tons of tracks along the roadway.

View from where we stopped and called for a few minutes.
We walked a few miles down the road and came to an intersection where we stopped and called.  There was a light breeze which made it an almost perfect day to be outside.  Dad and Brian sat on one side of the road while I sat on the other.  Sometimes, I think just being outside is the greatest thing about hunting.  Twenty minutes in and without hearing any gobbles, we headed out and decided to call it a day.  It was about noon.
Driving back to where we had left my car, Brian talked about a big Tom that was eluding hunters.  A college guy had seen the bird in the field and parked quickly and walked towards the bird, which accomplished nothing besides spooking the bird and putting it on edge.  The next day, Brian saw a blind in that same field with four decoys out and no turkey.  As Dad and I were listening to Brian, he pointed out the field with the infamous bird, "Every afternoon when I drive by, that bird is in the same... and he is still there!"  Dad and I turned out heads to see the arch of the turkey pecking away in the corn field, "Want to try and get him?" Brian asked. YES!
Ready for the turkey!  From this view, the field and Tom are off to the left behind that softwood.
We drove further down the road, turned around and parked on the edge of the neighboring field.  The plan was to walk down the field, into the woods and quietly move as close to the bird as possible while staying in the woods.  Dad decided to stay in the truck so he wouldnt cause more noise than was necessary (and he didnt have any camo on because we are deer hunters and dont need it. Guess what he is getting for Father's Day?). The recent rain made the woods a swampy mess and we battled blow downs and cut softwoods.  Cattails made it nearly impossible to be quiet.  Brian and I made our way to the corner of the field and found a spot to sit.  I picked one dry clump but it was a little too exposed so I moved further into the woods to the next dry clump.  It was a perfect spot with a clear view of the field to my left, the path of blowdowns off to our left and the turkey was almost in front of where we sat.  I was surrounded by small trees with a dead tree in front of me.  I used it to brace my left knee and gun so that the minute I could get a good shot on the bird, I would not need to adjust. 

Brian sat next to me on the clump and called.  We heard a gobble!  He called again and the gobble got closer.  Mimicking a hen purring, Brian lightly scrapped the slate.  I could see movement in the trees!  Then, I saw the fanning of the tail with its black stripe arching over the deep brown feathers.  A white head popped up behind a blow down then went back down so that he could drum and strut a little more. "Take a shot when you can.  Aim for the white of the head." I took off my safety and was ready.  I lined up the bead at the end of my gun with the middle of the gun and controlled my breath so that I wouldn't shake.  The tom was primed and coming at us fast, looking for that hen!  I remember seeing his white head and puffed out chest come out of the brush and into the clearing at my one o'clock.  I was ready to shoot but I couldn't, I was stuck! Stuck!  That dead tree that seemed like such a great idea to use as a brace prohibited me from moving the gun past my 12 o'clock.  I was wedged too tightly between trees and my gun was too long to move quickly. I was stuck.  The turkey had walked out into a clearing and I could not move my gun to shoot him.  I tried to shift myself but he was gone.  Vanished.  I shifted myself into position and waited.  The turkey must be nearby, he was just there.  Nope.  Unlike deer that you can spook but they won't really leave, this guy was gone.  I was so mad that I had put myself is such a bad spot.  I knew better!
Me, my gun and my tree.
When we reached the truck, Dad just smiled.  He had seen the turkey fly from where we were in the woods down to the other end of the field just minutes before we came out of the woods.

Defeated.  While it was exciting and a great learning experience, I was defeated.  I have been thinking about it ever since and I keep seeing that white head pick up then come out of the woods into that clearing.  Brian figured we were about 17 yards away and that the Tom had at least an 8 inch beard on him.  Urgh! But, I know now how close the turkey needs to be and how I need to sit in order to be successful.  I still have three more weeks in the season and I hope that I can get out a few more times.  I was so close to bagging my first turkey!  Next time.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Prologue: I should have listened to myself

On Thursday night, before our big outing with Brian, Dad and I sighted in our new shotgun.  We paced out 30 yards and started shooting at our make-shift turkey heads.

Dad shooting at 30 yards.

Dad's pattern.
My pattern.

My comment to Dad after I took two shots at this piece of paper: "As long as a turkey comes in from my left, I should be in good shape."  Oh the irony! 

Dad and I were confident that as long as a turkey was within 30 yards, we would be in good shape.  I worked on setting the bead in the middle of the gun so that it would not pull to the left.   It was a new gun for us and long - 28 inches but it was comfortable and I was confident that I could shoot it.

We went to bed around 8pm so that we wwould somewhat functional when the alarm went go off at 2:30am.

What happened next has been playing over and over in my head ever since...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Turkey Season 2.0

Here we go! Turkey season has kicked off in Maine and as Dad and I are getting ready to head out with my friend Brian, I can not help but think of where we were a year ago.

I wanted to shoot a turkey while I was pregnant so that I could say that I got both a deer and turkey while waddling around in the woods.  It didn't happen but Dad and I learned a lot about this new critter that we were hunting, which is why I asked Brian to take us out for a day.  We need to learn how close they need to be to us in order to take a successful shot and we need to learn how to get them to come to us.  We were successful last year in having them call back to us, but we were not able to get them to come to us.  I think (hope) that is the missing piece.

New this year, Mainers can hunt all day (instead of just the am) and can take two bearded birds.  We have SO many turkey here that this is necessary to keep the population somewhat under control.  Dad has been seeing them around the house and has taken our box call and had great responses from three turkey up on the hill behind his house.  Still, nothing has come down to check out this new "turkey" in the area.  Last year, we saw a handful of jakes and a hen.  I want to see a big Tom with his feathers puffed out gobbling!  And then I want to see him dead ;)

Our turkey decoys from 2013
My friend Robin went out on opening day and within an hour had sent me a picture of her turkey - almost 18lbs with a 9.5 inch beard and about 1 inch spurs.  Seriously, she is an awesome outdoors woman and sets a pretty high standard for what all of us should be and could be doing!  If you have not read her blog, you should and experience for yourself what it's like to be an outdoors woman in Maine.

Back to turkey... Friday is the day we head out.  The weather should be good and I have new camo pants this year.  Last year, I was scrapping together my hunting clothes, partially because to deer hunt, you dont need camo (so I didn't own any) and partially because I was 9 months pregnant and couldn't fit into my hunting pants.  This year, I will be head to toe in camo, with a new shot gun that Dad bought (our current guns are useless) and with a guide to help Dad and I learn this new hunting style.

Wish us luck and hopefully come Monday, I will have a picture to post for all of you!