Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why I love being a hunter

* The meat! There is nothing better than butchering and eating meat from an animal that you killed

* Sitting in the woods for hours with no technology The sun, the honking geese in the fields, the eff'n squirrels... and no office walls.

* Watching wildlife in their natural habitat I love watching does and fawns playing when they have no idea that I am in the tree nearby. Only well-behaved squirrels can hang out with me in the tree though.

* Spending time with my Dad =)

* Breaking the stereotypes of what a hunter looks like Yes, those are 4 inch heels that I am wearing

* Breaking the stereotypes of how a hunter acts Go bear hunting then listen to Alec Baldwin host the New York Philharmonic, yes please!

* Meeting and connecting with other great hunters There are a lot of awesome people in Maine and around the US who are passionate about hunting and are sharing their experiences.

* The meat! Worth being mentioned twice!  On a cold snowy day having a nice bear or deer roast in the crockpot is heaven... yum!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sportswoman's Alliance

Nov 2014 Downeast Magazine
A few months ago, I was asked to write an article for Downeast Magazine about what it means to be a woman who hunts.  I was excited about the opportunity and eagerly sat down to write what I knew would be the widest seen piece of my career.  It took me a month to come up with the article, edit it and edit it again but it was submitted and I felt good about it.
Then, I was asked to do a photo shoot for the article that would be me and a few friends in the city.  It was a perfect depiction of what hunters look like compared to the perception that non-hunters (and maybe a few hunters) view as a hunter.

My friends Lorri, Jenn and Melissa agreed to be in the shoot with me. 

Seeing the finished photo and my article in print and to be able to hold it is surreal!  I am excited to hear what people think about it.  If you can, please go out and get a copy.  There are great stories about hunting heritage, traditions and explanations (including some great financial stats) about how hunting impacts Maine. 

The published photo

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!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Maine's island faces deer problem

Trail Cam photo.  I wish I had been able to take a shot at him.

There are islands off the coast of Maine that have had to eradicate their deer population for the health of the people who live there.  There have also been controlled hunts to help with deer and tick issues that wreck havoc on the health of people in the area. On Mount Desert Island, the issue of a deer hunt is going to be on the ballot this fall.

The guidelines are pretty simple.   For the first two to four years, hunters who own property can set up tree stands or ground blinds and hunt from them.  They can have friends and family do the same with permission, on that same property.  Using common sense, there will be an appropriate amount of space between these stationary hunting spots.  Firearms and bows can be used.  If the proposal passes, the hunt will last anywhere from 2-4 weeks.  After this trial period, hunting would only be allowed in October and hunters could only use bows. 

I worked on MDI for five summers and met some incredible people that I am still friends with.  Susie is one of those people.  Susie would give the shirt off her back to anyone who asked.  She would get up early or stay up late to help a friend or stranger who was in distress.  She is a genuine good person.  She also loves animals. Loves them. She pokes fun at me for hunting and has found some wonderful birthday and Christmas cards that do the same but she has never tried to make me feel bad for loving to hunt and likewise, I have never made her feel bad about where her food comes from.  Its a mutual non-spoken understanding.

When I read about this proposed hunt, I figured Susie and I could have a good conversation about it.  My taking my hunting standpoint and her taking the animal lover point of view.  I asked her to chat with me via text and I would transcribe our conversation into a blog.  I have to say, I was truly surprised by where our conversation went and it speaks to the issue of overpopulation among our wildlife.

E - I saw the article about the deer hunt on MDI.  People are against the hunt, saying that nature will take care of itself.  Do you think there are too many deer on the island?

S - Yes I do and they are dying horrible deaths either by predators or cars

E - What sort of predators?

S - Coyotes, bears, wild cats and even dogs that chase them in yards or back woods

E - So do you support the deer hunt?

S - Yes I do even though it saddens me to think of because I'm an animals lover, however, as I said, they are suffering horrible slow deaths and causing too many accidents also endangering the lives of people.  A doe hit the side of my SUV last month and totaled it.

E - I think when it comes to being an animal lover vs hunter, we all have one thing in common and that us a love and respect for the animals

S - Yes, I agree to a certain point.

E - Do you think the people who are against the hunt have just not had any dangerous run ins with deer and therefore dont think its an issue?

S - I think that they are possibly against hunting or like myself such an animal lover than its hard to imagine what they may consider a slaughter, however, to me its a faster non-suffering way to die.  I have deer run in front of my constantly.  They are even right in the middle of the local towns.  It does break my heart to think of them being hunter but there is way too many deer and car accidents because of deer.

E - What about Lyme disease? Do you know if there are a lot of cases of Lyme?

S - There are many cases.  I have many friends with it.  There is a high tick population this year.

E - So with culling the deer herd there will be less tick and less accidents

S - It's horrible here.  My friends with dogs and kids are finding them on them all the time.  Definitely less accidents for sure.  There are deer/car accidents almost, if not every, week in the local paper.

E - Wow!  The article didnt say how many deer they want culled but if they are holding a month long hunt, I would guess a few thousand?

S - Again, its extremely heartbreaking for me to think of, however, I will never forget the night one hit me and how much and how long she suffered.  Not counting the damage to my car.  If this hunt helps lessen the amount of other deer from being hit and suffering, other people from having to watch one slowly die, the spread of Lyme disease and the amount of predatorial kills then yes, I am for the hunt.

E - You make a good case and I know how hard it must be for you.  I hope other people realize that if they love these deer, they will allow the hunt to keep them safe and the herd healthy.  Thanks for the chat!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why Judy Camuso is good for Maine's wildlife

After being in the audience of the townhall debate on changing the way the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) manages our bear populations, I was determined to interview Judy Camuso.  It was Judy's knowledge, passion and drive that came through during the debate that had me and supporters in the crowd, fired up about our work helping to educate and encourage more people to Vote NO on 1.

I sat down with Judy to talk about her career, Maine's wildlife and of course, bears.

Photo courtesy of J. Camuso from a Portland Press Herald article
What made you want to get involved in wildlife?
I grew up outside.  My mom had six kids and we were always outside.  I loved animals from the time I was young. I went to college to study veterinarian medicine and did an internship with US Fish and Wildlife my sophomore year.  I loved being able to watch birds and study their behaviors and try to figure out what makes animals do what they do. 

How long have you been studying wildlife for IFW? I started at IFW around the time of the Patriots Day storm (April 2007) and I was hired as a Region A biologist.  At the time, I was the only woman. It took some time to find my voice but the staff were great and encouraging.  I thought I would wait a couple more years but the Special Projects position at IFW opened up and I applied.  A few months after I got that job, John Boland retired from the bureau director position and so I applied and was hired as the new director. 

What is your first experience that solidified that you were in the right field?
There was no question that I wanted to work with animals. I thought that I wanted to be a jockey when I was little, then I wanted to be a farmer then a vet. I loved animals and birds.   I worked at Audubon before IFW and thought that I would never leave.  I was teaching people about birds and just loved what I did every day.  I took the first job at IFW and was surprised that I liked the job better.  I was out in the field all of the time and enjoyed being able to just walk through the woods to collect data and not necessarily teach people

Can you explain your current role at IFW?
I am the Wildlife Division Director so I over see all of the regional staff and our wildlife program.

Photo courtesy of J. Camuso
What is the best part of your job?
The staff! Hands down.  We have a lot of wildlife here in Maine and when you get to go out into the woods to watch and study moose with Lee (Kanter), you can not help but come back jazzed up about what you do.  We are a tight group that support and encourage one another.  We have a lot of great people doing a lot of great things and I get to be a part of that.  I also love being able to hear stories from people across Maine and talk about the programs that we have at IFW and what we have going on at any given time across the State.

What is the hardest part of your job?
Just keeping up.  I have to provide the staff with everything they need to do their jobs and the successful tools needed to excel.  We have incredibly dedicated people that need support.  Maine is more progressive in our action plans than most states. People like Tom Schaeffer, Randy Cross and Jen Vashon are dedicated and passionate in what they do - and they have been dedicating decades of their lives to this - so I need to make sure they are getting what they need to do their jobs.

A lot of people who work at IFW hunt, but you don't. Is there a reason? 
Mostly it's just a time issue.  I've been out with co-workers a few times and I really enjoy it, but I have so many interests already, that I just haven't made time.  If I had someone to go with regularly I'm sure I would. I took hunter safety and I really like shooting so I expect I will at some point in the future.

Saw-whet owl photo courtesy of J. Camuso
Do you have a favorite animal/species that you study?
Ha! Usually whatever I am working on is my favorite.  Right now, I am tagging Saw-whet owls.  I have a net that is 40 feet long and about 10 feet high with pockets in it.  It is their fall migration so I play a tape of a breeding male in order to get more owls to fly by.  I go out every hour during the night and check the net.  It is sized to fit these birds specifically so that I only catch what I want. A Chick-a-Dee can fly right through the mesh but I have caught Bard owls looking for a meal, flying squirrels, tree frogs and I had a porcupine that got stuck in the netting while he was climbing the tree.  But, if I go out and have caught a Saw-whet, it usually has fallen into one of the pockets that acts more like a hammock and I can get it out, tag it and release it.  Depending on the migration, I have caught anywhere from 150 to 450 in the six week period.

In the spring, it is fun to watch migrating warblers and in the winter ducks like Golden eyes are great.  Plus, if I can go out with Randy to the bear dens, I am always excited about that.  Anything that I can observe fascinates me.

And of course we have to talk a little bit about the bears. This your first time dealing with something this political at work.  What has surprised you most about it?
I have been surprised by the intensity and passion that people have about wildlife.  It has been really encouraging for me.  I think that it has also allowed people to get a better understanding of what IFW does and that we conduct research on everything from Rusty blackbirds and Spruce Grouse to all of the game animals that people know us for.

After the debate, I got a lot of emails but one that stood out to me was from a dad who had bought some land for the purpose of bear hunting on it.  He was taking his 10 year old daughter out bear hunting this year and he thanked us because he wants his daughter to be able to have the opportunity and tools needed to harvest bear now and in the future.  That really struck me.  That girl might not have a choice in how she can hunt if the referendum passes.

My goal after this referendum is to bridge the gap between game hunters and non-game hunters so that people can truly understand what we do, how important that is and what kind of passionate, dedicated and caring staff we have working in the fields and woods to better our resources.

What do you want voters to know before they head to the polls?
This referendum will impact everyone in the State, Southern Maine especially.  We should find black bears in the woods not in our backyards. I don't want to see this regal species be diminished to a backyard nuisance.

We have a 14 week season on bears and a 25% success rate.  Hunters have six days in their zone during moose season and we have a 75% success rate.  We use the tools necessary to keep the species healthy.  That is why we hunt the rut for moose, deer and spring turkey.  Hunters use calls and scents to help pull these animals in.  Baiting bear is the same thing; we use an effective tool to help manage populations. 

We are about to start another 15-year planning process about bears and I want to get everyone involved.  I want the people who are trying to pass this issue to come to the committee hearings and working groups with their ideas and concerns and let us work together to come up with a comprehensive plan for our bear population.

And lastly, what book are you reading?
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman


Mainers should be excited and proud to have someone like Judy working to help manage our wildlife, regional biologists and overall health of the Maine outdoors.  Her excitement and passion for wildlife is evident when you talk with her.  It is because of people like Judy that hunters like me have the resources needed to be successful in the woods.  Maine is lucky to have Judy's dedication, talent and drive helping to making our wildlife some of the best managed in the United States.

Maybe she can even help me figure out if I am dealing with one deer here or two.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

These deer are driving me crazy!

The following pictures are driving me out of my hunting mind!  We are getting these great pictures on a weekly basis but for the life of me (and Dad and a couple other hunters who I have asked) I can not figure out if this is one deer or two!

I was sure after this last set of pictures that I had two big deer around.  I still think I might based solely on their G3 tine but when I sent these pictures to two hunters, they both wrote back saying that they could not tell for sure, if it was one or two deer.

I was watching hunting shows over the weekend and on two different shows they had deer that looked like the deer in this last picture and when that deer turned, it looked exactly like the first picture (above).  Or visa versa.  Even the pros can not help me determine what sort of deer I am dealing with.  I am losing my mind trying to figure out what type of bucks and how many I am dealing with.

One thing is for sure, there is a lot of antler out there for me to get!  The best way to find out if there is more than one deer - shoot one!  I call dibs on this guy and I know that he is the same deer as last year.