Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring turkey distraction

As I was frantically trying to get myself and O ready for the day and out the door, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of these birds at my feeder, just 10 yards away (I know this because of my set up shooting my bow.)  There was 12 of them, just picking at the bird seed that was on the ground. A few times, my movement would spook one of them and they could take a step or two back and then go back to pecking. I didn't see any beards and I have not seen this flock since, but I spent an extra 15 minutes taking photos and watching them. 
In my dream world, I could get up, make coffee, grab my bow and go sit on the porch waiting for them to come back.  But, if my pattern holds, my turkey tag will remain unfilled and I will continue with my hatred for these birds. 
What about all of you?  Seeing turkey around? Any toms strutting?





Monday, March 21, 2016

Aging a bear by its skull

When you kill a bear in Maine, you are legally required to submit a tooth to IF&W so that the bear can be aged and logged into the records.  Each tooth is cut, like a tree, and the rings are counted. Biologists can learn about the health of the bear and it's age. Assuming that the tooth gets to where it needs to be.

Typically, it takes a year for the data to be published.  The link to the information is usually posted all over social media and eager hunters share how old their bear was.  I couldn't wait to find out how old this guy was. The popular vote was about 8 years old.

When the data was posted, I searched.  I looked up my name.  I looked up my guide's name. I looked up the tagging station and the date.  I knew a few numbers in my tag and couldn't even find that. My bear was not listed!

I sit on the Black Bear subcommittee for the Big Game Species planning process and see Jen Vashon and Randy Cross almost monthly.  So, I asked Jen about my bear's missing tooth. I gave her my tag number, where I shot the bear and where I had tagged it.  She started diving into computer records to see what she could find.  Meanwhile, Randy asked about the skull.  After handling more than 4,000 bears in his 32+ year career, he was pretty good at aging a bear by its skull and teeth.

I quickly pulled up these pictures and asked him what he thought.  I explained that most people who looked at the bear thought that he was 8.   He laughed, "It was more than 400 pounds... no way is that bear eight years old."

Randy started talking about the characteristics that stand out on a skull.  First: the teeth.  Since my skull had been cut several times, in order for the skull to be put back together, it had to be glued and is now one piece and not two.  Randy could guess by looking at the picture of the teeth but it wasn't totally clear and no pictures showed the inside ware of the bottom teeth.

The top of the skull though was a different story: The crest was big, height-wise and length-wise. It ran along the entire top of the skull.  Randy explained that you only see that in old bears and you can age them based on how big that ridge is.

You can tell the age of a bear based on the crest on top of their skull

Another telling characteristic is how smooth the bone is.  In the second picture, you can see that my bear's skull is not smooth but bumpy and porous looking. That is another sign of an old bear.  As bears age, so do their bones and they begin to break down.  Young bears have very smooth skulls but the older ones... you can see where the bones are starting to separate. 


The porous-looking skull indicates that the bear is old and its bones are beginning to break down


From the photos that I showed Randy and his decades of knowledge (he has more years of experience than ANY bear biologist in North America) he estimated that at the very least, my bear was 12-15 years old. At least. 

Jen returned with a piece of paper in her hand.  There were 7 bears tagged at the station that I tagged my bear in. Only two of them were aged (via teeth) but I was listed in the kill log, so my info and tag were in the system. There was a chance that since I shot my bear late in the season, it was sent in late or sent in with the 2015 bears and could turn up at some point.  

Or, the dope who registered my bear didn't send in the tooth. 

I was fortunate enough to have Randy and Jen help me figure out the age of this bear. The lost tooth just adds to the incredible story and issues that I have had with this bear since that second when I squeezed the trigger. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

To hunt a huge buck, you need to think like one

That is our mentality as we drag that target outside each weekend and measure out distance in the snow.

For three years, I have been after this huge buck and he has stayed nocturnal.  After this past rifle season ended and Dad stayed in the woods with his muzzle loader, he saw the deer pattern back to their pre-rifle ways. They were back to traveling the paths that we assumed they used and they were coming out earlier and earlier. Dad didn't shoot a deer but he saw the small buck that we had around and a few does.

For the first time, it was blatantly obvious that rifle hunters were moving these deer around.  While we had been toying with it, it was clear that we needed to get into archery to try and get the upper hand on those deer.

My first grouping of the day
Hubby is WAY better than I am right now and he can pretty much call his shot and hit it.  He is working on his distance now. I am back at the start, trying to figure out how to get my sights just right and work on arm strength.  That is my biggest hurdle; being able to hold the bow steady before, during and after the release like I do with my rifle.



I still have not found my arrow but Hubby lost two of his (I recovered one for him) so now we are both down to 5 arrows and hoping that the snow melt will reveal our missing arrows.

Practice, Practice, Practice!



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Shed hunting: a day late and a shed short

This is what the owner of the property found the day before we arrived to shed hunt.  He wasn't out looking for sheds, just walking around the property.  As bummed as we were to see this, the fact that they now had two years worth of matching sheds for the same deer is pretty awesome.

The set on the bottom is from 2015 and the set on top is from 2016.




Monday, March 7, 2016

Shed hunting in Maine

Staci and I found a great place to shed hunt.  We knew that there were deer all around and that we would be in the right spot to find something.  It had started to snow when we got there but the forecast called for heavier snow in the late afternoon.  As outdoors women, we figured that we would be fine.



We just started following tracks to figure out where the deer were traveling from.  We headed through a field and towards the woods, looking for beds, feeding areas or yards where the antlers may have fallen off.  Our plan was to walk the perimeter of the property to see what we could find.


It is always a good sign when you see a rub almost immediately.  We have seen the sheds that have been found nearby so we knew that there were decent sized bucks around and that the odds were in our favor.


Highways of deer tracks ran through the woods and crossed a stream in two distinct spots.  Staci and I followed different trails looking for bedding areas and any sheds that may be poking out of the snow.  As we headed deeper into the woods, the snow started falling harder.  But we pressed on.


We made a large circle into the woods and jumped three deer.  I could see the bodies of two of them and the tail of another.  They headed deeper into the woods and we continued following tracks and finding bedding area after bedding area.  No sheds though.


We spent about three hours in the woods and covered mile after snowy mile.  It didn't take long to see the snow quickly covering up the deer tracks and ours!  We made a big loop around the property and came home empty handed.

It was fun to walk along a new piece of land that we were both familiar with but in a different context.

When we got back to the car, we were walking snowmen.  The property owner laughed when she saw us.  She also had a surprise for us...


Thursday, March 3, 2016

One year later: what happened to the cubs?


Remember this guy?  I was fortunate enough to meet him last March when he was a brand new black bear.

I knew that our awesome bear biologist were out checking dens and sent a message to one of them asking if they had gone to King's den yet and if the cubs were there with her.  My timing could not have been more perfect; they were heading to her den the next day!

Using the same technology as they did the year before, they found King under a network of cedar blowdowns.  She weighed in at 156lbs - four pounds heavier than she was the year before, and looked totally healthy.

Last year, King had given birth to a male and female cub.  Only the male cub was in the den with her this year. While the female cub could have denned up near by, odds are that it died from an illness, maybe it got hit by a vehicle, another bear could have killed it... there is no way to know. The male cub broke (to date) the 2016 yearling weight scale by coming in at 67 pounds!   The average cub weight so far this year is 35 pounds.  This bear went from 5 1/2 pounds last March to 67 pounds  and that is after being in his den since October/November!  He is huge!

He was given an orange ear tag to mark which area of Maine he is in and put back into the den with King.  This spring when they come out of the den, she will send him out on his own as she looks to breed with another male.


There is no question in my mind that bear biologists have one of the coolest jobs in Maine.  They are able to watch as generations of bears are produced, grow and take to the Maine woods.  As an outdoors woman, hunter and Mainer, I look up to these people and admire their passion and dedication to ensure that we continue to have a healthy bear population across the state.