Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wildlife Quiz- The Striped Skunk


Maine’s Striped Skunk
The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) belongs to the family Mephitidae (means stench). The skunk’s range includes the continental United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico. Highly adaptable, skunks can be found in a wide variety of habitats from field and forests, agricultural and urban areas.
Skunks wear a coat of pitch black fur with a distinctive broad white strip running down its back, making them uniquely easy to identify. Despite this obvious and memorable warning many household pets never seem to learn the “stay away” lesson, repeatedly finding skunks irresistible.
About the size of a house cat, skunks weigh between 3-14 pounds and grow to a length of 25-32 inches. For their relatively diminutive size, skunks possess an impressive defense system. Scent glands on each side of the anus produce a foul smelling fluid, potent enough to ward off almost any predatory attack. Direct contact with the fluid will cause severe skin irritation and temporary blindness.
Skunks are neither diurnal (day) nor strictly nocturnal (night) creatures but instead categorized as crepuscular or twilight creatures, active most during dusk and dawn. Skunks encountered during daylight should be avoided, since this uncharacteristic behavior is typical of skunks carrying rabies.
Omnivores, skunks eat a wildly variable diet of plants and animals, including insects, birds, frogs, fruits, grasses, buds, grains, nuts, and carrion. In residential areas, skunk’s burrowing and feeding habits frequently conflict with humans, making them wildly undesirable pests.
            Breeding occurs in February through March with young born in April and June with litters averaging 6-7 young.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. Is it legal to keep a skunk as a pet in Maine?
2. How far can a skunk spray?
3. Is there a hunting season on skunks?
4. Do skunks hibernate?
5. If an animal is sprayed by a skunk what is the best way to get rid of the odor?
6. What is the best way to get rid of a skunk from a property?
7. What is the home rage of a skunk?
8. How long do skunks live?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. No, it is not legal to keep a skunk as a pet in Maine.
2. A skunk can spray up to 15 feet.
3. Yes, skunks can be hunted from October 15th to December 31st.
4. Skunks are not “true” hibernators but will den and go through long periods of inactivity during extremely cold weather.
5. Many highly effective commercially available products are available at pet stores. Home remedies include ingredients such as tomato juice, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda.
6. The best way to get rid of a skunk from a property is to eliminate denning locations around houses and garages. If this is not a viable option, skunks maybe live trapped and relocated a minimum of 10 miles from the original location.
7. The home range of a skunk is 2 miles.

8. Skunks in the wild live about 3 years while in captivity they have live 10-15 years.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bait Fish Trapping Through the Ice

In years when the ice is safe, March is the perfect month to introduce a child to the sport of ice fishing. Increasingly longer hours of sunlight create days where the mercury creeps high and anglers are able to tend ice traps in t-shirts. These are the best days to ice fish and every year I relish being able to enjoy days like these with family and friends. While I used to enjoy ice fishing the “Grands”, in pursuit of big togue and salmon, my favorite ice fishing trips now are those made with my young children and their friends to local “pickerel ponds”. These bodies of water may not hold trophy sized fish but the fast action is practically guaranteed to keeps the kids busy chasing flags, re-baiting traps and catching lots of fish. One thing I learned quickly, when ice fishing with kids on pickerel ponds, is that they go through A LOT of bait in a very short amount of time. Not only are pickerel ravenous eaters but kids also tend to kill and lose a fair number of bait while attempting to learn how to properly place bait correctly on a hook. On a typical outing, it’s common for me to bring 8-10 dozen baitfish just to make it past lunch time.

Considering baitfish are now being sold for $4.50 per dozen, a half day of ice fishing can get expensive! To solve this problem, as well as introduce kids to another fun angling endeavor, this winter we started trapping our own bait. The state of Maine allows any person who holds a valid fishing license permission to take live bait for their own use with hook and line or bait trap. Baitfish traps must be marked with the name and address of the person who is taking or holding the baitfish, and must be checked at least once every 7 calendar days by the person who set them. It is also important to note that not all bait sized fish are legal to possess only; Smelt, Lake chub, Eastern silvery minnow, Golden shiner, Emerald shiner, Bridle shiner, Common shiner, Blacknose shiner, Spottail shiner, Northern redbelly dace, Finescale dace, Fathead minnow, Blacknose dace, Longnose dace, Creek chub, Fallfish, Pearl dace, Banded killifish, Mummichog, Longnose sucker, White sucker, Creek chubsucker, and American eel. To ensure anglers harvest only legal baitfish, IFW maintains a website (www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing/species/identification/baitfish.htm) listing most of the above species along with full color pictures.

 To trap bait in the winter, it helps to have both an auger, ice scoop and chisel. The auger quickly drills the large hole needed to accept the bait trap, the ice scoop cleans slush from the hole and the chisel chips out ice on future visits, when the hole is frozen over. The best place to locate baitfish is on weed edgings in close proximity to the shore line where small fish tend to feed and hide from larger fish. Start by drilling a single hole and using sounder to check the depth. I prefer bait fishing in 4 feet of water or less. If the depth seems right, drill three more holes (for a total of four) that are all touching each other, then use the chisel to connect the four holes thus creating the one large hole needed to accept the bait trap. Lastly use the ice scoop to clean out the slush and large ice chunks so the bait trap can be easily lowered through the hole. Always start out with a larger hole, than seems necessary as it helps immensely later as in Maine’s extremely cold weather the edging of the hole closes in quickly with ice, becoming rapidly smaller with every visit.

 I bait my Gee’s minnow traps with a cup of dog food and a slice of bread. The two choices seem to encourage more and a wider selection of baitfish to enter the trap than just the one choice. Other anglers swear by Cheetos, spearmint gum, hotdogs, corn, dry cat food and even Styrofoam! Half of the fun with bait trapping is working to find that perfect combination that will lead to big hauls. Once baited, the traps are lowered down the ice hole on a rope until the trap rests about a foot off the bottom. The other end of the rope is then tied to a long straight branch suspended above the hole using two forked sticks. The sticks help keep the rope and the branch from freezing into the ice directly above the hole. I then mark the hole opening with a small spruce tree, warning people of the large opening in the ice and also ensuring that in even after the deepest snow fall it can still be easily found.

 For those looking to try catching their own baitfish Simpson Pond (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, D-3) located in Roque Bluffs State Park offers easy access and a multitude of Golden Shiners. Other good choices include Montegail Pond (Map 25, B-4) located in Columbia Falls which contains a wide variety of dace and minnows, East and West Pike Brook Pond (Map 25, C-3) and Pineo Pond (Map 25, C-2) both located in Cherryfield and both containing healthy populations of Golden shiners.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wildlife Quiz - Red Squirrel

The American Red Squirrel
The American Red Squirrel’s (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) native range stretches across the conifer forests of Canada, southern Alaska, coastal British Colombia, and the United States from the Rocky Mountains east to the Atlantic coast. The only area of the United States devoid of red squirrels is the Pacific Northwest, where their territory is eclipsed by the Douglas squirrel. 
Scientists studying Red Squirrels have determined that over 50% of their diet is comprised of white spruce seeds. Red Squirrels pile consumed seed cones in piles called middens. These piles can sometimes get quite large, encompassing more than a meter in diameter. Red Squirrel territories may contain one or several middens.
Red Squirrels when not aggressively eating, busily work collecting white spruce cones, buds, berries and even mushrooms. Red Squirrels store food in centralized caches where they can be easily accessed throughout the long winter months when food is less readily available.
Red Squirrel females produce one litter per year. In some years reproduction is skipped, while in other years females may breed twice, scientists predict that availability of food, the overall health of the population and other environmental factors may affect these patterns. Rarely nesting below ground, Red Squirrels more commonly nest in the branches or cavities of spruce trees.
Litters range in size from 1-5 young. Pink and hairless at birth, baby squirrels are completely dependent upon their mothers until they finishing nursing at 70 days. At 125 days Red Squirrels reach their adult size of approximately 9 ounces.
Red Squirrels experience severe mortality with only about 22% surviving to one year of age. Those fortunate enough to beat the odds and survive to one year of age, typically live to 2.5 years. Red Squirrels in captivity have been recorded as living as long as eight years.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is the native range of the Red Squirrel?
2. How often does the Red Squirrel breed?
4. How big are Red Squirrel litters?
5. What percentage of Red Squirrels survive the first year?
6. What do Red Squirrels eat?
7. What are piles of Red Squirrel consumed seed cones called?
8. How old can Red Squirrels live in captivity?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The native range of the Red Squirrel stretches across the conifer forests of most of Canada, the southern Alaska, coastal British Colombia, and a wide majority of the United States from the Rocky Mountains east to the Atlantic coast.
2. Red Squirrels produce one litter per year, but in some years reproduction is skipped, while in other years females may breed twice.
4. Red Squirrel litters range in size from 1-5 young.
5. Only about 22% of Red Squirrels survive to one year of age.
6. Red squirrels eat tree buds, berries, seeds, acorns and even some types of fungi.
7. The piles of seed cones consumed by Red Squirrels are called middens.
8. In captivity, Red Squirrels have been known to live to eight years old.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ice Fish Like a Kid Again

By the end of an extremely long day suffering through cold temperatures, without even a wind flag to show for a “monumental effort”, I was beginning to question why I had even decided to come on this particular ice fishing trip. As predicted, the temperature fell steadily throughout the day and as the sun dipped below the horizon, a bone chilling north wind kicked up spin drift further hampering the laborious task of picking up ice traps and trekking the mile back to the truck.
To say I was disheartened, by the inactivity of the day, may have been an understatement and while the sport is called “fishing” and not “catching”, it was painfully obvious, as I trudged through the blinding blizzard, that something fundamental had changed in my understanding of the sport of fishing from when I had been a child. At some point in my road to adulthood, I had come to believe that catching BIG fish was more important than catching LOTS of fish.
I was three years old when Dad took me ice fishing for the first time on a small body of water in Washington County called Vose Pond (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 37, C-1). This small pickerel pond sits just a short snowmobile ride from my childhood home and hot fishing action was always guaranteed. Throughout my youth, I enjoyed many such outing with my family ice fishing on various pickerel and perch ponds throughout Down East, including some of my fondest memories ice fishing Conic Lake (Map 36, C-5).
As I grew older, however, I began to evolve beyond this “childish” view of ice fishing and instead of desiring to catch lots of fish, I decided it was more important to catch one big fish or perhaps none at all, if that was the price needed to catch a trophy. This practice to suffer through long, cold hours of fishing for that one glimmer of hope at a trophy continued for years until that bone chilling day, trudging through that blizzard when my childhood memories of ice fishing transported me back to a time when ice fishing wasn’t about a trophy fish, it was simply about catching tons of fish.
Helping me along on this renewed path are my two children, who at 8 and 10 are simply not going to enjoy sitting on the ice for hours without some degree of excitement. This means that in order to provide for them a fun day of ice fishing, they need some degree of diversion and that means catching LOTS of fish. Fortunately, finding lots of fish isn’t a problem if one isn’t picky about the type of fish they are targeting.
Washington County contains many bodies of water that breed healthy Yellow Perch and Pickerel populations and anglers looking for a fun day need only fish these waters to be practically guaranteed non-stop action. Last season, the tribe and I fished one particular yellow perch filled body of water and logged 135 flags! While every flag certainly did not yield a fish, we caught enough yellow perch where by the end of the evening I was tired of cleaning them!
Speaking of cleaning perch, this chore has always been one that I certainly did not relish until I researched perch cleaning methods on the Internet. Google “How to clean a perch is 10 seconds”, for an interesting video on how to quickly prepare freshly caught perch for the frying pan!
A gregarious species, yellow perch often travel in large schools, making fishing for this delectable treat exciting once anglers can locate them. Rarely taken from water more than 30 feet deep, yellow perch prefer living in shallow waters so targeting areas with water less than 30 feet is necessary. Begin by cutting a lot of holes as this helps to quickly determine where the perch are hiding. Jig a hole for 5-6 minutes and then move to the next. If using ice fishing traps, start with lines set at different depth and once fishing start hitting adjust lines to best target the same depth at which fish are biting. Because perch travel together, one hole can quickly yield multiple hook-ups. Once a flag goes up, a caught fish is immediately placed on the ice and using a jig pole the anglers drops a small lure down the hole. Schooling perch quickly hit the jig and are rapidly pulled out and iced. This really saves on live bait, especially when the perch are voraciously feeding!
Yellow Perch are a relatively diminutive species of game fish, so anglers shouldn’t expect to catch many fish over 5-8 ounces. Occasionally, healthy perch waters will yield large adults weighing 10 ounces but this is much less common. Any Yellow Perch over 1 pound is a real beauty and always be on the look out for any fish that will beat the monstrous 1 pound 10 ounces behemoth taken out of Worthley Pond in East Peru, it currently stands as the state record.

Many Washington County waters contain healthy Yellow Perch populations. Here is a listing of some of the most prolific: Barrows Lake, Bowles Lake, Fulton Lake, Greenland Pond (Big), Fifth Machias Lake, Otter Lake, Upper Oxbrook Lake, Pickerel Pond, Possum Pond, Rand Lake, Roaring Lake and Sucker Lake.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wildlife Quiz - Togue

The Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) also known as Togue, Laker, Grey Trout, and Mackinaw exists as a freshwater game fish inhabiting freshwater lakes throughout northern North America. A fish species native to Maine waters, a Lake Trout prefer to inhabit deep, cold, oxygen-rich waters.
A slow-growing fish species, Lake Trout populations can be heavily damaged by overfishing, as such IF&W biologists closely monitored Lake Trout populations in Maine lakes. Maine anglers normally catch Lake Trout averaging between 18 to 24 inches and weighing 2 to 4 pounds. Occasionally a fortunate angler will land a behemoth fish exceeding 15 pounds. Beech Hill Pond in Ellsworth currently stands as the birthplace of the state record Lake Trout, a 31 pounds 8 ounces monster caught by Hollis Grindle in 1958.
Lake Trout possess muted black to gray colored bodies overlaid with light spots. This dark pattern gets progressively lighter down the side of the fish, finally turning white on the fish’s belly. The back of the Lake Trout sports a darkly colored dorsal and adipose fin while the pelvic fins are orange with white edging. The Lake Trout’s tail or caudal fin is forked, easily distinguishing it from of its relative the “square tailed” brook trout.
Opportunistic feeders, Lake Trout, prey on a wide variety of species including alewives, rainbow smelt, crustaceans, insects and even small birds and mammals.
Lake Trout spawn in the fall returning each year to the same spawning area. Young Lake Trout (fry) hatch from the egg and hide in the gravel substrate until early spring when they emerge and begin searching for food. If able to successfully avoid predators, Lake Trout may live to exceed 25 years. Lake Trout can breed with Brook Trout to birth a "Splake". This can occur naturally but more commonly occurs in hatcheries where Lake Trout eggs are fertilized with brook trout sperm.

Questions
  1. By what other names is the Lake Trout known?
  2. Is the Lake Trout native to Maine waters?
  3. What kind of environment do Lake Trout need to flourish?
  4. What is the average sized Lake Trout caught by Maine anglers?
  5. How big was the largest Lake Trout caught in Maine?
  6. What do Lake Trout eat?
  7. How old can Lake Trout live?
  8. What is a “splake”?
Answers

  1. The Lake Trout is also know by the names, Togue, Laker, Grey Trout, and Mackinaw.
  2. Yes, the Lake Trout is native to Maine waters?
  3. Lake Trout need deep, cold, oxygen-rich waters to flourish.
  4. Maine anglers normally catch Lake Trout averaging between 18 to 24 inches and weighing 2 to 4 pounds.
  5. The largest Lake Trout caught in Maine 31 pounds 8 ounces.
  6. Lake Trout eat a wide variety of species including alewives, rainbow smelt, crustaceans, insects and even small birds and mammals.
  7. Lake Trout can live to 25 years of age.
  8. A “Splake” is a fish resulting in the cross breeding of a Lake Trout and a Brook Trout.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Swing and a Miss

 A Maine grand slam consists of harvesting each of Maine’s large game animals (Turkey, Moose, Bear and Deer) within a single hunting season and the pinnacle sporting achievement. For me, the possibility to achieve this dream became a reality, when I was drawn in the 2015 moose lottery for a bull tag in zone 2. At the time of the drawing, I had already shot my spring turkey with a bow and so was excited with the prospects of what was sure to be a VERY exciting hunting season.
Immediately after returning home form the lottery, I began researching bear guides and after considerable thought, finally settled on an outfitter in the Millinockett area. The bear hunt occurred during the first week of the season and was truly everything I had hoped it would be. I was served great food, treated to fantastic lodging, lead by a knowledgeable guide and joined by several other sports of truly the finest quality. The hunt was exciting and I had two perfect opportunities to shoot bears on Monday and Thursday evenings. Both bears, however, weighted around 125 pounds and while considered “average” sized bear, they were below my personal expectations and so I passed on shooting.
Over the next several weeks of bear season, I was invited by other guides, who had heard of my plight, to hunt over their baits. These hunts yielded no results but even as the season began to come to a close, I still remained hopeful right down to last night I had available, before heading off on my moose hunt the last week of September. The final evening was sweltering hot, and with little wind, the aroma of fermented doughnuts hung heavy in the air, offering a perpetual assault on my olfactory senses. I was sitting in a folding camp chair about 25 yards from the bait site in a small cluster of spruce trees in an area bordered by a large cedar swamp. A maze of bear trails intersected the bait site from numerous directions, making it a guessing game determining what direction a bear would approach the bait. Old washed-out tracks indicated a monstrous bruin had visited the site but after 3 days of hunting, no additional clue of his existence could be found. I still persisted and on the final night was rewarded by what is perhaps one of the most amazing events in my hunting career.
Late in the afternoon of the final day, as the sun started to dip below the horizon, I noted movement in the woods directly over my right-hand shoulder. Slowly turning my head, I could see that it was a bear, a BIG bear at about 40 yards, slowly approaching the bait. Being a right handed shooter, I was in a position where the muzzle of my .30-06 was in exactly the opposite direction of the approaching bruin. I knew, that considering a bears impressive speed, the option of quickly turning, shooting and placing an ethical shot into Mr. Bear were likely zero. My only option was to have the massive bear walk by me as he made his way to the bait. With what was painful slowness, the bear creeped into the bait site, his nose pointed high in the air constantly tasting the air to ensure it was safe. I figured that at any moment, the bear would bolt but instead he just kept coming. Amazed I watched the bear close the distance, 20 yards, 10 yards, 15 feet . . . finally the bear, which I judged to be close to 400 pounds, walked down the trail and by me at 9 feet as I sat on the ground in my camp chair! My adrenaline hitting critical, I struggled to keep my breathing under control and my heart rate from red lining but was rapidly losing the battle. As the bear edged by me, the wind swirled and I noted an immediate change in the bruin’s demeanor and I knew the jig was up. He stopped, took one final hesitated step and bolted into the woods like his tail was on fire, ending my bear hunting for 2015.
After my bear troubles, the rest of the “grand slam” went like clock work, as I managed to shoot my moose, a 750 pound, 13 pointer with a 51 inch spread, exactly 30 minutes into the first day. The beast even landed on the road and within a few hours my brother, father and I had removed the moose from the woods, tagged it and delivered it to the butchers and by noon were sitting on the deck, at our cabin at Red River Camps, enjoying an ice cold beverage.
My deer hunt also ended without incident, as I shot a 110 pound doe with my bow during mid October. After tracking the deer for several weeks using a game camera, I noted that she always walked by my deer stand, every three to four days, always in the evening, about an hour before last light. I went out and sat in my stand for the last three hours on the evening of the third day and encountered only squirrels but on the fourth day, like clock work, the doe walked right by my stand on her regular schedule. I drew back and fired a Rage expandable that impaled her behind the forward shoulder and dropped her only 10 yards from where she was initially hit.

I still think occasionally about my choice to pass on those two bear, but ultimately, if I had to do it all over again I would still have passed the second time. My close encounter would not have been possible had I pulled that trigger early in bear season and while I didn’t harvest that monstrous animal, being that close in its presence was well beyond the word amazing.  While it would have been a great accomplishment to have completed the “grand slam”, it was still an amazing hunting season and one that I will cherish for all time. Like I have said many times before, hunting is only about 10% about the killing the other 90% is about the time spent with family, friends, spending time afield enjoying Mother Nature and the frequent quiet, moments of self-reflection.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Scent Control Kills More Coyotes

Author's son "The Wildman" with his first coyote
Scent Control Kills More Coyotes
A coyote appeared suddenly, 50 yards downwind of my position. The wily dog weaved between spruce trees, offering me no shot opportunity. With the distance closing fast, I knew at any moment he would pick up my scent and the jig would be up. Fortunately, he kept coming and at just 10 yards, he suddenly stopped, finally smelling something that just wasn’t right. At that precise moment, my rifle cracked, and a single .223 round put that coyote down for good. I am not absolutely sure what happened that day; maybe that particular coyote wasn’t exactly the smartest of his breed. Instead, however, what I would like to believe is that I would not have shot that coyote had I not take extensive measures to control my scent.
I believe that many times when hunters fail to succeed in shooting coyotes, they simply have not taken the proper measures need to adequately control their scent profile. When the stakes are high and we are chasing whitetails, it is easy to invest the time and energy required to control our scent. When hunting coyotes however, maintaining that same level of discipline can be difficult. Scent control is not rocket science and even a basic level of scent control, when hunting coyotes, will often go a long way in allowing hunters to put more fur on the ground. No-scent soaps and deodorants are effective but should be used each day 3-4 days before hunting to ensure that residual smells from scented shampoos and body washes are eliminated. Also, wear hunting clothes no more than two outings before rewashing in no-scent laundry soap, drying and then storing in sealed plastic bags with spruce or pine boughs. Done right, more coyotes will see their last Maine winter.
            Hunting coyotes is practically a sport in Down East, almost as exciting as the high school basket ball tournaments. To get in on the action, use the Stud Mill road to access a massive road network, providing access to thousands of miles of prime coyote hunting opportunities. One of my personal favorite spots is located in and around Cranberry Mountain (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35 E2) and Lower Sabao Lake (Map 35, D1, E1) both of these areas hold enough song dogs to make any hunter happy.

Ice Fishing
West Grand (Map 35, B-3, B-4) exists as a hugely successful salmon fishery, standing as one of the premier salmon lakes in Maine. The lake’s 14,340 acres and 128 ft watery depths provide excellent habitat for salmon, perhaps one of the most consistent salmon fisheries in eastern Maine. The lake provides superb habitat for coldwater sport fish, yielding trophy sized togue and salmon every season. Currently, the lake is being managed by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) to produce a high percentage of 2-pound salmon. Salmon caught by ice anglers typically range from 17 to 19-inches with the chance to pull up a larger trophy fish always a possibility. In years, boasting high smelt population densities, between 40-50% of the salmon harvested weigh 2 pounds or greater.
Show me a map of West Grand Lake and it would be difficult to indicate a specific spot where I have fished and not caught many fine salmon. Whitney Cove, the Throughfare, Hardwood Island, Pineo Point and many, many other locations are great choices for catching old silversides through the ice. Anglers targeting salmon will encounter more success if they bring smelts. While salmon will bite shiners, a much larger degree of success will be managed by those willing to invest a little more expense and effort and use smelts. If unaccustomed to using this baitfish, know they are notoriously difficult to keep alive. Bait buckets equipped with small aerators will increase the chances of keeping bait actively swimming all day long.
West Grand Lake should not be trifled with any time of year but especially during the winter. Those wishing to fish its icy depths need to have a backup plan should weather turn nasty. This plan should include extra layers of clothing, food, fire starting materials and being sure to leave an itinerary with someone should you not arrive back home by a specified time.
Snowmobile Riding
My idea of the perfect snowmobile ride includes a maximum of about 50 miles of trail done at around 10-20 miles an hour. At this speed, a rider is able to fully appreciate his or her surrounding and enjoy the beautiful scenery that the Maine winter offers. Often, I see riders flying down trails and across lakes at such unsafe speeds, it has me wondering why they appear to be in such a big hurry. It isn’t that I am an old fossil; it’s simply that I enjoy taking things slow. When I ride, I like to take my time and enjoy the moments spent outside, I stop to talk to ice fishermen, other snowmobile riders, cross country skiers and have even been known to stop at a store to get a snack and drink piping hot cocoa.
            If looking for a slow ride with plenty of beauty and nice places to stop for hot drinks and an afternoon snacks, I suggest taking a ride on the Sunrise Trail (http://sunrisetrail.org) from Machias (Map 26, C-3) to Dennysville (Map 27, A-1) or Cherryfield (Map 25, D-2). This scenic trail passes through some beautiful country and can be accessed by parking at the causeway in Machias. While the scenery is spectacular, even more fun is stopping after a long afternoon of riding at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias for a hot cup of coffee and a slice of one of their delicious pies.  



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wildlife Quiz - The Snowshoe Hare

           The Showshoe Hare (Lepus americanus), also called the varying hare, has a home range spanning across all of North America. Snowshoe hare have evolved to become well adapted to their snow covered environments. Hare’s have the amazing ability to shed their brown summer coats and grow white winter coats that help them better blend into winter environments. As summer approaches, the brown coat replaces the white, allowing the hare to hide better in the earthy tones of its summer habitat. 
The name snowshoe comes from the hares second incredible adaptation, its sizeable hind feet, appearing almost too large for its diminutive body size. The animal's large hind feet help it from sinking into the deep snow when it walks and hops. Snowshoe hares also posses heavily furred feet and ears shorter than most other hares, both critical adaptations designed to protect it from freezing Maine the temperatures.
Mostly crepuscular (creature of the dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (night time dweller) snowshoe hare do a majority of feeding at night. Hares feed on a wide variety of plants such as ferns, buds, twigs and grasses but will also less commonly feed on dead animals such as mice. During the day, hares do not rest in burrows but instead prefer to conceal themselves from predators by hiding in shallow depressions under heavy spruce thickets and brush piles.
Prolific breeders, hares may birth between up to 30 young per year. Females (does) have the ability to become pregnant by males (bucks) while already pregnant with young (kits) because female hares have two uteri. Typically the hare breeding season begins in March and continues till around June. The gestation period lasts an average of 37 days, with birthing of kits starting in April and stretching into late July.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is another name for the snowshoe hare?
2. What is the home range of the snowshoe hare?
3. What trick of camouflage has the snowshoe hare evolved to better evade the sharp eyes of predators?
4. How have snowshoe hare adapted to their cold environments?
5. Do snowshoe hare eat meat?
6. Do snowshoe hare dig burrows?
7. What are baby rabbits called?
8. How many young can snowshoe hare birth in a single year?
9. What are female rabbits called?

 Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. A snowshoe hare is also known by the name varying hare.
2. The home range of the snowshoe hare stretch across all of North America.
3. Snowshoe hares have evolved to evade predators by growing white winter coats and brown summer coats to better blend into their natural environments and fool the sharp eyes of predators.
4. Snowshoe hare have adapted to their cold environments by having short ears and feet covered with thick fur.
5. When food is limited, snowshoe hare have been documented eating meat.
6. Snowshoe hare do not dig burrows, instead the prefer to conceal themselves from predators by hiding in shallow depressions under heavy spruce thickets and brush piles.
7. Baby rabbits are called kits.
8. Snowshoe hares can birth as many as 30 young per year.
9. Female rabbits are called does.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stay Safe, Dry, Warm and Comfortable In Your Treestand

            During the months of September- December, I spend a lot of time sitting in treestands. This means that over the years, I have accumulated a considerable amount of knowledge in how to stay safe, dry, warm and comfortable sitting for 8-10 hours a day 15-20 feet off the ground.
According to the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, more than 90 percent of hunters use some type of tree stand for hunting. This means that most of us out there hunting are doing so from some type of elevated platform. As such, we owe it to ourselves and out families to understand as much as possible about treestand safety.
Researchers from the University of Alabama estimate about 10 percent of hunters who use tree stands are injured while using the platforms; this averages to be 5,875 treestand related injuries per year. Treestands to be safe, require a physical and visual inspection every time before climbing. Make sure to shake and attempt to move the ladder, tug on ropes and inspect ratchet straps. Also, don’t use “homemade” treestands as they are typically not constructed to the same standard as those commercially purchased and as such are much more prone to failure.
All commercially purchased stands these days are required to come with a full body harness, unfortunately most are complicated, uncomfortable to wear, and not easily adjustable for XXL and petite hunters. These drawbacks lead to the harnesses not being worn and hundreds of hunter injuries every year. To make sure a harness is comfortable and adjustable, it pays to spend the extra money on a custom harness like the ones made by Muddy Outdoors, Hunter Safety Systems, Tree Spider and Summit Treestands. Having an easy to use harness means it will always be used and a hunter saved from possible death or traumatic injury. With care, these harnesses will last hunters for years and are well worth the investment.
Researchers at the University of Alabama also found that injury rates were highest among those 15 to 24 years old, young hunters who were more willing to “risk” climbing into a tree stand without the benefit of safety equipment. All the companies mentioned above sell youth model harnesses, specially designed for smaller hunters. This piece of equipment is as critical as wearing a cars seatbelt or bike helmet, get it wear it, everytime.
A full body harness is great for protecting a hunter while they are sitting or standing, from a treestand’s elevated seat or platform, but unfortunately, a majority of falls happen while climbing up or down ladders. My newly purchased treestand, the “Hawk Destination”, is a whopping 21 feet off the ground so to protect myself while climbing up and down, I recently purchased the Muddy Safe-Line. This simple device is basically a heavy-duty rope that attaches to the top and bottom of the treestand. As the hunter climbs, he or she simple slides the prusik knot up the rope. Should a fall occur, the knot cinches tight and the hunter is saved from a fall. Other similar systems include the Tree Spider Livewire Descent and Life-Line by Hunter Safety System.
Stay Dry and Warm
Sitting for hours is relatively easy, until the ambient temperature reaches fifty degrees Fahrenheit. This is when I typically have to reach for my heavy jacket. Wind and rain can quickly turn a relatively mild day in the 50s unbearable, unless a hunter is properly prepared. A layering system comprised of a polyester undershirt, fleece jacket, waterproof over jacket and emergency heat packs usually do the job until temperatures sink into the forties. I actually don’t mind being slightly chilled, as it helps to keep me awake and alert, but what I absolutely cannot stand is being wet. Even with proper rain gear, water always seems to seep in, hands go numb and equipment gets saturated. Last year, I decided to try one of those treestand umbrellas that attached to the tree over the treestand. First, I looked at the Field and Stream Tree Umbrella and while budget friendly; I was not impressed by its flimsy construction. I finally settled on the “Wingspan Ultimate” treestand umbrella by Hawk. While expensive, it is solidly built and provides considerable overhead coverage to keep a hunter dry in even the hardest downpour.  
More Helpful Hints
Its never seems to fail that after sneaking quietly into my treestand, on a still morning, that my monumental efforts at silence are thwarted by a squeaky treestand. To combat this problem, I carry in my pack a can of Pam cooking spray. The canola oil based spray lubricates and any odor doesn’t seem to disturb deer. Last season, I watched a doe deer walk under my treestand and casually sniff the ground where the canola oil had dripped.
Remember, hunting deer from treestands in Maine’s relatively deer poor Washington county region doesn’t make sense unless stands are placed in areas that contain deer. This means stand hunters need to be vigilant in their scouting well before November to find areas rich in deer sign, that contain landform funnels created by topography or are in locations containing natural deer attractants like apple orchards or food plots. Once a location is found, be sure to secure written landowner permission, label stands with name and address and hang treestrands in early August. If needing to cut brush for shooting lanes, also be sure to get written landowner permission.
For those looking for a deer hunting adventure, “The Great Heath” (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 25, C-3) is sure to satisfy. Also, Allen Heath (Map 25, A-2) and Beech Hill Heath (Map 25, B-3) located in close proximity to Pleasant River Lake (Map 25, A-2) contains wide open expanses of open timber, clear cuts and blueberry barrens, bring a tree climber and plan to spend the whole day, this is BIG country!

 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Lost Art of Sitting and Shoot Ducks and Chill?

The Lost Art of Sitting
The entire month of November, I spend a lot of time sitting in trees. While many prefer to stalk deer rather than sit, I am one of those hunters who likes to sit, content to simply pass the time, collecting my thoughts, watching the birds and squirrels play and patiently waiting for a deer to walk out and present a shot. I find this entire process incredibly relaxing and in few endeavors in these hectic times do I truly feel quite so at peace and connected to the natural world around me.
Sitting is becoming a lost art, a hunting skill comprised of equal parts physical endurance and mental patience. I feel that many sportsmen are losing the ability to master this skill as our growing dependence on technology seems to be robbing us of our ability to just sit peacefully. For a growing number of sportsmen, a few minutes in the stand and they become “bored” and begin playing with their phones, txting friends, taking tree stand selfies or playing video games. This deer season, leave the cell phone in a pocket and reconnect with the woods. In the end, the re-connections made back to the Maine wilds, just might put a deer on the game pole this month.
Other suggestions hunters can take to increases their chances of seeing more deer when sitting for long periods of time, include making sure to position themselves so that the sun is at their back for better visibility and also to reduce eye fatigue on bright days. This is accomplished by facing west in the morning and east in the evening. Also a comfortable thick foam seat goes a long way in helping to avoid unnecessary movement. When hunting season begins, I always find the first day of sitting is the worst, I feel fidgety, uncomfortable and have difficulty maintaining focus. As the season progress, however, the days get progressively easier and seem to move faster as I settle into a regular routine of hunting.
            A lot of deer hunters in Washington County still hunt, preferring to stalk after the areas sparse population of whitetails. Stalking is effective as it allows hunters to assess larger tracts of land than is possible simply sitting and waiting for deer. Stand hunting however can still be highly effective even in deer poor Washington County if hunters use the pre-season to scout out prime stand areas that funnel deer between bedding and feeding areas, overlook concentrated sources of food (food plots, apple orchards, corn fields, etc.). Simply setting up a stand in Washington County and hoping for a deer to walk by without doing any pre-scouting and a hunter might well be waiting years before a deer shows up!
            When deer hunting in Washington County, it is hard to beat the rugged lands accessible via the Birch Hill Road (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 36, D-1, C-1 and C-2), just outside of the town of Crawford. The Birch Hill road snakes over and around Hawkins, Huntley and Seavy Ridge as well as Pocomoonshine Mountain to the west and borders heavy swamp land and spruce growth to the east. This creates great ambush opportunities between bedding and feeding areas for hunters willing to invest a little time scouting to find the travel corridors between these two zones boasting the highest level of deer activity.
Shoot Ducks and Chill?
Duck hunting in November is wrought with challenges overcome by only the heartiest of sporting men and women. Frigid north winds blow a gale, typically throwing snowstorms or freezing rain down from the heavens, soaking even the most prepared foul weather fowler. With inland waters rapidly freezing, water fowlers head Down East where the regions salty bays and tidal inlets typically take longer to ice up.
Sportsmen feeling they possess the intestinal fortitude to hunt in these inclement and fickle weather conditions would be well served to dress warm and try their luck on Maine’s rugged coast. Areas such as the mouth of the Machias River (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, C-4) and Chandler River (Map 25 B-5) both offer protection from the icy north winds while still providing opportunities to harvest ducks late into December.
A majority of the hunting done in these locations is accomplished by pass shooting, a practice of hunting requiring no decoys and no calling; it is simply about being in the right place at the right time. Hunters successful in employing this technique choose set-up locations wisely, using pinch points, ledges and sheltered coves to force ducks into effective shotgun range. Ducks refusing to fly into shooting range, can sometimes be persuaded by employing a rudimentary understanding of duck sounds and behavior. The quack, quack, quack is the basic call of the mallard and black duck and is the “King” of duck vocalizations. Use it heartily when the winds howl, to call to ducks at a distance and lightly in the stillness of the early morning. Always call to wing tips and tails, to turn ducks toward your position and do not call repeatedly as overdoing it often frightens ducks. Simply in theory complicated in actually delivery, calling to duck and having them favorably respond is as much science as art form and one can only improve by spending years watching and listening to ducks.
Hunters should not be seen, so limit movement and cover up the often forgotten face and hands with camouflage face paint or a face mask and gloves. Often glaringly white faces staring up into the heavens, from the relative darkness of the swamp or forest, spook approaching ducks.
Decoy spreads should be seen and contain a lot of movement. This is accomplished by including spinning wing decoys, jerk chords and any other products that create water disturbances, mimicking happily feeding ducks.

Later in the season it pays to add white colored decoys to your set-up, as doing so will yield visits from both hooded and red crested mergansers. Take old mallard decoys and paint them white and black to mimic mergansers.
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