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My phone has been ringing off the hook lately with various reports from bear hunters, bow hunters, fishermen and wildlife observers from all over. It's funny how the first few cool days of fall generates so much energy and enthusiasm among outdoors folks - it's the most excitement we've had since the snow went away!
Two of the bear hunters I've talked to have seen several bears over their baits but only small ones - no big boars yet. One of the hunters is a devout trophy hunter and won't shoot a bear unless it's bigger than his last one, and that bruiser weighed close to 300 pounds! That's well above average for a Maine bear, so I suspect he's going to be sitting out there a while if he expects to shoot something bigger.
Interestingly, another, equally devout hunter in his 70s told me that while he hasn't seen any bears yet (he hunts in Parkman), he's not looking for a big one.
“I have four of six baits working right now,” he said. “The other two are going to come on soon because natural foods are already starting to dry up. I have two fair-sized bears coming in plus some yearlings. I'd like to take a big bear, of course, but I also love to eat bear meat, so I'll take a yearling if I get the chance.”
It's not often that you hear about a bear hunter who's primarily interested in meat, but there are many of them out there. I have taken several bear-hunting trips in recent years and hunters from around the world are quite surprised when I suggest that we roast one of them! In one Canadian camp (where the bag limit is two bears) there were 10 hunters on hand and we started eating bear steaks the first day. Luckily, we had a talented cook who knew how to turn any cut of meat into a culinary event, and the entire crew (including the guides and lodge staff) wasted no time in devouring every morsel. We ate four bears that I know of that week, and everyone (even the first-day skeptics) made sure they had some packed in dry ice for the trip home. It's good stuff!
A group of bowhunters called to say they were already practicing for the Oct. 1 opener and had purchased a big, military-type tent for their annual weeklong foray into the woods up around Sebec Lake. Apparently these guys are die-hard traditionalists - they use hand-made bows and arrows and wear old-timey buckskin clothing while they pursue whitetails in October. I know there is a magazine devoted to “traditional” archery, but I've never see a deer camp devoted to deer hunting with stick bows.
“I have been using tents for years, and though I do enjoy rustic, stick-built camps it seem that my tent has given me the most enjoyable times afield. I guess it's all in what one is used to,” the fellow said.
Another bowhunter called to say he was not happy that I'd reminded him of how close the 2006 season was.
“I have been having a great time fly-fishing for trout all summer, but now I have to put down my rod and start shooting my bow again,” he complained. “I can't believe it's that time already!”
It's true enough that fall is fast upon us. The cooler temperatures and random patches of colored leaves are proof enough that summer is at an end, and most hunters have already made their plans and reservations for the coming season. One reader called to say she'd recently observed a big flock of Canada geese headed south and wanted to know if that meant we're going to have an early or “hard” winter. I don't think that's the case (or at least an omen!), because Maine has some geese that remain in the state all winter. They are pushed out of inland lakes and rivers as ice forms, but many of these birds end up on the coast and will stay there till spring. I have hunted sea ducks in the Rockland area in January and have seen flocks of geese in the secluded bays and coves - and sometimes I'd see more geese than ducks!
Which reminds me, as if there weren't enough going on right now, Maine has an early Canada goose hunting season that is open from Sept. 5-25 with a limit of four birds. This season is designed to whittle down the “resident” goose population. Biologists set the season in September to help hunters target birds living and breeding in Maine. Later, migrant geese come in to rest on their way south. That population gets some protection because of some poor nesting years in recent times. You can't tell a resident goose from a migrant by looking at them, and, of course, they all taste alike, so the only way to differentiate between the two populations is to take aim at resident birds before the major fall migration.
There are plenty of geese in our region, thanks to a plethora of large lakes, ponds and rivers; not to mention many miles of cornfields, pastures and lakeshore lawns. I don't particularly care for hunting when it's close to houses or camps, and in fact I don't even like being close enough to hear domestic activity going on. I prefer to hunt in the traditional manner: either over decoys in a cornfield or while drifting downriver in a canoe. The best goose hunting (to me) is done on a drizzly, foggy day while paddling down a winding river. The geese will be near the bends most times, but due to the fog and rain they won't be able to see the approaching hunters till the shooting starts. On clear days you can't get near them, but on a lowery day in fall you can have some pretty good luck.
Another trick is to paddle downriver along cornfields or pastures and stop occasionally to climb the bank and sneak up on feeding flocks of geese. This can be a muddy challenge, but if you know your fields and can stay low enough, you can often creep or crawl right into the middle of a gaggle of geese before they know you are there. I've done this many times while paddling the Piscataquis River between East Dover and Milo - there won't be a flock of geese in every field but if you're adept at this kind of hunting you'll have shots at your daily limit of four birds before it's time to pull the canoe out of the river.
Fall's an exciting time for any outdoorsman, but it's also fun to know that so many others are getting a kick out of it, too. So many people mope about the approaching holiday rush and winter, but every day is Christmas for the Maine sportsman right now. Get out there and make the most of it - fall is short and it's been a long time coming!
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