In most parts of the country August is still part of summer and meant to be enjoyed in a variety of ways that don’t include closing up the garden, getting in firewood and otherwise preparing for the cooler times that are just ahead.
August is definitely another transition month in Maine. Pre-baiting for black bears began last week in anticipation of the Aug. 28 opening day. Deer hunters targeting Maine’s special Expanded Archery Zone (in designated areas generally south and east of Interstate Route 95) can begin hunting Sept. 9, which is not that far away. The statewide archery deer season opens Sept. 28, also looming on the horizon.
Crow season opened Aug. 1 while rails and Canada geese may be hunted beginning Sept. 1. Most other hunting seasons begin Oct. 1, but there is enough for hunters to do in August and September to justify the abandonment of odd jobs, chores and general household drudgery. If there is any saving grace for not being allowed to hunt on Sundays it is that creative thinkers who’d rather hunt can always put everything necessary and pertinent off till the weekend. Doing so makes for a pretty hectic Sunday but if it’s going to get done at all that’s the time to do it – or at least try.
Living alone, I don’t have anyone to remind me of which chores are more important than others so I simply pick and choose which fires to put out and, come late Sunday afternoon, I’ve had all the responsibility I care to endure for another week. Truth be told, I’d rather slog around a coastal bog somewhere and hunt (or at least pretend to hunt) Sora rails, where the limit is 25 per day. I may not shoot that many in a day but I can still say I need to keep hunting till sunset just in case I get really lucky.
The same goes for September geese. I “hunt” them by sitting on my back deck with a cup of hot tea; my shotgun and a goose call just in case one of the local flocks decides to pass overhead in range just before sunset. It happens often enough to make the effort worthwhile, although most days the birds head my way but then veer off to the north or south at the last moment. I’m happy to shoot one when I can but I don’t mind if they pass me by on occasion. Pluck a fully-feathered Canada goose by hand one day and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. These big birds are about 50 percent feathers and you’ll need to remove every one of them before putting the bird in the oven. You can skin them and save yourself a lot of trouble but the meat tends to come to the table dry and tough. There are ways to treat wild goose meat to make it tender and palatable but I find the old-fashioned way (pluck and roast whole) to be the most preferable.
When it comes to bear baiting few voters know anything about it. In a nutshell, we’re not out there to feed the bears copious amounts of donuts, pastries and other sweets. This would be akin to putting 100 night crawlers on a single hook in order to catch one white perch. Instead, baiters place a half-bucket of dog food, meat scraps or (yes) donuts at a site to bring bears into range. The goal isn’t to fatten them up or send them down the road with a full belly – what possible advantage would that give the hunter? Instead, we place small amounts of bait so the bear can come in, have a quick snack and then come back tomorrow for more. Dropping a pickup-load of food in the woods is silly and counter-productive because the bears will simply show up late at night, eat their fill and be gone before daylight. How does that help the hunter in any way? But, if a pound or two of bait is put out the bear will want to come in early (before other bears, martens, fishers, raccoons and other scavengers) move in to steal the bait. Most bears are seen at bait sites about an hour (or less) before sunset, and in many cases the bears won’t come in till after dark, long after legal shooting time has ended.
As one might imagine, maintaining several bait sites for bears requires a lot of work, money and pre-planning. Some sites produce no bears and other sites may have one bear, a family group or only small bears coming in. Few hunters want to shoot a juvenile bear and none will knowingly shoot a sow with cubs, so the game becomes one of wait-and-see in hopes that a big, lone boar shows up. It’s true that 70 percent of Maine’s bears are taken over bait annually but not all bait hunters see or shoot one. On my last trip to Patten for bears I sat in a “guaranteed” stand over bait for a week and did not see a single bear. I saw moose, deer, raccoons, martens, fishers and squirrels galore but, alas, no bear. My site was supposedly being hit by a big, lone boar but he would not come in till after midnight and was gone well before sunrise. I saw the pictures, the tracks, the sign and the damage he did to the bait but never once saw the bear. So much for “guaranteed” bear hunting!
August is well upon us now, a good time to start buttoning up the yard and garden and get ready for fall. It was a late spring which means a lot of garden produce will continue “making” till the end of the month. Other than strawberries and a few cherry tomatoes I have not yet harvested a thing out of my garden but the squash, tomatoes and corn are nearly ready. I’ll be hustling to keep up in the next few weeks but in the end the woods will win. Always has, always will!