Archive for September, 2015

Well, things worked out very well for my Maine bear hunt – but I have some other issues that just will not be easily solved at this point, and thinking through the issues has brought me to the logical conclusion of ‘skip the 2015 deer season.’

The first issue, as always, is budget.  The bear hunt was paid for in advance, so that shouldn’t have been an issue, but I really never considered that I would get a bear that has a (small) chance of making Boone & Crockett, so that adds the cost of a trip to Ohio (where my taxidermist lives – I would have used a local one, but the logistics of my bear hunt worked out the same as last time: I flew, my hunting buddy drove, so it was more economical and practical for him to drive the hide and meat back to Ohio. I absolutely love the last bear I had mounted, and trust the taxidermist to do this one justice as well.), and the cost of getting a mount.

I gave up a hunting lease in Rome, GA, earlier this year – It was a nice piece of property just under 300 acres, but it was about a three hour round trip, and I just do not have the spare time or patience to get up at 3am, drive to the property, hike in to a stand, spend the day, hike out, and drive another hour and a half. If I had a good place to camp up there, I could have made weekends of it, but one of the best places to hunt is about the only place to set up a tent, so that was a non-starter.

beaver gulch 161

One of the smaller bucks at the Butler property

I used to hunt an 875 acre parcel near Butler, GA, but the owner (a friend’s uncle) has created a feud with the rest of his family, and an offshoot of that was kicking everybody off of the property, so that’s out.

Which leaves public land.

I’ve written before about Georgia’s complex wildlife management area regulations – for any individual piece of property, they aren’t too bad, but every piece of property has a different set. Add that to the fact that the last three or four times I tried to hunt Paulding Forest WMA or Sheffield WMA, there was a vehicle parked every single place I wanted to park. (We spent three HOURS last year during turkey season just trying to find someplace to park. Not fun.)

So, my budget is thin as well as my patience, and I hate hunting on a ‘lets rush over here (where we’ve never been) and just walk in the woods!’ basis. To me, that’s not hunting. That’s hiking while carrying hunting gear.

I can hike all year long.

So, I’ll relax this season, regroup, work my finances a bit, and start planning for 2016.  Because planning a season is half the fun.

As a side note, I had originally told my wife ‘unless I get drawn for Joe Kurz WMA’s quota hunt, I was skipping this year.’ Well, I didn’t get drawn, which is OK, that adds another point to my growing tally. If something comes up that’s too good to pass up, like an invitation to some really nice property, I may change my mind, but at this point, I’m battening down the budgetary hatches for Christmas.

Well, I didn’t forget anything – I wish I’d taken more of a few things, but between baggage fees and weight limits, I did what I had to and everything worked out.

I landed at Bangor airport Saturday the 5th of September, and my hunting buddy Kerry was already in town and checked into the hotel. He lives in northern Ohio, so Bangor is about a twelve hour drive from his house, making it a road trip.  Bangor is twenty hours for me, however next time I think I will drive, if nothing else to eliminate the baggage issues. (Pay to park at the airport, take one truck in from there.)  We had a bite to eat in the Ramada’s Aviator’s restaurant, then hit the sack. Bear camp check in is after 1pm on Sunday,so we planned to leave between 7am and 8am for the five hour drive to camp.

Greenville_MaineWe ran route 15 up to Greenville, stopping at Indian Hill Trading Post, which is a fantastic store with everything from Woolrich clothing to hunting supplies and groceries. It’s also one of the last places on our route to get gasoline before North Maine Woods, so we always fill up there on the way in, and on the way back out. If I had the time and money, I’d fly my wife up to the area just to show her this shop, and Greenville itself, the area is absolutely beautiful.

After the Greenville stop, we drive through Kukajo, Maine, and finally leave the paved road behind.  The next stop is Caribou Checkpoint, one of the entry check points for North Maine Woods, where you have to pay the usage fee, check in and at the end of the trip, check out.  From here until you get to wherever you are going, Baker Lake, PB Guide Service, or any of the other camps, it’s logging roads, and there are copious signs pointing out that logging trucks have the right of way.Caribou_Checkpoint

We arrived at the camp around 2pm on the 6th, checked in with Val (Paul’s wife), and got our cabin assignment, then tossed our stuff in the room and relaxed.  In short order, Paul let us know that Scott would be our guide this year, and we had a quick chat with him about bear hunting.  This is our second trip, so I’m used to the questions now: how far are you comfortable shooting, how good are you at sitting still, have you hunted bear before, etc.  Scott liked our answers, so we let him know we’d be fine with helping him bait in the morning.

Monday, we helped Scott out in the morning, and along the way, got to see the stands we would be hunting out of. I’m a large person (XXXL-Tall), so Scott put me in a two-person ladder stand out at the very end of a maple sugar camp road, with about a 79 yard shot to the barrel.  Kerry would be in a fir thicket, with only a 19 yard shot, but a LOT of bear sign.  My bait had a trail timer on it the day before, and that showed that the bear had hit the bait at 5:10pm.  Bear_bait_1

One quick word about weather.  In 2010 when we hunted in Maine, it rained the first day of the hunt, and it was a bit chilly. I had my Gore-Tex  jacket with me, so I was fine, but Kerry does not like to be cold, so this year, he packed a lot of warm hunting clothing.

Me? I went minimal. I had a long-sleeve Under Armour camouflage tee shirt, a pair of Cabela’s camo pants, a light jacket, and a heavy jacket, along with my uninsulated Gore-Tex jacket.   The weather was supposed to be high 50’s at night, mid 70’s to low 80’s during the day, with a chance of rain all week, from 20% on Monday, to 60% with thunderstorms on Thursday.

As usual, the weather report was completely wrong about the rain.

I got in the stand around 3:50pm on Monday.  The temperature was in the mid 70’s, with gusty winds, but mostly the winds were from the bait to my stand.  By 4:30pm, it was raining. By 5pm, it was raining hard, with thunderstorms all around me. I hadn’t brought my Gore-Tex jacket to the stand (lowest chance of rain for the week, go figure) but it wasn’t cold (to me) so I was fine.  The rain slowed down around 5:45pm,and stopped shortly after that.

Just after 6pm, I see a bear poke it’s head out of the thicket behind my bait.  I’ve always been told to use the 55 gallon drum as a good way to judge the size of a bear. If the bear can just walk into the barrel, it’s small. If it looks like it barely fits in the barrel, it’s a decent size bear.   This bear was looking DOWN at the barrel, making it a definite big bear to me.

The red arrow is where the barrel is

The red arrow is where the barrel is located

The bear was very cautious, looking (I thought) at me, then at the bait, then at me again.  It snatched a mouthful of bait, and vanished into the trees again.  I very carefully, and very slowly, brought my rifle up to the shooting rail and waited.  A moment or two later, the bear moved out of cover and resumed his pattern of eat, look, eat.

The bear was quartering towards me, which is not ideal, but it moved the barrel over and most likely wouldn’t turn anymore, so I lined my cross hairs up with the front point of his shoulder and fired.

Just like my last bear, the bear jumped a bit, as though surprised at the sound, and vanished into the thicket. Our instructions from the guides have always been ‘stay in the stand,’ so that’s what I did.

And then the rain picked up again, and over half an hour, it started to pour, making me very nervous that the rain would wash away the blood trail.

Scott pulled his truck to the end of the road at about 7pm, by this time it had rained so hard that at times, I couldn’t see the bait.  He asked if I was ready to go, and I told him that I’d taken a shot, so we walked to the bait and looked for sign.  We found a good amount of blood on a birch tree about fifteen feet from the bait. (I should point out that the guides aren’t in the habit of just walking up to you and asking if you want to get out of the stand with twenty minutes of shooting time left, but he was very concerned, since the thunderstorms and rain had been fairly heavy.)

At this point, the only decision we could make was ‘pick up the other hunters, then come back,’ so we proceeded to go get Kerry, Gary, and Grover.  Once again, the storms increased to the point where the logging roads started to feel like they were covered in grease. At one point, we had to dodge a juvenile moose, which was a very interesting moment, since neither our truck, nor the moose, had any traction.

Once we recovered the rest of the hunters, it was back to the stand.  Two hunters stayed with the truck, Kerry, Scott and myself walked to the birch tree we had marked earlier.  Scott, who has been guiding bear hunts for twenty years, told us to stay at the birch and let him track for the time being.


This isn’t the patch of woods I’m writing about – but it’s the closest photo I have to it.

So, we’re in a patch of woods so thick, you have to take a step, part the fir trees with your hands, take another step, and it’s just getting thicker and swampier as we move deeper into the woods. It’s also 9pm, raining steadily, and pitch black outside.  Scott was out of sight in under fifteen yards, and called back to us to move our lights so he could see us.

Then Scott says “Niko, you’re going to be disappointed.”  I thought he’d found some sign that the bear had gotten away, or lost the trail entirely.  Then he says “This bear has a head the size of a pickle barrel.”

He had found my bear.  I wish it hadn’t been raining, or that I’d bought a waterproof camera,because the bear looked like it had been posed on its side. It was a big boar, and when we got it back to camp, it weighed 320 pounds before field dressing it.

After being field dressed - by way of comparison, I am 6'4

After being field dressed – by way of comparison, I am 6’4″ tall, 355 pounds. All of my other clothes were still soaked and covered in mud.

I had a great time at PB Guide Service – anyone looking for black bear in Maine should look Paul up and plan a hunt. Now I have to wait to get the skull back from the taxidermist, then another sixty days of drying time to get the skull measured.

For the rest of the photos of my trip, visit the album on my 323 Archery FaceBook page.

It’s sad, but fun at the same time – I always forget SOMETHING.  Usually something amazingly goofy, but not actually a deal breaker.  Once it was my sleeping bag (which I don’t need on this trip), another time I got 20 minutes from the house and realized that my tree stand was still sitting in the garage.

I’ve done this so many times that it’s now a game. I make a list about a month out, edit it and add or take things off, then when I pack, I usually see something that HAS to go with me, or realize “Oh, crap, I never put my camera gear on the list!” and have to find room for a camera bag and whatnot. Sometime’s there’s a facepalm moment of ‘Oh CRAP!’  other times, I only realize that I should have brought something when, at the end of the trip, I realize how much easier the trip would have been if only I had brought that ONE THING!

Oh well, this is a guided hunt from an established base camp,PB Guide Service, so most of the list boils down to street clothes, hunting clothes, rifles, ammunition, and camera gear. (…and CPAP, and over the counter medicine such as Immodium and ibuprofen, etc.)

I’ll upload photos when I get back – there isn’t really much in the way of cell service up there.

As a side note, the oak trees at my place just west of Atlanta are LOADED with acorns already, so this should be a good year to hunt over acorns. (Or, as Danny says, ‘a’KERNS.’ He also calls a scrape a ‘pawled spot,’ like he combined pawed and bald spot into one word.  I try to keep him away from sugar…)