It did not matter much that I had asked Rachel and Shane for some tacks, a hammer and something to hang over our window (ours was the only room not completely finished – still being renovated – so no curtains yet), I woke up with the sun anyhow. I may have even beaten it rising that first day of the hunt. So I was up and at em at about 0515 or so; and that is early for me, yet I had had a good night’s sleep, even better than at the Holiday Inn the night before. Brendan snoozed away as usual at that hour, and there was no reason to wake him since the hunt would not begin until after lunch. Still I got up and went downstairs.
When I got to the first floor I was greeted by Kenny. He was one of the gentlemen from the Game and Fish club in CT who had come back to hunt with Shane after an unfruitful previous year. If I could only describe Kenny with a few words they would be: kind but tough gentleman. You or I may never meet another guy who meets life each day with the gusto, guts, and love of living that this man exhibited during the week of this hunt, and throughout he was the perfect gentleman. He was on the diminutive side, but had a big presence nonetheless. Yet he never imposed on anyone. He was always ready to lend a hand in any way he could. He was quick with good humor, but if anyone razzed him he was quick with a mildly stinging but good natured comeback too. At other times he was quiet and contemplative, and as the week went on it became obvious to me that there was much more to him than met the eye at first glance. I could not have had a better way to start my day than to have met him when I got to the kitchen. He had coffee waiting for me, and we went out to the stoop where he enjoyed a smoke and his coffee, while I also enjoyed a cup of that morning’s brew. We talked hunting, and soon others had joined us, but the talk did not change.
By about 7 or so, Rachel was at it making breakfast. No need for her to rise very early and start cooking as some were still asleep, and as I have said repeatedly – no bear hunting until after lunch. I don‘t remember exactly what she cooked, but I know it was good. Everything she made was good simple home cooked fare. One of the camp favorites was biscuits and gravy. In addition there were always eggs, there was sausage, I think bacon too, muffins, toast, cereal, fruit juice, and fruit that made up some part of the breakfasts. For starters we had a small coffee maker to get the early risers going, and Rachel also had a huge coffee percolator that she fired up each morning and kept full throughout the day and into the night. Lots of coffee was drunk by almost all, even me, and I sometimes don’t drink it for months – but this was good stuff. I just had to have it everyday.
Sooner or later, actually later in this case, I woke up Brendan. He was eager to get the day going after his long sleep. I had been a bit concerned about him because he had badly sprained his right wrist about a week before and it was in a brace. Yet he proved the day before that he could shoot well while wearing the brace, and I was confident he would do okay.
The rest of the morning was spent playing cards, watching some TV, talking hunting, and of course with the hunters readying themselves and their gear. At sometime between noon and one we all had lunch. After that it was time to ready for the hunt. This was this day that Brian showed up at the lodge, at least for the first time since Brendan and I had arrived there. He was the hunter from MI who was staying in his own trailer down the road at a campsite. He was the only hunter using a bow on this trip, and it was a long bow at that. As each day passed, and he showed up, it became sort of obvious that he had a certain ritual he followed each morning in preparation for his hunt. Herb first pointed this out to the rest of us, maybe that first day, maybe on another, he was familiar with it as Brian had hunted with this outfit before. Brian was another gentleman, a soft spoken easy going type with a passion for bear hunting. You may wonder why he did not hunt in MI with the great bear hunting offered there, and I learned why near the end of the week. He told us that he did not at all appreciate the lottery system that MI had in place to select whom would receive a bear tag, and that this went even for MI residents. So instead of hunting MI bears, he hunted Maine bears.
As I looked around at all the hunters, I saw that almost all had a ritual in preparing for their hunts. The only guy who did not seem to have much of a ritual was Brendan, but since this was Brendan’s first big game hunt he will have plenty of time over the years to develop his own methods for this madness. For now he followed my lead, and he was ready to go for sure. Even though he did not have a ritual set yet, he made surer to double check that we had all we needed, and to make sure we stayed clean of unwanted scents. He had read up some on hunting, had learned some from me, and learned more from TV shows. He was and is a hunter in the making.
The atmosphere in camp was upbeat, everyone was anticipating a good hunt and hoping for a bear on day one. The weather was not bad and seemed almost cooperative with us. It was overcast, cool, with light rain now and then, really just a misty drizzle. That was in the morning into early afternoon as we got ready. If I remember right, we left camp in three vehicles at about 1:30 in the afternoon.
I hopped into a Suburban driven by Shane. We were accompanied by Brendan and randy. Randy would be the closest hunter to us, the only other hunter on the same side of route 27 as we were to be. If I understood correctly, Shane had planned to have Randy on one site, but switched him to another so Brendan would have a better chance of seeing a bear since it was his first hunt. Randy would get a good site too, and he was more than cheerful about giving up the site and letting Brendan have it as suggested by Shane. We drove quite a few miles up the road toward our site not far south of the Canadian border. Then we turned off onto a logging road out into the woods. The loggers were actually working off of this road, and we had to stop a bit while they finished loading a truck with logs before we could get by them. I think we were on site at about 2 or so. I was concerned that with these guys in the area, the bears would not come by, but Shane assured me that they would be finished soon and that they did not disturb the bears. The next thing we knew, we were pulling over, and Shane was getting out telling Brendan and I that this was our site. Shane led Brendan and I into the woods, maybe about 100 yards. Brendan was beaming with enthusiasm, yet he carried his rifle safely as he has been taught; he learned well. Shane then pointed out the bait can, and our stand. As Shane filled the bait can, we headed over to our stand from behind the can. The whole area was littered with bear droppings. From the size of some of them, at least one of the multiple bears visiting this site was a big one. Man was Brendan excited, me too.
For Brendan and me, it then was up into the double tree stand. It was set pretty snuggly against a sturdy tree. I was happy for that as I had never hunted from a stand before. I am not all that great at heights, but a stand does not bother me in that manner. I was nervous though that I might fall out of it as I am known to be a bit of a klutz at times. As it turned out this stand was almost rock solid and had a shooting rail. Once Brendan was up in it, I handed up a backpack full of gear and some goodies, then I handed up the rifle. Then it was time for me. I was happily surprised that the stand was big enough to fit both of us with a bit of comfort (at least for a couple of hours). Sadly though, just as Shane drove away, I realized we had forgotten the stand’s seat cushion. Luckily I had two foam seat pads for us to sit atop, but that other pad under them would have been a big bonus.
As we sat there, we talked just a little bit in the beginning to make sure Brendan had it right, or as right as anyone could. I was convinced he was ready, then the hard part of it all fell to me. I had to shut up for hours. As you may have guessed by how much I like to write, I like to talk too. Oh well, it was for Brendan, so I shut up for most of the afternoon, with only momentary interruptions to my silence. As the seconds turned into minutes, and the minutes grew into hours, and the hours dragged on toward the end of the day – we enjoyed each others silent company, we enjoyed the anticipation of seeing a bear, and we enjoyed observing nature all around us. We saw and heard several species of birds that flew by and around us. They were all oblivious to us being there with them, and they went about there business of looking for food as they flitted about the woods. We saw woodpeckers, crows, a hawk, some small yellow headed birds, and others. We also got to watch two chipmunks as they incessantly raided the bear bait can all throughout the afternoon. Back and forth they went from their burrows to the can, jumping up and in to grab a morsel, or searching the ground around the can for the same. At any sign of danger they chirped a loud call and ran off to hide. Once or twice we may have set them off, especially the first time I stood up to stretch, but for most of the day they just kept going at whatever food they could get. As for that stretching, you just would have to, as the darned stand seat was hard on the behind, even with our foam cushions. I stretched twice and Brendan once. I showed him how to do it slow and right, so as not to startle any animals nearby. The second time I did it, and his only time, we did not startle the chipmunks or nearby birds. During our day, we also heard a few noises in the woods, and once or twice thought it might have been a bear on the approach but we saw none. As the sun set we waited anxiously for a bear to appear. It is legal to hunt up to one half hour after sundown for bear in Maine, so we kept our hopes high.
We saw nothing, well nothing of a bear anyhow. As a matter of fact, within the last minute or so of legal hunting time, it was hard to see anything, including the bait can that was only about 30 yards away from us. It gets dark fast in the woods once the sun sets. Brendan unloaded his rifle, and we waited for Shane to pick us up. He was there shortly after, and we then all picked up Randy. Randy also had no luck with bear that day. As it turned out, no one in the group had shot a bear on day one. That was a disappointment to us all. If I remember right, I think only one person even saw a bear, but it was too far off for a safe and sure shot. I was impressed, because now it was obvious we were in the company of good ethical hunters.
It was back to the lodge for all of us. On the way back to the lodge I tried to keep Brendan’s spirits high. It was obvious to me he was deflated a bit in the morale department. I guess he just thought it would be real easy to tag a bear on his first day, what with all the preparations we had made. Shane and Randy also tried to help him keep his spirits high, and they both did a good job of it. Herb and Patrick picked up the other hunters and brought them to the lodge. Once we were all at the lodge, Rachel had dinner waiting for us. We all ate well, and over dinner, dessert and coffee we all talked about our day on our stands. Some played cards, some watched TV, others just talked. At cards Randy had a better day than he did on the stand. He won a few bucks from the other players. Sometime that evening we all met Bob, the owner of the lodge. The lodge is basically a duplex, lodge rooms on the right side and Bob’s place on the left side. He was a retired NYPD Lieutenant, and had built this lodge on the site after he had retired. The lodge is used for hunters, snowmobile enthusiasts, fisherman, and vacationers in general. Bob was friendly and jovial throughout our stay, and he made us all feel very welcome.
Our day pretty much at an end, I think everyone was out cold by about midnight. No doubt they were once again dreaming of bears dancing through the woods or something similar; I know I was doing just that. Tomorrow would be another day, another time to hunt; but for the rest of that night it was dream bears and the sounds of rough saws sawing wood.
A Simple Question.
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