Monday, September 4, 2006

The Bear Hunt, part 3...

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.

The Bear Hunt, part 2...

On Sunday, we set out from White River Junction, VT for Eustis, ME, the site of Black Arrow Lodge. This would be our bear hunting camp/lodge. The ride was another 5 hours or so, by way of some highway, but mostly on small two lane roads through some nice country in Vt., NH and Maine. We made a few stops along the way, for gas and for some supplies. We got most of our supplies at Walmart if only because they were there when other places were not to be found (like supermarkets). I do not necessarily like shopping at Walmart, especially in light of recent corporate decisions by them to cut back on firearms sales, but I did shop at them on this trip. I have to decide if it was worth shopping there as opposed to boycotting them in light of their cutback on gun sales.

Well we finally arrived in Eustis at about 3PM. In short order, we found a sign for the Black Arrow Lodge, and we made a left turn off of route 27 into the driveway. There was a group of about 6 folks or so hanging out around the front steps of the lodge when we pulled up. As Brendan and I got out of our 1996 Ford Taurus, I heard a woman’s voice, the only woman in the group, say: “Glenn, Brendan?”. This was a voice with which we would become quit familiar over the next week, that of Rachel Crommet of 15 Mile Stream Guide Service. She and her husband Shane ran guide service for the bear hunt. Rachel had answered every email inquiry, and every question in each email, that I had sent to her (and to about a dozen or so other guide services) about the bear hunt they offered. I literally mean she answered every question I asked her; and she gave well detailed answers. That was no small feat, as this quite possibly would prove to be the Bear Hunt of a lifetime for me, so I had asked an awfully large number of questions. If nothing else, her dedication to making sure all of my questions had been sufficiently answered to my satisfaction was what sold me on 15 Mile Stream Guide Service.

We made our introductions which included Brendan and I meeting: Rachel and Shane, their son Patrick, Shane’s dad Herb, and most of the other hunters for the week. As it stood there were 6 other hunters there besides Brendan. We met John, who had stayed with Shane and Rachel the year before in 2005, when he had taken a good sized bear with only 3 legs. We also met Kenny, Randy, Tony and Z (I think his name was Mark but we all called him by his nickname). These 4 guys were all members of a Fish and game club in CT. I was surprised, when about 3 days later, I learned they had all hunted with Shane and Rachel in 2005 but none had even seen a bear on that trip. Think about that for a moment. They had not seen a bear on their 2005 trip, not one of them, yet all 4 guys came back to the same outfitters in 2006. This is a testament to the service given by 15 Mile Stream, but more on that to come later, so back to the intros. We did not meet the other hunter who would be present: Brian, a bow hunter who came all the way from MI, and who was also a repeat customer of 15 Mile Stream Guide Service. We would meet Brian on Monday afternoon just before the first hunting session.

So far I was impressed. Everyone seemed very nice, not only Shane, and Rachel and their family, but also the other hunters. This was a good thing because spending a week in a lodge with 8 other people could have been miserable had we not all gotten along pretty well. As it turned out, the week was a ice one to say the least, but you will also get more on that as we move along through the week of the bear hunt.

In no time, Rachel had us settled into our room, on the second floor of the lodge. It was a bit small, but believe me when I say not too small as I had thought it might be before we saw it. Brendan and I had this one bedroom for ourselves. We had ample dresser space for all out stuff, and the beds were comfy with lots of extra blankets if we needed them. As luck would have it the window was on the dark side of the house at sunup. This was a good thing for sleeping in, and Brendan got to sleep late almost everyday because the hunts would only begin after lunch as we had been made aware long before we had arrived. The placement of that window also assured me a better night’s sleep (or would that be morning’s sleep as I usually went to bed after midnight). Still I was up a few mornings well before 0600, but much later on some others. Heck this was a vacation, so being able sleep late on some days was a very good thing indeed. The lodge had two full bathrooms, which was another good thing when there were 3 guides, one observer (me as I was not hunting on this trip) and 6 hunters sharing the facilities. Yes there were 7 hunters in all, but one – Brian, was staying in his own trailer at a campsite down the road.

Not long after we were settled in, we went out to sight in our guns. John was shooting a S&W revolver, sorry I don’t recall the model, in .44 magnum. It had a low power scope attached to it. I learned he had also used a revolver on his last year’s hunt, but I believe that one had been a Ruger. He shot quite a few rounds, he seemed to be shooting a bit low, but apparently wound up satisfied he was ready to go While some shots were a bit low, his group still looked more than good enough to get a bear. Then it was Brendan’s turn to shoot. He climbed the tree stand, and then I followed him up there to sit next to him as if he was actually out afield on the hunt. He fired one shot at 30 yards, the approximate distance it was figured that his stand would be from his bear. He hit the bull’s eye. Someone said he was okay to go, hut Shane said he should fire another shot. I guess that was to rule out a fluke good shot, and I thought that a wise idea Justin case the scope screws had come loose over the last two days of bouncing around in the trunk as we drove on our trip. His second shot was about a quarter inch from the first in the bull’s eye. Herb looked at the target and in a calm laid back sort of a Maine accent said: “He’s ready”. Everyone seemed pretty impressed. Everyone else had apparently already shot, the other 4 guys had gotten there the day before us and had already practiced.

Soon after that, dinner was being served. We were started off with an appetizer of a boiled shrimp platter, crackers, cheeses, and sliced pepperoni. Then we had hockey pucks for the main course, and we devoured them. Whoops, did I say hockey pucks (sorry Rachel but I could not resist)? Actually, Rachel has Tony to thank for the description of our dinner as being hockey pucks; of course Tony was just ribbing her in a friendly sort of way. Dinner was really hamburgers, and they really were much to everyone’s liking judging by how fast they disappeared from the platter into the mouths of the hunters. I loved em. They were accompanied by other delectable treats and all was truly delicious. After dinner, there was dessert of some sort; I don’t remember which exactly that everyone had of the many there were for the week. I do remember there was ice cream available every night, and there was often some sort of pie, and cookies too. I had some home baked cookies on Sunday night for my desert, they went down well, but I admit I had little room for dessert after dinner.

As it was, Rachel was our cook for most of the meals for the week; she had warned me that we did not want Shane to cook! The meals were all prepared fresh each day, home cooking style. There was also an abundance of snacks available like chips, cookies, fruits and such. Fresh coffee, and various soft drinks and juices were always on hand. It was help yourself to whatever was available at any time, with Rachel preparing most of the 3 main meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner. No one went hungry, except maybe a certain tapeworm in one member of the group’s stomachs, and even that tapeworm had its fill before too long.

Not long after dinner a card gamer started up. Brendan watched for awhile as did I; it was some sort of money game – what could you expect at a hunting camp. I was surprised the buy in was only a dollar, that spread out a quarter per game. After not too many of these games went by, Brendan joined in too. I was happy to watch, as I would be on the actual bear hunt too. The game did not go all that long before it was interrupted by Shane who had videos for us to watch, and a talk to give us about the upcoming hunts.

The videos we saw were quite instructional as far as bear hunting over bait goes, and as far, to some extent, as any bear hunt would go. We got to see bears of different sizes from small cubs, to yearling bears of about 80 pounds, to bears of about 180 pounds, to bears somewhat bigger than that. The reason for this was so we could judge any bear that might approach our shooting area. If someone wanted a trophy or a certain sized bear, they would at least now have something to go by. It was not all that easy to judge their sizes in the videos – so it became painfully obvious that judging a bear’s size would not be that easy during the excitement of seeing one while on stand. Shane told us of a hunter from the previous season who had sworn he had shot at least a 250 pound bear. When they found it, it turned out to be about 80 pounds! Shane also told us a 75 to 100 pound bear was nothing to sneeze at, and it would be a fine animal for Brendan to bag on his first hunt. Depending on which sex a bear in that weight range would be, it would either likely be a yearling if male, and possibly two to three years old if female.

One of the bears in the videos was a female with three cubs. Her video, I think, had been shot last year. We were all given explicit instructions by Shane that absolutely no sows with cubs were allowed to be taken by any hunters who hunted with 15 Mile Stream Guide Service. This was a policy enforced by Shane and Rachel, and was not a state of Maine hunting regulation. As far as Maine hunting regulations went, there was no restriction against shooting a sow with cubs; but since young cubs were unlikely to survive on their own, Shane and Rachel set up their own prohibitions for their hunters. That was fine with everyone at the camp, and we were all aware of this even before we arrived. Shane was making sure we had not forgotten. He also went over a quick way of how to avoid shooting a sow with cubs in tow. He said that upon seeing a bear approaching, the absolute best thing to do was to wait at least a minute while doing noting except watching and listening. The reason we were told to wait was to see if cubs showed up behind mama bear. He also told us about the likely appearance a sow’s coat if she had cubs, it wood look tattered or disheveled along the flanks, just as was the fur on the sow in the video, the sow with her cubs. This would be something easy for me to do, and I would make sure Brendan would wait a minute if we actually spotted a bear.

Once the videos and the talk were over it was back to cards for some, off to have a smoke for others (smoking was only permitted outside the lodge, and was usually done on the front steps), or off to make sure things were right for the next day’s hunt. I took it easy, and talked with some of the guys who were not playing cards. Sometime after 1100 or maybe even after midnight, we all turned in for a good night’s sleep. The cool Maine air, it was in the 60s down to the high 50s overnight, made it excellent sleeping weather. Despite the excellent sleeping weather for a great night’s sleep, I sort of thought I would be up fidgeting all night, and I thought the same about Brendan. While the next day would bring the first day of the hunt, and while the anticipation was very strong, it did not overcome the magic of the cool mountain air that lulled us all to sleep. I imagine that dreams of bears were sure to have danced through the heads of Brendan and all the other hunters, just as they danced through mine that night. I awoke, refreshed and ready, well before dawn the next morning.

CRIKEY - Steve Irwin killed by stingray...

Who would have figured it would have been death by stingray barb to the heart for Steve Irwin - the Crocodile Hunter? I always thought his end would come about because he would be bitten by one of those extremely venomous snakes he was always handling so, in my opinion, carelessly; or maybe by way of being eaten by a salt water crocodile. I guess though, my prediction of death for Irwin - by way of some accident (or carelessness) with an animal - was right on the money. He went out the way he lived, which was much better than most of us will exit life.

I did not necessarily agree with what I understood was his conservation message. As I understood that, it was hands off of nature for everyone except for guys like him. So, I believe, while he made his money promoting himself and his own brand of conservation, others were not so lucky as to be enjoying nature through way of hands on experience in places like Australia.

I am, I think, a much more hands on sort of guy when it comes to humans being in touch with nature and with animals, hands on for everyone, within reason anyhow. Nonetheless, Steve Irwin certainly had a flamboyance that surely made for an entertaining show mostly about reptiles; and since I am a reptile keeper/breeder/hobbyist, I used to enjoy his shows. That was at least until I heard about his alleged brand of conservation, and even then I liked his shows.

I did think him on the careless or reckless side when it came to handling dangerous animals though. I handle guns regularly, I handle animals regularly, I have handled dangerous animals on occasion, I also hunt - I would never hunt or handle a dangerous animal the way he did. Then again, he was himself, and I am me. He certainly did his thing his way, and the world loved him for it.

In that light, I imagine he went out, much in the way he would have chosen. He was stabbed through his heart by a stingray, the barb on the stingray's tail apparently entered Irwin's body just below the rib cage, and went into his heart. Efforts to save him were futile. See this link for an article about it: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,212037,00.html

He leaves behind his wife Terri (a beautiful dream girl for a naturalist like Steve Irwin). They were married for about 15 years (they were married in 1991) and two young children. It is a sad thing when a father leaves this world, even sadder when it is before his children are grown and married. He was a great entertainer, he brought a lot of knowledge to the world about reptiles and other animals, he was a conservationist of sorts. He will be missed; and my deepest condolences go out to his family and other loved ones. He was a real man, and an intensely passionate one at that. Happy herping Steve.

All the best,
Glenn B

The Bear Hunting Trip, part 1 revisited...

Of Bear Hunts and other things….

Well mostly of bear hunts, because I cannot think too much of anything to which I paid all that much attention in the past week, although there were some other things.

First for the bear hunt, or at least a rehash of our first day's trip. It was an interesting experience. Brendan and I left home last Saturday morning, and we returned home a bit later on that same Saturday morning. Luckily for us, while reviewing my mental checklist of items we could have forgotten, I realized we had left tour cooler behind with most of our fishing gear packed inside of it. So after having gone about a couple of miles or so, we hit our first snag in the trip and turned back to get the cooler. Then we were off in earnest toward the woods of Maine.

We drove about 5 hours or so the first day. Not a lot of driving by any means, but that medium length drive was part of what made it such a nice day. That and the fact we had a free night reserved at a Holiday Inn Express in White River Junction, VT. This would prove to be a step up from the usual Motel 6 in which Brendan and I stay while on many of our road trips. Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking Motel 6 (so long as you stay at one that shows it as an Accor Motel), but this Holiday Inn Express was sure a giant step up for us. Our reserved room was a suite with 2 queen sized beds, but sadly we had to take a small step down from that. The problem with it was that it was right next to an elevator shaft and the head of the beds was on the wall of the shaft. Not conducive to a good night’s sleep so I asked for a change. I guess no one had read my request for a quiet room, specifically asking not to be next to ice machines or elevators! Oh well, they changed it to a single room that really was more like a studio apartment. It had a full kitchen, a dining area, a living room area, a desk/table, a skylight, 2 televisions, and 2 double beds. After settling in, we drove around looking for a restaurant. The one recommended by the hotel desk clerk was not yet open, so we drove across the river into NH were we wound up in a restaurant/brewery. Not a bad combo. Brendan had Chicken Parm and a soda; I had a steak and a beer and a half. The beer wasn’t great, but it was okay and it was brewed on site. The next day we even got a free breakfast at the hotel, you know the free stuff like: cereal, muffins, rolls, bagels, juice, fruit, coffee and the like. It was great! Then we were off for Eustis, Maine. More on our arrival in Rustis later, sadly I have to take a break now and get busy at home.

If you are wondering, why did he just rewite the last entry, well basically to get me back into the writing mode. Later today, I'll write more, probably much more.Right now, I have to go clean out animal cages, feed the mice, snakes, turtle, tortoises, geckos and frogs. Then for a lawn mowing, and maybe a trip to the lawn mower repair shop as the lawn mower was elaking fuel last week (but the bear hunt had to go on so that trip to the repair shop got delayed). Then I'll be off to the pet shop for some stuff. After that I have to change a flat on my government vehicle (oh wait a minute, they don't pay me for that on a holiday, so that waits until I am back on the clock tomorrow). Then whatever other chores my wife has for me. Then to butcher some meat for this afternoon's barbecue. Guess what kind of meat that will be, but again, allow me to say - more on that later!

All the best,
Glenn B
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