Outdoor Report

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Region A- Southwestern Maine

Warden John MacDonald of Pownal reported fairly good numbers of hunters taking advantage of the expanded archery season in the coastal portion of his district. Despite the unusually mild conditions, approximately 68 deer have been tagged there since the season opened on September 7th. The early goose season opened September 3rd and has provided hunters with the opportunity to take advantage of the growing local goose population. It would appear in the past few days that resident populations are being joined by migrating birds from the north.

Waterfowl, pheasant, grouse and woodcock season all open October 1st and I will be conducting an opening day waterfowl bag check at the Brownfield Wildlife Management Area to check on species, age and sex of birds harvested. Region A personal have also been meeting with pheasant cooperators checking on birds and reviewing new release sites. The birds seem have been well taken care of and in excellent condition. The pheasants will be periodically released during the season which will provide hunting opportunity throughout the fall. A pheasant stamp is required to hunt pheasants in York and Cumberland Counties.

-Sandy Eldredge, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region B - Central Maine

In Region B, this past week has been a week of mixed schedules and activities. For part of our office staff, it was a week of traveling north to work moose check stations in New Sweden or Houlton. The rest of the staff spent the week catching up on the activities on our management areas. Fields are mowed after August 1 each year to allow grassland birds like bobolinks to finish nesting and rearing their young. Out of the 22,000 acres of land IFW owns within the 130 towns that make up Region B, less than 500 acres are fields that are mowed. This makes every acre of field we have important in maintaining habitat diversity and having nesting habitat for grassland species. We also try to squeeze in some boundary line work now that temperatures have cooled off and the black fly bites of just three weeks ago have almost disappeared. The time to get outdoor work done in the fall seems to slip away too fast.

Friday while using a hand held GPS unit to check boundaries and develop a map of our Sherman Lake property in Newcastle, I flushed four grouse. Grouse season starts Tuesday, October 1 running through December 31st. Woodcock, raccoon, rabbit, snowshoe hare, and gray squirrel hunting seasons also start Tuesday. Canada goose season and the waterfowl season also start October 1, but there are special restrictions and starting dates depending on the species and zone, check your law book for details. On October 3rd, the Special Archery Season starts, providing bow hunters further opportunity to get their deer. The Expanded Archery Season started September 7 in limited areas in central, southern, and coastal Maine. This season continues on until December 14 giving archers the opportunity to help reduce the deer herd in these areas. Later in October (10/21 - 11/1) the first ever fall archery turkey hunt takes place in WMDs 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26. No lottery or application needed, just visit your local IFW license agent and buy your either sex permit to use with your regular archery license.

Saturday evening while mowing my fields at home with my neighbor?s vintage Farmall tractor, for the first time this fall, I saw a flock of Canada geese fly by. Now with geese on the move and the cooler weather, it really does seem like autumn is here. So finish up those fall chores, get out your hunting gear, start scouting likely spots, and remember to get landowner permission. With all that is coming up, it should be a great fall here in the State of Maine for hunters.

--Jim Connolly, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region C - Downeast

I could tell when the pickup truck in front of me pulled to a sudden stop and the way Jack bailed out of the passenger seat that he had spotted something. I immediately shut off my truck and rolled to a stop some 20 yards behind. Being careful not to make any unnecessary noise, I slid out from behind the wheel and left the door ajar as I hurried towards Jack, who was trying to get the clip in his rifle.

"It's a bull," Jack whispered excitedly. "I just got a glimpse of the palm of his antlers moving across that ridge ahead." Finally getting his clip seated he said, "Man, my knees feel like rubber."

It was Saturday, September 28, 2002, the last day of the September week of moose hunting. Jack Williams, 15 years young of Columbia Falls, was a former classmate of my son through elementary and junior high school. Although they attend different high schools now, the boys remain friends. So it was no secret that Jack had been one of the lucky ones in being drawn for a moose permit in Wildlife Management District (WMD) 19 for the September part of the split season. I saw Jack and his parents just the weekend before the season and told them that if they were still "mooseless" by the latter part of the week, I'd be happy to go out with them one morning and try calling up a bull.

The week had been a challenging one for moose hunters. The weather was warm and the foliage heavy. Although their spirits were high, many hunters stopped by the hunter check station at the Cloud 9 Store along Route 9 in T-31MD, where we collect biological data from harvested moose during the first half of the week. Just about all reported difficulties in seeing moose or even finding tracks. We tagged just 2 moose on opening day, and by Wednesday, the count had risen to only 8. Certainly the weather and heavy foliage, combined with the advancement of forest growth, changes in moose behavior from being hunted, and a probable reduction in the general moose population of WMD 19, definitely made moose hunting more of a challenge, particularly during the September season.

I'd received a call on Wednesday evening from Jack wanting to know if my schedule would allow me to come along on Thursday morning to call for him and his Uncle Howard, his sub-permittee. They had hunted for 3 days and had gotten only a fleeting glimpse of a moose crossing a woods road. I told him I could do several hours in the morning and met with them before sunrise along Route 9 in T- 30MD. It was a great morning for calling ... the air was still and some light ground fog hung over the lowlands. Not far from the second site we tried, a bull had been shot the previous morning while fighting with another bull. The theory was that the surviving bull was still in the vicinity and there was likely a cow or two that may have caused the original confrontation to begin with. The only trouble was that other hunting parties carried this same theory. Although I was able to get a bull to answer and was trying to work him towards our location, two different groups of hunters responded even more quickly having heard our moose chatter. We could hear the second group drive in and talk with Jack's parents who told them we were up ahead in the woods calling. The bull that had been responding went silent after this repeat round of interference. At another location, we had a cow respond but some nearby gunfire thwarted that effort too. It?s always exciting to have moose respond, and it breathed new life into the hunt for Jack, I'm sure. He also got to hear some of the vocalizations of both bull and cow moose.

Friday night brought another phone call from Jack asking if I'd be free on Saturday morning, the last day. It had rained hard on Friday and into the early hours of Saturday. The forecast called for clearing, but with winds picking up and blowing steadily ... not the best conditions for calling or hearing. By 8:30 am, we had set up and tried calling at a couple of locations in the vicinity of Sabao Lake in T-35 and 36 MD. True to prediction, the wind was stiff and nearly steady, with only brief lapses to try and get your vocal invitation out there. Jack's uncle had to leave for several hours on personal matters, so it was down to one still-hopeful teenager, his Aunt Leta to chauffeur, and I.

We drove into a dead-end woods road where the group had seen some tracks the day before. I wasn't taken with the location at the end of the road, as we were on a rim above a small basin that was primarily a black-spruce swamp. Better looking ground was behind us, but the swamp was open enough to allow easy passage with some decent looking habitat on the other side. We agreed to give it 20 minutes or so of calling. My efforts produced nothing but the wind's answer in the surrounding treetops. I could tell discouragement was beginning to seep into Jack's hopes after nearly 5 ½ days of early mornings, short nights, and continuous efforts with barely a glimpse of a moose.

We were headed back out of the spur road and had only gone ¼ mile or so when the truck with Jack and his Aunt came to the quick stop I related above.

"Which way was he moving?" I asked.

Jack pointed from right to left along a small ridge that rose in front of us.

"How was he moving when you saw him?" I queried. "Was he running or just walking?"

"Just walking along," Jack whispered. The bad news was that the bull was moving downwind. The good news was that the moose wasn't disturbed or aware of our presence, and that there was a small, grown-in woods trail to our left that ran parallel to the bull's direction of travel.

"Can we stalk him?" Jack pleaded.

"I don'?t think so Jack," I whispered. The wind would drive our scent and any noise in the bull's direction, and the ground cover was too heavy to negotiate quietly.

"We'd be better off to walk quietly and quickly down this trail to get ahead and downwind of him. That way we'll be calling him in the general direction he?s already headed," I suggested.

We quickly made our way about 100 yards down the trail, which made travel easy and quiet. We couldn't see much to our right as we hurried along, but it appeared that the ground now dropped off and sloped downhill. As we approached a tree line of an older stand of timber, we saw a small path off to our right which led to a limbless trunk of a 10 inch pine tree and an exposed granite rock on the other side. I motioned Jack to walk in and take a stand on the rock, and I took position behind him and the tree. Indeed we were now looking over a small basin that was well stocked with 5 - 7 foot pine and spruce regeneration. Almost immediately Jack whispered that he could see the bull. Sure enough, about 50 - 60 yards away down slope I could make out the light color of an antler palm and part of his head. The bull's position offered Jack nothing for the moment but the knowledge (and excitement) that the moose hadn't vanished meant that we were still very much in this.

Using the cover of the pine trunk, I turned to project my voice away and downwind and made a couple of softened cow bellows. Almost immediately, Jack whispered that the bull was moving. I looked through my pocket field glasses and saw that there was a blowdown the bull was moving along, still from right to left, and prayed that moose was going to make a 90 degree turn uphill once he got around it.

"Oh my God he's coming,?" Jack cried a few seconds later.

Sure enough, the bull made the turn I prayed for and had commenced to belly grunt while plodding uphill to our position. No further calling was necessary. The bull had it in his mind there was a cow at the top of the rise, and by crackey, he was on his way. If you've not been there and done that, you'll just have to trust me when I (and now Jack) tell you that it's not an exercise in boredom to have a moose approaching you. Add to that a large, fully palmed bull moose in rut ... well, suffice it to say Jack 'n I was payin' attention.

A few steps into the bull's approach, Jack needed to know if it was ok to take him.

"Let him come Jack, let him come," I urged. I was thinking about the best chance for a well-placed shot, and the inevitable chores that come afterwards. I had coached Jack previously on what to watch for as the first signs that a moose has made you ... knows you're there or that something is wrong. At that point, they can turn and disappear with the speed of a racehorse. This trophy bull never did. His mind was on business, and he walked straight uphill to within 15 yards of where Jack was standing. Jack was one cool customer. He made an excellent shot and the bull went down where he had taken his last step.

After making sure his safety was on, Jack got to celebrate. The bull carried a 55 ½ inch spread with fully developed palms, and weighed in at 850 pounds. I can tell you there was at least one ecstatic teenager with an etched memory of a lifetime in the woods last Saturday. We old folks (aunts, uncles, parents, and I) found ourselves in the same spot too.

-Tom Schaeffer, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region D - Western Mountains

A few Novembers ago I received a report of a Canada goose with an injured wing, stranded on a small farm pond in Madison. The caller said the goose was standing on an inch or less of ice, enough to support it but not a rescuer. I took off for Madison with a lifejacket, rope, canoe, and my 11 year-old black lab Dusty. When I arrived on-site the farmer said, "There's the bird, good luck getting it, nobody's been able to make it move."

I carefully secured the 40-foot length of yellow rope to Dusty, positioned her by my side as if she were readying for a retrieve, and sent her off. Having retrieved hundreds of ducks, chasing a goose off the ice was a piece of cake for her. By the time she was 10 feet onto the ice and slipping at full bore, the goose could see it was no longer king of that mountain. So it took off running and flapping across the field, with Dusty trailing in hot pursuit, and the yellow rope chasing behind them.

The goose was fast but could not quite get off the ground. The black lab was not gaining on the Canada goose as they sped across the field. However, their line of "flight" became a slow-arcing circle over this very large field. It looked like they were eventually going to circle back close to their point of departure so I jumped behind a bush and waited. That was a lucky move because their circle did close on that very bush and I was able to reach out a grab the goose as it went by. The flabbergasted farmer asked me how I trained my dog to do that.

Dusty lived to the age of sixteen and was a great hunting dog and family member. I can count the number of crippled ducks she could not retrieve on one hand, and I don't need to use my thumb. There's no greater wildlife conservation practice a waterfowl or upland bird hunter utilize than to have a trained hunting dog to retrieve game. If you are contemplating getting a dog to hunt with, do it. You do not have to be an expert at dog training. All you need is a little time and patience.

There are very good books and videos on the subject. I used Water Dog by Richard Wolters to train Dusty. For my second dog, a now two-year-old black lab named Axel; I'm using the video of Water Dog. My only other strong recommendation is to get your pup from reputable breeder, especially if they are involved in field trialing dogs. An advantage of field trial bloodlines is that dogs are bred for qualities such as intelligence, stamina, and good health. This is not the time to buy a dog on the cheap. A smart dog is easier to train, and just as easy to love as a dumb dog. I like labs because they are highly versatile. Perfect for retrieving and good at flushing upland birds.

PS-The goose could not be returned to the wild and was given a home with licensed wildlife rehabilitators Don and Carlene Cote of Vassalboro.

-Chuck Hulsey, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region E - Moosehead Region

There aren't many duck hunters here, but local ducks are subjected to hunting elsewhere in Maine and well to the south. Since the beginning of my career (circa 1966), we have done duck brood counts each summer, as do IF&W people in each region. The numbers are pooled to create an index, that can be compared to observe trends.

Generally we travel through each index site (a bog, marsh, lake or stretch of river) twice each summer in early morning or evening by canoe searching for broods. Ducklings are enumerated by species (usually identified by the hen). The purpose of this kind of monitoring is an attempt to detect major changes in nesting duck numbers specific to Maine, so that changes in regulations can be made if necessary, or more intensive work can be started to determine the cause. Because of a phenomenon called "migrational homing," the hen ducks of some species that nested in a place one year are very often back to that place or nearby the next if they survive the interim fall/winter.

Some duck species are more secretive than others. We don't expect that we see them all, but expect that the unseen portion is fairly constant. The reason for two trips is the rather large variation in nesting dates amongst species and individuals. Even just within this region, the earliest broods are seen in May (or even April), the latest in August. Black ducks and golden-eyes are the first to nest. Ring-necks are the last. While this approach is rather primitive, no other method with a nominal cost has surfaced to replace it. Nor would we have comparable information of long standing if we switched methods. This kind of counting has been done since the fifties.

Other sources of info on ducks are the Winter Waterfowl Inventory (an aerial count), banding programs, and postal surveys of hunters on effort and quarry. Deliberations over ducks are a joint federal/state undertaking. Much of IFW's research on waterfowl is done by our wildlife resource assessment section in Bangor.

Locally, good places to observe ducks and ducklings are 2nd & 3rd West Branch Ponds, and Burnham Pond. June 10 to mid-July would be a good time to go. In this area expect to see hooded mergansers, American mergansers, black ducks, golden-eyes, wood ducks, and mallards. You might also see blue-winged teal and green-winged teal.

My duck hunting is in the past. Almost all of it was jump shooting. I never owned decoy, or had a retriever. I have since adopted the attitude of many of the locals, which is, why hunt ducks when you could be hunting partridge (I suspect many of them are not wing shots).

- Bill Noble, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region F, Penobscot Region

This first week of the September moose hunting season has been slow, with most registration stations reporting fewer moose tagged than last year. The first morning saw heavy rains and warm humid conditions. The rest of the week has had late summer weather with temperatures in the high seventies and plenty of black flies in the Penobscot valley. Much of the area has yet to see a frost and the trees and shrubs are still green and growing. I suspect moose are not moving much during mid day and the leaves and heavily regenerated old clearcuts make it difficult to see them, even when they are moving. Some hunters have reported success with calling bulls, although many of the smaller bulls do not appear to be rutting yet. I know of three yearling bulls taken by hunters that still had velvet on their antlers.

The upland bird season for grouse and woodcock opens on Tuesday October 1. For the first time in many years there will not be a delayed opening for woodcock. Reports of grouse broods have been disappointing this summer, but we are often surprised to find birds more abundant once we have some frosty nights and fall rains. Grouse foods such as apples, thornapples, mountain ash berries and high bush cranberries are abundant this year. That's good for the birds, but it may make for tougher hunting since the birds are more spread out over the landscape. I also think that birds with a full crop are more wary and do not hold well for a dog.

-Kevin Stevens, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region G - Aroostook County

The first week of a two-week moose season has ended in the North Country with registration slightly below last year. Of the five stations that register, Ashland and Fort Kent were ahead of last year by +7 and +8. Houlton and New Sweden were below last year by -15, and -16, with St. Pamphile remaining the same. Station totals for the first week are as follows: Ashland, 179; Fort Kent, 86; Houlton, 56; New Sweden, 77; and St. Pamphile, 6. Fort Kent registered 10 moose with weights greater then 1000 lbs, while Ashland had 5. The week started out warmer then normal for the end of September causing moose to lay low by water in the dark growth. Moose were primarily active in the early mornings with two mornings below 32 degrees, while middays were hovering around the 70+ range. Those hunters that were fortunate enough to harvest a moose had to process their trophies fast to avoid spoilage, but overall, most hunters were prepared for the weather by packing their moose with plenty of ice. One ingenious hunter actually hauled in a ton of ice packed in an insulated covered trailer to their base camp, where their moose, once harvested was placed on a cool bed.

On a different note, this past week ended the early Canada Goose season with mixed results from many avid goose hunters. Once again the weather took the blame for those who fell below their expectation, while other hunters picked their days judiciously and ended their hunt with a few birds. Migrant geese are just starting to head south with cooler days favoring greater numbers. Most grains have been harvested and potatoes are just starting to be picked. The regular goose season (North) is October 1 - December 9th, enabling northern hunters a few extra days on the end of the season.

This week saw the first release in the state of three rehabilitated bald eagles. With the assistance of Charlie Todd, and Arlen Lovewell, two 6-month-old eaglets, and one adult eagle were released along the Aroostook River in Aroostook County. All three had strong flight as they landed a short distance from release site. In preparation for release, a feeding pile was established in order to give these birds a helping hand while learning their new environment. Many thanks for all those who assisted this past week enabling our moose hunters and users to get the highest quality experience from our outdoors.

- Rich Hoppe, Regional Wildlife Biologist