Don’t Wait

I’ve recently  heard about people very close to my age who  for one reason or another,  died. Yup, one minute they’re there, and the next they’re gone. No warning, no long drawn out illness, no last words, just dead and gone.

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Don’t wait to enjoy a day like this. We have no idea when our trip around the sun will come to an end.

That got me thinking about all the things those folks wanted to do but put off. What a shame that they never got to do whatever it was they were hoping to do, something they really enjoyed.I guess we all have a certain amount of sand in our egg timer, we just don’t know how much we have. I’ve decided to not wait to do the things I enjoy. That’s partially why I guide, why I try to live a life outdoors, and also why I write. I enjoy those things. I don’t want to feel the grim reaper tap on my shoulder and think, “crap! Give me a few months, I really want to….”

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Don’t wait to go cast a line, at some point you’ll regret it.

 


	

Just an Old Canoe

I don’t have much left from my childhood, I’m sure most agree that when you’re 44 years old there really isn’t a viable reason to be wearing your high school letterman’s jacket. Those little league trophies were cool… When I was 12. And I seem to be getting along just fine without my Van Halen 1984 album. One of the few things I do have is my canoe.

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Many a family member learned to paddle on the Orange Rocket

I can remember when my dad brought it home. It was orange then, and was missing a seat. Dad probably got it for $50 bucks, or took it in trade for something.  He put a seat in it, and it became my means of transportation. The brand was Monarch. Most of the paint was scratched off, but she was water tight, paddled well, and fit me just fine. I was probably 12 when I would take off onto the little lake we lived on to catch bass. I would dream I was in the Bassmaster Classic competing against Jimmy Houston and Roland Martin. I’d read about them in the magazine stacks at the school library, I thought I could win Bassmaster in that little canoe. Many a bass caught on Mirror Lake put me over the top by a few ounces for the Mirror Lake Bassmaster title.

I had a couple of good boyhood friends, Kris Otis, and Jason Labriola. Kris went to school with me, and we’d spend most of our summer together shooting hoops, playing baseball, and trying to be cool. Jason lived in Massachusetts… he was cool. Ask him and he’d tell you.  His parents had a camp on the other side of the lake. Jay would arrive sometime in June with stories of the big town of Wakefield, Massachusetts. All three of us would pile in the canoe, paddle out, and tip it over. We’d roll each other around and around. Kris earned the nickname “airtank” because he could stay under forever. When we’d get bored trying to drown ourselves we’d duck under the capsized canoe and poke our heads up in the air pocket underneath. Under there, safe from the ears of adults, we’d lie about all the girls we kissed, and how much beer we stole from our dads.  We all knew the other person was lying, but the stories were good. I don’t really talk to those guys anymore. There’s really no reason why, we just grew apart. If I ran into one of them today I bet we’d talk about those days on the lake and how things turned out a lot different than we planned.

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The old canoe flip was always a fun joke to play on your friends.

When I got a little older my parents and their friends decided on a camping trip on the Saco River. We’d canoe the rapids, camp, and have a grand time.  Kris had to come with us, I needed a canoe partner, my parents were happy to let me invite him.  Off  Kris and I went  in the orange rocket. the rapids seemed like they would swallow us up. With Kris in the bow and I in the stern we rolled through rapid after rapid in my canoe.  Every other canoe on the trip capsized at least once. My parents capsized with my brother Jason in theirs. When they tried to get Jason back in the canoe the boy let out a string of swear words that would’ve made a drunk sailor blush. Needless to say it’s probably been close to 30 years, and I don’t think Jason has been in a canoe since.

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Loading up the Astro van for a trip down the river.

Kris and I were as cocky as barn yard roosters when we reached the last set of rapids. We’d remained dry on our first ever big rapids trip. One more small ripple and we were champions, at least in our own minds. Then I put us on the rocks. Over we went, and the orange canoe quickly folded under the current into a nice u-shape on the rocks. I was devastated. The canoe was stuck, and we couldn’t move her. Kris and I made our way to shore, and I promptly took an ass chewing for leaving the canoe in the river. That’s when Winthrop P. Houghton Jr. saved me. “Wink” as he was called, was a family friend. A free spirit, and a real Mainer. He lived in an old barn that we was forever trying to convert into a home. His bedroom was in the cupola. He had brown lab that would either bite you, or lick you to death, you never knew which. He was able to fix anything, and do some amazing finish work as a carpenter. Wink and my Dad were partners of sorts although I don’t think there was every any formal agreement. They both just seemed to work well together. Wink was a kind man, perhaps the most kind person I ever met. He didn’t want anything other than to be present in his life, and the lives of those he cared about.

 

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My canoe on Wink’s truck. I stole that truck to get to basketball practice. I missed my ride because I was tracking a deer. That’s another story.

 

Wink took a rope, waded through the current, and tied it to the canoe. He attached the rope to a tree with a loop, tied a weird loop knot down the rope, ran the tag end of the rope forming a Z.  With a quick tug the canoe was free and we hand lined it up to shore. Wink had used  mechanical advantage to free my canoe. We were all impressed. She was shaped like a U but we stomped on her as best we could to straighten her out. When you sit in her now she still has a nice bend, and even better memories of that day.

Not too long after that I went to boot camp. My canoe was used by anyone that wanted to use it. My brother Billy probably used it most. Every winter she was tucked away under the porch to sleep until ice out. Where she would be capsized, dinged, dented, and fished out of again. I don’t think it ever let anyone down.

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In her winter resting place at my childhood home.

At the midway mark of my Marine Corps career I came home for college. I was married with kids and not a ton of money. I wanted to get back into fishing and teach the kids how to fish. I brought the canoe up from Newfield to Orono and promptly painted it green. The Orange Rocket was now the Green Jet. Tyler and Emily took their first canoe rides in that canoe. My good friend Eric and I almost died of dehydration on a day long fishing trip. My buddy Chad and I had a day where we caught over 100 bass on the Penobscot in less than 6 hours.  It was only temporary. I had move again, and the canoe went to rest at my parents new home, off the lake. I don’t think it was used much for the next 10 years.

We’re using her now! She’s been living at camp Ernest Living. My daughter Emily and I took her on her maiden voyage on the West Branch. Emily was in the bow, I was in the stern, Emily was looking for rocks. We hit one, tipped over, lost my beer, and my mind.  We emptied her out, I found my mind, and Emily went on to catch her first fish on a fly. My friend Greg and I carried her down to Hale Pond last year and spent the evening remembering when we were bullet proof. We didn’t catch any fish but that’s not really what that night was about.

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Greg in the Bow with Katahdin in the background

My son and I took it duck hunting one morning. I sunk in the mud up to my chest and the only thing that stopped me from going under was the side of the canoe. I thought we would have to call the fire department to pull me out. That’s another story too.

This winter Billy and I did something we’ve talked about doing for a while. We took my canoe to a way back pond.

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The best time to get a canoe in is in the winter.

It’s  about 2 miles from the nearest parking area, on the edge of a small lake. If you paddle across the lake you can portage up to a mountain pond that is filled with native brook tout. We tied it to Billy’s Bearcat snowmobile and I followed on mine. Billy’s son Eli supervised, he’s really good at supervising. We got her in and cribbed up so the water in the spring won’t bother her. I know that when I hike in this spring she will be waiting for me with orange showing through her scratched green paint, her slight curve from the Saco rock, and more memories than one guy should have from an old $50 dollar canoe. My hope is that someday I’ll hike out there with my grandkids, show them the secret path to the stashed canoe, and tell them that she’s all theirs if they promise to remember the man who gave it to them, and the stories he tells them about his adventures.

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Billy and I with the canoe all tucked away and ready for another lifetime of memories.

Drill, Tap, Collect, and Boil

 

Lets get something clear upfront! I’m not talking about that  high fructose pancake poison with its fake color and artificial flavors. I’m talking about that from the tree to the vanilla ice cream Maine maple goodness. The process is simple; drill, drip, collect, and boil. The total cost to make your family and friends a year’s supply of sticky sweet goodness is almost free, unless you’re figuring time into the equation. Here’s how you do it.

Step 1: Find your maple trees in the fall. Any maple will do. Don’t get caught up with subspecies, they all hold sap. Bigger trees are better. Walk around your property in the peak of fall foliage with a can of spray paint and put a mark on the trees you want to tap. How do you know it’s a maple? If you don’t know what a maple leaf looks like drive south and turn in your Maine driver’s license at the York toll booth, never come back. Don’t drive to Canada, they’re a big fan of maple.

Step 2: in November start saving your jugs, whatever you can get your hands on. Milk jugs, tea jugs, big, small, round, or tall love them all when it comes to jugs. Wash them out, and put them in storage somewhere by the lawn furniture, you won’t be needing that until you’re done with the jugs. Go online and order some taps.  The matriarch of “Planting Roots Farm” has got us up to 125 taps now, we started with 24, it’s an addiction. We also got some plastic tubing, the price was minimal. Probably a good thing I didn’t have her search for jugs online. The internet can be a dangerous place.

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Milk jugs work great and don’t cost a dime. You were going to toss them anyway.

 

Step 3: Watch the weather. Once again, if you’re a Mainer you’re watching it every night at 6 o’clock anyway. If you’re not, you’re probably one of those folks that run to the supermarket and buy up all the bread and milk when you see a few flakes. When it gets to late February start looking for a string of three or four days of below freezing nights and warm days in the 40’s, that’s when you got to tap em! Load up your jugs and taps, cordless drill with a good bit, (make sure it’s charged, lesson learned.) Then trip up over the snowbank to your sugar dispensers. Drill at an upward angle, tap in the tap until it’s solid, hang your bucket/jug on there somehow and wait…  and wait… and wait. You’ll finally get a drip and you’re sappin, or as the more sophisticated folks say, sugaring.

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Straight from the tap.

 

Step 4: Collecting the sap and boiling it down is probably the most fun at the beginning, and most mind numbing by the end. You need an evaporator. I made my first one out of an old filing cabinet and a pan from Goodwill. That worked fine for 25 taps. I’ve since upgraded to a 55 gallon drum on blocks and surrounded by cinderblocks. This year I even used my limited “building skills” to somehow punch a hole in my shed wall and run a stove pipe outside. Now we’re sapping inside! I came across a 55 gallon plastic drum with a spigot on the bottom to store the sap waiting to boil.  I also bought two 40 gallon trash cans at Lowes for 12 bucks each.

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Lets hope it’s still standing at the end of the season.

 

You’re also going to need wood, lots of it. I get most of my wood from pallets. Everyone that owns a business that takes deliveries has them and nobody wants them. Drive around and when you see stack of pallets go in and ask, or if they’re stacked by the dumpster assume they’re trash and just load them up. I’ve never been stopped by the pallet police.

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Before work pallet patrol.

 

The key to boiling is getting as much sap going at a time. It takes like 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.When boiling the sap you need 3 things: Sap, firewood, and beer. The rest of the things are just nice to have, those are must haves. Just keep it boiling! I use three pans, one as a warmer, and two to boil. As the boiling pans get low I add from the warming pan. I then replace the sap in the warming pan with cold sap from the bucket. Once I have about 2 gallons or so left on the boil, assuming I started with about 50 gallons, I test it. I have fancy hydrometer that a friend of mine bought me, but the bottom line is if it looks like syrup you need to start thinking about taking it off. If you’ve run out of beer don’t even think about it, take it off, funs over. Run it through a strainer, cheese cloth is great. If anyone still wears panty hose I hear they work too. (Note: this is a joke.)  Then take it inside and boil it down on the stove until it measures 69brx on the hydrometer, or looks like syrup to you. The other option is to put it in the refrigerator and finish it another day when your not so tired and tipsy. Don’t boil drunk, it’s a good way to loose your eyelashes and eyebrows. In all seriousness, the hydrometer is the way to go. It guarantees that you have the right amount of sugar content for legitimate syrup and a longer shelf life.

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Finishing off on the stove top.

 

Once your syrup is boiled and still hot, strain it one more time and jar it up. Use whatever you want for a jar. We use Mason jars. We plan give most of our maple magic away as gifts.  Make some pancakes and enjoy.What you made came from your land and your hard work provided it.

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Two different batches. They never come out the same, but they sure do taste good.

 

You can probably go online and find much better instructions on how to make syrup. Just don’t search for jugs.

Get outside – Jim

The Lunch Time Buck

With another storm bearing down on us signaling winter still here for a while, it can feel like we’ll never get to another fall. This time of year one of the things that get’s me through it is to reminisce on some of the best days I’ve had in the north woods.

The lunch time buck is one of my favorite memories. It’s a favorite for a lot of reasons. It was 2014, the first fall at Camp Ernest Living. I was finally in Maine for good with friends and family. Most of all it was because I was hunting with my brother Billy.

Billy is 4 years younger than me. We share the same passions, family, deer, beer, and fishing; not always in that order. We both served our country in Iraq. At one point we were both there at the same time, him in Tikrit, and me in Fallujah, both in combat arms… we’ve seen our fair share. We have an intrinsic bond that’s sometimes scary. I don’t know how many times we’ve laid out a plan in the morning and struck off in opposite directions planning to cover miles and meet in a general area for lunch to compare notes. It almost never fails that we run into each other at lunch without coordinating on the radio or GPS, we just know where the other will be. This was one of those days.

I had shot a nice buck the week before and was doing some coyote hunting/scouting. Billy was going to work along the river and swing west. We’d meet on the side of the ridge around the 800 foot elevation mark. Wouldn’t you know as I dropped down from the ridge top I could see my brother standing at the end of a large chopping. The first thing I noticed was the crazy amount of deer tracks going into the chopping. It was probably 10 acres of regrowth spruce about 7 feet tall, and thick. Just the spot for does to hold up with their boyfriend. And a place for other boys to do some cruising. The deer’s version of Old Orchard Beach circa 1991.

We ate our required ham and cheese sandwiches, we always have ham and cheese, I always wonder why? Then we hatched a plan. Billy would skirt the south edge of the chomping headed west. I would go into the chopping headed north and then swing west. We were both pretty confident that this would work. I had probably crashed through about 200 yards of thick spruce when I heard a deer blow at me so close that it damn near took my hat off. I  scrambled up onto a nearby rock just in time to see a nice buck bounding south away from me, and away from Billy, damn it. Just as he was about to get out of sight he turned left and headed west. I thought I saw him turn left again and head south right towards Billy. I couldn’t be sure but it made sense that he would try to get down wind of me, the wind was straight out of the north. I hustled to the western edge of the chopping and waited. I was having a mental debate on whether I should give Billy a call to let him know a deer may be coming when I heard a shot close by, I just knew.  I made my way up to my brother who was standing over some good blood. He said the buck was trotting along  and every once in a while it would stop and look back in my direction. We followed the blood for a few hundred yards back into another spruce chopping to find his buck laying there.

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Billy and the Lunch time Buck

He was a big 9 pointer that had lost a lot of weight chasing the ladies. After all the high fives, and dirty work of field dressing, not Billy’s strong suit,  we teamed up to drag the deer to the truck about a mile away. Luckily it was all down hill, and Billy is a dragging machine. The deer weighed 188 lbs and was the camp record until recently. His antlers are on the wall at camp.  Billy and I can look at them and always remember the day that two guys who love each other, and love the Maine outdoors were able to not think about the things they had seen or done, but just hunt, it was a special day that I cherish.

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Billy and I with the lunch time buck at camp. Can you tell we’re brothers?

Take that Kid Fishing

The end of December blurs in with the beginning of January. Christmas turns to New Years and next thing you know another year has passed, what memories did you make? Did you make some resolutions? Do you plan on getting a better job, losing some weight, running a race? I’ve got a better idea. One you’ll enjoy a lot more than eating rice cakes and waiting for the pounds to melt off, take a kid fishing.

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My last fishing partner under my roof. We’ve accumulated a lot of comfort items over the years.

 

Now before you throw a kid in the truck and head out there  are some things you need to keep in mind.

  1. Make sure it’s your kid, or at least a kid you have permission to bring onto frozen water in the dead of winter.
  2. Pick a place where you are going to catch fish. You’ve got about 30 minutes before the young adventurer loses all faith in you. If all else falls wait until they’re not looking and throw a snowball at the trap to set off  the flag. That will buy you another 10 minutes.
  3. Have the ability to warm the child. If all goes well they’ll be having the time of their life. If you remember what it’s like to be a kid you were impervious to the cold, until you realized you were cold, then you were really cold. We’ve done every thing from fire in barrels to warming tents. As long as you clean up your mess nobody is going to bother you for having a fire. Several of Maine’s Wardens have warmed themselves at our on ice fires.

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    a little fire is good for the soul, and adds to the adventure.

4. Coupled with number three, pick a good weather day. Light wind temps in the 20’s or above are just about right.  A nice day allows ice skating, hockey, and general on ice fun.

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When is the last time you put in skates?

5. Let the kid fish. When you get a flag let them beat you to it. They probably will any way, especially if your resolution was to lose weight.  Let them set the hook, and let them land the fish. Make it a big deal no matter how big the fish is. Fun fact, kids always seem to catch big fish. Take a bunch of pictures and send it back down the hole, or take it home. If you chose to take it home kill it with a crack on the head when the kid isn’t looking.

6. My last tip is leave the electronics at home. Bring a deck of cards, a few books, and a camera.  I’ve got tons of memories fishing as a kid, and fishing with my kids. All of them involve some adventure, or misadventure. none of them involve electronics. Leave those at home, now there’s a resolution for you.

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Take plenty of pictures they’ll bring back a lot more memories than pictures of kids playing video games.  Nobody takes those anyway.

That End of Season Feeling

After hunting hard for six weeks, my 2017 deer season ended last Saturday afternoon. I stood on a mountain in my home town of Newfield, Maine. Not too far off was my brother Billy. I often get pretty reflective at the end of the season. For five years in a row I shot mature bucks of 8 points or better and over 170 lbs. For the last two years I’ve had my chances, but I wasn’t able to seal the deal.  This year was a year of absolute frustration. I saw over 50 deer. Out of those 50 deer 6 were bucks. (7 if you count the one my brother Jason hung his tag on.) Out of those 6 bucks 2 were shooter class for me.  Both of those two were smarter than me, faster than me, and better than me.

We got very little snow. I live for tracking snow. The little we got was crunchy and as loud as an out of tune high school garage band. When in the north woods I do very little sitting. The deer density is so small and the land is so vast I feel that you have to move, even if it’s 100 yards in an hour. When you move on cornflakes you see nothing. When you hop from rock to rock, and fallen log to fallen log you are quieter but you get right tuckered out quick. Sure I could have planted my ass in an area with a lot of deer sign and hoped for the best. If I just wanted to kill a deer that’s exactly what I would do. If I was guiding someone in the conditions I was hunting in that is what I would do with them. But for me, and the way I want to hunt, well I just do it my way. As the saying goes, you reap what you sow, and I whipped up a giant pot of tag soup that I can sip on all year long.

But here is the funny thing, I’m ok with it. Remember what I said at the beginning. My brother Billy and I were on top of a mountain in our hometown. How lucky are we? He spent two years in Iraq as an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne. I spent 15 months in Fallujah with 2nd Tank Battalion. I know that both of us experienced moments when we thought we’d never be back on that mountain, but there we were. Just like when we were kids.

How luck was I this year? My youngest daughter got to experience youth day, and see a deer! I got to spend an entire week at deer camp with my dad, my uncle, my best friends, and my brothers. We laughed so hard that my sides hurt. We ate so well that we all went into food comas, we enjoyed each other so much that we all left not wanting it to end. And my father’s eyeball fell out and rolled across the table. True Story.

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L-R Uncle Roger, Dad, Jake, Me, Greg, Billy and Eric. Good men and good friends

 

My family came to camp for the second week and we played board games and enjoyed each other for no other reason than we love each other. My wife wrote in the camp book that the kids whispering in the loft after bed took her right back to when they were kids, not young adults with their own apartments and jobs.

 

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Better than the dental work game we played earlier.

I guess as I reflect back on 2017 that is the question, how lucky am I to have all this? The deer on the tailgate, well that’s just a bonus.

Almost time for the 2018 season. We’ll start with icefishing and some coyote hunts, but come spring I go back to work on tracking and killing the biggest buck of my life. Stay tuned for booking opportunities and updates on jimnevilleoutdoors.com

So Who Do You Pro Staff For?

Just a quick rant. Not too long ago I was in the local big box sporting goods store buying a muzzleloader.  Yes, I needed to buy a muzzleloader because the deer have a vote. The deer where I hunt have elected to not get shot with a modern rifle. I needed to extend my season to see if the smoke pole was their preferred method of  death, but I digress.

As I’m going through the purchase I ask if there is a discount for Registered Maine Guides. The young man selling me the single shot smoke wagon quickly answers no, but then issues a follow up, “you’re a guide, who do you pro-staff for?” Huh, pro-staff? Bro, I buy my hunting clothes at Goodwill.

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Wool coat courtesy Goodwill $15

 

 

We went on to discuss the young man’s belief that you can get more clients by being a pro-staffer. Also, all that free stuff they send you when you’re on, “the staff.”  So I listened for a minute and then I said, “I have nothing against guys and gals that claim to be on the pro-staff for brand X or Y. I’m sure they’re  delightful brands. However, I’m going to use what I want and not pigeon hole myself to a certain brand for some free stuff.” He was cool with it. I asked for a military discount, he said no. As I left I said, you know how you get more clients? by putting them in a position to kill their desired game. You don’t need a staff to do that, and the guide is the pro.

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People book and return book because you put them on the meat. Not because you wear Brand X scent free carbon fiber underwear

 

 

In short don’t get fooled by all the crap out there. You need a gun, some bullets, some woodscraft, and some will. Everything else is just noise.

One week of blackpowder left and then time to get ready for next year. Some exciting things happening at Jim Neville Outdoors. Stay tuned in January for some big news.

Long Overdue

The title has two meanings, it’s been a  few weeks since I last wrote, and more importantly, I haven’t talked about my amazing wife Suzanne. Maybe someday I’ll write about the time I sunk in the mud up to my chest and thought I was going to have to call the local fire department to get me out. But what I need to write about now is “long overdue. ”

As fall covers us in a blanket of color, I get antsy. I know that the main event is coming soon, gun season. I bow hunt, duck hunt, and bird hunt, but my mind is always on that first breath of cold air that I’ll take on the porch of camp Ernest Living in the predawn darkness opening day. There’s one person who makes all that possible, my amazing wife Suzanne.

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Sue with her first salmon on the West Branch

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.  I know a lot of husbands say that, I mean it. After the Marine Corps, or maybe during, I was in some pretty dark holes. I really don’t know what it was. I know doctors say PTSD, anxiety, TBI, yada yada, label whatever you want. What I think… I had been one thing my entire life, a US Marine,  people say that I was good at it, I say average at best. I was cool, like riding in a friggin tank in downtown Fallujah cool. Then one day it was gone… What next?

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It doesn’t get any cooler than the Commander’s  in an Abrams.

I was having a really hard time. There was self doubt, worry, and even despair. Through all of that Suzie was my rock. She pumped me up when I was down. Believed in me, and made me want to be as great as others thought I was. Because of her I’ve made the transition to my third act in life, civilian.

 

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If she isn’t perfect you can’t show me perfect.

 

So as we get closer to another gun season where I will be irritable, irrational, and completely obsessed with tracking and killing the biggest whitetail I can find, I thought it appropriate to talk about the woman who makes it all possible. She is the best thing that has ever happened, and will ever happen to me. She is an inspiration to me and many others. She has a pure soul and a mothers heart. She is amazing.

That was long overdue.

 

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Sue enjoys a cup of camp coffee at Ernest Living. We bought camp before we even bought a house only because she believed in me, and what we could do.

 

 

At the Heart of it All

For me the most important thing is getting the kids outside.  Because of my job I see about 5000 kids a year from all over the state. Maybe it’s wrong in the eyes of some, but I can immediately tell which kids are “gamers” and which kids are “outside” kids. Listen, I use to play some video games with my son, so I’m not anti-gaming. I am however against using a game, or television as a constant “electric babysitter.”

 

I cherish the time I had with my older kids. Some of the most frustrating, and now funny memories I have are of my then teenage son texting his girlfriend while a giant buck walked past him. Then there is the one of my daughter, now in college, completely thinking she was Katniss from the Hunger Games crumpling leaves to see which way the wind was blowing. For the record, it was blowing a gale in our faces, really no need for the leaf trick.  There are the memories of my son hunting with a bunch of us Marines and knocking down a double on wood ducks while all of us “marksmen” whiffed. And when Emily put three rounds in the same hole on the range. They may have forgot those times, I didn’t. Those times are times that I can look back on and say, “I did that.” I taught my kids a skill that they can use for the rest of their life to provide or protect.

 

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Emily, Tyler, and Sophie we never have to drag them outside.

 

Now I understand that some people don’t even know which end of the gun the pointy end comes out of, that’s OK. Go for a hike, dust off those bikes, put a worm on a hook and find a puddle to drown it in.  You’ll be surprised what you learn, not just about the kids, but also about yourself.

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these moments are better than a video game

Good Hunts Last a Lifetime

I often have a hard time explaining why hunting is important to me. Yes I love the nourishment and purity of harvesting my own meat. I love the brotherhood of a good hunting buddy, or 10. It sounds a bit weird, but I love the adversity of terrain, weather, and all the other factors that go into deep woods hunting. What I really cherish is the memory. I enjoy the quiet moments when I can recall every detail of an epic hunt, not just the successes but also the failures.

On November 17, 2003  I killed my first racked Maine buck. I had hunted when I was a kid but lost the desire through my late teens and early 20’s. My wife and I had moved back to Maine so I could attend the University of Maine. It was then that I rediscovered my love for hunting.

I gained access to a large track of land and scouted hard. On November 16th I was walking in at first light and I could hear a buck grunting and chasing does. It was still dark. I never saw that deer but came across a long scrape line. At noon I hung a treestand 100 yards down wind of the scrape line. The next morning I was in the tree a full hour and a half before first light. It was 17 degrees. I set a climb down time of 8:30 AM, if I didn’t freeze first.

At 8AM I was frozen and I was trying every trick to stay warm, the air was dead still. I was trying hard to talk myself out of getting down. All of a sudden a doe came crashing through the frozen leaves and past me up a hill. Then nothing. I thought maybe another hunter jumped her, or she scented me. Three minutes later I heard the sound of another deer walking on the same path as the doe. I still can see the deer appear from the cedars as clear as if it happened yesterday. Frozen air from his nostrils filling the air as be bellowed out a grunt and strutted into the old chopping. The sun shining on his antlers,  the hair on his back bristled up. I took aim and fired. He seemed to jump 10 feet high bound once and stood broadside to me at 30 yards. Blood and steam flowed through the mortal wound, a good hit. He tipped over and his life left him. I remember the conversation I had with myself as I processed what had happened. I had to calm down before I climbed down. I was afraid I would fall I was so worked up. I remember the long drag to the truck and the trip to the tagging station. I remember the scale reading 195lbs dressed. Even today he’s the biggest weighing buck I’ve killed. He had 6 points, no brow tines. I didn’t care, he was mine.

I took him home to my wife and two kids. honking the horn with joy as I pulled into the driveway. My vegetarian wife had never experienced anything like this, but she was gracious enough to help me get him hung in a tree. I think at that moment we both knew what had been a hobby had just become a full blown obsession.

I had pictures developed of him, (it was so long ago there was no digital) from every angle and carried them in my pocket to show my family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Over the winter I read every book I could on deer hunting, and tracking.  And have continued to hone my skills ever since.

I don’t know what happened to all those pictures. I gave the antlers to my father in law to make knife handles, I don’t know if he ever did. I have one picture left of me and my 8 year old son posing proudly with my deer, to be honest I don’t need any. Good hunts last a lifetime.

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My first Maine buck, I can still see it like it happened yesterday