I was cruising one of those online hunting channels with the state of the art bows, guns, camo, calls, and the flashy girls. You know, the ones that have product in every shot. I thought to myself, cripes on a cracker this doesn’t look much like hunting.” About when I was about to click off, the very loud and animated host of the show said something like this, “In the industry of deer hunting, you have to be cutting edge.” He was all dramatic, holding some overpriced knife, probably made in some dude’s garage. “Industry? friggin industry?” It’s hunting bro. People use to do it with spears. Alright I get it. People make money on hunting. I try. I don’t even break even. Maybe I should be more industrious?
Nah. See you don’t need the greatest camo. You don’t need to bath in the freshest doe piss $100.00 can buy. You don’t need a $1200.00 rifle that has more attachments than a Marine infantryman’s black gun. You don’t even have to travel to far off exotic places to have a good time. You can hunt right in your area and be successful. What you need is the two W’s; will, and wood sense.
Will. The most important aspect of a routinely successful hunter is will. You have to be willing to get in the woods year round. You have to be willing to deal with rain, mud, and bugs in the spring. Heat, dense undergrowth and bugs in the summer, and deep snow and cold in the winter. You have to have the will to get up morning after morning during your chosen season and get after it. I mean really push. If you’re a stump sitter, you need to push to sit still and be alert. If you’re a tracker you need to push to read the pieces of the puzzle the deer is leaving and not just trudge along half in a daze wondering why you left your warm bed. If you’re a waterfowler you have to push to break ice, set out a good decoy spread, and have the discipline to wait for the best shot. Whatever your chosen form of hunting is you have to have the will to push beyond what is comfortable. When you do that you’ll see your success sky rocket.
Wood sense is a little harder. It comes with time. Understanding the flow of the terrain, the flow of the animals that use it, and how they come together. Understanding preferred food sources, and the subtle sign your quarry leaves in the snow, in the mud, or on the trees. Understanding how the wind affects waterfowl. Learning migration patterns and generational stopping points along those patterns. Knowing where to get the good southern sun on a cold day. How to build a fire if you get stranded? How to administer self-aid if you get hurt. How to navigate using a map and compass. I really believe that most people don’t push themselves because they fear getting lost, getting injured, or getting dead. A little fear is good for you. Know how to use your compass, have lineal terrain features like roads, rivers, and streams to guide you, or stop you, and you’ll be fine.
All of these things I discussed are free. I buy my hunting clothes at Goodwill. I have a great rifle now, but for years I hunted with one that cost me $200 and a 12 pack of Budweiser. I killed my biggest racked deer to date with that rifle. I carry a twenty-one-dollar compass, a 10-year-old GPS, a bottle of water, some matches and a knife that was given to me as a gift. I do alright.
You don’t need to spend a ton of money. You need to have the will, develop the wood sense, and realize that the trophy is the journey, not the kill. All of which is nearly free, however the return on your investment is a lot more than if you get caught up in the industry.
Don’t know where to start. Hire a guide to get you pointed in the right direction.
My wife and I recently bought a new camp. It sits out on a point and you can see Upper Lead Mountain Pond out three sides. On our first weekend there I got up early, set my icefishing traps, and sat at the camp table with a strong cup of coffee, everyone else was asleep. My mind drifted back to one of the last fishing trips I took with my grandfather. I was about 16 years old.
We loaded up his car in Sanford, Maine and headed to a camp on Springy Pond, east of Bangor. The camp belonged to my grandfather’s brother David Brooks. We were going to meet David, as well as another one of my grandfather’s brothers, Bob Brooks, and a cousin Bob LeBretton. We arrived at camp to find three men well into their cups, and a camp that was somewhere north of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. These men liked their camp hot.
The next morning out we ventured onto the frozen pond. My grandfather’s auger sputtered and smoked and eventually fired. He drilled one hole, handed it to me and said, “it’s running good, drill the rest.” I was quick to figure that was twenty-five holes through two feet of ice. As I finished drilling hole number two of twenty-five, I turned to find my party of mentors going back inside. It had been ten minutes since they put logs on the fire, I’m sure they were concerned it had dropped below the minimum 90-degree mark.
Determined to show my manliness, I drilled all the holes and went to setting my traps. With the buzz of the old Jiffy still ringing in my ears, and through the haze of two stroke smoke hanging over the pond I saw the party of three come back outside. They quickly set their traps and back in they went. I followed wondering if they even put bait on their hooks.
Inside I was greeted by the amazing smell of Uncle Bob’s potato friccus cooking in cast iron on the glowing wood stove, and bacon and eggs sizzling on the stove top as I thawed out. Staring out the window I eagerly awaited our first flag. No one else even bothered to look, weird. Just about the time I was supposed to eat, Gramps directed me to go check the bait in the bait tank. David had a brilliant set up to keep his bait alive and fresh. A stream along the side of his camp flowed into a 55-gallon drum tipped on its side, and out the other side. A door cut in the top with a light bulb was enough to keep it from freezing. Screens at the inlet and outlet kept the bait from making a break for it, which I was debating doing except I had no idea where I was, or how to get back to Sanford.
I checked the bait. The shiners seemed to be having more fun than me. I went back inside to report to my tormentors all was well. I got a semi warm breakfast, and was asked by the two Bobs if I brought any money? I thought back to my preparation for the trip. Right before I got in the car my grandmother handed me a Tupperware bowl filled with loose change. She said, “in case I need it.” Why in the hell would I need five dollars in nickels and dimes, I’m sure she kept the quarters. Was my grandmother in on this initiation to Brooks manhood? As soon as I answered the two Bobs that I had some change a deck of cards was produced.
What followed was nothing short of a robbery. The three men I was so eager to learn the secrets of icefishing from didn’t teach me anything at all to do with icefishing. Slowly they whittled away at my Tupperware container while at the same time asking me to fetch drinks, bring wood in from the outside, or check for flags, they never looked. Just about the time I was down to a few dirty nickels I was asked to go skim the holes. Skimming the holes for people that don’t icefish means going and cleaning out the newly built up ice around the traps. The first time I asked if they wanted me to check their bait, they said in unison, “no.” Weird.
As the afternoon went on I began to realize that every time I was sent out to do a chore I would return to find a few more coins in my precious bank made of molded plastic. I was on to them. They were sending me out to give me a few coins to keep me in the game. I listened to them talk about growing up in Orono, and getting in fights behind Pat’s pizza with the college boys. I listened to them talk about their successes and their failures, and their what if’s. Somewhere late in the day one of the Bobs gave me a beer, gramps gave me one of his favorite lines, “don’t tell your grandmother.” At the end of the day they took all my money. The sun was going down quick. We went outside and took some pictures. I’m guessing to prove that we actually went to the camp, we didn’t have any fish. They actually picked up their own traps, I know now it was probably because they didn’t want me to know there was no bait on their hooks. We went inside and I heard more stories. I fell asleep to the sound of three men snoring the night away.
Early the next morning we parted ways. Gramps and I kind of grew apart over the rest of my teenage years. I will forever regret that. I was a teenage boy filled with piss and vinegar, making my own memories that I may share someday while sitting at the camp table. Telling another one of the Brooks descendants to go fill the wood box. While he’s away I may drop a few dimes in his Tupperware to teach him about life, but I may include a little fishing lesson too.
Authors note: They may have drilled more than one hole, they may have baited their hooks, but I get to write it as I remember it because they took my money. An indisputable fact is we never caught a fish.
*Don’t miss the opportunity to have these moments. You’re never too busy to take a few days for an adventure. Don’t know where to start, hire a guide, you won’t regret it.
We just went through one of those winter cold snaps that just hurts. The cold air actually hurts your face. The news folks tell you to bring your pets in. The trees crack in half from being frozen, and dubs state wide throw pots of water in the air to make instant snow. On my fourth trip of the day to the chicken coop to swap out the water the thermometer read -20 degrees. I watched the water freeze about half way to the coop. The chickens looked at me with their weird chicken eyes as if to say they heard the weatherman say bring them in. Icicles of snot clung to my beard after my two-minute trip “north of the wall.” I went back into the house, broke off the boogercicles frozen to my beard, looked at my wife and said “why Maine?”
We’ve lived in lovely places like San Diego, Coastal Carolina, Chesapeake Bay Maryland, and Miami, Florida to name a few. We would swim in our pool under the palm trees on Christmas Day and laugh at all the people we knew in the frozen north. One could say in hindsight I’m a damn fool for moving back here. On days that it’s colder than an outhouse seat in the Allagash I can almost agree… almost.
Maine’s a place of freedom. I know New Hampshire jumped on the live free or die marketing genius before Maine did. In reality Maine is equally, or even more free. I can walk out my back door with my rifle and hunt until my heart’s content. I can fish any body of water I can get onto and nobody will tell me I can’t. I have access to thousands and thousands of acres of privately owned land that owners allow others to use. Any fee I pay is minimal and goes to maintaining the dirt roads that go on forever; I just leave it better than I found it. I can go places without cell phone reception, or even roads. It is truly that last free wilderness of the east.
Maine is unique in its makeup. People like to say there are two Maines. I disagree, we’re like 50 Shades of Maine without all the kinky stuff. (Authors note: Mom don’t read the book I just referenced) There are people that have no desire to enjoy the wilds of Maine with a rifle, but hike Katahdin every year. There are people who love the state but never go to places like Jackman, Lubec, or the Allagash. They never venture north of Augusta. Then there are people that would only be caught in Bangor, Augusta, or Portland if it was tourney time. For people from away tourney time is when entire towns shut down to follow their high school basketball teams. It’s a true melting pot. We have people that live off the grid 45 minutes from Portland. We have island communities that rely on the ferry for resupply. There’s one common thread in all of these peoples make up. They will help each other when the chips are down.
I vividly remember my dad plowing the ice with his pick-up truck for us to play pond hockey when we were kids. We’d play until we were so cold we’d have to cut the laces to get our skates off. One day he got a little too close to the shore and in the water he went. It was about 4 feet deep. He climbed out the window, surveyed the situation and knew he needed a dozer. He went to talk to our only neighbor. My dad and our neighbor were two different Mainers. They didn’t, and still don’t share a lot of common ground except they were, and still are good Maine men. The neighbor came over, surveyed the situation, looked at his son and said, “go get that brown bottle with the black label way back under the sink.” After a few hours of chainsaw work, several pulls off the bottle of “ol number 7” and some tugging with the dozer the truck was out. The neighbor went home, my dad got yelled at by my mom, and all was back to normal. There was no offer of money and no request for any, just tipsy neighbors that went on to resume their cold war.
I guess that’s why Maine. Its more than a place. It’s more than the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain. It’s more than a buck track in the snow in the big woods. It’s more than lobster dipped in butter. It’s more than a fly rod and a native brook or a coastal striped bass.
It’s also more than the people. More than the junk collecting guy down the road that can help you out in a pinch when you need a part for your mower. It’s more than the vibrant entertainers and artists in Portland and other coastal towns. It’s more than the town meetings where selectmen and women can’t do anything right, but nobody want’s their job. It’s more than the old veteran that lives down the long dirt road and wants to be left alone. It’s more than the manufacturing and innovation. It’s more than the Guides that take so much joy from others experiencing the woods and waters.
I guess that’s why Maine, and why me.
Just as I’m about to lose my mind shoveling, filling the wood box, and paying the propane guy for his seemingly weekly visit to fill my tank it happens, Schoodic Derby Weekend. I’ve fished dozens of derbies in Maine. Schoodic is by far and away the best. The scenery is amazing with blue skies and Katahdin looming to the north, the fishing is usually good, and the company is top notch. It’s my unofficial notice that spring is just around the corner. Schoodic is my ground hog.
An icefishing derby is a fishing tournament. The Schoodic Derby is a fishing adventure. Every year a few weeks in advance we start planning. How many sleds do we need? How much bait? Who’s bringing food? Is the lake safe? Then it happens, and all that planning goes out the window. Someone’s sled breaks, someone else forgets the propane, one guy forgets his boots, you name it and it’s been forgotten, except beer, we never forget beer. We always scramble to get enough crap together to enjoy our two days on the ice. Then there’s actually getting to the lake. See Schoodic isn’t surrounded by hotels. You have to know somebody who knows somebody who has a camp to stay in or you’re staying on the ice. Over the last three years we’ve had the pleasure at staying at a very nice camp because of a friend of a friend. That’s one of the special things about my Maine. If you associate with good people, it’s assumed that you to are a good person, there is a trust there built solely on your reputation through others. This year the cast of characters staying in camp were our friend Tony, his son Colby, my brother Billy, his son Owen, and our friend Luke. At a quick glance you notice we all pee standing up that will be important later in the story.
We take our ice fishing pretty serious. We use several online apps to see the contours of the bottom. We use fishfinders to mark fish. We tend our traps with the delicacy you’d give fine china. We’re there to catch fish. We usually do well. For the last two years my nephew Owen has been in the lead for the youth division right up until the last minute.
This year fishing was a little slower. We caught a few short salmon but never could catch the 23-inch monster we were looking for. We marked fish while jigging but they barely paid attention to any of our offerings. We did catch a fish here and there but nothing like the normal fast action we experienced in the past.
Even our very own “fish whisperer,” Luke was having a hard time. It’s been said that Luke can catch fish in a bath tub. In the particular place we fished this year he usually smashes the lake trout. We think it’s because he dropped his cell phone down the hole into 100 feet of water in this spot two years ago.
All Saturday morning, we struggled to get on the bite. Frustration mounted. Then it happened. The girl showed up. Our good friend Tony is married to our good friend Sally. Sally is, and always will be a country girl. She can back up a boat trailer, shoot a bow, track a buck, and do all the country things that make a girl country. She’s a lovely woman, and a great friend. Sally could only fish for the day because of other commitments. She only needed 15 minutes. She set her traps, started chatting with the crew of intrepid ice walkers and wouldn’t you know it, she got a flag. After a 5-minute tug of war she iced the biggest fish if the weekend, a 4.5 pound Togue. We all congratulated her, but after a 3AM wake up, a freezing morning, and little fish my only thought was, “who invited the girl.” To be honest I think I yelled it.
The day went on. Sally didn’t gloat much, there were a few more fish caught. (none by me) we got a nice visit from the world famous owner of Boot Life Magazine and her husband. A very friendly biologist came and explained to the two boys the importance of what he was doing for fish research. Family and friends stopped by on their snowmobiles with hamburgers and hot dogs and we enjoyed a beverage or two. All in all, despite the tight lipped fish, it was a hell of a derby.
At the end of the day we retired to the warm camp, had a few more beverages, and gorged on deer chili and other gastrointestinal challenges. Sunday brought little excitement and only one fish. We packed up, left the camp nicer than we found it, and headed our separate ways home only to be brought together again by a call from the southern Maine bound contingent, they lost a tire on the trailer. Luckily I had a new spare. The slick they had for a spare was not going to make the four-hour trip to Newfield. Tony the professional tire changer made short work of the tire exchange and we were all homeward bound. We’ll talk about the things that happened Schoodic weekend all year long. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
I was recently informed about something that made me laugh snot bubbles. The Readers Digest version of some keyboard warriors problem with my writing is that I talk about the consumption of alcohol while conducting dangerous activities.
Well yes “Saint Perfect,” I have mentioned the subject of drinking wobble pops. If you care to refresh yourself on some of my writings you’ll see that I was telling stories of days of yore, when men were men, and really didn’t give a flying rip what others thought. There are still some of us today.
Nowhere in the story telling did I say I condone the activity, it happened, I wrote about it, MOST people get that it’s story telling and move on. There’s always the option of not reading my work, shutting your mouth, and continuing on with your day, the preferred course of action in most cases.
If you decide that running a chainsaw while stoned, driving a snowmobile while blitzed, hunting while hung down with the brown bottle flu is a good idea, you sir or madam are an idiot, don’t do it. You’re a danger to others. If you decide to complain about me telling stories of my life, that I witnessed/lived, piss off, I don’t have time for you.
After almost a year of mental debate I recently decided to sell my camp in the Maine north woods. When I bought the place I thought I would have it forever. It was all I had dreamed of. My wife and I put a serious dent in our meager savings to buy it, and after my first deer season there, where I tracked and killed a wide nine-point buck, I knew I had found my piece of heaven.
Things change. I became a guide. The camp is on a lease and the lease holder does not allow commercial operations on their land. Their land, their rules. I tried to keep the camp for family, and look for another place to guide from. Unfortunately, money has yet to grow on trees. I was at a crossroads. I wanted to grow and expand my guide service, but the times I spend at my camp are the greatest times of my life.
The third week of November every year is “camp week.” It brings my father, my uncle, my brothers, and some great friends under one roof. For a week we chase whitetails, play cards, eat like kings, and even drink a beer, or 200. They’re all special people to me, people who have stuck with me through thick and thin. I saw the camp as my gift to them. The all have keys. It was as much theirs as mine.
The weekend following Father’s Day is always the weekend we all gather to climb Katahdin. Eager anticipation on Friday night turns into a day long climb on Saturday. People struggle, swear they are going to get in shape before next year, and encourage each other. Saturday night after the climb if you’re not the first one to sleep the sound of exhausted, successful mountaineers will keep you awake, the snoring almost sounds choreographed.
Thanksgiving is for family. We all gather there and play cribbage, rummy, and lately this ridiculous game where you put a dental torture tool in your mouth and try to get your partner to understand the clue you are reading from a card. The laughter and the amount of drool is epic. If you were to stand outside the door and listen you’d think we’d all gone mad.
Summer brings lazy days floating on the river, lounging at the sand bar at the bottom of Abol Rapids, and fires on the deck as the sun sets in the west and the moon illuminates Katahdin. We walk to our favorite fishing spots, catch trout and salmon, and enjoy each other without the distractions of the modern world.
Winter brings the challenge of getting in by snowmobile, warming the place and then mid-night snowmobile rides through a remote forest that few people ever get to see. We may icefish a remote lake, and then go to our camp neighbors place to feed the deer we just chased a few months before from our hands as they try to make it through the harsh winter.
This deer season I was coming back from a day of tracking, it was already dark. I was thinking about selling the place for a long time. As I walked up the steep driveway the camp was illuminated beautifully. Inside I could see my wife, my brother, his wife, my nephews and daughter. It was a perfect picture. It was then I realized that it’s not the camp it’s the people.
So the camp is under contract. I will buy another place and we will make more memories because a camp is a wooden structure with stuff in it. It’s the people that matter, and I am surrounded by some great ones.
I’ve been known to do some spontaneous things that make people ask if I’m crazy. This is one of them. It was a sunny day in May. I was driving a back country road. I saw a sign that said piglets, $100.00. I happened to have $100.00, I love bacon, I think I’ll buy a pig. After a brief conversation in which I lied about having owned pigs, I had my very own bacon seed. How hard could this be?
We already had goats. They had a big 100 foot by 100 foot pen. I’ll just throw the pig in there. They could “coexist” like on those bumperstickers I see on all the subaru’s. Well come to find out they can’t. The piglet wanted to suckle what she saw hanging from the goats. The goats wanted no part in that, especially the male goat. My much more pragmatic and detail oriented wife did some research. Turns out the pig will eventually kill the goats. Who knew bacon could be so angry?
Off to Tractor Supply I went. Some midnight post hole digging and cow panels and old Mango had a pig jail. Yes we named her, Mango. I know you don’t name them. People were placing bets that we would have a pet pig forever. They had good reason, my wife is a vegetarian. Opposites attracting is real. Mango continued to grow. We fed her all of our table scraps, and things from our garden. We rehomed our goats because we just didn’t have the time to dedicate to them. Mango moved out of jail to the big house in the barnyard. She promptly ate the floor.
I often found myself in her pen scratching her ears, and rubbing her sides. My daughters would play with her, and chase her around. My neighbors would come over and give her their table scraps too. Everybody loved Mango. She was very happy with her situation. She rooted up the ground, wallowed in the mud and had a general grand old time. Then one day I noticed that fall was coming, and Mango was big.
I begrudgingly made an appointment with the butcher I use for my wild game. I made sure that Mango was comfortable and enjoyed her time. I coaxed her into the trailer for the ride through town and out to the butcher. I delivered her to her fate. I didn’t like it, but I knew this truth. The outcome to Mango’s life was predetermined the moment she was born. I take great pride in the fact that her time was pleasant, fun, and caring. She was essentially free to live her life out enjoying her piece of earth, and a good ear scratch.
The following morning after I dropped her off. I got up early like I often do, went to the garage, filled the bucket with pig food, and remembered that there was no pig to feed. A few days later I got the call from the butcher and went and picked up the pork. All through this winter we will enjoy the food that our pig provided us. We will be grateful for her as I’m sure she was grateful for us. Next year I’ll raise a few more pigs. There’s something satisfying in knowing that you know exactly how your food was raised, how it was cared for, and the effort you put into it. I am certainly thankful that sometimes I make spontaneous decisions. Without them I would have never known Mango.