Before we turn our "calendar" to Hunting Season, we want to honor our eldest guest at Fish River Lodge...Herve Pelletier. He was born in Eagle Lake and now resides in Topsham, Maine. He and his son have stayed with us several times - most recently at the end of August. Herve is 94.
Hunting season is brief, but PREPARING for hunting season can last all year - especially when it comes to bear hunting! We ordered our bear bait last winter and it was delivered as soon as the mud dried up enough so we could get the bait truck near our shed. We obtained our landowner permissions and paid our bait fees over the summer. Wayne and I were out in July brushing out bait sites, changing set-ups, hanging trail cameras, and installing new stands. We started placing bait a full month ahead of the actual opening of the hunting season. New sites can take weeks, or even a full season, to become active. Older, established sites will attract bears more easily but there are no guarantees a wild Maine black bear will regularly visit a bait site, especially during legal hunting hours! Maine's annual bear hunt is vital to the state's bear management program. A harvest objective of 4,000 bears will keep the population in check but with fewer hunters, we've been unable to meet that objective for about 10 years. Thus, the state's bear population is growing - but because bears are shy and wary the increased population doesn't necessarily translate to higher success rates. 2013 was one of the most difficult seasons we've had in years. An abundance of natural feeds (wild cherries, choke cherries, blueberries, raspberries, hazelnuts, and beech nuts for example) put bait hunters at a severe disadvantage. Bears prefer natural feeds and when there are lots of choices, bait is the LAST thing they will feed on.
The last week of August our first group of hunters arrived. They were a special group - most were couples and families that hadn't hunted bear before. Jean and Brent Wilson hunted moose with us in 2012 and Jen and Mike Wentzheimer had visited Fish River Lodge last October. Scott Vetare and his buddy Darrell had hunted bear with Mike Michaud and use Fish River Lodge as their base-of-operations for the week.
We like to include the whole family in the hunt, even our non-hunting guests. Jen, Seth and Maddy Wenzheimer accompanied me on a bait run one day and helped lug buckets and spray cover scent. They also enjoyed hiking, canoeing, and exploring the many sights and sounds of northern Maine.
Each week we treat everyone to a lobster dinner on Sunday night. But the second week my Uncle David treats US with lobsters he caught off the coast of Maine! He hunts with us every fall, along with my dad, and Duane Webber. The special ladies in ther lives...mom, Aunt Teri, Mim Webber, Deanna Purington, and Becky Johnson also joined in! Rusty "Wild" Rice, Bob O'Connor, Dave Mrocek, Bob Watkins and Mike Farrell rounded out our 2013 bear hunters. I wish we had lots of photos to share of our successful hunters and their bears but as I mentioned, this turned out to be a challenging season. Bears cruised bait sites if they came at all during legal hunting hours but mostly they came at night.
When it was all over many of our hunters saw bear and some passed on small bears; some shots were taken and some bears were missed. Some just enjoyed watching the wildlife and antics of sows with cubs that appeared at their stands. Our friend, Bert Simard, started a new bait site this year and sat on it after work for 17 nights before he got a chance on this beautiful boar. Needless to say, all that hard work didn't produce for us this year. That's why they call it hunting; there are no guarantees you'll fill your tag but one thing for sure, our bear hunters left with a wealth of knowledge and experience to apply to their next bear hunt.
After a challenging bear season we were excited to switch gears to moose! You can imagine my surprise when Billy Doughty, a dear friend from "The Islands", called in early September to book a guided moose hunt in September. He wanted a guide who could call a bull. "10-4 Billy; I won't let you down!" You see, I guided Billy's grandson Jake to a cow back in 2010 and there was no way I would disapppoint him, even at this late date. It took some doing, but a friend of a friend referred me to Francis Dambois - he's been calling moose for years, recently became a guide but has a "real job" so hadn't booked any clients. He agreed to take Billy. BINGO!
We spent a week putting away our "bear gear" and scouting for the September moose hunt. With five guided hunts going out, we wanted to be certain we could provide opportunities on the largest moose we could produce. Opening day was miserable with wind and driving rain. Most everyone saw moose but not everyone wanted to or was able to capitalize on their opportunities. Wayne's client, Frank Evangelista, found opening day success with this 51" bull. Frank and his sub ran home to get their wives on Tueday and returned for the rest of the week to enjoy the vast network of ATV trails in the St. John Valley.
My clients, Joe and Joey Hunt connected on Wednesday. Joe and his wife Georgette hunted with me last year on her tag and Joe shot a nice bull. Joe was drawn this year and his son Joey was his sub. We hunted hard in the rain Monday and Tuesday. Again on Wednesday it rained but our persistence paid off when we found bull tracks in the mud...we tracked Joe's bull for nearly a mile in the rain before we caught up to him on top of a rise. Both Joe and Joey were able to make great shots and practically dropped this one in its tracks!
The most anticipated moose of the season was the one taken by Denny Corriveau (The Wild Cheff) of Amesbury, MA. When Denny booked his hunt he express that this being a "hunt of a lifetime", he wanted a trophy moose and would settle for nothing less. Although Denny is famous for wild game cooking, he did not want a "freezer bull." We paired Denny with guide Mike "The Legend" Michaud and plenty of assurance that Mike had earned his "legendary" reputation. Three days in to the hunt Denny was growing anxious - he'd seen lots of moose but not the moose of his dreams. At dinner that night we reminded Danny he was only halfway through his 6-day hunt and had plenty of time to fill his tag. Finally, from deep within WMD2, Mike guided Denny on to the moose of his dreams! The rest of the week was filled with celebration and reflection on what it means to wait so long for a tag and then, in an instant have a dream fulfilled.
With 3 of 5 guided hunt tags filled, it was up to John Pelletier to put the Lucentes in front a moose they could pull the trigger on and Francis to produce one for Billy and Jake. They had tried calling all week and had bulls answer but just couldn't "seal the deal." However, there was nothing that would stand in the way of another 100% successful hunt week at Fish River Lodge. Father/son team Gary and Scott Lucente, lead by guide John Pelletier, finally connected with this guy and Billy and Jake got their bull on Saturday! "Cool Hand" Luke Chiarelli and Scott Jones also filled their bull tags while staying at Fish River Lodge - we all had reason to celebrate the memories, friendships, and moose who made dreams come true!
We had a brief reprieve from moose and welcomed grouse hunters David Tilden and Gerold Moville; JoAnn Moody and Krystal; Dakota Downes and Nicole Davis; the Lon Ruddock party; Tom Ryan party, and Dave Lovelace party. The start of our upland bird season was much like bear - discouraging at best. We KNEW there were lots of birds "somewhere", but where? Hunters and dogs had a hard time locating good numbers of grouse. We theorized many had been driven way back in to the woods by all the vehicle traffic from the September moose hunt and they were probably feeding on the abundant vegetation and berries back in the woods and didn't need to be any where near a roadside for gravel.
It is always a pleasure to visit with noted upland bird guide and springer spaniel breeder JoAnn Moody. We cover lots of ground during our visits - horses, and hunting, and all things bird dogs! Here's JoAnn with her young, adoring prospect "Annie".
October brought another very successful moose hunt week to Fish River Lodge. We had four guided hunts going out. October proved difficult for hunters in WMD2; it had been hunted hard in September and lots of moose were taken. By October, moose were wary and cows skittish. It took some hard hunting to put our hunters in front of moose but two of three bull tags and my clients' - Norman Blanchard and Steve Kelly - cow tag got filled. The Don Cannan party was expertly guided by Jimmy Dumond. They saw lots of moose, passed on several bulls, and had some excellent adventures including a day of hunting on the river but by week's end they just couldn't find the trophy they wanted. Wayne got some great video of his client Newell Graf's moose hunt and Bruce Yannelli connected with this bull while guided by Mike Michaud. The Josh St. Pierre and Brown parties also hunted moose out of Fish River Lodge. It was a pleasure meeting the St. Pierre family and seeing the Browns again. Of course grouse were plentiful by the end of October and early November. One afternoon I flushed 23 birds!
We were joined by five November moose hunt parties and all held cow tags. Mine was the lone WMD3 tag. Mark Kerrigan's party tagged out early with Wayne then hunted deer and helped track a wounded moose and other adventures during their stay. We want to recongize the Ray Stevens, Randy Mason, and Steve French moose hunting parties who all chose Fish River Lodge for their moose hunt "head quarters". Hunting cows, in my opinion, is much more difficult than hunting bulls. They will not respond to calling, their maternal instict kicks in when they feel threatened and will run if pressured. Hunters are restricted to a road-hunt or walking winter roads and obscure clear cuts. Some clients choose not to take a cow with a calf and pass on calves and yearlings so that eliminates many opportunities. Knowing that moose enjoy stripping bark off sugar maples once we've had a good hard frost can be used in a hunter's favor. If that occurs prior to the November hunt, concentrating efforts on Maple stands will increase your odds greatly.
I was blessed with a referral from fellow guide, Mike Langley. Mike's Libby Camps deer hunter, Dieter Tairks, drew a WMD3 cow tag and since that would require a long commute to an unfamiliar management area, Mike asked if I would guide the 81 year old seasoned deer hunter. I was honored to be given the opportunity and it was a match made in heaven - Dieter reminded me of my grand father in so many ways. We enjoyed a full week of hunting, had several opportunities to take a cow, saw much wild game and beautiful scenery, enjoyed a reunion dinner with Mike Langley, then finally connected on this calf on the last day of Dieter's hunt. It had snowed that morning and moose were on the move. We saw several bulls and cows. A cow and calf were spotted in a stand of sugar maples - the eighth and ninth moose we'd seen that day. The calf presented the best opportunity and Dieter made a perfect shot. This moose will provide plenty of winter sustenance to my grateful client.
Long-time St. John Valley deer hunters - John, Sal, Vinny, and Matt Bombara from Connecticut and New Jersey - joined us the second week of November. They saw a few deer and enjoyed some tracking snow during the week but the elusive "big woods" white tail bucks they sought were just that...elusive.
John and MaryLu Medina have become Fish River Lodge's most recent saviours. Under their ownership, they have continued providing the "tender loving care" this old sporting camp deserves. The tradition continues as Fish River Lodge provides cabins and a gathering place for all who love the outdoors and northern Maine. John has embarked on another cabin remodel, or, rather a rebuild. His work on cabin 5 was remarkable and guests now staying in "Guide Camp" find the lodging very accomodating and luxurious compared to what the little cabin had been. Cabin 1 was torn down in November and then a slab poured for a new cabin to be built in spring 2014. Mary Lou Medina tells me John's obession with building camps goes back to his childhood. She provided us with this photo of his "inspriation."
We spent a few days before Thanksgiving hunting in Waldo County with our gracious friend, host, and fellow guide Mike Duni at his "Whitetails Unlimited" property. It was my daughter Miranda's first experience hunting white tail deer. Armed with a doe tag, there would be very good odds on her killing her first white tail. The weather was miserable - temps were in the single digits and gale-force wind pinned down the deer. Then a wild shift in temperatures resulted in tropical torrential rain on Wednesday. Miranda's dedication to hunting was tested and she persisted. She hunted three days, jumped one deer out of its bed, but that was it. We had a great visit with Mike, enjoyed delicious food, laughs, and made more memories. And the best part - Miranda has been bitten by the deer hunting bug!
"Elusive" seemed to be the theme of this year's hunting season. Some clients enjoyed the thrill and gratitude of filling tags and making dreams come true while others came oh so close. Success can be elusive on any given hunt day and all experienced hunters know there are never guarantees when trying to fill a tag. It takes patience, persistence, skill, and determination. The only guarantees in hunting are the memories, experiences, and friendships that become the most treasured "trophies" of any hunt.
As the sun sets on another hunting season we change the Fish River Lodge "calendar" to Winter. The lake has frozen and we've had our largest snowfall of the season. We're shoveled out and settled in to the comfortable and newly remodeled "Guide Camp". We're preparing for an old fashioned Christmas and counting our many blessings... We wish you and yours a joyous holiday season and a New Year filled with health and happiness! Follow us for regular posts about Fish River Lodge on our facebook page...
Labels: Fall 2013