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The Month in Maine – December

This Month

The -ber Months Mean Hunting

In Maine, the -ber months are ending Dec. 31 – the four annual months that hold the majority of the hunting seasons in this state. Sure, we can hunt something in most months, crows, woodchucks and coyotes, but from September to December, most of the major hunting seasons occur.

In December, muzzleloaders in the northern third of Maine have from Dec. 1 to 6, and in the rest of the state from Dec. 1 to Dec. 13, to hunt deer, a bonus season with almost guaranteed cold weather and snow in at least the northern half of the state.

Serious waterfowl hunters live for the second season to shoot ducks and geese, and action can be blistering, especially for sea ducks. Grouse enthusiasts love those December days, at least some of them, when covers have zero foliage on trees and shrubs for open shooting. A handful of shooters target pheasant.

When snow flies, hunters start thinking of fox and coyote hunting as well as varying hares. Canine hunters often use calls and sometimes bait, and others rely on chasing dogs.

Some folks target gray squirrels, and in unseasonably warm weather, the shooting may be fast enough. December hunts in hardwood ridges beside harvested cornfields can offer plenty of fun. Squirrels are a great ingredient for stews, fricassees and pies. The firearm of choice is usually a .22 rimfire, but shotguns work, too.

Raccoon hunters have until Dec. 31 for this “big-game” animal. That’s right – the otherwise reasonable folks at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have labeled raccoons as big game, so folks must buy a big-game license to hunt them. This law is very difficult to find in the law book. Check out the fine print below the list of license fees on page 10.

Bobcat

Bobcat

Bobcat hunters begin December 1, and folks with bobcat hounds live for this season. A dog on a hot bobcat track spells high excitement.

Did someone say open-water fishing?

For some strange reason, fly rodders and the occasional spin angler get out more this month than the bait crowd. On unseasonably warm days, fly fishing can be fun now, and at times, folks may catch a fish or two and more.

Ice-fishing begins as soon as ice freezes in many waters, and this sport has really picked up in Maine, especially after the New Year.

Nights are long, ideal for preparing meals with fruits from the forests, waters and gardens. A good bottle of wine, crystal wine glasses, china, linen tablecloth and napkins and candlelight add to the repast.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

Wildlife photographers target perching song birds, bald eagles, waterfowl, deer, coyotes and more, and landscape photographers after mood shots get out before the first snow or do beautiful snow scenes after heavy snow when the white stuff laden tree limbs.

Exercisers may run, jog, walk or bicycle all winter, but before the bad weather begins in earnest, they like to get out on any sunny December day.

And between forays into the outdoors, it’s party time this month as families, friends and workers get together for an evening of holiday revelry.

Tips of the Month

Small Game Plenty Tough

Small game such as varying hare require long cooking times in liquid to tenderize the tough meat, which brings up an interesting point about typical small-game cuts and why little critters lack tenderness.

Let’s begin by quickly comparing big game such as white-tailed deer to small game. Tender cuts from big game come from the backbone or cheeks (the latter with pigs), and tough meat comes from the hind and front quarters, which warrant recipes requiring braising, fricasseeing, jugging, stewing, parboiling and so forth – a scientific fact.

Small game do not have enough meat on the backbone to make cuts from the tender meat, so this part of small animals is only good for making broths – backbone and all. The larger chunks of meat lie on the hind and front quarters – the tough locomotion muscles.

Good cooks look in books for recipes that require browning and simmering in liquid to prepare small game. The little critters make fine eating, but they require special cooking skills and recipes.

Where the Action Is

Winter Fly Rodders Gather Here

When many fly rodders have stored rods and gear in December, diehards often head to the St. George River below Sennebec Pond and fish the pocket water, glides and pools below, and others try several miles downstream around Payson Park in Warren. This river is open year round, has a 1-fish limit and 12-inch minimum on trout.

Please check DeLorme Atlas, Map 14, D-1 for the Sennebec stretch and E-2 for the Payson Park waters.

Often, anglers gather at these two destinations, and newcomers here with acute observation skills can watch and note how and where to fish. A 4- or 5-weight rod, sinking nymphs, strike indicator (for dead-drifters) and patience may lead to a trout or two – or a half-dozen. One brown or brookie catch makes lots of fly rodders happy, though.

The following patterns work: Beadhead nymphs such as Hare’s Ears, Pheasant Tails, Princes, Copper Killers, Casual Dresses, LaFontaine Deep Sparkle Nymphs, black Wooly Worms and Flick Hendricksons as well as streamer and bucktail choices such as Gray Ghosts, Blacknose Dace, Red & White, Wooly Buggers.

Dress warmly.

Muzzleloader Deer, Anyone?

One good choice for muzzleloaders after deer lies east of Augusta in the towns of Palermo, Somerville, Jefferson, Montville, Liberty, Appleton, Morrill, Belmont, Waldo, Brooks, Unity, Thorndike and Jackson, where abandoned farmland, working farms, clear-cuts, hardwood ridges, black-growth bottomland and other quality deer habitat abound. Check out Route 3, 105, 17, 32, 206, 220, 131, 173, 203 and side roads off the major state highways (DeLorme Atlas, Maps 13 and 14.)

In the black-powder season from Dec. 1 to 13 in this area, hunters can find solitude and more solitude, but if anyone hits an area where small crowds form, that can be an advantage. Find a good deer trail and take a comfortable seat. And remember, a moving deer is a vulnerable deer.

If you have never hunted this region before, the first trip just might start a family tradition.

News and Tidbits

Rule for Bear Watchers

View wildlife from a safe distance.

View wildlife from a safe distance.

Hikers have spotted at least one black bear near the top of Katahdin recently, startling hikers as it feasted on berries growing above the treeline. The sighting surprised the hikers, and Baxter State Park naturalist Jean Hoekwater agreed that such sightings are rare: “It’s not common,” she said. “People who see those bears are fortunate.”

So how close can you get and still be safe?

Hoekwater furnished a good “rule of thumb” for observing larger animals such as bear. It begins with holding an arm straight out and putting the thumb over the animal. If the thumb fails to cover the whole animal, the observer has approached too closely. That person should slowly back up.

Golden-crowned Kinglets in Winter

Golden-crowned kinglets (Regulus satrapa) may migrate to the southern U.S. for winter, not surprising because this species is nearly the size of a hummingbird. However, even if some of them decide to winter in Maine, the tiny kinglets can survive. Astute birdwatchers often see or hear them in the Pine Tree State every year in the white season.

Migrating Bird Species

The genders in many bird species have different migration patterns: The female travels farther south, but the males stay closer to this state. Ornithologists surmise that males don’t travel as far, so they can get to this state more quickly in the spring to claim more ideal nesting habitat for themselves.

Christmas Ferns

Christmas ferns

Christmas ferns

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) stand 21 inches tall, an evergreen that stays green all year. The individual pinnae resemble the shape of a Christmas stocking; hence its name.

Maine Moose Antlers Heavy

Maine moose antlers can weigh 30 to 60 pounds, quite a handful when an antler-hunter finds a heavy armful to tote back to the road.

Forest Fragmentation 

In Maine in the 1990s, we heard a lot about forest fragmentation in reference to varying hares. This species seldom travels over 1,000 feet in any direction, and one mile would constitute a long journey for a male, the gender that wanders the farthest.

Since most never go more than 1,000 feet, these animals will not recover after hunters, predators or habitat destruction completely eliminate the species from an area. Stocking hares in these barren areas might bring them back, but it’s an uncommon option in Maine.

Forest fragmentation hurts many species of fauna and flora, and the reasons for the “fragmentation” include roads, farmlands, clear-cuts, utility corridors, subdivisions or any human development that interrupts forest canopies and connections. The disappearance of the upper story changes everything, and researchers have well-defined the effects of fragmentation in U.S. forests.

Northern Maine Deer Problem

Deer in SnowIn the 1970s, Maine officials zoned 2 percent of northern Maine forests as deer wintering areas that would support 10 deer per square mile. Recent studies by University of Maine researchers show the strategy failed because this region now has 1 to 2 deer per square mile, and a huge part of the problem involves woodcutters removing conifer canopies that deer used for winter deeryards.

Payment for Ecosystem Services

In the Oct. 13 The New Yorker, an article about two countries caught our eyes here. Norway wants to save the biodiversity of Liberia, a country that contains rainforests. Norway’s government put its money where its mouth was and gave the West African nation $150 million in exchange for stopping the destruction of trees. This works better than issuing sanctions against Liberia in an attempt to force the nation to stop leveling huge forests.

In Maine, we have a problem with woodcutters in northern and eastern Maine destroying conifers stands, where white-tailed deer spend winters. This problem has plagued the deer herd in these remote Pine Tree State areas, where vast areas now have a measly one to two deer per square mile. The solution requires a policy that wood-cutting companies can live with that involves both sides making money on an investment.

This is a wave of the future, because other countries see the wisdom of biodiversity and are willing to invest in that goal to help all of us.

Bicyclists Ponder Sand vs. Cold 

With winter’s first slippery storms, road sanding starts and raises havoc with bicycling more than the cold weather does, because pedalers can dress for cold – even with the built-in chill factor on a speeding bicycle. However, the sand stays there for a few to several days, until wind and mostly rushing air from passing vehicles blow it off. When bicyclists figure out these points about winter bicycling, they are more apt to pedal through the white season only on warmer days that do not feature a layer of new sand.

Winter Hydration, Food for Exercising 

While bicycling, we all know to drink enough liquid in summer heat and eat high-energy food whenever trips take more than hour, but this time of year, hydration and food become really important

When dressed warmly in winter biking clothing, folks sweat a lot, and cold, passing air dries moisture from skin and even clothing. We lose a lot of fluid that needs replenishing. (A good rule of thumb is if you don’t feel the urge to urinate as soon as you get home, you’re likely not drinking enough liquids.)

In cold weather, our bodies burn more calories, so snacks such as energy bars, peanuts and raisins become important to replenish energy during pedaling.

Folks often talk about “energy effort” when pedaling, but how do you know without an electronic gadget to measure output? Recently, a great common-sense guide caught my eye:

a) When the effort to propel a bike is enough so it’s difficult to hold a conversation, that’s a 50-percent output.

b) When the effort makes it difficult to talk, that’s an 80-percent effort. It takes discipline for part-time bikers to go 50 percent for more than one or two hours.

Maine’s 5-Year Deer Harvest

Maine’s 5-year deer harvest figure averaged 20,640, really paltry compared to other whitetail states. This state has 175,000 firearms hunters each year, and 13,700 bowhunters.

Fair Chase?

Joel Gibbs, of Lowell, Maine, who appeared in ads supporting the bear hunting initiative to ban hunting bears over bait, was cited October 17, 2014 for allegedly shooting at ruffed grouse through the open window of a vehicle, according to a November 4, 2014 Kennebec Journal article.

Bird of the Month

The Christmas Bird

Northern Cardinal. Dr. Thomas G. Barnes photo

Northern Cardinal. Dr. Thomas G. Barnes photo

The late Bill Silliker, Jr., a wildlife photographer extraordinaire from southern Maine, called me one December morning and said, “I’m doing what you’d expect me to be doin’ this month, shooting lots of photos of Christmas birds.”

Silliker sold lots of northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) photos to magazines and calendar and Christmas-card companies, and typical of a professional photographer, he had plenty of places where cardinals congregated. When snow first covered the ground, he’d shoot photos ideal for Christmas scenes.

Years ago, I participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and often counted lots of cardinals around December birdfeeders. They are really quite plentiful around homes, and folks who have no cardinals may try nailing halved apples above a perch on a pole. Apples attract cardinals just as a halved orange draws orioles.

Female Northern Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal

Northern cardinals measure 8 3/4-inches in length, sport a 12-inch wingspan and weigh 1.6 ounces, a somewhat large, beautiful perching bird.  The all-red male has a pointed crest and black patch below the triangular red bill. The female is buff brown with red tinges on its wings and tail, and also a black patch below the bill.

During early spring, this cardinal makes a somewhat monotonous call that Peterson translates as whoit. The sound has awoken me on more than one dawn. My take on this singular call is this: If the human sucks in air while saying whoit, it sounds more realistic. This cardinal also calls cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer or birdy, birdy, birdy.

A summer tanager, another all-red bird in Maine, has no crest.

This cardinal lays 4- or 5- green eggs with brown spots, which blend well with the normal surroundings. This bird builds a deep, twig-made cup that it conceals in a thicket. The greenish, spotted eggs blend with foliage and bark in such habitat. (Ken Allen)

Do You Know?

Loons Grow How Fast?

Do you know how fast a newborn loon grows in the first three months?

Book Corner

Mallard’s Where-to Fly-Fishing Book Dynamite

Bob Mallard’s 50 Best Places Fly Fishing in the Northeast bookBob Mallard’s 50 Best Places Fly Fishing in the Northeast (Stonefly Press, West Palm Beach, Florida) ranks as one of the very best where-to, fly-fishing books to cross this reviewer’s desk in a very long time – a must buy for folks who travel around Maine and certainly the Northeast to fly-fish.

The cover shows 50 Best Places printed above Fly Fishing in the Northeast. I mention this point, because in my paragraph above, the actual title looks as if I left a preposition out.

What do readers often do when they pick up a where-to book for the first time?

Whether the subject is a sport such as fly-fishing, hiking, canoeing or bicycling, readers turn to a chapter or passage that highlights a destination that they know well. In short, the writer must be accurate, and every description must satisfy all the readers who know a water, often a home water to them.

Because of that, each reader checks out where-to information on a water that they know intimately. Mallard’s where-to on waters that I know impressed me.

…Just a quick digression: A publisher sent me a fly-fishing where-to book a few years back that covered New England waters. I immediately turned to my home river, the Sheepscot, and came across a passage that said it originated from the mouth of Sheepscot Pond. The author went on to write June was a grand month to fish it.

• In my 50 years on the Sheepscot, I have fished myriad miles of the river above Sheepscot Pond – grand fly fishing without crowds.

• During most years, the water gets too low in June to be as good as May. I think the last half of May is a top month, and June can stink.

In 50 Best Places Fly Fishing in the Northeast, this reviewer turned to Maine and the East Outlet of the Kennebec River, which I once fly-fished all the time, beginning in 1965. In those years, I was at that age when my fly collection consisted mostly of different sizes of Hornbergs, Wulffs, Irresistibles, Royal Coachmans, Cow Dungs, Wooly Worms, Gray Ghosts and Red & Whites, before I started matching the hatch in earnest in 1970.

In the East Outlet chapter, Mallard names access points, different pools, general-hatch info, rod size and even regulations. The exact East Outlet fishing spots in the book really impressed me, and he talked about fishing from East Outlet Dam down to the Beach Pool. He then mentioned the remoter stretch from this pool to Indian Pond.

Also, he wrote a short section about the East Outlet that made me really trust his information. He cautioned readers about this stretch’s Class II and particularly Class III rapids, no problem for experienced white-water canoeists like me, but no place for novices in a canoe or driftboat. Period.

His passages on the Kennebec River from Harris Dam to Madison were as enlightening as the East Outlet info, particularly a section I know well from Bingham to Solon. I have fished the Bingham and Fork stretches since 1966.

Mallard wowed me with his Kennebago River info, a spot I have fished since the 1970s. For one reason or another, I have fished the Ellis River in New Hampshire myriad times, and his section on that water also impressed me.

Mallard has turned his energies from fly-fishing advocacy in Maine to writing, and he is publishing articles in many national fly-fishing magazines and writing books. He’ll quickly become a big-name writer, and this book is one very good reason why. (Ken Allen)

Innocent Bystander

Wonderful Essay about Natives, Transplants

Northern Woodlands, a quasi-scientific magazine about – well – northern woodlands, carries wonderful features and columns for folks not necessarily into hunting and fishing, and Maine’s own Robert Kimber contributes a column – one of the state’s top writers on rural subjects.

Each issue carries another wonderful column entitled “A Place in Mind.” Different writers contribute, and the fall effort by poet and playwright David Budhill struck me as perfect writing – well-written with a message for the ages.

Budhill’s essay covered three generations:

• First, a native couple on a mountain near Bear Swamp in Vermont were subsistence farmers, who saw the Depression, World War II (and maybe WW I). They successfully lived off the land with 15 Jersey milking cows for income, and ate their own livestock, veggies and fruit from gardens and orchard, and wild animals and plants. They cut their own wood and made do with what they had when they couldn’t afford more.

• The next generation was Budhill and his wife, who arrived in the 1960s. They got along extremely well with the older couple, who lived higher on the mountain. They obviously learned from one another.

• When the older couple passed away, a couple into organic farming and preserving land bought the home, and they have a Swamp-Fest Party every fall. They invite everyone around, and the crowd of around 100 attests to the couple’s ability to blend into the rural community.

All three generations have touched one another with their lifestyles and life skills, perhaps a slow learning process at first, one that continues evolving. This is a Vermont story, but Maine has myriad similar examples, where newcomers may be viewed with skepticism at first. Eventually, their neighbors would be saddened if they left.

Exceptions exist to the rule of blending, because some natives and newcomers are just plain mean-spirited. Most newcomers find acceptance, though, and it’s a good thing. I saw a statistic in the Kennebec Journal 25 years ago that said over half of Maine’s population at the time were transplants. That surely hasn’t changed, and Maine is the better for it.

These words come from a native whose mailing address was Coopers Mills until I was 24 years old, although for short times I lived in New York City and Malone, New York and spent part of my childhood summers near Cape Cod – close enough to hit the beaches multiple times a week. (Ken Allen)

Next Month

Maine’s Coldest Month

January officially ranks as Maine’s coldest month, but often in the lower third of the state, folks wonder if ice will form for hard-water anglers by New Year’s Day. It usually does but often just barely.

Snowmobilers want snow, and in the bottom half of the state, sledders hope that they have enough snow by January 1. However, by mid-month, snow deepens, ice thickens and folks smile.

…Particularly small-business owners in rural hamlets where snowmobiling adds greatly to winter economies. Without it, lots of folks would need to move south for jobs, often south of Kittery.

Snow sports enliven the economy here, and beyond snowmobiling, we’re talking downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, snowshoeing, hiking in shallow snow cover, antler-shed hunting and ice-climbing.

Runners, joggers, walkers and bicyclists get out as often as weather cooperates, and of these choices, bicyclists have the most problems with cold because of windchill in a sport where folks travel anywhere from 8 to 30 miles per hour or faster.

Do the math. It’s darned cold when someone sails down a hill traveling 30 mph into a 20-mph northwest wind. And that’s not even talking about the layers of sand deposited on the road after a slippery storm.

Varying-hare and canine hunters get out now that snow has fallen, and hounds run hares through lowland thickets. Serious coyote and fox hunters get out plenty, and clubs form to cater to hare hunters. These sports are serious winter business.

Ice fishing gets wicked popular starting January 1, and when weather halfway cooperates, crowds form on popular lakes and ponds. Folks target salmonids, white perch and maybe crappie, but bass and other warm-water targets also attract folks.

Over 40 years ago, The Maine Sportsman published a winter tommycod article. In all the years since, I have never met a tomcod angler. We’ve also run several winter harbor pollock articles, more than the state’s population of harbor-pollock anglers. Even though those comments about the two species are true, those species are there here and now and ready for anglers looking for a new experience.

 Answers to “Do You Know?”

Loon Chicks Grow Very Fast!

A newly-hatched loon grows from a few ounces to 6- to 8-pound birds in three months. Once they make it past the first year, they can live 25 to 30 years, a long period to ingest toxins in the environment. Common loons on the East Coast have more lead in them by far than western counterparts – a grand argument for eliminating pollution.

About Alexander Theberge

Alex is the former creative director of The Maine Sportsman. An avid fisherman and professional photographer he enjoys everything about the outdoors.
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The Month in Maine – February

This Month February is the shortest month. Its name derives from the Latin term februum, that translates roughly into “I’ve gotta get another pair of wooly longjohns to wear under this toga.” Valentine’s Day is Saturday the 14th, and (according to our new Miss Maine Sportsman calendar) is also the last day for bobcat hunting.  For all readers who are bobcat-chasing enthusiasts, make plans carefully, in order to maintain domestic bliss and tranquility. Crow season starts on Saturday, February 7 in Wildlife Management Districts 1 through 6, consisting of Aroostook County and the northern tips of Somerset, Piscataquis and Penobscot Counties. The season began for the southern three-quarters of the state on Friday, January 23. Snowmobiling, ice-fishing, Nordic skiing, and (if you can find smooth ice) skating dominate our outdoor activities this month Although it’s barely perceptible, the days are now getting longer, as we forge ahead toward the milder (but frequently just as snowy) remaining winter months ahead. So enjoy this issue, which contains a good balance of where-to and how-to for those pursuing outdoor winter sports, combined with a sufficient number of recollections of great hunting and fishing last spring, summer and fall to keep us going through these cold days. Keep those letters to the editor coming! Many of you have great stories to tell, and we can all learn from – and be entertained by – your tales of challenge and success. Now You Know Crows are Smart How smart? Crows passing over the city of ...