Ice fishing and snowmobiling highlight Maine’s outdoor activities in January, as the ice thickness on many northern lakes and ponds becomes safe enough for travel except over running water and near underwater springs. The hard work of the snowmobile club members this summer and fall repairing bridges and clearing brush pays off, although careful riders maintain reasonable speeds even on well-groomed surfaces.
Warmly-dressed eider-duck hunters can pursue their passion through January 31, as can Canada Goose hunters in the Coastal Zone (but not the North or South Zone).
Snowshoe rabbit hunters don their own snowshoes, to allow them to keep up with their baying hounds as the rabbits make big sweeping circles. Hunters can also pursue bobcat and fox, though mid-February and the end of February, respectively.
If you venture afield to hunt or fish in January, don’t forget you’ll need 2015 licenses, which are issued on a calendar-year basis rather than a “seasonal” basis.
Tips of the Month
Lifesavers for Early Season Fishermen – Ice Picks
Ice skaters a century ago frequently carried a pair of ice picks joined by a cord worn across the back of the neck.
The technology is simple. If the skater broke through the ice, he or she grabbed an ice pick in each hand, reached out, stuck the picks in the ice and pulled their way onto firmer ice or to shore.
The same simple device can save an early-season ice fisherman’s life today. Ice picks are available in outdoor supply stores or can be made by any person who’s handy with tools.
To make a pair of ice picks, cut a couple of four-inch lengths out of a one-inch diameter wooden dowel or broom handle. Drill a small hole in the end of each to hold a two or three inch nail or stud screw. (Stud screws are better because they are made of hardened steel, but they are more difficult to sharpen.) Leave about three quarters of an inch of the nail or stud screw exposed, and sharpen the nail end with a file or grinder, or grind off the head of the stud screw and taper it to a point.
Drill a hole through the other end of each handle to hold a cord, get the right length so you can position the picks within easy reach if you break through the ice, and voila! You have a pair of life-savers.
Ice thickness can vary a great deal on a pond. It is often thinner where there is a spring or an inlet entering the pond. Try out the picks by lying on your stomach and pulling yourself along on the ice. Make a pair for an ice-fishing friend. (Jon Lund)
Now You Know
How Fast Can Whitetail Deer Swim?
We at The Maine Sportsman have always fought the battle against “Fish and Game Inflation.” This is the tendency of many outdoorsman – and writers – to exaggerate the size, weight or speed of animals encountered in the wild.
For example, we’ve done a lot of fishing for largemouth bass in Maine, and we still believe a true 5-pound fish is a lunker. But how many times have we all read about ponds in our state “regularly” giving up 6-, 7-, or 8-pound fish? When evaluating such claims, we frequently check with local game wardens, who provide reality checks and give us straight stories… usually much more conservative.
We thought about this concept the other day when reading a book about whitetail deer. The author claimed that deer can swim 13 miles per hour for long distances. So with a critical eye, we went about considering that assertion.
We learned that the fastest swimmer in the world, Michael Phelps, has a top speed in the pool of 6 miles per hour.
We learned that a dolphin’s average speed is 8 miles per hour.
We watched videos of deer swimming, moving surprisingly swiftly through the water, leaving a wake as they traverse lakes and ponds.
However, we do not believe the deer were traveling 13 miles per hour.
Thirteen miles per hour means a swimmer travels a mile every 4 minutes, 37 seconds. Nineteen feet per second. That rate is simply not practical or possible for animals designed for land travel, even one – like a whitetail – that is covered with hollow hair for warmth and flotation.
Our best estimate? The top speed of a swimming deer is between 4 and 5 miles per hour.
Has anyone with a GPS unit ever followed a swimming deer?
Let the debate begin.
New England News
Put an Orange Hat on that Deer
According to the Associated Press as reported in the Kennebec Journal, a hunter who had shot a deer in East Fishkill, New York, was wheeling his deer out in a cart when he was shot by another hunter who saw the dead deer moving, and shot at it. The first hunter was hit in the hand and buttocks, and was taken to the hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.
OK, Let’s See Your Doe Permit
According to a story by John Holyoke in the Bangor Daily News, a Massachusetts hunter named John Burdick was surprised the second week of this past deer season when he shot a 185-pound, heavily-antlered deer that turned out to be a doe.
The story quotes state deer biologist Kyle Ravana saying that antlered does are not unheard of – Ravana estimates there are more than 110 of them in the Maine woods at any one time – although a heavy-bodied 8-pointer like this is exceedingly rare.
The deer was shot in Sebec, Maine, northwest of Milo and northeast of Dover-Foxcroft.
Sinker Exchange Kits Still Available
Lead-free tackle kits are still available for distribution to organizations and individuals, according to Laura Suomi-Lecker of the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Susan Gallo of Maine Audubon. Interested readers can go to www.FishLeadFree.org for more information and to learn how to host an exchange in their communities, and for lists of Maine shops selling lead-free tackle, or to http://SomersetSWCD.org/loons-and-lead/ to find a list of participating conservation districts across the state, including Kennebec, Knox-Lincoln, York, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset and Waldo.
Spruce Budworm Marching Toward Maine
In the 1970s and 1980s, the eastern spruce budworm killed millions of acres of spruce-fir forest in Maine. Not only did that epidemic cause the loss of valuable wood; it also resulted in conflict over forest management practices. Issues such as whether or not to spray insecticides, whether to allow large-scale cutting in advance of the infestation (which has now been assigned the label, “pre-salvage” cutting), and how to mitigate the impact on wildlife, were all hot-button controversies 35-years ago.
Well, they are back – both the budworms and the controversies. Ten million acres in Quebec has been defoliated, and an advance-guard of budworm moths is now being seen in traps along our state’s northern borders.
This time, however, Maine intends to be ready, and to that end a blue-ribbon “Spruce Budworm Task Force” has been assembled, led by representative of the University of Maine, the Maine Forest Products Council and the Maine Forest Service.
“Task teams” within the group are tackling specific issues, including 1) wood supply and economic impacts; 2) monitoring and protection, 3) forest management; 4) policy, regulation and funding; 5) wildlife habitat; 6) public relations and outreach, and 6) research.
The coming scourge of budworm damage is a huge problem that cannot be avoided, and advance planning is very important. Conflicting approaches are inevitable, and environmentalists may view with concern the heavy representation of timber companies on the task force. Constructive debate, discussion and decision-making now, however, is preferable to waiting until all parties are operating under the duress of active defoliation in Maine.
Walkers, Cyclists Receive “Reverse Toll Money” in Norwegian Town
The money symbolized the savings to the town resulting from the health benefits of walking and cycling, including better fitness, improved air quality and more efficient transport.
Cyclists each received around $30, while pedestrians were given $20.
Lillestrøm, a city of 15,000, has 7 bicycle routes with a total length of more than 400 miles.
Health experts believe that active, non-motorized transport generates a public health benefit of $10 per mile for pedestrians and $5 per mile for cyclists.
Less Ice, Fewer Seals = Fewer Polar Bears
The polar bear population is declining in the southern Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, according to scientists and as reported in Alaska Dispatch News. From 1,600 in 2004, their numbers dropped to 900 in 2010 in this region, one of two principal polar bear areas.
Researchers found that out of 80 polar bears cubs tagged in 2004, only two survived in 2007. Normally about half of the cubs would be expected to survive.
The decline in the amount of sea ice and loss of access to seals, an important food source for polar bears, are believed to be the causes.
Bird of the Month
Spruce Grouse, a/k/a “Fool Hen”
After seeing a spruce grouse, especially a male, mistaking this distinctive bird for any other bird is unlikely. Though spruce grouse are currently a “species of least concern” in terms of any threat of extinction, shooting a spruce grouse in Maine is illegal, so it is important for hunters to know the difference between a spruce grouse and its near relative, the ruffed grouse.
Though similar in general shape to the ruffed grouse, the male spruce grouse has dark black plumage on its face and neck, with white striping across its chest and belly as well as iridescent red eyebrows. The technical name for the crimson feathers is “combs,” and these red arcs give the spruce grouse a Dr. Seuss-like appearance.
Female and juvenile grouse have similar white barring on their chest and stomach. Their feathers are a mottled brown and gray instead of the dramatic black of the males. Females are, therefore, more difficult for casual observers to differentiate from ruffed grouse.
At one time, spruce grouse populations dropped precipitously, from hunting and habitat loss, causing them to be listed as protected. Spruce grouse are often unafraid when encountered in the woods, earning them the nickname “Fool Hen.” When sought for food by subsistence hunters in the 1800s and early 1900s their lack of shyness contributed to their low numbers. Today spruce grouse are particularly sensitive to habitat loss. Though small clearcuts from timber companies do not harm their population, large-scale clearcuts and commercial and residential development negatively impact spruce grouse numbers.
Maine is on the southeastern edge of the extensive spruce grouse habitat range, stretching north into Canada and all the way across North America to border the Pacific Ocean in Canada and Alaska.
I saw my first spruce grouse one early fall evening – a great time of year to observe the bird out in the open. I pulled onto an isolated dirt road, surrounded on all sides by miles of deep, quiet woods. The birds make homes on the ground layer of conifer forests, and are very difficult to see in the woods. However, during the summer when young chicks are growing, and again in autumn months, spruce grouse often walk along dirt roads. (Erika A. Zambello)
Old Tales of the Maine Woods,
by Steve Pinkham
This might be my dream fishing experience, but it is not my story. It’s Heber Bishop’s story, written in the Guide Book to the Megantic, Spider, and Upper Dead River Regions in 1887, and reprinted in Steve Pinkham’s amazing (and sometimes appalling) Old Tales of the Maine Woods published by Merrimak Media in 2012.
Bishop’s story continued: My heart smote me for taking so many, but we had carried them up to camp before counting them and it was too late to put any of them back then. So we did the best we could to prevent willful waste, by gutting them, building a smoke house, and giving what we did not eat that day a smoking all that afternoon, night and until noon the next day.
Mr. Bishop’s heart might have smote him, but it wasn’t uncommon in those days to catch and keep 100 fish or more. And the next morning, he tells us, Before the others were up, I slipped down to the spot where I had caught all the first lot, and the first cast gave me a stunner, tipping the scales at four and one-quarter pounds. I woke the others by flapping the cold tail in their faces.
Yes, he kept that trout, as well. And was not, apparently, smote by his heart.
I couldn’t get enough of these stories from the past, written by Maine hunters, anglers, guides, and hikers. Pinkham is an historian, Maine native now living in Massachusetts, and collector of more than 25,000 articles and stories of the Maine woods.
I enjoyed a very interesting conversation with Steve at the Orono Sportsman’s Show last April, while gathering up his books, including this one and the sequel, More Old Tales of the Maine Woods.
Steve gives us an array of stories that are always amusing and sometimes disturbing. Old Tales of the Maine Woods is particularly relevant right now, because it includes lots of bear hunting stories. How about this one?
We found their trail and followed it to another den, which they had found among a pile of huge boulders. We cut the ice away sufficiently to get down and look into a cave about twenty feet under the flat side of a large rock. I got a long pole and punched in till I saw their eyes glisten … then I took as good aim as I could and fired.
Here’s another bear tale, from a trapper.
Four years ago, I made $120 in ten days’ time trapping bears. I got four old bears and two cubs. On this trip I got a bear every other time I looked my traps over.
This same trapper failed to kill a bear in a trap with his gun, ran out of ammo, and stunned the bear with a blow to the head using a chunk of rock maple.
Some of the tales are brutal in the reading, for sure. And they also help us understand how far our hunting ethic and commitment to conservation have come. Of course, not in time to save the caribou, of which there are several stories, including one in which the hunter canoed up to a caribou and shot it while it was swimming across a lake.
Wrote John Burnham in a story that was published in Forest and Stream in 1897:
Caribou are stupid, and their flesh is not highly regarded as food, and it is a noteworthy fact that they are despised by many of the native hunters, who sometimes shoot them down for pure wantonness, piling up their carcasses as long as the animals are in sight or until their ammunition is exhausted.
Soooo, that’s what happened to them!
There are tales of other animals long gone too, including wolves. It’s also interesting to read about some of the unusual animals that hunters harvested.
When I got back to camp almost 4 pm, I had six partridges, three squirrels, one rabbit and the black squirrel. Near the islands, land-locked salmon are found in plenty, of good weight and game. [Meanwhile,] the Professor and the rest of us gave exhibition of skill in shooting kingfishers on the wing.
Thankfully, they didn’t shoot all the kingfishers! (George Smith)
Odds & Ends from the Camp Woodshed
Stop to Go
We’ve seen a variety of devices designed to slide into the trailerball receiver on the back of a truck, including bike carriers, large coolers and cargo-holders.
But a toilet seat?
The best part of the catalog entry? The consumer disclosures, no doubt drafted by the company’s team of liability lawyers, including “NOT FOR USE WHEN VEHICLE IS IN MOTION” and “CAN GET SLIPPERY WHEN WET.”
OK, we promise to stop the truck first.
Maine Sportsman Columnist Honored
George Smith, who contributes the monthly “Capitol Report” and “Quotable Sportsman” to The Maine Sportsman, recently received recognition from the Maine Press Association.
Smith’s online blog (www.georgesmithmaine.com) was selected as the winner in the “Sports Blogger” category statewide. Since the contest offers no separate category for hunting and fishing sports, in winning the award Smith beat out blogs covering organized team sports, including the Portland Press Herald’s sports blog, “Clearing the Bases.”