Full-Force Winter Arrives in January
In Maine, January ranks as the coldest month with the lowest average high and low temperatures of the year, but on Jan. 1 in many years, lack of safe ice slows early ice-fishing. By month’s end, however, darned few places in the state don’t offer plenty of ice that holds ample weights. Currents and springs prove to be the few places where anglers may fall through ice for an unplanned swim.
Ice-fishing takes off in the first month, and from Kittery to Fort Kent, most lakes and ponds allow salmonid harvesting – an impetus to get folks onto the ice. Bait dealers do a brisk business now as do sports shops, catering to the hard-water crowd.
Coastal tidal rivers also attract smelters, who often go to commercial smelt shacks that provide shelter, a cut hole, a woodstove, firewood and so forth. For many smelters, this is the only ice-fishing they do all year – as much a party as a fishing event.
Ice-fishing helps tourism around the state, but snowmobiling really supports many rural hamlets financially, so folks can survive winter. These motorized vehicles were nonexistent when many older people were born, but from the 1960s on, the popularity of these machines really took off.
On winter weekends, Jackman, Stratton, Greenville, Rockwood and numerous other towns fill to capacity with crowds of sledders. Even weekdays can feature full motels, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and sporting camps, and restaurants and convenience stores also boom. This sport generates $350 million each year in Maine, and lots of that revenue pours into small, poor, rural areas.
Folks also snowshoe and cross-country ski, and those sports draw money-spenders to the North Country, but the revenue pales in comparison to that derived from snowmobiling.
Downhill skiing is another story, though. Ski slopes help dump bucks into rural economies in the Pine Tree State.
Fly tiers tie all year, but from Jan. 1 through Mar. 31, folks really get busy at vises to fill their diminished fly collections to be ready for blue water and green shores. This unofficial tying season offers pleasures to practitioners of the slender wand.
Travelers head south now to places like the Florida Keys, Bahamas, Costa Rica and Belize to fish the salt for exciting critters such as tarpon, bonefish, permit and more, including blacktip and lemon sharks. Fleeing the ice and cold for bright sun and warmth rejuvenates the soul, even a week of warm living. (I like heading south in March, because by then, I’m sick of winter.)
Rabbit hunting with hounds kicked off big time as soon as snow flew in late November or early December, but January really sees a steady flow of hunters to fir thickets and swamps. Sea-duck hunting still attracts folks, because the season runs through the first month, and coyotes and foxes also excite the hunting crowd.
Winter can be more social than other seasons as folks crowd together in smelt shacks and sports shows.
As folks grow older, time moves faster – except from January through March, when it drags for folks like me.
Tips of the Month
Cooking Venison Steak Tips
When I was a kid, my mother had a friend named Snip Grotton, a superb cook, who claimed that cooking steak required learning skills to get the cooking process right, particularly with venison. The finished steak, according to Snip, should have a caramelized crust on both sides, and the center should be the right shade of red or pink for rare, medium rare and medium to suit each diner’s taste.
… Enter my mom’s old cooking chart for steaks:
The first step to a perfect steak begins with a ruler or tape measure to ascertain if the meat is 1/2-, 3/4-, 1- to 1 1/2-inches thick. Good steak chefs then sear both sides in a preheated pan over a medium-high heat, then they lower the heat to medium-low to finish the cooking. Cooks must keep track of the entire elapsed time from searing to finish.
Cooking time for 1/2- to 3/4-inch steaks at room temperature and over a medium to medium-high heat lasts nine minutes for rare, 12 minutes for medium (six minutes per side) and 16 minutes for well-done. For 1- to 1 1/2-inch steaks, the cooking time is 12 minutes for rare, 20 minutes for medium (10 minutes per side) and 25 minutes for well done.
Folks good with simple math can customize the cooking time for any thickness, and for thinner steaks, a shorter cooking time requires a little higher heat (medium-high) to make sure the sides become dark-brown.
Surefire Rabbit Tactic for ‘Jugged Hare’
If a hunter hasn’t chased rabbits for years, here’s a tip for finding a honey hole after a snowstorm leaves an inch or so of snow in the morning. A prospective shooter drives down a narrow dirt road through woods until finding a set of varying-hare (rabbit) tracks on the road edge or crossing.
Then, it’s time to still-hunt along the trail that probably ends in a lowland swamp of balsam fir, alders and leatherleaf.
The hunter should follow the tracks, taking two steps at a time and scanning the forest intensely to see a rabbit or at least those black eyes. Often, a twitched ear gives the bunny away for the shot. Trailing one rabbit always spooks others, so the longer someone hunts a cover, the higher the odds of spotting the targeted game.
Once home, any cooking method requiring slow simmering for a long time will work, but a jugged-hare recipe creates a great meal – cooking a cut-up rabbit or two in wine sauce in a bean pot in a 300-degree oven for one to two hours.
Make sure to brown the meat before placing in the bean pot with sautéed mushrooms, glazed pearl onions and six or eight whole cloves, before covering with chicken stock and a 1/2- to 1-cup of dry red wine. This ancient dish goes particularly well with French bread, rice pilaf and fresh, frenched string beans with slivered almonds.
The ’Net has jugged-hare recipes, a dish that conjures up images from past centuries showing English noblemen with a foot propped up on pillows to alleviate the pain of gout from two much rich food and wine.
‘Clean Bottle’ Ideal for Suzy Spotless
Each day a few Julys ago, the daily television presentation of the Tour de France included a commercial about Clean Bottle – an unbreakable water bottle for bicyclists, runners, hikers and walkers. The product intrigued this writer so much that my order immediately went to the website address: http://cleanbottle.com/
What could be so impressive about a water bottle?
Owners can remove the top and bottom cover, so cleaning the inside by hand or in a dishwasher is a snap. With both caps removed, the inside gets a scrubbing with hot, soapy water, important to kill bacteria that tend to grow in water bottles used day after day.
One of my Clean Bottles serves a different purpose than holding a beverage for days afield. The top half of the bottle becomes a “toolbox” for a Zip-lock bag with keys, small knife, tire-valve adapter and antihistamine tablets, and the bottom holds money and latex gloves for handling a dirty bicycle chain or Maine’s salmonella-laden turtles. I occasionally carry turtles across roads to keep these neat creatures from being squashed by speeding motor vehicles.
Ideally, a bicyclist should have two Clean Bottles – one for the combination toolbox-wallet and another Clean Bottle for water, sports drink or Vitamin Water (my choice).
Where the Action Is
In Maine’s Bottom Third:
Rabbits Remain Scarce
In Maine’s bottom third, rabbits are scarce, because old, abandoned farmlands have grown into primary forests suitable for turkeys – not rabbits, grouse or woodcock that thrive in second-growth habitat. Folks longing for a big feed of rabbits can head north for topnotch sport, though.
Rabbit hunters in the bottom third of Maine don’t have to travel far upcountry. In DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer [The Atlas], open up to Maps 30 and 31 and find Route 16 running across the two maps’ center. From Bingham to Happy Corner east of Kingsbury, all the logging roads north of Route 16 slice through rabbit country.
Belgrade Lakes Great Pond
Ice anglers have been pulling good-sized brown trout and northern pike from the Belgrade Lakes’ Great Pond that has produced double-digit brown trout and northern pike, but anglers even describe the smaller fish in pounds, not inches. This pond has nearby convenience stores that sell bait and goodies.
Dwellings circle Great Pond, but a 10-pound brown or a 20-pound pike make anglers forget the shoreside homes. Check The Atlas, Map 12, A-4 and Map 20, A-4. Note the boat launch on Great Pond’s southwest corner near Belgrade Lakes village.
News and Tidbits
Snowmobiling Huge Business in Maine
Maine snowmobiling generates $350 million a year into the economy, and according to Bob Meyers of the Maine Snowmobile Association, riders have 14,000 miles of groomed trails spread across the state. This giant spiderweb network goes everywhere from Kittery to Fort Kent and from Wilsons Mills to Eastport.
Resin vs. Sap
Water makes up most of the sap in deciduous trees, and sugars, vitamins, enzymes and hormones in the liquid provide a nutritive function for hardwoods. On the other hand, viscous, sticky resin from conifers differs, and the fragrant odor of that runny pitch makes us think of Christmas, particularly from firs and spruces. In Maine, what kid hasn’t pressed a finger or thumb against a blister on the bark of balsam firs and seen resin squirt out?
Climate Change Deniers in Congress
In the 113th Congress, 128 of the 233 Republicans in the U. S. House of Representatives deny that climate change is a threat, while zero Democrats feel that way. In the Senate, 30 of the 46 Republicans deny climate change, but 52 Democrats and two Independents recognize the problem. Zero Democrats in the 113th Congress don’t deny climate change. Zero! They also don’t deny the Earth is round or that it revolves around the Sun. Also, it’s a safe bet the Dems believe in evolution, too.
An Odd Maine Saying
This writer has heard an odd Maine saying all his life – “kowtow” – which until today, I have incorrectly spelled “cow-tow.” I thought the term came from the subservient behavior of pasture bovines, instigating my mistake.
Kowtow actually does mean acting subservient to another or others, and the word comes from a Mandarin Chinese word, “kou tou,” an English version of the Chinese word. The term describes showing great respect for another by touching one’s forehead to the floor.
Maine Bicycling in December
Serious Maine road bicyclists bundle up in layers of light clothing for winter sport and pedal through December’s cold, until winter storms result in a sand layer on road edges, which ends bicycling for a while, until a period of no storms and passing vehicles air wash sand off pavement into the ditch.
The first half of the month offers an intense time for pedalers, because each day out may be the last pedal for a while except those few times in unseasonably warm spells through winter.
In the bottom third of Maine, action picks up again in March, and the big pedaling season begins in April, after winter storms end the sand-truck debris. Sand is blown off roads – after a fashion – by wind and speeding vehicles.
Bicycling keeps hunters and anglers in condition for long walks in hilly terrain for game and hiking or wading rivers. A hybrid or mountain bike gets folks behind locked gates, too, on those properties where landowners allow bicyclists to reach hunting, fishing and hiking spots.
Old-Fashioned Mince Meat Recipe
Until 70 years ago, folks usually made mince meat from venison cut off a deer neck, but any venison cuts will do for grinding into a burger consistency.
Also, beef works fine, but until recent years in the Allen household, mince meat always came from venison, and I swear it makes better mince meat than beef. Maybe that’s just hooey, though: just someone thinking the olden days were always better.
Gather the following:
2 pounds of ground beef
1 pound suet
5 pounds apples
3 pounds raisins
2 pounds currants
3/4 pounds citron
1-1/2 pounds brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons mace (derived from nutmeg’s outer shell)
2 tablespoons cloves
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 quart sherry
1 pint brandy
I don’t remember why this figure sticks in my head, but in 1974, a recipe similar to the one above without a bottle of sherry cost me $7 to make that year, a huge price back then, but it made 8 to 10 pies, depending on the pie size.
Folks must mix the mincemeat ingredients and cook uncovered very slowly and be careful not to burn it. This mixture can scorch easily because of the fruits and sugar, and then, wastes all the money for the ingredients. (I did this in 1975.)
When the mixture reaches the consistency of pie mince meat about 1-1/2 hours later, the chef may use Mason jars to can mince meat, or otherwise store it in clean jars with rendered suet poured on top to solidify and seal the pie ingredient. Aging improves mince meat – up to the spoiling point.
Firearms Deer Season in New England…
The regular firearms deer seasons in New England in 2013 ran in the following states during these dates:
• Maine allowed hunters to shoot deer with regular firearms from Nov. 4 to 30.
• New Hampshire allotted from Nov. 13 to Dec. 8.
• Vermont from Nov. 16 to Dec. 7.
• Massachusetts from Dec. 2 to 14.
• Connecticut from Nov. 20 to Dec. 10.
• Rhode Island offered shotgun seasons from Dec. 1 to 16 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.
• New York from Oct. 26 to Dec. 8.
Deer Season in 1694
Massachusetts deer hunters had devastated the Bay State herd so badly that in 1694, colonial officials limited the hunt to six months per year, and New Hampshire did the same in 1741. In that century, the Northern Hemisphere was in a mini-ice-age, so betting that deer were suffering then even without the hunting pressure would be a safe bet.
Fascinating Wind-Farm Study
A fascinating wind-farm study by Clinton Parrish, a Plymouth State University graduate student, took place in an area that contained fifteen 410-foot turbines, erected between Dixville and Kelsey peaks. Environmentalists feared the turbines would cause a decline in Bicknell’s thrushes, a rare bird, but Parrish discovered that the population remained relatively stable.
The really surprising part of Parrish’s study was this:
Birds such as gray jays, golden-crowned kinglets and black-backed woodpeckers that need forest interiors for nesting did decline. On the other hand, species requiring open habitat like fox sparrows, dark-eyed juncos and blackpoll warblers increased. In addition, American robins love edge habitat and moved near the turbines as soon as developers opened the landscape, creating those favored edges.
How Many Acorns Per Acre?
In ideal oak habitat, oaks can produce 250,000 acorns per acre.
Intriguing OWAA Statistic
The description of topical interests held by members in the Outdoor Writer’s Association’s directory provides interesting statistics for a huge chunk of America’s established outdoor writers:
Fifty-six percent fish freshwater, only 29 percent angle saltwater; 55 percent hunt; 41 percent outdoor travel; 31 percent cover firearms and shooting; 31 percent camp and backpack; and 26 percent do archery and bowhunting.
The “outdoor travel” statistic needs a brief mention, because many members put this blurb into the directory in hopes of getting free, exotic trips. I do, and it happens. I’ve traveled as far as Costa Rica, Montana and northern Quebec because of my inclusion in the list.
Forty percent write about natural resources, 39 percent about nature and 31 percent about environmental affairs.
California Bear Car Burglars
In Truckee, California, a few car owners have awoken to find themselves the victim of wild vandals.
In four separate incidents over the last month, bears broke into cars and ended up locking themselves inside the vehicles. According to Sgt. John Mon Pere of the Truckee Police Department, less snow last year led to a depleted food supply year, making the bears more daring in their search for something to eat.
“Bears can manipulate car handles, if the cars are left unlocked,” he said.
“After the bears go in, they may pull the door on themselves — that makes them stressed and causes them to thrash around, which can cause quite a bit of damage inside.”
So far, no bear has injured a car owner. In one case, an owner was able to free the bear. In another, the police had to break open the window so the bear could escape into the woods.
The Truckee Police Department has warned residents to keep their car doors locked and avoid leaving food in their cars. Many said these break-ins were an inevitable result of living near the wilderness.
“We’re invading their space; we’re kind of pinching them in a little bit,” said Dave Baker of the Truckee Bear League. “Also, kids are leaving food in the car, and when the bears smell it, they go for it.”
A Peregrine Saved in New Sharon
A young male peregrine falcon returned to the wild last month along the banks of the Kennebec River, thanks to the efforts of the Maine Warden Service, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIF&W) and Avian Haven. The bird, estimated at about a year old, immediately took flight and was soon out of sight.
Warden Kris MacCabe captured the bird, after wildlife watchers spotted it hopping on the ground in New Sharon last August. MacCabe transported the bird to Avian Haven.
Avian Haven nursed the bird back to health in its raptor facility, and Wildlife Rehabilitator Marc Payne and DIF&W Biologist Erin Call set the bird free.
Wildlife officials have delisted peregrine falcons from the federal endangered species list, but breeding pairs of peregrines are still on the state list. Maine has an estimated 25 pairs.
Bird of the Month
Black-capped chickadees warm our hearts with their merry, familiar call – Chick-a-dee-dee-dee or a simple dee-dee-dee. Their song fee-bee sounds more like “fee-bee” than the actual call of a phoebe, which derived its name from that accurate translation. (“Phoebe” is an older translation from England.)
It’s little wonder that state officials made the black-capped chickadee our state bird. Could another species have been more appropriate?
This beloved species hangs around Maine year-round, but the chickadee pleases us the most from November through spring with its playful antics, calls and song during a harsh time of year, when we need something pleasant in each day.
In the November deer season and winter, chickadees and blue jays dominate bird sounds in central-Maine forests, but of course we also hear the relative newcomer, tufted titmice, and occasionally white-breasted nuthatches, red-breasted nuthatches, creepers and golden-crowned kinglets.
Chickadees and both nuthatches and creepers hang around together in the 11th month and winter, and ornithologists tell us that the three species stay near chickadees to take advantage of the black-cap’s well-honed warning system, telling the other species when a predator nears.
This chickadee forages on seeds, insects and spiders and finds them on twigs and furrowed bark. Astute observers marvel that this small, energetic bird can make a living in Maine through winter, but they survive much further north in the white season.
This chickadee makes an undulating flight, most usually for short hops from tree to tree, as they forage through forests.
Black-capped chickadees measure 5 1/4-inches long, sport an 8-inch wingspan and weigh a hair under 1/4-ounce. This bird’s black cap and bib with snowy-white cheeks show up from great distances.
The female lays six to eight white eggs with brown specks, and deposits them in a cup made in the cavity of a rotten tree, after constructing the nest from grass, moss, feather, down and fur. (Ken Allen)
Do You Know?
Which Prototype Lead to the .30-06 Springfield Cartridge?
Do you know which prototype cartridge led to the development of the .30-06 Springfield?
Condescension Loses Customers
Folks who work in stores that sell equipment for an individual sport often turn out to be fine people right to the core, and that thought includes shops specializing in fly-fishing, modern shooting, muzzle-loading, bowhunting, canoeing and bicycling.
Every so often, though, customers run into a discourteous sales clerk. A few years ago, I walked into a bicycle shop with the intention of buying a new bicycle for fishing and hunting and mentioned the size chain-rings and cassette that would work for me. On the word “cassette,” the sales clerk immediately corrected me with the term “cogs” and did it as if he were talking to a misbehaved child.
In my humble opinion, “cassette” expressed my point. I’m no expert on bicycles but view myself as somewhat knowledgeable from 1) bicycling several days per week from late March through early December; 2) reading books and magazines about the sport all the time; and 3) talking about bicycling to anyone who enjoys the topic.
Out of mild curiosity, I asked him what he thought the difference was between the terms “cassette” and “cogs,” and his answer sounded jumbled – like from someone who really didn’t know.
That was the last straw for me, because this guy and another clerk had annoyed me before. The store lost a big sales-item and potential customer, who buys lots of bicycles (a Specialized and Felt road bikes within seven months of one another) and plenty of related stuff. I never returned.
No one wants to shop at a place where clerks act like condescending professors of old, who weren’t happy unless the student felt second-class. There’s a lot to be said for knowledge tempered with politeness and humility – a must in business – to stay in business. (Ken Allen)
The Short, L-o-o-o-n-g Month
February arrives with 28 days, the year’s shortest month, but by Feb. 1, we’ve seen winter through part of December and all of January, so snow, ice and below-freezing temperatures have become monotonous. Those 28 days can drag on like a bad dream – even for snow-lovers who enjoy snowmobiling, ice-fishing, winter hunting, leisurely evening meals and the like.
A Maine winter provides many activities, and they are often a surer bet than in January, because by now we have far more ice and snow.
• Ice anglers have plenty of ice now, and places like Sebago Lake probably won’t have whitecaps when folks arrive for a day of setting traps.
• On unseasonably warm days, open-water fishing in streams and rivers open to fishing offers a little action or at least casting before spring arrives.
• Snowmobilers from Kittery to Fort Kent can depend on snow this month, although the South Country from Portland to Kittery can have open winters.
• Rabbit hunters head to swamps filled with alder, leatherleaf and less-known shrubs and to tunneled fir thickets to hear the sweet song of beagles on a hot track.
• Coyote and fox hunters set up on open edges, places such as large fields, clear-cuts, lake edges and power lines, where they can see long distances and spot wild canines approaching in response to their predator calls and maybe baits and decoys.
• The first half of the split crow season kicked off Jan. 18 and continues through Mar. 31 in the bottom two-thirds of the state – Wildlife Management Districts (WMD) 7-29, to be exact.
•The first half of the split crow season begins Feb. 3 and goes until April 15 in the top part of the state – WMDs 1-6.
• Cross-country and downhill skiing rocks in February, with a more suitable snow base on the trails.
• February’s long evenings and nights prove ideal for cooking and eating leisurely meals, hopefully with fruits from the woods and forests. Meals of venison, fish, grouse and woodcock are complemented with garden root veggies, frozen greens from the same garden, fruit-like apples and berries from the wild.
• Folks head south for fishing – both fresh and saltwater – often to the tropics. Sun and warmth drive away seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a psycho-babble disease that in truth is no joke. The cases of depression it causes are real.
• Sportsman’s shows and shopping at places such as L.L.Bean, Cabela’s and Kittery Trading Post also rejuvenate a sad soul in winter.
By mid-February, it’s time to rejoice. The days are longer and warmer, and ice anglers even get sunburns. Better yet, spring really is moments away, and for this writer, February may drag but March rushes by, particularly if I can get south for a week of fishing and bicycling.
Answer to “Do You Know?”
A Hint Comes from the Year 1903
In 1903, the Model 1903 Springfield service model came out in a .30-03 cartridge and a 220-grain, round-nosed bullet that generated 2,300 feet per second velocity (FPS) at the muzzle.
In 1906, the military introduced the .30-06 Springfield cartridge with a 150-grain projectile that went 2,700 FPS, and originators called it “Ball Cartridge, caliber .30, Model of 1906,” which eventually became the .30-06. In 1926, the military switched to a 172-grain boat-tail for this military rifle cartridge.
This bolt-action rifle had a Mauser action, and for soldiers returning home from duty, slightly altered versions of this rifle and cartridge quickly became a favorite hunting tool in sporting bolt actions for the next 110 years.
Naturally, the ’06 in the name refers to 1906, and the ’03 to 1903, and back in the beginning of the 20th century, some manufacturers made sporting rounds for both rifles, because folks were buying surplus military rifles on the market.