Ruffed Grouse Win Number Two
Deer rank by far as Maine’s number-one targeted game animal in November, but ruffed grouse win second place in October. Ducks, bowhunting for deer and small game attract 10,000 to 15,000 hunters each, depending on the year, but grouse hunters number upwards to 100,000 each fall. Old thunder-wings has won a place in the hearts of Maine hunters.
Because grouse and woodcock prefer similar habitat, grouse hunters with dogs also target woodcock most days, which hold tighter for points and flushing dogs than grouse do. Many smoothbore enthusiasts who started out as grouse hunters found woodcock a more alluring target. Superb grouse hunters with dogs that work this difficult species often stick with the aristocratic bird and any harvested woodcock are incidental.
Grouse-and-woodcock covers have largely disappeared in southern and central Maine in recent years compared to the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to abandoned fields in the mid-20th century growing up with secondary growth, perfect for grouse and woodcock. Development also eats up cover. After all, folks building houses prefer starting in a field than in woods where they need to cut trees before building.
In northern and eastern Maine, though, uplanders can find lots of covers and fast shooting in clear-cuts. Many upland hunters live for trips to the North Country each October.
Waterfowl hunters get out as soon as the season allows, and they shoot a large variety of ducks in the early season, including blacks, mallard, teal, wood duck and more. Waterfowlers into Canada geese also get fast shooting at times in Maine.
Gray squirrels attract a small but slowly growing number of hunters as this rodent becomes more abundant in Maine. Those old bird covers from the mid-20th century have turned into primary forests now, and the oak and beech stands are perfect for grays. They’re excellent eating, too, if shooters can get by the fact that they’re rodents.
Varying hare hunters with hounds get out this month, but the real season begins in December when snow flies. Folks hunting grouse may take a varying hare in October should one run past. However, someone once shot a hare in front of my orange-belton English setter, and she started pointing the species the rest of her life.
Turkey hunters find paradise in Maine for hunting this large game bird, and bear hunting is superb as is moose hunting, so folks new to Maine are beginning to get the big picture. October is one busy month for the outdoor crowd!
And then there is fishing: Many ponds and lakes are open to trout and salmon angling, at least legal to fish as catch and release, and more rivers allow October and November fishing. Some fly rodders in particular have given up hunting to fish the cool, colorful seasons.
And black bass…. Bass fishing continues to gain in popularity in Maine each year, and folks love getting out in the fall when summer boaters have quit for the season.
Landscape and wildlife photography attracts serious photographers with an expensive lens (500mm optics) for shooting images of critters. Exercisers walk, hike, run, bicycle, canoe and kayak.
An outdoors person doesn’t have enough days in a month to do it all.
Tips of the Month
Whether alders or poplars cover an abandoned field or clear-cut, wise woodcock hunters look at the soil and ground cover beneath the canopy. Is it moist and rich with lots of goldenrods, particularly a species with a limited blossom head? If so, expect that cover to attract native and flight woodcock. (Maine has over 60 species of goldenrod.) This is a great spot for folks to hit with bird dogs.
When placing a tree stand on a trunk where a hunter can overlook a deer trail, it makes sense to choose a straight trunk with the right diameter and without limbs for the first 10 to 20 feet from the ground, particularly for a climbing stand.
When picking a tree, another all-important consideration involves the background behind the stand. When a deer looks upwards from the trail toward the hunter and sees nothing but sky behind the stand, the human is conspicuously visible, particularly if he or she is fidgeting.
Conifers or even a high ridge behind the hunter make a great background, because after deciduous foliage falls, evergreens still offer dense limbs for the hunter’s image to blend against.
Many Maine rivers and streams stay open in fall to fishing, and in October and early November, blue-winged olives (BWO) may hatch prolifically on some waters, because this state is BWO country. As temperatures drop this month and particularly next, BWOs often hatch between 2 p.m. and 3:30 to 4 p.m. – often species in the size 20 to 24 range.
One week a few years ago, I was deer-hunting in the second week of November and quitting every day at noon so I could rush to a stretch of the Kennebec River above the Big Eddy in Skowhegan. Size 24 BWOs hatched every day, beginning around 2 p.m. Each day, I’d feel a little guilty, knowing my late father would be rolling in his grave, because his son was fishing rather than hunting in the 11th month. That’s Maine in the early 20th century. Fishing after Sept. 30 gets more and more popular.
Wildlife Photos Now
When shooting wildlife photos now, strive for three features in each photo: 1. Make sure to get a glint in the animal’s eye during each shot; 2. the end of the nose or beak end and eyes must be in razor-sharp focus; and 3. get a look on the animal’s face that translates into words like surprise, intensity, calmness, or affection toward young – a portrait shot.
Where the Action is
North Country Clear-Cuts Hold Grouse, Woodcock
Clear-cuts growing back with trembling and bigtooth aspens – called “poplars” in Maine – attract ruffed grouse that feed on buds in these trees, and they also target raspberries, blueberries and rubus leaves. When this open, brushy habitat grows near conifer stands for roosting, ruffed grouse move in to make it a home. This habitat lies all over northern and eastern Maine.
Good places to target for a home base are Jackman (DeLorme Atlas, Map 39) and Greenville or Rockwood in the Moosehead region (Maps 40-41). In fact, Maps 39 through 41 could be called “grouse alley.” Patten (Maps 51 and 52) and the Millinocket region (Maps 49, 50 and 51) also produce woodcock and grouse.
In this same habitat, grouse hunters find woodcock shooting as it used to be in central Maine in the 1960s and ’70s.
The real key to finding bird hunting starts with a map that offers lodging to spend nights near the covers, and then spread out in the day to find perhaps some of the best upland shooting in the Northeast.
News and Tidbits
Poison vs. Nonpoisonous Snakes
The world has approximately 3,000 snake species, and of that number, 375 are venomous. In the U.S., snakes bite 45,000 people a year, and 8,000 of those wounds come from poisonous snakes. Five to six people on average annually die from the 8,000 bites, so in short, an American’s chances of mortality from a venomous-snake bite are one in 50 million. Of course, Maine allegedly has no poisonous snakes, so if that’s true our chances of dying from such an encounter within the state’s borders is zero.
Leaves of Three, Let Them Be
For reasons too boring and complicated to explain, this writer sometimes stands by a boat launch on the edge of a carpet of 6-inch tall cinquefoil plants, a member of the rose family.
While I’ve stood there for the last dozen years, well-meaning folks may occasionally walk past and warn me of standing in poison ivy. I cheerfully inform these well-meaning people that the plant is not poison ivy, but rather, cinquefoil, a plant that grows widely in my area and is allegedly a medicinal plant.
“Poison ivy has three leaves,” I often say, before continuing with the ancient ditty, “Leaves of three, let them be.”
Cinquefoil has five leaves; hence, “cinque-” as part of the name. In fact, in French-speaking Maine, many of us know “cinq” as the French word for “five.”
Folks who spend time in the outdoors should know how to identify poison ivy: These plants usually grow in dense clusters, and each plant has three, shiny leaves.
When I was barely a preteen, my maternal grandmother told me mint plants have square stems. Because nearly all other plants have cylindrical stems, according to her, mint was “pig simple” to identify. My dear grandmother was wise in plant ways and many other topics, but an invasive species in Maine – purple loosestrife – also has 4-sided stems, too, as well as octagonal stems. Mainers started noticing this invasive plant here over 40 years ago, and now it grows widely in the state.
Folks who worry about invasive plants and wildlife invading Maine have wrung their hands in despair over purple loosestrife, because it pushes cattails from this latter species’ native habitat. I’ve noticed in recent years, though, that calendars and magazines (such as Down East) run photos of colorful purple loosestrife but not cattails, emphasizing some folks think loosestrife is more aesthetic than cattails.
…Which reminds me of a quote from Arno Penzia, born in Germany in 1933. He fled to the U.S. and eventually became a Nobel Laureate in physics.
Penzia once succinctly said, “Change is rarely comfortable.”
That describes our adversity to flora and fauna spreading themselves willy-nilly across the world. Humans can slow it down but never stop it entirely – sad but ever so true.
How Many Stars over That Campsite?
When camping in a more remote section of Maine, we often marvel at the number of visible stars across the sky and may wonder how many of them we can see from earth. The answer may discourage curious minds.
Not long ago, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field studied the number of galaxies in an area of the universe that covers an area 1/100th the size of a full moon – 200 billion galaxies not counting the less light ones more difficult to see. Astronomers extrapolated this last figure for the entire universe in sight above us, and the answer to how many stars can we see is impossible to answer. This information came from Scientific American magazine.
Furthermore, how many other universes are out there? …A grand discussion for a campfire chat.
Certified Acres in Northeastern States
Between 1994 and 2013, the Sustainable Forest Initiative and Forest Stewardship Council certified 15 million acres in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York forests – a step toward a more sustainable future.
Maine Forests Owned by Private Investor
In 2012, private investors owned 7,906,723 acres of Maine forests. No group owned more – forest industry, family forests, public land or large private owners. This was a big jump from 1995, when private investors held only about 35% of that area – just 2,702,735 acres.
Hunting Licenses Decrease in New England, New York
Between 1994 and 2013, the sale of hunting licenses in each New England state and New York has dropped. Not one state has seen an increase. Connecticut went from 67,013 to 44,178, Massachusetts from 100,762 to 57,641. Maine 206,801 to 189,120, New Hampshire from 81,827 to 59,301, New York from 750,062 to 581,401, Rhode Island 13,329 to 8,605 and Vermont 103,942 to 80,650.
Wetlands Declining Nationwide
In 1994, the nation had 117,900 acres of wetland, which dropped to 41,200 acres in 2009. …Talk about a nosedive!
Bird of the Month
Old Thunder Wings
When a ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) lifts from the ground under a canopy of alder foliage or conifers, the thundering noise can be near deafening, particularly when three or four grouse flush together. The loud racket makes the staunchest heart pound.
Ornithologists called this bird “ruffed” grouse, because feathers around its neck stand erect when this bird becomes excited. The feathers resemble a wheel-like collar fashionable in clothing about the time settlers headed to the New World in the 1600s.
Uneducated wags often refer to the bird as a “ruffled” grouse, which makes folks with expensive upland shotguns surreptitiously grin like a fool behind the speaker’s back – if these wags don’t want to embarrass the ones saying “ruffled.”
Another point, feathers on the grouse tail expand into a fan with a black band running around it near the feather tips. Folks once thought an uninterrupted band meant a male and a break in the band meant a female, but research debunked this myth. This grouse also has a crest.
Speaking of feathers, the tail and back feathers of a ruffed grouse have a rufous (reddish) shade in southern states, but in the northeastern states and eastern provinces, the feathers are gray. This species has a complete range of reddish and grayish phases between northern and southern ranges.
The male “drums” in the spring, and this behavior impresses many of us. In the old days in rural Maine, a drumming grouse sounds like a diesel tractor motor starting in the morning. When the air is still and sound carries, we can hear that bup…bup…bub…bup, bup, bup, whrrrrr. This noise attracts female grouse.
This chicken-sized upland bird weighs 1.3 pounds on average, has a 22-inch wingspan and measures 17 inches in length. Both sexes make a clucking sound.
Ruffed grouse have a symbiotic relationship with bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) and quaking aspen (P. tremuloids). Botanists also call aspen “poplar.” The range of these two poplars coincides with the ruffed grouse population so closely that ornithologists have longed recognized this marriage. Grouse seldom stray from where these two tree species grow.
Old thunder wings likes limbs on mature poplar, because this 1-pound-plus bird can feed on buds right to the branch tips without the limbs bowing down and making them beat their wings to stay there.
Anyone who has watched grouse feeding in a birch knows this concept. This bird flaps its wings and thrashes – as the birch limbs move up and down under the weight – using energy and attracting predators.
In June, this grouse lays nine to 13 eggs in ground nests next to tree trunks, stumps, stone walls or boulders. If cold weather causes this brood to be unsuccessful, hens may start another batch of eggs. Cold, rainy June weather means far fewer young birds for fall hunting. (Ken Allen)
Do You Know?
Do you know how to tell a male from a female woodcock without the scientific knowledge to check the reproductive organs?
Jack O’Connor’s Game in the Desert
In my preteen and teen years, I read lots of Jack O’Connor articles in Outdoor Life and loved his stories about deer hunting in the southwest and sheep hunting in high mountains. For a 13-year-old Maine boy, his life proved to be high adventure.
We all knew that O’Connor did his hunting with a .270 Winchester, and my father owned this caliber in a Remington bolt-action. I always assumed O’Connor articles had planted the .270 seed in my father’s head long before I was born.
Then, an odd thing occurred to me in the 1980s. I bought an O’Connor anthology of his favorite articles – The Best of Jack O’Connor. While reading the O’Connor collection, it sort of shocked me that he had copied Ernest Hemingway’s style. By then, I had a BA in English and had read about every published book, short story and article of Hemingway that publishers had released at the time. More books came out later, unpublished books coming out 40 years after his death in 1962.
Back then, I mentioned this Hemingway-O’Connor point to a man who taught school where I did, and he went into a rage. He claimed Hemingway copied O’Connor!
Hemingway was older, and furthermore, a household word in the United States immediately after the publication of his first novel in 1927, The Sun Also Rises. Readers here who know Hemingway’s work might enjoy reading The Best of Jack O’Connor to see what I mean.
Recently, O’Connor’s Game in the Desert crossed my desk, and in my opinion the style was far less influenced by Hemingway. It’s a good read and gives me a feel for what hunting was like prior to World War II. In those days, hunters took long shots at running deer – say 400 yards away in open desert country.
Also, in The Best of Jack O’Connor, one story describes O’Connor shooting at a deer in thin brush. Jack didn’t know exactly where his partner was – but shot anyway. Times have changed.
O’Connor’s Game in the Desert covers stories about mountain mule deer, desert mule deer, Arizona white-tailed deer, desert bighorn, pronghorn antelope, elk, “desert pig,” southwestern wild turkey, Gambel’s quail, Mearn’s quail, whitewing dove, mourning dove, southwestern bear, mountain lion and coyote.
Read this book for historical perspective, the fine stories are a fun read on a dark, winter night. (Ken Allen)
Huge Increase in Outdoor Reading
In 1970, the United States had about a dozen national outdoor magazines and few regional outdoor publications including the big three (Outdoor Life, Field & Stream and Sports Afield), and another nine or so titles. Fly Fisherman magazine was on the list, the only one for fly rodders. In 1970, folks swore that magazine would never last!
A few days before finishing this “Almanac” in early August, I stood in Barnes & Noble in Augusta, an American state-capital city with one of the smallest populations – circa 18,000. This book store in little, old Augusta opened around 1995, and back then, its size in this tiny city astounded me the first time I ever walked through the front door.
While standing in front of the outdoor mag section this past August, I counted 59 outdoor magazines, 44 firearms titles, 12 bicycle periodicals and 11 more for runners, backpackers and climbers. There were 103 publications for the blood sports and 11 more dedicated to sports that required no killing. The number of all these mags indeed impressed me.
When folks say Americans do not read anymore, they have failed to recognize that bookstores in places like Augusta, Maine carry more than 126 different titles for the outdoor crowd. On top of that, never in the history of the world have book publishers produced more titles annually.
Then stop and think a moment. The above figures do not count the stuff we read on the internet. For about 12 to 14 years, I have perused the New York Times and Washington Post online, and until recently, these publications were free on the Net! Sometimes, I still get them free.
Here’s another tidbit about modern reading habits. For reasons too complicated and boring to go into, I own two e-readers – a Nook and a Kindle. Three features of these reading tools impress me.
• The screen of an e-reader has much less glare than light reflecting off most paper pages, easy on the eyes.
• In Belgrade Lake village, we lose our power often in winter and during thunderstorms. When the power goes out on the blackest night, I can read my e-books in the dark with no problem. What an amenity!
• I can sit in my living room chair and order a book then and there on the e-reader – popular titles that stores in our small state may not sell. I’ve ordered books in my living room during huge snowstorms when power was out and within minutes, would be lost in the story.
Read on, folks. Readers have never lived in a better time. (Ken Allen)
November is Deer Month in Maine
November is deer month in Maine, but late-season duck hunters, the occasional gray-squirrel hunter and upland-bird hunter with grouse in mind might debate the point.
About 150,000 people hunt deer in Maine, and a goodly chunk of that number looks at the sport as a serious endeavor. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIF&W) loves saying there are 200,000-plus deer hunters, but the department is counting license sales, not actual hunters.
For example, if someone hunts deer in the expanded archery, statewide bowhunting, regular firearms and black powder seasons, they need a license or permit for each of the four hunts. DIF&W counts the hunter in this category as four hunters, not one. I kid you not!
Late-season duck hunting may involve few people, but those waterfowlers after ducks or geese prove serious right to the core about this sport. They live for November and December while lackluster, early-season duck hunters quit back in October, so the marshes and ledges have fewer sky busters and better-concealed blinds. A duck hunter with his retriever sitting over decoys in a snowstorm is the quintessential image of late-season New England duck hunting.
A handful of hunters with .22 rimfires or shotguns enjoy hunting gray squirrels where a cornfield stands next to an oak stand. With corn and acorns for an attraction, squirrel hunting can be surprisingly fast there after foliage falls in November.
Upland bird hunters dislike using dogs in the woods with so many deer hunters roaming around, but they often choose covers they can drive around on roads first to see if hunters have parked along the highway. Then, if no deer hunters are in the vicinity, they run the dog through the cover – often with the dog wearing a fluorescent collar. I once did that, thinking someone would be less apt to shoot the dog, because that person would know a nearby dog handler had taken the time to put a bright collar on the dog, a deliberate attempt to show the dog was not running freely.
Serious exercisers walk, hike, run, bicycle and canoe this month, whenever weather cooperates. Someone once asked me about “hike” versus “walk” and I gave them my definition. Walking is for roads and sidewalks, while hiking requires woods. Yup … easily arguable.
November nights are getting long, so folks enjoy leisurely meals with complicated recipes, good wine, home-baked bread, china, linen napkins, linen tablecloth and of course candles. Or, someone might make a comfort food like chili and cornbread and serve it with cold beer.
Serious photographers target two subjects now:
1. Landscapes look drab, so photographers create mood shots with the subdued, textured colors. Old cedar shingles, stone walls, ledges, pine-needle-covered ground – stuff like those choices are fun to shoot.
2. Dropping temperatures get wildlife moving and thickens coats, so critters are becoming more aesthetic every day.
Answer to “Do You Know?”
The Size Tells All!
In the old days, hunters thought larger woodcock (approximately 7 1/2- to 8-ounces) were flight birds and the smaller ones (around six ounces) were natives, but alas, the weight of this species and length of its bill designate sex. And to help us out, the juveniles are pretty much full grown by the first fall.
The females weigh eight ounces, give or take a fraction of an ounce, and a male goes six ounces. The female’s bill measures 2-3/4 inches and the male 2-1/2 inches. They both eat nearly their weight in earthworms every 24 hours.