Category Archives: Main

How Maine leads as a model for black bear management

The Dept of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife discuss how hunting & trapping black bear in Maine is a vital population management tool…Maine’s bear program is a model for states with bear conflict and population control issues.

 

Follow Maine’s black bear biologist, Randy Cross, as they study the black bear population. Go with them into the forests as they trap during the summer, and follow them in the cold of winter when they visit the dens to count how many cubs enter the population. Source: Maine Dept of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife

Sugarhouses across the state open this weekend for Maine Maple Sunday!

From the Dept of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry:

March 21, 2016

For more information, contact: Samantha Howard at 207-287-7620mainemaplesunday-2016

Commissioner Whitcomb formally announces adoption of international grading system for maple syrup to promote the industry

AUGUSTA – Commissioner Walt Whitcomb today formally announced that Maine has adopted the international grading system for maple syrup. His notification, required for adoption of this international standard to take effect, comes in advance of this year’s Maine Maple Sunday, held Sunday, March 27, 2016. Most Maine producers have already implemented the voluntary standards in hopes of providing consumers with a better understanding of the natural product they are buying.

Maple Sunday is held annually, every fourth Sunday of the month. Participating sugarhouses will be open for visitors to enjoy freshly made maple syrup and candy, demonstrations of syrup production, sugarbush tours and a variety of other family activities.

Governor Paul R. LePage recently highlighted maple tapping season with Maine Maple producers on the Blaine House lawn by following an annual tradition: the tapping of a maple tree. The Governor recognized the economic contributions of Maine’s maple syrup industry and potential for continued growth.

“Maine’s maple industry contributes an estimated $48.7 million to the Maine economy,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “That includes a direct contribution of $27.7 million and multiplier effects. The Maine maple industry is working hard to realize its potential for creating more jobs, business opportunities and locally-produced products valued by consumers.”

The voluntary standards announced by Commissioner Whitcomb are designed to match those used by other countries in order to give consumers standardized information for selecting maple syrup. It is in response to a 2010 petition from the International Maple Syrup Institute, an organization of producers in the United States and Canada.

“The new system, utilized by most Maine producers, combines 4-5 different systems into one standard that is easier for consumers to follow,” said Whitcomb. “Customers benefit from a system that more accurately portrays what they are buying and how it tastes. Retailers can also more easily choose the grades they want to stock based on customer preferences.”

Maine Maple Statistics:

  • 545,000 gallons were produced last year, worth $17.4 million
  • Maine’s industry has an annual statewide economic contribution, including multiplier effects, of an estimated $48.7 million in output, 805 full-and part-time jobs, and $25.1 million in labor income
  • Maine has the third largest syrup industry in this country. Maine has the largest maple producing county in the country – Somerset County
  • Maine has around 1.4 million taps

Some sugarhouses will hold events on both Saturday and Sunday. For a list and map of participating sugarhouses, visit the Maine Maple Producers website: http://www.mainemapleproducers.com/

For more information about the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, go to: http://www.maine.gov/dacf

IFW Commissioner Opens Fishing Season Two Weeks Early

From The Dept of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Press Office:

DIFW Shield smallFor Immediate Release: March 16, 2016

Effective tomorrow, Thursday, March 17, the 2016 Open Water fishing season will begin, two weeks earlier than usual, per an amended rule by the Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The amended regulation allows bodies of water that were closed to open water fishing until April 1, 2016 to become open to open water fishing effective March 17, 2016.

Anglers throughout the state may now get a chance to enjoy the early spring by fishing on their favorite waterway earlier than usual.

Many lakes in southern and even central Maine are completely ice free. The lower than average snowfall also means that rivers and streams are at low springtime flow levels, making for easier fishing.

Anglers are likely to find more fish available in waters that were stocked last fall. Poor ice conditions meant less time for ice fishing, leaving many trout and salmon that normally would have been caught in the winter still there for spring anglers.

The early open water fishing season does not apply to waters with special season opening dates starting after April 1, 2016. This rule does not close any body of water currently open to ice fishing or open any water to ice fishing that is currently closed to ice fishing.

In addition, all waters with S-10 and “CO” designations will also be open to fishing. All other S-codes, tackle restrictions, daily bag, possession and length limits still apply as listed.

If you are fishing from a boat, the Maine Warden Service is urging boaters to wear their lifejackets. Prolonged immersion in cold water can kill, and wearing a life jacket can greatly increase your survival chances if you are in the water unexpectedly.

The beginning of the open water season also means that the department stocking trucks will be busy. The department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife begins an ambitious stocking program in mid-April and by the time ice starts to cover lakes in the fall, over 1.2 million fish will have been stocked in waterways across the state.

If you haven’t purchased your license yet, please visit www.mefishwildlife.com to purchase your license any time of the day, any day of the week

Please be sure to check the 2016 fishing law book for regulations specific to the water you wish to fish.

Want to hunt on Sundays? Here’s how to do it.

Just because the whitetail and moose seasons have long passed us by, it doesn’t mean hunters still can’t hear the call of the wild and feel a yearning for the Maine woods.

For a lot of us, small game takes center stage this time of year, but with vacation time used up, Saturdays become the only day to get afield. If you want to spend all weekend in the woods, here’s how to do it…

As we turn the page on the new year, so do we turn our focus to new hunting opportunities. Snowshoe hare, fox, bobcat & red squirrel are my pursuits when the deer rifle gets tucked away until next season and coyote are always on my radar. However, unlike my home state of Pennsylvania, in Maine we cannot hunt any game or this elusive predator on Sunday.

So what’s an outdoorsman to do when the need to breathe that crisp, fresh air and find that very special solitude that only the Maine woods can provide?

I hunt horns. Literally.

Hunt (huhnt) :  to search for; seek; endeavor to obtain or find (often followed by up or out)

Antler shed hunting is a great way to spend a Sunday long after the tree stands have come down and the ground blinds have been packed away, waiting for the spring gobbler season. Everything we love about big game hunting applies equally to shed hunting. The preparation, scouting, tracking and hopefully, the harvest, are what makes a hunt. Not necessarily the quarry we seek.

Do your preparation and scouting on Saturday as you pursue small game, noting tracks, overlapping habitats and any areas of special interest. On Sunday, leave your gun in the cabinet and enjoy a slow walk in the woods, following tracks to your harvest.

An added bonus to hunting sheds is the ability to get family members not normally involved in hunting, a chance to spend time together, strengthen bonds and rediscover the wonders the Maine woods provide us.

The best time to hunt for antler sheds is after the rut, or mating season. Dwindling levels of testosterone cause the base of antlers, called the pedicel, to dissolve and eventually, the antler falls off. Deer and moose both need to recover after the exertion of the rut and conserve energy in the coming winter months. Shedding antlers allows much needed calcium to be absorbed by the recovering buck or bull, not travelling northward to keep feeding those racks. Typically, the key window for shed dropping is late November through January.

Bedding areas, along fence lines, edges of fields and funnels are all great spots to find sheds.

hunter-67002_960_720
Looking for sheds while hunting small game doubles your opportunity

Where do you hunt for dropped sheds? The simple answer is to go where the deer and moose are.

If you’ve been out scouting and tracking all season, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where the travel corridors and feeding areas are. If you are not a big game hunter, fret not.

Simply identifying obstacles that can catch an antler as the animal moves through an area will get you started. Bedding areas, along fence lines, edges of fields and funnels are all great spots to find sheds. Look for antlers where deer or moose move into or out of a wood line; the branches of trees can pull at antlers, dislodging them. Fences and other obstacles that deer have to jump over can cause loose antlers to accede to gravity.

Look for blowdowns that provide concealment
Look for blowdowns that provide concealment
20160118_105717
Notice the outline of the back and the rear leg imprint

Perhaps one of the most overlooked locations to find sheds are in bedding areas. These spots are the hardest to find for non hunters and only slightly easier for the seasoned outdoorsman. They are secluded for a reason.

Bucks and bulls need to feel secure when they let their guard down, so bedding areas typically are well off the beaten path. Look for big blowdowns that provide concealment, especially on high ground.

As winter sets in and the snow begins to pile up, bedding areas will become easier to find. The depression made in the snow and the tracks leading in and out will be highly visible. Keep in mind that buck tracks are more square than doe tracks, with very pronounced dew claw imprints.

A dog’s sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than that of humans. In fact, a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in it’s nose.

Hunting with a dog will vastly improve your shed harvest success rate. A dog’s sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than that of a humans. In fact, a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in it’s nose.

Chuck following a deer trail into the wood line
Chuck following a deer trail into the wood line

Having a hunting dog, or even a specific breed of dog, isn’t a requirement. You’ll train your dog just as you would train for fetching. For this reason, retrievers are the popular choice for shed hunting dogs. They are eager to please, love the exercise and by their very definition, are good retrievers. My yellow lab Chuck is currently in training and he loves it. Here are some training tips.

Start by tossing a shed or shed training dummy for your dog to bring back to you. Stay consistent in your commands such as, “Get the shed” or “Find the shed”. Whatever works for you will work for your dog if you stay consistent.

Next, move on to placing the shed in the yard so it’s visible to your dog. Give your commands and have your dog retrieve it. Make sure to praise and reward your dog for every successful retrieve.

The final step is placing the shed in a hidden location such as a wood line and having your dog hunt it up. Again, praise and reward are key components here. Your dog needs to understand that by finding and retrieving the antler shed, he’s doing what you are asking of him. That makes him happy.

A lot of professional dog trainers recommend using a soft antler shed dummy trainer. I do too. If you use a real shed in the beginning, there is a chance a tine may poke your dog and may cause him to become “shed shy”. It’s much better to start out using the trainer and introduce a real shed, if available, during the final training step. The kit we use is from Dog Bone Hunter and you can read more about it here.

Moose and whitetail antler sheds make great decorations…

Now that you’ve harvested your moose or whitetail sheds, what are you going to do with them? Undoubtedly, a pair of bull moose antler sheds are the top prize; surely you have a place ready for them over the garage door or in your camp!

moose-shedMoose and whitetail antler sheds make great decorations, are often used in tooling and knife handle applications and rustic furniture design. Make a whitetail rack chandelier, dresser drawer or cabinet pulls, coat rack or accent pieces. The uses are as unlimited as your imagination.

If using antler sheds as decorative pieces just isn’t your style, there is also a lucrative market for fresh sheds. Typical rates for fresh sheds vary from $11 to $15 a pound. Websites such as mainemooseantlers.com and allagashguideservice.com both actively purchase sheds. Sporting publications like Northwoods Sporting Journal and The Maine Sportsman are also a good source for advertisers seeking to buy antler sheds.

So on the next Sunday that you are feeling the call of the outdoors or are looking for new ways to the enjoy the Maine woods, give antler shed hunting a try. No license is required and you can set your own pace.

With so many ways to hunt for sheds, it’s a sure fire way to keep you connected to nature when the pace of your hunting season slows, but your desire doesn’t.

February 14th – Pick your Holiday!

Content Warning: Some readers may find this content humorous; others, not so much.

 

 

February 14th has arrivedFerris-wheel and I’ve certainly been eagerly awaiting it. My anticipation of this holiday isn’t something I’ve normally made known publicly, lest it tarnish my outdoorsy (self) image. But in this case, I just can’t contain my excitement. That’s right; I’m talking about National Ferris Wheel Day!

While there doesn’t seem to be any verifiable presidential proclamation or congressional record to justify the use of the term “National”, I say we leave well enough alone and not nitpick. After all, if it’s on the internet it must be true.

According to Gone-To-Pott.com, we are encouraged to “take a ride on a Ferris wheel and remember how fun it is to be up high while the wind blows over your face.”

Who can resist the thrill of being 200 feet in the air, artic wind blowing through your hair, face as red as a Macintosh apple in arguably the coldest month in Maine? Me, that’s who. Maybe I should celebrate a more traditional holiday such as…The League of Women Voters Day!Carrie_Chapman_Catt

On February 14th, 1920, Carrie Chapman Catt founded the LWV to help women take a larger role in public affairs after winning the right to vote.  Ms. Chapman Catt would be proud I’m sure of the League’s self-described “non-partisan” policy positions and lobbying efforts on behalf of government controlled healthcare, abortion rights, global climate change and gun control. These are all efforts that a blue collared, God fearing, old fashioned, red necked country boy like me can get behind, right? As Waylon Jennings said….Wrong.

Lucky for me, it just also happens to be National Have a Heart Day! According to Giftypedia.com, National Have a Heart Day “helps promote awareness of our food choices so as to get or maintain a healthy heart.” Who doesn’t want a healthy heart? This may be the holiday I’m looking for.

The Center for Disease Control advises us that not only what we choose to eat, but how much of it we eat is very important for heart health. Sample portion recommendations for pasta should be no larger than the size of a hockey puck and meat portions no larger than a deck of cards. Wait a minute, that can’t be right.

Ice_hockey_puckThe CDC also notes that some foods that are ideal for healthy hearts include: flax seed, black beans and soy. Nowhere on the list do I see Buffalo wings dripping in Frank’s Red Hot sauce, Marlboro Lights or vodka tonics. Sorry CDC, no can do. Moving on.

How do I celebrate “National Organ Donor Day”? I mean, I am still using them. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells us why we should donate. According to the OrganDonor.gov website; “Because you may save up to 8 lives through organ donation and enhance many others through tissue donation.”  A most noble cause indeed, however, I suspect I wouldn’t be enhancing anybody’s’ tissue and these organs might not be what the folks at the hospital are looking for. See prior paragraph.

“National Race Relations Day!” is a sure fire winner for me. I mean, I absolutely love racing. Horse racing, snowmobile racing, dirt bike racing and relocating from the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, home to the famous Pocono International Raceway, my favorite type of racing: NASCAR stock car racing! Yes sir. I can definitely relate to racing.

Unfortunately, it seems I’ve misunderstood. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “Race Relations Day” is organized by The National Council of Churches “to recognize the importance of interracial relations and learning.” This is going to be a tough one living on the ridge. I’ll have to work on that. I think there are a couple of Canadians down the road, I wonder if that counts?

I think I’ll just pick out some beautiful flowers, buy my wife some of the finest chocolate money can buy (in Maine) and tell her how much I love her and how much she means to me. Maybe even get a greeting card that further espouses my sentiments. Now that would be holiday I can get behind.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day from The Ridge!

Fishing For Togue In Deep Water? Know these tips if you plan to release them…

By IFW Fisheries Biologist Kevin Dunham

Togue and other bottom-dwelling fish often have expanded swim bladders after being pulled up rapidly from deep water. This is known as barotrauma, usually when they are caught from water deeper than 30 feet.  Barotrauma is caused by the rapid expansion of gases in the swim bladder and other tissues as fish are retrieved to the surface.

When fishing near or on the bottom, try to bring your fish to the surface slowly to allow it time to expel gases built-up from water pressure changes.barotrauma

If a fish has a normal-sized swim bladder while it is swimming 60 feet below the surface, its swim bladder could double, even triple, as a fisherman gives it a quick trip to the surface.

A ballooning swim bladder is a non-issue if the fish will be kept.  If it’s a catch-and-release kind of fish, however, its life is in jeopardy.  With the equivalent of a beach ball in its gut the fish can’t swim back down.

The first thing is to understand the signs of a fish struggling with barotrauma, or “pressure” trauma.  The physical signs of barotrauma are:

  • Bloated abdominal area,
  • Bulging eyes,
  • Balloon-like tissue protruding from the mouth or other areas of the body (sometimes).

Sometimes lake trout can be gently squeezed to help force gas out of the swim bladder.  Gently press your thumb along the stomach near the paired belly fins and move it forward a few times to remove air from the bladder.  Fish suffering from barotrauma can survive if released properly and within two minutes of surfacing.

Froze up!

By John Floyd

Winter is most certainly here on The Ridge.  With a foot or better of snowpack on the ground and daily temperatures struggling to reach double digits, Old Man Winter snuck up on me this morning and gave me a friendly kick in the rear end.

“Hope you didn’t need water this morning, Johnny!” he said, as I turned the kitchen faucet on. Nothing. Not even a drip. We were, as my dad would like to say, froze up.

My wife asked, “Do you think the bulb blew out in the well house?” Sudden fear gripped me as I realized I hadn’t turned the light back on after an unseasonably warm 20 degree afternoon several days ago. We watch every bit of energy we use, Maine’s soaring electricity costs being a constant challenge in a rural area.

DSC_0015The well house is a smallish structure roughly four feet square across the driveway and about fifty feet from the cabin. It houses our above ground jet well pump and tank. While insulated when initially built, the field mice have had their run at it for years and the evidence of their nefarious activities litters the floor from time to time.

In addition to insulating the structure, we use a single incandescent bulb in the secondary enclosure during the dead of winter to keep the well pump and lines from freezing. This isn’t the most desired solution I know, but when you live out here you just do what works.

And it does work, when you remember the light.

As I pulled my boots on, I ran through the possible scenarios. Where is the freeze up? Did the water line under the house freeze? If so, how can I get under there with 2 feet of frozen snow pack drifted up to the access door? Maybe it’s just the well pump frozen? If so, how am I going to thaw it out?

Lastly, the biggest and scariest question of them all; What if the pipe split from freezing? It’s one thing to get the freeze up thawed out. If that pipe or well head is damaged, I’m really going to be in trouble.

DSC_0021I headed into the shop in search of the Mr Heater. This marvelous invention is a must have out here in the Maine woods. It is a simple propane burner and igniter head that attaches right to a 20lb propane grill tank. I use it to heat small spaces outside on the property when I’m working, to warm the engine block of my diesel tractor in the winter and as back up heat source in the shop.

I grabbed the heater and headed to the well house figuring I’d hope for the best, that the well motor was frozen and all the lines were intact. I opened the secondary enclosure inside the house and peered in. No light on and the pressure gauge on the pump pegged to the red line.

I lit the heater and set it on the low setting. If the metal on the pump housing heats too rapidly it could crack. Similarly, if the water in the lines heats too rapidly the result is hot steam. That also can cause damage to the lines. I positioned the heater in a corner and closed the door.

Back inside the cabin, my wife and I opened some faucets and crossed our fingers. Opening the faucets would help the water expand as the freeze up melted. We still didn’t know if the freeze was all the way through the lines, so it seemed a good idea to be safe. We settled by the wood stove, thankful it was a Sunday and wondering when and if the water would return.

As I ran through my mental check list of supplies I might need and various repairs I might need to make, the tell tale whoosh of running water came from the bathroom faucet. Only twenty minutes had passed. We had water!

While happy to have running water again, I was cautiously optimistic. I still had to check the lines and pump to see if there was any damage or leaks. Back to the well house I went.

DSC_0016I checked the pump housing and lines inside the well house. No cracks or visible damage to the lines were present. I monitored the pressure gauge after the water pressure had built back up and the motor shut off. If there was a break or leak under the driveway or under the house, the pressure indicated on the gauge would slowly drop as the water leaked out. After 15 minutes I was satisfied we didn’t have any breaks. I turned off the heater and pulled the string for the well light.

As I walked through the front door, my wife was putting a fresh pot of coffee on for me. We looked at each other and grinned. We had gotten lucky this time.

 

The Best Summer Sausage

Headshot

By John Floyd

Many outdoorsman love preparing game as much as they do hunting it. I am one of them. Moira and I try to seek out new recipes and ideas to give us variety on the dinner table. Perhaps more importantly, I’m always on the lookout for the best snack ideas. I love snacks!

Enter my most recent endeavor, the venison & pork summer sausage. Sliced into thin wafers and served with a spicy hot mustard or wasabi, it will forever change any venison shy family members or friends.

Saus.SummerAs a beginner to making any kind of sausage, I decided to go with a kit that provides the casings, cure and seasonings. After much deliberation I chose the summer sausage/bologna kit in Hunter’s Blend from Hi Mountain Seasonings. This kit is a pretty good value and is relatively simple to prepare. It makes 10 3 lb sausages roughly 2″ in diameter. That’s whopping 30 lbs of delicious. Obviously, we make one at a time!

A good electric meat grinder with stuffing capabilities is a BIG plus here. I know some old school folks swear by a quality made hand grinder, and I agree with their points to a degree. But the fact is, when you start feeding the ground meat into the casing, you need to move with a purpose. Starting and stopping too much won’t help to properly fill a big summer sausage casing evenly. The meat needs to stay very cold or it will start clogging the grinder. This is where the speed of an electric unit comes into play.

Besides a grinder and stuffer (or a combo unit like we use), you’ll need the following:

  • 2 plastic* mixing bowls – 1 for the grinding output and 1 for mixing your cure & seasoning in
  • Small bowl or tray to soak the casing in (Warm water for an hour before stuffing)
  • 2 1/4 lbs venison and 1 lb of pork (We used short ribs that were on sale)
  • The kit above.

Tips: Do not use metal bowls for the ground meat or mixing. I use a little over 3 lbs of meat because you need 3 lbs IN the casing. The extra gives you wiggle room and enough left over in the stuffing tube and grinder. We pull it out after and make a patty out of it.

The kit came with very detailed instructions and was easy to understand. I’ll just give you the long and short of it here…

We started by feeding cubes of venison and pork through the grinder, aiming for a 2:1 ratio. After all the meat was ground, we mix the correct amount of cure and seasonings in the second bowl. Next we sprinkled the ground meat with the mix and added some ice water. Thoroughly mix by hand for a few minutes and your ready to get stuffing.

Remember, this is where you have to keep moving. That meat needs to stay cold. I push the casing all the way onto the stuffing funnel and hold in place with my left hand. This is a big casing compared to traditional breakfast or sandwich links. You just have to get a feel for how much is filling the casing and use you hand to help move it down while slowly letting the casing off the tube.

Fill the hopper with the ground meat and make sure you removed the grinding plate and installed the stuffing plate, if equipped. If not, just use the coarsest grinding plate on hand.

Hit the switch and keep that hopper full. DO use an implement to push meat down the hopper chute. DO NOT use your fingers to push it in. You will be tempted to and you will be sorry!

Keep working the casing slowly off the stuffing tube as it fills. Use your hand like you were using an icing funnel on a cake and fill in the casing. Don’t worry about the grinder backing up. It will keep pushing harder than you think. If it does back up and stop feeding, use the reverse switch to clear the jam and resume. If this occurs frequently, the meat is too warm. Stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to chill it and resume.

When the casing is nearly full, leave about an inch open on the end. Tie this off using string. Don’t worry too much about getting super tight. It’s only job is to keep the meat from coming out, but the mixture is stuffed well and won’t. Plus, you’ll need to slide in a meat thermometer here so you don’t have to puncture the casing. If you have a high speed internal temp sensing doohickey of a thermometer, disregard. And…I’m jealous!

Put the sausage in the fridge to cure overnight. When you remove it the next day, bring it to room temperature for an hour or so before cooking or smoking. We cook ours, so I’ll go that route here.20151204_171228_LLS

Line the bottom rack of the oven in foil to catch any drippings and lay the sausage on the top rack with the thermometer installed. I cook it at 200 deg until the internal temperature reaches 160 deg. This will take about 2 hours or so. When it’s ready, remove from the oven and rest. The casing should be very hot to the touch. After it can be handled, refrigerate overnight. It is ready the next day.

We cut ours into thirds. One goes into the fridge for snacking on and two go in the freezer as backups. Serve on a the cutting board in slices with your favorite condiment. As I mentioned earlier, spicy brown mustard and wasabi mustards are my favorites, but a horseradish would serve well here too. Enjoy!