Ski and Snowshoe Trailer at Aroostook State Park

Get outdoors and try your hand (or feet as it were) at skiing and snowshoeing!

The Bureau of Parks and Lands will be pulling the Ski and Snowshoe Trailer into Aroostook State Park this month. This is a great opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy winter sports if you don’t own a ton of equipment for the whole family.

Date: February 22, 2016 – February 25, 2016aroostook

Time: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Location: Echo Lake, west off U.S. Route 1, south of Presque Isle
State Park: Aroostook
Event Type: Nature Exploration

Visit our Ski and Snowshoe Trailer daily, 10:00am – 2:00pm, from February 22 through February 25.

Equipment rental is FREE with regular park admission.

  • Cross-country skis
  • Snowshoes
  • Ice skates
  • Snow tubes
  • Sleds

Park staff will be on hand to assist and answer questions.

Contact Phone: (207) 768-8341
Website: http://www.maine.gov/aroostook
Cost: Free with park admission: $1.00 for ages 5-11, $3.00 for Maine residents ages 12-64, $4.00 for non-residents ages 12-64, $1.00 for non-residents 65 and older; persons under 5 and Maine residents 65 and older are free.

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.

 

Snowmobile Trail Fund Sticker now Available!

Release from Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry:

Snowmobile Trail Fund Sticker now Available!

Show your support for Maine’s snowmobile trail system by purchasing a Snowmobile Trail Fund Sticker.

Stickers are available for purchase:STF

  • Online at the IF&W store – Snowmobile Trail Fund
  • From snowmobile registration agents statewide
  • At time of or after snowmobile registration

Proceeds from each Trail Supporter sticker, less a $2 administrative charge, will be transferred directly to the Snowmobile Program to support the trail fund. The colorful stickers are available in three levels of support: $25, $50 and $100.

Free Snowmobile Weekends 2016

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By John Floyd

The Dept of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has announced two special weekends in 2016 to enhance opportunities for snowmobilers this winter.

The first, being hailed as the “Tri-State Snowmobile Weekend“, is scheduled for Jan 29-31. This weekend event enables full reciprocity for Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire riders. All currently registered machines may use the entire trail network throughout all three states without having to register in another state.

Mainers can explore the trails of Vermont & New Hampshire, while our neighbors may do the same here in the Pine Tree state.

The second weekend event is the “Maine & New Brunswick Free Trail Weekend“. This event runs Feb 12-14 and enables Maine snowmobilers to obtain a free 3 day trail permit for New Brunswick. Mainers must obtain the special permit here on www.nbfsc.com. You’ll still need a current Maine registration and personal PLPD insurance ($200,000.00 min)

As with the first weekend event, this is a reciprocal event for our neighbors to the north and east to explore Maine’s 14,000 miles of trails.

A safety message from IFW:DIFW Shield small

With the increased traffic anticipated during the reciprocal snowmobile weekends, we remind all riders to obey laws of prudent operation, do not drink and drive, and be mindful that this is a family sport, so please keep our trails safe. Pay extra close attention to ice conditions on all Maine waterways especially when travelling at night, and ride with caution. 


Snowmobilers should stay off roads, ride at a reasonable speed, use hand signals and ride to the right.

Resources and additional info:

Maine Snowmobile Registrations – https://www10.informe.org/ifw/atv-snow/

Maine Snowmobile Laws and Rules – http://www.eregulations.com/maine/atv/snowmobile-laws-and-rules/

Maine Snowmobile Association – http://www.mesnow.com/

New Brunswick’s Free Trail Permit Info-http://www.nbfsc.com/html/whatsnew/docs/FreePermitWeekend2016.pdf

 

The Best Summer Sausage

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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!

 

The Christmas Hare

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By John Floyd

Christmas morning this year was certainly a gift. The unseasonable temps made it feel like we were back in Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful, bright morning and the air was clean and crisp. When I first met the day, the thermometer on the front porch read 32 degrees. A far cry from the norms of single digits expected this time of year.

I stoked the wood stove, then added a few logs. Moira brought her tea and a cup of coffee for me, and we settled by the tree. Our dogs Chuck and CJ were already settled, having the experience of Christmas past and knowing what was wrapped in some of those packages. You see, our dogs open their gifts themselves, with the term “open” used liberally.

After the exchanging of gifts and the calls made to family and friends wishing all a Merry Christmas, I cast an eye toward Moira and asked, “We still on?”

“You betcha!” came the reply. With only a week left, my grouse season wasn’t over just yet.

Moira grabbed her gear and ushered CJ, our Beagle, out to the Jeep. When I grabbed the 20 gauge from the gun cabinet and my vest, our Yellow Lab, Chuck, needed no ushering of any sort. He knew what that meant.

We had only recently started bringing Chuck out into the woods to flush ruffed grouse for me. His enthusiasm certainly made up for his lack of experience, as I had three times more flushes in a day than I had hunting alone. These hunts were intended to be an introduction for Chuck and just to have fun. We all could get out, get some air and exercise and hopefully put some grouse in the freezer as a bonus.

What a perfect way to spend a beautiful Christmas morning in Maine.20151209_150623

We parked at the head of a logging road I had some luck at previously and got geared up. CJ on the leash because when that ‘ol girl gets her nose down, she suddenly becomes deaf and gets out too far. Moira isn’t having that.

We moved down the trail with the sun in our eyes, Chuck working the edges like he knows what he’s doing. I suspect he does somewhat, he hails from hunting bloodlines. We just never put him under the gun back in Pennsylvania. Limited opportunities as they were.

As we climbed a hill, approaching the entrance to a clear cut on my right, I asked Moira to hold back with CJ. I knew this was prime habitat and had flushed birds there before. Chuck and I moved up into the clear cut and I put him to the right side of me, ahead about 5 yards.

“Where the birds at?” I asked him.  He bee-lined to the edge of some bramble near a log and the air exploded with the unmistakable beat of “Thunder Chicken” wings.

A big male grouse was airborne and moving from my right to left, flying low. I brought the gun up, but didn’t have a shot. Remember my inexperienced bird dog? He was jumping through the air nipping after that bird. We’ll have to work on that.

The bird cleared Chuck then did what ruffed grouse do. He hit the afterburners and like a fighter jet, made a hard right turn toward the safety of the tree line. I snapped a shot off, but knew I was behind him. Those are some fast birds.

Moira and CJ joined us in the clear cut and we formed a plan. Knowing grouse fly to safety in about a hundred yards or so, we decided to move up through the cut the rest of the way, check for any more hanging tight, then try to flush the bird again. I saw where he went and knew another skidder trail was behind the treeline.

We reached the skidder trail and once again Moira held CJ back while Chuck and I advanced. “Where the birds at Chuck?” I asked him. Once again, he turned right into the edge of the treeline off the trail and flushed that bird a second time! This time I got a shot off quickly, but that bird got into the thick stuff in the blink of an eye. I knew I was ahead of him this time, but it was pretty thick in there. Chuck and I went in to investigate.

“Find the bird. Find the bird, Chuck.” We quartered the area, but didn’t find a bird. I wasn’t too surprised, I didn’t hear the tell tale sound of the bird down “Whump” when they hit the deck. Nevertheless, I was proud of Chuck. He had a great morning. He was getting bored standing still in the woods while I marked the spot for future reference, so I sent him back out to Moira on the trail.

As I put my phone back in my vest, I saw a flash to my right front. Was that the belly of my grouse? Was it just some snow falling from an overloaded spruce?20151225_122351

Nope! It was a fast moving Snowshoe Hare that decided it was “Go time”. I brought up the gun, got in front and touched it off. The hare went down and I walked in after it.

I came out to the trail grinning. Moira asked, “Did you get that grouse?” I replied, “I got something!”

“You got a Snowshoe? It’s beautiful!” said Moira. And it was. A big beautiful male. The dogs were excited and so were we. What a way to cap off a great morning hunt.

I learned something new that Christmas morning. Always be prepared for an unexpected gift in the Maine woods.

 

 

 

The Hunt Is On..

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By John Floyd

I hit the skidder trail with a calm ease that belied my anticipation of the previous day. The cool, brisk October air in my lungs and the sun warming my way, I felt invigorated. The colors of the treetops exploded against the horizon. Reds, oranges and yellows a stark contrast to the deep blue sky.2012-09-03_13-36-02_632

The spruce and fir, with varying shades of green acted as referees in this riotous silence. The feel of the earth, the snap of a twig along the trail awakened my senses, long dulled by the humdrum of the daily grind.

I broke open my shotgun and dropped in the shells. I briefly remembered deciding on the 12 gauge, leaving my usual 20 gauge in the cabinet, my thoughts on the thick cover I’d be moving through and the bigger gun’s ability to bust through the edges of the wood line. I snapped the action closed, clicked on the safety and smiled. My grouse season has begun and the hunt was on.

Four season recreation in the Maine highlands

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