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Turkey Hunting Takes Patience

Turkey Hunting Takes Patience

Turkey Hunting Takes Patience

Turkey hunting takes patience. I can’t stress that enough. All hunting out here in the woods, where wild game is scarce compared to other states, takes patience. Winters have been hard on the local rafters and the numbers are down. We’re not hunting for them here for two reasons – it’s almost easier to find unicorns, and leaving them alone to repopulate is the right thing for us. We’re hunting no less than 20 miles from home and after an incident with two hunters, we’re no longer hunting in that spot. I walked a half-mile down the pipeline, in clear view for at least 20 minutes, yelped for 30 minutes, and two hunters appeared out of the trees on the other side of the pipeline. They knew I was there but didn’t whistle or call to let me know their presence. That’s dangerous because we’re head to toe camo and I couldn’t see them, and it’s creepy. One whistle would have clued me in and I’d have turned around. I’m uncomfortable knowing they were watching me. Public land. Not a fan.

We’ve been set up before sunrise and called, driven for hours in search of these big birds, and set up in early evening. We can make them gobble now and then but nothing more. “We need to go to central Maine where there’s a big population,” Steve said, but we don’t have land to hunt on there. Oh how turkey hunting takes patience.

We’ve been scouting a few evenings, looking for turkeys going up to roost. We found them Friday evening, in the back of a posted (no hunting) field. They were making their way toward the woods. Steve knows the area well so he knew that if we drove back to a Y in the road, swung a right and drove a few miles we could get to an area behind the farm to land owned by someone who welcomes hunters. We followed an old road, walked through the woods, down a ridge, crossed a stream, climbed a ridge and found the trees we thought the birds would roost in. We had a plan. There were two large toms and two large birds that didn’t lift their heads and remained unsexed. Steve has one tag left, I have two.  Steve shot a 16 pound jake on Thursday, a bird that provided five generous-sized meals. Why do you hunt, we’re often asked. We hunt to eat.

Saturday morning, all set up, waiting patiently for the woods to return to normal after our intrusion. The sun was coming up when Steve made the first yelp. We waited, hoping for four gobblers to answer. Nothing. Not once. The sun rose and 40 minutes later the fog rolled in fast and furious, and we lost sight of the decoys 50 feet away. The end.

We moved on, saw one hen (only males can be harvested during the spring hunt), and called it a day. We had breakfast at a diner and headed home. Erin, Brent and their son were nearby so we had better plans for the weekend. Maybe next time. I’ll be hunting again this week.

turkey decoys, turkey hunting takes patience
fog at sunrise, turkey hunting takes patience
turkey hunting takes patience, old road in the woods, turkey hunter

We moved on to these fields to search for a tom we worked for a while on Wednesday. I yelped, he gobbled. He liked the tone of my box call better than Steve’s so I continued to call, and occasionally I’d get a gobble back. The tom would come just so far…and nothing more. He stopped gobbling. He wanted the “hen” (me) to come to him. Obviously I couldn’t do that…

Turkey hunting takes patience. Turkey Hunting Tips help make it easier. Click To Tweet

“I’m moving. If he comes out you shoot him, don’t wait for me!” <— Me…running out of patience. Turkey hunting takes patience. We knew the tom was with four or five young hens that haven’t starting sitting yet. He wasn’t going to leave them easily. We also knew he couldn’t see me through the woods. It was safe to move. I walked 50 feet along the edge of the woods. “Yelp” got a “Gobbbbble.” I walked 50feet again and yelped. No answer. I walked 100 feet this time, yelped and he replied. He thought I was coming to him and got excited. He gobbled to me even when I wasn’t calling. Useless. He wasn’t leaving those tender young things for this middle-aged hen. 😉

turkey hunting takes patience, fog, hill, field

turkey hunting takes patience, Mt Katahdin

Turkey Hunting Tips

  • Scout. Find the turkeys. Make sure they’re on land where you can safely and legally hunt.
  • Use decoys.
  • Learn the calls. Know how and when to use them. YouTube has great videos.
  • Turkey hunting takes patience. My sister Tammy heard the first gobble from the roost at 4:55 am and didn’t shoot her 22 pound tom, a hell of a nice bird for her first turkey, until a half hour later. She had to sit patiently as it came close enough to the decoys to have a responsible shot. She waited, got nervous and excited, and patience paid off.
  • Know the pattern of your shotgun. We are always aiming for the head, a target smaller than a baseball. What’s the spread at 20 feet, 50 feet, 20 yards… A head shot is a quick death and doesn’t put pellets in the meat. I’ve seen a lot more breast shots lately so it’s certainly becoming more popular. We pick pellets out of partridge meat. There’s nothing wrong with doing it with turkey.

Turkey hunting takes patience, skill and knowledge. It’s more often frustrating and disappointing than not, but it’s time well spent. Watching spring move in and enjoying the scenery in this incredibly beautiful state we live in is its own reward.

What Do Homesteaders Do? Glad you asked.

What Do Homesteaders Do? Glad you asked.

What do homesteaders do?

“What do homesteaders do?” That question was asked of me many times last Friday and Saturday. I can’t speak for all homesteaders but here’s a list of what we do here on our 45 acres as well as on other land and on the water.

Homestead Food Production

We grow most of our own vegetables, about 95%. Corn, beans, peas, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, spinach, turnip, rutabaga, pumpkins, squash, Swiss chard, beets garlic and others. Dill, oregano, lemon balm, chives, basil and sage are my main herbs. I’m working on expanding the perennial herb garden.

In addition to the garden we have an orchard. There are 40+ apple trees that start as seedlings and end in highly productive trees that provide more apples than we can use, and last year more apples than the wildlife could eat before they spoiled. We also have plum, pear and peach trees, strawberry and rhubarb, and hazelnuts in varying stages of production. Chestnut and oak trees are saplings that I hope produce in my lifetime. I’d like to use some of the chestnuts. The oak are for wildlife.

wild apples, homesteadersWe have ducks and chickens year round for eggs, use some of the ducks for meat, and raise chickens yearly and sometimes turkeys and pigs for meat. We buy or barter pork and beef. We avoid factory farmed animals as much as possible but we aren’t purists. There are rare occasions that we eat that meat, and we give Ava her epilepsy medications in that hamburger.

Fishing provides some of our meat as well as a source of fun. We love to fish for bass, salmon, trout, perch and pickerel, though we seldom eat pickerel.

But...what do homesteaders DO? It's a big question. Click To Tweet

We hunt. Hunting is a traditional method of putting food on the table used by homesteaders since the first person discovered meat. Long before man domesticated animals he hunted them. We hunt turkey, partridge, bear, deer and snowshoe hare, and we hope to hunt moose. Moose requires a permit that’s given out in a lottery.

homesteaders, turkey huntingWild Harvest & Forage

Wild harvesting plays a big roll in feeding ourselves. In addition to hunting and fishing we pick raspberries, blackberries, apples, strawberries, mushrooms, fiddleheads and other wild plants. There are wild choke cherry trees galore that I don’t use, and wild elderberry I should use more than I do. I’ll be writing about this in more detail as we go through 2016.

Food Preservation

The work continues after the garden is grown, birds raised, fish caught and animals hunted. It all has to be “put up.” I make bacon and sausage, and all of the meat is frozen. All of the vegetables are frozen, canned, dehydrated or stored in the cold cellar. Pickles, jams and jellies line the cupboard shelves. These are things I’ll write about in more detail over time.

Firewood

We heat with wood. We do have a small propane furnace for backup in case we’re gone longer than the fire lasts. The winter of 2014/15 was brutal. More than 200″ of snow fell and the temps dipped and stayed below 0° for long stretches. We used six cords of wood and sometimes ran the furnace to warm up the basement. The duct work loses a lot of heat to the cold basement, a problem if we depended on it to heat the house but useful when we have to keep the space above freezing. The old part of the foundation is a stone wall cellar with a dirt floor, hard to keep warm. During the mild winter of 2016 we used four cords of firewood. The furnace hasn’t been turned on in well over a year.

firewood, homesteaders

Livestock

Other than poultry and dogs we don’t have anything with feet and faces. We’ve had horses, pigs, cattle (meat and milk), goats and rabbits. It was what I’d been told “real” homesteaders do so we did. A woman who worked at the feed store said “you’ll get over it.” She was right. I love OPA – other people’s animals. As long as we can buy and barter for meat locally we’ll stick to chickens, ducks and turkeys.

Paying the Bills

“But how do you live? You know. How do you pay the bills and buy stuff?” Steve’s career pays our bills. We aren’t “poor homesteaders,” something someone asked me about. We aren’t off grid. I stay home to take care of the majority of our food rather than going to work to earn the money to pay someone to provide (grocery stores) it for us. Being an introvert, I’m not cut out for working with the public or being around people all the time. I’m good for temporary stints like writing retreats.

Any questions? I’m happy to answer!

Clean Grouse in Two Minutes

Clean Grouse in Two Minutes

How to Clean Grouse in Two Minutes

The ruffed grouse (partridge) crossed the road in front of me and hid in the dead ferns lining the road. It was too far ahead of me for a good shot so I picked up the pace and got closer. I hadn’t taken my eyes off the ferns so I knew the exact location of the bird, or so I thought. Looking down the barrel, I couldn’t find it. I don’t know how grouse disappear so quickly. Maybe I wouldn’t need to clean grouse this evening after all.

clean grouse, how to clean partridge

A few steps later, I heard it walk in the dry leaves on the other side of the ditch. It was out of sight behind hemlocks on my right but to my left, hardwood saplings. If it moved to the left a few feet it would be an easy shot. Fortunately, that’s what happened. Listening as it moved, I side-stepped to the left, found the partridge and fired. Yes! First bird of the season. It was the only bird I shot that day.

“You killed it, you clean it,” Steve said as we walked back to the truck. Until this year, he’s done all the cleaning. We raise chickens and sometimes turkeys for meat each year, and I clean them. It couldn’t be worse to clean grouse, right?

How to clean a grouse, clean grouse, clean partridge

No guts or blood. My seven-year old nephew knows how to properly use a knife, and I’d let him do this. Cleaning partridge takes no time. Anyone can do this in two minutes or less.

  • Lay the bird breast-side up, pinch the skin between your forefingers and thumbs, and pull. The skin tears easily.
  • Pull the skin back to expose the meat, and remove the meat by drawing the knife against the breast bone.
  • If you want to remove the entire breast you can follow the natural line of the meat where it meets the body.

clean grouse, how to clean partridge

Don’t over think it. You can clean grouse. Take your time and you’ll still need only a few minutes.

Why Do You Hunt?

Why Do You Hunt?

Why Do You Hunt?

“Why do you hunt,” he asked, or more like accused. “The deer belong to everyone and you shouldn’t be shooting them.” He was making a statement with a question mark placed at the end of his sentence. Why do you hunt? The answers are simple and complicated.

It’s a valid question even coming from a man who couldn’t answer my question. “Why do you eat animals that have been treated cruelly in factory farms?” He blinked. blink blink. blink. blink. He was flustered, then embarrassed, and then angry with me for embarrassing him. That wasn’t my intent. I wanted him to think and show the same personal responsibility he was asking me to step into.

Maine Outdoors, why do people hunt, why do you huntI’m not a purist now but I used to be. We do occasionally eat factory farmed meat when we go out to eat or are invited to have supper in friends’ homes. I wasn’t poking sticks at him. I wanted him to think about why he eats the way he does. I pointed out that regardless of who pulls the trigger, he’s responsible for the deaths of animals. Whether I do it or he has someone do it for him, dead is dead. We’re given two Thanksgiving turkeys (even though we raise our own) and Christmas and Easter hams from factory farms.

I’m sure he’s given my question some thought. Mission accomplished. It’s a big question. Why do you hunt? This piece was originally written in the old blog in 2012. I’m not asked that question often in 2016 but it came up again this morning. Why do you hunt? Nothing has changed since I wrote this four years ago.

why do you hunt, 8 point buck, whitetail buckI’m a Meat Eater

  1. I am a meat eater. That’s not going to change. I make no excuses for and have no need to justify being a meat eater.
  2. Personal responsibility. We raise chickens, ducks and turkeys. We used to raise a steer and pigs each year. We having laying hens, both chicken and duck, for eggs. I won’t touch a factory farmed egg. Having humanely raised and slaughtered meat matters to me. I love partridge, deer, elk, moose, bear and caribou. Javelina and beaver were a lot better than I expected and I liked both a lot. Hunting is as normal to me as having a garden to provide our own vegetables. I accept responsibility for the deaths I cause. Vegetarians and vegans cause animal deaths, and most I know accept that as a necessary part of eating. Fawns left in fields by their mothers are killed by heavy equipment harvesting plants. Rabbits, birds, mice, deer, moose and other animals are killed for the sake of growing plants. There are so many moose in Aroostook County, an area that produces potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other commodity crops, that there’s a special hunt to control the population and protect crops.
  3. Ethics. I don’t want to support factory farming. The thought of an animal as intelligent as a pig being raised inside, on concrete, crammed in a cage too small to turn around in, without seeing sunshine or blue sky, breaks my heart.
  4. I want to know what I’m eating. I don’t want artificial hormones, unnecessary antibiotics to make a bird grow faster (the industry answer to not using hormones in poultry), or necessary antibiotics to keep animals “healthy” in poor living conditions. why do you hunt, 8 point buck, whitetail
  5. I love being part of nature. Yes, I can do that without hunting, and I do. I am more a part of nature, the food chain, by hunting.
  6. I am creating a new family tradition: women who hunt. I’m the first woman to hunt in my family. My sister Tammy has followed in my footsteps and sister Melissa might, too. My daughter Taylor will hunt. I don’t think Kristin, my oldest daughter, will hunt but she’s supportive of what I do.
  7. I love a challenge. Finding a track, following it through the woods or down the road, losing it, finding it again, listening for movement or blows–it’s a challenge. Becoming a good shot with rifles and shotguns is a challenge. It takes practice. Maintaining marksmanship is a challenge. I’ve conquered my fear of heights by climbing ladders into various tree stands.
  8. Exercise. Put on boots, long johns, warm pants, cotton shirt, insulated turtleneck, shirt, hunting coat, required fluorescent vest if your coat isn’t hunter orange, and required orange hat. Carry a rifle (I most often use my Browning BAR .308 with scope) that weighs 6.75 pounds, add the weight of the scope. Walk up, down and across ridges looking for signs. Climb over and crawl under downed trees (safely of course). Do that for six hours. It beats driving to a gym to run nowhere on a treadmill. I reserve the treadmill for winter when the weather doesn’t allow outdoor activities. Still wondering? Why do you hunt?
  9. Education. Have I ever gotten an education. I’ve learned sounds, appearance, habits and habitat of the animals and birds I hunt and those that are around when I’m hunting. I’m positive I know more about the moose that walks the path to the right of a field I hunt in, crosses behind me, and walks in the woods on the left side of the field most of the 118 yard length of the field before going back into the woods than most people know about the cow they’ll be eating for supper tonight. Did you know doe deer will rise up on their back legs and box each other? The sound of crashing hooves is amazing. Shrews follow the same path under the tree stand I most often use when bear hunting.
  10. Hunters and other outdoors men and women who buy licenses, permits and stamps to hunt contribute to 95% of the budget for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife that doesn’t come from taxes. IF&W is mostly funded by outdoorsmen and women, not our taxes. We financially support wildlife conservation, game wardens who work to keep the wildlife safer and uphold laws, forestry, research and more. Seventy-five percent of Maine’s research and regional management biologists’ salaries and operating costs are paid for by Pittman-Robertson dollars. Why do you hunt? There are ten reasons. Here’s another.
  11. Population control. Nature will indeed take care of itself if we don’t hunt. Over population will be controlled by an increase in starvation, predators and disease. Nature will provide a balance but it won’t be “humane.” Wildlife doesn’t usually fall into a peaceful slumber, never to wake again, at the end of its life. We take our pets to the vet to be put down so they don’t suffer yet folks don’t want that kind of humanity for wildlife. A quick death by bullet or arrow, or even one that takes a few hours, is better than days, weeks or months of suffering. Death by starvation in winter because there are more deer than there is food is a horrible way to go. I think it’s far more humane to kill some of the animals quickly and make good use of the meat than it is to have them suffer.  I wouldn’t feel right being in the grocery store, or even pulling a grass fed, small farm, and humanely raised pot roast out of the freezer, knowing the deer are suffering because some people decided hunting is wrong.

They aren’t simple answers. And now I’m asking you. If you do, why do you hunt?

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