Making the best of a birdless, fishless cast-and-blast trip
On Saturday, Sept. 28 a buddy and I loaded way too much gear into his truck, set far too few actual goals, and headed for Greenville and points west in search of birds, or trout, or moose.
See what I mean about goals? We didn’t even really know what we were looking for.
In theory, the multifaceted journey made perfect sense. Maybe we wouldn’t catch any fish. But we’d surely see some ruffed grouse on the opening day of hunting season for those fast-flying (and tasty) birds. Or maybe we wouldn’t fill our limit on birds, but we’d surely find a few moose to talk to. Right?
Maybe not. But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.
To really understand what Chris Lander and I were doing on Saturday, you have to step back 13 years, to the fall of 2006, when Chris was the sub-permittee on my first moose hunt. I was the first in our group to be drawn for a permit, and five of us converged on Wildlife Management District 4 for what was certainly the hunt of a lifetime.
Right after that hunt ended on a grassy winter road in northern Maine, the five of us made a pact that has stood to this day. If any of us were lucky enough to be drawn for a permit again, we would reunite, head back into the woods and have another great moose hunt.
Or, in other words, we’d get the band back together.
That’s exactly what happened in 2008, when Chris was drawn for a permit. And again in 2017, when my name popped out of the computer again. This year, after 39 years of fruitless entry in the permit lottery, Chris’ brother Billy Lander’s persistence finally paid off, and he won a permit for the October season in WMD 8.
And that’s why Chris and I were in the woods Saturday, half-looking for moose, half-looking for birds and half-planning to fish a local river. I know, I know: That’s three halves. Math was never my strong suit. But still, it was a three-pronged adventure we hoped would also help Billy bag a moose when we head back to these same woods in mid-October.
Before we headed onto the maze of gravel roads that extend to the west of Moosehead Lake, and where we were sure we would find all three of our target species, Chris and I stopped by the town dock in Rockwood to get a little video and some still photos, knowing that Mount Kineo would be especially spectacular on a fall day when the leaves were just beginning to change.
Then we headed out Route 15 to check some spots we’ve come to know quite well over the years.
“Bird!” Chris exclaimed, spotting a ruffed grouse that I never even saw.
“Where?” I asked.
“Side of the road,” Chris said. “Right on the pavement. Next to that driveway.”
We laughed at the bird’s unmitigated gall and figured it was a positive omen. That grouse was merely the welcoming committee. There would be plenty more.
Of course, that’s not the way turned out. We didn’t see another grouse all day.
No matter. We were there to fish, too. Right?
Well, that was part of the initial plan. Then it started to sprinkle. Then it rained harder. Neither of us had paid particular attention to the Greenville-area forecast (which, we later learned, called for afternoon showers). Instead, we would checked Bangor’s weather, which was supposed to be clear.
Unfortunately for us, our rain gear was back in dry-as-a-bone Bangor.
Undeterred, but unwilling to get soggy in order to try to fool a wayward trout or salmon, we forgot about fishing and turned our attention to scouting for Billy’s moose hunt. And, of course, we kept looking for birds.
For about an hour, we had the roads to ourselves, and we wondered how many bird hunters even realized that the season’s opening day for grouse had been moved up three days from the traditional Oct. 1.
No sooner had we mentioned it, however, and we began encountering other hunting parties. First, we caught up with another truck that was slow-riding down the road, a sure sign that we had found other bird hunters. And for the rest of the day, we saw plenty of other traffic on the way to our top secret haunts.
Oh, well. Moose it was.
I’d love to be able to tell you that we encountered Bullwinkle, his brother and three of his antlered cousins, and that we know exactly where we’ll go during Billy’s moose hunt. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
We did, however, find signs of moose activity. Bushes had been torn up by territorial bulls in a couple of spots. A well-worn game path showed evidence that moose had been through in another familiar location we had visited during my hunt two years ago.
When we finally called it a day, Chris and I decided that on a fishless, birdless day afield, the mere hint of moose activity was reason to feel optimistic.
And in a couple of weeks, we’ll head back, hoping to put another productive moose hunt in the books.
Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” will be released by Islandport Press in October.