The New Year is almost always a welcomed event. The slate is clean. As we look ahead, it’s a lot like a field of virgin snow. As we move on, the tracks we leave will take us to unseen ground. This is especially sweet for outdoor people who have an affinity for exploration, for finding what is just beyond the hill, or on the other side of the cedar swamp.
Move on, yes. But don’t forget to check your backtrack! Animals do it for survival. For the rest of us contemplative bipods, who struggle for understanding and perspective, a check of what already took place can often divulge clues or insights into what lies ahead. Let’s check that backtrack for the Maine outdoors, circa 2014.
Of course, the big outdoor story of 2014 was the favorable outcome of the bear referendum. That we were able to save Maine’s traditional bear hunt and, in turn, preserve our excellent bear management program is a tribute to the hard work of sportsmen, sportsmen’s organizations and our own Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
A critical, key crusader in this battle was SAM, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Dave Trahan, SAM’s director, acknowledges that, though the battle has been won, indeed, the war may not be over. Our opponent, HSUS, asserts that it has not given up. SAM plans to introduce this winter a package of legislative changes that will make it increasingly difficult for HSUS to exploits loopholes in Maine’s citizen referenda process. Sportsmen who have never belonged to SAM might want to reconsider and join up. SAM has proven its worth in spades.
Although no deer harvest numbers are yet available the anecdotal evidence indicates that, despite uncooperative hunting weather, it was a pretty good deer season. The best news is that north woods deer are on the rebound! My hunch is that the deer kill will be down some from earlier projections.
It was a good bear hunt with a high participation rate. Some suspected that it might have been their last Maine bear hunt.
As a result of heavy winter mortality from tick infestation, this past fall’s moose harvest quota had been reduced. Still, it was a successful hunt for many of those fortunate enough to draw a moose tag. What is not known is how Maine’s moose herd will fare this coming winter and how continued tick infestations will impact winter mortality. Last winter, heavy tick loads took down a lot of moose. Moose biologist lee Kantar reported that there was a 30 percent mortality rate on female moose. Yearling moose were also hit hard by the tick infestation.
The grouse season appeared to be a mixed bag. Some hunters I talked with said that grouse were plentiful, while others aid just the opposite. Bird biologist Brad Allen gives it a B-.
How was the fishing in 2014?
From all reports, anglers from all areas of the state, from competitive bass fishermen to salmon trollers and brook trout acolytes, found plenty of action at their favorite fish haunts. The most cynical anglers among us can’t help but be impressed year after year by this state’s remarkably rich and diverse sport fishery. From Kittery to Fort Kent, Jackman to Vanceboro, we have the expansive watersheds and the fish. Credit must be given to the wardens, fisheries managers and biologists for safeguarding Maine’s natural treasure and working hard to make it better.
An exciting twist in the trout-stocking department is the introduction this fall of the native Nesowadnehunk strain of brookies into the trout ponds of Baxter Park.
As always, it was a year of mixed news in the realm of outdoor politics. The re-election of Gov. Paul LePage, who has shown himself to be a solid ally of the Maine sportsmen, was good news. Insofar as we know, there are no shakeups in the works in the leadership realm of MDIF&W.
Word has it that there are a number of bills pending in the state legislature that are sure to draw some controversy. One that caught my eye would “generalize” the turkey season and make it much like the grouse season. There would be no special fees or tags. There would be a three-bird limit, and the hunter could register his birds online without visiting a state tagging station. Although there may be a downside to this that escapes me, why not? say I.
Turkeys seem to be faring better than anyone’s wildest dreams.
Now let’s see what the new year brings.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.” Online information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com or by calling Diane at 207 745 0049.