MORE THAN JUST BEARS
Seven miles down a narrow dirt road, into the back woods of Maine, away from towns, pavement, electricity and cell service, five Maine outdoors women of varying ages and backgrounds are at camp for the same reasons:
We love the outdoors and we want to hunt black bears.
For some of us, we want to keep pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone and become better outdoors women.
Estimates put Maine’s bear population at around 30,000 and with successful hunters taking an average of 2800 bears over the 16-week season. The Maine Black Bear is thriving if not over-populating species in the dense woods. However, these animals are incredibly smart and keenly aware of their surroundings which makes successfully hunting one a great accomplishment.
Robin and I have each shot a bear before; her’s over bait and mine using hounds. Tammy is a professional photographer and has been bear hunting for a handful of years now. Taylor is an incredible biologist by trade and while she was at camp, the bear she wanted is at a different bait site closer to her house. Sue is a trauma nurse and active leaders in the outdoor women’s movement in Maine. Robin enjoyed silencing critics who questioned if, as women, we could handle bears by ourselves in the woods alone by pointing out,
“We are five women who have and know how to use high powered rifles. No person or animal is going to mess with us.”
Since it was early in the season, we were sitting over baited sites waiting for the bears to hit hyperphagia and begin to come into the sites before dark. Each morning Robin would get the bait together and with a truck and 4-wheelers, we would check the sites to see if they had been hit and add more bait and smells to lure the bears in. It is no easy task to get the bears to steadily come to the sites when there is so much natural food around.
‘I’m terrified of them,”
Sue said when I asked if she enjoyed her week in camp so far even though she had not yet seen a bear, “I came here to conquer my fear and if I haven’t done it, I’ve come close.” For Sue, conquering her fear meant sitting on a metal chair placed behind a piece of camo fabric tied between two trees and looking between the trees towards the bait site. For a beginner with a healthy fear of bears, sitting on the ground and waiting for one to come in is about as bad ass as you can get. Bears are silent in the woods which is how they earned their nickname the black ghost. It tests your mental and physical limits as you sit, listen and watch – without moving and giving your location away. As night sets in and new sounds emerge, you need to be on your game and ready for a bear to stroll in. Every sound you hear may be a bear or it could be a moose, deer or coyote or fisher. Hunters know how many other animals are roaming the woods with us.
Hunting and her relationship with Robin helped Tammy become more independent and grow her confidence in her outdoor skills. She sat in a treestand as the winds from an incoming storm steadily increased and decided to build herself a ground blind when the swaying of the tree got to be too much. Using fallen branches, leaves and a piece of canvas, she created a small blind that she sat behind until dark. Just a few years ago, she would not have had enough confidence to get down alone from her stand, let alone build one on the ground.
I am not nearly as courageous as Sue or Tammy when it comes to conquering the mental piece of hunting. I sat in a treestand with Robin and tried to become familiar with the sounds of the Canada Jays, ducks in the bog and tree frogs. I watched a Northern Flicker land on a branch 15 feet from us and preen for a few minutes, totally unaware that we were in the tree. A Snowshoe Hare came in and out of the site a couple of times before disappearing into the thick underbrush.
During the entire week, we saw signs that bears had been around and were eating grubs from tree stumps and fallen logs but none of us saw a bear. We spent time hiking, foraging for mushrooms, exploring the fields, talking about our favorite guns and scopes and drank lots of coffee and wine as we shared stories and our love of the Maine woods.
Bear camp is about more than just the bears.