Maine - The Last Wilderness
The only real wilderness left in the United States east of the Mississippi River is the Maine North Woods. A deer hunt in this country is an adventure that would require Easterners to travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to enjoy a comparable experience.
In fact, I have been on hunts in parts of the fabled West and in sections of Canada that were tame by comparison. I began hunting the North Woods in the early 1960^s and the annual hunt there has been a highlight of my fall, even if I didn^t kill a deer. Just being there is exciting.
The North Woods has changed over the last 35 years, but not so much as the rest of New England. It is ridiculous to talk about inflation, but it is a part of the times. On my first 10 day hunt in Maine, I would not have came close to spending $100 if I would have ignored the camp poker game. The expenditure included transportation, non resident license and more and better food than I was accustomed to eating at home.
You can^t do it that inexpensively today because the cost of the non resident license of today would have covered my entire hunt back then. However, there are bargain hunts to be had for self reliant hunters.
Much of the timber company owned land where we used to make our camps and hunt for free is still available, but the companies are now charging a daily hunting permit fee in addition to a charge for camping in designated camp sites on some of the land. The fees are not excessive. For example, North Maine Woods, Inc., which controls 2.5 million acres of timberland charges non residents $3.50 a day to hunt and another $4.50 daily for camping privileges. That is primitive camping in designated sites only. The sites will have rustic toilet facilities, fire places and possibly a water supply, but you can^t count on the drinking water being at the sites. For more information, including maps, write to[ North Maine Woods, Inc., P.O. Box 382, Ashland, ME 04732.
There are some timber company owned areas that still do not charge for camping or hunting. A spokesman for the Paper Industries Information Office in Augusta said, "If you come to a gate, you pay the fees. However, if there is no gate you should contact the land owner."
The main concern of all of the timber companies is forest fires. In the areas where you pay fees, they have designated fire places. In the non fee areas, you are expected to use judgement in building fires.
There are also thousands of acres of public lands open to hunting in the North Woods. There are no charges to use these lands, but camping must be done in designated areas. For a brochure describing the areas and other information, write to: Bureau of Public Lands, Maine Department of Conservation, State House Station No. 22, Augusta, ME 04333 or telephone 207 289 3061.
Self contained campers are ideal for small hunting parties, but unless they are equipped with four wheel drive there will be limitations on where a deer camp can be established. Many of the logging roads are impassable for conventional vehicles and likewise for four wheel drives not equipped with wenches. Some roads will be closed to all vehicles during inclement weather to prevent damage to the roads. There are also some roads where tow behind camping trailers are not allowed because the rough conditions could cause traffic jams. It only takes one mired vehicle to cause a traffic jam on logging roads.
Tent camping does not necessarily mean roughing it. When I was invited to join a group of nine other hunters who hunted deer in Maine every year. The group was made up of building trade contractors. There was an electrician, plumber, sheet metal worker, carpenters and any other craftsmen needed to build a comfortable home.
They had purchased a ten man Army surplus tent, but they improved on it with their various skills. Flooring was made in several sections so that getting out of bed did not require putting your feet on cold ground. A generator and electric system was set up to provide light for the sleeping tent and the mess tent. Propane furnaces kept the tents so warm that the complaints were it was too hot most of the time. Hunters, like servicemen, have got to be complaining to be happy. Meals were prepared on a gas range. The only thing the mess tent lacked was a refrigerator, but it was never missed in the North Woods.
Transporting enough equipment for such an elaborate camp from home to the North Woods each year presents a logistics problem. However, we solved this by finding a friendly person in the little town of Shin Pond who allowed us to store our equipment in his barn from one year to the next.
The generosity of this Shin Pond resident is not unusual in northern Maine. It is quite typical behavior among the long time residents. If they can help visitors in any way, they will. Just ask.
For instance, several years ago one of the members of our party expressed an interest in killing a bear to a merchant in Patten. The merchant knew of a bear that had been feeding in the apple orchard of a friend. He telephoned his friend and permission to hunt the private land was obtained. The hunter killed a 240 pound black bear because of the assistance of the merchant.
When establishing a deer camp in the North Woods, especially in the more remote areas, there are some primary considerations. They are:
1. Make sure you have a warm camp. That does not necessarily mean a heated camp. You just have to sleep warm and this could mean just an Arctic sleeping bag and air mattress. When heating a self contained camper, a heating unit that discards carbon monoxide outdoors is a must. To prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, keep vents open when heating. The loss of heat is a small sacrifice to save lives from this swift odorless killer.
2. Be prepared to take care of any emergency on your own. Like anywhere else, help is only a telephone call away, but the closest telephone might be 50 or more miles away.
3. Take enough supplies to last at least twice as long as you intend to stay. That includes any required medication. The chance of getting snow bound during the deer season in the North Woods is far from a long shot. Several years ago, our hunt was extended by more than a week by a three foot snow. Well, actually the hunt was not extended because we were not equipped to hunt in that much snow.
4. A four-wheel drive vehicle is just about a must and a winch to pull you out of the places where four-wheel drives get stuck will come in handy on occasions.