Tuesday November 12, 2013 | 09:19 AM

Hunter Orange at L.L. Bean in Freeport

In an effort to explore all of Maine’s food sources in this blog, I have begun spending time with hunters and fishermen learning about some of the traditions of the great outdoors.  Living in and traveling through rural parts of the state I have become intimately aware of hunting as both a sport and a way to feed one’s family. What has surprised me is how much the hunters I have spoken with enjoy simply being in the woods, the rituals, and the camaraderie with old buddies; as much if not sometimes more than the challenge of the hunt.

Maine has long been of this country’s great hunting states. With an abundance of birds and big game and vast stretches of rural country in the northern part of the state, it is no wonder Theodore Roosevelt developed his love for outdoor sportsmanship here.  People come from all over to experience the rawness of Maine’s great wilderness and participate in a wildlife-related activity.

Numbers of black bears, whitetail deer, and moose have grown dense enough through the years that (legal) hunting is actually necessary to help manage the populations.  Millions of dollars are spent in Maine annually on gear, licenses, land leasing and ownership, and trips. Hunting employs thousands of people at sporting camps, as guides, in retail, and in government positions

The 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation documented a significant resurgence in the number of people embracing America’s Great Outdoors as hunters, fishermen, and wildlife watchers. The report found nearly 38 percent of Americans participated in wildlife- related recreation, an increase of 2.6 million participants from the 2006 survey. Hunting participation was found to have increased by 9 percent.

So far this year the Maine the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MDIF&W) has issued189, 120 hunting licenses. A mandatory requirement for all applicants for an adult hunting license is completion of an approved hunter safety course or proof of having previously held an adult license to hunt with firearms in any year beginning with 1976. This has been the case since in Maine since the 1970s, when hunting fatalities reached into the double-digits annually.

Survival kit, part of the homework in a hunter safety course.

Hunter Safety Courses
Several weeks ago I attended a hunter safety course through L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School in Freeport.  Courses are offered statewide during late summer and early fall via hunting clubs, civic clubs, and businesses Check here in the spring and note courses fill up quickly so register as early as you can.  The courses require attendance at all sessions (mine was a total of 12 hours split between a weeknight and a Saturday) as well as study at home. Students learn the 10 Commandments of Safety (starting with “Treat every gun with the respect due a loaded gun”), basic firearm and hunting safety principals and practices, survival and first aid hunter responsibility, map and compass reading, tree stand usage, and landowner relations. There is a final exam, which students must pass in order to receive a certificate of completion.

I was very impressed with the course’s instructors, materials (the lost hunter’s guide and landowner-land user courtesy cards alone were bonuses), and emphasis on the importance of hunters behaving ethically. However, I felt the course should have provided more time for students to absorb the information (it’s essentially a one-week crash course, so if you work even part-time it’s near impossible to complete the homework assignments) and would like to see more time and materials focuses proper care for harvested game (I remain under the impression persons who attempt to butcher an animal on their own waste a good deal of the animal).

Craig Gerry, Regional Safety Coordinator for MDIF&W for Cumberland and Lower Androscoggin Counties, and one of my course instructors, said he thinks the amount of meat wasted depends on the individual. “My wife and I have cut up several deer and bear for ourselves and clients to take home, with little if any waste,” Gerry said. “Many hunters that come from hunting families have learned the process, and passed it down through the years, much like a professional butcher has learn the trade from other butchers.” He was not aware of any classes specific to hunters and butchering wild game.

Hiring a Guide
Part of the process of becoming a responsible sportsman is learning hunting-related safety skills through hands-on training and practice. If you do not have a veteran hunter to go with you, hiring a guide for your first (or first few) times out could be an invaluable investment. Only hire a Maine Registered Guide (a couple suggestions include Craig Gerry and Don Kleiner). Ask whoever you consider hiring how many years the person has been hunting and guiding, and whether they possess any additional skills (e.g. wilderness first aid).

Checking out ammunition in a hunter safety course.

The Hunter’s Rifle
“As a guide, I would recommend a rifle that would effectively take down the game and fit the individual well; so the hunter is comfortable with the firearm, the operation, and handling, as well as be able to grow with the firearm in future years and hunting adventures,” said Gerry. He stressed the importance of considering the hunter’s size and weight and the targeted game (e.g. shotgun for upland bird and rifle for big game). “I have found that many people recommend firearms that are over powered for the task and do not work on shooting skills and shot placement, both are key to ethically taking game,” he added.

Hunter Orange Clothing Requirements
Hunter orange is defined as a daylight fluorescent orange color with a dominant wave length between 595 and 605 nanometers, excitation purity not less than 85 percent, and luminance factor of not less than 40 percent. Anyone who hunts any species (other than waterfowl) with a firearm or crossbow during any firearms season on deer must wear a solid-colored hunter orange hat and either a vest, jacket, poncho, or shirt with a minimum of 50 percent hunter orange covering the torso.

Whether or not hunter orange makes one more visible to their prey remains unseen. Kyle Ravana, Maine State Deer Biologist with the MDIF&W, explained while deer do have the anatomical requirements to see color that scientists have been unable to accurately determine what exactly an animal is able to distinguish, or not. “It is generally believed that deer can see well within the blue to yellow-green range, but it has also been shown that they may have the ability to differentiate reds/oranges from greens,” Ravana said. “In addition, deer have the ability to perceive the brightness of objects, which may actually allow them to more easily discern hunter orange clothing.” He further stressed the importance of keeping in mind that their ability to detect the spectrum of light that falls in the range of reds and oranges is limited, and variation may occur between individuals.

Ethical Hunting
Hunter ethics cover the areas laws generally do not and can help preserve hunters opportunities to hunt. In the late 1800s, to help stem public criticism of hunters, Theodore Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club defining sportsmanlike conduct in the hunting of native North American big game animals and promoting conservation. Responsible hunters have learned respect of animals, landowners, and fellow hunters will go a long way when affecting public opinion of hunters. Ethical hunters would pass up an animal that appears beyond their effective range for a clean kill and any shot where the retrieval of a dead or wounded animal might be difficult or impossible.

Operation Game Thief (Maine OGT)  
This is a private, non-profit organization that works in cooperation with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Warden Service. The organization pays rewards (of up to $2,000 based on severity), if requested, to citizens who turn in poachers or individuals unlawfully introducing non-native fish species to lakes, ponds, and streams of Maine. In all cases the caller remains anonymous and does not have to reveal their name or testify in court.

Here is a link to the 2013 Maine Hunting Seasons. 

Recommended reading:
The Hunter’s World by Charles F. Waterman. This out of print book (copies are generally inexpensive) is a must for anyone who enjoys not just hunting, but also the natural world.
Fall & Winter Turkey Hunter’s Handbook by Steve Hickoff. He is known nationally for his turkey calling skills.
Tracking & the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign by Paul Rezendes
Game a Cookbook by Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington-Davies. More than 150 recipes including classic roasts and delicious looking pies. The book also contains information on storing and freezing game.
Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter by Steven Rinella. The book chronicles Rinella’s lifelong relationship with nature and hunting.

About this Blog

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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