Maine Makes “Best Hunt/Worst Conditions” List

The makers of GORE-TEX have discovered something important: Maine has some of the best hunting in the worst weather. In fact, we’re now on the Top Ten “Best Hunt/Worst Conditions” list!

The company conducted a nationwide survey of “avid hunter-athletes, representatives of top hunting organizations and members of the hunting media.” Although I’m in all three categories (ok, at age 64 my athletic days are behind me), I didn’t get asked. So I’ll give my opinion now. In a minute.

David Dillon, hunting category leader for W.L. Gore & Associates, the makers of GORE-TEX, said, “Gore is committed to making sure hunters don’t miss any experience, or pass up any great hunting destination because of wind, rain, sleet, freezing temperatures or other challenging weather. We gear them up so they can stay out longer in any condition and experience more. We hope this ‘Best Hunt/Worst Conditions’ list inspires some epic hunts for hard core hunters.”

This is Maine’s chance to reverse the steep decline in nonresident hunters, suffered after deer vanished from the North Woods. We’re now looking for those hard core hunters who want an epic hunt. Surprisingly, a North Woods deer hunt was not the reason Maine made the list. It would have been my choice, but I have to admit, the Maine hunt that did make the list is a very tough one.

Penobscot Bay Outfitters

A Penobscot Bay duck hunt, out of Stonington, Maine, landed us at number two on the list. “For waterfowl hunters, Penobscot Bay offers a high success rate and beautiful scenery,” reported W.L Gore. “The area’s many shellfish appeal to both prey, and hunters – as one of our respondents reported, one of the perks of this hunt is lobster at $4 a pound.

“Multiple rock islands in the bay provide shelter for unique species of duck. But hunters must be prepared for treacherous wind, rough tides and heavy squalls. One survey respondent was unable to hunt on his first day because 50 mph winds made for deadly conditions. With proper wind and rain gear, hunters find reward in the solitude and beauty of this historic part of the country,” continued the press release.

I agree that coastal duck hunting is not for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of shooting! The first time I did it, I shot an entire box of shells. And sat on a ledge outside of Tenants Harbor in a tee shirt. The tough conditions included a hot day. But you’d never find me out there in January.

I didn’t eat lobster the day of my first coastal duck hunt but I agree it would be a nice perk of a coastal hunt. Adventurers might be more satisfied to go lobstering than duck hunting, though, because lobstermen go out in 50 mph winds. Just another day at the office for them. And wouldn’t they have been some old glad to get $4 a pound this fall!

The rest of the top ten was an inventory of some of my favorite places. Kodiak Island, Alaska, was number one, on the list because of treacherous terrain, nasty weather, and big Brown bears. I had one of my all-time worst plane rides there on a fishing trip, in a wind that blew our little plane all over the sky.

Our guide and sporting camp owner told me when he guides deer hunters on the island, he tells them to shoot two deer. They leave one for the Brown bears that come racing at the sound of a shot. And try to escape with the other deer. Exciting hunting!

South Central Montana and Northwest Wyoming made the list, gorgeous country south of Bozeman where I’ve spent a lot of time. As the survey noted, “Elk hunting can go from 70 degrees and sunny to 40 below and blizzard-like conditions overnight… Rifle season typically brings winter with subzero wind chills and face-stinging ice.”

I was astonished on my first visit to Bozeman 25 years ago, to see anglers in heavy winter clothing fly fishing the Gallatin River, there on ski-and-fish vacations.

Northwest Montana made the list also, a two-fer for that state. Included here is the Bob Marshall Wilderness, where the Smith family once enjoyed a memorable horse ride, cited by the GORE survey for its “challenging topography” and “extreme variation in weather extremes.”

I’d love to experience the Bob Marshall Wilderness with my favorite Montana fishing guide, Maine native Joe Sowerby, but it starts with two hard days of riding a horse. Now that would be extreme pain for me!

Having just returned from my sixth annual pheasant hunting adventure in North Dakota, I was interested to see that the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota made the list, cited for “erratic weather.” They got that right. I’ve hunted North Dakota in 80-degree heat and in a blizzard. I have to bring clothing for all conditions.

The other states on the list were Southwest Colorado (for the challenge of hunting in high altitude), the Cascade Mountains in Washington and Coastal Oregon (“It rains here more than my shower”) and “most hunters will not see a buck the entire season.” Sure makes we want to book a hunt there!

The Big Woods of Western Wisconsin are on the list, W.L. Gore’s “top vote-getter for whitetail hunting. One respondent said the quality of the deer herd in western Wisconsin is unbelievable.”

Remind me again why we think we’ll ever get back those whitetail hunters who have fled Maine for better deer hunting elsewhere?

The Idaho Panhandle made the list, described as having “low hunting pressure, great scenery and quality game including mule deer, whitetail, sheep, moose, elk, black bears and cougar… this is very vertical terrain with frequent mountain storms all spring, fall, and winter.”

A tie for tenth place on the list gave us the Platte River of Central Nebraska and the low country of South Carolina. “Central Nebraska is bitterly cold for whitetail hunting,” reports Gore.

Late yesterday afternoon, sitting in my tree stand with temps below freeing and a howling wind, made me think some of these guys who were surveyed may be a bit wimpy. Of course, I was quite comfortable in my LL Bean orange hunting coat, lined with GORE-Tex!

South Carolina made the list for heat and humidity – a good description of Maine turkey hunting in June and moose hunting in August.

So here’s my take-away on this survey. Maine hunters are tough. Maine hunting is tough. Maine weather can be tough. And now we can prove it!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.