I have spent my career trying to improve relations between sportsmen and landowners, with limited success. In 2015 the legislature enacted a bill I proposed that reorganized the Landowner Sportsmen Relations Advisory Board and created a new program called Keep Maine Clean, to organize and recruit folks who walk the woods and roads and pick up trash. It’s critically important these days that all of us who enjoy recreating on private land ask permission, keep landowner informed of our activities, and thank them after we’re done. This column was my own thank you to my wonderful neighbor Clayton Somers, published in 2006.
Clayt Somers died on July 23. He meant a lot to me although he probably didn’t realize it. A neighbor who lived at the other end of Blake Hill Road, Clayt allowed me to hunt on the 500 acres of land he owned with his wife Barbara. Through the years I got to know their property well.
In the field next to their home, I shot my first 200-pound buck. It was a memorable morning, my best deer hunting day up to that point. Seated on high ground on a stone wall, I saw eight deer run across a lower field and cross Blake Hill Road as the first rays of sunshine touched the pines behind me.
About 7 am I relocated near the road where Dad was to pick me up for a hunters’ breakfast. Out of the woods behind Clayt’s house skipped a doe, and when I put my scope on her, a huge rack of antlers appeared just behind her. The biggest buck I’d ever seen was right on her tail. I actually had to move to get the proper angle to shoot the buck, which I did, careful to avoid shooting directly at Clayt’s house.
Four years ago, I shot my first turkey in Clayt’s high field. Harry Vanderweide and I set up in Clayt’s woods early that morning, watching six deer and four turkeys in the field. Eventually Harry called in a 19-pound Tom and I shot him at about 10 yards. It was incredibly exciting. Without a doubt, one of my best days of turkey hunting.
Over the years, I think Dad and I probably took 8 or 10 deer off Clayt’s land, and enjoyed many fine days of hunting there. His generosity of sharing his land allowed me to build a bank of wonderful memories.
It was doubly generous of Clayt to allow this, because he was an avid hunter too. Hunting season found him at his camp on Hopkins Stream that flows past my house. The camp was once a cranberry operation when the stream sporting a commercial cranberry business. It’s the only camp on the stream and I know Clayt loved it. Occasionally I’d stop at the camp in during hunting season to visit, as I canoed downstream to some of my favorite hunting spots.
Clayt’s father, Winnie, was one of my favorite people. I first met Winnie on a ridge in the woods above Clayt’s field, where he regaled me for about two hours with hunting tales. I was fascinated by the stories of Winnie’s fox hunts across the hills and through the valleys of northern Maine.
But his best hunting stories involved deer hunting in Washington County. He and his hunting buddies would ride the train, get out in the middle of the wild lands that predominated in the county at the time, set up a tent, and hunt until they had taken their limit of deer. Well, actually Winnie did all the hunting and shot all of the deer. When Winnie had a deer for each of them, they’d put up a flag and the train would stop and pick them up, the deer piled high in a box car.
From that first afternoon on the ridge, I realized that Clayt was a chip off the old block, an outdoorsman in the oldest and finest sense of the word. Sadly, there are few of his kind left.
I always enjoyed visiting and talking with Clayt. Now, of course, I wish I’d done more of that, especially lately as he grew increasingly housebound. The last time I dropped off venison and had a short visit, he was saddened by his inability to hunt anymore. I shared some of my hunting stories from the past season, a sad turnabout in our relationship.
I wish I’d visited Clayt more often these past couple of years, and now the regret is great. His willingness to share his land made a huge difference in my life. I hope he knew how grateful I am.