I think I was 13 when I started hunting pheasants with my Dad. Dad’s sportsman’s club in Wayne would grow the pheasants and distribute them around the area. The first pheasant I shot was in a cornfield at the north end of Maranacook Lake.
I can still see it all in my mind. Our English setter pointed the bird and it took off flying up through the corn. When it appeared above the corn Dad did not even raise his shotgun. He just told me to shoot.
So I raised my shotgun and shot the bird which dropped back into the corn, but our dog retrieved it quickly. And of course, in the exact spot where I shot, there is now a house.
Dad also got me out duck hunting at a young age. And I can still see that first flock of black ducks flying by us. We were on the shore of a small stream which flows out of a blog and into Androscoggin lake. Dad and I both stood up, and I waited for him to shoot until he turned to me and told me to shoot. So I did and down went one of the black ducks. And then Dad shot and down went another duck. That black duck was my very first.
When we moved to Mount Vernon, I duck hunted the stream that flows by our house. It was loaded with ducks. Early on, I had a friend who would hunt one end of the stream while I hunted the other, and we would chase the ducks back and forth.
Eventually I got a dog, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and he was a lot of fun to hunt with. But one morning I shot a duck flying by us, and the duck dropped in the middle of the stream. My dog swam out and grabbed the duck and swam to the other side of the stream and ate it.
I did not start hunting grouse and woodcock until much later in life, but I really enjoyed hunting grouse up in the north woods, and woodcock hunting with my friend Jimmy Robbins was always special. We hunted near his house in Searsmont.
My first woodcock on my first hunt with Jimmy flew up about 10 feet in front of me and I quickly shot and it dropped to the ground. Jim stepped over and looked down at the bird. There wasn’t much left of it and he told me that next time I needed to let the bird get a little further away!
Later he put me in an old apple orchard on a knoll, and told me he was going to work down through the bushes to our right. He pointed to the very end of those bushes and said if there was a woodcock in there, it would fly out in that spot.
Well, I listened to Jimmy and his dog going down through the bushes, and suddenly, in the very spot he pointed out, a bird flew out and flew past me. I made a great shot and down went the bird. The dog trotted out of the bushes and looked down at the bird, and then looked up and walked away.
Oh dear, I thought. What did I shoot? Well, I’d shot a robin!
My favorite grouse hunting story occurred when I was hunting with my friend, Ed Pineau, up above Moosehead Lake. We would drive along the road and take turns shooting at the grouse we spotted.
It was my turn to shoot when Ed saw a grouse in the woods to our right so he stopped the vehicle a short ways away and we walked up the road to where the grouse was. But I couldn’t see it, so Ed told me to give him my gun and he’d shoot it. But I said, no way. It’s my turn to shoot.
Ed pointed into the woods to a big stump and said the grouse was right at the bottom of that stump. I still couldn’t see it but I aimed at the bottom of the stump and shot. When I walked out into the woods to the stump, I was astonished to see that I had shot two grouse! I did not see one grouse but I shot two!
And finally, when the Fish and Wildlife Department introduced turkeys to Maine, Dad and I had many memorable hunts with my friend Harry Vanderwiede. One time we were driving beside a farm field and there was a flock of turkeys about 10 yards up into the field. Dad wanted to stop, but there was no way to sneak up to those turkeys.
Harry stopped anyway and Dad got out and somehow hid behind the only tree between him and the turkeys, and when he got to the tree he peeked around and shot one of them.
One morning, Harry, Dad, and I had just set out our decoys and sat down when a coyote jumped out of the bushes right onto a decoy. It was very surprised it wasn’t a real turkey, and it raced back into the bushes.
I’ve got lots of turkey hunting stories, but I’ll save them for another column. The photo with this column is Dad and I with the last turkey we got before he went into hospice care.
I encourage you to write your own hunting and fishing stories, even if it’s just for your family and friends. I’m helping two guys right now whose books about their hunting and fishing adventures are going to be fabulous.