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D. R. Crews

Guiding Bear Hunters and Driving The Backroads of Maine
By David Robert Crews
May 15, 2008 - 12:40:11 AM

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I was a Registered Maine Hunting and Fishing Guide, who specialized in guiding Black Bear hunters.

The only hunting or fishing guide services that I have ever been fully qualified to provide was for bear hunting. I have never represented myself to be any kind of a deer, moose, bird, or any other kind of hunting guide, or a fishing guide, either.

When I was younger, and before my degenerative back injuries and severe depression progressed to the point where I had to accept a meager disability pension, I was also quite qualified to lead groups of people on camping trips, outdoors and wildlife photography tours, on day or overnight hikes, and so on.

But my experiences as a professional Maine Guide are strictly limited to Black Bear hunting.

That is pretty-darn wild and crazy, though, don't ya' think, for a kid who grew up in the Baltimore City suburbs of Dundalk, Maryland to become a bear hunting guide in Maine.

And the first time I worked as a bear hunting guide, the hunting lodge I worked for, Katahdin Lodge and Camps, had the highest number of bears killed in the State of Maine. In 1969, information from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stated that there were 104 known bear kills in all of Maine that year, and 56 of them were killed by paying hunters at Katahdin Lodge. That info came to me in a letter from my Uncle Finley and Aunt Martha, when I was in U.S. Army basic training at Ft. Dix New Jersey.

Which means that I most definitely was a successful bear hunting guide.

Compared to more recent State of Maine bear harvest numbers of several thousand a year, the total number of bears killed in 1969 was very low. This is due to the facts that there were very few hunting lodges in Maine who included bear hunting services in their business back then. And most native Mainers did not eat bear meat, so they never killed any bears. Why Mainers rarely ever ate bear meat, I don't know. Maybe it was due to a fear of diseases that bears can carry, or it was just that the Mainers didn't like the way that bear meat cooks up. I have eaten bear meat several times and liked it, but I have never ever seen nor heard of a native Northern Mainer eating bear meat.

As a Black Bear hunting guide, I had to go into the woods and track wounded bears for sportsmen who had paid to bear hunt at Katahdin Lodge for a week. It was normal for me to follow the blood trails of wounded bears by myself, after dark and unarmed. Ain't nuthin’ to it, because Wild Maine Black Bears usually run from humans. Besides that, having a firearm along would have violated laws that prohibit night hunting. And that would get me into trouble with the local game wardens.

Ya' wouldn't want some big, mean, snarlin' game warden to get me would ya'?

I also had to carry any bears that the hunters had killed out of the woods with the help of one or more of the paying hunters and/or other guides. Then the other guides and I gutted and skinned those dead bears.

While I was a bear hunting guide, I became enamored with Wild Northern Maine Black Bears.

I am fascinated by: how intelligent and crafty Black Bears are; the way they skillfully, usually silently, move through the forest; the dazzling way sunlight glistens off of the tips of their fur.

It amazed me to see sunlight glistening, sparkling off a Black Bear's fur. Like when a big fat Black Bear, who was sitting and peacefully sunning itself in the middle of a woods road, bolted at first sight of my quickly approaching pickup truck. As soon as I rounded a tight curve, at top speed for that rough, dirt road, the bear quickly got up from sitting there in the middle of the backwoods road, up off its wide, muscular haunches, and bolted away on all fours. It ran, doing close to 35 MPH, on into the woods.

That bear sparkled magnificently.

On a beautiful, sun-shiny summer day.

I also adore the glint of life in a Black Bear's eyes.

I understand Black Bears quite well, and relate to them in several ways.

Bears and I both love being the woods, especially for taking long walks. We each respect the balance of nature. We like relaxing in the warm sunshine. We enjoy eating fresh fruits, Blue Berries, and most other berries too. Bears and I eat fresh fish most anytime we can--though my Uncle Finley declared that the bears in Katahdin Lodge's hunting areas did not eat fish. Bears and I each get into eating meat from wild game animals: like deer, moose, elk, etc..

But the hungry bears can keep any rotting wild animal carcasses that they can get their powerful paws and mighty jaws clamped down upon for themselves.

Neither a Black Bear nor I will hurt anyone or anything, unless there is no other way out of a bad situation. And for me, that includes when the well being of my country is dangerously compromised.

Bears willingly place their family's safety above their own. They love and adore their younger family members. Yes, I know that only female bears take care of their own family. But we humans have evolved upon a wider base of natural responsibilities to our families, than bears have. Therefore, a good man possesses some of the positive traits of both male and female Black Bears.

The mere, fleeting glimpse of any bears in the wild, and also of any of the other wild animals in Maine, especially them big ol’ Moosies, thrills me to no end.

The hunting business is far better for a natural environment than the likes of the Bethlehem Steel Mill near where I grew up in Maryland. That mill had thoroughly polluted the backwaters of the Chesapeake Bay that lay suffering and dying right down the street from my boyhood home. When I was growing up, I swam and fished down the street there; until the water became too polluted, too cancerous to swim in; until the Snapping Turtles that I love to catch and release, the fish, crabs, and other aquatic life are mostly either dead or diseased.

To my way of seeing the world, the people who live in Maine, or in any heavily wooded geographical area, have to make a living. A well regulated hunting industry is far more agreeable to Mother Nature then any high-pollutin' mill or factory is.

Typical great group of guys on a one week Black Bear hunting trip to Katahdin Lodge.

Four bears killed in one day.

In 1969, this was the only time that our hunters killed four bears in one day. That's nineteen-year-old me on the left, and Gary, one of the best workmates I ever had, on the right.

Those two 55 gallon drums behind Gary and I are bear bait barrels. The bait we used was very nasty, stinky, greasy beaver carcasses and slaughterhouse left overs--like cow guts and heads, and pig heads. Full barrels held between 250 to 450 pounds of bear bait. The bear bait often had a big, thick, steaming pile of wiggling maggots on top of it. And this was during the summer. Ahh, the sweet memories of maggot steam rising up from rotting cow guts, on bright, hot summer days, like a weird fog rolling up from a warm, heavily polluted, small, round patch of earth.

Black Bears love a couple of nice, giant paw-scoops-full of maggots at meal times. They actually would go into a bear bait, which was mostly a pile of rotting cow guts placed in a strategic location out in the woods, and if there were plenty of maggots on the top of the pile already eating that greasy, stinky stuff themselves, the bears would scoop out paws full of the fresh, live maggots, instead of chowing down on the rotting stuff. Makes sense to me. There are probably more calories and there is definitely better nutrition to be had from eating live maggots than from eating rotting, dead cow innards.

In 1969, the bear hunting season in Maine went from June 1st to December 31st--six full months

Many times, I went out bear baiting with the bed of that truck crammed full of 55 gallon drums crammed full of super stenchin' steaming bear bait.

It stunk us guides up somethin' terrible. We called it "Leave Me Alone Cologne", because nobody wanted to be near us when we had just been working with bait.

Today's bear baiters in Maine use stale doughnuts and other sweats to lure in bears. But my Uncle Finley, who was born without a sense of smell, swore that honey and baked sweets would not work on Maine Black Bears. Fin got royally pissed off one time when one of our bear hunters dumped a big jar of honey all over a tree stump next to the hunter's assigned, rotten cow guts, bear bait that day. Fin and Gary Glidden both said that using honey as bait would not work.

One time a Katahdin Lodge bear hunter caught some nice salmon, and other fresh fish, then placed them on his assigned bear bait that day. Fin also swore that northern Maine Black Bears do not ever eat fish. My Aunt Martha was so incensed by what she saw as a waste of good fish, that she guesstimated how much that good, freshly caught salmon would cost in a grocery store; and then she complained about the level of unnecessary waste that it was for the hunter to place fish on his bait; good, fresh fish that he should have frozen and taken home to feed his family with.

Time changes things. In 2008, according to what I have read in recent years, bear hunting guides, and bear hunters who set up their own personal use bear baits, in Maine use both sweets and fish for bear bait.

I bet ya' that if ol' Finley K. Clarke had been born with a sense of smell, he'd have tried using the stale sweets method of bear baiting himself.

Largest bear killed at Katahdin Lodge in 1969.

This was the largest bear killed during the time that I guided hunters at Katahdin Lodge. It weighed 410 LBs. The white stuff on the hunter's face is a homemade remedy that one of the mature Maine women working in the Lodge made up for the guy, when he got chewed up somethin' fierce by them infamous Maine Blackflies.

Gary and Finley skinnin' a big b'ar.

Gary and Finley skinning that big b'ar, while a hunter watches and Pistol Pup sniffs around. I took two quick snapshots, then had to jump right in there and do some skinning too.

During the past thirty-some years, whenever I'm telling anyone my stories about my Maine adventures, they always think that tracking wounded bears at night without taking a firearm along with me was the most dangerous part of those experiences. That is not so.

The driving was absolutely the most dangerous part of the job.

We Katahdin Lodge hunting guides drove over the speed limit ninety-some percent of the time. I usually drove more than 70 miles each day; including on my days off from work, when I was just a happy teenager running around the country side with other happy teenagers.

My Uncle Finley, Gary Glidden, Wayne Birmingham, Putt Gerow, and a few other highly skilled Maine drivers taught me how to drive very safely up there.

When I was in the pilot's seat of one of the Lodge's trucks, I felt perfectly comfortable averaging 5-15 MPH over the posted speed limit. But if my uncle was riding with me, I had to fly along those country roads at 15-20 MPH over the limit, most of the time. That extra 5-10 MPH meant that I couldn't hardly ever relax at all during the driving, because I wasn't as highly skilled at it as Finley was.

Those Maine-iac drivers had taught me well though, I assure you that I was very safe to ride with most of the time--nobody's perfect.

But my safe driving sure scared the livin' daylights out of a few paying bear hunters each week, when they were my passengers in one of the Lodge's pickup trucks. Before they hadn't yet gotten to know that I could definitely handle driving a truck on them roads at those speeds.

But, then, sometimes a couple of fun loving, thrill seeking, city guys, who were at the Lodge on a bear hunt, would egg me on to git-it-on at top speeds, when I was just tooling along conversing with them nice and relaxed like, while driving at mere high speeds. Then the roller coaster ride got real wild, and a lot more fun.

I always enjoyed the challenges and satisfactions of making it from point A to point B to point Z all day long without having a mishap; while using those finely honed driving skills of mine to be that safe at such high speeds on those rough roads.

Check out my story about Driving Northern Mainer Style that is published on four web sites up in Maine, including Magic City News. Read that published article and you will understand why the driving was the most dangerous part of the job.

David Robert Crews Copyright 2008

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