We decided to go East this year for our annual grouse and woodcock hunting trip. We hunt grouse and woodcock primarily in Pennsylvania, but we do combine travel and hunting typically the first or second week of the season. Last year we were in Michigan on the Ausable River for a blast and cast and have gone to Wisconsin in previous years to the “grouse capital of the world”, Park Falls, Wisconsin.
The trip to Maine is a long one. We decided to split our trip in two portions. The first about a 6 hour trip to Manchester, Vermont, then on to Grants Camps in Rangely, Maine for the second 6 hours. Manchester is a great little town, especially if you are a hunter and fly fisherman. My wife and I are both. We went to the American Museum of Fly Fishing there. If you are a fly fisherman, this is one place you need to visit. The basic history of fly fishing in the United States is there. There are plenty of other shops to visit, while there. It is the home of Orvis, so we visited their flagship store and also their bargain barn (it is a barn) while there. The bargain barn is loaded with goodies. There is also a store there that specializes in $10,000+ shotguns. It’s called Covey and Nye. Working at Lion Country, I am familiar with fine grade shotguns, but have never seen a collection such as this. The most impressive thing was not that they had so many high grade shotguns, but that there were people buying those shotguns in the store! The one wall had a collection of 8 guns that in value totaled over $1.3 million. Wow! One restaurant to try in Manchester is The Perfect Wife (I was intrigued by the name some years ago). Food is excellent and the service is equally as good. It’s a little outside of town, but a fun place to go.
The next morning we headed over to one of Manchester’s more popular eateries called “Up for Breakfast”. Best to get there before 7:30 (we got there at 7), if you don’t want to wait. Most of the menu has to do with Vermont maple syrup, so you get the idea. Food is filling and excellent.
We took about 6 hours to get to Grants Camp. It is about 5 hours to the dirt road that takes you there, and Grants Camp is about 45 minutes back that dirt road. We did see a grouse on the way to the camp, so our spirits were lifted.
Grants Camps was built in the early 1900’s and does have with it a certain amount of nostalgia. We stayed there for 4 nights. The cabins are in need of repair. They are cute and quaint, but they do need some work. If you read reviews of the place in recent years, all are saying the same. The problem is that there really is no other place to stay up there in that wilderness. Not a lot of room for two adults and 3 Large Munsterlanders, but we made do. They do take the docks up during hunting season, so the ambiance of the place is a little bit reduced because not all the amenities are available to hunters.
All the meals are served in the dining room. The food is great and the wait staff is friendly and quite attentive. The menu is varied and most of the time breakfast and lunch are the same for each day (little change in the menu), but dinner is different each night. We did have steak one night, fresh salmon another night, lobster on another, etc., so the food was varied and good.
Our plan was to hunt on Monday and Wednesday, and to fly fish on Tuesday. We were up bright and early on Monday and got our licenses (Grants has both fishing and hunting licenses, which is great considering you are 45 minutes from civilization). We were also informed that chances are our cell phones will not work anyplace up there, including at Grants. They do have Wi-Fi service, though, in the dining room. We also found that if you stood at the end of the main dock at the office and curled your toes over the end of the dock, you could get cell phone reception. Needless to say, we did not do this often.
We met our guide and were off for our first day. The going was rough most of the day. Maine’s forests are extremely thick and we found it difficult in most situations even to get a shot off at the Woodcock we were hunting. We primarily concentrated on Woodcock the first day. None of the flight birds had come down yet so we were hunting the local yokels, and they were used to hunters in the woods. Most of the woodcock flushed wild ahead of our dogs, and many of them ran, which I found to be amazing. These little buggers ran like grouse. They would hit the ground and be off. Our guide was not used to hunting with our Large Munsterlanders. He hunted with a couple of Brittanys that never strayed more than 20 feet from the hunters. Needless to say, the day was quite frustrating. The woods we hunted reminded me of the storybook woods I saw as a kid, almost haunted. There was no room to turn, and, as I said above, most of the birds flushed out ahead of us. I won’t divulge the guide’s name, as we would not go back to this one. We were skunked the first day both on Grouse and on Woodcock.
The second day was fly fishing on Kennebago Lake. We hired a guide for this too, as the streams close the first day of Grouse season. Consequently, you are left to fish only the lakes (there are some exceptions we found out later on) in this region. Lake Kennebago is not a giant lake, but does have some size. It has a good population of Brook Trout and Salmon. We used a gentleman by the name of Tony Fragipane, who at one point headed up the L.L.Bean fly fishing school. What a great guy! We had the weather gods against us this day and had issues getting the boat situated where we were not being blown around. We first tried an area of the lake directly across from Grants Camp but were blown off there immediately by winds of about 20 mph. We finally decided to go all the way down to the end of the lake where there was some shelter. We fished off the Maine home of Ralph Lauren (of Polo fame). What a beautiful home. Originally a fishing camp, this place really looked cool. We also fished off the property of another famous Lake Kennebago resident, Kurt Russell (yes, Goldie Hawn’s husband). Their place is also absolutely beautiful, a mammoth compound of homes and cabins, all belonging to the Russell family. We finally managed to catch some brook trout that day, after hours of casting.
Wednesday brought another hunting day. I had the feeling that our guide was biased toward Brittanys, so I suggested that he bring his dogs on Thursday. He just could not seem to figure out how our dogs hunted, so I thought, rather than leave Maine empty handed, I would suggest that he bring his dogs and we hunt them. I also brought ours so they could get into some birds. I also suggested to the guide that he may want to pick different areas to hunt and that the areas we hunted on Monday were just impossible to hunt. He chuckled and said “well, that’s Maine grouse hunting”. I informed him that this is not what I was told by others who got their limit the day before when they hunted logging roads with their guide. If we do go back to Grants, we would hire this guide. He hunted the beechnut trees because he found beechnuts in the Grouse’s crop. Something our guide missed.
We did hunt areas that were a little milder, but did not hunt the beechnuts because our guide felt “I’m not doing the same thing that he is doing”. We did get birds the second day. One woodcock over one of his Brittanys and a Grouse and a Woodcock over our LMs. The Grouse was on a point and not a wild flush. My Alma proved again to be the best in the family. She is methodical and covers every bit of territory when hunting, leaving no stone unturned. It’s great watching her hunt.
On Thursday, we headed back home and stopped in Manchester Vermont again and had dinner on the way home. We ate at the Silver Fork, which is a must if you go to Manchester. Reservations are a must as it is a small intimate place. The chef and his wife run it. She greets and waits tables, etc. He cooks, and boy does he cook. Probably one of the best places I have ever eaten.
Not sure where we are going next year. Maybe up to Northern Pennsylvania, not so far from home.
-Dave Brown, LCS Gun Room