This day I begin scouting the Mt. Surprise area of the Great North Woods.
I parked my truck at the beginning of Bangor Street, near the Gorham / Shelburne town line and walked southerly up the logging road several hundred yards to the Portland Maine to Montreal Canada natural gas pipeline.
Continuing in the same direction I quickly came upon evidence of human travel through the forest off to the left, which appeared to be a relatively heavily trodden path. In my experience this often leads to crude camps and hunting areas used on multiple occasions, at least often enough to beat down the ground level vegetation.
I followed this lead in order to discover where adventure would take me.
- Temperature 45 to 60 degrees F
- Partly sunny
- Rainfall: occasional sprinkles
- Deciduous leaves just beginning to emerge after a long winter
- Forest cover: sparse. 80% deciduous with no leaves as of yet. Areas of conifers and intermittent conifer trees provide some cover.
- The first few black flies and mosquitoes make an appearance
- Old campsites
- Hunters baiting area from last Fall hunting season
- Human tracks in soil at least several days old
- Low flying aircraft
The Mount Surprise (elevation 2194-ft) area, a smaller mountain next to the 4049-ft Mount Moriah, is my main childhood haunt, the place I grew up in and closely explored as a teenager wandering the forest and mountains.
I chose this area of exploration and scouting to begin Viam Fec for several reasons:
- I know the area well, which makes it an excellent springboard from which to develop increasingly ambitious scouts. I can test my skills, test my gear, and make adjustments before going into unexplored terrain seeking new adventures and skills.
- I have not explored the area for 30 years or more., which creates an excellent baseline for me to understand how areas change with time and perception.
- It is the center of my personal Universe, the land I grew up in that has great meaning to me.
Much has changed here in the 35 to 40 years since I have been intimate with the area, especially in terms of forest cover. Areas have been logged over and so sport a thick new growth, sometimes very difficult to penetrate due to underbrush and a myriad of small trees and shrubs intertwined. In other areas the forest has significantly matured, so that the trees are larger with more distance between them which usually makes for easier walking.
There is also a human, cultural element to the local area I once knew so well. New people have moved into the area. Others have left. Each person who ventures onto this land has his own characteristic behaviors: the places they like to visit, their use of the land be it recreational, hunting, sport such as snowmobiling, motocross, mountain biking, or what have you.
During the scout of this day I discovered that an area that had been wild and unused by man when I roamed here years ago is now in use by hunters and young people learning how to make shelter and camp.
The first camp area I came upon has evidently not been used for several years. Clues to its age include a blue plastic tarp that is ripped and decomposing through exposure to sun and the elements, rotting wooden pallets that presumably were utilized as part of a floor, crushed aluminum beer cans that register about 1-inch into the forest duff, and cut marks on trees that are healing over.
Amateurish attempts at camp building like this are scattered by the hundreds throughout these mountains, a testament to the natural inclinations of boys and young men to establish territory and build shelters. An instinct of homesteading.
These camps are often littered with trash, indicating the childishness of the builders who don’t have mommy there to pick up after them.
Sometimes included in the detritus of old camps is useable camping gear such as sleeping bags, blankets, clothing, as well as tools including axes, hatchets, knives, hammers, saws, nails, tape measures and a variety of other hardware left where is was last used as interests turn elsewhere. Especially in a survival situation, items of value can often be scavenged.
Investigating camps made by local teenagers and young adults can offer important information:
- Is the area frequently in use by locals?
- What are the locals using the area for? Partying, hunting, fishing, camping, growing plants of various legalities?
- Do the locals often overnight in the area? If so, during which seasons?
- What sort of materials have been used for camp construction? Do they include simple tarps or have they used heavy materials such as plywood and 2×4’s?
- What techniques are being used for construction and how well are the camps holding up against the elements?
- What modes of transportation are they using? Do they travel on foot, ride All Terrain Vehicles, drive in by car or truck, boat, etc?
- How skilled in outdoor crafts do these locals appear to be? Does the camp construction indicate older, more experienced men may have helped them?
- Are they attempting to stay concealed? If so, how good are their efforts?
- Judging by what the camp builders left behind, what can you deduce about their physical conditioning and mental state of mind?
For example, the heavy wooden pallets tell me that those who built this camp probably did not come into the forest on foot during its construction. A likely candidate for motorized transport would the the ATV (All Terrain Vehicle). Indeed, as I examined the area around the camp I found evidence of the use of ATV’s even though their tracks on the ground had long vanished (see picture).
Cover From Aircraft
From the Amateur Camp, I backtracked onto the worn forest path I had discovered a short time before and continued my way up the mountain. Because it was obvious the path had been heavily used within the last year or I so, I suspected there may be something interesting to find up ahead. Worn pathways rarely go nowhere of interest to someone.
The way became a smooth forested gulley with walls rising perhaps 20-ft. From my knowledge of the history of this area I knew this gully was the road to what was once a farmers field many years ago.
Due to it still being early Spring here in the Great North Woods, the forest leaves are only just opening. This means you can see and be seen from further distances than during the summer when the forest is in full leaf and it is essentially like a thick jungle.
Fortunately here and there are coniferous trees, which have needles instead of leaves. Most species of conifers do not shed their leaves in the Fall, and so can provide quick cover. When a prop driven aircraft suddenly appeared flying low just to the north, I was able to quickly duck behind a balsam fir that had an abundance of branches and needles to hide my human shape.
Making quick decisions and choosing ad hoc cover at a moments notice is a good skill to have and it pays to practice. But in addition constant attention must be paid to the surrounding environment, using all senses and intuition. You can be the most skillful concealment artist of all time, but if the opponent catches you unawares you may not have time to react.
Of Hunters and Hunted
After several hundred yards of further walking I began to come upon small piles of deer hair. These represent a deer kill in the area. Animals such as bear, coyote, and fox will remove pieces of the carcass in order to consume them or hide them as a source of future food. Since hair decomposes very slowly it can lay upon the ground for a couple years.
Suddenly ahead of me I hear a commotion which I suspected was a fleeing black bear from my experiences in the forest with bears.
As I rounded a corner coming up the hill I came upon a small clearing in the forest and recognized immediately a deer or bear baiting station to the front. A salt block had been placed on a rotten tree stump and a large pile of apples, now rotten, placed around it.
High above me in white pine tree was a cheap Big Box Store type hunters stand made of metal and fabric. To the right additional commercial baiting scents likely made for bear were hung on branches. To the left a small camouflaged dome tent overlooked the scene, also of cheap big box store purchase.
Exploring the bait station area closely, I came upon bear scat mostly consisting of broken red oak acorn shells and rotten apple skins. Animal (and human) dung can be read to obtain a great deal of potentially valuable information. Just a few examples include health of the creature, local sources of food, and even where that particular animal may have been.
Hung in low bushes just to the south of the bait station were these commercially made bait scents, Tinks Scent Bomb and Tinks Scrape Bomb. This gives more information about the types of men who created this bait station: that they are believers in magic potions designed to ensure the hunt, are swayed by the miracles of modern advertising, and may question their own hunting skills and abilities.
As always, I left the bait station and camps undisturbed. This is always a good policy. For one, doing so reduces the imprint one makes on the area so there is less chance of someone knowing I have been there. In addition, it pays handsomely to stay on the good side of the locals. After all, you never know who may be watching you from concealment at any given time and there is always the chance of hidden trail cameras recording your every move.
Today’s scout became an adventure, which is the norm. I always enjoy the unexpected when out and about in the Great North Woods am never disappointed.