Maine Hunting Tradition
By Al Cowperthwaite

So as we end one year and look forward to the next one , it is a good time to reflect back on the debate that took place last year regarding Maineís hunting traditions. Iíd like to put my own hunting tradition into perspective for readers that are new to Maine, or for readers from other states that subscribe to the Journal.

I grew up in northern Maine and hunting was a way of life for me as well as all of my childhood friends. About 1960, when I was finally old enough, I joined my father and his friends as we hiked into their hunting camp located in central Aroostook County. The camp was built in the 1940s and the only road to it was a two mile stretch of winter road that was passable only by Jeep and only when the ground was frozen. The road was so rough everyone chose to walk because the ride inside the Jeep was just too rough. The Jeep was only used to tote heavy items. My father and his friends toted supplies by horse or farm tractor before one of them acquired the used Army Jeep.

The camp was small- about 16 by 20 feet and the log side walls were no more than 5 feet high with the peak about 8 feet. We all slept together on a long bunk extending across the back wall and under quilts that were stored in steel barrels from year to year where mice could not damage them. I recall that the quilts were very musty from only being exposed to fresh air one week each year. Kerosene lights and a wood cook stove were the only appliances. My childhood friends all grew up with similar experiences with their family members at other hunting camps located near Haynesville, Mattawamkeag and Patten.

In Maine, in 1969, teenagers could obtain a driving license at age 15. So in the fall of 1969 a group of my close friends and I headed to deer hunting camp. In those days my friends and I were passionate deer hunters and we spent most Saturdays and any spare time after school deer hunting. This was also when it was okay to have a firearm hanging in the back window of the pickup at high school. It was also common in northern Maine for kids to skip school (often with the teacherís blessing) to go to hunting camp.

Today we now joke that most of us were in diapers together and this year most of us turned sixty. Many people find it hard to believe that we all attended Houlton schools and most attended the University of Maine system and we all still get together once a year- this past November was our forty-fifth year at the same hunting camp. (This is not exactly 100% accurate as we spend one year hunting in Haynesville.)

While we no longer have the passion to hit the woods before day light and arrive back to camp after dark, we still share the same passion of going to hunting camp and all the excitement that goes with it. We stand firmly united behind our Maine hunting tradition and do not take it lightly when folks from other states or cultural backgrounds challenge any part of that tradition.

I know our group is not entirely unique because there are thousands of family hunting camps throughout Maine which come to life each fall. For folks who have never shared this experience, please try to understand that is not something we would be willing to give up- ever.

Al has been the executive director at North Maine Woods for over 30 years and has been writing this column to keep sportsmen informed about what is happening in the NMWs. If you have questions or suggestions for future columns, please contact him at P.O. Box 425, Ashland, ME 04732 or via email at al@northmainewoods.org.


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