Looking For Rugged Midwest Hunting In The Northeast?
March 5, 2008
Try Vermont's Green Mountain Range and Northwoods Outdoor Adventures
By Blaine Cardilli
Plans for making this particular hunting trip had been on the table for three months and although we knew from the website what the basic lodge was going to look like, nothing could have prepared us for what we actually saw when we pulled up. Stepping from the truck, dusty from many miles up long and winding dirt roads, we rounded the front corner of Duplissey Lodge where we were graciously met by Steve and Dan Barbour, our hosts and the owners of Northwoods Outdoor Adventures. My partner, Orrin Parker, and I were on a working hunt for a national outdoor tv show at the time, and were anxious to see what Steve and Dan had to offer us in the way of turkeys.
After shaking hands and accepting a cold drink, we stepped out onto the lodges' front deck and were taken completely aback by the majestic spring beauty of the Green Mountains of north central Vermont. We had driven up through the foothills but now found ourselves staring at the awesome ridges squarely in the face some 2,200 feet above sea level. I must have murmured something because Steve chuckled and said, "We get that a lot here".
It was true, no photograph or video could ever do justice to what we found ourselves in the midst of. The view was reminiscent of a big mid-western ranch, as the meadows before us rolled lazily down, some 400+ yards, to a lush, grassy plateau where a broad but quiet beaver pond rested, right at the base of Duplissey Ridge. The mountains picked up from there and rose solidly into a crystal blue sky, the foliage just beginning to burst out in bright green and white-flowering hues. From the front porch we could see the transition zone on the ridge as the red pines, thick as wall to wall carpeting, contrasted sharply at the half-way point, into a wide open expanse of hardwoods. Steve even claimed that those higher elevations housed hundreds of wild apple trees as well.
After unpacking and taking a short rest, we met our guides on the porch and chatted about the upcoming hunt and what we could expect. Steve and Dan took turns explaining in unison the differences and complexities of hunting high up in the mountains as opposed to hunting in the lower regions of the state. Here, for example, we would discover that the oxygen levels were different this high up and that walking even the shortest distances uphill might tire us more than usual.
An Abundance of Game, Guides & Great Food!
As to game species in the region, we were told there was an abundance of whitetail deer, moose and bear, as well as turkeys, ruffed grouse, woodcock, and even ducks and geese. The deer, we were told, were of good age and size in the mountains, as were the bear and moose, since the land was extremely remote and privately owned. The property, covering some 8,000 total acres over four separate parcels, boasts the Duplissey Lodge. It can comfortably sleep 14 to 16 people. "Judy's Kitchen", which is a separate facility where all meals are prepared for the guests, two remote log cabins, and two "yurts", make up the remainder of the facilities. The "yurts" are 20-foot round, insulated, canvas-style mountain "tents", for lack of a better comparison. All yurts are completely outfitted with propane cook stoves, wood stove heat, and multiple bunks, as well as outhouses, while the remote cabins and lodge have all the modern conveniences except television and phones. The cabins are reachable by pick-up but the yurts can only be accessed by means of 4-wheel drive vehicles or horses.
Steve and Dan are the main operators of the lodge but they also have several guides available to help get hunters on game. And the packages they are offering as a newly opening service to the public are downright affordable, almost to the point of being ridiculous for the level of one-on-one service they provide for their clientèle. We were definitely taken care of on our stay with them. In fact, they even offer deals on hunts that are priced to include more than one year, (at a discounted rate), if you wish to reserve packages ahead.
Judy, Steve's wife, takes care of all meals and let me tell you, everything is made from scratch and there's no fear of ever going hungry during your stay. The first evening before our hunt, she prepared her own recipe for baked stuffed chicken, seasoned with secret ingredients and topped off with a creamy layer of cheese melted over the breast meat. Side dishes of vegetables, a green bean salad and rolls were more than enough for us but Dan kept insisting we eat more. When we were finally done and bursting at the seams, he brought out a freshly made strawberry shortcake, lathered up with a rich whipped real dairy topping. Hunters today crave an experience that also includes a great spread of vittles and at Northwoods, Judy offers it.
An Exciting, Fast Paced Turkey Hunt
After settling in and getting to know our hosts, we headed out about 3:30 pm to set up our ground blind in an area Steve and Dan had already scouted on a remote part of the property. The turkeys had been roosting on a wooded shelf just below a grown-over apple orchard, some 100-120 yards below a flat, and both guides felt sure the birds could be coaxed up to where we were set up - that was our plan for the morning.
Though the species we were hunting were Eastern's, Steve told us these "mountain birds" were a bit different in several respects than what we might be used to. For instance, many might be slightly less stocky than the birds we were used to in Maine, due to a difference in food sources, climate, and geographical terrain. Our birds were basically living on flat ground and eating well from the many agricultural food sources found in such an extensively farmed community, while theirs were struggling to survive brutal mountain winters, steep, hilly terrain, and a much wilder food base. Jakes would be abundant but we were assured we would see many mature gobblers in our travels as well, (20 lbs and up), if we were willing to spend some time afield.
3:00 am came quickly as I heard the stirrings of our hosts as they entered the lodge to rouse us. Orrin and I got up, got dressed, and met them in the kitchen where we sorted out the morning plan over cold orange juice and hot coffee. It took about 20 minutes to drive to one of the remote cabins but once there, Dan and Steve settled in, where they planned to listen for any gobbling that might rise up from the valleys and ridges below while we hunted about 200 yards away.
Unfortunately, as is the case with hunting turkeys from time to time, the birds hadn't read the script and as we unzipped the blind to climb inside at a dark 4:15 am, the noise caused two gobblers to sound off not 30 yards behind and above us, as they spooked from the roost. We managed to remain there for two hours anyway, calling to two separate groups, but none came in so we headed back to the cabin. While sipping a quick cup of coffee, Steve said he had pinpointed a group of birds in the neighboring valley and Dan had himself watched a huge solitary tom walking an open ridge some 600+ yards away, so we decide to pack up and run-and-gun for awhile, with Steve leading the way.
It took time to go down one side of the mountain and climb the opposite ridge but once there we stopped and I did some locating. We eventually got two separate bird groups gobbling but none would move so we decided to sneak in between them and try calling. It was working until we were surprised by a single tom not 50 yards from us, over a knoll to our right. His gobble was in response to one of my calls and we were left with mere seconds to dive into the only clump of small spruce available, to avoid being seen. We were barely inside when he broke the hill and began gobbling non-stop, clearly expecting to see a hen that wasn't there. Poor Steve was hunched up against bristling, spiny branches trying not to move while Orrin was on bended knee with no way to turn and raise his gun. I, on the other hand, had dropped to my knees and was trying to get the tom on film through a small opening.
The seconds turned to minutes as the big bird, (Steve later guessed him to be 21-22 lbs with a 9″+ beard), lingered not 15 yards from us, but he was too close for Orrin to move on and when he finally got a shot opportunity, I had to say no because of a poor camera angle, much to his disgust. Old Tom ended up suspecting something and busted us, flying straight off the ridge. After that encounter we regrouped and started stalking the first bunch we had heard.
Two Hunts, Two Doubles!
Over the next hour and a half and several miles of walking and climbing, we got within 125 yards of a group of birds feeding at the bottom of a wooded swamp. Neither of us could see the other, and though they gobbled at my calls they appeared not to be coming, so we set up and decided to get really aggressive on the slate. After another 20 minutes they began climbing the ridge, but as they approached, they veered left, altering our set up drastically, and unknown to us at the time.
At one point I lost track of them, so I set the camera down and grabbed the slate again. Orrin and I were side by side, and since they had somehow skirted around us, we were left in the wide open with absolutely no cover between us and them at all. All we had was our backs against a very large downed tree and when I made one more attempt to call and locate them, they appeared instantly, heads popping up at 45 yards all at once. They surveyed the open woods ahead of them but thanks to our new Realtree AP shirts and mismatched hardwood bottoms, (to break up our forms better), they didn't see a thing. I managed to get the camera slowly back up and once they broke 30 yards I told Orrin to try and line up two heads. He did, and with one loud shot, two out four birds hit the ground in a classic double take-down.
They had worked us extremely hard and this was a special hunt for us for several reasons. Orrin had just taken his first turkey with a shotgun, (he had only bow hunted turkeys up to that point), it was his first on-camera appearance, and it was a classic double, caught on video! All of us were elated and spent the rest of the morning breasting and prepping the birds for the trip home. When we got back to the remote cabin, we enjoyed a break, thanks to Steve and Dan's foresight in bringing along a large carafe of hot coffee and some of Judy's famous blueberry muffins and home made cinnamon rolls. After much congratulating, we made the transfer of camera and gun and it was my turn to focus on getting a bird.
The next morning we tried the blind again. Once daylight broke and legal shooting light hit, I grabbed the box call for some soft raspy calling but got nada. Several more attempts produced nothing, so I got aggressive and a bit louder. Instantly, three distinct gobbles erupted not 75 yards below and behind us and we heard them fly down. It didn't take long before they were five steps from the blind but they got cautious and crossed the tote road, heading to the other side of the orchard. Another call from me got their attention and they spotted the decoys and headed right in.
I could hear Orrin's breath coming quicker as he waited for them to come into frame. Three big birds came in and gobbled so well, and put on such a great show for the cameras I got ready quickly. When they reached 15 yards he said I could shoot, so I raised and fired, taking the center one. He dropped like a rock and the other two jumped and started to run but one hesitated at 30 yards and I instantly decided to take him, too, even though it was a jake. I had never taken a double either and since Vermont allows two birds and Maine doesn't, now was my time, especially since this was the last morning of the hunt.
The shot echoed throughout the ridge and as the smoke cleared, I had two birds down and we were tagged out after only two mornings and a total of five hours hunting. Steve and Dan couldn't have been more pleased. Both Orrin and I would have loved to have waited for all mature birds, (Northwoods definitely has them), but our schedule that particular weekend was just too constricted to fully enjoy such a demanding hunt. Not to worry, though. We plan to return annually for both turkeys and deer.
If you want to try some really remote hunting in an absolutely gorgeous mountain setting, you have to give Dan and Steve a call at Northwoods Outdoor Adventures. They're located in Washington, near the town of West Topsham, Vermont, and their professionalism and dedication to the client is second to none. From the moment you arrive they make sure you want for nothing and will give you an incredible hunting experience to remember. Steve took me on a tour through some of the mountain trails and showed me moose hookings and buck rubs from last season, fresh bear tracks from that very day, as well as tree stands, ladder stands and ground blinds all set up for deer, moose, coyote and bear, along the open ridges and in the swamps.
And when it comes to bear, Steve is the man to put you on the big boys. Vermont does not allow baiting so the hunt is much harder but much more rewarding also, since you have to sit on stand or spot and stalk. Steve has taken bears himself, ten years running by doing so, and put Dan on his first successful hunt two years ago as well. They know their business.
They provide all transportation to and from stands, bring you lunch, and will completely care for your animal the moment it's down. They provide a mountain-top base camp in the more remote regions for hunters, and also outfit you with hand-held radios for safety and convenience. Check out their website at www.northwoodsoutdooradventures.com to view their accommodations and pricing plans. The spring of 2008 has us already scheduled to head back there, and this time we're filming for "Northwoods Adventures TV", seen weekly on The Sportsmans Channel. Check the boys out at their website and book a hunt. And as always, as we say on "Northwoods TV",,,,,,"We'll see YOU…in the woods!"
(Blaine Cardilli is a freelance outdoor writer & columnist from Maine. He is a member of the Hunters Specialties prostaff and a member of the Northwoods Adventures TV filming team.)
Upasaka Ángel Manuel Almodóvar Almodóvar,
Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun