Winter options for Aroostook hunters

Unlike the last couple of years, winter arrived early and with a vengeance of regular snow storms bracketed with heavy winds and frigid temperatures. Conditions are far from optimal for regional hunters and shooters, especially when the only two choices are rabbit hunting and sniping varmints in the form of cunning coyotes and furtive fox. I’m not sure about others, but my enthusiasm for cold weather excursions seems to dampen with each additional year of age.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy slogging swamp edges looking for snowshoe hare or listening to beagles hot on the trail of a rabbit. It’s still a thrill to see wary coyote appear from the wood line in response to my wounded rabbit call or to visit a bait site. I’m just more selective when and where I go. Outings tend to be very weather dependent this time of year and that’s why a growing number of Aroostook sportsmen are turning to alternative shooting sports to fill the void created by limited seasons and winter weather.

Weekend shopping trips, business meetings or a couple of days of visiting relatives draw a lot of folks to southern Maine this time of year. Usually temperatures rise and snow depths decline with each big city from Bangor to Augusta to Portland, and shooting-oriented options increase as well. Keep an eye on the newspaper and you’ll find at least one big gun show or outdoor sporting exhibition every month. Each will help keep the outdoor mind and body engaged while waiting for spring.

There are a surprising number of indoor shooting ranges available throughout the state for small caliber rifles, handguns and archery practice. Many are associated with gun stores, fish and game clubs or rod and gun organizations, and may be easily located online with your computer. There are even more outdoor ranges for big bore rifle shoots, skeet, trap, sporting clays and other shooting sports that operate all winter in the milder southern Maine climate. Most welcome visitors and post a schedule of weekly events and hours, and some of the firearm shops with ranges indoor or outside even rent guns and of course sell ammo.

Right in Presque Isle, Ben’s Trading Post has an indoor archery range offering lessons, hosting shooting events and parties and providing a full line of gear, professional setup and maintenance from trained pros. Also for the hearty dyed-in-the-wool shotgunners, the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club offers skeet shooting on Saturdays and Sunday mornings and Wednesday afternoons throughout the year.

About 25 years ago, I purchased a shooting game that came with a projector unit and two fake shotguns. In a large room, the projector would simulate thrown skeet targets on a far walk that would shatter when the infrared pulse from the gun was on target. Targets were single or doubles thrown with an automatic program or by manual hand-held device as the shooter called for them. Not exactly like real life, but I still use it to keep my eye and hand coordination sharp during the off season. Updated and advanced versions of this shooting game are still available.

About 10 years ago I upped the ante and bought a good quality pellet rifle and handgun as well as a multi-faceted target that captures the projectiles. If you have a good-sized heated basement, garage or out building, it’s possible to set up a variety of target backdrops and practice alone or have mini competitions with friends. If you’ve not tracked the progress since the BB gun of your youth, it will amaze and intrigue you how the new CO2 powered firearms look, feel and shoot like a hunting gun. They offer a year-around hobby and great cold weather option to maintain shooting skills!

Like many Crown of Maine residents, I try to travel for a week or so each winter to a warmer climate. Florida, Arizona, South Carolina and Hawaii are likely vacation locations, and guess what, there’s not only warm weather at each spot but one or more open hunting seasons as well! Turkey, wild hogs, deer and upland birds are a few of the available quarry. I don’t know about you, but I can only lay by the pool, walk on the beach or visit Mickey and Goofy so many times.

Don’t let cabin fever and the weather blues get the best of you shooting enthusiasts. There are options to explore that are not only fun, but beneficial. Worse comes to worse, you can always get out your favorite firearms and give them a really good and thorough cleaning or put some time in at the reloading bench. Be of good faith as January’s almost over and with any luck we are halfway to spring.

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