March shows: a sure sign of spring

March is a deceitful month, especially for Aroostook County and the sportsmen who reside there year round. The clocks are set ahead an hour, days are getting longer daylight hours and the sun offers more warmth. Hopes rise that spring is actually near. It’s all a spirit crushing deception, more often than not the Crown of Maine will endure at least one major snowstorm and more frigid weather.  

Truth be told, no matter how devout an outdoorsman you are, the passion for drilling holes in the ice and setting tip-ups, chasing the snowshoe hare or sitting in a snow drift watching a coyote bait all begin to fade. It’s been a long winter with snow since November and spring can’t get here soon enough. Also there’s only so much fly tying, shell reloading, decoy carving and other indoor hobbies you can enjoy. This month, thankfully, diversions are available in the form of various sportsmen shows throughout the state. Visiting and exploring one or two might be just the tonic to help us survive until trees bud and grass grows.

It’s difficult to judge whether the parents and grandparents playing guide or the kids doing the actual casting were having more fun trying to catch a feisty brook trout from the portable pond at last year’s Spring Sportsman’s Show in Presque Isle. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Three major outdoor showcases will take place on three different weekends this month featuring a wide variety of hunting, fishing and boating opportunities. Attendees may participate in lectures, slide shows, demos and even one-on-one teaching events. There will be row after row of booths and displays by local, regional and even national outfitters and guides, where visitors can learn about and sign up for unique hunting and fishing trips. Often there are some special rates offered, and what better way to survive the dregs of winter and mud season than to have a trip to look forward to?

Many of the sportsmen’s shows feature competitions as well. Often there are moose calling, duck and goose calling, taxidermy, painting, photography and carving, with divisions for all ages as well as amateur and professional levels. Exhibitions may be enjoyed on land and in the water as top-notch dog handlers show off the skills of retrievers, pointers and setters, as well as training techniques and trailing tactics for some of the more unique breeds.

Kids and adults can enjoy a free fly tying lesson with all equipment and materials supplied, and then take home their feather-and-fur creation to try out when the ice clears. If the youngsters just can’t wait for open water season, a well-stocked artificial pond full of hefty brook trout can be enjoyed with rods and bait provided. It’s hard to say who has more fun, the youth anglers or the moms and dads playing guide and offering advice. 

Often a local club or area business will set up a special range for archery or pellet gun shooting with gear and guidance provided for all ages. If a swimming pool is available or weather permitting an open space of grass outdoors, national or regional organizations offer fly casting or spin casting lessons to interested visitors. Also available are several daily lectures with slide or video support by well-known experts on a wide array of outdoor ventures: kayaking, rock climbing, photography, falconry, hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and more.

Personally I can’t wait to view all the taxidermy. Not just the fish, fowl and furred animals entered for competition judging, but the exhibits displayed by businesses. Hunting and fishing camps, ocean charters and professional taxidermists always display mounts at their booths of trophy size specimens. Not only does it give a sportsman a goal to aspire to, but these beautiful replicas help me phase out of winter and look forward to cast and blast weather.

The Eastern Maine Show at the University of Maine field house in Orono takes place March 13, 14, and 15. This is the 82nd year for this event. 

The Presque Isle Fish and Game Club’s Spring Sportsman’s Show begins the following weekend on Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22, at Gentile Hall on the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus. 

Many young visitors to outdoors shows take the opportunity to try out fly tying for the very first time. Perhaps this future fly caster, working hard at the 2019 Spring Sportsman’s Show in Presque Isle, is learning a lifelong hobby. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Augusta Civic Center hosts the largest outdoor show of the year as The Maine Sportsman Magazine puts on its 40th gathering on March 27, 28 and 29. Included for only the second time will be the Maine Firearm Auction, where many seized and donated guns will be sold. Your ticket into show also gets you admitted to the 12 p.m. auction. Even if you’re just an observer it’s a fun outing.

Regardless that March gives us another hour of light as we spring ahead with daylight savings, and the days and sunlight are stronger, it’s still winter in The County. Conditions can switch from clear skies to blizzard conditions overnight. Nonetheless, regional sportsmen shows offer a respite and buoy spirits with a hint of upcoming outdoor activities. You might consider them a “cabin fever reliever.” Break up the cold-weather monotony and visit one or two. Consider it a mental health day.

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