Come Monday morning, another herd of hunters, along with their friends and family members, will embark on special hunts as the second major week of moose season gets underway across the state.
I’m among those who believe that there’s no better time to be on a dirt road deep in the Maine woods than mid-October.
There’s been a bit of rain lately, so you’re probably not going to have any dusty roads to deal with. And it’s been cooler lately, so you won’t have to worry about the worst of the biting insects.
There will be crazy-beautiful foliage across much of the middle portion of the state.
And if you’re so inclined (and properly licensed) you could end up moose hunting, bird hunting and fly fishing, all on the same trip. Be extra careful about the fishing — many waters closed for the season Oct. 1.
In all, 1,280 moose permits have been allotted for the Oct. 14-19 season, and those hunters will scatter across 18 Wildlife Management Districts in order to fill their tags.
But you don’t have to have a moose permit (or wait until Monday, for that matter) to head into the woods and make some memories.
Here, first, is a pro tip worth heeding: Before you head off the pavement for some truly wild places, grab your DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. Even if you have a GPS. Especially if you have a GPS. Trust me, that old map book will come in handy at some point in your journey.
Are you getting eager to hit the road? Want a few route suggestions? I’m here to help.
Say you live down around Bangor, and you’re looking for some cool scenery and a road that’s safe enough that you’re not likely to end up stranded in the woods, munching beef jerky, as you wait for help to arrive.
Your best bet is Stud Mill Road. This is a recreational superhighway that runs east-west from Costigan (just above Old Town) over to Washington County. It’s wide, it’s smooth (sometimes) and best of all, there are all kinds of side roads to turn onto in order to chase some birds or look for even better foliage.
You can access Stud Mill Road by heading out County Road in Milford and driving until you get to the four corners. Then turn right to head Down East. Your good ol’ map book will show you several offshoots to your right that will get you back to Route 9, should you choose to do so. Or, you can simply turn around and head back to Milford when you’ve had enough.
Remember, though, that when you’re on Maine’s major gravel road system, you’re likely to encounter a logging truck or 10. If you do, slow down and move over. Stop if you have to.
Say you’re a bit farther north, and you’re looking for a similarly enjoyable trip. Where should you go?
The Golden Road would be my pick. Head west out of Millinocket (again, the Gazetteer is your friend — use it), and enjoy the sights. You’re apt to see a moose or two, and after driving for a few miles, you’ll begin to see the beautiful West Branch of the Penobscot River on your right.
Another not-so-secret pro tip: Pack a lunch. Then, when you get to the major intersection of the Telos Road (again, check your map book), turn right and go across the bridge. There’s a parking area on your right. Park there. Walk down the path to the cliffs that overlook the rapids below. Unpack your lunch. Linger for awhile. Take a few photos. You can thank me later.
Finally, if you’re interested in a more free-form adventure, I would suggest heading up the west side of Moosehead Lake. There, just shy of the town of Rockwood, you can turn left onto Somerset Road, and with a few minor detours, make your way all the way over to Route 201 just north of West Forks.
Or perhaps you want to turn right in Rockwood and head up the 20 Mile Road toward Pittston Farm. Or drive beyond Rockwood and turn right onto Demo Road, which also leads to some pretty wild places.
Any will work just fine, and each will provide its own unique adventures.
Over in that part of Maine, there’s a spot, high on a hill, where our group always stops when we’re on these trips. We stretch our legs, take a photo or two and enjoy the panoramic view.
We’re also commonly drawn to a pristine pond several miles away, where the surface rarely has even a ripple, and a welcoming campsite sits unused, a huge stone fire pit hinting that it’s not always so quiet nor private here.
Forgotten, for a few minutes, are all the birds we’ve missed, or all the moose we haven’t seen. And we don’t talk much when we’re at these special spots deep in the Maine woods, instead opting to stand silently and take in the sights.
And on a nice October day in Maine, it doesn’t get much better than that.
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” will be released by Islandport Press in October.