Some hunters set a reasonable goal of completing Maine’s big game “grand slam” — tagging a moose, bear, deer and wild turkey — over the course of their hunting careers. Others try to accomplish the feat in a single year.
And still others — such as 18-year-old Tyler Winchester of Bucksport — need far less time than that.
Winchester, who is a senior at Bucksport High School, recently completed that grand slam and didn’t even have to participate in November’s firearms deer season. Instead, he bagged his deer with a bow in October. Altogether, it took Winchester just two months to take all four animals.
There’s often a longer delay between the start of a hunter’s grand slam hunting and its completion because the spring turkey hunt is much more popular than the autumn hunt, and spring turkeys are quite predictable because they’re in the middle of their mating rituals.
Hunting and outdoors activities are important to the Winchester family, and Tyler and his 11-year-old brother are both trappers, as well as anglers and hunters. But the idea of completing a grand slam wasn’t on Tyler’s radar until five months ago, when he received good news.
“When I got a moose permit, [I decided to aim for the grand slam],” he said.
Any hunter is allowed to target wild turkeys, deer and black bears in Maine. In order to go after a moose, your name has to be selected in a state-run lottery. And once his popped out of the electronic hopper, Tyler figured he’d have a fair chance at completing the grand slam.
One reason for his optimism: Tyler has enjoyed a rare level of hunting success despite his age. He has shot a deer every year — except one — since he turned 10 and was legally allowed to hunt. And the year he didn’t tag a deer, his family still had plenty of meat in its freezer thanks to him. That was 2013, and he bagged a moose instead.
According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 12 to 15 percent of the state’s licensed deer hunters fill their tags each year.
Despite those long odds, during a whirlwind of hunting activity, Tyler filled all four tags.
“I got my bear in the last week of August, and then I got a deer, a turkey and a moose in a matter of two weeks,” he said.
Putting bear bait near a family camp in Linneus proved to be a bit of a challenge, as the Aroostook County town is about 130 miles from Bucksport. Tyler’s dad, Blaine Winchester, made the trip once a week, baiting less frequently than many bear hunters would, but it didn’t matter much. Tyler was able to take a bear at that site. And Tyler said he was able to take a five-point buck early in the regular archery season, which began Oct. 5. The buck weighed 132 pounds.
Filling the moose tag wound up being the toughest task. The Winchesters moose hunted in Wildlife Management District 4, in northwestern Maine, in late October, and struggled to find a moose.
The Winchesters drove. They hiked. They camped on the Golden Road and put in long days. And they just couldn’t find a moose to shoot.
“The aggravation of driving 800 miles over five and a half days and not seeing a moose was overwhelming,” said Blaine Winchester. “We didn’t just drive. Tyler and I do a lot of hiking, a lot of walking. We walked probably 10 miles as well as driving that far and still couldn’t spot one.”
Then, with time running out on the final day of the six-day session, they rounded a corner and spotted a young bull in the road. Tyler made the shot, and the grand slam was complete.
Blaine Winchester said all of the meat will be put to use.
“We cut and package it ourselves, and what we don’t keep we deliver to people in the area that can use it, or they can come pick up what they need,” he said. “So far we have supplied three elderly families with free meat for the winter.”
Taking that approach, and sharing nature’s bounty, has become a family tradition.
“My wife, two boys and myself all love to hunt, and this is something that we have done for years and it’s a great way to help our neighbors and folks in the community,” Blaine Winchester said.
Tyler said he loves spending time outdoors, and finds that sitting in tree stands gives him a needed break from the bustle of everyday life and the social media that seems to come along with it.
His dad points out that Tyler is an academic achiever as well, and is a member of the National Honor Society.
His future plans include pursuing a career as a game warden, and spending even more time in the woods.
And he’s got another adventurous goal in mind as well.
“The Appalachian Trail,” Tyler said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And [my dad] did it. So that’s something I really want to do.”