column By: King Montgomery, text and photos | October, 21
The region has a storied sporting past in fishing, particularly fly fishing, and in superb ruffed grouse and American woodcock hunting. And Grant’s Kennebago Camps sits right in the middle of all that great hunting and fishing not too far from Kennebago Lake, the northernmost of the fabled Rangeley Lakes.
Grant’s sits directly on Kennebago Lake, a 5-mile-long, three-quarter mile-wide body of water; in the Indigenous Abenaki language, Kennebago means long pond. The lake holds landlocked salmon, Eastern brook trout and some monster but very elusive brown trout. Fly angling is allowed on the lake until the end of October, and many guests hunt grouse and woodcock and then also use one of the Rangeley boats with an outboard motor that comes with the cabin to fish the lake.
More than a million acres of prime habitat are available to guests at Grant’s, much of which is open to the public, accessible by hundreds of miles of logging roads and trails. By October, it’s time for the wild ruffed grouse and the migratory woodcock to take center stage.
Maine is the most forested state in the union with almost 90% of the land covered in evergreen and deciduous trees. Over generations, it has also been one of the most heavily logged. This is good in two ways for bird hunters. First, excellent habitat always is being renewed for grouse and woodcock (and other game animals); and second, the logging roads extend into otherwise unapproachable areas so that hunters and anglers can access those wild places.
The bird hunting terrain primarily is along old and newer logging trails and roads, clear-cuts in various stages of regeneration and in the mixed stands of spruce, poplar, beech, birch and tamarack. Woodcock usually prefer the damper areas nears the streams, ponds and lakes where earthworms and other delectable are found.
The covers along the roads not only provide excellent habitat and feeding areas for the birds but also allow folks like me who are physically disabled and have limited mobility to find birds, take shots and see some beautiful country. It’s not quite like riding in a plush quail bird buggy down South and getting out only when the dogs are on point, but the roads/trails do allow us to cover some good, birdy ground. Good, close-working dogs are invaluable in hunting this land that varies from the easy to the ridiculously difficult.
The Rangeleys, as the area is known, still is relatively sparsely settled, though during the summer months a good number of Mainers and those from “away” occupy their “camps,” usually nonwinterized small houses, cabins or the occasional trailer. There are a number of inns and resort camps, many extant for a century or more, and some newer concerns that are on or near the lakes and the surrounding forests.But by October first, the usual opening day of bird season, only the locals, bird hunters and some leaf peepers — those who visit for the colorful foliage display — are around. Some of the camps that catered to anglers during the warmer weather turn to hosting bird dogs and those of us who think we look good in blaze orange.
A fire destroyed much of Grant’s Camps in spring 1977, and the cabins were rebuilt in the traditional sporting camp motif. Each of the18 lakeside cabins has electric baseboard heat, a wood-burning stove, hot and cold running water, shower, flush toilets and is connected to the electrical power grid. Wi-Fi is available in the dining room, the office and the comfortable lounge next door. Rustic elegance at its best.
Three meals a day are served in the comfortable dining hall, and bag lunches are available to take afield or a stream on request. The food is excellent, and the table service is friendly and efficient. The camp fare is superb thanks to Chef Larry and the kitchen staff and the wonderful attention that Samantha and Tina give to everyone in the dining room. And the view of the lake through the large windows always is a visual treat.
After a day on the water or afield in the varied covers, a nice restful night’s sleep awaits you beginning with a serenade from one or more of the resident loons on the shimmering lake just outside your cabin’s door. It just might be a two- or three-loon night.