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    Grant's Kennebago Camps: Historical Upland Gunning Locale in Western Maine

    October in the Rangeley Lakes Region of the Western Maine Mountains is a magical and probably the most beautiful time of the year. Not only do the stunning colors grace the eye, but also excellent upland bird hunting opportunities await in the wild and crazy pallet of fall color in the forests, swamps and barrens of this part of Maine, just east of New Hampshire and a touch south of Canada’s Quebec province.

    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.

    October in the Rangeley Lakes Region of the Western Maine Mountains is a magical time of the year.
    October in the Rangeley Lakes Region of the Western Maine Mountains is a magical time of the year.

    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.

    The dining hall and most of the 18 cabins at Grant’s Kennebago Camps sit directly on Kennebago Lake.
    The dining hall and most of the 18 cabins at Grant’s Kennebago Camps sit directly on Kennebago Lake.
    Some of the best grouse hunting in New England is found here, and John Blunt, owner of Grant’s Kennebago Camps and a very experienced registered Maine hunting and fishing guide — outdoors guides are tested and registered by the state — says to expect at least 15 to 20 flushes a day, mostly grouse with some woodcock thrown in. Three other top-notch bird hunting guides and their dogs also work at the camps.

    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.

    From the left, Karl and Deb Johnson, Standish, Maine and Mitch Schadler of Keane, New Hampshire, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and a great view before heading into the woods with their gorgeous Brittanys.
    From the left, Karl and Deb Johnson, Standish, Maine and Mitch Schadler of Keane, New Hampshire, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and a great view before heading into the woods with their gorgeous Brittanys.

    Grant’s Camps owner John Blunt (left) and Larry Clark of Roanoke, Virginia, pose at the entrance to the camp.
    Grant’s Camps owner John Blunt (left) and Larry Clark of Roanoke, Virginia, pose at the entrance to the camp.
    While hunting near the roads/trails is relatively easy on both dogs and hunters, the woods can get pretty rough once off the beaten paths. And some of the covers are basically impenetrable, but many such areas can hold a lot of birds, so it’s always a good idea to at least hunt the edges. The main caveat when you use these roads is that logging trucks and moose always have the right-of-way, so pay attention and keep an eye on the rearview mirror for huge, fast-moving trucks and watch to the front and along the sides of the roads ahead for the huge, dark “deer.”

    At Grant’s you may BYOD (bring your own dogs) or use one of the camp’s guides with their dogs. And while you are welcome to hunt on your own, hiring a guide, at least for the first hunt or two, is a great idea. Some guides were born and raised in the area and know the country and the birds very well. Your dogs may stay with you in your cabin and, as the season progresses, chances are you’ll run into some two-, three- (or more) dog nights, as the nights get colder.
    October at Grant’s Camps means one thing: bird hunting!
    October at Grant’s Camps means one thing: bird hunting!

    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.

    Registered Maine Guide Frank Lepore readies Sophia the Gordon setter for a hunt.
    Registered Maine Guide Frank Lepore readies Sophia the Gordon setter for a hunt.
    On an additional note, the area’s outdoor sporting history is displayed wonderfully at the Outdoor Heritage Museum in nearby Oquossoc, and a visit there, either on your way in or out of Grant’s Camps, is highly encouraged.

    Because of the orientation of Kennebago Lake, Grant’s guests can view both sunrises and sunsets.
    Because of the orientation of Kennebago Lake, Grant’s guests can view both sunrises and sunsets.

    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.

    So if you want a true taste of the legendary Maine sporting camp experience, check out Grant’s Kennebago Camps in its wild, beautiful part of the Rangeleys that is home to more trees, fresh air, clean water and upland game birds than you’ve probably ever seen. Another bonus to a visit comes from the fact that Kennebago Lake runs northwest to southeast on almost a 45-degree angle; that means you can see the sun both rise and set from your cabin. Look left in the evening for the sunset and, in the early morning, stare to the east and you’ll catch it coming up in all its red, orange and pink splendor.

    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.


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