In All’s Well that Ends Well, Shakespeare wrote, “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises.” I am pleased to report that, notwithstanding high expectations on my part, my hunting last weekend with Mark Luce at his Hindsite Hunt Preserve in Newport, Maine met and exceeded my hopes.
The Road to Hindsite
The backstory to this hunt is pretty simple: In November 2005 I began investigating opportunities for introducing my son (who turned 10 in January of this year) to hunting. While he had been to the rifle range with me a number of times, he had not yet been in the field. I was looking for a controlled environment where there would be a high likelihood of success in bagging (I hate the use of the word “harvesting” as applied to hunting) a good looking trophy. While searching old issues of The Hunting Report (a newsletter to which I subscribe and which I heartily recommend) for articles on Maine moose hunting, I came across a 2004 review of Hindsite. The hunter who had been there remarked very favorably on Mark’s operation. Being a big fan of the Maine woods (every autumn for the last 6 or 7 years I have hunted grouse and woodcock in Eustis, Maine at the King & Bartlett Fish and Game Club, also a great spot) and of red stags as trophy animals, I clicked over to Mark’s Internet home at www.hindsite-deer.com. It’s a terrific site, with a number of photos and testimonials.
From there I used Google to pursue Mark and Hindsite across the web. Mark is a savvy Internet marketer: He has a presence on a number of forums (fora?), including the Maine Hunting Forums, Total Sportsman, and Women Hunters. In May 2004 the Bangor News published this interesting, and favorable, profile of Mark and Hindsite which included this tidbit, “One of last season’s hunters, Ray Christian of Kansas, a construction company owner, has been hunting for 20 years. He called his experience ‘the hunt of a lifetime.’ ‘The thick timber of Maine makes it a very challenging hunt,’ he said recently. ‘You never feel you are on a preserve.’ Christian took down a 398 pound, 12-point stag.”
Nowhere among this mass of online data did I find anything negative or even equivocal about hunters’ experiences with Mark and Hindsite. It seemed that everyone who went had a good time, took a beautiful animal, and expressed a desire to return. Knowing that my son’s school calendar provided us with an opportunity to get to Maine over the President’s Day holiday, I emailed Mark in November and inquired about availability. Mark got back to me very quickly, said he had an opening, and soon we were locked in for a February red stag hunt.
Who knew in November that President’s Day weekend would bring the coldest days of what to that point had been an unseasonably mild winter? My son and I woke this past Saturday to temperatures of 15 and windchills approaching 0. As I knew from the outset that my son would be along on this trip, I had purchased a variety of cold weather gear, including a battery powered handwarmer. On the the ten minute ride from Lovely’s Motel in downtown Newport to Hindsite, the temperature dropped as our elevation above sea level rose.
Standing in Mark’s driveway we met Matt and Tom, the two fellows who would be assisting Mark on the hunt. Mark told us that we could follow him in our car as he drove himself and his two colleagues to a location closer to the preserve’s entrance. Off we went down a nearby dirt road, parking close to a frozen-over trout pond. When we exited our vehicles Mark explained that the preserve is in a small valley, and the wind would be noticeably weaker than it had been at his home on top of the hill. In addition, Mark had chosen to start us out in an elevated box blind, and the walls of our enclosure would serve to further block the breeze.
Mark, Tom and Matt all grabbed gear, and off we went on foot toward the fenced-in preserve. When I said, on seeing the gates, that it looked like we were about to enter Jurassic Park, Mark told me I wasn’t the first hunter to make that observation. Through the entrance we went, and within five minutes were at our stand. After the guys helped us get our gear situated in the blind, Mark gave us a brief overview of the geography (showing us what direction we were facing), and left us with a walkie-talkie. “If you need anything, just call me. Otherwise I’ll be back in a few hours.” Then off he went. It was now about 8 am, the sun fighting with the clouds, but shedding precious little heat even when it shone brightly.
Towards the end of our first hour we noted movement to our southeast. But the color was black, not red, and the size was all wrong. It was a flock of turkeys, moving slowly towards us. Knowing how sensitive the birds are, I decided to use their presence as an experiment to see how silent we could be in the blind. I figured that if the turkeys didn’t know we were around, the stags wouldn’t either. The birds wandered ever closer, eventually passing within 30 yards of us before settling down for what appeared to be a midmorning siesta about 50 yards to our northeast. They would be our companions for the duration of the hunt. When I informed Mark of their presence afterwards, he said that it was a good thing, as the birds help settle down the skittish stags.
Shortly into our second hour, we had deer-size action in the woods. It was two does off to the northwest. At about 9:30, the walkie-talkie vibrated. It was Mark: “There’s a bunch of bulls moving towards you from the north.” My son and I focused our attention in that direction, but for 10, 20, 30 minutes, we saw nothing. Then they appeared: A group of three big bulls, wandering slowly but steadily by about 100 yards away. I raised my rifle, but didn’t have a clear shot. There was simply too much brush and moving deer meat between me and the animals. Somehow the bulls managed to arrange themselves so that each of their target areas was covered, either by a tree or by the butt-end of another bull. After a brief stop they wandered on into the trees and disappeared from sight.
Within a few minutes another small bachelor herd of 3 showed in the same spot. These guys were moving much more quickly than the first group. Included in their number was a distinctive looking spike horn. This time I didn’t even have time to get my scope on them. They, too, simply melted into the woods.
By this time my son was furious. “Why didn’t you shoot?!” I tried to tell him that I didn’t have a shot at anything in the first group, and that the second bunch was moving too fast. He wasn’t buying it. And, frankly, as the minutes continued to click by and we saw no more bulls, I began to question myself. Maybe I could have made that shot. My doubts grew as another half-hour passed with nothing in our piece of woods except us and the turkeys.
Then it happened. To the east, out of what was the front window of our blind, we saw a pair of stags. One was the spiker we had seen before. The other was the trophy animal we had come for. They wandered toward us, never getting very far apart. I raised my rifle, clicked off the safety, and filled my scope with deer. In they came, 100 yards, then 80, then closer. But the spike horn insisted on staying between me and the big bull. I kept my scope on them. Finally, the deer arranged themselves so that I had an opening to shoot past the face of the spiker and into the chest of the trophy. Whispering to the bulls “Don’t move”, I pulled the trigger.
Between the recoil, the smoke, and my concern at jacking another round into the chamber, I didn’t see the big one fall or the spiker jump away. But when I got my scope back on the trophy, he was down. He tried to lift his head once, and then once more, and then he lay still. As I lowered my rifle and my son screamed with delight, the walkie-talkie buzzed. Mark had heard the shot, and wanted to know what had happened. “We got a good one!” And so we did:
The shot turned out to be 58 yards. I used a Browning A-Bolt White Gold Medallion in .30/06 shooting a 165 grain Federal Fusion round. While the rifle absolutely loved the Fusion ammo at the range, I had never used one on game before. The bullet performed beautifully, and did not exit. On dressing out the stag we discovered that while I had missed the heart, I got both lungs. Death was very quick.
The Bottom Line
I unreservedly recommend Mark Luce and Hindsite. Mark understood exactly what I was trying to accomplish, and went out of his way to make sure that my son had a safe, productive and fun initiation into hunting. Growing up I watched a television show called The A Team, starring George Peppard and Mr. T. Peppard’s signature line in that series was, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Thanks to Mark (as well as Matt and Tom), the plan for my son and I worked exactly as I had hoped.