Santiago Rave had reached an emotional crossroads.
His marriage ended after several years, leaving the father of two young daughters to contemplate how to transition into the next phase of his life.
The experience encouraged him to pursue new ways to redirect his energies, so he headed outdoors.
Growing up in Ellsworth, lots of Rave’s friends spent time hunting, many with their parents.
“It was always on my bucket list,” he said, bursting into quiet laughter during a turkey hunting outing in May. His words were garbled by the inadvertent squawks made by the diaphragm call still in his mouth.
In 2018, Rave was adjusting to being single again. Hunting provided a new diversion. It quickly became a passion.
“When I got divorced, I was trying to find ways to occupy myself,” the 42-year-old Bangor resident said. “Being out in nature, you have a lot of time to think, to figure your life out.”
With help from a friend, Rave learned how to handle and shoot firearms and began to pursue hunting. Not having taken Maine’s hunter safety course, he instead took advantage of Maine’s apprentice program and hunted with a couple of friends. It allows someone who has never held an adult hunting license to hunt while supervised by another licensed adult hunter with three or more years of experience.
“I’ve always been outdoorsy. I love camping and I love being outside hiking and being in the woods, so it kind of made sense,” Rave said.
Early that first fall, toting a borrowed shotgun, he did some grouse hunting. When deer season arrived, Rave procured the use of a .308 rifle from another friend.
That November, he contacted me and asked if he might tag along sometime.
I understood his enthusiasm. I was 44 when I discovered the thrill, and the challenges, of deer hunting.
But Rave, a dining services manager at the University of Maine, wasn’t your typical first-timer. He had done his homework.
We teamed up for a cold, snowy day in the woods of Newburgh and sat in a ground blind on the edge of a hardwood ridge. He quietly asked questions and we swapped ideas about hunting.
He demonstrated a remarkable amount of knowledge, which he explained was gleaned from reading and watching YouTube videos. He was hooked.
“I really enjoy the whole process,” Rave said. “Learning about tracking, about how these animals live, if they’ve got a water source, and trying to figure out what they’re doing; doing all the research and implementing it.”
We eventually abandoned the blind and walked, cutting some deer tracks in the snow. Later, two deer saw us first and bolted.
As we attempted to follow, it was Rave who noticed a different set of tracks at the base of a small tree. He pointed out the fresh bark shavings in the snow created by a buck rubbing its antlers on the tree.
I never would have seen them.
“Since I’m new, there’s a wow factor,” Rave said. “That’s the excitement is finding those signs, searching for them. They’re little treasures.”
In 2019, hunter safety certificate in hand, Rave had a close encounter while deer hunting. He had set up a blind and mock scrape on a friend’s property in Prospect.
He had been hearing squirrels rustling around in the leaves so often that he didn’t immediately recognize the sounds of a buck moving through the brush directly behind the blind.
“In my peripheral over here [to the left], I see antlers. He was close, I am not joking,” Rave said, pointing out of the turkey blind toward a tree not 10 feet away. “He turned and he was right in the blind [spot] of the tree. All I could see was his antlers on either side of the tree.”
Rave eventually got a good look at the deer’s hind quarters, but he heeded the cautionary lessons from his hunter safety course and opted to wait for a more responsible shot.
One never came.
“I didn’t learn shooting them in the butt, so then I saw it slowly walk away,” he said.
It was one of many hunting lessons learned during his first solo season.
Last year, he began to reap the rewards of his research and his persistence.
In October, Rave bagged his first turkey, a hen. On Nov. 7 he harvested his first deer — a 184-pound, 8-point buck.
At 3:27 p.m., I received his text while trying to fill an antlerless tag of my own in southern Maine.
“I just got one!” he said.
Rave continued his success on opening day of the 2021 spring turkey season by taking a tom (18.8 pounds, 9 1/2-inch beard, 1-inch spurs).
Our subsequent turkey hunting trip to Corinth (a big thank you to Gordon Woodin for the opportunity to share his land) did not yield any male birds. But it gave us the chance to swap stories, test our turkey-calling skills and share our love of the outdoors.
Not surprisingly, Rave taught me a few lessons about turkey behavior that he had observed.
Two weeks later, doing a bit of turkey reconnaissance, he had his first black bear encounter.
Another important element of hunting for Rave is the food it provides. He comes by his culinary knowledge honestly after operating the former Thistle’s Restaurant in downtown Bangor with his father, chef Alejandro Rave, and his mother Maria.
“Being able to harvest your own meat and then cooking it, learning how to do all that stuff, has been a big part of my desire as well,” he said, admitting that learning to skin and butcher a deer is on his wish list.
Rave has been eager to share his outdoor experiences. He often takes his daughters Emilia, 9, and Silvia, 6, on adventures including hiking and fishing.
Emilia even tagged along with her dad as an observer for a turkey hunt before school one morning this spring. They had seven jakes come in, but none presented itself for a clean shot.
Rave’s pursuit of hunting has been exactly what he needed to help fill a void in his life and open up new opportunities.
“A big part was trying to find myself again with the excuse of learning a new sort of skill and fulfilling dreams,” Rave said. “I really like disappearing into nature, listening to all the sounds, paying attention to movement, just immersing yourself.”