Our group of hunting and fishing buddies has committed to getting together more often in the woods and on the water.

Toward that end, I joined brothers Chris Lander of Orrington and Bill Lander of Dedham recently for a three-day camping and bird hunting expedition to the North Maine Woods.

Unfortunately, a couple of our mainstays, former Bangor Daily News Outdoors columnist John Holyoke and Tim Lander, weren’t able to join us this time around.

This time, we decided to head north — where the grouse are always more plentiful — and pitch a tent.

Chris Lander scans the roadside during a bird hunting trip in the North Woods.
Chris Lander of Orrington scans the roadside for ruffed grouse during a recent camping and hunting trip in the North Maine Woods. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

We enjoyed a scenic ride up Interstate 95 and along the Golden Road, where Katahdin towered above the sun-soaked peak foliage and the surging waters of the Penobscot River. Telos Road was predictably dusty and after paying our day use and camping fees at the gate, we headed north.

Using some intel from a North Woods veteran, and after reading up on a handful of authorized campsites, we settled on a gorgeous lakeside location in northern Piscataquis County. It included a new outhouse, picnic tables and fire rings at all three spots.

Camping includes its own set of challenges, especially for a first-timer. And there is perhaps no greater challenge than unpacking the gear to find that the poles for the large, three-compartment tent weren’t in the bag.

It took all of 10 seconds to execute an alternate plan. A screen house, which we planned to use exclusively as a cooking space, would become our shelter.

Fortunately, Chris and Billy had an assortment of tarps, including two big ones, along with an assortment of bungee cords, carabiners and rope.

With some rain in the forecast, and cool nighttime temperatures expected, the tarps were key. We erected the screen enclosure, wrapped it with the tarps and had ourselves a workable shelter.

Left: A brilliant October moon shines down on a lake in the North Maine Woods. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Lander; right: This makeshift “Tarp Mahal” kept a bird hunting party warm and dry during a trip last week to the North Maine Woods. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

With camp set up, we spent the rest of the 71-degree afternoon searching for birds. We saw a handful and Billy shot one.

It was a gorgeous evening and we gobbled down Billy’s hearty beef stew for supper. We sat around the fire ring for a bit, then headed to bed.

It only got down to the mid-40s, but my seldom-used sleeping bag wasn’t quite up to the task. Chris and Billy were toasty in their cold-weather sacks, while I got by wearing thermal underwear.

On Friday, Chris fired up the Coleman stove for Billy’s homemade sausage, eggs and coffee. Afterward, Chris suggested we pull out another large tarp and reconfigure the wrap job, which proved pivotal when it rained that night.

Men prepare a meal during a bird hunting trip in Maine's North Woods.
Chris Lander of Orrington (left) fires up the Coleman stove while his brother, Bill Lander of Dedham, opens a package of his homemade sausage during a recent camping and bird hunting trip in the North Maine Woods. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

We hit the roads again and explored lots of new territory. There were some decent roads, some rutted ones and a few that aren’t really roads anymore. At times, we must have looked like human bobbleheads.

We scoured the treeline and cuts for moose and periodically stopped, made a few calls and waited for a response. We saw a lot of tracks, but no moose.

Grouse were scarce. Despite spending almost nine hours in the truck, we only saw three birds and managed a single shot, which missed.

Pete Warner and his buddies during a bird hunting trip.
Bangor Daily News Outdoors Editor Pete Warner (left) and buddies Chris Lander of Orrington and Bill Lander of Dedham pose for a final photo before heading home from a recent bird hunting and camping trip to the North Maine Woods. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

We enjoyed deli meat and cheese sandwiches on Brick Oven Bakery rolls for lunch at a promising looking spot that we marked on the GPS for future moose consideration.

We joked throughout, reliving some of our favorite hunting and fishing stories from the past with a fondness that never fades no matter how many times we tell them.

Temps hovered in the low 50s throughout the day and for the second evening in a row, after legal shooting time, two woodcock taunted us on our way into the campsite.

Friday’s dinner was cheeseburgers and hotdogs, but the long, bouncy excursion through the woods took its toll. We hit the sack early.

Foliage was peaking during Pete Warner's recent bird hunting trip.
The foliage was at its peak last week during a bird hunting and camping trip to the North Maine Woods. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

It rained overnight and the temperature dipped down a bit, but I doubled up on layers and slept well, and mostly warmly.

Saturday — after bacon, eggs and coffee — started with a bang. A large grouse stood in the access road, 10 feet in front of the truck. I fired twice, and missed.

The chilly day included more bird sightings, some gorgeous scenery and a couple of memorable encounters. We started across a bridge over the Allagash River, at the outlet of Umsaskis Lake. With a panorama of foliage, backlit by bright sun, a large cow moose walked slowly across the river.

A moose crosses the Allagash River during Pete Warner's recent bird hunting trip into the North Woods.
A large cow moose crosses the Allagash River on a gorgeous fall day recently in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Lander

It was an absolute postcard moment and we relived it as we ate lunch, then jumped back in the truck. Chris wound up shooting two grouse, while another took flight before I fired off a shot that was too far to connect.

The final wildlife encounter came as we rode up toward a small rock pit. First one crow, then another, took flight, each having snatched up some carrion.

A moment later, a bald eagle perched atop a rock pile that contained a grouse carcass lifted off and flew into some nearby trees. We marveled at its size and beauty, especially with such an up-close view.

We slowly hunted our way back to the campsite. On the way in, the feathery remains of what certainly was the bird I had missed earlier were draped over a branch.

Katahdin stands out during a bird hunting trip into the North Woods.
Katahdin stands with a backdrop of bright, blue sky and towers over the fall foliage recently. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

It had been a slow bird hunting day, but an exhilarating one. Billy built a fire, on which Chris cooked baked potatoes and delicious ribeyes. We sipped on a cold beverage and agreed the camping experience was one worth repeating.

The last night was breezy and chilly, but the Tarp Mahal again kept us comfortable. We arose, ate sausage and eggs, then efficiently broke camp.

We were greeted on our way home by a wagon train of pickups carrying late-arriving moose hunters along the Telos and Golden roads. We even stopped briefly at Ripogenus Gorge to take in the incredible view from atop the sheer cliffs.

It was the perfect ending to the trip.

Pete Warner and his buddies came across this rusting automobile while birding hunting in the North Woods.
This abandoned truck has become part of the landscape along the Churchill Dam Road in the North Maine Woods. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

We have already made tentative plans to return to Maine’s North Woods in 2023 for some fishing, and maybe more bird hunting. Only next time, we’ll make sure the tent poles are inside the bag and that we have plenty of tarps — just in case.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...