Hayden Varney (left) of Portage took this 244-pound, 10-point buck hunting on Halloween in Turner alongside his father, Earle Varney. It was one leg of his "Maine grand slam." Credit: Courtesy of Heidi Varney

Hayden Varney is an avid hunter who spends a lot of time in the woods.

The Turner native stepped up his efforts this year after moving to Portage with his family in March.

Relocating to Aroostook County and unfamiliar territory didn’t hamper Varney’s success. The 21-year-old enjoyed the best hunting year of his life, including an unexpected and impressive “Maine grand slam.”

Varney harvested a deer, bear, moose and turkey in 2022. The accomplishment was made possible thanks in part to his cousin, 12-year-old Ella Berry of Lisbon, for whom he served as the subpermittee on a moose hunt.

Along the way, Varney made some incredible memories by taking a huge County black bear and a bruising southern Maine buck.

“It’s kind of what we live and breathe: hunting, fishing and anything outdoors, really,” said Varney, who stressed that his harvests were only possible because of the support and guidance of family members and friends from across the state.

It began in September with a bear hunt near his new home in Portage, where he found generous people willing to share their land and their expertise. It was Varney’s first year baiting bears.

He credited his best friend, Allen Peabody of Leeds, and longtime bear hunter and Registered Maine Guide Peter Koch of Portage with providing invaluable information.

“I was always asking them different questions and for tips and tricks,” Varney said. “The baiting and checking them out on game cameras and the cat-and-mouse game of that was an absolute blast.”

Later in the season, a large boar started showing up at his site, but only late at night. Koch suggested reducing the amount of bait in the hope of changing the bear’s habits. At first, it disappeared completely, making Varney wonder whether he should hold out for the boar.

His patience paid off. On Sept. 20, as he sat in the blind with a light rain falling, a group of raccoons milling around the site suddenly disappeared.

Varney heard a twig break, then silence. Half an hour later, six minutes before the end of legal shooting time, the monstrous bear stepped out. He made a good shot.

His father, Earle Varney, who was celebrating his birthday, and friend Chris Walker arrived to help with the track, recovery and drag. It was a tough haul and a struggle getting it into the truck.

The next challenge was finding an adequate scale. Their attempt to hang the bear in their shop broke support bolts off the wall. Coffin’s General Store, a tagging station, was closed, but owner Matt Boutout was willing to help.

He hooked up his scale and lifted the bear with a tractor, but the bear was too heavy to get a reading. Boutot then contacted a friend at nearby Crooked Tree Lodge, whose scale went up to 1,200 pounds.

The bear weighed 481 pounds.

Hayden Varney (right) of Portage harvested this 481-pound black bear hunting in the Portage area in September to help celebrate the birthday of his father, Earle Varney (left). Credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Varney

“I knew it was a big bear, but I didn’t know the magnitude of how big of a bear it was,” Hayden Varney said.

He is eager to share his love of hunting with family members, including his young cousins Ella, Keegan Berry, 11, and Jace Berry, 8.

“We’re looking to pass that tradition down to them,” said Varney, who wound up as the subpermittee on Ella’s October moose hunt in northern Maine.

“It was a zone that was right around me and I was really excited for her,” he added. Varney spent parts of 70 days in the North Maine Woods scouting during the summer to find Berry a good bull.

Berry’s best chance came on Wednesday when a bull presented itself, but her vision issues and the logistics of its location prevented her from being able to take the shot.

By Friday, it was crunch time and it was raining hard. The group’s luck changed after they provided a ride to two bird hunters left stranded when their truck got stuck.

With some advice from the appreciative hunters, who had shot a moose earlier in the week, their luck changed.

“I told my father, those guys are a good sign that we’re about to see a good moose,” Varney said.

Soon after, they came across a bull that was a long distance away. As they tried to get within shooting range, they encountered another bull.

The clock was ticking and the frustration mounting on the gray day and the moose was more than 200 yards away. Ella had already told her cousin that the next time he had a shot at a bull, he should take it.

Varney obliged, albeit reluctantly, especially since Ella had put in a tremendous amount of time and effort during the hunt.

“She really was a trooper. She just wanted to get the moose,” he said.

He shot the moose, which dressed out at 655 pounds.

Hayden Varney (left) of Portage shot this 655-pound bull moose in October as the sub-permittee on the moose hunt of his 12-year-old cousin, Ella Berry. Credit: Courtesy of Earle Varney

The deer hunt, in November, took place in Turner, where Varney and Peabody had experience observing a mature buck they named “Texas 10.”

“We talked about that buck a lot and kind of game-planned for him,” Varney said.

It was the second day of the firearms season, Halloween day, as Varney sat in a treestand with his father, hoping the buck might emerge.

Earle Varney had tagged out less than 15 minutes into opening day. It was the first time they had sat together in a long time, Hayden Varney said.

With shooting light fading, the buck stepped out and Varney’s shot dropped it in its tracks.

“It’s the one I had been waiting for my whole life,” he said of the deer, which weighed 244 pounds and had an inside antler spread just under 24 inches wide.

“That deer was quite a target among other hunters around the area,” Varney said.

Varney expressed his gratitude for the opportunity.

“We’re privileged to have some nice property to be able to hunt on,” he said, also praising Peabody for his generosity and help.

The unofficial measurement of the bear skull is 19 inches, while the deer antlers are expected to score approximately 141 using the Boone and Crockett system.

“Both the bear and the deer, hopefully, are going to make the Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club,” Varney said of the organization that logs that data and recognizes the biggest animals taken in the state.

Varney completed the grand slam the day after harvesting the 10-pointer. Peabody alerted him to the presence of turkeys in his back field. After dispersing the flock, he shot a hen.

“That was the completion of my first ever Maine grand slam and a hunting season that I will never forget,” Varney said.

He then helped his cousins in Lisbon. Peabody had set up ground blinds so they could hunt.

Varney was on hand when Keegan shot a doe on Thanksgiving day. He previously had harvested his first buck hunting alongside Stephanie Varney, Hayden’s mother.

Varney works with his dad at Varney’s Plumbing and Heating, but his incredible hunting year has inspired him to spend even more time in the woods.

In January, he plans to take a course to study becoming a Registered Maine Guide in the hope he can enjoy being outdoors and share his passion with others.

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...