Bill Woodward, a retired fisheries biologist from Monmouth, lives off the land like a 21st century pioneer — hunting, fishing, gardening and gathering wild foods.

While talking with me recently, Woodward emphasized that central Maine offers myriad blessings for ambitious souls intent on harvesting a goodly chunk of their annual food needs off the land, beginning with the incredibly varied fishing resources in the Pine Tree State.

“Maine has so much water and a huge abundance of fresh- and salt-water species to target,” Woodward said with passion, before naming his favorites to catch for immediate consumption and the freezer.

Bill particularly likes to harvest white perch, black bass and mackerel, but he also emphasized that folks who find a good brook-trout brook can utilize this delicious food, too.

While working as a fisheries biologist for close to 40 years, Woodward studied Maine’s brook-trout brooks, and according to him, they may go un-fished or at least lightly fished year after year, depending on the water, so he worries little about depleting that resource.

Ponds and lakes in the bottom part of the state have a two-fish daily limit for brookies, but rivers, streams and brooks have a five-fish daily limit and offer a good change of pace from a frequent diet of warm-water species.

“The 2- to 5-fish bag limit on brook trout helps protect the resource,” Woodward said.

Woodward also thinks that hunting deer, moose and turkey offer food gathers copious protein sources. Bear would offer a fourth choice for the freezer, according to Woodward, but he hasn’t hunted this species much.

“Since retiring, I enjoy hunting more than angling,” Woodward said.

This comment came as no surprise to me. He’s often waxing poetically about his latest wild-game dinner complemented with garden veggies and fruit dessert. Or, he’s going on about a sandwich for lunch, made from wild game smothered with garden vegetables such as onions and green peppers. Mushrooms picked in the wild offer him yet another delightful addition to any sandwich.

One sandwich on the Woodward family menu, a venison steak bomb, begins with deer or moose venison and ends with veggies from his garden or from the wild, the latter usually mushrooms.

This man enjoys eating wild game as much as he likes hunting them, and like me, an eating image often pops to mind when he shoots — say a deer or grouse. Clearly, food and sport are one and the same.

A few years ago, Woodward sold his house in Rome, where he gardened and had fruit trees. After moving into his new home in Monmouth, he soon had land cleared for gardens and fruit trees, the latter including apples, pears, plums, peaches and figs. He also planted blueberry bushes.

The figs symbolize one of Woodward’s philosophies about living off the land. Gathering wild and garden food requires great patience. For instance, last year, his fig tree produced one fig. He feels in his heart, though, that this tree will produce figs galore, starting this year or next.

Along that line of patience, he has also planted apricots, which he plans to harvest in abundance, too.

“To be successful living off the land,” Woodward said, “requires constant learning decade after decade.

In the early years of hunting, fishing or gardening, no one shoots a deer every year, makes big fish catches or raises perfect gardens without learning basics. Folks must acquire skills to become consistently successful.

In the near future, Woodward plans to become proficient at catching black crappie, an invasive species that has established itself in this state during the last 40 years. It’s a good fish for filling a corner in a freezer with flaky, white filets.

Woodward has also learned to identify wild mushrooms such as chanterelles, chicken of the woods, oyster mushrooms, Boletes, meadow mushrooms and horse mushrooms. The latter looks like the common supermarket mushroom, but they are huge, absolutely perfect for stuffing. Mushrooms add a touch of gourmet flair to a meal.

Woodward loves to garden and said with ardor, “It’s in my blood.”

…Which brings up a point that I have noticed throughout my life. Lots of skilled deer hunters such as Woodward have learned the art and craft of gardening, showing that the two life-recreation skills interconnect.

Blood and non-blood sports go together, and two excellent examples are gardening and deer-hunting. Both involve the food-gathering process, and the fruits of the labor and of the fun go to the same table, lying beside one another on a plate. Homemade bread adds greatly to the experience, too.

 

Contact Ken Allen at [email protected]


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