Get to know one of America’s best-kept secrets: the National Wildlife Refuge System

I contributed to a 12-page spread that highlighted 12 “hidden gems” across the National Wildlife Refuge System and helped compile a list of 32 other parks to visit. The project involved researching the refuges, talking to park managers and interviewing people who hunt and fish at those places. I like to say that I became the hunting and fishing expert after finishing the project.

Below are two capsules I wrote. More appear in the summer/fall 2013 issue of Hunt & Fish.

Coos County in New Hampshire and Oxford County in Maine

Driving home from work at night, it’s not unusual for refuge manager Paul Casey to pass a moose — or five. “We have a very high population of moose in the area, which is a very big draw,” he says.

Closely split between New Hampshire and Maine, the refuge was established in 1992, and workers have been slowly acquiring more land to help protect the forested acres surrounding Umbagog Lake, one of the largest freshwater wetland complexes in the region.

The refuge was set aside for waterfowl, especially black and ring-necked ducks. The area also draws grouse and woodcock, and hunters can pursue moose and white-tailed deer. “In northern Maine and New Hampshire, (the deer) aren’t as abundant, but they’re a lot bigger in size,” Casey says.

Several rivers feed into the lake, including the Rapid River, home of a world-renowned brook trout fishery, and the area offers plenty of fly-fishing opportunities.

“I have my favorite spots that I go to, but there are many,” says Bill Freedman, an avid local fisherman who frequently fishes for trout and salmon in the rivers bordering the refuge. Freedman says he enjoys the solitude and pitting his wits against the fish — “it’s very fulfilling and very humbling.”

Basom, N.Y.

Winning the lottery draw at Iroquois is a pretty big deal. And in 2003, Shanna Shaw and her husband won the lottery for the opening day of duck and goose season.

“You are the envy of all the other duck hunters if you draw the refuge on opening day,” says Shaw, a biologist and refuge volunteer. “It was an action-packed hunt, and we stayed out even in the pouring rain that started a few hours into the hunt.”

The hunting continues to be a big draw to the area, says refuge manager Tom Roster, and it’s open to most hunting opportunities that the state allows.

Shaw and her husband keep coming back to Iroquois — it’s less crowded than adjacent state wildlife management areas, she says.

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