By Clay Newcomb
Born on a dairy farm in Staceyville, Maine in 1948, Mike wasn’t cut out to be a farmer. Dairy farming is tough, methodical work, especially in the North Country. Mike always seemed to be bucking against the system, though he worked very hard all through his childhood and teenage years. Mike’s father always told him, “There are other gears than just fifth.” Mike never liked farming, and some said he could get sloppy, but he did adhere to the internal value system that comes along with farm life. He possessed the self-motivated drive of an entrepreneur, high levels of integrity, a pioneer mentality towards problems, an extremely hard work ethic and he was exceptionally thorough. This was Mike’s start.
Mike Merry was a bigger-than-life character in the Northwoods of Maine. The thing behind the thing was his enthusiasm and drive for life and for whatever he was doing. According to those who knew him well, he lived life at a different frequency than his peers. The definition of mettle is exactly what Mike was. He dealt with life in a spirited and resilient way. Mike was a living legend until September 28, 2012 – the day he became simply a legend. He was known for his relentless pursuit in bear hunting with hounds, his highly skilled logging techniques, and his high-level musical talent in playing the drums.
This is Mike’s story.
His Start in Bear Hunting
In the late 1960s, in the region of North Central Maine where Mike lived, their farm began to have some serious bear problems. According to Mike’s cousin Kerry Merry, “Bears were killing dairy cattle all over the county. At the time there were 33 working dairy farms in the area, and everybody had bear problems. All the farms grew oats and corn for feeding cattle, and it drew in the bears.” At the time bear hunting with hounds wasn’t common in Maine. Mike was in his early 20s and full of vinegar. He found an advertisement in a hunting magazine for a bear-hunting club in Virginia and contacted them. That next fall 17 houndsman from the club came to hunt with Mike. All 17 went home with bears! And they never struck a track very far from the Merry’s farm. It was a monumental relationship developed at a unique time in Maine’s history. There was a bounty on black bears and the state wanted them gone. This created an open door for a lot of hunting to take place. Mike and many of the houndsman from Virginia would become life-long friends. They would become the fuel behind Mike’s passion. Within a few seasons of hosting the hunters, Harold Wayne gave a bluetick bitch to Mike. This started Mike’s passion for bear hounds. This first season was like a spark on dry tender for Mike – it ignited a flame.
The bluetick was named Mandy, and she was already a proven coondog. He bred the female to a bluetick male named Drummer, owned by Rolly McLaughlin. Drummer was a top-notch bobcat hound, “If he barked on a cat, you were going to see it,” Kerry said. The cross produced 15 healthy pups, and according to Kerry, “They were all incredible bear hounds!” Mike started his pack with that litter of pups and used them to build a sturdy line of hounds.
For the next twenty years, Mike’s passion would be bear and coon hunting in Maine. The daytime races weren’t enough for him, so he’d run raccoons at night with some of the same hounds. Additional to his hounds, one of the Virginia guys also gave Mike a mix-breed cur that was causing problems on a farm. The dog was always getting treed, and the farmer was tired of hearing him bark, according to Kerry! They knew Mike would coon hunt him, so they took the dog, named Tramp, to Maine. Mike coonhunted the dog, but soon found that he was ferocious on bear. Surprisingly, the dog was an excellent strike dog. Being schooled by the houndsman from Virginia, Mike would later start his own guide service, Mike Merry & Company, offering hunts for both bear and coon.
In 1964, Mike bought one of the first .444 Marlin rifles made by the company to use for bear hunting. The gun would become famous among those who knew it. Mike broke the stock six times! Kerry Merry believes that he once broke the stock by using it to fend himself and the dogs from an enraged bear. However, many speculate that the gun was broke by Mike while carrying the gun in pursuit of the hounds. Mike recorded that he had killed 77 bears with the lever action gun. By all those who knew, Mike was like a gazelle in the woods when following the hounds. Nobody could keep up with him.
It’s important to note that Mike hunted before any types of hound-tracking systems were widely available. When a dog a struck a bear track, if roads weren’t nearby, the houndsman would follow afoot. This is where Mike stood out. According to Dave O’Connor, a close hunting partner to Mike, “He was a really tall rangy guy, 6’3” or 6’4”. I’ve never seen anyone that could follow the hounds like him. If the dogs were going, he was going with them.” Dave recounted a story in which he dropped Mike off late in the evening when they heard the hounds on a bear that had been wounded by a client. Mike disappeared into the timber not to be seen again until the next morning when he called from a farmhouse 20 miles away! “At about midnight I just went home.” Dave admitted. “My phone rang early the next morning and it was Mike. He’d found the treed dogs late in the night and had finished off the bear. I went and picked him up and then we went to retrieve the bear!” Dave went on to say, “His commitment to the hunt was what separated him from the rest of us.”
Mike The Pioneer
For his time, Mike was a pioneer in the hound-hunting world. He had a Dodge 4x4 Power Wagon that was lifted with big mud tires on it. This put him a lot of places that others wouldn’t go. This was a time period when most of the old hunters were still using two-wheel drive pickups. He once told Dave, “Anyplace a skidder can go, I can go. But I may have to use a winch.” Once he spent a year trying different foods for his hounds to increase their endurance. A company in Bangor special-made a product that he designed to give the dogs more stamina. He would pick up truckloads of it in 55-gallon drums to feed during the hunting season. It seemed he was always trying to make everything around him operate at his speed – which was full blast.
Mike was also known for his skill in logging. He professionally cut firewood during his years as a guide. Later he would have his own professional logging company. According to Mike’s friend, Dan Wagoner, “When a timber company had a block of land that no one else could get to, they’d call Mike. He would go places others couldn’t.” Dan continued, “On steep hillsides, the trees lean downhill. All loggers start cutting at the bottom and work their way to the top. Mike was the only logger I’ve ever met that would build a road to the top of the block and start cutting from the top. It made him extremely fast, but most people didn’t have the skill to do that.” Dan said, “There never was a man wound more tight than Mike Merry.”
Mike had a John Deere skidder that he bought new in 1984. He owned it until 2012 when the machine had 31,000 hours on it. That’s almost 1,300 full 24-hour days in the seat of the skidder! Many say that after 10,000 hours of practice on anything you truly become a master. Mike was certainly a master on the skidder and with a chainsaw. Mike was also very meticulous with his machinery. He steam cleaned his skidder in both the spring and fall every year for almost 30 years! He would take the entire skidder apart, clean it and reassemble it. He loved being in the woods with a saw, and most often he worked alone. One would speculate that he was probably as rugged and tough a logger as there ever was – he was certainly in that class.
Mike was also an unbelievable drummer. He loved playing music, and he did it his whole life. Many thought that if he’d gone to Nashville, he could have made it big as a professional. However, he chose to live the life of a logger and bear hunter, and play music on the weekends in towns all across Maine. Mike also loved to dance. Dan said, “He worked all-day and square danced at night.” Mike was a character.
Mike’s Final Job
On September 28th, 2012 Mike was working on a logging job in Northern Maine by himself. It was a normal workday just like thousands of others. The only thing different was that he was using some borrowed equipment. To make a long story short, in a freak incident, Mike was killed in a skidder accident. He was 64 years old and “still in his prime” according to friends – this is an unusual statement. Mike died in the North Woods going full steam with a chainsaw in hand. According to everyone that knew Mike, in the truest sense of the word, he was a woodsman. He lived life on a different level than most of his peers. He truly was a legend.
“Some are bound to die young, by dying young a person stays young in people’s memory. If he burns brightly before he dies, his brightness shines for all time.” The author of this statement is unknown, but his words ring true for this legendary man. He wasn’t afraid to do things differently, and to do them at full speed. He was extremely confident, and some people mistook it for pride. For those that knew him well, however, say Mike was a humble man and what he displayed was authentic confidence. Mike was considered exceptional in almost everything that he did.