Albany, Georgia; Stuttgart, Arkansas; and Pierre, South Dakota. These fabulous places boast the best hunting in the country for bobwhites, mallards and pheasants; and when bird season opens, these cities become veritable wingshooting meccas. Among these types of places is a comparatively secret mecca. With a population of less than 150, the hamlet of Grand Lake Stream (GLS), Maine, is but a postage stamp compared to the aforementioned, but its diminutive size is one of the many things that contribute to the unique charm of this grouse and woodcock hunting destination.
GLS is named after the gorgeous trout stream on which the town is situated. It is accessed after driving through miles of remote north-country forest until, out of nowhere, visitors find themselves amid a quaint patchwork of well-kept private homes and sporting camps—the vast majority of which were constructed generations ago and give one the impression of having been transported back to the 1920s.
GLS has been attracting hunters and anglers since the Passamaquoddy Tribe selected it as the site for a seasonal salmon-netting camp. In the late 1800s, sporting gentlemen from places like New York, Philadelphia and Boston began to show up, first for fishing and then for wingshooting and bear and moose hunting. The quality of sport was so exceptional that, in spite of the considerable inconvenience of traveling such long distances, more and more sportsmen kept heading there and the lodges and camps necessary to accommodate them began sprouting up. A tannery was built in the town and logging businesses operated in the area, but GLS was primarily a venue for fieldsports—meaning that most of the modest development was geared toward hunting and fishing. And this gave visitors a strong and satisfying feeling that they were in the right place.
GLS certainly felt like the right place to a who’s who of prominent sporting visitors. Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Generals Matthew Ridgway and James Doolittle, Curt Gowdy and John Havlicek are among the many notables who have hunted, fished and partied (also part of the local culture) at the area’s sporting camps. Black-and-white photos of celebrities are proudly displayed on the walls of a number of lodges. Such nostalgia is usually representative of a bygone era, but fortunately—thanks to the fact that the area’s grouse and woodcock hunting as well as the fishing (for landlocked salmon and smallmouths) have continually ranked as some of the country’s finest—GLS’s popularity has never waned. Sportsmen (and women) still make the pilgrimage. In fact, the town serves as an under-the-radar meeting place for some of the nation’s top economists, medical experts and captains of industry. And although these gatherings are meant to be low key, they rarely escape the attention of the national media. Ironically, this has resulted in Wall Street Journal reports from what must be one of the most un-Wall Street places on earth.
Naturally, notable folks from the sporting industry routinely drop into GLS too. Shooting instructor and writer Chris Batha and TV personality Dez Young of Hunting with Hank can be counted in that group, and countless writers and editors of wingshooting and fly-fishing magazines have partaken in the unique charm of the deep-woods haven.
But GLS has a magnetism that extends beyond its exceptional hunting, fishing and romantic sporting-camp culture. Perhaps more than anything, people are drawn to the town because of the way it has always been true to itself. GLS did not adapt to high-rolling clientele; it instead opened welcoming arms and let the clientele adapt to it. Sporting camps in the area work hard to keep their main lodges and cabins functional and comfortable, but they have been careful not to decorate the authenticity out of the experience. Grand Lake Stream regulars have actually become very protective of the town’s special character. For example, in the 1980s when someone bought one of the big camps and modernized the facilities, the business suffered a mass exodus of repeat clientele.
In the present-day era of overwhelming “progress,” the opportunity to slow things down to a simple, wholesome, straightforward level is becoming increasingly appealing. At a good GLS sporting camp, the most complicated decision one might face could be whether to have bacon or sausage or a second cup of coffee at breakfast. The local atmosphere feeds into this, and the more the outside world changes, the more unique and special GLS will become.
There is no better way to immerse oneself in the GLS ambiance than to enjoy a wingshooting trip to Leen’s Lodge, on the shore of West Grand Lake (from which Grand Lake Stream flows). The accommodations and hospitality are as genuine as it gets, the guides always have a good bead on the area’s grouse and woodcock and, best of all, the operation oozes history and nostalgia. Wingshooting is indeed a timeless tradition, and the Leen’s experience is a trip back to the golden era of the sport!
Leen’s Lodge is a full-service Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge. To learn more or to make a reservation, call 207-796-2929 or email [email protected].
Images courtesy of Leen’s Lodge.