The Great Bird Feeder Massacre of 2014, Part 3

I got all excited as I walked back to check the cameras. There was bear track everywhere, and he was headed right for them. I was even more excited when I saw that he walked right at the first camera. I was a little disappointed when I got to the second camera because he literally brushed up against the tree it was on, but he never stepped in front of it.

Bear Track

Bear Track

When I checked the card on camera #1, all you can see are his eyes coming right at you. The lens was all fogged up from the rain! Life lesson…wipe the lens with an anti-fogging wipe!

The snow was still over 24″ in many places. The bear walked on my snowshoe trail whenever he could, like the fox, so as not to sink down in the snow. There were many places where he was dragging his belly.

Another sign of spring…the snow fleas are out.

Snow Fleas

Snow Fleas

I watched the J.E. bear videos, and I think there is a very good chance that the bear in “Big Black Bear at Buck Knob” is our visitor for two reasons.

First, because of the similarity in size, but with the weight loss over the winter, it could actually be the bigger one.

Second is the color of his muzzle. On most bears it is noticeably tan to light brown. On last night’s bear, it was barely visible it was so dark.

The smaller of the two big bears in the videos was darker too…almost grey. Unfortunately the big bear’s muzzle is not visible at all.

Bear at Buck Knob

Bear at Buck Knob

I’m going to put a camera on the compost pile tonight.

WLAGS

The Great Bird Feeder Massacre of 2014, Part 2

At 8:30 tonight Debbie noticed the motion detector light was on. She looked, and sure enough our big bruin was on the picnic table.

Bird Feeder Massacre

Bird Feeder Massacre

He was, as I expected, 250# to 300# and very distinctive because his muzzle was darker than most. I’ll check the videos from last fall but I would say it is likely the smaller of the two big ones we got on video.

He didn’t know what to make of all the lights, so he crossed the driveway and sat at first, looking at the back door. Then he laid down and barely moved for several minutes. I tried taking pictures of him, but he was out of flash range.

Finally he moved over to the compost pile, at which point I put my mega flashlight on him, and he moved off. He stopped on the other side of Dad’s boat and just stared.

Total time about a half hour.

I hope he found his way past the two cameras out back. I’ll check tomorrow. You can bet I’ll be packin’.

I’m glad we pulled the feeders.

WLAGS

First Day of Trout Fishing 2014

Tony and I made our way to Cape Cod on March 29th to finally get our trout season started. This is a trip that we often make weeks before this, but winter lingered a little longer this year, even on Cape Cod. They actually got several inches of snow this week, and there were patches showing all along our trip.

We arrived before the sun cleared the treetops, and saw a flat-as-glass pond before us. We knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long as rain was in the forecast.

The Pond Looked Like Glass...at First

The Pond Looked Like Glass…at First

We had trouble locating the fish at first. The water temperature was about 42. Finally, after an hour or so, we figured that the trout were very shallow in the pond, which at its deepest is 62′. Most of them were in water between 5′ and 10′ deep. We also figured that as cold as it was, they were there for both food and temperature. We determined that they were most likely feeding on dragonfly nymphs and an occasional caddis nymph.

Caddis Nymph with Pine Needle Camo

Caddis Nymph with Pine Needle Camo

So we did our best to imitate the dragonfly with our secret weapon. It worked. Not that they were all over it, but they hit it with enough gusto to tell us that we were on the right track. The water was a few degrees cooler than usual, so we knew that they wouldn’t be very aggressive. By that I mean that they would not go far or fast to take our offerings. We needed to put it right on their noses, so to speak.

Once we put it all together, after more than an hour, we started to get some results. The first fish hit with a surprising amount of energy and took high into the air several times. It was Tony who hooked it, but because it was behind him, I had the better view. I said to him as it jumped that it was either a smallmouth or a rainbow. I said that because of the length and girth of the fish and the height of the jumps. After a few minutes, it was obvious that it was a nice fat rainbow–14″ and more than a pound. We took some photos and released it.

14-Inch Rainbow Trout

14-Inch Rainbow Trout

The next fish Tony caught a few minutes later was an even bigger brown–15½”.

15.5-Inch Brown Trout

15.5-Inch Brown Trout

In all, Tony caught four nice trout, and I caught one rainbow.

13.5-Inch Rainbow Trout

13.5-Inch Rainbow Trout

Not the best or worst first day we ever had, but very much appreciated.

Like the loons that swam near us, still in their winter plumage, and the hungry osprey overhead, we were all just loving life this spring morning.

Osprey Fishing Overhead

Osprey Fishing Overhead

WLAGS

The Great Bird Feeder Massacre of 2014

Debbie awoke this morning to what looked like a war zone. As she poured her morning tea she peered out the kitchen window to see the big fly through feeder hanging by a thread.

Fly-Through Bird Feeder

Fly-Through Bird Feeder

She knew right away what happened. All of the other six feeders were trashed to smithereens or gone.

Bird Feeder Massacre

Bird Feeder Massacre

I know what happened too. The NSA intercepted the email that Fish and Game sent me this week that instructed me to bring in my feeders by April 1st. They then forwarded that info to all sleeping bears to give them a heads up. The bears knew that they had only a few days left to gorge themselves before their high protein food source would be gone for the season. Either that or they now have evolved to read…calendars at least.

This was a very substantial bear. Tall and strong with a good sized track and stride. He circled the house, investigating everything, and polished off the seed by unearthing the compost pile. If I got lucky I got him on the camera out back. That’s where he came from and returned to.

The birds are going to be hungry for a while. I don’t want this guy hanging around the house.

Back in 2010, we caught this much smaller bear at our feeders. Click the picture to watch the video that we took.

2010 Bear at Bird Feeder Video

WLAGS

Hooray!

The winter severity index (WSI) days are over. Today the deepest snow was 22” and I averaged the rest at 14”. It’s been a long stretch. All we can do is hope that the deer had enough fat reserves and or they moved to lower ground.

Yesterday and today I went to Hanover and Claremont. The low lands had much less snow, under a foot in most places, with bare spots on the southern slopes.

My experiment with the cameras, putting them one on top of the other, proved worthwhile. It became obvious that the Bushnell took better quality videos, photos, and sound.

The usual suspects showed up–mostly the gray fox and the coyote.

Coyote Walking On Top of the Snow

Coyote Walking On Top of the Snow

The Moultree however, had a much longer and much wider range. So I’ll put the Moultree in open expanses and the Bushnell in tighter spots or where we need to get a better look at a rack. I did move the Bushnell much closer to where the bobcat has been traveling.

I’d love to get a good photo of him. I set it to photo.

WLAGS

First Spring Update

Well it sure doesn’t look or feel much like spring.

I went out this morning and was discouraged by the snow depths. They ranged from a very low 2” to a very deep 28” after this week’s snow. I’m unfortunately, going to average it out to 18”, right at the WSI minimum. That is the 40th consecutive day and the 54th this season. The average for Washington over the last 50 years is 33. The last year over 40 was 2007 at 69. The last over that was 2002 at 95. Then you have to go back all the way to 1993 to find one over 40, and that was 55.

We need a break, and there is none in the forecast for the next six days. The only upside to this is that all this cold and snow will hopefully help alleviate the moose tick infestation. Something Tony and I have seen firsthand.

On a happier note, I told you I was mounting my two newest cameras one above the other to compare their performance. I set the Bushnell on photo and the Moultrie on video.

The results were mixed. The Bushnell was more sensitive up close and took higher resolution photos. The Moultrie’s only real plus came when it picked up the bobcat again and the Bushnell did not. It was in daylight, 5:45 p.m., and must have been still within the range of about 100’, and obviously not in the range of the Bushnell.

Again the quality of the video is not good, but better than the last one. This time the cat was coming from J.E. If you remember, last time he was headed in in the morning.

Bobcat in the Snow

Bobcat in the Snow

I’m definitely going to move a camera closer to that trail. I changed the Bushnell to video today. The other surprise was that I suddenly was inundated with snowshoe hares.

My friend Roy called this week and invited me to join him hare hunting up this way today. When I told him he would need snowshoes to hunt snowshoes, he changed his mind. He has much less snow at his house about 40 miles southeast of here. He told me he has been seeing deer almost daily. Usually small groups of 3 to 5.

This is the big sugaring weekend up here, with the sugar houses all open to the public. Here, and I’m sure north of here, there won’t be a lot of sap being boiled, unfortunately.

Here I am bemoaning that lack of spring when just a few minutes ago while standing on 30+ inches of snow in my garden, I look up and there flying directly over my head was a loon! And I thought I was crazy! He’s not landing anywhere around here with that landing gear.

Loon Flying

Loon Flying

He’s at least as anxious as me, I guess.

THINK SPRING!

WLAGS

The Best Season, Part 2

With Tony’s deer in the freezer, I was able to scout to my heart’s content over the remaining bow season and the weekends in between then and gun season.

Opening day of gun season would fall on my birthday. It wasn’t the first or last time that would happen–and all of them were memorable–but this one most of all.

We awoke on opening morning to almost every hunter’s dream–4” of wet snow and little wind. I had been intrigued by a particular hill east of town because I thought deer were transitioning there between a hill where they fed and another where they bedded. So foregoing my previous scouting, I decided this snow would prove my theory right or wrong.

I started climbing up a fairly steep grade, and in no time I was in two sets of tracks. I figured that they were does, but with the rut on, they were worth following. In the next
5 minutes I caught up to them where they were bedded, and I got a good look at them as they bolted up the hill.

Right where they were was a third set of tracks. It was obviously a buck, and needless to say, fresh. I tracked him for a good deal of time. It became obvious that I had spooked him, so now I concentrated on getting to know his turf. After I thought I had a handle on it, I headed out to make ready for the afternoon hunt. On my way out, I was surprised to see the buck’s track in my track. It was plain that he was tracking and winding me at the same time. He knew exactly where I was every minute.

I went back to the motel and declared to all that I was going to get my birthday buck that afternoon. I asked for a volunteer to go with me to help drag it out and maybe get a shot at him too. Jim offered his services. I was not as confident as I made it sound, but I knew that I had a handle on this buck and his M.O.

Jim and I split up about halfway to where I had jumped the does. He would be below me. I have no idea how much time passed exactly, but it was less than a half hour I’m sure, when I reached the spot where the buck had tracked me earlier. A few minutes more and I was above the bowl where he had made several scrapes.

Knowing that he liked to know where I was at all times, I kept taking glances at my back track. Sure enough, there he was with his nose buried in my track, about 40 yards behind me–a very nice Vermont 6-pointer with an almost ivory-colored rack. I got off a good shot into his neck before he dashed off. He didn’t go far.

Birthday Buck

Birthday Buck

Between the snow and Jim, the downhill drag was one of the easiest I ever had. This capped off one of the most memorable seasons of my life.

WLAGS

The Best Season, Part 1: Tony’s Take

Below is a story that Tony wrote during his freshman year of college that tells his side of the story I recounted in The Best Season, Part 1.

WLAGS

——————

Now I Know

“Dad, I’m hot! Why do I have to wear all these clothes?”

“It’s going to get colder, much colder,” he says.

“Dad, it’s 75 degrees! How cold could it get?”

This time he wouldn’t answer. I’d seen that look on his face before when he was thinking: not as a salesman or a father, but as a predator. This is when the real hunting begins. He signals for me to stop and I wait. I now know that he was “feeling” something I refer to as hunter’s intuition. I’m mesmerized by his sauntering back and forth, the autumn leaves crunching under his feet.

“Do you know where we are,” he asks in a low voice.

“Vaguely,” I instinctively volley, surprised that he spoke. We’re predators now, and predators don’t speak. Sure, sometimes they communicate when working in teams, but we’re bowhunting. Bowhunting is you against the brains, senses, and survival instincts of one of the most beautiful, intelligent animals on earth. The white-tailed deer is no ordinary prey. Its sight is rivaled only by that of hawks and eagles, and its hearing is far greater than that of our canine friends. But a deer’s nose is the hunter’s worst enemy. A deer can see and hear something and still not know exactly what it is, but its nose never lies. If it smells something out of the ordinary it leaves, easily running 50 feet per second. Bowhunting is also a sport against the individual. A true hunter must have confidence in his knowledge of the prey, the outdoors, and the weapon. I am ready. I haven’t scouted the area enough though, and I’ve yet to make a tree stand. Being up in a tree adds many small advantages for the bowhunter.

“Where are you going,” Dad asks.

“I’m going to that big apple tree in the corner of this old field, I guess.”

“OK. I’ll be over there,” he says pointing the opposite way. So I walk on slowly, and it is hot! Before I get to the apple tree, I spot a smaller one. Apples are the staple food for deer this time of year in southern Vermont. Any deer headed toward my original destination would probably stop here too. I see an appropriate white pine to make my stand in and climb it. I pull my bow up to simulate shooting, but the branches hang too low in front of me. All that work for nothing.

We are already two hours later than usual because of my Hunter’s Safety Course exam. It’s 3:30 now, leaving only a few hours until sundown. I lower my bow carefully. Then I climb down making sure I don’t land on it and move on to my original destination. I look around to see a tall scotch pine. I climb up, saw a few branches, and realize that this just isn’t my day. This tree is shaped in a way that I could never stand in. Once again, I climb down and then up the tree next to it. While climbing, I notice some dark clouds rolling in, and I think this could be a really bad night. Once again I cut a few branches, putting them behind my head to break up my silhouette from ground level. I test my bow again to see that I can shoot it. I hang it on a branch to put some makeup on my face to cut down the shine that might catch a deer’s eye. It’s starting to rain, and I realize that the makeup won’t be on for long. Due to the heat, I’m soaked with sweat on the inside, and I’m waterlogged wool on the outside from the rain. I realize the temperature has dropped to 32 degrees as hail stones bounce off me, and my wet skin freezes. The branches I’m standing on turn to ice, so I throw a rope around the tree and myself for safety. I think that all this has been a waste when I check my watch to see only an hour of light remains due to the dark clouds.

With nothing else to do, I put my hand in my pockets and count apples. I imagine what this “field” looked like a hundred years ago when man shaped it as he wished. A black spot is moving under the tree that I can’t identify. Suddenly and quietly a skinny doe with a black spot for a nose appears below me. I stay motionless only half noticing the snowflakes falling between myself and an animal that would never survive a Vermont winter. I must get my bow without letting her spot my movements. Luckily the grass is long, and when she bends down to pick up an apple, she can’t see me. Each time she does this, I make a move. When she picks her head up to eat, I must freeze. Eventually I’m in position with the bow at full draw. I see my opportunity when her should blade moves forward exposing the heart, and I release. A solid “thud” is heard, and the deer runs. It falls out of sight as I realize that all my hard work and determination paid off.

In what seems like one motion, I climb down and run as fast as my feet will carry me towards my father. My adrenaline screams and so do I, “Dad!” I trip and land flat on my face. Not even feeling it, I get up running. As I find my father climbing out of the tree, I tell him the whole story. Getting down, my father shakes my hand and congratulates me. We run to where the animal is, and I kneel before it.

“She’s so beautiful,” I say.

“Now the real work begins,” my father says handing me his knife. I take it and do what I had read bout so many times before. Again my father shakes my hand and says, “She only ran 75 feet and at 50 feet per second. That means she only lived for a second and a half. She never knew what hit her: no pain, no fear, just peace.”

As I drag the hundred pounds behind me through the now two feet of snow two miles back to the car, an inner peace settles over me. It’s very dark now, and physically I’m blinded by the wind-blown snow in my face. Yet I “see” better than I ever have before. I think back to that moment, reliving it all over again. There were so many synchronized small details that fell together like a pre-solved puzzle to help me accomplish something barely in my grasp. I was successful through hard work and focused desire, but there was something more. For the first time I feel close to a higher power. I had always believed that God wasn’t in his “house,” but inside of us. We just have to let him out. Prior to this moment I had been told what God is, but now I know.

——————

The Best Season, Part 1

The best hunting season I ever had started on Saturday Oct. 3, 1987 at the Concord Rod and Gun Club in Concord, MA.

I was there waiting for Tony to pass the Hunter Safety exam. He was 15 now, and as soon as he had his certificate, we were headed to Vermont for opening day of bow season.

We got to Concord about 9:00 a.m., and the test was an hour long. Then we had to wait for the results. Sure enough he passed, and we left right from there with a Jeep packed for a weekend of bowhunting.

Tony's Hunter Safety Certificate

Tony’s Hunter Safety Certificate

Not only was it opening weekend of archery season, but it was also the height of foliage season. That meant leaf peepers everywhere. That slowed our trip dramatically.

After grabbing a burger at Wendy’s in Keene, NH, we made the last leg of our trip and arrived in Wilmington, VT about 2 p.m.

It was warm, very warm–close to 70. I insisted that Tony take his wool shirt with him up the hill. He did so very reluctantly. We made our way up to our stands with much perspiration. Tony had picked out his stand the previous week. It was a white pine overlooking an apple tree that was approximately 10 yards away. He climbed the tree and sat on a limb about 15’ up. I knew it was a good stand, better than mine, which was downhill from him about 100 yds. I didn’t want to be out of shouting distance from him.

I don’t remember how long we sat in our respective stands, but I’d guess that it was about 2 to 3 hours. We were up there long enough for the temperature to drop dramatically. There is an amazing gap in my memory because it seemed in no time at all I heard Tony shouting and running toward me. He was obviously very excited. I could hardly make out his words as he came to the bottom of my tree.

“I got one!” he said. “You’re going to be very proud of me.”

I quickly got to the ground and we trotted uphill to his tree. Along the way, he gave me the details of what transpired. I was more excited than he was, I think. Truthfully I can’t remember the exact details other than that the doe came from where he thought she would, and he did everything right. He waited until she got broadside and put her head down before he released.

He said that he made a good shot, but he was nervous that we were going to be in for a long trail. It couldn’t have been much shorter. As I remember she went not more than 10 to 20 yards–just the other side of his tree.

He had made a perfect shot. The arrow hit the heart and both lungs.

As we reached her I put out my right hand to congratulate him, but he pushed it aside and hugged me. It was the best hug a father could ever get.

Imagine getting your first deer just a few hours after getting your certificate!

Now the work began. As we started field dressing the deer, it started to snow…really hard! The snow helped us get her down to the Jeep in short order. We got her on the roof, and made our way to the motel where we were meeting friends.

Tony was justifiably the toast of the town that night. Well done my son.

Roy Hangs Tony's First Deer by the Motel

Roy Hangs Tony’s First Deer by the Motel

The roads became awful very quickly. The snow caught everyone off guard—no snow tires and everyone forgot how to drive in the snow. We finally got to the motel after checking the deer in at the weigh station. The snow was already over a foot when we got to the motel, and it kept coming until it was 18” deep. There were people sleeping in their cars and buses in every available parking lot. At about 9:00 that night a couple from Germany knocked on our motel room door. They offered us a “premium” for our room. I graciously declined.

The next morning the roads quickly recovered. It was October, after all. The foliage season however was shortened with the snow taking down many leaves.

Tony and I headed home early that Sunday to get his deer taken care of. I couldn’t imagine a better start to the season or Tony’s hunting career.

Bobcat

A little exciting news today. Checking the camera out back this afternoon produced a little surprise–a bobcat. It walked in front of the camera at about 25 yards at 8:15 a.m. on Friday. It, unfortunately is a dark silhouette walking along the edge of the tree line. No real color, but you can clearly see the lack of a tail, its effortless stride, and its stocky body. From what I saw I would say it was larger than average.

Bobcat

Bobcat

Speaking of stride, I was able to walk on top of the snow pack. That truly is what it is: snow packed almost as hard as ice, varying from 4” to 24” with an average of about 16”.
I have to keep reminding myself that the deer are smarter than me and will be on the steep, south-facing slopes now, where there is considerably less snow. I need to get over to the west side of the mountain off Mt. Rd. to see what’s going on over there, as soon as the weather permits. I’d love to get over to the area we hunted near the big marsh. Maybe I’ll do that later this week if I decide to forego the last ice fishing trip of the year.

There also were fox and coyote on the camera again. I set my new camera right above the Moultrie so as to compare performance. I have the Bushnell set for “photo” (instead of “video”) in hopes of getting a good one of the fisher and now maybe the bobcat.

Think Spring (it was 19 degrees out there at 1 p.m.).

WLAGS