Trout and Beavers

While out scouting today I knew that I wanted to check on the status of the spawning brookies. As I approached the section of the tote road where we observed the trout spawning, I was very surprised to see that the three oak trees that had blocked my path earlier were gone–I mean gone without a trace. With the falling leaves, even the chips the beavers had left behind were no longer visible! They had cut those oaks up into 18” to 24” lengths, dragged them down to the brook, and shored up the new dam.

An Oak Beavers Fell Across Rte. 1A

An Oak Beavers Fell Across Rte. 1A

Gone too were the brookies–all but two that is. The biggest male was still patrolling the spawning grounds, but the smaller males and all the females were no doubt all basking in their new home provided by the beavers, where the water is warmer, with less current, and with much more food than the rushing brook. Life is good for our little finned friends, as winter will be right around the corner, and they will just hunker down and wait for spring.

The Beaver Pond

The Beaver Pond

All they have to worry about now is not becoming a meal for a mink, a raccoon, or their worst nightmare–an otter.

River Otter with Brook Trout

River Otter with Brook Trout

Even a bobcat will chance getting his feet wet for a fish dinner. There are plenty of these mammals that patrol the brook regularly. The debris that the beavers leave behind as they work provides the brookies with some added protection from their predators.

WLAGS

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Cameras and Trout

This morning at J.E. there was, as always, a few surprises.

I expected a ton of water after 4″ of rain, and there was. The beaver bog almost required hip boots. As I approached the camera there near the potential new stand, I saw a fresh rub. I thought for sure that I’d get the buck on the camera, but instead got a doe (again at 6:30 a.m.) and several rodents and birds.

At Stand #2, it was tough to see sign because the Nor’easter had brought down even many of the oak leaves. I did see two new rubs behind the stand, and then as I headed for the Fork, I saw a fresh scrape. It was about midway between Stand #2 and Fort Knox.

I followed track from that scrape towards Mother Beech, and about 45’ past it there was a very fresh scrape. It was about 30 yards from the camera. I thought for sure that I’d get him on the camera…I didn’t.

Then I was on to Buck Knob. I saw little sign. I didn’t expect anything on that camera…I was wrong. There were two bucks–the 3-pointer and the fork horn–and a couple of does. All between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m.

Fork Horn at Buck Knob

Fork Horn at Buck Knob

As I made my way home down Rte.1A, my path was blocked by several young oaks that the beavers had dropped right across the trail. When I skirted around them, I noticed some brookies in the brook. I stopped and watched for half an hour in amazement as they were spawning. The females had scratched out redds, and the males would bump them on the side to get them to deposit their eggs. Then they would spray them with milt. Of course there was a lot of friction among the males, and the females were kept on the redds.

Spawning Brookies

Spawning Brookies

While I was watching the brookies, I heard turkeys “talking” on Rte. 1. John called me last night and said he saw 6 turkeys on Rte. 1 yesterday.

Turkeys

Turkeys

I watched for a long time, and finally Debbie came looking for me as, I was late to be home. So then I took her to this stretch of the brook were all the action was. She understood now why I was late as we watched some 30 brookies carrying on in less than 30 yards of water.

I have seen several species of fish spawn in my life, but never native brookies. The timing had me puzzled, as they would normally spawn between mid-September and mid-October. I think I figured it out. The storm had flushed most of the silt and debris from the stream, exposing the fine gravel, which they need for the redds. It also made it a lot easier for us to see them against the now much lighter bottom. It was a most fascinating and rewarding sight.

WLAGS

Scouting Report for October 9, 2014: Big Increase in Moose Activity

I got a dozen photos of two bulls and two cows in just three days. This was the best one.

Bull Moose at Fort Knox

Bull Moose at Fort Knox

Most of the activity was near Fort Knox, which is where I got the photo of this bull.  I also had several photos of deer near Fort Knox at both day and night. The pictures weren’t great, so I couldn’t tell how many were does and how many were bucks.

I had several daytime photos of moose at Buck Knob, but their heads were hidden.  I have always considered Buck Knob a transition zone and a rut zone. That is changing. The young oaks there are dropping a considerable amount of acorns.

I didn’t see the spawning brookies, but I could have shot several drake wood ducks. I did have my 20 gauge.

WLAGS

Scouting Report for October 8, 2014 and a Great Memory

Somehow things in the outdoors never go quite as planned. My plan today was to grab the camera up that’s on the other side of town and set it up on the mountain. It didn’t work out that way. My 20-minute trip to recover the camera turned into two hours.

After reaching the camera site, I detected fresh track in the leaves that were soaked by last night’s rain. So I decided to track them out and see where they would take me. Not far into my tracking, I came across the first rub of the year.

First Rub of the Year

First Rub of the Year

After taking a picture of the rub, I turned and noticed something uphill that looked out of place. There was a “red neck tree stand” overlooking the bowl I was in. It was in a great spot, but upon closer examination it was obvious that it had not been used in years. This was the second such “ladder stand” I have seen here in town.

"Ladder" Stand

“Ladder” Stand

I then continued to follow track, and it brought me to the best sign that I’ve seen all year.

Sign in the Cutover

Sign in the Cutover

I was beginning to think I was never going to find suitable sign anywhere on my turf.

This place has everything a deer could hope for, fresh running water, high- and low-bush berries, browse, and to cap things off, young, sundrenched oaks dropping big acorns in the middle of a cutover. It doesn’t get much better than that if you are a deer.

All this reminded me of a backpacking deer hunt in 1977 because of the effort I have been putting in. I and four of my closest friends backpacked into a remote area of central Vermont in mid-November. We spent 2 snowy, sleety days and nights hunting and sleeping in true pup tents.

Pup Tent

Pup Tent

Mine was just big enough for me to lie in with little room for gear. We were wet more than dry most of the time, but it was worth it. After putting everyone in the areas that I felt would be the most productive, on the second morning, I headed up the second mountain when I jumped the buck that I had tracked the day before. I made the second best shot of my life, and he was down. Now the work began. Good thing it was early in the day.

After some real effort from everyone, we got him back to our camp site. To lighten our load, we decided to eat everything we could of our perishables: eggs, bacon, bread, and the deer’s heart, liver, and tenderloins.

Now we had to drag him down our mountain, which I named “No Name” because it didn’t have one, and then up the next very steep one. Then we had to drag him down across a big beaver bog and cross two rushing streams in the process.

Along the way, during one of our breaks, I was packing gear up the mountain while the other guys took a break. I was told later that while I was gone, Louie said to the others, “Damn, that Steve is so lucky!”

Jim replied, “It isn’t luck; it’s work, and he does more of it than the rest of us put together.”

I’ll always remember and appreciate that.

I started growing my beard on that trip. I can look in the mirror today and remember those guys and that hunt as if it were last season.

WLAGS

Bowhunting Report from Tony: October 5, 2014

Below is my son Tony’s write-up of his first weekend bowhunting in J.E. this year.

WLAGS

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Getting Back in the Stand

My dad isn’t bowhunting this year due to lack of time to practice, my friend Brad had a last-minute job interview, and my friend Matt is busy with his two boys’ sports commitments on weekends these days. So it was just me hunting this weekend. My first weekend bowhunting in about 10 years was eventful in some surprising ways. Not surprising was how good it felt to once again view the world from atop a couple of our stands.

The View from Stand #2

The View from Stand #2

Due to my late arrival Friday night, I had a late start Saturday morning, which was foggy and drizzly. These great still hunting (stalking) conditions led to the season starting off on a good note. I snuck up on a doe and a skipper in the field at J.E. The doe knew I was there, but she didn’t view me as a threat until I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures of her. I stayed hunched over at the waist the whole time, and she never recognized me as a human until I stood up to take her picture.

The Doe and Skipper in the Fog

The Doe and Skipper in the Fog

To the surprise of no one, Dad had gotten these two on his cameras earlier in the year.

Doe and Skipper

Doe and Skipper

The skipper never knew that I was there. I could have shot it at about 70 yards, not that I would take a shot at that distance. I could have shot the doe at about 35 yards or so, which is perfectly legal during archery season, but I don’t want to shoot a doe with a skipper. Also, Dad asked that we not shoot does in J.E., except for that old, barren piebald doe.

Piebald Doe

Piebald Doe

I then worked my way up to Stand #5 near the top of the mountain in hopes of finding more consistent acorns. My next surprise was waiting for me when I got into the stand. A moose vertebra was sitting on the platform of my stand 20 feet in the air. A squirrel must have brought it up there to chew on.

Moose Vertebra

Moose Vertebra

I did find quite a few acorns near that stand—spread out as they are everywhere else, but I saw very little deer sign. This discouraged me until I got back to the house, and Dad showed me recent photos of a fork horn and a spike horn at Stand #2 (both during legal shooting hours), despite there being very little deer sign there as well.

Fork Horn at Stand #2

Fork Horn at Stand #2

After walking all over the mountain, and getting my 10,000 steps for the day, one thing became very clear: there are no more bears on the mountain. Despite Dad getting photos of bears almost every single day for months, there now is no fresh bear sign anywhere. They must have been chased off by those Virginia bear hunters with their dogs.

My 10,000 Steps

My 10,000 Steps

Around noon, as I stopped at the field on my way back to the car, a woman walked by me. We exchanged hellos, and she continued on her way. When I eventually started towards the car again, she had turned around and was headed towards me on the snowmobile trail to the west of Rte. 1. In a thick accent, she asked me where the pond and the road were. I told her that I was heading that way. As we walked together, I asked her where she was staying. “In a cottage on the road,” she said. Curious about her accent, I asked, “Where are you from?” She gave the one-word answer, “Europe.”

“Where in Europe?”

“Belgium.”

I told her about my wife spending time there after college, which pleasantly surprised her.

Pointing to my bow, she asked, “Are you hunting?”

“Yes, I’m hunting deer,” I said. “I saw two today.”

“I think I saw one too,” she said. She went on to describe what she saw. My best guess was that it was a calf moose.

As we approached the beaver pond, she said, “Oh yes, I remember this from this morning. You have better shoes for this.” She pointed to my knee-high rubber boots. She was wearing knee-high leather boots. We both sunk in over our ankles.

The Beaver Pond

The Beaver Pond

When we arrived at the parking lot, she said that she didn’t have far to walk and continued on foot up the road.

Upon my arrival at Dad’s, he asked the usual question, “Did you see anything?”

You can imagine his surprise when I responded, “A doe, a skipper, and a Belgian woman.”

I went to Stand #2 for the afternoon hunt, but it started to pour rain as soon as I got there. I toughed it out for about an hour. I spent the rest of the afternoon practicing with my new target behind Dad’s house.

Wildlife Behaving Badly

Sunday morning, which was also foggy and drizzly, started out with a bang, or rather a slap. I could have clubbed a beaver over the head with my bow. It ran across what we call Rte. 1 right in front of me on my way to Stand #2. This was after it slapped its tail in the puddle in the road. It then slapped its tail for another five minutes while I walked up Rte. 1. I could still hear it as I approached the field.

Surprised Beaver

Surprised Beaver

While in Stand #2, I got excited when I heard blue jays screaming at something about 50 yards in front of me. I was hoping it was that fork or the spike that was also on the camera from Friday evening. Blue jays will scream at anything. I’ve seen them scream at a young doe, and one of Dad’s trail cameras even recently captured a video of them screaming at a raccoon on Buck Knob.

This time, they were screaming at a barred owl, of which we have several photos from the camera at Stand #2. The blue jays continued to dive bomb it and harass it for another five minutes.

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

Flocks of juncos, chickadees, tufted titmice, two white breasted nuthatches, and several swamp sparrows kept me entertained the rest of the morning.  I grunted several times, but no sign of the spike horn or fork horn.

WLAGS early-season scouting showed that this would be a good, but not great acorn year. It is turning into a very good acorn year. Today I listened to hundreds of acorns fall. The area around Stand #2 is loaded now.

On my way out of the woods, I crossed the brook near Stand #1, as we usually do. Just before I crossed the brook, I looked for brook trout because I thought I had heard one scoot away from me when I was on my way in this morning. This time I saw two 4-inch brook trout. They were biting and grabbing each other’s fins and pushing each other. They battled for several minutes, until I spooked them as I crossed the brook. I took several photos of them. I wish I had thought to take a video.

One Brook Trout Pushing Another

One Brook Trout Pushing Another

On my way back to Stand #2 for my Sunday evening hunt, I heard a cow moose bleating near Stand #1. I have no doubt that it was the same cow moose that we’ve been seeing for the past three years between Stand #1, Buck Knob, and Stand #3. Three years ago, she was just a calf. Now she’s clearly mature and “hot to trot,” as Dad used to say.

I grunted several times between gusts of wind, but again, no sign of those adolescent bucks. As Dad says, “You can set your watch by a doe, but young bucks are as unpredictable as teenagers.”

On my way out of the woods in the dark, I heard a whole pack of coyotes howling near the west side of Mountain Road. Despite the gusty breeze, I could pick out individual coyotes—young pups born this spring, adolescents, and the mature adults with deeper howls. It’s likely that one of the younger ones was the one Dad caught on camera at Buck Knob.

Coyote at Buck Knob

Coyote at Buck Knob

As I approached the J.E. parking lot in the moonlight that was now so bright that it caused me to cast a shadow, a barred owl hooted a continuous farewell from the vicinity of the apple tree. It was a great way to end my first weekend back in the saddle. I can’t wait to get back out there to see what other surprises Mother Nature has in store for me.

Scouting Report for October 2, 2014

I hope you don’t think I have been slacking off. I’ve hit Faxxon twice, two other spots, and J.E., of course.

My focus has been on finding hot spots for Tony and Brad’s bowhunting. I can’t say that I’ve found anything hot, but I did find some promising looking spots.

The J.E. cameras were quiet these past few days with only bears, of course, and fox.

A Curious Bear at Stand #2

A Curious Bear at Stand #2

The places that we still need to check are the oaks at J.E. above the beaver bog, and Stand #5. Hopefully Tony will get up there this weekend.

Moose activity has picked up dramatically. After seeing little activity in past weeks, the rut is on.

Bears are everywhere. Faxxon was covered in droppings with blackberries in them. J.E. bears are on the acorns.

Sow and Cub at Stand #2

Sow and Cub at Stand #2

There is a new huge cutover, more than 3/4 of a mile long on A. Pond Rd. I saw a doe and a skipper there.

WLAGS