Bucks and Beechnuts

Bucks and Beechnuts

Thankfully, there have been a few memorable and rewarding scouting expeditions in my life, and these few hours this morning will be added to that list.

I decided to go to a place I haven’t been to in years because, while looking through my notes for beechnut groves, I came across Gigi’s.

It’s named after the owner of the property that graciously gave us permission to hunt there many, probably 15 or more, years ago.

I remembered that there was a large beechnut grove almost surrounding her property. So I was optimistic that what I have seen near here might translate into a good crop there. I was not expecting to find what I did. As the photo inadequately shows, there are trees loaded with beechnuts. The likes of which I have NEVER seen in 55 years of hunting in the North Country.

Bountiful Beechnuts

Bountiful Beechnuts

As you look at the picture of the field, both tree lines, but especially the left side, are mostly beeches.

Gigi's Field

Gigi’s Field

They are literally hanging branches full of nuts right over the field.

Low-Hanging Fruit

Low-Hanging Fruit

What a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bowhunt beeches. Most of the time, when trying to hunt a mast crop, especially beeches, the food is spread out over a large, fairly open area, and the deer will move from one spot to another as they consume all of the nuts under certain trees. Thus, where they are today, is not necessarily where they will be tomorrow, at least as far as bow range is concerned.

The ground under those low-hanging branches was covered in turkey sign, including several dusting bowls. It’s interesting that unlike here, the trees are not yet dropping their nuts. I can only speculate in that this might be elevation related. I checked the pods and every one was full with a large healthy nut.

The field has ample grasses and even red clover. To top things off there is the apple tree at the far end that I have never seen that many apples in.

Gigi's Apple Tree

Gigi’s Apple Tree

As I headed to the truck, I was very pleased with what I saw and with myself for making those notes way back when.

At the truck, after having a snack, I thought that I should drive very slowly going out because of another big find.

As I drove in on the tote road this morning, I was surprised to see almost the whole mile of road on the left side had been logged, right up to Gigi’s property line. This of course makes her property even more important, as it now offers cover along with food. The only thing that I did wrong at this point was not to have my camera ready.

I had not gone very far, still this side of the big brook, when I saw the rump of a deer up in the cutover, 25 yards off the road. I knew that it was a buck just by its size, and I was even more convinced of that when I noticed another slightly smaller rump to its right.

My first thought was that it was a buck and a doe. Wrong! As they lifted their heads to look at me, it was two bucks.

The first was at least a long-tined six-pointer and maybe an eight, but I could not see well enough to make out brow points. The other buck was at least a four—a six if he had brow points. They were both completely in velvet still. Then a doe appeared, and the three of them bounded up the cutover. They stopped and turned broadside to me as I scrambled for the camera, which was in my backpack in the back seat…of course!

All in all, a very rewarding few hours that might result in some success later in the year.

WLAGS

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Winter’s Victim, Part 1: The Feast Begins

Back on January 11, 2017, I discovered a dead spike horn buck. He had been dead for about a week or ten days, I would guess.

Winter's Victim

Winter’s Victim

Two sets of human tracks passed within a few feet of him, but they showed no sign of the person having noticed him. I felt sad about this one because I had photographed and videoed this buck many times since he started his antler growth in March of 2016. I even got a couple of videos of him rubbing his antlers on a tree.

I always feel sad about the death of an animal, even ones that I have killed. When I take their life, I know that they will be fully utilized, and I thought this deer’s life would be utilized even more.

I knew it would take some time for animals and birds to take advantage of this, but even I was surprised by how long it would take. I knew that coyotes, for whatever reason, will let a carcass sit and age for weeks, but with this deer, they exceeded even that timeframe.

I am certainly not a medical examiner, but it is my determination that another buck killed this buck. Here’s why. There was only one small cut on his right side by his rib cage. The hole was too elongated to be from a bullet. There was no bloating that would have indicated the kind of damage a bullet would do, and there was no exit wound. The cut was far too small to be from an arrow. If a predator had killed him, it would have consumed him at once, at least partially. He was perfectly intact.

The timing (early January) was such that this would have taken place during the second rut of the season. That is when any un-bred mature does and the does born that year and come into estrus. The bucks are very aggressive at this time because their instincts tell them this is their last chance to pass on their genes.

To top it off, there was an unusually high number of bucks in the area this season. That group included two mature seven-pointers that I assumed were the dominate deer, until later when a big mature eight-pointer showed up, undoubtedly from another area where he had fulfilled his breeding duties and was anxious for more.

I think he was the culprit. The little spike buck lived in close proximity to all the other bucks, including the two seven-pointers his whole life, and he gave them a wide berth during the rut.

Every day that you live increases your chances of living the next day, but sometimes your luck just runs out.

The little spike met his demise in early January, and there he lay until March 10, when, at the stroke of midnight, a coyote started to feed on the carcass. It took the prime pieces (the steaks), and moved off.

The Feeding Starts

The Feeding Starts

My first surprise was how quickly a bobcat got involved. First thing that morning, there it was.

First Daylight Visitor

First Daylight Visitor

Over the years, my cameras have debunked two myths about bobcats. The first myth is that they don’t eat carrion. A dead porcupine behind my garage disproved that theory.

Bobcat Eating Dead Porcupine (April 2016)

Bobcat Eating Dead Porcupine (April 2016)

The second myth is that they are nocturnal. They certainly do hunt at night, but they hunt far more in the daylight, especially in the cold of winter, despite the longer nights. My cameras show far more activity during daylight and often well after sunup. I believe they hunt more with their eyes and ears and far less with their nose than do the canines, hence the value of hunting in daylight. I have also noticed many times that they are very active on the brightest of days.

One of the Bobcats of WLA

One of the Bobcats of WLA

In fact, of the 3,424 photos I got of animals over this carcass, I don’t have a single photo of a bobcat at night. True to form, this bobcat came back for a quick bite at 4:50 in the afternoon on that first day, and 30 minutes later, the coyote grabbed a mouthful and dashed a few feet away to engulf it. He continued this periodically for a couple of hours. There was no activity again until a coyote passed by about midnight, seemingly just to check on the carcass, but there was much more activity in the coming days.

WLAGS

The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

Today, there was moose sign EVERYWHERE! As I stated last time they were using all “my” trails.

This photo is of what greeted us as we passed through the gate. It is bull droppings on Rte.1 right along the beaver pond. The droppings stretch from me to my granddaughter. In hind sight, I should have paced it off.

Bull Moose Droppings

Bull Moose Droppings

I took this photo of the brook at the same place I did last time to show how much things have changed in six days.

The Brook Six Days Later

The Brook Six Days Later

We were in moose sign all morning. One passed right in front of Stand # 1 and just to the left of Stand #2, just out of camera’s view. Then that one, a bull, headed for the Tunnel, where it bedded down. Note how much bigger this bed is compared to the earlier ones.

Bull Moose Bed

Bull Moose Bed

There were several sets of track going up and down the trail from Stand #1 to Stand #3 and past the Fork. We came across four beds, countless droppings, and browse sign. There was no hair or ticks in any of the beds, thankfully. This photo is in the gully at the end of Route 1A, below Dana’s Knob. 

Gully

Gully

As soon as we went through the Tunnel, the sign increased as we were now in the Matriarch’s home range.

She and the bull were obviously spending some time together. Would you believe that they were all over Buck Knob but never stepped in front of the camera?

After checking the camera at Stand #1, which my granddaughter had to climb, where there was much sign, we headed for the camera by the gate.

All along the way—the field, Frog Pond, and both brooks—there was sign. This all had to happen in the last 24+ hours because of all the snow we lost after the snowfall 36 hours earlier. These conditions are ripe for shed hunting.

Tony Found These Antlers in J.E. in 2010

Tony Found These Antlers in J.E. in 2010

On another note, my frustration with the Stealth camera continues!

There were moose, fox, and coyote tracks in front of the camera—most of it crossing, despite my effort to aim it down the trails—and not a SINGLE video of any of them! But all is not lost. It took a good daytime video of a bobcat. However, again the poor trigger speed reared its ugly head. The bobcat was in the middle of the screen (moving right to left) before the camera triggered. In other words I got half the video I should have.

It frustrates me to the point that I’m ready to shoot it, but I’m already down two cameras as my two oldest Bushnell cameras finally died last fall.

It is looking like that not-so-crazy woodchuck in Pennsylvania might be right.

WLAGS

 

Tracks

Tracks

 

A quick, hour-and-45-minute trip, to J.E. this morning was fairly uneventful. I was hoping to take advantage of the minimal snow cover to do some shed hunting. That proved to be fruitless. The only moose track I found was snow filled, and I never cut a deer track.

There was a lot of track of coyotes, snowshoe hare, bobcat, squirrel, porcupine, and fox. In the photo, you will see a track that frequented the brooks and beaver pond. Any guesses?

Tracks Along the Brook

Tracks Along the Brook

It was a pair of mink, and much of it was very fresh as was some of the hare, coyote, and bobcat tracks. The hare tracks were plentiful, as long as you stayed in the swamps. I concentrated on the swamps because in the past I have had luck there finding moose sheds.

A Shed Moose Antler I Found Years Ago

A Shed Moose Antler I Found Years Ago

There were virtually no tracks in front of the cameras, but some nearby, so I was pleased to get an 8:00 AM video of a big coyote that was very nervous.

We are supposed to get 5” of snow over the next 18 hours so shed hunting will be a lot tougher after that.

WLAGS

WLAGS Guides Tony to His First Buck, Part 4

WLAGS Guides Tony to His First Buck, Part 4

As the days start to shorten, and our thoughts turn to the upcoming fall hunting season, our minds turn to successful seasons past. Below is part 4 of my son Tony’s write-up of shooting his first buck on November 13, 2011.

WLAGS

——————

When my alarm went off at 4:30 Sunday morning, I turned it off and laid in bed, deciding. “Do I roll over and sleep in,” I asked myself, “Or do I get up and give it one last go?” “Chi dorme non piglia pesci,” [KEE DORM-ay KNOWN PEEL-ya PAY-shee] I thought. It’s an old Italian expression that literally means, “He who sleeps, catches no fish.” It’s the Italian way of saying “The early bird catches the worm.” I’d like to say that I sprung out of bed, but after four straight days of hoofing it up and down hills and valleys, it was more of a crawl.

I ambled downstairs, wiping the sleep out of my eyes. Dad greeted me in the kitchen. “So what do you think?”

“I think I need to take the bear stand,” I said.

“Sounds good,” Dad said. “You walk in the usual way. I’ll walk in from the end of the road. I’ll give you a 15-minute head start. That way you’ll be settled in the stand before I push through those beeches.”

We followed the plan to the letter, not that it was that difficult. Even in the low light, I was able to follow my dad’s ubiquitous pink tape without much trouble. As designed by Dad, I came up behind the stand from the north side, the opposite way that we would expect a deer to come to the area, especially if my dad pushed it through the beech grove to the south of the stand. Of course, deer never come into your stand the way that you expect them to, but I was wearing rubber boots, which ostensibly don’t carry scent.

I climbed up in the stand, just as those two young bears had done. I brought up the rope that they had pulled down, and I tied it back into place. There hadn’t been a trail camera here since Dad brought his home a few days ago, so we weren’t sure whether those bears had been back. That made me a little nervous.

I was rushing to get to and into the stand to make sure that I was ready to go if Dad pushed a buck by me. In all my haste, I worked up a decent sweat. Once in the stand, I stripped down my upper body, and I hung all my damp clothes on the branches around me to air out.

It was still well before sunup, and I cooled down quickly. I redressed, and prepared to stand vigil for the next few hours.

My View of Sunup That Morning

My View of Sunup That Morning

Normally, in a situation like this, something happens right away or not at all. A couple hours after sunrise, my expectations lowered by the second. I expected to see my dad walking in to my stand within the next half hour, asking me the usual one-word query, “Anything?”

My mind started to wander. My nephew Ian had moved in with us two years prior, and although we had a great start, things weren’t going well at this point. Hunting was supposed to be my way of getting my mind off of all of the issues that my wife and I were having with Ian, but now it was all I could think about. I was running through all of our past confrontations and imaging future ones. As this played out in my head, I grew more and more angry. I was standing in the tree stand now, pretending to be focused on a deer or my dad heading towards me from the south, but I might as well have had my eyes closed. All I could see were the infuriating images playing over and over in my mind.

All of this was interrupted by a cacophony of hooves hitting the ground. For a moment, it sounded like a stampede of caribou. I quickly realized that it was just one animal. My first thought was that it must be a moose to make such a racket. As it came closer, I wasn’t so sure.

The first thing I saw were antlers. “Fork horn,” I thought as I saw four distinct points on its head. Its head was down, when it wasn’t looking back, and its tail was straight out, a sure sign that it was startled but it felt secure that its pursuer didn’t see it.

The scenario was playing out exactly as we had drawn it up in the playbook. I couldn’t believe it. That never happens.

I took off my safety, watched the deer run towards me, and I thought, “I don’t deserve this.” I was feeling guilty for all the angry thoughts I was having about my nephew.

I quickly changed my mind, raised my rifle, and thought, “Yes, I do.” There was just one problem, the deer was moving at more than a trot, and it was quartering towards me to boot. I’m unlikely to take a shot with one of those factors; with the two combined, it’s strictly a “hold your fire” situation for me. I kept my sights on the animal, hoping that it would stop. It didn’t. It ran right past my stand and stopped just a few yards behind the right side of it, from right where I had approached the stand.

It stopped still, completely obscured by all the conifer branches between us. Although I couldn’t see it, I was sure that it was looking back towards Dad to see whether he was on its tail. Instinctively, I grunted twice with my mouth, not having a store-bought grunt call with me. I can thank my friend Matt for teaching me that trick, which he used to shoot a spike horn. Dragging that deer out turned into quite the adventure. But that’s another story.

The buck immediately started to backtrack itself, but it had its head down in my tracks. I guess my rubber boots weren’t so scent-proof after all. It was 40 yards away; well within range of the 50 yards for which I had sighted in my .44 magnum Ruger. The only problem was that it was walking at a quick pace, and it was walking through lots of thin maple saplings.

I glanced ahead of it for an opening, leaned the stock of the .44 against the tree trunk to steady it, and promised myself that I’d squeeze off a round as soon as the deer stepped into that opening. I can’t remember all of the times that this technique didn’t work out. The deer usually stops before the opening and wanders off through the cover of thick brush, never presenting a shot.

Luckily, this time was different. The buck stepped into the opening and stopped, still with its nose in my tracks. As it was moving from my right to my left, I decided to wait until it moved its front left leg forward, fulling exposing its vitals before squeezing the trigger. It did, and I did.

Normally, even with a direct hit to the heart, a deer will run a few yards or make a couple of bounds. Again, this time was different. The deer fell over as though it were frozen solid and someone had pushed it.

I kept the safety off, and I kept aiming for its vitals. I thought, “If it moves a muscle or gets up, I’m going to shoot until it stops moving.” The last thing any hunter wants is an animal to suffer. “Quick and painless” is the mantra. To my surprise, it never flinched a muscle. It lay stone dead after just the one shot.

“Quick and Painless” Is the Mantra

“Quick and Painless” Is the Mantra

I radioed Dad. “You got a drag rope with you?” I actually had a drag rope with me. That’s an inside joke. My friend Matt has, on more than one occasion, including when he grunted in that spike horn, shot a deer and not had a drag rope or many other necessities with him (such as his license, a knife, and so on).

Dad radioed back, “I’m already running to you.” He had started running as soon as he had heard the shot.

“Take your time,” I said. “He’s dead in front of me. I can see him. It’s a fork horn.”

Dad came running up two minutes later. “Where is he?”

I pointed Dad to the deer while I remained in the stand. “I hate to tell you this, buddy,” he said. “It’s a six.”

Dad With My 6-Pointer

Dad With My 6-Pointer

From the tree stand, I had one bar on my cell phone. I called our wives to let them know that we’d be occupied for a while.

A View from the Top

A View from the Top

“I shot a buck,” I said to Debbie.

“Holy mackerel,” she replied. “I’ll bring some snacks by.”

After taking a few pictures from the stand, I climbed down. Dad shook my hand and gave me hug.

“Nice job,” he said.

“You did all the work,” I said. “All I did was grunt and pull the trigger.”

“All I Did Was Grunt and Pull the Trigger.”

“All I Did Was Grunt and Pull the Trigger.”

As I field dressed the deer, Dad asked me to recount the whole story. After that, he told me his side of the story. During that time, Debbie had dropped off a cooler with snacks and drinks at Dad’s truck.

After completing the field dressing, I made the half-mile hike back to Dad’s truck alone to drop off a bunch of our stuff and get some of Debbie’s snacks and drinks.

“I’ll wait here with the deer, and I’ll keep my rifle in case those two little bastards show up,” Dad said, referring to the young black bears that had attacked the camera and climbed the stand.

When I got back to the truck, I dropped the tailgate to make our lives easier getting the deer in the bed of the truck.

The drag out wasn’t bad. It was mostly downhill, and there weren’t many blowdowns. Dad kept trying to help me drag the deer, but I kept telling him to just carry our gear because he was dealing with a hernia. I didn’t want it to get worse. Besides, I was so excited about getting my first buck that dragging it didn’t feel like work.

When we got close to the truck, we waited until no cars were driving by to put the deer in the back. We didn’t want everyone to know about our great new hunting spot.

We went home to eat something and take the deer to a checking station. As I went outside to cut out the tenderloins, Dad’s neighbor Jean came up the driveway with a hearty “Congratulations!”

“What brings you by?” I asked.

“I saw you parked down the road earlier,” she said. “I figured that you had your tailgate down because you got a deer.”

Right then, I made a mental note to never leave the tailgate down on a pickup truck at any of our hunting spots.

Never Leave the Tailgate Down

Never Leave the Tailgate Down

She took a couple pictures of Dad and me with the deer.

“Look at that smile,” she said. “You can’t wipe that grin off your face.”

“What can I say,” I said. “It’s my first buck.”

That First-Buck Smile

That First-Buck Smile

To my surprise, she offered to hold the legs open so I could access the tenderloins. By this time, her husband Mike had come over to check out the deer as well. He wasn’t surprised that Jean was willing to hold the leg. “Jean is fascinated with dead wildlife,” he said. “Haven’t you seen the beaver pelt in our house?”

We didn’t have much time to chat. Being Sunday, the local sporting goods shop closed early, and we had to rush to get there in time to check in the deer.

He weighed in at 106 pounds; not bad for a 1.5-year old buck. We’ve always butchered our own deer, something I took great pride in, but it was getting to be late in the afternoon. I had an early meeting the next morning, and I was still two hours away from home. Luckily, we bumped into one of our favorite game wardens at the checking station, and he gave us the name of his favorite butcher.

He Weighed in at 106 Pounds

He Weighed in at 106 Pounds

When we arrived at the butcher’s, he asked, “Is he a beauty?” I was thinking, “He’s the most beautiful deer I’ve ever seen,” but before I could respond, he answered his own question, “They all are, aren’t they?” I agreed, but I was stunned that a guy who spends day after day butchering dozens of deer would still think that deer are beautiful. It was refreshing to talk to someone who respects the animals as much, if not more than we do.

The Most Beautiful Deer I’ve Ever Seen

The Most Beautiful Deer I’ve Ever Seen

Having finally tagged my first buck, I felt a huge weight lift off of my shoulders. I felt like a real hunter, not just some city slicker that runs around the woods on weekends. Of course, I had very little to do with my success. All the credit goes to the guide.

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

J.E. Tour

This was the first morning in months that I was able to get to all the stands. I had hoped to go shed hunting, but the remains from 3″ of heavy, pasty, snow made that almost futile.

I found yet another balloon. Why so many find their way here in such a remote place is beyond me.

I did see one set of fresh moose track heading for Buck Knob from #3 stand. No deer tracks anywhere! The biologist from Keene found 24 coyote-killed deer in 10 days. Northern New England may have lost as many as 25% of their deer herd this winter.

I took a few photos as I set up the camera on Buck Knob.

A Well-Camouflaged Camera at Buck Knob

A Well-Camouflaged Camera at Buck Knob

Dana's Buck Knob Blind

Dana’s Buck Knob Blind

Here is a photo of moose rubs while looking through the rungs of stand #3.

Moose Rubs

Moose Rubs

 

I counted 14 rubs within view of the stand. Tony found two sheds within view of that stand, and I found one a couple of years ago.

WLAGS