Labrador Part 2: The Pike Disappointment

Labrador Part 2: The Pike Disappointment

Day 1 of Fishing

Juin 27

After getting settled in our new home last evening, eating a hearty supper and getting to know our hosts, we settled in for a well-deserved and very early night of rest after the trials and tribulations of our journey.

The next morning came very early, both in terms of daylight (daybreak was around 3:30 AM) and seemingly, not enough sleep. We made our way to the lodge and found Andrew had prepared a huge breakfast. There were eggs, of course, and the mandatory heaping platter of bacon. Bacon and butter are staples of life here. We went through about 10 pounds of each that week.

A Hearty Breakfast

A Hearty Breakfast

We discussed the day’s plans during and after breakfast. Burt, the head guide, thought it would be best for the Joes and Walter to fish the head of the outlet so that they could set up “Joe senior” in the pontoon boat (Burt calls it a pool toy).

The Pontoon Boat

The Pontoon Boat

The other guide would set “Joe Jr.” and Walt up on either bank, and fish from the freighter canoes. The canoes, by the way, were 18-foot- and 20-foot-long spruce and Kevlar, square-stern canoes, powered by 9.9- and 20-horse power four-stroke engines. They were amazing in both their stability and the shallow draft. Both of those attributes would very much come into play later in the week.

One of the Kevlar-Coated Canoes

One of the Kevlar-Coated Canoes

It was decided that Tony and I would go with Burt down to what they call “Second Section;” that is, the second part of the McKenzie River downstream from the lodge.

Artist's Rendering of the McKenzie River Area

Artist’s Rendering of the McKenzie River Area

Only the guides had briefly fished Second Section during their setup time the previous two weeks. (Ice went out on Andre Lake on June 12, just as the guides arrived.)

Our day began by walking behind the lodge to one of the 18-foot canoes. Given that it was in the 60s Fahrenheit, we were stunned to see a large snow bank.

The Snowbank Behind the Lodge...On June 27

The Snowbank Behind the Lodge…On June 27

As we walked down a narrow caribou trail, Burt cleared his throat loudly and yelled, “I am not a bear!” This was simultaneously amusing and unnerving, but it worked. We didn’t see any bears.

We were full of optimism, but the walk was a little grueling after a short boat ride to the head of the outlet. It was warm, buggy—very buggy, and with the showers from the night before, very muddy as well. We each had two fly rods, our vests, wading staff, a backpack with cameras and other essentials, and we were wearing waders, of course. Not exactly your typical hiking outfit. To top it off, we were over-dressed for a hike. We were wearing turtlenecks and long underwear in anticipation of the 50-degree Fahrenheit river water.

As we approached our first spot to fish, Burt said, “Young fellers,” and he shook his head disapprovingly. One of the younger guides had left a jacket hanging in a tree when they were clearing this old caribou trail in the previous week.

The Bugs Were Getting to Tony

The Bugs Were Getting to Tony

As we fished one pool or riffle after another, we took Burt’s suggestion to fish close first, then fish further out, and change flies often. We started out at the Mouse Pool, where Tony had to try a mouse fly. Where else can you catch a brookie on a mouse fly? Unfortunately, he didn’t have a sniff. What’s worse, he learned what Burt calls “The McKenzie Two-Step,” which is to say that Tony fell in the river. Luckily his rain gear and waders kept him mostly dry, except for the fleece liner for his raincoat.

We had no success for an hour or more when I finally hooked up on a fly tied in N.H., the Jackass.

Jackass

Jackass

It was the only time in my life I was disappointed to catch a pike. We quickly released him after a fair fight. Just a few casts later produced a nice 25-inch, 6-pound laker.

My First Labrador Lake Trout (25 Inches and 6 Pounds)

My First Labrador Lake Trout (25 Inches and 6 Pounds)

Burt got some decent underwater video of the lake trout using Tony’s GoPro mounted on the landing net.

It was nice, but not what we came for. Burt was a little dismayed to see pike and lakers here. He thought if they were here, the brookies would not be. He was right.

We stopped for a nice shore lunch and fire, including some “Canadian bush tea,” according to Burt, which was very good. We hung Tony’s wet fleece liner, still soaking after his “dip” in the river, by the fire to dry it out.

Shore Lunch, Complete with a Fire and Canadian Bush Tea

Shore Lunch, Complete with a Fire and Canadian Bush Tea

As we sat by the river eating the lunches Andrew had prepared for us, I realized that my wading staff was only half there. I had lost the bottom half of it along the trail; probably in one of the mud holes that we navigated. Burt took a walk back up the trail to try to find it, but he came up empty. Tony lent me his wading staff for the rest of the day.

We worked our way down to the end of Second Section, where we trolled briefly in a large pool where they kept another canoe. I managed another laker that measured 26 inches and weighed 6 pounds, 4 ounces.

26-Inch Lake Trout, Weighing 6 Pounds, 4 Ounces

26-Inch Lake Trout, Weighing 6 Pounds, 4 Ounces

Two more pike were all that I could manage that day, and Tony was fishless. We stopped by the lunch spot to pick up Tony’s fleece that we hung out to dry. Unfortunately, we had two short downpours and some drizzle in the interim. His fleece liner for his raincoat was even wetter than when he’d “taken a swim” in the river.

As we continued our hike back, Burt found the bottom of my wading staff stuck in a mud hole in the trail.

I must be honest, and say that I was disappointed. We were tired, warm, and sick of fighting off bugs. I’m not sure how far we walked, but at the end of the day Tony’s Fitbit said we had walked 10 miles and took 22,000 steps. We know that that number is inflated because his Fitbit counts reeling as steps, but we didn’t do very much reeling today. That’s still a lot of walking even under the best conditions.

We Walked 10 Miles (Give or Take 5 Miles)

We Walked 10 Miles (Give or Take 5 Miles)

We made our way back to the lodge about 5 PM, with the sun seemingly in the high-noon position.

At supper, we learned that the Joes and Walt did very well at the outlet. That gave us hope for tomorrow. They had caught a couple of big brookies and hooked at least some salmon.

After dinner, two guides, Jean-Philip (“JP” for short) and Simon invited Tony to go trolling on Andre Lake that night. JP caught a nice 26” pike out on the lake with spinning gear and a spoon.

JP's Pike and Zula

JP’s Pike and Zula

It is legal to do that on the lake, whereas the rivers are restricted to barbless flies, and all trout and salmon are released.

We were optimistic about tomorrow.

WLAGS

 

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J.E. Christmas Eve

J.E. Christmas Eve

My first day in the woods in a couple of weeks was, as always full of surprises. As soon as I opened the truck door my first surprise was the sound of gushing water. It had rained overnight and more than once this week, but still the volume surprised me.

The second surprise was to see the beaver pond full with water skirting the edges and through the middle of the dam. My first thought was that the beavers had returned, but I saw no sign of recent activity.

The J.E. Beaver Pond Last Fall

The J.E. Beaver Pond Last Fall

As I walked upstream, I was very pleased to see the trout taking full advantage of this fresh flow of water. There were several brookies, including two big (six inches or better) trout sitting at the tail end of the pool formed by the new culvert. Six inches may not seem big to some people, but those fish were probably five to six years old. They grow very slowly in this environment, in which they have little food of value. Also they have to expend great energy to survive in the brook’s current and the cold months that are about to descend upon them.

There actually was a small caddisfly hatch going on, and the trout were doing their best to take advantage of this little bonus because of the mild weather.

Caddisfly

Caddisfly

I could see the trout better than I had in months because the rush of water had scoured the bottom of the brook almost perfectly clear of leaf litter and debris. That is why the pond was as full as it was. All that debris being forced down stream to the dam helped to seal the leaks.

Wood Ducks in the Beaver Pond

An Old Photo of the Beaver Pond Dam

The rest of the morning, no matter where I was in the woods, I could hear rushing water. All the tributary streams were scrubbed clean, and it seemed that there were trout everywhere.

Everything I saw in the woods for sign was kind of expected. The deer, moose, and coyotes along with grouse, squirrels, and even the mice were taking full advantage of this unusually warm weather. Nothing I saw looked like the wildlife had gone into winter survival mode…yet.

Most of the rest of my surprises would come when I would check the SD cards from the four cameras at home. The first three cameras were full—to the tune of more than 100 videos—of squirrels (red, gray, and flying) along with tons of mice and a few coyotes trying to take advantage of them.

The last camera, the one on Buck Knob, was full of surprises, and truthfully I didn’t expect to see much on it at all. In chronological order, there was a cow moose at 9 am on the 7th. At 11:00 that night, there was a deer running so fast that it is little more than a blur. One minute later, there is a coyote in hot pursuit. An hour later, there is a big old doe acting like she doesn’t have care in the world. She was on camera each of the next three days. At 3 pm on the 13th there is a small bear cub that normally would be denned up now, running past the camera.

At 1 pm on the 18th there’s a big surprise—two large dogs running down the game trail. Not a good thing for any of the wildlife down there. I THINK I know who owns them, and if I’m right I will speak to them.

One minute after the dogs go past, there is an animal running so fast in the opposite direction that I honestly can’t make out what it is. It is either a fox, a small coyote, or even a bobcat. The trigger speed on these cameras are pretty fast, so whatever it was, it was all but flying. We have seen evidence of coyotes running very fast before.

Last there was a great opportunity to get a great photo or video of a moose, but it passed so close to the camera that most of the shots were useless.

The Too Close Moose

The Too Close Moose

This particular camera was set in hybrid mode, in which it takes three still photos followed by a video. In hindsight, I think it would have been better off in video mode all the time.

Live and learn!

WLAGS

Most Discouraged

Wow! I was so disappointed after checking the cameras this morning. We have had a major leaf fall, but I did not see ANY deer sign this morning. The leaves can cover droppings and track, but not rubs. I saw nothing.

The cameras confirmed what my eyes saw. There was one doe on camera #1, 11 minutes after I checked it last, and that was it!

I did get a great video of Mamma bear and her now considerably larger twin cubs at the Fork. Right at the end of the video, she stands up on her hind legs.

Black Bear Sow and Cubs

Black Bear Sow and Cubs

I also got a great video of a fisher cat at Stand #2, which is not surprising, as I deleted over 60 videos of mice, flying squirrels, gray squirrels, and porcupines at Stand #2.

Fisher Cat at Stand #2

Fisher Cat at Stand #2

A coyote and a red fox, the first I’ve ever seen there, also showed up to try and take advantage of the rodent explosion.

Red Fox at Stand #2

Red Fox at Stand #2

Those rodents have completely wiped out the acorns there.

By the way, I got a great video of a big bull moose at the Fork a while back that I forgot to mention.

Big Bull Moose at the Fork

Big Bull Moose at the Fork

I’m stymied, but I don’t have the physical strength right now to scout the areas where I think the deer have moved off to.

My best guess is the bigger oak groves on either side of Mountain Road and up to Stand #5.

The other possibility is the new cutovers above Eckart’s.

I have never seen so little sign in J.E.

The brookies are getting ready to spawn. I saw several this morning, including at the spot where Debbie and I watched them spawn last year.

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.

WLAGS Guides Tony to His First Buck, Part 3

WLAGS Guides Tony to His First Buck, Part 3

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 3 of my son Tony’s write-up of shooting his first buck on November 13, 2011.

WLAGS

——————

Opening day in New Hampshire is always on a Wednesday. Dad’s brother-in-law, Dana always comes up from New York for that week. For reasons I can’t remember now, we decided to hunt other places, like J.E. and our other usual haunts. We hunted hard Wednesday through Friday, and none of us so much as saw a deer. We were frustrated. At one point, Dana and I were admiring one of Dad’s neighbor’s shed antler collection.

Dad’s Neighbor’s Shed Antler Collection

Dad’s Neighbor’s Shed Antler Collection

As I started a three-point turn to leave, we noticed a nice buck hanging in a tree at the end of his driveway. “So that’s what they look like,” Dana said wryly. “Some hunters we are,” he added. “We didn’t even notice one 10 feet from us hanging in a tree!” Defeated, Dana and I headed home for lunch. Dad was still out scouting, earning the G in WLAGS.

The Elusive Plain-Sight Buck

The Elusive Plain-Sight Buck

Just as Dana and I finished our lunches, Dad came home furious. “Someone screwed with our new ladder stand,” he yelled. “And the camera! The camera was on the ground, facing the tree stand, and the rope we tied to the stand was on the ground. The strap for the camera was on the ground, but it was still locked to the tree. But they screwed up! They left the SD card in the camera! I’ve got them now! Let’s go see if we can recognize them.”

Dana, my dad, and I headed to my dad’s computer in the basement. As my dad popped the SD card into his computer, we anxiously awaited what the videos would reveal. Dad hadn’t checked the camera in a long time. Thus, there were many videos on the card, including videos of the following:

Dana (6'3") Showing How Tall That Bull Moose in the Video Is

Dana (6’3″) Showing How Tall That Bull Moose in the Video Is

We were still anticipating seeing the would-be thieves. “OK, we should be getting to the most recent videos now,” Dad said.

The next video was of a young black bear walking from right to left in front of the camera. Just as it’s about to walk by, it stops and walks towards and eventually behind the camera.

In the second video, the bear is sniffing and pawing at the camera. With each successive 30-second clip, the bear became more aggressive with the camera, biting at it continually. At one point, you can hear the strap coming out of the camera as the bear pulls it with his teeth. The camera ends up on the ground, facing the stand, which serendipitously allows you to see the bear and its sibling climb the tree stand. The very next video is of Dad showing up on the scene four days later. He is visibly confused and upset. That’s the final video on the card.

Two Young Bears Messing With Our Stand

Two Young Bears Messing With Our Stand

We nearly fell off of our chairs laughing. Dad’s would-be thieves were two yearling black bears, who had it in for Dad’s camera and tree stand. We watched the videos over and over, and they never ceased to send us into knee-slapping, howling laughter. “Are…you…kidding…me?” was all Dad could manage between guffaws.

Despite all the laughs, we learned something important. This tree stand had a lot of activity—a lot more activity than all of our other stands—and that couldn’t have been a coincidence. Clearly something was drawing all these animals to this area. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that it was the beechnuts.

On Saturday, Dana left very early to get home for opening day of gun season in New York. My dad and I continued to hunt, and we weren’t having any more luck. I was pessimistic.

WLAGS Guides Tony to His First Buck, Part 2

WLAGS Guides Tony to His First Buck, Part 2

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 2 of my son Tony’s write-up of shooting his first buck on November 13, 2011.

WLAGS

——————

In the summer of 2011, my dad had been retired for a bit, and, like any good guide, he made scouting for the upcoming fall his full-time job. He was hell-bent on helping his brother-in-law, Dana, or me to get a deer that season.

2011 was an unusual year in my dad’s neck of the woods. There was an uncharacteristically small acorn crop and no apples to speak of. Oddly, beechnuts, which are usually no factor at all in the area, became the predominant food source for nearly all animals that year. Once my dad discovered this, he realized that he’d have to start scouting lots of new places, and we’d have to put up new tree stands. He got right to the task.

He found an area that was loaded with beechnuts. He scouted the area hard, and he found where three different bucks were working the area. He had always liked this one break in a stone wall. Lots of animals had always used this as a crossing. This spot was between two beechnut groves and near bedding cover. It was a good transition zone. He’d always wanted a stand here, but with few oak trees in the area, it wasn’t worth putting a stand here during the usual acorn-heavy years. This year, it made perfect sense.

He decided that it was worth putting a ladder stand in a large white pine that overlooked the break in the stone wall. The hard part would be getting the ladder stand there. As he scouted the area, he found a good way to get to the stand—not the fastest way, and not the easiest way, but the way that would allow a hunter to “sneak in the backdoor” of the stand without disturbing any deer that might be feeding on those beechnuts.

Pink surveyor’s tape has become my dad’s calling card. As he discovered this way of accessing the stand, he started to place bits of pink tape along this homemade “trail” that spanned the half mile from the pull-off where he parked to the stand.

Each time he went in to scout the area, he carried one piece of the aluminum ladder stand with him. The ladder stand has four pieces: three 5-foot ladder sections and a platform and seat section. After each trip, he would hide the sections of the tree stand under some branches. Once they were all in place, he waited for me to come visit for a scouting weekend to help put the stand in the tree, which is definitely a two-person job, at a minimum.

When I arrived, I could see that he had everything in place, like a good guide should. We parked in his pull-off, and he showed me the pattern he used to put up the pink tape along his route to the stand. He showed me all of the beechnut trees along the way, along with all of the deer sign, not to mention all of the bear claw marks in the beechnut trees.

Bear Claw Marks in a Beech Tree

Bear Claw Marks in a Beech Tree

He had been through there so many times, that he had created nicknames for some of the spots along the way, as he is wont to do. For example, he nicknamed one SUV-sized boulder surrounded by beech trees Turtle Rock, due to its tortoise-like shape.

Dana in Front of Turtle Rock

Dana in Front of Turtle Rock

These nicknames come in handy when one is mentioning locations of deer sightings or deer sign. You might say something like, “I saw a fresh scrape about 100 yards south of Turtle Rock. It looks like it was from one of the fork horns.”

For the uninitiated, that means that a buck with four antler points had scraped the ground with one of its front hooves to mark his territory. Bucks make scrapes under a licking branch, a branch that the buck can lick and reach up to rub the glands near his eyes. These branches give you a good indication of the buck’s size, as they are usually about as high as the top of his head. To add more scent to the location, the buck also urinates down one of his legs so that the urine runs over one of his tarsal glands. This gives the scrape a pungent, musky odor. I’ve smelled fresh scrapes from hundreds of yards away, and as my Uncle Franny used to say, “My nose is big, but it don’t work worth a damn.” You can imagine how far away a doe and other bucks could smell a scrape, given that their sense of smell is better than a Blood Hound’s.

A Small Buck Scrape

A Small Buck Scrape

We arrived at the stand site, and we assembled and put the stand on the tree. It didn’t take long. By this point, we were old hands at this. We had put up and moved many a ladder stand over the last several years. We locked the stand in place with a chain, just in case.

About 50 yards from the stand, the break in the stone wall was over the shooter’s left shoulder, perfect for a right-handed shot, like all of us who hunt with my dad. About 35 yards away, straight in front of the shooter, was my dad’s trail camera on another tree, pointed to the left, ever vigilant of that break in the stone wall. We were ready for opening day.

Just When You Think You’ve Figured It Out, Part 2

Now that we’ve checked all the cameras, we’d like to illustrate some of what we discussed in “Just When You Think You’ve Figured It Out.

On my previous trip to Camera #1, I got a video of a sow with two new cubs. They were about the size of six-week old lab pups, and they were scrambling like crazy to keep up with Mom.

I also got video of a very pregnant doe, and I was hoping to get some of the fawn this trip…and I did.

Today, I saw fresh moose track near Stand #1, and did get a video of a big cow.

I also got video there of a sizable bear…

…and a coyote.
I rarely actually walk up to the stand, but for some reason I did today. I was in for a surprise, as the lower four-foot section of the ladder was on the ground while the rest was still hanging in the tree.

Dismembered Ladder Stand

Dismembered Ladder Stand

My first thought was (as one might expect) was “someone was messing with it,” but I know better. First, this stand is very well hidden. Second, I tried to put the section back in place, but it was fruitless unless I loosened all of the straps, which in the rain and with tons of mosquitos buzzing around me, I decided against. It was obvious the perpetrator was very strong. He had to lift and pull this stand, which was extremely secure, having been in place for years!

The first camera is only 25 to 30 yards away, but with all the new greenery it might as well be a mile away. However the bear that I would see on the video when I got home was more than big enough to do the job.

Next surprise? Not a surprise at all. Camera #2 was all discombobulated when I arrived. One of the two latches was open, and the camera was on the wrong side of the tree. This didn’t take a genius to figure out. Sure enough, the video was all telling that it was a large bear.

WLAGS