The Big Doe of Bemis Hill

The Big Doe of Bemis Hill

Back in March of 2014, I wrote a blog post called “Opening Day 1965” in which I wrote the following:

I got only a glimpse of this big old doe as she bounded off. As it turned out she and I would have several encounters over the next two years. She taught me more about deer than all the other deer I would come across the rest of my life. But that’s another story.

Now is the time to tell the story of the big doe of Bemis Hill.

It is unlike me not to give this deer a name. I guess I didn’t because I didn’t want to humanize her. She was a deer after all. She was smart, but more importantly she utilized all of her senses to elude me and others. It was her senses that she taught me most about. Here are just three of the lessons that she taught me.

Lesson #1: Assume That a Deer Is Already There

First, I’ll elaborate on that very first time that I saw and heard her. Yes I said *heard* her. Not her footsteps, but her blowing or “snorting,” as it is called. It was my very first morning of hunting this area. I had just completed an arduous uphill hike to the same spot where everything I mentioned previously happened.

It was long before sunup. It was very cool, foggy, and consequently quiet. I was cramped up from sleeping in the front seat of my Falcon that night. I got to the spot where the tote road meets the field, which again I had no idea was there.

I was all consumed with the picture perfect place I was gazing on and realizing that this was a hunter’s dream come true. Suddenly I was startled to my core as un unbelievably harsh and loud sound emanated from the tree line directly in front of me just on the edge of that tree line.

It was this big doe snorting at me….repeatedly. She snorted at me more times than I can count. Then, as if to flip me off, she whirled and threw that huge white tail right at me.

This would be the first of many such encounters. She greeted me with her snorts and stomping hooves many times over the next two years. It got so that I looked forward to it each and every Saturday and Sunday morning for six weeks for the next two seasons.

I’m not kidding when I say that I missed that sound in the coming years. I am confident that she lived to a ripe old age. I only saw three other hunters there that first season, and two of them were gun hunters, who were not allowed to take does.

I saw another bowhunter that first day, but I never saw another hunter near there for several years. When I did see other hunters, I never saw them return.

Lesson #2: Don’t Fall for the Head-Fake

Then there was the one morning during the early part of a subsequent archery season, which was in mid-October in Vermont in the 1960s. I was coming out of the woods for lunch when I saw her just inside the woodline of a mature pine grove that bordered a substantial hay field. This was her turf. She knew every tree, every sound, and certainly every scent.

She did not see me, but I could tell by her very rigid stance that she knew that I was there. I also knew that I had the wind in my favor.

She was facing into the light breeze, but I assumed that she heard me walking along the tote road. It was late morning, and I was hungry so I paid little attention to my footsteps. She was about 40 yards from me on my right. I felt very comfortable that without a shift in the wind, she would not bag me.

She never moved a muscle for what seemed like several minutes. I was also feeling good about the situation because I knew that her trail of choice was about 20 yards in front of me. If she felt nervous at all, she would certainly take that trail for several reasons. First, she knew that she just traveled it without incident. Second, it would be very quiet because it was so well worn, and she knew every twig along it.

Next came my first bit of schooling for the day. She put her head down, and I took advantage of that to shift my feet to get into a more comfortable shooting position, but she no more than lowered her head when she snapped it back up in a split second. In so doing, she caught the movement of me shifting my weight. This is a common trick that deer use. We call it the head-fake.

At that point, she knew that she heard something, and she knew the direction of the sound. What was she going to do? Again she was to my right, facing in the direction where I just came from. I swear that I could read her thoughts, or instincts, if you prefer. She felt vulnerable, but she knew better than to panic because she was unsure of the intruder. Her plan was simple. Put the big pines between her and me. She turned 90 degrees to her left, and I was looking at her butt.

She then *very* quietly put one hoof in front of the other, put her head low, and went behind the two-foot trunk of the big pine. I immediately raised my recurve bow, anticipating her turning more to the left and probably trotting up her preferred trail.

Sneaking Doe

Sneaking Doe

I stood there looking at the left side of the pine for five minutes with my bow raised. Finally I dared a peek to see what she was doing. She was gone. To this day, I cannot believe she crossed that open field without me seeing her. I went to the spot where she was standing, and sure enough there was her track and trail going through the hay.

Example #3: You Can’t Sneak Past Someone in Their Own House

One time, in an effort to mess with her, I circled the field from a trail further south. I hoped that this maneuver would give me the advantage of surprise. She bagged me anyway. As I came along the trail from the opposite direction, after an additional 30-minute hike, she simply stood perfectly still and watched me “sneak” past her. She then blasted me with her signature snort. I can’t print the words that came to mind at that moment.

Each of my encounters with this doe taught me something. It is easy to read a book or an issue of Field and Stream magazine and to try and adapt the author’s experience to your situation, but *every day* in the woods is unlike any other, like snowflakes and fingerprints. You might be able to duplicate a situation, but never all aspects of the event–weather, wind, temperature, sunlight, clouds, and very importantly the moon and its phases. They each play a major role in how the natural world functions every day.

 I will be forever grateful to that nameless doe for all that she taught me. Because of her, I was a lot more successful hunter over the next almost 60 years, and a much more appreciative one because of her.

WLAGS

 

Advertisements
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

Supreme Effort

I had the best night sleep that I have had in weeks last night. With that, I knew that today would be a good day to take on a major scouting trip.

I went to Smith Pond to scout the area between Kingsbury, Jones Hill, and the Jones property. I know that that area has had ongoing logging operations for the last five years or so.

When I arrived, my friend Robbie was running a logging operation of his own there. I asked whether he had seen any deer recently. He said he had seen his first two sets of tracks that morning. He said that he thought that the best places to hunt would be the oaks, like the backside of Kingsbury or Lovewell. He asked me to check in with him on my way out, as he was taking his boy out this weekend for Youth Weekend.

He told me to avoid the cutovers on the right because they were a mess with debris. He was right, but I went through them anyway, not wanting to leave any stone unturned. I forgot how steep and boulder-strewn those hills were. You realize these things more at my age. It was uphill all the way for a mile and a half. I was glad it was 36 degrees, or I would have sweated to death.

My mission, besides finding deer sign, was to reach the dozen or more apple trees that were scattered about the top. Robbie had told me that the small orchard nearer E. Washington Rd. was void of sign yesterday. To top things off I forgot my compass, and now with the terrain all askew, I would need my sense of direction to be on its game, and it was. I found the first tree with some difficulty because a bear had snapped the top off. No apples.

I call the next spot 7AT (seven apple trees) in my GPS, but with the leaves down, I actually found a dozen trees there. There were a handful of apples in total and no sign.

If I were 20 years younger, this place would be on my radar every year for bow hunting. It is obviously very secluded. There are trees of varying age and variety. Most however, ripen fairly early in the season, and bears are frequent visitors. There are many places to put up a permanent stand or a climber (a climbing tree stand). I love this spot.

Brad Using His Climber

Brad Using His Climber

There was no fresh sign though, so I headed north to check out a couple more spots—first a single tree, and then a grove of five more. That grove had apples in two trees that amounted to a couple of dozen. No sign.

So now I headed for a spot that bordered the Jones property that used to have a ladder stand that overlooked a nice tree. The stand was gone, thankfully, and the tree looked great, with 50 apples in the tree and 50 more on the ground. I ate one, and I understood why they were uneaten. They were very tart. The deer won’t eat them until they have been frozen and are then sweetened.

Frozen Apples

Frozen Apples

Behind the tree is about a full acre of red raspberry bushes, which deer love, and was littered with many historical deer trails. Nothing fresh.

I tried to take a photo of this spot, but my camera batteries were dead. I wasn’t very well prepared today, I thought to myself.

At this point you might think I was discouraged. Instead I was quite pleased with myself to be able to pull this off at all, and I was very encouraged that these trees were doing well. If I were only 10 years younger, I would take full advantage of them.

I decided not to torture myself on the way out and try to avoid the cutovers, which were a half mile below me. So I went further north before cutting west. It worked beautifully. The last time I was in here (a couple of years ago), I took a serious header, and I don’t need to be doing that again. As I was heading downhill, which my orthopedic doctor told me just Wednesday to avoid, I heard a thunderous crash as a tree toppled over 20 yards to my right. It scared the hell out of me. I also came across a fresh set of moose tracks. The only fresh tracks I saw all morning.

Moose Track

Moose Track

As I reached the logging road, it became obvious that the other side of the road, that had been logged a few years ago, was now at prime deer/moose growth stage. There were openings through the select cut where you could see for more than a hundred yards, and the understory was covered with raspberry and blackberry bushes. I could see myself tracking a buck through there, snow or no snow.

I would like to be telling you that I found the mother lode of deer sign, but for today I was pleased enough to just do the job and know that I have the good fortune to live in a place where there are so few boundaries that I can walk for hours and not concern myself with other people or posted signs.

WLAGS

WLAGS Guides Tony to His First Buck, Part 1

WLAGS Guides Tony to His First Buck, Part 1

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

WLAGS

——————

As is well documented in “The Best Season, Part 1” and in “The Best Season, Part 1: Tony’s Take,” I shot my first deer at the tender age of 15 by way of bow and arrow. That entire experience went so perfectly and easily, that I thought that harvesting a deer would quickly become a yearly event.

I felt much the way that Bronson Arroyo must have felt in November of 2004 after winning the World Series with Red Sox. He probably thought, “Now that we’ve broken this 86-year drought, we’ll probably start a dynasty that will win several more World Series titles.” Little did Arroyo know that 2005, a year in which the Red Sox would be swept out of the first round of the playoffs, would be his last in Beantown, and he’d spend the next eight years with the underachieving Cincinnati Reds, while the Red Sox would go on to win two more World Series.

Bronson Arroyo on the Underachieving Reds

Bronson Arroyo on the Underachieving Reds

When you get cocky, as I had after shooting my first deer, life has a way of humbling you awfully quickly. I spent the next 10 years underachieving as a hunter. I had several opportunities over those years, but all were undermined by bad luck, bad decisions, or bad performance on my part. I had lost my mojo as a hunter.

I finally redeemed myself 11 years after shooting my first doe by shooting a very large doe with the rifle, but that is a story for another day. To the point of this story, I would then endure a post-1986 Red Sox-like, 13-year dry spell without harvesting another deer. I continued to archery hunt for the first few years of that dry spell—Dad even gave me a recurve, which I hunted with for a couple of years.

My Cousin Shooting My Recurve

My Cousin Shooting My Recurve

But I eventually had to give up bow hunting, as my busy, city-living lifestyle wouldn’t permit me the time or access to practice. I instead alternately picked up the black powder rifle and my trusty Ruger .44 magnum carbine.

My Trusty Ruger .44 Magnum and a Buck Rub

My Trusty Ruger .44 Magnum and a Buck Rub

Again, with both of those weapons, I had opportunities, but was never able to put venison on the table. Over those years, my frustration ascended as my confidence descended, particularly as my friends and relatives continued to have success. I then entered the final stage of grief; acceptance.

I looked at my successful fellow hunters, and I realized the difference between what they were doing and what I was doing—scouting. I came to realize that my lack of success was almost entirely due to lack of scouting. It was in those years that I truly learned just how invaluable scouting is to successful hunting. My corporate ladder-climbing lifestyle just wasn’t allowing me the time to do the necessary scouting to have a successful hunting season, and I accepted that. I stopped looking at hunting as means to putting meat on the table, and I started looking at it as what it truly was for me—a hobby to get me out of the city and into the woods with my closest friends and relatives. My frustration tapered off the more that I decided that I wouldn’t care about “success” in the woods; I simply cared that I was *in* the woods and not sitting behind a desk. I began to enjoy myself more. I looked forward to simply *seeing* all the moose, bear, coyotes, and occasional deer, as well as the non-game animals. I also looked forward to being unplugged from the rat race of my daily life and just being.

Just Being

Just Being

I’ve found again and again in life that when you change your attitude in this way, success has a way of finding you, but not without a little help. Enter 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

——————

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

Scouting Report for September 17, 2014

I had a couple of missions in mind this morning.

First was to check out the oaks above Mt. Road. The other was to set a camera up there. I did the former, but not the latter. The reason was that although there were acorns, they were not falling in great numbers, and the undergrowth was such as to prevent a good field scan view of the goings on. It appears, at this time to be a good but not great acorn crop. That could be good for us. It means that the deer won’t be able to hold up in a specific oak grove for days on end.

All the sign I saw this morning indicated that they are moving from one grove to another. The acorns are big and full of good meat, so they are not going to be passed up, especially since to this point in time, I haven’t seen a single beechnut.

As I set up a camera down in the hollow, I heard blue jays screaming up at Stand #2. I knew that there was a bear there. Sure enough, as I approached the camera there were fresh bear droppings covered with flies. And sure enough, there were so many photos of bears on that camera, including from this morning, that it is almost funny. They are there not only every day, but two and three times a day! By “they,” I mean at least three, if not four or more bears every day in daylight, usually between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Bear Digging

Bear Digging

After that, I headed for Buck Knob. After checking the camera, where I found the batteries were shot, I came across a big fresh pile of cow moose droppings with a bear track right smack in the middle of it!

Bear Track in Moose Droppings

Bear Track in Moose Droppings

The camera proved me right. A big bear walked right to the droppings, but apparently the moose was just out of trigger range for the camera. There were also some great doe and skipper pictures on both cameras, but no bucks. All this was within easy range of the stands.

Speaking of that, I climbed Stand #2 stand for two reasons–one, to check the windows for a bow, which were great, and two, to look for acorns in the trees, which were not great. A little pruning would make it even better, window-wise.

The only real surprise was how much water is still in the woods. With all the streams and ponds looking low, it means to me that the water table is full, and all we need to restore the water levels in the streams is a little rain.

Today I covered 2.75 miles in 2 hours and 40 minutes. A good workout!

WLAGS