WSI Report for January 2018

Here we are in just about the middle of the meteorological winter with less than 40 days until March.

What started out a little mild, eventually turned to record cold in terms of temperature and time. We were probably near a Winter Severity Index (WSI) disaster. Add that to some significant snow earlier in December, 31” by my tally, and things were looking very gloomy.

As I explained in previous blogs tagged “WSI,” such as “Winter Severity Index Report for 2015,” a Winter Severity Index (WSI) day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.

A flock of turkeys that I saw regularly was getting decimated by the sub-zero nights and days, aided by strong winds. At first there were eight. Then a few days later there were five, and finally I saw only two.

Turkeys in the Snow

Turkeys in the Snow

The others *probably* froze to death while roosting. We’ll never know, as any carcasses are surely consumed by a host of predators and scavengers. That said, I have seen two flocks of more than a dozen birds during this thaw.

By my tally, we had 14 WSI days in the last week of December. (Again, that’s two for each day that the snow was more than 18” deep and the temperatures went below zero.)

January continued that trend for the next week with another six, 2-WSI days. As the temperature rose, it was only the snow that was adding to our WSI total.

With this wonderful and unprecedented thaw, everything has changed. We now stand at 31 WSI so far for the season. That is good, but far more than we have had in the previous five years. In 2016 (See https://wlags.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/the-matriarch-moose-of-j-e/) and 2017 for example, we had only 1 WSI for each of the last two months.

However, it all comes down to March and April. Those are the “make it or break it” months. We are in a good spot for now, with the deer and turkeys able to move about freely.

Today I ventured out to check snow depths in the woods. They ranged from bare ground in the large evergreen groves to 8” on the northeast-facing slopes. Four inches is a good average of what I saw.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

WLAGAS

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Why I Scout

You might remember this photo from a couple of years ago.
Kevin's Buck

Kevin’s Buck

You might also remember that Kevin had to chase off a bear that was trying to have this buck for breakfast.
Well, Kevin owns most of the land (350 acres) that I was on this morning. It abuts my friend Dave’s farm.
A few days before Kevin shot this buck, he very graciously gave me permission to hunt his land.
His family has been here for several generations, and they are our version of the Benoits. All of them, brothers and nephews, shoot bucks like that every year. One already has a deer on Morse’s list.
So I started out this morning with a big surprise. Kevin, who is a logger, had cut parts of the area that I usually hunt. That’s good for the deer, but it throws off my location recognition because everything looks so different. So this time my GPS really came in handy.
The good news is that despite the significant changes to their home range, the deer are still using the same trails almost exclusively. I saw more track–fresh track–and more droppings than I have seen in the last two months.
The higher I got on the hill, the more acorns and the more deer sign I saw. This place is one of those places that has me scratching my head at times. There are many young beech trees and very few mature trees. What few big beeches were there were either already stripped of there nuts or they did not produce well. I’m betting that it is the former. So the deer here are into the acorns and supplementing that with greens.
My remaining questions now are about bucks. Hopefully I’ll get some cameras there and start answering those questions.
It took five hours of beating the bush to learn almost everything in these few paragraphs. Hopefully it will all be worth the effort.
WLAGS
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

Winter’s Victim, Part 4: Winter’s Savior

Winter’s Victim, Part 4: Winter’s Savior

From March 14 through my visit on the March 30, there were varying intensities and frequencies of visits. The most notable was from a vulture because they are not frequent visitors in the winter. My guess is that it was migrating because it only stopped by for a meal on the go.

Turkey Vulture Takes a Turn

Turkey Vulture Takes a Turn

Another surprise was the fisher, not because it came at all, but rather that it only came once.

A Fisher Checks Out the Carcass

A Fisher Checks Out the Carcass

There were countless visits by coyotes, even after all of the deer was consumed, except hair, including the morning that I checked the camera. You can see in this photo from that morning how little was left at that point.

What's Left

What’s Left

The bobcat visits were much less frequent, but did provide some great photos.

Bobcat's St. Patrick's Day Feast

Bobcat’s St. Patrick’s Day Feast

The ravens were a constant, and they were by far the most photographed critters over the last two weeks.

The Ravens Were a Constant

The Ravens Were a Constant

A mouse even got involved. I had to look closely, but one night as a coyote approached you can see a mouse scooting away. The coyote barley gave it a look, unlike almost any other time when he would have turned himself inside out to catch it.

There were more great photographs than we could reasonably include in a few blog posts. Instead, we’ll just include a slideshow here.

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All in all, this young buck provided much needed sustenance to many forms of life during the very trying days—the most trying days—of winter, as fat reserves are all but gone this late in the winter for most of these animals.

Having said that, I still am sorry that this little spike horn buck did not live to see his second spring.

WLAGS

Winter’s Victim, Part 3: Midnight Coyotes

Winter’s Victim, Part 3: Midnight Coyotes

Midnight on day 3 (March 12) found the coyotes on sight. They fed very aggressively for about 30 minutes. Again, the pair fed in shifts. At 6:30 AM, Blondie made her first appearance of the day.

Blondie Being Cautious

Blondie Being Cautious

She gave us some great photos in that time.

Blondie Feeding

Blondie Feeding

The bobcat stopped by at about 11:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM, and 3:00 PM. Each time, he grabbed a few mouthfuls and then headed into the swamp, seemingly to rest and digest between visits.

Bobcat Coming for Brunch

Bobcat Coming for Brunch

The coyotes returned at dusk. Blondie and her mate returned repeatedly during the night.

Anytime that there wasn’t a predator on the carcass, the ravens would be. You can just picture them sitting safely in the treetops, waiting for any opportunity to swoop in for their share.

Again midnight on day 4 (March 13), found a pair of coyotes already feasting.

Midnight Coyotes

Midnight Coyotes

This was the busiest of days, with more than 700 pictures taken.

A Mouthful

A Mouthful

There was a coyote at the carcass ever hour of the day and night.

Top Dog

Top Dog

They seemed to be trying to deprive the ever-present ravens of even a single bite.

Damn Ravens

Damn Ravens

Blondie showed up in the late afternoon and got her fair share.

Late Afternoon Snack

Late Afternoon Snack

You can clearly see in one photo one coyote waiting in the background while another ate.

The Lookout

The Lookout

This behavior goes against all of the images that I have had in my mind of what takes place at a carcass. I suspect it may be very different if it was a fresh kill, especially if the group took part in the chase and kill.

The consuming took place all night.

WLAGS

Winter’s Victim, Part 2: No Blonde Jokes, Please

Winter’s Victim, Part 2: No Blonde Jokes, Please

The camera took 598 photos the next day; March 11.The consumption started at about 3:00 AM, and it went through the night and into the morning, until the bobcat showed up. It is unclear exactly how many coyotes took part, but I can clearly identify only two.

The Good Stuff

The Good Stuff

They fed in shifts. Never during this whole time was there even a moment when two coyotes fed at the same time. While one coyote fed, the other would be 10 yards or more away, standing guard. They would then change positions. Each would feed for 15 to 30 minutes then rest and digest.

Tearing Off a Bite

Tearing Off a Bite

The coyotes made a hasty retreat at about 8:45 AM, and the bobcat appeared at 9:05. The cat remained for more than an hour.

The Cat Shows Up

The Cat Shows Up

All was quiet until a very big surprise came at 3:00 in the afternoon. Blondie made her grand entrance. She is the lightest colored coyote I have ever seen, including photos in journals and such.

Blondie Enters the Scene

Blondie Enters the Scene

She fed briefly then ran off with a large mouthful of meat. An hour or so later, she returned and fed again, and then her larger and darker mate showed up to get his share. They fed until midnight.

You might remember the photo I got three years ago of a very dark coyote not 100 yards from where Blondie was on this day.

Coyote at Stand #2

Coyote at Stand #2

Dark coyotes are rare too. My contact at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) recently asked for permission for Dave Anderson to use that photo for an article to appear in the New Hampshire Union Leader. I of course said yes. Wait until he sees Blondie!

WLAGS

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