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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Better than a Well-Laid Plan

Better than a Well-Laid Plan

Sometimes a whim is better than a well-laid plan. We had planned to fish the Magalloway River, but we were skeptical about the number of fishermen, having seen so many on the Androscoggin yesterday. We figured that river would be crazy with fishermen this morning, but the weather was just bad enough that maybe some would not venture out so early.

But we decided to stop at the dam anyway. We were encouraged when we didn’t see any cars parked there, but as it turns out a couple of guys walked there. One of them had the premier spot, but we decided to give it a shot at a couple of the lesser places to cast from.

I got there a little before Tony, and I took a lower position and motioned Tony to one of the outlets as he approached.

On his first cast I could see that he was into a fish–a little smallmouth. That was quickly followed by a nice perch.

Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch

A few minutes later, as the rain picked up in intensity, I watched as his rod doubled over and then started throbbing almost violently.

I was sure at that point that it was brook trout, and by the bend in his six-weight rod, I knew that it was a good fish. After a few minutes, Tony called down to me that it was in fact a brookie.

Then I saw its head come out of the water and saw the distance between its dorsal fin and tail, and I knew I needed to get up there. Tony always fishes with barbless hooks, and that can come back to bite you when dealing with brook trout because of their head-shaking tactic.

Even the other fishermen knew that this was something special because they stopped fishing and even offered their assistance, which included a measuring tape.

Finally Tony managed to get it to the net. It was a gorgeous 17-1/2” brookie. Other than our Labrador trip, this fish rated the biggest on his all-time list of brook trout.

Tony's 17.5-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 17.5-Inch Brook Trout

With a little gentle handling and a chance to recover, the trout was back where he belonged, in the river.

Tony had taken all the fish on this trip thus far, on a fly he tied himself several years ago, a small, dark streamer.

So I headed back down to my spot and immediately tied on the same fly. A nice brown trout found it to his liking on my first cast.

The rain was coming down even harder now. It was the kind of day that if you were inside, you probably would not go out, but once you were out, what the heck; what’s getting a little more wet and cold? It certainly was putting our rain gear to the test.

We caught several more fish, including a couple of nice bass, but as the rain let up, so did the fishing.

My 15-Inch Smallmouth Bass

My 15-Inch Smallmouth Bass

When the rain finally stopped, you would not have known that there was a fish in the river.

We then turned our attention to fishing with my friend Brian that evening. Brian is almost a legend in these parts. He grew up north of the Notches, and knows the woods, lakes, and rivers of this area of N.H. and Maine.

He is also a guide and specializes in moose, both for hunting and photography. He has taken photos of moose that ended up in many magazines.

Brian met us at Lake Umbagog at about 5:30 PM, and we jumped into his 21’ 250 HP boat and were ready for action.

Brian and I in His Speed Machine

Brian and I in His Speed Machine

I must admit that I never went 60 MPH on freshwater before, but that’s what we were doing in what seemed like seconds.

We covered the 10+ miles to our spot in about 10 minutes. I trip that with my 40 HP motor, would have taken me twice that if I dared to go full throttle, and I wouldn’t do that.

We got some nice photos of a mated pair of eagles.

Mated Pair of Bald Eagles

Mated Pair of Bald Eagles

Despite Brian’s intimate knowledge of the lake, the fishing was tough. We managed only a few decent  bass (all caught by Brian), a few respectable pickerel, and perch, and that was that. So even with an expert and the best equipment, sometimes the fish win.

Brian with a Smallmouth

Brian with a Smallmouth

WLAGS

 

Apple Blossom Time

Apple Blossom Time

As I walk through the woods, the things that amaze me most about New England are the stonewalls (which I consider a greater feat than the Great Pyramids) and the apple trees.

As I’m sure you are aware, there are no apple trees native to the Americas. All these trees came stock and seed from Europe, starting long before we were a nation.

There are literally thousands of varieties, many of which grow wild in our woodlands, that are found nowhere else in the world. They are varieties that have no commercial value in today’s world, but are of extreme importance to the wildlife that depend to varying degrees on them. That’s why we were thrilled on our recent trip North of the Notches to see hundreds and hundreds of these trees in full bloom. It makes it so easy to see them for a few days a year when they are otherwise camouflaged into a green world of leaves and limbs.

I call them wild trees because they are no longer in the care of humans and survive as best they can. Tens of thousands have died over the last century. I can find almost a hundred just here in town, but thousands still remain.

Most of them are more, much more than 100 years old. Some twice that. The tree that I shot that buck from in Vermont in 1967, is a good example. It was, according to the farmer there, a hundred years old then, and last I knew it was still alive, 50 years later, having survived being mangled by bears and a lightning strike.

So it should come as no surprise that I cherish them and help them, when possible by cutting out competing saplings and in some cases pruning and feeding them. This picture of the apple tree at J.E. shows how that effort pays off.

J.E. Apple Tree Blossoms

J.E. Apple Tree Blossoms

A tree full of blossoms does not ensure fruit later, but a lack of blossoms equals no chance of fruit.

Long live the apple tree!

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

What Spring?

What Spring?

Just 14 days ago, I sent an email to friends and family touting signs of spring. Well, that was like calling a no hitter in the 8th inning. Since then it has snowed seven out of those 14 days, and sometimes those flakes lingered into the next day.

We have had eight consecutive Winter Severity Index (WSI) days with no end in sight. As I explained in Winter Severity Index Report for 2015, a 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.

The average snow depth right now is 27” on the level. Here is a photo of our front picnic table with a yardstick protruding.

 

A Yardstick Shows 27" on Our Picnic Table

A Yardstick Shows 27″ on Our Picnic Table

The birds—juncos, blue jays, and cardinals—are going in and out the end facing you as well as the tables on the deck and under the Lund to seek shelter from the snow and wind. We are now putting birdseed in those spots to help them out.

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Here is a photo of our moose weathervane that is now sitting on 27” of snow. It still has another 29” protruding above the snow line. In the winter of 2015, it was completely covered by snow.

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

 

This winter has been tough since about the Super Bowl, but I have seen many worse winters. For example, the winter of 1968 – 1969 killed hundreds of thousands of deer in New England, especially in VT. It started snowing the night before opening day, and it seemingly never stopped until March. I shot an 8-pointer on the day after Thanksgiving that year, in the middle of a blizzard.

Then in 1993, we bought the camp in Antrim. When we passed papers in January, the ground was almost bare, but it was the worst March ever. We got snowfalls of over 2 feet on several occasions. We had to get help from neighbors to get into the driveway almost every Friday night, and we had to hire people to shovel the roof.

In 1999, when we bought our first place in Washington, we had to hire a frontend loader to get in the yard, as the snow banks were 8 feet tall and at least that wide.

So why has this winter been so bad? Because it has been like death from a thousand cuts. The most snow in any one storm was only 9”, but we have been getting 1” to 5”seemingly daily. Even on the days it doesn’t snow, it blows so much I have to use the snowblower anyway. I have used more gas in the snowblower in the last week than I did in the truck. Having said all that, I know if I want to live here, and I do, I have to accept it as a form of dues that I must pay.

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The snow does have its upside. To the farmers of centuries past it was “poor man’s fertilizer” or “white gold” because of the nutrients that leeched into the soil for spring planting. From a fisherman’s view, it provides the necessary runoff to provide spawning conditions and suitable fishing conditions for many species. That was never more evident than it was last April when Tony and I could not get into the setbacks to hunt pike because the water was so low.

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

That in and of itself is almost funny. Ten months ago, we went to great lengths to catch a pike in New England, but seven months ago, we were for the most part very disappointed to hook one when were in Labrador. We were seeking more vaunted species, such as brookies, salmon, and lakers. Nevertheless, we appreciated the pike when the other species were not active. We enjoyed catching them on poppers and better yet when they provided us with a meal as our food supply got low.

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Here we consider them at the top of our list of targets for good reason. Their size, their fight, and their slashing strikes. It’s all on your perspective at the time and place you are in at the time. I’m already looking forward to getting into those setbacks this spring.

It’s the same with the snow and winter in general. I have not been able to get out ice fishing or snowshoeing nearly as much as in years past, and that makes a difference. Despite the rigors of this winter, the ice fishing conditions have not been good in large part to a milder than usual January. So much so that there have been several fatalities of snowmobilers going through the ice just in the past 10 days or so, both here and in VT and Maine.

A couple nights ago, wardens rescued a Canadian man and his two dogs from Mount Lafayette near Mount Washington, at 1:00 in the morning. They said that all three would have perished in just another hour or two.

I’m sure that my game cameras are level with the snow and maybe even under the snow in places as I write this. If the weatherman is right, and we hit 40 on Sunday for the first time since January 21, I’ll try to reach them then.

The upside to all this is that whenever spring gets here, it will be thoroughly appreciated!

WLAGS

 

The J.E. Apple Tree

The J.E. Apple Tree

Most of you that will be reading this will remember back about 15 years ago, when the primary apple tree at J.E. was on its last legs. It was almost completely engulfed in maple saplings, had few leaves, and no fruit. I made it my mission to do what I had done hundreds of times before in three states—to liberate and rehabilitate it.

After World War II, hundreds of farms in New England were abandoned for economic reasons. Almost every farm had apple trees, as they were a staple of life here for 300 years. For a time, wildlife benefitted from these now unprotected trees, but in no time at all they started dying from the crowding of native trees.

Some state organizations, including Fish & Wildlife departments, took it upon themselves, on land they controlled, to make an effort to liberate them, as did I and my friends. So it was natural for me to take up that mission here in my own back yard.

I started by cutting away the saplings with my pruning saw every time I went there. In a couple of years, the tree came back to life slowly. First with healthier foliage, and later with a few blossoms. Those blossoms produced a few small, wormy apples. Then John M. jumped in, and with some machinery from Charlie, eliminated the saplings entirely and enlarged the open area to allow more sunlight. It worked, and now most years we can count on 100 to 200 apples.

J.E. Apple Tree With Blossoms in 2015

J.E. Apple Tree with Blossoms in 2015

Each year, I fertilize the tree in the spring and fall, and I prune it in late winter when I can reach the upper branches by standing on the snow rather than climb the tree. I put the wire mesh around the trunk when the beavers decided to try to take the tree down.

Wire Mesh I Put Around the Trunk

Wire Mesh I Put Around the Trunk

My best guess is that the tree is 50 to 75 years old. I believe it is a New Hampshire heirloom variety that might be almost 200 years old. I hope to have it analyzed next year.

Most of you are familiar with our own Johnny Appleseed, Mr. Jones. You are probably aware of the dozens of trees that he has planted, starting 50 years ago, on his property. What you are probably unaware of, is that he has planted hundreds of trees on every hilltop and slope for miles around. He goes out in the woods with a 5-gallon bucket filled with root stock and a spade, picks likely spots, and plants them.

He does this out of a love for wildlife, even though—like almost all the great conservationists in history—he is a hunter. The only animals he distains are moose and bears. I bet you can guess why. They kill his apple trees. A fate that will happen to this tree someday.

I came across an extremely agitated Mr. Jones one day. He was looking at three apple trees that he had nurtured for several years that a bull moose destroyed. The bull had eaten the apples, then the branches, then probably in a rush of passion, had obliterated the trees with his antlers.

I, like Mr. Jones, have undertaken this mission for the benefit of wildlife. There are at least 20 mammals that have direct benefit of this tree, from moose to mice. Then there are the pure carnivores that benefit as well from the dozen or so rodents that frequent the tree. Our increasing bobcat population, mink, and three varieties of weasels are among them. It might surprise you to know that one of the larger members of the weasel family loves to eat apples. I have personally witnessed on two occasions, fisher cats first hunting the apple trees and failing that, then climbing the tree to harvest apples. One I witnessed making several trips to cache the fruit just like the foxes (both red and gray) do.

Fisher Cat with Apple on Our Trail Camera

Fisher Cat with Apple on Our Trail Camera

Then, of course, our raptors—goshawks, sharp shinned, Cooper’s, and broad-winged hawks, and barred and great horned owls—greatly benefit from the rodents that live off of apples.

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

Then there are the song birds—too many to list, but during my last trips to the tree, there has been an ovenbird each time, just for an example.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Migrating birds, particularly Canadian robins and waxwings feed on the frozen fruit in winter.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Turkeys benefit greatly from apple trees, especially in winter. Many times I have seen a bird fly into a tree and knock the apples to the ground for the rest of the flock. Fish & Game will supply you with a list of late ripening crab apple trees to plant for wintering turkeys.

Ruffed grouse (“partridge” here in N.H.) not only eat the fruit, but love the leaves as I first witnessed that day in 1967, in my Deer Story blog post.

Partridge

Partridge

The ground under the trees is fertile, attracts worms, and migrating woodcock. On several occasions in my life, I have been privileged to see flights, as they are called, of woodcock. Sometimes 50 or more come in to spend the night in an abandoned orchard.

Woodcock

Woodcock

WLAGS

Bobcat Boom

With all of the bobcat sightings this year, it didn’t come as a big surprise that a four-year study done by New Hampshire Fish and Game and UNH stated a significant increase in the bobcat population.

The study, done largely by game cameras, showed that the statewide population has grown from a low of about 100 in the 1980s to between 800 and 1,200 today.

Bobcat at Stand #2 This June

Bobcat at Stand #2 This June

The strongholds for the bobcat population are the southwest corner of the state and in the north on the Notches, but they are now in every area of the state.

One of the major reasons for the increase in the bobcat population was a corresponding increase in the turkey population.

Turkey

Turkey

Bobcats have an advantage over coyotes in pursuit of turkeys because of their climbing ability.

WLAGS