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

Startled and Surprised

Startled and Surprised

I went to get a few tasks done on Monday and Tuesday, and as usual I had a surprise or two waiting for me.

I went to Stand #1, and was standing over the dead buck, which is still untouched, when the very loud snapping of a branch behind me startled me so much that I grabbed for my pistol.

It sounded about 30 yards away to these half-deaf ears, in the swamp and just out of sight.
When I composed myself, I thought it had to be a moose, despite the lack of fresh moose sign around me.

I then headed up to set up a camera at the bear rubbing tree at Stand #2. As I left there, I spotted a single fresh moose track in a spotty snow patch, headed towards Stand #1. I now felt sure that it was a Moose that I had heard.

I then proceeded to Stand #3, and as I did I chewed myself out for not remembering a padlock for the recently moved stand. I then remembered that we had left the bow holders in the old tree, and I mused over what it would take to recover them now that the stand was gone. It was probably an impossibility to get them.

When I got to the stand, I thought how it was so unusual not to see the stand in that big black spruce tree after all these years. So I looked in that direction again and again. Where was the tree? I could not see the tree that I had seen hundreds of times before. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I walked to where I knew it had to be. There it was…laying flat on the ground!

Was Stand #3 Load-Bearing?

Was Stand #3 Load-Bearing?

That seemingly perfectly healthy 80’ to 100’ spruce, had been blown over in the recent heavy winds. It would have been quite a sight if the stand was still attached to it, as it was just 10 days ago. The bow holders were right there; chest high! I pulled them out and placed them at the bottom of the new stand location.

Easy Access to the Bow Holders

Easy Access to the Bow Holders

I then made my way to Buck Knob. I saw running moose track coming up Route 1C. So I back tracked her (I think it was the cow) to Route 1A, and she used my trail down to Stand #1. I found her bed 30 yards south of Stand #1, in full view of it. So I was wrong about the distance from me when I had heard her. It was at least 50 yards.

There was no deer sign, and only sign of the one moose. There were lots of coyote and hare tracks. Porcupine, partridge, mouse, and mink tracks made up the rest. The coyotes must have a den near Fort Knox, as there was heavy use on one trail going in both directions. Why they haven’t touched that deer carcass at Stand #1, which is less than 200 yards away, is a great mystery. 

On Tuesday, I went out for another hike to the north side of our hill. The walking was awful. There was much deeper snow than I expected; over my knees in places. I got around best by walking in melted out moose tracks.

I spotted a rub on the south side of Route 1A. It was about 150 yards from that big scrape under the beech tree on the north side that we marked last season.

Big Buck Rub

Big Buck Rub

I guess it’s safe to say that it is breeding season in the world of snowshoe hares! Their track was even more numerous today, probably because I was in thicker cover, hence the deeper snow.

Snowshoe Hare Track, Droppings, and Estrus Sign

Snowshoe Hare Track, Droppings, and Estrus Sign

It felt great to get outside again and not be cold and wet.

WLAGS

Remote Pond Boat Extraction

Remote Pond Boat Extraction

Three years ago, Tony, his dog, Angie, and I made a mission out of dragging a boat into a remote trout pond that we had fished a few times with success in our float tubes.

Dragging the Boat in Three Years Ago

Dragging the Boat in Three Years Ago

The thought was with a boat in place, we would fish it more often, if for no other reason than we would not have to deal with carrying in the float tubes and inflating them. Well, it didn’t work out that way. As it turned out, we never went back, except to check on the boat. It also turned out  that other people had taken advantage of our efforts. They broke the lock off by twisting the chain, and they obviously used the boat more than once. They twisted the chain so badly that we needed the same bolt cutters that we used the day before to detach it from the boat.

Twisted Chain

Twisted Chain

Well, we now had better ideas for the boat. As he described in his blog, in the fall, Tony could use it at home to access some bowhunting spots that are along a river, and my grandson, Ian could use it for fishing all summer.

So now it was up to us and Tony’s new dog, Bear to get it out of the pond. In both of our trips, it was necessary to make benefit of snow cover to make the dragging easier. At first, this trip was was made more difficult by a coating of ice on the snow’s surface. It was very slippery, especially in the shaded and steep areas. We had to pick our way carefully and more slowly than we had hoped.

Icy Ledges Slowed Us Down

Icy Ledges Slowed Us Down

 

When we reached the boat, it was mostly uncovered from the snow. With a little work, we were able to free it, and when we did it became obvious that it had suffered a little damage. I could see light coming from rivet holes under at least one of the seats. Other than that, it looked as though it would serve our purposes. I’ll patch any holes this spring.

How We Found the Boat Three Years Later

How We Found the Boat Three Years Later

So the trek out began.

Dragging the Boat Up and Out

Dragging the Boat Up and Out

 

The good news was that in the 30 minutes that we readied for our exit, the high sun had softened the snow, despite the subfreezing temperatures. The trip out was significantly less slippery.

The first third of the trip was steeply slanted up and to our left as we made our way through the beech trees on the south facing slope.

 

After that, the biggest problem was not getting hit by the boat as it slid down the steep slopes and avoiding a myriad of boulders. It was a lot of work in a fairly short period of time.

Steep Steps

Steep Steps

 

When we finally reached the truck, Bear did not need much coaching to get in the back seat. She would sleep the entire way home.

 

And after the effort we all put in the day before to relocate the tree stand, we were tired too. It was a good way  to utilize a mid-winter weekend, hopefully to the benefit of many summer and fall weekends to come.

WLAGS

 

The Great Stand #3 Move of 2017

The Great Stand #3 Move of 2017

We finally got around to moving Stand #3 on Saturday. Below is my son Tony’s take on our day.

WLAGS

——————

We had a very productive day. Right after breakfast, Dad glued the latch lock loop back on to my camera. I wrote about it breaking off in my Suburban Hunters blog called “Storms-a-Comin’ “.

Then we set about moving Stand #3. We left just after 9:00 AM.

What we brought:

  • All the padlock keys that we could find
  • Bolt cutters in case we didn’t have the right key
  • Hand saw
  • Pole saw
  • Pruners
  • WD-40
  • Reflective tacks
  • Trail camera
  • Walkie talkies

We needed every one of those things, but we were still underprepared.

What we should have brought:

  • Another padlock
  • A strap for the top of the stand
  • Tools for support bar
  • Spray paint
  • Bow hangers

I’ll get to all that later. First, I’ll share the scouting report from our walk in to the stand.

The snow conditions varied widely thanks to the record-breaking warm temperatures. There was bare ground in spots and knee-deep snow in other places.

Record-Breaking Heat

Record-Breaking Heat

The knee-deep snow meant that we’d need snowshoes, but the snow was so soft that even our snowshoes sunk all the way through the snow. It was a hard slog, and we walked a lot.

Hard-Earned Steps

Hard-Earned Steps

One upside to all the melting snow is that the brook and beaver pond are way up.

Our first stop was Stand #1. The dead spike horn is still untouched, but now that it’s uncovered and the temps are warming, hopefully something will take advantage of all that protein.

Spike Horn Carcass

Spike Horn Carcass

There were turkey tracks and droppings in several places, and there were lots of droppings near Stand #3.

As Dad mentioned almost exactly a year ago (Feb. 21, 2016), The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

Moose Bed with Hair In It

Moose Bed with Hair In It

There was a lot of moose activity from the brother/sister pair.

Finally, we made it to Stand #3. I tried to match up one of the keys we had to the padlock, but no such luck. Luckily, the bolt cutters cut through the padlock like butter. It was a bit unsettling at how easy it was.

The Bolt Cutters Made Short Work of This Lock

The Bolt Cutters Made Short Work of This Lock

I then set about undoing the straps that had been in place for years. The top one had a bad case of dry rot. It broke while Dad tried to tie a not in it. The bottom strap had grown into the tree. I had to use the handle of the pole saw to get it out of the bark.

Then we dragged the stand over to the new spot, about 50 yards to the NNW. Dragging it was much easier than we had anticipated.

Dragging the Stand to Its New Home

Dragging the Stand to Its New Home

We picked a tree right at the intersection of two major trails. We leaned the stand up against the tree, and as (bad) luck would have it:

  • The support bar was rusted and stuck at its current length. We sprayed WD-40 on it, but we really needed a wrench or some pliers. We never got it to budge.
  • There was an awkwardly shaped, big branch right in our way. Cutting it took me about an hour.
The Branch from Hell

The Branch from Hell

While I cut the branch, Dad set up the camera to point directly at the stand, and Bear took a nap.

Bear Taking a Load Off

Bear Taking a Load Off

Did I mention that we had record-breaking heat? I worked up quite a sweat doing all that sawing. I stripped down to a T-shirt. Here it was February 25, and we were working in short sleeves.

A Better Bow Hunting Perch

A Better Bow Hunting Perch

As you can see, the stand is much harder to see now. I put a couple of reflective tacks near it to help us find it in the dark. Despite being, it’s a much better bow stand, with two excellent windows along both trails, thanks to our pole saw work.

We’re really happy with where it is now, but we still have some work to do, hence the “What we should have brought” list above.

On the way out, we split up. Dad went straight back to the truck, while Bear and I checked the Buck Knob camera. The batteries were dead because it’s very windy on Buck Knob this time of year. There were hundreds of wind videos. We’ll need to change the sensitivity to Low the next time we’re there. We did get some great videos of the twin moose though, including two of them touching noses.

I pruned my way back down 1A. By then, the sun was high in the sky, and snow was like slush. It was rough going. Notably, there was moose sign everywhere.

After 2:00 PM (five hours later), we were finally done and exhausted.

~ Tony

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 Fisherman’s Serenity Prayer

The Fisherman’s Serenity Prayer

Of all the things that an outdoorsman has to deal with as far as weather in concerned, wind is the one he has the least control over. Rain is easily dealt with, for example. Put on the proper apparel and you are good to go. Snow and cold? That’s the same scenario. With wind however, in most instances, there are is nothing we can do to alter its effect on us or our activity. Maria simply wins out.

Such was the case on our most recent trip to Moosehead Lake. We arrived late afternoon only to find the wind churning up the lake to the point that even boats larger than ours were tied up to their docks. No one was fishing.

An early alarm Tuesday was just to get an earlier start to the same gusty, even stronger winds. We launched and took a brutal and wet beating for a couple of hours that included snow flying horizontally, but even the fish were sitting this one out. A few days before our arrival, the annual smelt run had started and everyone was catching fish even the feathered fishermen. Eagles, osprey, mergansers, were all enjoying the spawning fish and the larger salmon that were in hot pursuit of the smelt. The cormorants arrived with us.

The next morning was marginally better, and Tony managed a nice salmon (shockingly caught on a perch Rapala, even though there were smelt everywhere). Now the problem included a bright sun that salmon shun. It was bitter cold and windy, and the sun was now another obstacle to any success at all.

 

Tony's 17.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 17.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

After a morning of more frustration, we decided to let Maria have her way for the rest of the day, catch up on our sleep, and take a badly needed hot shower. While Tony showered, I took to the dock to take a few casts. I put on an old favorite lure that had served me well in similar circumstances over the years, and I proceeded to lose it on the bottom on my very first cast. When would my luck change? I went back into the cabin and purposely put on a lure that I had never caught a fish on and would not blink if I hung it up on the bottom.

My first cast with it resulted in the lure getting tangled on itself, no doubt due to the wind. I pulled off my next cast without a hitch. The lure landed at just about the midpoint of the river, and I started a very aggressive retrieve. BANG! I hooked a beautiful salmon, but now, not having not thought this situation through, I found myself in an awkward place. Here I am on this dock, a couple of feet above the waterline, between two boats that the salmon could use to hang me up on, and not a soul around. I resolved the the dock issue by borrowing a boat net from one of the boats, but I had to keep the fish away from props and such. It worked. I landed him, and as luck (good) would have it, Amy the camp owner came by just in time to take a picture so I could release the 20″ salmon quickly without harm.

 

My Surprise 20-Inch Salmon

My Surprise 20-Inch Salmon

By all that is holy, that incident broke many standing rules for catching a salmon, but I don’t care. It worked and I was officially off the schneid. Well that turned our luck around. We conceded the lake to the wind and decided to fish smaller bodies of water where the wind would be less of a factor.

To do this we would have to enlist the services of an old friend, his son, and even his daughter. Mike, a retired game warden has known us for thirty years. Someday I’ll tell you how we met, but not today. Mike’s only son, Kody at 20 years old, is a mountain of a young man, whose arms are bigger that my legs. That said, he could not be more soft spoken, gentle, or more respectful. Top that off with an intimate knowledge of everything that lives in these parts, and he is the perfect guide.

Tony and I had pretty much made up our mind to fish a secluded pond where we had had success on previous occasions, but Kody was very convincing in an effort to get us a to fish another pond. We had some luck at this pond many years ago, but our last few trips there were anything but rewarding. Kody convinced us that by adding a canoe to the mix, it would be a good place to go. Who were we to question a young man who spends his days working with game wardens and biologists surveying streams and lakes?

He would supply the canoe and meet us there down a long, rough dirt road. He beat us there, and by the time we arrived, he had taken the 140-pound canoe on his back and set it in the pond for us!

As Tony and I got into the canoe, we noticed a leak. I didn’t think much about it, thinking that we could bail if we needed to. Kody however was having none of that, insisting that he was going to fix it now. I was thinking to myself “How’s he going to fix a leak in a fiberglass canoe here, now? No way!” He walked back to his truck and returned with a small propane torch, a plastic Gatorade bottle, a knife, and some duct tape.

This, I had to see. Kody proceeded to heat the surface of the canoe. Kody then takes the piece of the Gatorade bottle and heats it on the bottom of the canoe, partially melting it. He then covered it all with the duct tape. It worked! Yankee ingenuity at its best.

Kody Repaired the Leak in the Canoe

Kody Repaired the Leak in the Canoe

This pond is a beautiful, solitary place, and it was a great break from the hustle and bustle of the lake. However, it was not out of Maria’s reach; even this little pond had whitecaps. The long and short of it was we did not catch a fish. But we had many short strikes and follows from what were exactly what Kody had promised, some beautifully sized and colorful brook trout. We left very pleased, and knew that under better conditions we would have some success at this beautiful pond.

As we departed in the dark, we saw several woodcock, snowshoe hares, and a moose. We agreed then to come back the next evening.

We were exactly right. A change in the weather resulted in a change in the trout’s attitude. The next night they were so aggressive in their strikes that they all but took the rod out of our hand. We caught several gorgeous brookies, the smallest of which was 13″.

Tony's 14.5-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 14.5-Inch Brook Trout

This evening made the trip, thanks to Kody and his sister Delaney, who came along the second night to help us and later help her brother check smelt nets to check the runs for Fish and Wildlife biologist surveys. She, by the way, shot her first buck last year, at the age of 15, with the help of her brother, after putting on 15 miles in those mountains in one day!

Kody's Smelt Net

Kody’s Smelt Net

When you meet two young people like these, you are left with so much hope and appreciation. The hope being that there are many more out there like these two hard working, caring, and respectful young people. The appreciation that these youngsters have managed to become who they are in a place so void of the now expected norms of what a teenager needs to just exist, is astounding to me. Yes they have cell phones, but with limited service and they use them for more practical things, like a flashlight, a GPS, or for an emergency. I never heard a ring tone, nor did I ever see them checking their phones once in my presence.

Tony and I discussed next year’s trip during our six-hour ride home. Was it worth it? We are getting tired of the hassles involved in fishing the big lake, such as depending so much on trying to time the smelt run, finding the accommodations to meet that timing, putting up with boat traffic, and very unpredictable weather.

We came to the same conclusion. We would not come back next year but for the fact that we are blessed with a good friend and his wonderful children. We, at this point are planning to go back, but only if we get to spend more of our time with Mike, Kody, and Delaney.

Mike and Kody Towering Over Me

Mike and Kody Towering Over Me

Many years ago, when I first started taking Tony here, we did it simply. We fished the smaller rivers, lakes, and ponds using only waders and a 10-foot Jon boat. As we got older, we increased our tools, our expense, and our levels of aggravation.

Sunset Over the Pond

Sunset Over the Pond

What brought me here originally with my father so many years ago was the simplicity and beauty of it all. Thankfully, the place has not changed a bit. We have to change back to those simple ways with simple expectations, and a greater sense of appreciation for what was and what is…

Tony and I Getting Back to More Simple Fishing

Tony and I Getting Back to More Simple Fishing

On many occasions while we were here, my father would say, “This is God’s country” or “This has got to be Heaven.”

I hope heaven is half this beautiful.

WLAGS

The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

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

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

Bull Moose Droppings

Bull Moose Droppings

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

The Brook Six Days Later

The Brook Six Days Later

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

Bull Moose Bed

Bull Moose Bed

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

Gully

Gully

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

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

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

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

Tony Found These Antlers in J.E. in 2010

Tony Found These Antlers in J.E. in 2010

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

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

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

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

WLAGS