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

 

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The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 3

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 3

On the third morning we put the boat in Aziscohos Lake near the inlet of the Magalloway River. To get there, we needed to drive about 16 miles down dirt roads.

At one point, we came upon a doe standing in the road, licking it to take in the minerals, much like a cow does with a salt lick. Unlike all the moose that we saw, she was not very skittish at all. In fact, she was reluctant to leave the road. We needed to drive right up to her before she would scamper off into the woods, which she did very slowly, giving Tony a chance to take a few pictures of her. One look at her ribs made it obvious why she was so reluctant to leave the mineral-rich dirt road.

It Was a Long, Hard Winter for this Doe

It Was a Long, Hard Winter for this Doe

This is what a deer looks like even several weeks after 17 feet of snow has melted. That’s not a typo. They received 17 feet of snow this winter.

As we were preparing to launch, we met the new warden in the area, Officer Egan. After we exchanged pleasantries, we offered to show him our licenses, but I assume after our conversation he knew that we were legal. Besides, he was far more interested in some campers that were camped right under a sign that said, “No Camping”!

It was a beautiful morning, which inevitably makes for tough fishing. We each caught a small brook trout.

Tony's 8-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 8-Inch Brook Trout

A loon was also fishing for those small brookies.

The Loon That Was Fishing With Us

The Loon That Was Fishing With Us

The highlight of the day was seeing a mated pair of bald eagles feeding their eaglet on the nest.

The Eaglet Being Fed

The Eaglet Being Fed

That evening, we went to the upper Magalloway River. There were fish rising, but they were very fussy. These fish no doubt had seen many a fly in their day as this stretch of the river has strict fly fishing only, catch-and-release, and barbless hook regulations.

One of Many "Fly Fishing Only" Signs on the Magalloway

One of Many “Fly Fishing Only” Signs on the Magalloway

It became obvious that there was one very large brookie occasionally feeding in the pool. Knowing that too much activity would put them down, I stopped casting in hopes that Tony could get that big brookie to take. Tony carefully measured his casts so as not to let that fish get a glimpse of his fly line.

Tony Casting in the Upper Magalloway

Tony Casting in the Upper Magalloway

It worked. After several casts and a perfect drift came the unmistakable sound of a big fish rolling on the fly. Up came Tony’s rod with a deep bend in it from the weight of the fish, but almost as quickly it went limp.

The good news is that that miss did not seem to deter that fish from feeding. Tony stayed there until last light, as did the fish. Once darkness set in the air cooled, the flies stopped hatching, and the fish stopped feeding. Both Tony and the fish called it a night.

The Magalloway After Sunset That Night

The Magalloway After Sunset That Night

As we made the long trek home, we saw five moose (including three calves), a doe, and a red fox.

One of Three Calf Moose We Saw That Night

One of Three Calf Moose We Saw That Night

WLAGS

Ermine in the Backyard

I won’t bore you with all the details, but in the nutshell, I did a 2-hour trek to check the camera at Stand #3.

I was anxious to get in the house to see what was on the card, but I had set some bird seed on the steps to put out on my return because I would have ice cleats on.

I turned the corner of the house at about 3 PM, and there was an ermine, black-tipped tail, black eyes and black nose, sniffing the Magic Rock!

Short-Tailed Weasel in Ermine State

Short-Tailed Weasel in Ermine State

Then I noticed a red squirrel running like hell across the wet spot and into the pines. I’m assuming that the squirrel used one of the tunnels in the snow to make his escape. The ermine, a short-tailed weasel, was sniffing vigorously on the rock.

I think this might be only the third time I have seen a weasel in the ermine state. Except for the spots of black, you can imagine how perfectly camouflaged they are in the snow.

Ermine in the Snow

Ermine in the Snow

I vividly remember one running (or should I say “bounding”?) over both of my boots on Stratton Mountain.

I also remember seeing a least weasel in the white state, though I can’t remember where, running along a stone wall just a few feet from me when the ground was bare–so no camo advantage for him.

The camera, by the way, produced only moose videos–coincidentally on the 11th of January and the 11th of February. They’re not good videos because the moose was too close, and it was snowing both times.

I think it was a bull because I *think* I saw a waddle (the hair-covered growth coming from the neck). I’ll scrutinize more later. Until then, here’s a 2017 video that shows a good moose waddle.

WLAGS

A Small, Long-Tailed Miracle

Here in the comfort of my living room, I just got to observe a long-tailed weasel hunting in my yard.

Long-Tailed Weasel

Long-Tailed Weasel

I happened to look out my south facing picture window and was watching a red squirrel on the edge of the little swamp when I noticed a similar-sized animal off in the woods heading towards me. It was instantly obvious that it wasn’t a squirrel, not just because of its speed, but the tempo of its movements–some herky-jerky, some quite fluid–kind of like John Belushi just before he climbs the ladder at the sorority house in Animal House.

The squirrel saw it coming, climbed a small bush, and got into a defensive position. The weasel came close enough to it to get a good look and smell. It then proceeded to head towards my front yard and the big feeder. I can’t imagine why he didn’t attack the squirrel, but he must of thought better of it…or he wasn’t very hungry.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

He left the feeder and proceeded up the front walk towards the front stairs until he was literally right below me. He was so close that I could even see two specks of white on either side of his black nose.

Black Nose, White Spots

Black Nose, White Spots

Then he turned back, headed toward the garden and eventually the other feeders.

All this time he was being trailed by a male cardinal and when he reached the last feeders he picked up a pair of blue jays that followed his every step.

Male Cardinal

Male Cardinal

He then went down one of the many holes in the snow near the big boulders and disappeared.

This was easily the longest I ever got to observe a weasel. Even the one that bounded over my boots on Stratton Mountain was gone in less than a minute.

All this in less than 5 minutes. I was having a “poor me” day. I was bemoaning my lack of hunting time this year. Well this little incident changed all that instantly. I was suddenly very grateful for where I was. What if I didn’t happen to look out the window at that very moment?

Some miracles come in small glimpses of time and size, but they’re miracles nevertheless.

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 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

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