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

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

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