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.
As you look at the picture of the field, both tree lines, but especially the left side, are mostly beeches.
They are literally hanging branches full of nuts right over the field.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
It felt great to get outside again and not be cold and wet.
We finally got around to moving Stand #3 on Saturday. Below is my son Tony’s take on our day.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While I cut the branch, Dad set up the camera to point directly at the stand, and Bear took a nap.
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.
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.
I had the best night sleep that I have had in weeks last night. With that, I knew that today would be a good day to take on a major scouting trip.
I went to Smith Pond to scout the area between Kingsbury, Jones Hill, and the Jones property. I know that that area has had ongoing logging operations for the last five years or so.
When I arrived, my friend Robbie was running a logging operation of his own there. I asked whether he had seen any deer recently. He said he had seen his first two sets of tracks that morning. He said that he thought that the best places to hunt would be the oaks, like the backside of Kingsbury or Lovewell. He asked me to check in with him on my way out, as he was taking his boy out this weekend for Youth Weekend.
He told me to avoid the cutovers on the right because they were a mess with debris. He was right, but I went through them anyway, not wanting to leave any stone unturned. I forgot how steep and boulder-strewn those hills were. You realize these things more at my age. It was uphill all the way for a mile and a half. I was glad it was 36 degrees, or I would have sweated to death.
My mission, besides finding deer sign, was to reach the dozen or more apple trees that were scattered about the top. Robbie had told me that the small orchard nearer E. Washington Rd. was void of sign yesterday. To top things off I forgot my compass, and now with the terrain all askew, I would need my sense of direction to be on its game, and it was. I found the first tree with some difficulty because a bear had snapped the top off. No apples.
I call the next spot 7AT (seven apple trees) in my GPS, but with the leaves down, I actually found a dozen trees there. There were a handful of apples in total and no sign.
If I were 20 years younger, this place would be on my radar every year for bow hunting. It is obviously very secluded. There are trees of varying age and variety. Most however, ripen fairly early in the season, and bears are frequent visitors. There are many places to put up a permanent stand or a climber (a climbing tree stand). I love this spot.
There was no fresh sign though, so I headed north to check out a couple more spots—first a single tree, and then a grove of five more. That grove had apples in two trees that amounted to a couple of dozen. No sign.
So now I headed for a spot that bordered the Jones property that used to have a ladder stand that overlooked a nice tree. The stand was gone, thankfully, and the tree looked great, with 50 apples in the tree and 50 more on the ground. I ate one, and I understood why they were uneaten. They were very tart. The deer won’t eat them until they have been frozen and are then sweetened.
Behind the tree is about a full acre of red raspberry bushes, which deer love, and was littered with many historical deer trails. Nothing fresh.
I tried to take a photo of this spot, but my camera batteries were dead. I wasn’t very well prepared today, I thought to myself.
At this point you might think I was discouraged. Instead I was quite pleased with myself to be able to pull this off at all, and I was very encouraged that these trees were doing well. If I were only 10 years younger, I would take full advantage of them.
I decided not to torture myself on the way out and try to avoid the cutovers, which were a half mile below me. So I went further north before cutting west. It worked beautifully. The last time I was in here (a couple of years ago), I took a serious header, and I don’t need to be doing that again. As I was heading downhill, which my orthopedic doctor told me just Wednesday to avoid, I heard a thunderous crash as a tree toppled over 20 yards to my right. It scared the hell out of me. I also came across a fresh set of moose tracks. The only fresh tracks I saw all morning.
As I reached the logging road, it became obvious that the other side of the road, that had been logged a few years ago, was now at prime deer/moose growth stage. There were openings through the select cut where you could see for more than a hundred yards, and the understory was covered with raspberry and blackberry bushes. I could see myself tracking a buck through there, snow or no snow.
I would like to be telling you that I found the mother lode of deer sign, but for today I was pleased enough to just do the job and know that I have the good fortune to live in a place where there are so few boundaries that I can walk for hours and not concern myself with other people or posted signs.
Wow! I was so disappointed after checking the cameras this morning. We have had a major leaf fall, but I did not see ANY deer sign this morning. The leaves can cover droppings and track, but not rubs. I saw nothing.
The cameras confirmed what my eyes saw. There was one doe on camera #1, 11 minutes after I checked it last, and that was it!
I did get a great video of Mamma bear and her now considerably larger twin cubs at the Fork. Right at the end of the video, she stands up on her hind legs.
I also got a great video of a fisher cat at Stand #2, which is not surprising, as I deleted over 60 videos of mice, flying squirrels, gray squirrels, and porcupines at Stand #2.
A coyote and a red fox, the first I’ve ever seen there, also showed up to try and take advantage of the rodent explosion.
Those rodents have completely wiped out the acorns there.
By the way, I got a great video of a big bull moose at the Fork a while back that I forgot to mention.
I’m stymied, but I don’t have the physical strength right now to scout the areas where I think the deer have moved off to.
My best guess is the bigger oak groves on either side of Mountain Road and up to Stand #5.
The other possibility is the new cutovers above Eckart’s.
I have never seen so little sign in J.E.
The brookies are getting ready to spawn. I saw several this morning, including at the spot where Debbie and I watched them spawn last year.
I got a dozen photos of two bulls and two cows in just three days. This was the best one.
Most of the activity was near Fort Knox, which is where I got the photo of this bull. I also had several photos of deer near Fort Knox at both day and night. The pictures weren’t great, so I couldn’t tell how many were does and how many were bucks.
I had several daytime photos of moose at Buck Knob, but their heads were hidden. I have always considered Buck Knob a transition zone and a rut zone. That is changing. The young oaks there are dropping a considerable amount of acorns.
I didn’t see the spawning brookies, but I could have shot several drake wood ducks. I did have my 20 gauge.