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

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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

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

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

Cameras and Trout

This morning at J.E. there was, as always, a few surprises.

I expected a ton of water after 4″ of rain, and there was. The beaver bog almost required hip boots. As I approached the camera there near the potential new stand, I saw a fresh rub. I thought for sure that I’d get the buck on the camera, but instead got a doe (again at 6:30 a.m.) and several rodents and birds.

At Stand #2, it was tough to see sign because the Nor’easter had brought down even many of the oak leaves. I did see two new rubs behind the stand, and then as I headed for the Fork, I saw a fresh scrape. It was about midway between Stand #2 and Fort Knox.

I followed track from that scrape towards Mother Beech, and about 45’ past it there was a very fresh scrape. It was about 30 yards from the camera. I thought for sure that I’d get him on the camera…I didn’t.

Then I was on to Buck Knob. I saw little sign. I didn’t expect anything on that camera…I was wrong. There were two bucks–the 3-pointer and the fork horn–and a couple of does. All between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m.

Fork Horn at Buck Knob

Fork Horn at Buck Knob

As I made my way home down Rte.1A, my path was blocked by several young oaks that the beavers had dropped right across the trail. When I skirted around them, I noticed some brookies in the brook. I stopped and watched for half an hour in amazement as they were spawning. The females had scratched out redds, and the males would bump them on the side to get them to deposit their eggs. Then they would spray them with milt. Of course there was a lot of friction among the males, and the females were kept on the redds.

Spawning Brookies

Spawning Brookies

While I was watching the brookies, I heard turkeys “talking” on Rte. 1. John called me last night and said he saw 6 turkeys on Rte. 1 yesterday.

Turkeys

Turkeys

I watched for a long time, and finally Debbie came looking for me as, I was late to be home. So then I took her to this stretch of the brook were all the action was. She understood now why I was late as we watched some 30 brookies carrying on in less than 30 yards of water.

I have seen several species of fish spawn in my life, but never native brookies. The timing had me puzzled, as they would normally spawn between mid-September and mid-October. I think I figured it out. The storm had flushed most of the silt and debris from the stream, exposing the fine gravel, which they need for the redds. It also made it a lot easier for us to see them against the now much lighter bottom. It was a most fascinating and rewarding sight.

WLAGS

Scouting the Hills

I started by checking out Faxxon this morning. My first stop was an apple tree hidden in the towering white pines. I found it several years ago when tracking a buck in the snow. It was loaded with apples then, but I haven’t seen that repeated in the last, now three years. There were no apples in it, nor more than a handful in any of the next dozen or more that I checked.

I proceeded down the trail, and I wasn’t surprised to see deer trails coming through the ferns heading toward the field.

One was so well used that I had to mark it, and I found a great spot for an early season tree stand.

Then I proceeded down to the logging road, and again I wasn’t disappointed–lots of track, and as always, one very big set of tracks.

Deer Track

Deer Track

The blackberries that have southern exposure have ripe fruit, so I added them to my breakfast menu.

Blackberries

Blackberries

I then skirted the field to check out the apple trees there. As I turned the corner to the first tree I came face to beak, if you will, with a hen turkey and her nine poults.

Hen Turkey with Poults

Hen Turkey with Poults

They were only 30 feet from me. I froze, and the hen slowly moved to gather and move her young, several of which had been dusting themselves under the tree, which had a good crop of red apples. She led them into the field. I paralleled them, but didn’t want to push them into full flight. I saw one more tree with apples, but did not check out others there for fear off driving the turkeys towards the road. This was obviously her second clutch. All of them were only about two-thirds the size you would expect for this time of year. The biggest were only slightly larger than a big rooster. As I went back to the truck, I came across pin cherry bushes that were loaded with ripe fruit.

Pin Cherries

Pin Cherries

I then went to the field where we sled. The most noticeable thing was the red clover throughout the field.

Red Clover

Red Clover

There was much deer sign, mostly trails leading out of the cover and into the field. Again four beautiful apple trees and not a half-dozen apples between them. I then went up top where some of the trees along the edge of the road had a few apples.

My assessment overall from this one day, and what I have observed at J.E. and along the roadside, is that this is going to be a terrible apple year and a good year for almost every other kind of fruit. The acorns look good, but it is too yearly to call the shot, as the big drops will come in just about a month.

Beechnuts are the next big question, and we are about two weeks from getting our answer.

Bear season opens in less than 8 days, and archery season for deer and turkey is just 15 days later.

WLAGS