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Monthly Archives: November 2014

coyote-1

It seems northwestern Ontario is not the only place where canids are thriving. I’ve never seen as many coyotes in Alberta as I did this year. They were everywhere.

On the last day of the hunt, Neva took off chasing . . . something . . . and no amount of calling or whistling got her off whatever she was tracking. I even had an e-collar on her, but something must have been amiss because even that didn’t deter her. So when she disappeared over the horizon, I didn’t know what to do. So I waited . . . for about a half hour. Then, I thought I saw her, loping towards me. But it wasn’t her, it was a coyote. Which kept coming towards me. I figured she was being chased – hopefully by Neva – and sure enough, about 2 minutes after the coyote ran by there came Neva, hot on the coyote’s trail.

That was the end of her hunt for the day.

Coyotes (Canis latrans) out west tend to be smaller than their more eastern cousins, but apparently there is some evidence that their size is on the increase, possibly in response to growing populations of elk and moose. There is also a growing population of gray or timber wolves (Canis lupus) in the west.

Wolves and coyotes are incredibly plastic, and there is a lot of variation with respect to size and colour and behaviour. Some biologists have succeeded in having another species of wolf recognized (the eastern wolf, Canis lycaon ), but I don’t think it warrants being a stand alone species. It interbreeds with the gray wolf and their ranges overlap (naturally), which Bio 101 would suggest they be recognized as a sub-species, at best. Or maybe that nebulous ‘ecotype’, another way to be a splitter. In the forested east, large coyotes – or small wolves – are often referred to as ‘brush wolves’.

At any rate, wolves and coyotes are thriving over large swaths of North America. If you like wolves, that’s a good thing.

I like wolves (and coyotes), but I also think there can be too many of them. But that’s largely because I’m a hunter, and right now where I live there are lots of wolves, hardly any moose, and a low and rapidly dwindling deer population.

And not many coyotes, either ( a few, though). And that has nothing to do with human persecution or a lack of suitable coyote habitat. Apparently, timber wolves tend to lay a licking on coyotes. I suspect they have been doing just that.

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buck-1

 

To date, there is no venison headed to our freezer. Actually, today was the first day I could have filled my tag. I only have a buck tag, which means I can’t harvest a deer unless at least one antler is 7 cm in height. For the most part, I’ve been seeing only does and fawns, and a few (dead) bucks in the the beds of pick-up trucks or in trailers.

But today I saw a nice 8 pt buck in the field by the cabin I was sitting in watching, and I could easily have shot it (had the gun and scope on it). But I have never shot a deer on our property, and will only do it if the deer is a great buck. It’s just my own, self-imposed rule. BTW, I’ve lived here with Lil since 1995, and have taken a number of deer and moose since that date, just none on our property..

Anyway, the buck I saw today was similar, or a bit bigger, than the deer in the attached photo, which was taken last year. The deer on our land (232 acres) don’t seem to get older (bigger ) than this – they ‘max out’ at 2 1/2 years old. Other hunters, on neighboring properties, or wolves, or something else, seem to get them before they reach 3+ years of age. Years ago, there were older and  bigger bucks on our land, but that was before the hordes of out of town hunters descended upon us. Now most of the bucks seem to be from a land like Lilliputian.

Oh well, that’s hunting. At least I’m seeing a few deer. It looks to me as if the rut is just getting underway – the buck I saw went to the biggest scrape in the field and rubbed it’s forehead vigorously on the ‘licking branch’  above the scrape, although it didn’t freshen the scrape itself. I suspect the does will start getting into estrous in a day or so. Maybe then a monster buck will appear.

I tend to doubt that will happen, as there is no big buck sign anywhere, and no one I have talked to has heard of or seen a big buck, dead or alive.

Still. one can hope and dream. That’s what hunters do. The season doesn’t end until the middle of December. No need to press the panic button – at least not yet.

sngeese-1

It looks like we are going to be in winter mode as of tomorrow. It’s been blowing, snowing and raining all morning and the temperature is forecast to drop this afternoon. The 14 day forecast is for temperatures to stay below the freezing mark. Some of the lows may be in the range of minus double digit Celsius. Sounds like winter to me.

Last winter was miserable. Cold, snowy, windy and long. I sort of dread what this winter will be like, but on the other hand, it’s just another winter. Statistically, the chances of this winter having as much snow as last winter are low. That’s based on snow data collected annually in this area since the 1950’s. Snow-wise, big snow years tend to occur  two to four times out of 10, and over the last five years, we’ve already had 3 or 4 big snow years (according to a standard snow depth index used by biologists to rate winter severity). Still, anything is possible, including another cold, snowy, long winter.

Since I’ve been home from Alberta, I’ve been spending some time, most days, sitting in our small cabin overlooking a grassy field, waiting for a buck to show up. When I’m not scanning the field, or watching my decoy, I’ve been reading ‘the Snow Walkers’ by Farley Mowat. Mowat’s a famed Canadian author, who passed on this past May, and who wrote extensively about the Arctic and the people and animals that live there. This novel is a collection of stories and experiences while living in the Arctic barrens, and many of the tales dwell on the harshness of winter and its effects on mind, body and soul. The majority of the characters in the stories are Aboriginal and provide an excellent insight into parts of their culture. I’m really enjoying the book, but  in some ways it’s almost impossible to fathom. It’s hard and rather horrible to imagine living in a snow house for months, using only small lamps that burn fat for one’s source of heat and light. And sometimes the fat runs out . . . .

This morning, it was overcast, windy, with periods of heavy snow. But things were much, much worse in the chapters of ‘the Snow Walker’ I read.

No deer came, although when I arrived, and there was just enough light to see, I saw a fawn and doe under one of the spruce trees where a buck or bucks has made some scrapes. They hung around for about ten minutes, feeding, then disappeared into the evergreens. After that, the only thing I heard or saw of interest was a raven that circled and squawked over my deer decoy.

This is the first time in the last 5 when I’ve spent this much time watching the field without seeing a buck. It’s more confirmation last winter took its toll on deer,

When I was coming back home from Alberta a little over a week ago, I had another experience that screamed of winter. There were great flocks of snow geese alongside the highway in what the sign said was Gull Lake, Saskatchewan. It was a wonderful sight. It was a bright, sunny day with clear blue skies and only light winds. The whiteness of the snow geese was absolutely stunning on that prairie landscape, and when huge numbers lifted – thousands – it was like a white tornado.

Snow geese are now so numerous that bag limits in much of Canada is 50 a day, with no limit on possession. Apparently, the snows are eating themselves out of house and home on their Arctic breeding grounds, and generous bag limits are one attempt to reduce populations to sustainable levels. Trying to reduce the snow goose population by providing more hunting opportunities has been going on for a number of years now, so to date, one would have to say it’s not working. On the other hand, it certainly is providing a lot of hunting opportunities, so from that point of view. It’s a success.

Eventually, the snow goose population will crash.

In the interim, it’s time to embrace another winter, I hope it doesn’t hit like a white tornado.

lope-1

Out west, one f the animals that I look forward most to seeing is the pronghorn antelope. The pronghorn is the only surviving species in the family Antilocapridae, and is found only in North America. All of the other members of the family became extinct prior to the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, which occurred about 12,000 years ago. In the early years of the last century, it looked as if pronghorns might join their brethren in the ashes of extinction, but  conservation oriented management efforts eventually helped to reverse the decline in antelope numbers. These days populations fluctuate between 1/2 to 1 million, up from their low of between 10-15 thousand when many feared they’d go Dodo. In Canada, almost all pronghorns occur in south-eastern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. Here, at the northern limits of their range, it’s winter that is the main factor that limits populations, although hunting is also an important consideration. Saskatchewan does not allow non-resident hunting of antelope, while Alberta does (same is true with respect to pheasants, elk and for the most part, mule deer). However, hunting in both provinces is well-regulated, and tags are limited. In Alberta, it usually takes nine to 12 years – or more – to draw a tag for a buck antelope. I’ve been applying annually for 12 years, and have been drawn once, three years ago. The winter following the year I drew a tag was very harsh, and many pronghorn perished. Even though many antelope migrate south into the US to escape the worst of winter, lots of animals failed to return north the following spring. Antelope season takes place mostly in October in Alberta, and where we were bird hunting the season had been closed for a couple of weeks. We noticed that there were few big bucks in the herds of antelope we observed, although we did see one nice one (that’s the one in the picture) and a number of smaller bucks. Wildlife managers in Alberta have said they recognize the quality (i.e., horn size) of male pronghorns isn’t on par with what they’d like to see, at least in some areas, and there is some effort being taken to find out exactly why that is. About the only practical thing to do would be to allow hunters to take even fewer bucks, so as to let more males reach an older age. In so doing, biologists believe the ratio of bucks to does should be kept about 1:5. That means that in Alberta, as elsewhere, there are usually more doe;fawn permits available than there are buck tags. As in deer, good (trophy) horn size usually occurs in animals four years old or older. “Average’ horn length on an adult ale is about 12″; a 14” is ‘real nice’. Some female pronghorns also have horns, but they’re small (usually shorter than the ears). They’re small animals, with males weighing only up to about 65 kg (140 lb). Females weight about 25% less. They are gorgeous. In Alberta, I regularly see them alone, in small groups as well as in herds of many dozen. Because they are small, they don’t do much damage, if any, to fences (which they’d rather crawl under than jump over), nor do they compete much with cattle for food. As such they are tolerated, even liked, by ranchers. That’s a good thing. Real good.