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Monthly Archives: November 2015

yardbuck-1

Now that the freezer is full of moose, there’s little to no pressure on me to harvest a deer. So I haven’t, and likely won’t. But I enjoy the hunt, so have been out quite a bit.

I haven’t been seeing a lot. The last few years have been hard on the regional deer population; hard winters, lots of wolves and lots of hunting pressure. Plus there’s little logging going on anymore, so the quality and quantity of deer habitat is rapidly declining. When all those factors are combined, I would estimate they’ve resulted in ‘our’ deer herd being reduced at least 80% from what it was 7-8 years ago. That’s a big reduction.

And it shows in terms of what I’ve been seeing. Back in the glory years, I’d see on average 5-10 deer every day I spent in the field. This year, most days I haven’t seen any deer at all. I have seen some, but only one buck, the one in the photo. A nice buck for sure, but certainly not a monster. I suspect it’s a 3 1/2 year old. I let him walk, as I have with the does and fawns I’ve seen.

It’s been a strange rut, based on my personal observations as well as what my hunting friends and acquaintances are telling me. Except in the city, where deer are still relatively numerous, there’s little sign of bucks chasing does. Maybe it has something to do with the weather, as it’s been unusually mild. Years ago, most of the ponds and smaller lakes were frozen by the middle of November, and there was almost always at least a few inches of snow on the ground.  Nothing is frozen as yet, and it’s raining today – although snow is predicted later this week.

My friend Deryk thinks deer numbers are just so low that the usual frenzy of the deer rut just isn’t apparent. There are deer rubs and scrapes, but in many areas nothing that would get a big buck hunter too excited.

Then there are the wolves. I had cut the antlers off the moose head, leaving the head in the driveway to be hauled away later. Well, that night, when Lil let the dogs out, all hell broke loose. Dory started going apoplectic and ran down the hill barking her head off (Neva was also barking her face off, but she was tied up. Dory is crippled, and seldom strays more than a few meters from the deck, so usually she doesn’t get tied up). Lil managed to catch up to Dory, grabbing her by the tail before she disappeared into the darkness down the road.

The next day, it was apparent it was wolves that caused the dogs to go off. There was the moose head, dragged down the driveway, but abandoned no more than 8 meters from the basement door, which is where they must have been when Lil opened the main door on the back deck to let the dogs out.

Later that night the wolves were back, howling away around our house, with one of them no more than a couple of hundred meters distant. They howled off and on for hours, still at it by noon the following day.

I wonder if the white wolf we saw earlier was one of the howlers and part of the pack that tried to run off with the moose head. Probably.

Needless to say, the deer made themselves scarce, and vanished from our property to parts unknown. They have yet to return.

At the end of the day, I think the rut has yet to get into full swing. The next full moon is near the end of the month, and coupled with cooler weather, will, I think, change deer behaviour and trigger the rutting frenzy usually associated with our local white-tails.

I guess we’ll see.

BTW, I took this photo when it was almost dark, shooting with the ISO cranked up to 16,000! In RAW format and a Bit depth of 14. Modern photography equipment is awesome.

 

rail-1

With the moose at the butcher shop, there’s time to relax some from the intensity required of the annual hunting ritual. It’s nice to reminisce and look back at some of the notable events and sightings that took place during the late summer and early fall, when internet headaches seemed to be a dominant force in my like (internet is still not up to par. Many urban dwellers seem to take internet for granted and demand never-ending faster and better service. Us rural folk just want reliable access . .  . .).

The pond and associated marsh in front of the house is, as always, the focal point of much of what goes on around here. Lil and I spend a lot of time staring out over the pond, and we’ve come to the conclusion it’s one of our major sources of entertainment. There seems to always be something new and exciting happening out there.

One day we were watching and photographing a common snipe probing the muck with its long bill, when another bird appeared on the scene. At first glance, it looked like a sora, a number of which spent the summer in the marsh, but smaller, and not as dark. It was a bird neither of us had ever seen before. A quick look through an ever handy field guide to the birds told us it was a yellow rail, “rare and extremely shy”. Turns out it was the first sighting ever confirmed in the Kenora District, although one other sighting had been reported a few years back and Lillian had once heard one (two, actually, but one was in another geographic district). The call, according to the guide, is “imitated by tapping two pebbles together”. The rail hung around for several hours, but after that , we never saw it again.

Well, turns out it wasn’t a yellow rail after all, but a juvenile sora. We didn’t pay attention to the white undertail coverts, which can just be seen on the photo, but are quite apparent on another photo I took. Oh well, everyone can make a mistake . . . .

But there’s always stuff to see,

Just the other day I was in the kitchen and glanced out over the beaver pond and saw a hawk trying to take down a smaller bird. It wasn’t successful, and in what looked like a bit of a pique, it alighted on a log on the same rock where we’d seen the lynx and the wolf a few weeks earlier. I didn’t have my biggest telephoto lens at the ready, so had to take a few snaps with a less far-reaching piece of glass. At least it was enough for us to identify it.

The hawk, a Cooper’s, was another ‘good sighting’, according to our local government ornithologist. Cooper’s hawks are uncommon everywhere, and here in northwestern Ontario they are close to the northern extension of their range.

Finally, there’s a ruffed grouse that hangs out close to the house that has some interesting markings on its back. Many of the feathers are white, which is quite unusual (I’ve never seen one like it). Lil watched it for a while one day and believes it suffers from an old injury, as she said it seemed to have difficulty walking. But it’s obviously getting by as we have seen it several times, and it flies well. No success yet with respect to getting a good photo.

There’s a skiff of snow on the ground today and the pond is partly frozen, although the next couple of days are said to be mild. But winter is coming, and soon the pond will be frozen over. Still, the pond is a wildlife magnet, frozen or not.

As such, we are looking forward to more interesting observations over the next while.

moose-2

Moose season, when firearms can be used, opened on Saturday, October 10. Lil and I had set up camp the day before and proceeded to hunt daily from Saturday through to the following Friday. October 10 is on the late side of when the season opens (for years now the season has opened on the Saturday closest to October 8, meaning it can open as early as Oct. 5, or as late as Oct. 11. The earlier it opens, the better the chance of getting in on the tail end on the rut, which means it’s possible to call a bull in.

That is how moose managers planned it – let hunters occasionally have the opportunity to hunt moose during the tail-end of the rut, when they’re susceptible to being lured in by a call. Even so, most of the cows will have been bred, and the moose that do respond to the call near the end of the rut are young bulls, who often don’t get a chance to breed because they can’t compete against more mature bulls. To further help in the management of the moose herd, the number of adult validation tags for adult moose are limited.

Starting next year, the season opener is going to be delayed by a week, so for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be next to impossible for gun hunters to call in amorous bulls. Archers are still going to be able to hunt the rut. I don’t like the rule changes, but it is what it is (see my previous posts on changes to the way moose are going to be managed in Ontario).

So this was the last chance to get in on at least having a chance to call in a bull, and we gave it a good go.

Nothing.

A lot of sign from a week or two earlier , when the rut was on, but it was obvious the rut had ended at least a few days before the season opened. And as often happens immediately following the rut, the moose were laying low. It didn’t help that it was hot and humid with a big hatch of black-flies and mosquitoes. We hunted hard, but I didn’t see or hear a thing. Lil actually saw one late one evening; it ran across the road close to our RV but it was late and she didn’t get a good look at it. Seeing it go into heavy conifer cover, there was little we could do to roust it out.

Following the week of moose hunting, I went bird hunting in Alberta. Managed to bag a few pheasants and sharptails, and young Neva performed admirably. But on the last day of the hunt, she got tangled up with a porcupine. That wasn’t much fun for anyone. Luckily I was hunting with Michael, who was a great help in the field in the pulling out of a couple of hundred quills from Neva’s face, nose, lips, mouth, tongue and throat. Ten days later, quills are still poking out on various parts of her face.

Back in Ontario, Lil and I decided to give the moose another go (the season stays open until December 15, but deep snow and cold can make late season hunting totally miserable).

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, we hunted half the day in a light rain.

Nothing. Very little fresh sign.

Friday, Oct. 30, we tried again. Conditions were good; damp, but no rain, a light breeze, temperature just above freezing.

Almost immediately we came across fresh sign. Lil and I split up and the further from the road I went, the more moose sign there was. Mostly fresh browsing on willow and red-osier dogwood. The area was logged more than 10 years ago, and has regenerated into ideal moose pasture. That’s both good and ‘bad’. Good because there is lots for moose to feed on; bad because there is so much feed the moose can be anywhere, and it’s also so thick that one can only hunt by walking trails, or calling, when calls work . . . .

At one point I heard our dogs Neva and Dory (which we left in the truck) barking furiously, and I thought they must have seen a moose, or maybe the Canada lynx we had seen there on an earlier hunt. Turned out it was a moose they saw.

Seeing there was nothing I could do about the dogs – who eventually stopped their barking – I stayed on the hunt. About a mile in I heard a noise to my left and knew immediately it was a moose feeding. It was hard to see much, as the bush in this area is a thick, twiggy nightmare. But I spotted movement, and there it was, a young bull less than 40 m distant.

So I got a moose. Lil had also seen one, but it was further back in the thick slaplings and she couldn’t make it out well enough to ID if it was a bull (our tag was for a bull), although she did hear what sounded like twigs on antlers. Shortly after she lost sight of the moose, the dogs started to bark.

It was many days of hard hunting but in the end great success, with a young and hopefully very tasty moose to fill the freezer. We are especially grateful as the tag we had was one of only 6 bull tags issued this year for the management unit in which we were hunting.

Now all I have to do is find myself a deer.