Footsteps in the Woods

So I’ve been out searching for mushrooms and figured, what better place to look than right at work. There are several well maintained trails that I can walk. High school runners compete on these very trails every fall during cross country season. The woods are perfect for mushrooms, i.e., they’re not really healthy. There’s lots of fallen wood, dead wood and sick wood as much as there is really big wood. Healthy woods don’t produce great mushrooms, or at least the ones that grow on sick trees…so this place feels like a bonanza. There are literally mushrooms growing along the trail, in the woods and in the gullies where water runs off.

 

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I haven’t ventured out into the trails until this week. I didn’t have any mosquito protection, and no tick protection either, so I would have been more apprehensive except that I had my sneakers on. I was all set to venture off the trail. I had to keep a lookout for the poison ivy that would appear out of nowhere.

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Poison Ivy

Last year, I entered one of the trails and swore I heard a deer blow, but never saw it.

Today, I entered the lower entrance of the Porcupine trail. As I walked, I kept thinking I was hearing something walking in the woods off to my right. The only thing I was able to spot was a blue jay flying from the ground to the tree. It must be the blue jay? No squirrels, which are notorious for making noise in the woods, were to be seen anywhere. My footsteps were almost unheard. The bark mulch and pine needle trails dampened the sounds of my walking.  What was it?!

I made my way around the loop, but kept hearing the sound. Still I saw nothing. I decided to retake the loop, only the upper loop this time in the opposite direction. The wind was in my favor. As I rounded the corner, there she stood, totally unaware that I was there. She was busy looking for left over acorns from last year. Her beautiful orange coat glistened in the sun. She was small, but appeared healthy.

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It took a few tries, but finally I was able to get her attention. She watched cautiously. I admired her, but didn’t move. She went back to her eating, and I went on my way.  I scored a few mushrooms and saw a deer. It was a good day for a walk.

Do you ever hear footsteps in the woods?

By the way, no hunting allowed here, so all I can do is dream about hunting deer on my walks.

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Silence Is NOT Golden When It’s Turkey Season!

Each year, I usually bag my turkey on the first day, so this year, I expected nothing less.

I absolutely love turkey hunting. It was the first hunt I ever tried, and was the hunt that got me hooked on hunting. Each year, I usually bag my turkey on the first day, so this year, I expected nothing less.

Two weeks before the season started, turkeys showed up in our horse pasture daily. We could sit on the back deck and listen to the gobbles in the woods. A slam of a car door and the bark of a dog would send gobbles throughout the woods.

The Friday before open season, I went down to my closest treestand. I brought along a Bluetooth speaker and hung it in a nearby tree with the volume cranked. The speaker amplified my turkey calls I had downloaded on my phone. I climbed into my treestand and opened up the turkey call application. A push of the “Turkey Cackle 1” and I had an answer. Gobbles nearby on my left.
I played it again.
Another response on my right!
Before I knew it, I had three jakes and a hen approaching on my right. The hen was actually chasing after the three jakes to keep up.

turkeys 4aThey were confused. Where is that hen? The turkeys walked by and once out of sight, I gave another call. They answered, came back and circled around me. The leading jake is almost fully mature, and he began to do his strut dance followed by a gobble. They weren’t alarmed since they continued to scratch and peck the ground as they moved.

As the turkeys circled me, they still didn’t know I was in the treestand. Off to my right a second gobbler also answered my call. I was having a blast!

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Turkey on the left ruffled up for the dance.

Finally the two groups of birds found each other, and I no longer mattered. They all headed away from me. Silence. Once they were gone, I climbed out my treestand and went back to the house.

Sunday, the day before the season opened, I headed back to my treestand. I used my same method of calling with the Bluetooth, but got no response. I covered a large amount of ground trying to call in a turkey while also checking my two game cameras. Just when I was about to give up, I got a response on the far end of the woods. They were still in the area! I quickly turned around and walked away.

Opening day and it was pouring. Pouring and my hunting partner was in no mood to venture out into it. By 2 p.m., the rain seemed to stop until we actually stepped out of the house. It was just a few intermittent showers to keep us moving, but listening for gobbles was not easy.

 

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We tried calling. No answers. We made a big circle and got to where I heard turkeys the day before. They weren’t responding to the mouth call John was using, so he took out the slate call and gave a try.

Instantly we had cackling, but no gobbling. We quickly set up the decoys and waited. No more replies, no responses and no gobbling.
Did they see us? Did we scare them off?
Did they hear us?
Perhaps I need to bring my Bluetooth next time…
Obviously they didn’t fall for our attempts to call them in.
We never heard any more turkeys the remainder of the hunt.

Silence. Nothing but silence. Let’s hope a couple days of rest and rain and they’ll come back and be ready for some gobbles. I have more tricks up my sleeve, so I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

turkey tracks

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Few years back when I went turkey hunting with John and my oldest son, Zack.

Game Camera Surprises and Shocks

Then came the SHOCK…I have never seen a deer injured let alone on my camera

This time of year I look forward to checking my cameras. Not much for deer comes in the winter. They move to their deer yard, but once the snow melts, the deer return to my area. Last year, we had several does with fawns visit, but for the time being I expect to see the usual critters as well as some pretty hungry deer. I put out some minerals for them. I’m afraid to give them grain or corn, but they seem to like the minerals. Even after the minerals dissolve in the ground, the deer will paw at it to get what they can.

Brody

I get excited to see what’s on my camera. This day, I had my grandson in tow and he was a blast. I had him try to find my tree stand and then we stopped and looked at deer poop, sprouting acorns, and pine cones. He got to splash in the puddles and I got to retrieve my SD card. We ended the adventure by sneaking up on the frogs.

 

First come the surprises. I saw my usual racoon and porcupine. Then came the candy; i.e., the deer. I love seeing deer on my camera. I had a single deer nervous and actually jumped when a turkey gobbled. You can see the actual video on my Facebook page. I had a turkey hen clucking and yelping, and a doe with two yearlings. I suspect this is the doe that had triplets.

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Then came the SHOCK…I have never seen a deer injured let alone on my camera, but there she was. My first reaction was coyotes, but then we decided she was the victim of a car accident. I can only hope that her body heals enough so that the blackflies can’t feast on her. You never know what you’re gonna get on your game cameras. Nature is cruel. What do you think happened to her? I’ll try to post more videos on my Facebook page. I don’t know if they’ll allow them so stay tuned. PS…my date is wrong on the camera. These are this year’s photos….

Deer

 

Distracted Driving of the Wildlife Kind

distracted drivingThere’s lots of talk these days about cell phone usage, texting while driving and distracted driving. Distracted driving does involve many scenarios, and I recently experienced a new sort of distracted driving even I had never considered. I’ve always prided myself in the fact that I never text and drive, only answer calls if I think I can, never make calls while driving, and never, ever, put on makeup while driving…well okay, I hardly wear makeup and I put it on at home.

My commute from home to work is roughly thirty minutes. Most of the time, I take the rural route, but with roads beginning to heave and buckle from frost and my fearing the car would be damaged, I opted for the smooth interstate route from Waterville.

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Turkey flying over the road Route 8 & 11, Belgrade. I pulled over to get this shot.

I have a tendency to speed on the interstate, so I set my cruise control and go into auto-pilot. Just like many people, I arrive at work not remembering the commute unless I see wildlife along the way. Traffic usually runs pretty good with little congestion, and I cruise my way to work. As many of you may know from my Wonderful Week of Wildlife Facebook posts, I see a lot of animals in my travels. I love spotting animals in my travels, especially ones just inside the treeline.

On the interstate, I have several spots that I look for wildlife. Once the snow starts to melt, the critters begin moving. I spend a considerable amount of time with my head turned sideways looking for them. I’ve seen more deer, groundhog, skunk, racoon, and turkeys from the road than from hunting, and this day was no different.

One particular morning, as I was cruising, a red fox ran across the road some 500 yards ahead of me. I didn’t get a good look because it was so far away. I was particularly excited since I rarely see fox, and had never seen one on the interstate before. Ahead of me, drove a black Toyota, but it was some 300 or so yards away. As I approached where the fox crossed, I cranked my head left to see if I could spot him. No luck.

I look back to driving. As I looked up I found myself almost on top of the black Toyota that had also decided to slow down for the fox. I slammed on my breaks and veered left, just missing the Toyota. I broke out in a sweat, totally embarrassed by the near miss. As I passed the Toyota, the driver never even looked, apparently completely unphased or unaware of what had just happened.

I learned my lesson, and I’m so thankful I didn’t crash. I’ve had to tame my urges to look for wildlife. If I see something, I no longer try to see it run off into the woods. I’ll still get plenty of opportunity to see wildlife…that’s why John drives when we go for rides. I get to do all the looking then!

In the meantime, my eyes are on the road. Make sure yours are too.

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The Love of a Dog…or Two

What I’ve never expected was that I’d grow to love our dogs more deeply than I ever thought possible.

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Tinkerbell and Tyler out for a walk.

I grew up with dogs and cats, but I’ve always considered myself a cat person. That was until I found out I’m very allergic to them. I still never cared for dogs because I grew up not knowing how to train them. Without proper training, dogs bark (which drives me bananas), poop in the house, take off running, and do absolutely everything you don’t want them to do, while cats just adore you. When I found out I could no longer have cats, I was unenthusiasticly resolved to the fact that we’d be a “dog family”. What I’ve never expected was that I’d grow to love our dogs more deeply than I ever thought possible.

 

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Before Fly came along, Tink hunted with Zack. She could chase bunnies!

We’ve owned several beagles in our thirty plus years of marriage. Beagles are perfect for rabbit hunting, and since John grew up with them, it’s always been our breed of choice. I was never close to the dogs because they were considered “outside dogs” or “hunting dogs”….not family pets. They had insulated houses and were on a leash most of the day. I was told, Being outside toughens them up for the hunt. This always seemed strange to me since I grew up with two or three Heinz-57, (aka mutts) dogs, and they never slept outside. But I never owned hunting dogs so I never questioned it.

In 2005, we got Tinkerbell for Zack after his beagle, Ann, died unexpectedly. Tinkerbell was always Zack’s dog…until Zack went off to college.

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Such a natural mom!

In 2011, we decide to breed Tink and she became a mother of three beautiful pups: Fly, Jack and Daisy. Then she became mine….sort of.  Zack returned from college, but couldn’t have a pet where he was living. Eventually he bought a home of his own, but by then Tink was too much part of our family and inseparable from Fly, so we kept her.

 

tinkerbell2Tinkerbell lived inside the house after she had her pups. When we decided to make Fly, Tyler’s dog and knew that he would sleep inside, Tink remained too. Since she was just paper trained as a puppy, and never lived inside, she never let us know when she had go. It was challenging; we basically trained Tink and Fly at the same time! Eventually, Tink and Fly could go in and out to do their business without us fearing they’d take off. We even built a large wired kennel for them to spend their days in away from the rain, snow and sun and without a leash. They’re attached house is double insulated and heated in case it gets cold.

Hunting always meant adventures for all of us. Every time John put on his rabbit hunting jacket, the dogs would go crazy. They knew it was time to hunt! Tink with her short legs, and Fly with his rugged tall build would run rabbits all day. Eventually Tink would fall behind and be a half a circle behind Fly and the rabbit. She couldn’t keep up, but it didn’t matter. She was in her glory doing her thing. This winter, Tink had to stay home. I stayed with her and pacified her with treats and gave her free roam of the house, but she’d still stand at the back door whining for Fly and wanting to be included.

It seems like yesterday, but it’s been a couple of weeks. I had to make the difficult decision to put Tinkerbell to sleep. In July 2016, she was diagnosed with a cancer that would eventually make her look like she was carrying a full litter of pups. Her mind was there, but her body was failing her. For months, we kept her comfortable, gave her special food, and cleaned up after her only to have to put out 6-8 more puppy pads, sometimes three times a day. She had ups and downs, and I found myself worrying about her all the time. I even wished she’d just go sleep and not wake up on her bed so that I wouldn’t have to decide when it was the right time. It never feels like the right time if you think it’ll mean less sorrow and loss.

img_20170202_120046215_topThe day the veterinarian came to the house to lay her to sleep weighed heavily on me. I doubted my decision. I didn’t like having to make a decision like this. I sat on the floor and petted her. I kept Fly nearby. They were each others companion. I took pictures of her. Looking at the pictures of her just a year ago and now, I could see the change. She had grayed. She was emaciated and I could now see all of her back bone. It was sad to see.  It makes me feel better that she didn’t suffer. She never acted “ill”, but more exhausted from carrying her load and trying to be comfortable. The grandkids adored her, and even in her state, she always loved their attention.

The procedure to lay her to sleep was quick. Quicker than I was prepared for. I cried and cried. I petted and talked to her as they worked on her. I cried more after they left. They were kind enough to put her in her burial bag and place her on the cushioned bench in our garage. John buried her in the hole he dug next to where one of her pups, Daisy, is buried. That’s another story.

I’ve learned a lot about dogs and myself during all this. I really like dogs. I just never knew how to deal with them. I’ve learned that dogs know what’s going on, and they know when you’re sad. Fly is now getting extra loving, and that’s helping me deal with losing Tink..and he’s not complaining. Neither am I.

Most of all, we’ve discovered that keeping a dog in the house doesn’t ruin them for hunting. It doesn’t ruin their nose. It doesn’t make them soft. Instead, it creates a bond of love and respect. Fly is a great hunter when he’s outside, and when he’s inside, he’ll cuddle with anyone who’ll let him. He’s been trained and he’s the best behaved dog we’ve ever owned.

We’re prepping ourselves for another beagle puppy that eventually will be our family pet. He’ll live inside, and he’ll will be Fly’s buddy. We’ll muddle through potty and hunting training. If he ends up being another great hunting dog, then great. If not, then he’ll still be part of the family. And he’ll always live inside.

Some day I’ll have to call the vet for Fly, and I’ll need our new dog to help comfort me again. Yes, having a dog means eventually losing it, but I think we get far more out of having one than having none.

RIP Miss Tinkerbell. Momma misses you.img_20160721_144312170

PS. I know there are many hunters out there who have several dogs who do not live in the house. Multiple dogs keep each other company and keep each other warm, and I am not judging. This is simply my experience. My point is more about one dog being left out in the dog house instead of being inside with the family. Happy hunting to all!