Spring Is in the Air

The weather is always crazy this time of year in New England. Some days feel like summer, some days feel like winter, but few days actually feel like spring.

The animals start acting crazy too, and that’s how you know it’s spring. Examples that I’ve seen in just the past week include:

  • Two chickadees fighting

  • Two cottontail rabbits fighting 
  • Two different gobblers strutting for hens

On my trail camera, I caught two raccoons getting frisky.

Then one of the raccoons then went after the camera.

Dad has his bears attacking his cameras, and I have raccoons attacking mine. I guess that’s the difference between rural hunting and suburban hunting.

Something about the camera spooked this button buck.

His mom has a sizable scar, but she seems no worse for the wear.

After a long, cold winter (and a cold spring!), I go a little crazy too. To cope, I start preparing my hunting gear. I started by hand-washing, drying, and waterproofing (with Camp Dry) my camo rain jackets.

Hand Wash Only

Hand Wash Only

Let’s hope we get enough spring-like weather to get in some archery practice and fishing soon!

~ Tony

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Suburban Menagerie

I finally got around to checking the camera on Saturday, and there was quite a variety of life to be seen in those 93 30-second videos.

The first video was of me dropping a dead mouse on the log in front of the camera at 4:30 PM on March 26. (I had found the mouse in the woods on the way to the camera.) Less than 12 hours later, a red fox came by to snatch up the snack. Notice how he shakes it, even though it is already dead. Old habits die hard, I guess.

And, of course, there were deer videos, but surprisingly only three. The best one is of this doe, who showed up just four hours after the fox. She’s displaying typical nervous deer behavior, including a twitching tail.

There were also, the ever-present cottontail rabbit videos. I’ve never posted one here before because they’re typically quite boring. Mostly, the rabbits just sit still. This time, we got two videos that show a rabbit browsing several of the newly formed buds, which makes for slightly more interesting viewing.

Spread out over the two weeks were five raccoon videos. One cleaning its tail.

Another video that I can only assume is a raccoon, is one where the camera is being molested.

Because the camera is now pointed at the river, we were also able to catch a drake mallard on video. Unfortunately, he’s out of frame in just a couple of seconds, which makes the video not worth sharing here.

We also had 37 squirrel videos, eight mouse videos, seven videos of rain, two videos of blue jays, and one of some fog.

Finally, we caught our resident wild turkeys on the camera. We got three of the four in this 30-second clip. As usual, the hen leads the pack, and her three poults follow.

~ Tony

Two Curious Does

In the past week, we got just two non-squirrel videos. Both were of yearling does, four minutes apart at 3:00 in the afternoon. Both deer were aware of the camera, but not startled by it.

Both deer came from the right of the camera instead of in front of it, as I had assumed they would.

It looks like I should turn the camera 90 degrees to the right. Then I might get those longer approaching videos I’ve been hoping for.

I’m not sure where either of the young bucks were this week. Hopefully we’ll see one of them next time.

~ Tony

Back in Business

As you’ll remember from my Storm’s a Comin’ post, I snapped off the latch lock on my trail camera, which I thought might be a problem later this year when I move the camera closer to my stand site. Well, as I mentioned in All Talk, No Action, I took the camera to  my dad’s house to see whether he could help me repair it, and he did.

Gluing the Latch Lock

Gluing the Latch Lock

Given how bitterly cold it’s been so far, I’m being very careful with it.

Lousy Smarch Weather

Lousy Smarch Weather

But at least it looks good enough to deter someone who doesn’t realize that you could snap it off with the slightest tug, especially in cold weather.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Looks Can Be Deceiving

As promised at the end of my last post, I set the camera to point down the trail instead of perpendicular to it, in hopes of getting longer videos of animals walking toward the camera (or away from it) instead of passing quickly in front of it.

So how did it work? Not as well as I would have hoped, but not too badly. In one week, I got 32 videos, including one of raccoon walking perpendicular to the camera. He’s coming up from the river.

Again, I’m surprised by how few of those 32 videos were just of blowing leaves and branches, given that we’ve had ridiculously windy conditions of late. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 3 videos of me and Bear pruning branches in front of the camera
  • 1 raccoon
  • 3 rabbit videos, including a lengthy one of him hopping away from the camera
  • 7 squirrel videos (“They’re baaaack…”)
  • 6 videos of the leaves blowing in the wind
  • 2 videos of blue jays squawking
  • 5 videos where the camera was triggered by the sound of deer walking nearby, which were taken just before or after the…
  • 5 videos of that doe and skipper, but the skipper is at least a button buck. Based the size of his nubs, it looks like he’ll have at least big spikes by summer’s end.
    Judge for yourself:

As you can see, the camera didn’t trigger until the deer were right in front of it. I’m not sure why that is. Its sensitivity setting is set to Normal. I’m afraid that if I set it to High, it will take 1,000 videos of leaves blowing in the wind.

Like the video of the rabbit, I did get one lengthy  video of the button buck walking away from the camera down the trail.

All the deer videos were taken around 4:00 AM; some on Tuesday and some on Thursday, which is in line with Thursday’s moon phase; first quarter-3. It’s also an hour before I walk the dog, which puts Bear and me about 75 yards away from the camera. That’s within sight of it this time of year.

Side note: Michelle and I have heard the great horned owl calling on many of the calmer nights in the past week, but still no sign of him hunting those rabbits on the camera.

~ Tony

All Talk, No Action

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks weather-wise and wildlife-wise.

  • A few nights ago, a great horned owl was hooting behind our garage. I told my wife that they eat skunks, which would mean fewer skunks in the area to spray our dog. Also, our trail camera has picked up two cottontail rabbits regularly. I was hopeful that the owl would make an attempt for one of those rabbits within sight of the camera.
  • A few days ago, a small hawk (cooper’s? sharp-shinned?) swooped overhead twice while I was walking the dog.
  • Last week, I treed six turkeys while walking the dog. In the past, they’ve gone in the direction of our trail camera.
  • Two nights ago, a pack of coyotes woke us up howling at 2:30 AM. The sound was coming from the direction of our trail camera. We were hopeful that they would happen by it. I was at least hopeful that their howling would trigger the camera to record the sound.
  • Every day, we hear a red tailed hawk screech multiple times.

As I approached the camera this morning, the trail was loaded with fresh track and droppings. So imagine my surprise when I checked the camera and found only 17 videos even though it had been 12 days since I last checked it and we had seen and heard so much wildlife.

What were the videos?

  • A skunk! So much for that hopes for the owl. I didn’t both posting the video because it’s not a good one. He’s only on screen for about three seconds.
  • The sound of blue jays squawking set off the camera twice. This happens about once per week.
  • One video from when the sounds of a few song birds triggered the camera.
  • The wind.
  • A couple of videos where the animal that set off the camera had just walked by. This is a valuable lesson for me. I need take a page out of my dad’s playbook and position the camera to point down the main trail rather than being perpendicular to it. That way I’ll catch animals walking toward or away from the camera for a much longer time.
  • A few deer videos, but mostly just of a doe and a skipper, and they were all from Thursday.

That’s it. No coyote videos. No rabbit videos! No squirrel videos (I usually have several, but with the deep snow we had, it’s not too surprising that they weren’t near the camera.) No turkey videos (a little surprising) or owl videos (not surprising). I’m stunned that there were no rabbit videos. There are usually about four of those per week.

Here’s the only decent video. It’s of a doe and skipper walking away from our house just before sunset on Thursday; minutes before Michelle walked the dog.

I decided to pull the camera to take it to my dad’s house so he could look at that broken latch lock (which I surprisingly found on the ground) that I wrote about in my last post. When I come back from his house, I’ll put the camera back up pointing down the trail.

~ Tony

Storm’s a Comin’

After my last post, Matt had suggested that I only check the camera once per month to keep my scent down. This one time at least, I decided not to follow his advice for a few reasons:

  • I was scheduled to go away on a 10-day trip, and I was concerned about the batteries dying.
  • The camera is only 75 yards from my driveway (a fact that I failed to mention to Matt), which means that any deer that smells me on that camera can smell me while I’m standing in my driveway too. It’s not as though I’m messing up my stand site, which is 475 yards from my driveway.
  • Last Thursday, we got hit with a foot of snow. I knew that the deer would have been out in full force before the storm to fill their bellies before hunkering down for snow-ma-geddon.

So I checked the camera this weekend. It was a comedy of errors and a bit tragic. First, I put the key in the lock that protects someone from opening the latch to steal the SD card. The lock had snow and ice on it, of course. When I turned the key, the locking mechanism didn’t turn. Instead, the whole lock twisted and easily snapped the plastic loop that allows the latch to be locked before I even realized what happened.

Broken Latch Lock Holder

Broken Latch Lock Holder

It turns out that I was right about the batteries. They were so low that the camera didn’t even take a video of my dog Bear bounding in front of the camera.

As I started to put the new batteries in, they all fell into the foot of snow at the base of the tree. This happened multiple times. I struggled with them for so long that Bear started to lose her patience with me.

Bear Getting Bored

Bear Getting Bored

Between the cold and the snow, I decided that unlocking the camera from the tree and bringing it home to replace the batteries would be a better course of action, but I couldn’t even open that lock; it was frozen solid.

Eventually I got the batteries in, and brought the SD card home. Luckily, the videos were worth the effort. They were full of surprises.

First, a doe with half of her right ear missing.

Then a fork horn that still has its antlers in February!

Then, there were two videos of a buck that had shed his antlers.

To the surprise of no one, a whole heard of deer walked by the camera the morning of the storm, just before the snow started to fly. This is just one of several videos of them passing the camera in both directions.

There were the usual videos of cottontail rabbits, gray squirrels, and blue jays.

And finally, my favorite video of the bunch is this one of a deer’s breath in the cold air.

~ Tony

The Fisher King

We got just over an inch of snow this morning, and I was home for the day due to a doctor’s appointment. When I went into the backyard with the dog, I immediately noticed some fox tracks coming from behind my shed towards the road, and then returning from the road back around the other side of the shed.

Fox Tracks

Fox Tracks

Fox tracks are easy to identify because they are almost always in a nearly straight line.

I then took the opportunity to check the trail camera. I was excited that there were fresh deer tracks right in front of the camera, but I was surprised that there were only two sets of tracks, what appeared to be a doe and a skipper.

Doe and Skipper Tracks

Doe and Skipper Tracks

Why had they separated from the heard that came by last week?

When I checked the camera, there were 37 videos:

  • 4 of animals walking behind the camera in the dark (the sound set off the camera)
  • 1 of the doe and skipper
  • 1 of me checking the camera
  • 1 of blue jays, including one that landed on the camera and shook it
  • all the rest were of gray squirrels, except…
  • 1 of a fisher

Welcome to the neighborhood, Fisher King.

~ Tony

Herd Mentality

As I promised in last week’s post, I am reporting back with any good videos from the trail camera I set up about 75 yards from my house. I set up the camera at sunset on Sunday, January 21. I picked it up around sunset today, Friday, January 27.

Despite all the wind and rain that we had this week, including a nor’easter that lasted two of those days (Monday and Tuesday), there were only 23 videos on the camera. I thought for sure that there would be dozens of videos where the wind and rain set off the camera.

Well, as usual, Bushnell served us well. Only seven videos were caused by wind and rain. One was of me pruning the brush in front of the camera. One was of a gray squirrel. Three were of a cottontail rabbit. All the rest were caused by deer either walking in front of the camera or setting it off by sound by walking near it.

Not surprisingly, all of the videos are from right after the nor’easter cleared out. There are four videos from 3:06 PM to 3:10 PM on Tuesday. It takes more than the length of these four 30-second videos plus the between-video buffer time for the herd to walk eastward (that is, from my stand area toward my house). Therefore, it’s impossible to count how many deer are in this herd from those videos. It could be as many as eight animals.

At 3:00 AM on Wednesday, there’s a video of them walking westward (that is, from my house towards my stand site).

Take a look for yourself. Click the image below to watch all five videos in order.

After checking the camera, I took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. Immediately, I noticed a turkey’s breast feather in my front yard. That surprised me because it’s been more than a month since I’d seen the flock of 14 turkeys that haunted our yard during last hunting season. It had been even longer since I saw the four birds that roosted next to our garage.

I had hoped that I’d get the turkeys on the trail camera, but I had no such luck. However, as I walked the dog along the opposite bank of the river just after sunset, something caught my eye. The whole flock, now down to twelve birds by my count, were roosted just across the river from my across-the-street neighbor. I snapped a quick photo with my phone.

Roosted Turkeys

Roosted Turkeys

It’s too bad Mass. bow season doesn’t start until October. Until then, I’ll be dreaming of ways to cull the herds.

~ Tony

My Introduction to Suburban Scouting

Matt, the most successful suburban hunter I know, offered to make the 40-minute drive to my house to track down the deer my wife and I spotted on Wednesday.

We started tracking the deer right across from my front door. It wasn’t hard to follow the trail. It was the deer equivalent of a highway.

The Deer Herd Highway

The Deer Herd Highway

It didn’t take us long to find rubs from a very large buck.

There's a Big Buck in Them Thar Woods

There’s a Big Buck in Them Thar Woods

I was content to see that the deer were constricted to a corridor between the river and my neighborhood. I thought, “They’re ripe for the picking right here along the river.” Matt wasn’t so easily satisfied. He was hell bent on finding their bedding area. Why? Because he knew I’d have to approach my tree stand, probably while the deer are bedded down.

As we came across some likely bedding areas, it didn’t take us long to find signs of other hunters.

The Competition Is Sloppy

The Competition Is Sloppy

The first stand we saw was a hang-on stand that was so old that it was pinching off the tree almost to the point of cutting it in half. The tree had grown over the screw-in steps so much that only about an inch of each was visible. This stand is in a very good location, but clearly no one is using it, as the screw-in steps are unusable and the stand is at a permanent 45-degree angle.

However, this area does get pressure. There is a fallen ladder stand nearby.

Mother Nature Took Down This Ladder Stand

Mother Nature Took Down This Ladder Stand

A newer ladder stand is still in place, but across the river from where I would hunt. Then I spotted an orange reflective tack. We followed it to its owner’s stand, where we found a bottle of scent spray. We then followed the tacks to their starting point, which is a house in a nearby neighborhood.

I felt a bit discouraged by all this sign of hunting pressure, but Matt was encouraged. With suburban hunting, “it’s all about where the other guys are,” Matt said. It’s true. None of these hunters are approaching the area from the direction that I would come from (namely, my house), and their stands are near bedding areas, while mine is in a transition zone to a food source (namely, all the acorns around my house). With any luck, the other hunters will push the deer out of their beds and in my direction, especially if I take Matt’s advice in how I approach my area.

You see, my neck of the woods is quite thick, thorny, and swampy, which is a perfect place for deer to hide, precisely because it’s impossible to sneak up on a bedded deer in that type of cover.

Rubber Boots Are a Must At All Times

Rubber Boots Are a Must At All Times

Matt’s advice is for me to take a canoe from my house to my hunting spot, which would make for a quiet, scent-free approach. Also, with a canoe I could scout areas that Matt and I simply couldn’t reach without chest waders and a machete. So I guess I’m in the market for a cheap canoe. Given that I’ll have to wear rubber boots at all time, and I’ll be taking the canoe 475 yards (less than a third of a mile), according to my GPS, the canoe could even be quite leaky.

We had to forge multiple streams and inlets and outlets to the main river. I even went over my boots in one spot. This type of cover will keep dogs away, as evidenced by my own dog, Bear, who could not cross beyond the area where I’m planning to hunt.

The End of the Line for Bear

The End of the Line for Bear

As we slogged our way back to my house, you’d never know that it was January, as the thermometer had hit 52 degrees! You’d also never know that it was only about a half mile as the crow flies. We took a very circuitous route in hopes of finding more sign, which we did. We found more scrapes and rubs, but most were within sight of houses. Despite the small parcel of woods, we covered a lot of ground, as evidenced by my Fitbit stats.

Five Miles of Slogging Through the Swamp

Five Miles of Slogging Through the Swamp

After Matt left, I went back in to set up a trail camera. I set it up about 75 yards from my house, right where the houses come closest to the river, forcing the deer to travel a very narrow corridor. I’ll check it in a week or so, and I’ll post any good videos I get.

Until then I’ll be hunting for my boot dryer.

Desperately Seeking My Boot Dryer

Desperately Seeking My Boot Dryer

~ Tony

Why Did the Deer Cross the Road?

Because I came home from work early.

I cut out of work at 4:00 on Wednesday, which put me home right at the end of legal shooting light (5:10 PM). As I walked from the train station down my dead-end road, I spotted at least three deer under the street light that is 15 yards from my front door. I took a photo of them, and the flash startled three more deer that were in my backyard.
Deer Across from My Front Door

Deer Across from My Front Door

All six or so deer ran into the conservation land across from my front door, which is exactly where Matt and I are going to scout Saturday morning. I guess we won’t have to go far to see any sign.
Tracks in My Front Yard

Tracks in My Front Yard

The quality the photos and videos I got stinks because they’re taken with my iPhone on a dark, drizzly night.
I’ll set up my trail cam on Saturday, which will give us much better quality videos.
At 9:00 that same night, my wife came home from class to see four deer on our road and four deer in our backyard.
Clearly this is worth investigating. Matt and I will check it out on Saturday and report back on our findings.

~ Tony