Three Months and 183 Videos Later

One of the benefits of being unemployed is that I can check my trail camera at 9:00 AM on a weekday when everyone whose backyard I have to walk past is at work, preventing any awkward answers to the question, “What are you doing back there?” “Oh, I’m just taking a stroll in the swamp…”

On Tuesday, July 16, I finally had a chance to get to my camera for the first time since April 13. So I headed out after gathering all of the necessary tools and clothing, including:

  • Long pants due to all the thorns, mosquitoes, and poison ivy
  • Long-sleeved shirt for all of the same reasons
  • Hat (same reasons)
  • My brand new knee-high Muck rubber boots for all the mud that I knew I’d encounter in the swamp
  • Pruners to prune out all the vines and branches that have grown over the trail
  • Key to unlock the camera
  • SD card to swap with the one in the camera (I made sure that it was empty first in case I don’t get back there again until hunting season in October.)
  • A dozen AA batteries in case the ones in the camera were dead or dangerously low

Surprising things:

  • My trip started off well enough when, still within sight of my house, a deer snorted at me and bounded off in the direction of my camera. It’s so thick in that area that I never had a prayer of actually seeing the deer.
  • There were fresh coyote tracks going in both directions on the trail.
  • The three streams that I have to cross to get to my camera were nearly dry, but they were muddy. I hardly needed my new rubber boots. Considering the number of recent days of light rain and the downpours accompanying the thunderstorms that we’ve had, that was surprising indeed.
  • Even though I pulled this card on July 16, and there was still one bar on the battery indicator, the last video was taken on June 4. Normally when the batteries are that low, the camera won’t take nighttime videos, but it usually continues to take daytime videos. Not this time. There was plenty of fresh track in front of the camera, but no videos after June 4.
Deer Track in Front of the Camera

Deer Track in Front of the Camera

About those videos…

Why did the batteries die, even though they should last anywhere from six months to one year? At noon on June 3, it got very windy. I then got 34 videos on June 3 of wind, and the camera died at 2:30 PM on June 4. Really windy days will kill trail camera batteries every time. Here’s just one of the roughly 50 videos in which the wind was strong enough to set off the camera:

Wind videos made up the majority of the 183 videos. Here are the totals:

  • 69 of Wind or Nothing
  • 33 of Deer
  • 25 of Raccoons
  • 23 of Sounds (mostly animals walking nearby)
  • 14 of Gray Squirrels
  • 11 of Cottontail Rabbits
  • 3 of Coyotes
  • 2 of me checking the camera back in April
  • 1 of Turkeys
  • 1 of Canada Geese with Goslings
  • 1 of Robins

I’m surprised that there were no videos of the following this time:

  • Muskrat
  • Fisher
  • Red Fox
  • Gray Fox
  • Owls

I’ve caught videos of each of those, especially red foxes, previously. I’m also surprised that in three years, I’ve never caught a beaver on this camera. I see lots of sign of them nearby, including half a dozen roadkills every year.

Now for the reason you’ve all read this far; the videos:

Turkeys in the mud on April 14:


Raccoon Eyes at Night on April 20:

Three Coyotes in the dark on May 11:

Four bucks in velvet traveling together at 10:00 AM on May 13:

Canada geese with goslings on May 21:

A male coyote pooping in front of the camera, and a female coming by and sniffing it on May 28:

A doe sniffing the coyote poop on May 29:

Until next time,

~ Tony

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I’ll Bet You 10 Bucks

On Friday, February 15, 2019 I finally had a chance to try to get to my camera for the first time since the last day that I hunted—October 13, 2018. I hoped that the three streams I had to cross would either be frozen enough that I could walk over them or shallow enough that I could cross them in knee-high boots.

My first challenge came before I even reached the first stream. There was a flooded part of the path that was too deep in November and December for me to get through.

Iced-Over Path

Iced-Over Path

As you can see in the photo, it was iced over. If the ice was thick enough, I could walk on top of it, but that might prove to be precarious in rubber boots.

My first thought was, “I should have brought my wading staff…and maybe my waders.” I found a good, sturdy stick, pressed it firmly onto the ice, took a deep breath, and stepped carefully onto the ice. At first the ice held me, I started to slip, and then, the ice gave way. I braced myself for icy water to run over the top of my boots, but it didn’t happen—just barely. I continued on, breaking through the ice, step by step. I made way to the river bank, hung on to the overhanging branches, and made my way to dry ground.

The first two streams weren’t bad at all to cross, and there were lots of beaver tracks around them.

Beaver Tracks Around  Stream #2

Beaver Tracks Around Stream #2

I knew the third stream by my stand (and the camera) would be the deepest, widest, and trickiest to cross. It was. The hardest part was when I would break through the ice and the pieces of ice would be under my feet on the bottom of the stream. Again, the water was just below the top of my boots. Again, I used overhanging branches to make my way across.

To my surprise, the lock on the camera popped open easily. It was 45 degrees outside, but there was sign of rust around the lock, and it hadn’t been opened in four months. Also to my surprise, the batteries in the camera were still good. In fact, they appeared to be at full power for an instant, but then the camera died.

Full Batteries?

Full Batteries?

I switched it back from OFF to SETUP a couple of times, and it showed the batteries at one bar (almost dead). They were powerful enough for me to correct the time for daylight savings. I brought new batteries with me, and I switched them a few at a time (as my dad taught me), hoping that the camera wouldn’t go back to all the default settings. Luckily, it worked. I swapped the SD card, locked up the camera, and headed back home.

Just after going through the flooded area (and while I was within sight of my house), I saw a huge rub. That’s my boot for perspective in the photo, but notice the old telephone pole; that’ll tell you how thick that tree is. Next year, that buck will be big enough to rub the pole!

My Boot Next to a Rub

My Boot Next to a Rub

I hoped that this giant buck went by the camera at some point over the past four months. Luckily, he did, and he had bark from that tree in his antlers, as you can see in this video.

To my surprise, he was just one of 10 bucks that went by my camera. I think. Here are videos of the 10 bucks. Watch them, and let me know whether you think that they are 10 different deer.

Spike:


Tall 3:

Half 8:

Tall 7:

Standard 8:

Great 8:

Tall 9:

Standard 9:

Mangled 9:

Split-Tine 10:

This was stunning to me since I had hardly gotten a single buck on the camera around the time that I was hunting in September and October.

Seven of those 10 videos were taken between October 17 and November 8. The other three were taken between November 11 and November 17. In some cases, two bucks would pass the camera within an hour or two of each other.

Last year, I consistently got two 9-pointers on camera, even after hunting season was over. The only questions were:

  • Was either one hit by a car?
  • Would they survive the winter?

Based on what I see above, they both survived. Split-Tine 10 is clearly one of them. The other is likely one of the three 9-pointers.

I only hunted this stand twice in 2018 for several reasons:

  • I would have needed my chest waders to get to my stand with all the rain we got in October and November.
  • The only deer I got on the camera was a doe with two skippers and that yearling doe with no tail. I did have a doe permit (two permits, in fact), but the deer only came by about once per week. Unlike 2017, they seemed to be avoiding this flooded area.
  • I mistakenly assumed that all of the deer would avoid this area during the rut too.
  • Like nine other eastern states, there is no Sunday hunting in Massachusetts! There were many Sundays that I had a chance to hunt, but I couldn’t legally do it. A couple of the daytime videos above were taken on Sundays in which I was hunting in New Hampshire.

Other highlights from the trail camera include:

A gray fox (which is rare in these parts) carrying a rabbit (which are not rare at all):

That tall 7-pointer grunting:

As I expected with such weak batteries, the infrared didn’t work in the last few videos, but I still got a couple of cool, if not dark videos of raccoons standing, running, and yelping in ways that I’ve never heard.

Raccoons yelping:


Raccoons standing:

I also caught a clip of six deer yarding up on December 11:

I’ll guess I’ll spending a little more time hunting this area during the rut this year; even if it requires chest waders!

In the meantime, who wants to go shed hunting with me?

~ 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

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