November is the month for deer hunting. At Claybrook Lodge, that activity has yielded little results in recent years. Many of our best hunting places have been logged with regenerating cover so thick, it is difficult to see or move quietly. A large percentage of the private land that we used to take for granted is posted also. The biggest problem though, is continued destruction of winter habitat. When winter conditions are severe enough, mortality is high. In 2009 we experienced severe mortality in winter, and our herd is just now getting back to what it was. We still have a loyal group of hunters though most of them are over 70. We still have skills, but eyes and ears are not what they used to be. My own senses have declined significantly, but lack of energy is my biggest trouble. I used to love a day when I could be gone all day on a long walk. Now, when I reach the top of Claybrook Mountain, I have used up most of my reserve, and I need the rest just to make it home.
Our old friend, Clyde Macnie from Rhode Island, made it for the first week. Clyde has been visiting Highland and Lexington for more than 60 years now, but health problems forced him to give up hunting. His niece Karen, has been helping to care for him and his wife Margaret. Karen and her husband drove Clyde all the way here, for what he said would be his final trip. Clyde and I drove around to some of his favorite hunting areas, and he visited friends he has made over the years. It was a nostalgia trip for sure, and at times quite sad. I am encouraged that Karen’s husband was interested in returning next year and will bring Clyde again if he can still travel.
All our other hunting guests came during the third week of November, which was very convenient for us. We had a total of eleven, though not many stayed the entire week. Everyone saw plenty of sign, and some even saw a few deer. The only shot fired was by Peter Lepore up in the Pierce Pond area. Peter missed a mature buck there and was lucky enough to see a young spike horn near the lodge on a rainy day. Paul Lepore is the patriarch and brings his two sons and a son-in-law. Paul started hunting the Pierce Pond area from Cobb’s Camps in 1957, and I don’t think he has missed a season since. We have been lucky to be able to have several former Cobb’s guests since they stopped being open for hunting. Paul and David Stanilonis spent the week and saw a few does but no bucks. David is probably the most skillful hunter of all our guests and has taken a few nice bucks here. On a great day, many years ago, he and Paul (his dad) each shot a nice buck. Paul broke the 200lb. mark with his while he was helping David drag a nice eight-point. Bob Westphal is the only one of us to take a big buck in recent years, but he had no such luck this year. Fred Newcomb is one of the most patient hunters I know, and he spent a serious amount of time watching a crossing/scrape line area from a blind with no luck. Dave Peppard, Gary Burke and Dick Davis put in a good effort also. I did most of my hunting from tree stands in the afternoons but saw very few does and no bucks. There was fresh sign under my stands every day but most were made at night. In the same stands, last year, I was surprised by the number of sightings during the day but no bucks then either.
We may not have had much luck, but the amount of sign we saw tells me that hunting is getting quite good again. Tindall’s store tagged more than 80 deer, and that is up from last year.
I made two hikes onto Claybrook during the regular rifle season. There was plenty of deer sign and moose were browsing heavily on grass and twigs on the road in. I only laid eyes on one deer but it was a heavy adult buck with a wide set of antlers. He was bedded in snow on a cold morning getting warmth from the mid-morning sun. As I had approached from below, it had occurred to me that this would be the ideal place for a buck to be bedded. I stood still and scanned the slope without seeing anything, then I looked to the right down Michael Stream for a moment. When I looked back he was already up and running. I should pay more attention to those little premonitions. It could have been “Big George,” and I would have been sad if I got him, so it is just as well that he got away. George didn’t make his usual appearance in the field this season so I wonder if he is still alive. I didn’t hear of any deer like him being shot so hopefully he will arrive after the muzzle loading season is over. Our “chicken house” apple tree was loaded as usual, and every evening the hunters were greeted by groups of does and fawns walking across the road and through the field. It is always fascinating to me how scarce they seem to be during the day and how quickly they appear when the shooting time has ended. At least the sight of so many is encouraging to our hunters.
Thank you to all our hunting guests for making this another good season. If the winter is mild, next year should be like the “old days”.
Greg and Pat