One of my favorite months has to be November since it is time for deer hunting. It is usually the month when we get our first serious winter weather. The chickens are molting and egg production slows. All local wild animals have been preparing for cold weather, and are as fat they will be for the year. The summer birds have mostly migrated, with only the hardiest remaining. Weasels and hares begin to turn white and coyotes are filling the night with their wild lonesome howls. Mice, chipmunks and squirrels have been gathering and caching their winter food supplies, and we are as ready as we can be for the first bitter onslaught of wind and white.
In November last year we got significant snow that remained the entire winter. November this year has seen nothing even close. It has been warm enough for plenty of rain and some sunny days that feel more like September. The ground isn’t even frozen yet. Some mornings the temperature got into the 20s, but by afternoon it was well above freezing again. This made for some quiet walking in the woods since the leaves were damp and soft.
Our old veteran hunter Clyde MacNie and his wife Margaret made their way to Claybrook Lodge against all odds. They have both experienced some of the more serious maladies that accompany old age, so we didn’t think there was any hope that they would make it here again. Clyde doesn’t hunt any longer, but he seems unable to resist this place where he spent so many great days in the outdoors. They were treated to a parade of deer every day at the chicken house apple tree. I took them for a couple of rides around the old territory. Since they were our only early November guests, Pat and I were able to visit and spend some time with them. It was a sad and tearful farewell when it was time for them to start the journey back to Rhode Island.
We had a record low of 12 guests the entire hunting season and no deer were shot. One big surprise was that there were plenty of deer around. I would say that the population is rising in spite of two big snow winters in a row. Another surprise was how few other hunters there were around. Usually the Round Up Road is a traffic jam in the last half of the season, but it was virtually empty this year. Paul Martin saw a nice buck walking along a stonewall close to the road in a place that usually has multiple hunters every day. Paul, Dan Batsie and Lance Miller are regulars during the three days before Thanksgiving. Usually by the time they arrive the rut is well underway but it seemed to me that it was just beginning when they got here. The best hunting was going on when they got here and went on into the muzzle loader season. We did get two reservations at the last minute for muzzle loading adding three new guests to our list.
I did the least amount of hunting this season than I have done since we first moved here. I only spent 2 full days walking the woods. The rest of my hunting time was spent using stands at the end of the day. I saw more deer than usual but most were does and fawns. It was a learning experience to watch the behavior of a specific group of deer over a period of days. In the area of my tree stands, there were apple trees with plenty of apples during the first half of the season. In the first week using stands I saw no deer, but when I checked the area in the morning, deer had come during the night. After a few days the deer suddenly began to appear in the daylight and I was pleasantly surprised to have them walk under the stand. I didn’t see a single buck from the stands although during the third week, I found sign that there were bucks around after dark. Even when the apples finally were gone deer still were moving back and forth under the stands in daylight. When they got used to my movements I had to change the placement of stands and at the end I walked a mile from the house to the stand so they wouldn’t hear my truck. Each time I made a change I watched deer walk by and study the area where they expected to see me. I hope I can remember all this for next year.
On my best day I got permission to use a private road to get access to Michael Stream Valley. I promised not to shoot deer until I had driven past the posted land. Of course on the first trip, a big ten-pointer stepped into the road and stopped, facing away as if he didn’t see the truck. When he did react he simply hopped into the woods and stopped again. By the time he was out of sight, a second smaller buck also stepped into the road. It was a great experience but also very frustrating. Later in the day I saw a third buck on Claybrook Mountain but missed my shot. The best thing was being able to visit some territory I haven’t walked in thirty years or more.
For the first time in many seasons my Vermont hunters were unable to join us. Paul and David Stanilonis, and Bob Westphal have been such regular guests that I took for granted that they would always be here for hunting. Time is relentlessly passing and all the changes that come with that are inevitable but we hope to delay them as long as possible. I am optimistic for next season in spite of everything. There are plenty of deer and we are all still alive at this point, so maybe next year will be a little better.
Pat and I have found great joy in watching our “boys”. They are growing so fast and it will be their time soon. We are trying to enjoy as much time as we can with them, knowing how quickly time passes. I hope we can stay well enough to enjoy many woods walks and pass on something that will be useful to them. Now at the end of November we are looking forward to Christmas and even more family time. Hopefully there will be at least enough snow to cover the ground. I am able to start feeding the deer soon, and the local herd has been getting larger every day. The chicken house apple tree is still loaded with apples and I shake a few down every evening. We are up to ten regulars at this point, but I bet when the grain is out there will be plenty more. Keep an eye out for the 2016 activities list. We are almost there.
Greg and Pat