Bobcat/Lynx Feedback

Whenever I write about local wildcats, it seems that the feedback locomotive gets rolling full-steam ahead. So it was no surprise that last week’s column drew a spike in reader email.

Oh my! Can you imagine what’ll happen when I finally jump into that Petersham mountain-lion-attacks-horse tale, which I was aware of months before it hit the news on the day after Thanksgiving, went viral for a couple of days and vanished into thin air with  the surface scratched  ever so lightly. Of course, it’s always difficult for reporters to really delve into a totally unfamiliar subject about which little is known, especially when state wildlife officials paid to answer their questions go into their best damage-control shutdown mode, buttressed by their Office of Executive Affairs gatekeepers. I’ll let the issue sit for a little while longer. Confirmation that the DNA samples gathered on the scene by the landowner were indeed left by a mountain lion, as  determined by a reputable University of Florida lab, is due soon from another respected Arizona lab.

Not that anyone doubts the accuracy of the Florida lab’s determination that the blood and hair specimens were left by a cougar. But why not wait a little longer for confirmation from Arizona cougar expert Melanie Culver? This is the same woman who used archaeological evidence from deep-history Native American sites to prove that North American cougars (Puma concolor) from all points of the compass were one animal, not different species, thus debunking the eastern-cougar-extinction distraction propagated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mere weeks before a 140-pound male disperser from South Dakota’s Black Hills showed up dead on a Connecticut highway in June 2011.

Stay tuned. We’ll let that spicy little Quabbin Country  story simmer in the Southwestern sun  a little longer. Back to feedback from week’s piece about local bobcats and the Canada lynx possibility.

The first response to show up in my inbox came from Fred Bourassa, a Shelburne Falls native who now calls Greenfield home. “I remember back in the late ’50’s/early ’60’s that there was a man named Ted Cromack, who lived on Rt.2 in Shelburne across from Call’s Corner Antiques,” he wrote. “Seemed like every week he would have a bobcat hanging from his front porch. I’m not sure whether he had dogs or not, but he certainly was an avid cat hunter. I’m sure a lot of old-timers from Shelburne will remember him.”

Well, although I’m not sure my hunting buddy, a Buckland native I call “Killer,” admits to being an old-timer, he is, at 72, no youngster. Did he remember Ted Cromack? Oh yeah, remembered him well. And, yes indeed, he did own a pack of hounds. The Killer also confirmed that he often passed the same roadside display Bourassa described at Cromack’s Mohawk Trail homestead. “Absolutely,” he agreed. “He was quite the boy, a well-known cat hunter. My uncle Roland (Cusson) and his buddies used to hunt with him back in the day.”

Those were the only hunting-related bobcat comments to come my way, although this week Greenfield accountant, Marine Vietnam vet and former trapping defender/activist Donald E. Graves of Buckland forwarded a copy of a letter he sent to President-Elect Donald J. Trump requesting that, because sportsmen and gun owners played such an important role in electing him, he should repeal ASAP the Massachusetts law enacted by 1996 referendum forbidding hounding of bears and bobcats as well as leghold traps.

The remainder of the comments came from nature lovers and wildlife observers who’ve had the pleasure of watching beautiful bobcats, and even possibly Canada lynx, around their rural Franklin County homes. These folks sounded much like my neighbor, Anne Echeverria, whose backyard sighting down the road from my home spurred last week’s column. Among the respondents were two women, Betty Schneider of East Colrain and Marti Auriemma, town of residence unknown.

We’ll begin with Schneider, a neighbor of sorts who sent a photo (below) taken last fell by husband Bill on his way to Greenfield. “There are many bobcats in my neighborhood,” she wrote. “My sister-in-law had four in her yard at the same time. How rare is that? She has photos of them. Beautiful animals! I guess the living conditions/food sources are great in East Colrain.”

Not a bobcat expert by any stretch of the imagination, I can’t speak to the rarity of seeing four bobcats in a group but did myself once see three walking cautiously through the woods from my deer stand. I would surmise that such groups are typically family units of mother and kittens. Once the young approach a year old, they’re big and it’s difficult to visually differentiate between adult and juvenile.

Because Ms. Auriemma didn’t pinpoint where she lives, we’ll just call it Recorder country and leave it at that. She and her husband had an interesting backyard sighting a couple of weeks ago that piqued their curiosities enough to push them onto an intensive Internet search for a positive identification. Their conclusion? Canada lynx, which isn’t impossible, given that there have in the past six months been confirmed southern Vermont sightings around the Deerfield River headwaters. What is there to stop such a cat from following the riverside corridors downstream?

“I’ve searched all over online and the animal we saw most resembles the lynx,” Auriemma wrote. “It was silvery gray, with no spots and a tail that was barely there. It was coming out of the woods on its way somewhere with a dead squirrel in its mouth. For several weeks before this sighting, I heard what sounded somewhat like a cat calling most nights (it was not a coyote, which we often hear). I had no idea what it was, but when this animal appeared that morning, I figured it must have been what I was hearing. We’ve seen a lynx in Colorado and are certain that is what we saw there, as there were signs posted warning not to shoot them. The animal in our backyard resembled this lynx, especially in coloration. Interesting?!”

Yes. Interesting indeed. I love it when readers share their observations, though lynx color can vary and thus may not be a reliable identifying characteristic.

Local observers interested in establishing at least a strong suspicion that what they’ve seen is a Canada lynx and not a bobcat should try to shoot a photo in these days of cell-phone cameras. A backyard photo led to the Londonderry, Vt., cat’s identification as a lynx. That photo is easy to find online. The distinguishing visual characteristics of lynx compared to bobcats are their shorter, blacker tails, larger feet, longer ear tufts, and especially hips that are elevated higher than the shoulder in a broadside profile.

Bobcats In The Neighborhood

A noontime phone call from a neighbor, a brief conversation, a spin around the Internet and — Bingo! — another column in the making.

It all unfolded quite by chance on Tuesday, after finishing a couple of morning tasks: first, a trip to Agway to buy dog and cat food and cedar shavings on senior-discount day, then taking the dogs for their eagerly anticipated morning romp atop hard, crusty snow that they literally fly on. Funny. Not a fresh deer track anywhere during the two-day deep freeze. Then, walking through small puddles and soft, sticky snow on Wednesday morning, still no fresh sign anywhere. I guess they ventured off to a nearby feed yard dominated by browse. They never go far. Tend to stay in the neighborhood, so to speak.

But let us not digress. Back to noontime Tuesday. …

The kitchen phone rings. I’m in the adjacent woodshed gathering armfuls of dry, seasoned hardwood to refill the iron cradle beside the wood stove. My arms full, I cannot answer the call but will see who called once finished with my daily duty, the final chore  always sweeping the hearth area clean of wood debris with a broom and handled dustpan. That done, I check the phone. It was neighbor Anne Echeverria from a hop, skip and a jump down the road. I hit the call-back button.

“Hi neighbor,” I respond to her hello. “So, what’dya see in your backyard?”
“Two bobcats,” she reported. “They were walking through the woods out back. I saw them through my kitchen window. I wouldn’t say either of them was large. One was bigger than the other. I watched them through binoculars. What beautiful, graceful animals.”

Although it may come as a surprise to some, Bobcats are not a rare sight around my Greenfield home. My wife was quite pleased to once catch a beauty passing right through our yard in broad daylight along the barn. The  highest-profile incident occurred more than a decade ago when, around lunchtime, a rabid bobcat went on a much-ballyhooed rampage through the Upper Meadows, attacking a neighbor in his western Meadow Lane backyard garden four doors down. Minutes earlier across Colrain Road, the cat had  threatened to attack a man and his young child near a backyard swing set.

Talk about a beautiful day in the neighborhood. The cops were quickly on the scene that day, instructing folks by loudspeaker to stay inside until the threat passed. It didn’t take long before the rabid animal was trapped under a rubbish barrel and shot less than a mile east of my home, at Martin Farm on Plain Road.

It was exciting summer drama, attracting Springfield TV news crews and quickly finding its way to the Boston news stations. My kids were living with us at the time and seemed to be enjoying the commotion. Not only that, but they were amused by my response. What’s that? Well, I went to my gun safe, spun the dial, pulled out my holstered .38 caliber snub-nose revolver, loaded it with five hollow-points and strapped it inconspicuously to my hip … just in case.

By then, I had grown accustomed to seeing bobcats in my travels in and around the Meadows. I’ve seen them deer hunting and  driving home from work late at night during the winter, when I have many times caught one or a pair thereof hunting the winter cornfield puddles for overnight waterfowl settled on the Colrain Road-Plain Road crotch a mile south of my home. I had only two “neighborhood” deer-hunting sightings: one a large, leggy cat a quarter mile across the road, south and west of my home, that I still believe could have been a Canada lynx because of its long legs; the other an adult female and two small kittens passing my late-afternoon, ridge-top, Smead Hill stand a mile behind my home. I got a good look at one of those kittens just before dark. Defying some type of silent warning signals from its mother, the alert little animal came to within 10 yards of me as I sat invisible against a large, twin red pine, face covered by a woodland-camo mask. Suddenly, the pretty little creature froze, lit up with caution brought by a sixth sense that detected something wasn’t quite right, and slowly turned and walked away. I was surprised to encounter such small kittens in December, but was later told by a state wildlife biologist that it must have been, for one reason or another, an unusually late litter.

Prior to moving from South Deerfield to Greenfield in the spring of 1997, and having spent a lot of time in the woods of Deerfield, Whately, Hatfield, Conway, Ashfield and Williamsburg — not to mention my days in the woods near and far as a land surveyor — I had seen just one bobcat in 40-some years. That sighting occurred while sitting still and quiet during deer season with my back up against the western face of the highest ridge off Henhawk Trail, an old Indian Trail and discontinued road through the Conway State Forest, connecting Williamsburg to Conway. I felt privileged to see such an animal furtively making its way through wet terrain just south of Sikes Hill, west of Cricket Hill and northwest of High Ridge. Where better to see one? Back then, in the 1980s, the state had conducted a trap-and-collar bobcat study right there in that general area, live-trapping and collaring just shy of 20 bobcats for the study. The one that crossed my path wore no collar. But, yes, Bobcats have coexisted with us in these parts for many years, despite the fact that most people will never see one.

Not 50 years ago, bobcat hunting with packs of trained, baying hounds was a popular cold-weather activity in our Hampshire and Franklin hills. I remember the late Bill Gaffigan of Buckland speaking fondly of participating in the annual activity with his Buckland/Shelburne/Ashfield pals. And don’t forget that before leghold traps were outlawed in 1996, local trappers sold many a bobcat pelt at auction. In fact, I ran into just such a man who supplemented his income trapping, outspoken Ed Rose — who some may have known from his Holly Barn restaurant in Conway. Yes, I will never forget that cold November day at the Burgy outflow of Henhawk Trail, where I caught Rose exiting the southern woods carrying a large, 38-pound cat he was quite proud of. He should have been proud. It was a massive bobcat, the largest he had ever trapped, he said.

Online information confirms Rose’s assessment. Male bobcats ranges in height from 17 to 23 inches at the shoulder, weighing between 16 and 28 pounds. Canada lynxes appear to the eye to be bigger because they have longer legs. But the fact is that both are classified as medium-sized wildcats and are about the same height and weight. Bobcats and lynx both have tufted ears, Lynx’s a bit longer. Another distinguishing feature is the tail. The lynx’s bobbed tail is shorter and blacker than a bobcat’s. Also, unlike bobcats, lynx stand slightly taller at the hips than the shoulder.

It isn’t impossible that Canada lynx have already or soon will pass through Franklin County. One was photographed in the southern Vermont town of Londonderry in June. Since then, sightings have been reported in Searsburg, Vt., located downstream from the Deerfield River headwaters at Somerset Reservoir. Canada lynx are classified as an endangered species, which, until very recently, had not been seen anywhere south of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

So, there you have it: a quick discussion of bobcats and lynx, all started by a random, friendly neighborhood phone call reporting a kitchen-window sighting.

You gotta love it.

A Good Read By A Local Coauthor

There’s a little something for everyone — be they waterfowlers, anglers, paddlers, collectors, historians, anthropologists, designers, you name it — in the University of Minnesota Press’ recently published “Canoes: A Natural History in North America,” by Mark Neuzil and retired UMass/Amherst journalism professor Norman Sims, a familiar local whitewater enthusiast.

This nice, sturdy, cloth hardcover — printed on thick, durable glossy pages — is a good coffee-table book that can either be read from beginning to end or by cherry-picking through chapters  of personal interest. “Canoes” hit the market in November and can be purchased ($39.95) online directly from the publisher or  from several other retailers, and at bookstores.

Just short of 400 pages, the book is liberally illustrated with beautiful historic artwork and photography in vivid color. The cover (below) displays Homer Winslow’s 1897  “Canoe in Rapids,” by permission from Harvard University Museums.

The forward is the work of none other than Pulitzer Prize-winning author John McPhee. A Deerfield Academy alum, longtime Princeton University professor, author of more than 30 books, and longtime staff writer for “The New Yorker,” McPhee is a top-shelf non-fiction writer probably best known locally for his 1966 biography “The Headmaster: Frank L. Boyden, of Deerfield.” Either that or perhaps his more recent “The Founding Fish (2002),” a book about American shad that partially focuses on the  Connecticut River. In that book, McPhee  relies heavily on expert input from Dr. Boyd Kynard, known locally as a   conservationist committed to saving the endangered shortnose sturgeon.

Why McPhee for the forward? Well, because he’s  a lifetime canoeist who’s often written about the activity in many settings over the past 50 years. His book most associated with North America’s indigenous watercraft is “The Survival of the Bark Canoe (1975),” followed by “Encounters on the Archdruid (1971).” In “The Founding Fish,” he canoes the Connecticut with Kynard acting as scientific guide and teacher.

The canoe is generally thought of as a North American invention  used by our indigenous tribes from coast to coast in the deepest historical record. Similar styles are found  in the Caribbean, South and Central America, the Hawaiian Islands and the Arctic, not to mention Asia and Africa. The best-known North American canoes were made of tree bark, especially white birch and elm supported by ribbed wooden frames, attached by spruce roots and waterproofed along the seams by applying spruce gum or other sticky pine pitches combined with binders such as animal fat. Accompanying birch- and elm-bark canoes in North America’s deep history were larger, sturdier dugout canoes made of straight hardwood tree trunks hollowed out by fire, hot coals and labor-intensive scraping chores employing stone and even ancient Lake Superior copper adzes.

The heavier, studier, larger and more durable dugouts lasted longer and were probably preferred on the ocean and  large lakes, such as Champlain or the Great Lakes. But the bark vessels were lighter for cross-country portages and more versatile, though more easily damaged in whitewater. When punctured, birch- and elm-bark canoes were not difficult to repair for quick recovery.

“Canoes” chronicles the versatile North American watercraft’s evolution from prehistoric to modern times, describing not only the people and tribes who built, used and maintained them, but the many different vernacular styles still in use, including Northeastern models associated with indigenous tribes and contemporary makers in Maine and the Great Lakes Region. Historic canoeists readers will recognize begin with Canadian fur trader Alexander Mackenzie, who crossed the northern continent in the late 18th century, a decade before Lewis and Clark’s explorative journey to the West Coast. Also featured are such canoeists as Henry David Thoreau, Eric Sevareid, Edwin Tappin Adney and many more.

Sims, a retired UMass honors professor in literary journalism who was enticed to the Journalism Department by founder Howard Ziff, now lives in southern New Hampshire after several years of Greenfield residence. A devoted whitewater enthusiast and active member of the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, Sims chose his new digs because it included a barn in which to store his small collection of Morris wood-and-canvas canoes featured in the book, his sixth.

Nuezil is professor of communications and journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. As the author, coauthor or editor of seven books, he is a frequent writer/lecturer on environmental themes. He is also a past board member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Friends of the Mississippi River.
************

 

On my daily walks with the dogs through secluded riverside habitat in the fertile Greenfield Meadows, I was been able to monitor the daily travels of three does and a young buck through much of the shotgun and blackpowder deer-hunting seasons, especially with snow on the ground. I grew quite familiar with the tracks of those four deer and often crossed them meandering in, out and through a floodplain Christmas-tree farm that provides hayfield grasses with berries and acorns along the edges. Once deep snow falls, the deer seek out wild rhubarb that they otherwise seem to ignore.

Early last week, a new hoof print made its appearance, that of a familiar fifth deer, this one a buck with a distinctive splayed track I have grown to recognize over the past five or six years. Honestly, I thought that deer was dead but, no sir, he appears to be alive and well … and plenty elusive. He was down where I walk for two days (post deer season) and has since vanished. He’ll be back.

This week, out of nowhere and quite by surprise, the totally unfamiliar track of a monster buck showed up. Inspecting the perfect fresh tracks in wet snow Wednesday morning, I for a moment considered that I may be looking at hoof prints of an immature moose. Yes, they were that large. But upon closer inspection, I knew that a big buck had left them. Although I didn’t have a ruler, I would estimate that the length from hoof to heel measured six inches, with prominent double heel prints on every impression. The hooves at their widest point had to be nearly four inches across.

I have in my neighborhood seen a young 4- or 5-pointer and a nice trophy racker sporting 8 to 10 points this year, but have an idea that this large track was left by a new buck, a corker. When the shooting started, this dominant animal must have laid low in the bottomlands, maybe on posted land, then come out to play once the gunfire died. Not surprising. Old bucks survive by wisdom … and good fortune.

Close Encounter

It was the last day of shotgun deer season, a Saturday, half-past noon, and the glare of a low, bright sun in the blue southern sky was blinding, even when filtered through the skeletal, gray, naked, wetland forest bordering riverside meadows. I wasn’t hunting. Just walking the dogs on our daily route, where deer are never far away.

For the second straight Saturday, I had lingered longer than usual at my morning reading station, where on sunny days the natural light is warm, illuminating and engaging. So, eagerly awaiting, the dogs were more than ready for their unrestrained morning romp, especially 5-year-old Chub-Chub, who, unlike his geriatric mom, Lily, going on 13, is in his prime and in top shape following a robust pheasant season in punishing cover. I, too, was ready to ramble. What had delayed me on this day was Peter Cozzens’ book, “The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West,” which I found gripping and difficult to leave.

Walking south into the sun for the first half of our half-hour walk, I was bareheaded and, even though wearing prescription sunglasses, had to raise my hand as a visor to shield the sun and get an idea of what was ahead. A week to the day earlier at about the same midday hour, I had run into two deer feeding under a large red oak just below the crest of a 20-foot escarpment leading up to the Christmas tree farm on the upper terrace. The white flash of a fleeing whitetail had caught my attention. Then I got a clear look at the second deer, a stubby little skipper that ran a few steps and stood broadside looking at me from 50 yards before following the leader, likely its mom, out of sight to safety. Could have been a button buck. Maybe just an immature doe.

I do believe that those two deer and others where I walk, and where my presence and that of my dogs is felt, do not view us as a threat because we never pressure, pursue or threaten them, just pass through on our daily rounds. They know my truck, my whistle, my voice and my scent, and are used to avoiding us by standing still and letting us pass in their habitat. When we’re gone, they walk right down my trodden path, unafraid. It’s sort of like the friendly dynamic between deer and farmers they get comfortable with. When farmers are out in their fields spreading manure, cutting hay or corn or performing various other seasonal chores, deer stand on the periphery or even right out in the open as they work. Coyotes will do it, too. But put a stranger out in those same fields and watch the deer scatter, aware that it’s not the familiar farmer they’re dealing with.

Anyway, back to that final day of shotgun season, we didn’t appear to jump deer where I had seen them the previous week, but I could tell from Chub-Chub’s reaction around deer runs passing to and from the upper level that they weren’t far, had passed through and left distinguishable scent at some point. You can tell by the way the dog squirts through the tangled bordering undergrowth into the wetland and just stands there on a deer run, still and straight as a statue, head high, looking and sniffing. Sometimes I’ll see a deer likewise standing still and staring back, but not typically.

After turning the corner, where wild grape vines are tangled through a patch of staghorn sumac, and walking 100 yards to the southwestern terminus of our walk, we turned 90 degrees east, following the edge of the wetland forest past an old beaver pond shielded by a 15-foot-high hardwood spine. That leg of our walk heads for a large, stately apple tree standing sentry over the Green River’s west bank, some  roots exposed in the sandy, eroded riverbank. About halfway to the fruit tree, dogs scenting rabbits through rows of Christmas trees, soft northern breeze blowing from me into the wetland, I heard what I knew was a deer run off from within 15 yards of me, just below the beaver-dam outflow. Blinded by the low, bright  sun, I saw the tail flash but little else.

When I put my hand to my forehead, I could see what appeared to be a long, tall, full-bodied doe bounding away. It jumped a little brook and stood broadside 40 yards away, head turned in my direction, ears on high, straight alert. That’s when I noticed small antlers protruding no higher than its erect ears, the right beam larger than the left, probably a 4- or 5-pointer. I couldn’t see the small rack clear enough to count the points. Its mature body would probably have tipped the scales at around 130 pounds.

Upwind, my dogs never noticed the handsome animal. They just continued making their rounds through the Christmas trees as the  buck and I sized each other up.

“Don’t worry, Buddy,” I said in a soft, soothing voice I often use with  a  pet. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Had I been hunting, that buck would have been dead. But, honestly, I believe I’m through hunting deer. If hungry, yes, I would kill a deer. But if not, why kill such a smart, beautiful creature that carries not a menacing or dangerous bone in its body?

I continued looking that buck square in the eye and speaking to him in a soft, friendly manner and, no lie, he stood there tall and proud, ears cupped in my direction, curious, cocking his head ever so slightly to the sound of my voice. Finally, after more than a minute, he spun 90 degrees from east to south, took two playful bounds and trotted away gracefully on an angle, in no great hurry. I guess my body language and unthreatening demeanor assured him he had nothing to worry about.

That buck had good instincts. He read me well.

Carlson Responds To Her Salmon-Study’s Critics

What? An attack on the New England Atlantic salmon argument developed by archaeologist Catherine Carroll Carlson in her controversial 1992 UMass-Amherst Ph.D. dissertation: “The Atlantic salmon in New England prehistory and history: social and environmental implications?”

You betcha! Dr. Carlson’s often-referred-to thesis has indeed been challenged. Which doesn’t mean Carlson is buying  the arguments of an obscure 2013 UMass research paper’s critical assessment of her conclusions. No sir. She’s firing back.

But first, a refresher on the Carlson theory, which shook the New England salmon-restoration establishment, and particularly those involved in the now-defunct Connecticut Valley program.

Based on the archaeological record from 75 known prehistoric Northeastern fishing sites, ranging from Newfoundland to Long Island, which were nearly absent of Atlantic salmon remains, Carlson concluded that salmon arrived with the Little Ice Age (1300 to 1850) and never existed in the inflated numbers reported in the earliest historical accounts. In fact, she even went so far as to suggest that some of the reports were intentionally exaggerated real-estate marketing ploys to attract emigrant settlers to infant New England. Plus, another factor contributing to overstating the salmon population was the misnaming of American shad as “white salmon” often mentioned in primary reports filed by early explorers and chroniclers who were not familiar with American shad,  the staple of anadromous fish stocks in southern New England rivers like the Connecticut.

And now the appearance of this 2013 report written by three UMass/Amherst researchers who conclude that the archaeological evidence Carlson based her thesis on was invalid because the screens used to sift the excavations were not fine enough to detect salmon remains. Thus, they argue, the archaeological record is unreliable and should not be and never should have been used to evaluate the feasibility of restoration projects, such as the failed, expensive state and federal Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Restoration Project discontinued after nearly 50 years in 2012.

“Thank you for contacting me on this,” Carlson wrote to conclude a recent response to an email alerting her to the report she had no knowledge of. “It’s curious that the authors and/or reviewers didn’t think to contact me. What does this say?”

Who knows? But it’s true that one would assume anyone critiquing a scholarly report written by a respected anthropologist/archaeologist from the same university would have had the courtesy to bring their conflicting interpretation to the author’s attention for potential feedback and discussion?

The 2013 UMass report titled “The use (and misuse) of archaeological salmon data to infer historical abundance in North America with a focus on New England” is the collaboration of S.F. Jane and A.R. Whiteley of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and K.H. Nislow of the U.S. Forest Service’s Northeast Research Station. The authors list three reasons for their new conclusion debunking Carlson’s findings:

1.) salmon bones were rare or absent at sites that still hold large salmon runs;

2.) the lack of salmonid bones in general at archaeological sites suggests poor preservation and/or recovery of bone relative to other fishes;

3.) given the presence of many non-salmonid andromous fish at sites where people fished and deposited bones, power to detect salmon bones in studies to date have been generally low.

To support these claims, the authors say they “present reliable historical accounts that help build a convincing case that salmon were historically abundant in New England rivers. We suggest that rarity of salmon bones in existing archaeological data should not have unwarranted influence on present-day conservation decision-making in New England.”

Hmmmmm? Doesn’t this new interpretation beg the question: Since when do “historical accounts” trump scientific research in such matters? Haven’t many historical accounts written by early explorers and colonists been proven by modern research to be biased, self-serving and unreliable? Worse still, think of the early “interpretations” that have by now been dismissed as pure rhetoric and propaganda peddled by victorious military, governmental and theological spokesmen and land speculators. So why should we believe without question the obviously fanciful folklore about walking across rivers on the backs of salmon, while dismissing the absence of archaeological salmon evidence at deep-history fishing sites where other fish bones and even fish scales 7,000 years old were recovered?

“Also,” wrote Carlson, recently retired Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Douglas College outside Vancouver, B.C., “I would continue to argue that Atlantic salmon had a brief increase in numbers in New England as a result of the Little Ice Age (LIA), then disappeared when the climate warmed.

“Dam-building began at the end of the LIA, after salmon had almost disappeared due to climate change,” she added. “So, dams are not the cause of the salmon demise. There’s so much new research on the effects of climate warming on Pacific salmon stocks that I am at a loss to understand why the authors won’t accept the LIA hypothesis. I completely disagree with their statement that archaeological data on salmon should not influence conservation decision-making.”

Carlson, a former Montague resident whose two sons were born in Northampton, is no amateur hack. A native of British Columbia, where she now lives and completed her B.A. Honors in Archaeology at Simon Fraser University in 1978, she’s a respected professional with a long list of impressive archaeological credits. After graduating from Simon Fraser, Carlson moved to the Royal British Columbia Museum, where for three years she worked in the bone lab, identifying thousands of fish and other vertebrate bones from archaeological midden sites on her Canadian province’s coast. She went on to do graduate work at the University of Maine/Orono, where her 1986 Masters of Science thesis involved the analysis of more than 30,000 fish bones from coastal middens near the Sheepscott and Damariscotta rivers. She then moved to UMass/Amherst, where she earned her Ph.D in anthropology and wrote her ground-breaking salmon dissertation.

Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., was her first stop as a teacher, working for 16 years as an associate professor of anthropology before settling in at Douglas College for the completion of her teaching career. She made a name for herself with her New England salmon dissertation, which was greeted by catcalls from the struggling state and federal Connecticut River Atlantic salmon-restoration proponents. That included officials connected with the Connecticut River program, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and virtually anyone committed to bringing salmon back to the Connecticut and Merrimack rivers, while also toiling to protect and enhance existing salmon runs in Maine and beyond.

Carson’s dissertation addressed questions as to why Atlantic salmon bones were absent at prehistoric sites across New England in places where historical accounts suggested that salmon were once abundant. She argued in favor of a climate explanation pertaining to the LIA, which would have shifted the southern extent of the Atlantic-salmon migration range to the Connecticut and, less so, Hudson rivers. Her report was the last thing supporters of salmon-restoration wanted to hear, and many officials tried to keep her findings hidden from the press. Then, when the press discovered it, the same officials did their best to discredit Carlson as wet behind the ears.

In recent discussion about the absence of salmon remains in the New England archaeological record, archaeologist Dr. Peter A. Thomas — who also received his Ph.D. from UMass/Amherst and played a key role in three Riverside/Gill archaeological digs that yielded no evidence of salmon — speculated that there may be hidden reasons why salmon remains are so rare. He said it was possible that indigenous people held Atlantic salmon in the highest esteem and thus disposed of their bones differently than other fish. He hypothesized that hunter-gatherers who attach special and maybe even sacred status to the king of gamefish may have thrown their bones back into the water rather than dumping them into riverside garbage pits, thus the absence or remains in riverside middens like those at the known Riverside/Gill site. But Carlson isn’t buying that hypothesis, either, saying she has heard it before; that the issue was raised, pondered and rejected during her dissertation process under the supervision of late UMass anthropologist/archaeologist Dr. Dina F. Dincauze, who died in August at 82.

Carlson then focused on her own Pacific Northwest to cite an example. There, she said, salmon remains are ubiquitous in the archaeological record at ancient fishing sites. “Why would salmon be viewed any differently out here?” she asked. “Our indigenous people had a first-salmon celebration. They’d celebrate the first salmon of the season caught with a thankful ceremony during which they’d throw the bones back into the river. Does that mean they threw every salmon’s bones in the river? I don’t think so.”

Still, in her mind, Thomas’ query was worthy of consideration because she had respect for him as a professional archaeologist and anthropologist with a long, impressive list of field-work credits and published reports. The same cannot be said of the UMass triumvirate that authored the 2013 report challenging her dissertation’s findings.

“They arrogantly claim I’ve misinterpreted the archaeological data, but that’s not even their field of expertise!” she emphasized, referring to the two environmental conservationists and a forester throwing academic harpoons her way.

“It’s true there have been are a few new sites in Maine with a very few salmon, which might suggest a very small number of pioneering pre-Little Ice Age colonizers, which makes sense,” she added. “The quantities of salmon bone are miniscule compared with other fish bone found in New England, not to mention comparison to sites in the Pacific Northwest.”

As for the 2013 Jane-Whiteley-Nislow report’s claim that the archaeological evidence Carlson’s dissertation was based on is invalid because the ¼-inch screen used to sift and collect remains was too coarse, Carlson totally rejects the criticism, despite more-recent excavations in Maine using 1/16th-inch screen that did uncover some salmon remains.

“At first glance, it’s same-old, same-old,” she wrote, referencing the triumvirate’s criticism, “Sampling, bone preservation, screen size, etc., all of which I can refute. …  The one comment that keeps coming back has to do with the fine-screening issue, which everyone out here knows is irrelevant to salmon. Salmon have large vertebrae that don’t go through quarter-inch screens. Fine-screening (i.e., less than 1/8 inch) is only pertinent to the recovery of small-boned fish, such as herring or tomcod (part of my MSc thesis methodology).‎

“I should probably write a rebuttal, and will seriously consider that.”

Stay tuned.

It sounds like this debate could get better. The Jane-Whiteley-Nislow report is just one interpretation regarding an open and complex deep-history issue, clearly not the final word.

Fire Warning, Chit-Chat From Orcutt Hill

Monday morning. The name Shirley Scott on my caller-ID.

Hmmmmm?

Who’s that?

With preplanned Monday-morning chores to complete ahead of Tuesday’s impending soaking rains, I delayed the return call till dusk, around 4 p.m.

Ms. Scott answered. I identified myself.

“Oh, hi, thanks for returning my call,” she said with palpable friendliness in her voice. “I’ve been reading your column for many years, have wanted to visit many times before and finally called. I’m so happy you called back.”

I had listened to her message and knew her key topic of concern. So, at least I knew where to start. But as it turned out, and not surprisingly, she had other subjects for discussion as well, including setting me straight on where Russell Dodge, featured last week in this space as an Ashfield resident, really lived.

“He’s my Buckland neighbor,” Scott reported. “In fact, that scabby-headed turkey he described was spotted staggering down to the foot of my driveway. I live on Orcutt Hill. The Ashfield line is not far away.”

Oooops! Sorry, Russell. Buckland it is. Not Ashfield. I should have known … or checked.

Returning briefly to that pathetic turkey, Ms. Scott says she has no shortage of the regal feathered creatures around her rural West County home but has seen only that one scabby-headed specimen, probably infected with the LPDV virus, or maybe turkey pox, both of which produce scabby heads.

“I wasn’t aware of those viruses affecting turkeys until I read about them in your column,” she continued. “Although that’s the only one I’ve ever seen, at this time of year, I often see anywhere from 30 to 50 turkeys in my yard. So, I’ll keep my eyes open. I hope that disease doesn’t spread.”

We quickly transitioned to the topic she had worked up the nerve to call about — the potential of forest fires from haphazard hunters tossing cigarettes butts while touring the heavily hunted hills around her home. She was speaking specifically of Orcutt, Drake and Putt’s hills, all popular deer-, bear- and turkey-hunting grounds dating back beyond her childhood days as a member of the Townsley family living in nearby Apple Valley, Ashfield, just a hop, skip and a jump south and west from her current residence.

“I was out walking (Sunday) on Orcutt Hill and it was really dry, the leaves crunching underfoot, and I was concerned that one misplaced cigarette butt could quickly ignite and burn down the whole hill,” she cautioned. “I thought it would be a good idea for you to write something about it in your column, reminding hunters to be awfully careful when smoking. Even after a heavy rain, the wind comes blowing through here and dries things up very quickly.”

Yes, indeed it is a fine idea to pass along Ms. Scott’s fire concerns, given what I myself have seen as a pheasant hunter working familiar coverts that are noticeably drier and crunchier than in recent memory. Not only that, but I often hunt with a smoker who’s taken more than one break to puff one down as I handle Chub-Chub through dense cover. I know when he’s smoking because he squats down and sits back on his haunches when he does so, with no near-catastrophic events to thus far report. But that comes as no surprise. Old Killer is an experienced woodsman, who obviously takes great care to extinguish his butts before moving on.

The many seed clouds I’ve accidentally sucked down my windpipe in high cover since the start of pheasant season is one indication of how dry it is. But more so I have been reminded of the drought in some coverts by my dogs’ reaction to a lack of water in brooks they have always sought out for refreshing drinks. Many are dry this year, which can affect a dogs’ performance. Gun dogs in need water overheat, lose energy and have a reduced sense of smell, the most important sense for locating and following fleeing birds. Thus, I have this year eliminated some trusty coverts, focusing instead on those with available water, be it from beaver ponds or streams still running strong, though not as strong as usual.

The best water sources are those that gundogs can walk right out into and submerge themselves as they drink. Such streams or ponds providing not only a remedy for thirst but also a cooling agent to relieve an overheated animal. I have literally witnessed a field-trial dog, accustomed to instant gratification during training and trials, break down to the point where she needed to be carried exhausted out of the field after an all-out hour of hunting through dense cover. Not a pretty sight, and not one anyone would want to repeat often. A dog could keel over and die from such exhausting events.

“How’s Lily?” asked Ms. Scott, a woman who has never laid eyes upon my 12-year-old gundog who’s finally showing her age. It’s truly incredible how many people have asked me that question the past month or so, most of them readers who’ve never met Lily but have read about her geriatric decline this fall right here.

I first speculated that Lily may be dealing with problems resulting from mini-strokes or TIA’s. But then several readers whose older dogs had over the years been diagnosed with “old-dog syndrome” or vestibular disease wrote to inform me that the vertigo symptoms I described were associated with it, an inner-ear issue that affects balance.

Well, this week the mystery deepened. Out of the blue, the bounce in Lily’s step improved dramatically and she’s running hard, jumping up into the truck bed and, from the wag of her tail, appears to be happy as Old Grannie Mae chit-chatting at the Senior Center’s tea and crumpets social. Hey, in dog’s age Lily’s pushing 90. Maybe she’s just getting old and just has her good days and bad. Even that is sad, though, if you dwell on it, because back in her heyday, she never had a bad day, punishing dense cover like it wasn’t there to produce showy, cackling flushes followed by lightning-fast retrieves from thorny wetland tangles.

Back to the dry, waterless issues confronting many New Englanders these days, Ms. Scott says the woodland brooks and ice pond above her home are bone dry, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s toured local woods regardless of the elevation. As a result, she says she hasn’t seen many deer around her home, but has seen them elsewhere, “I think because you see them where there’s water,” she opined.

Another example to underscore drought issues reared its head recently on Ms. Scott’s property, in her backyard water gardens fed by a prolific well that just keeps on giving. “We had otters showing up looking for fish,” she said. “It’s that bad in the woods up here. Dry as dry can be. A real tinderbox.”

Before wrapping up our conversation, I wanted to get Ms. Scott’s impressions of the mast crop up in the highlands that I really have not gotten a chance to evaluate myself. From her description, the upland situation seems to mirror that of the flatlands. But let her describe it. No card-carrying botanist, ecologist or forester, Ms. Scott is graced with homespun sense-of-place logic, which often trumps classroom learning from even the finest schools.

“There are plenty of acorns, which seem to have come down earlier than usual this year,” she reported. “The (commercial) apple crop is OK, but nothing like last year’s, and there don’t seem to be any wild apples to speak of. We had some early wild apples, but they quickly dried up and fell. Not a good year for wild apples. Too dry, I think.”

Take it to the bank, Ma’am. But just a word of caution: Don’t say it too loud.

Why?

Because soon global-warming denying bible-thumpers will be in charge in the US of A.

Oh my.

Chat With A Hilltown Squire

Finally, after overnight temps in the 20s brought two straight killer frosts, the front-yard Japanese maples were shedding their bright red November leaves as the upland horizons changed from their yellow to copper splendor, pinpointing oak groves and potential deer-hunting hot spots when acorns are on the ground. Yes, it’s the time of year for perceptive hunters to define distant oak groves to explore.

But enough of that. An interesting name appeared on my caller-ID Monday morning. It was Russell Dodge from Ashfield. He had called Sunday evening when I was at work. A devoted upland bird hunter, he and I for years competed for pheasants behind his Uncle Bob Thayer’s Hopewell Farm that straddled the Whately/Hatfield border west of the small, private airport off River Road. The reason I am willing to pinpoint the location of a special bird-hunting habitat now is that there are no pheasants there anymore. Sad but true. But back in the day there were plenty, with occasional partridge and woodcock to boot, plus migratory ducks stopping over in a small spring-fed pond, now a larger beaver pond covering the road we once drove through that parcel. Indeed, that once-productive piece of the Hopewell Swamp following the base of a steep escarpment that defines the western terminus of the river flood plain from Mt. Sugarloaf’s southern base to Hatfield Pond and beyond used to get stocked every week by state trucks and the Hatfield Fish & Game Club, its pheasant pen out past Hatfield Beef and the  dump.

I returned Dodge’s call to chat around 10 a.m. Monday. “Pushing 80,” he says he’s slowed down a bit and passes on dense cover he once attacked with fearless aplomb. He even  admits to not being sure  how much longer he can chase this lifelong passion that keeps him eager and spry. That said, he had just finished cleaning a couple of pheasants he bagged  in Hatfield earlier that morning, arriving just after first light with his trusted 9-year-old springer spaniel, Buddy, son of my own late gundog Ringo and Tiger Lily, today old and fading at 12.

Nearly a generation older than me, Russ has deeper memories of a Connecticut Valley bottomland dominated by working farms and a pre-development, reproductive pheasant population helped along by annual state-game-farm releases of surplus bloodstock hens. Such birds were, until the 1980’s, off limits to hunters and capable of pairing up with survivor cock birds to produce spring broods similar to those that fed under my family’s South Deerfield cherry tree out by the peony beds. We agreed that the pheasant-hunting prospects were better back when private coverts received far more birds than the state’s Wildlife Management Areas, which have multiplied like urban pigeons over the past 30 years. As a result, management areas today receive the lion’s share of birds and the hunting pressure, once spread much thinner over widespread private land, is now concentrated on an ever-growing list of state-owned coverts that are stocked at least twice a week and draw quite a crowd.

Soon, there will be no one left who remembers the good old days when pheasants could be found spread throughout the fertile valley, in its seed-filled golden rod and ragweed fields and their bordering cattail and alder swamps. Those were the days when farmers smiled and raised their arms for welcoming waves on your way through the barnyard. If you stopped to chat, the farmer would tell you when their property was last stocked, how many birds were released, and where down the road the next stop was. There are still a few places like that left. In fact, I hunted one Saturday and ran into an old friend passing by with a dead cow in his bucket loader — but these private coverts are going the way of rotary telephones, soon to be not only gone but forgotten.

A longtime member of the Hatfield club that raises and stocks some 250 birds a year to supplement state stocking in its town, Dodge has been a member of many Sunday stocking crews. He believes it’s no exaggeration to estimate that up to 35 percent of the birds stocked today are in less than 24 hours lost to predators like coyotes, foxes, fishers and especially birds of prey. Like me, he has witnessed sharp-shinned hawks fly out of a tree-line perch to catch a freshly released flying pheasant by pouncing on it just before it hits the ground, pinning it momentarily to the turf before flying back up onto the same muscular limb for lunch. “By the next morning, 30 to 35 percent of the birds we’ve stocked are gone and unavailable to hunters,” Dodge said, basing his opinion on decades of personal observation and stocking chores.

Truth be told, all of our pleasant, spontaneous chatter about this and that related to pheasants and wetlands and pheasant hunting unfolded after touching upon Dodge’s most urgent reason for calling me. With his dear gundog Buddy getting up there in age but still a flush-and-retrieve force in the field, he’d like to find a female mate to pass on what he considers to be a superior pedigree.
“If you hear of someone with a good bitch looking for a stud, let me know,” he said, admitting he may not be up to raising another dog himself at his age. But one never knows. Just last year I spoke to two 87-year-old hunters out hunting with dogs in punishing covert.

“He’s the best gundog I’ve ever owned,” said the man who’s owned many, “and I’d love keep his line going. It’s that good and, in my opinion, worth continuing. He sleeps right here at the foot of my bed and has no flaws in the field. He’s a great gundog and companion.”

Having felt the same way about many of my own gundogs, most purchased from professional field-trialers and breeders, I know what he’s feeling and will indeed keep my eyes and ears open for a good ole boy and friend from the hill towns.

—————

Although I hesitate to kick the rumor ball upfield, Dodge reported a peculiar turkey sighting worth sharing. Quite by coincidence, up in the hills, he ran into what he believes was the first turkey he’s seen stricken with the scabby-head disease we’ve all by now read about or heard of. LPDV and avian pox are viruses that have been around awhile, entering New England over the past five years and are characterized by ugly, scabby heads and sometimes leg scabs.

Dodge said he was driving when he spotted the peculiar bird crossing a back road. When he stopped to get a better look, the big bird appeared to be disoriented and actually headed right for the door he had opened.

“That’s when I knew there was something seriously wrong,” Dodge reported. “I believe that turkey would have jumped right in had I let it.”

That’s not to say for sure that Avian pox and/or LPDV are here in Franklin County, but, then again, why would it not be here? The disfiguring viruses have been detected in New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania and are said in online reports to be found worldwide and to have infiltrated the eastern United States. Now, with local turkey populations as strong as ever after a virtually snowless winter that minimized winter mortality, and by a dry spring creating optimal nesting conditions, maybe Mother nature is jumping in as a leveler to intervene with disease like only she is capable.

Perhaps other local observers will come forward to report sightings of wild turkeys displaying scabby heads and peculiar behavior. MassWildlife wants to know.

Big Conway Buck Bagged

It didn’t take Jimmy Recore, 54, long to score — and score big … real big — right in his Poland neighborhood of Conway during the ongoing archery deer season.

Yes, there he was, opening day and getting dark with 6 p.m. quickly approaching, positioned 12 to 14 feet high in his portable tree stand, rain sprinkling down, when he detected movement and saw a trophy buck slowly feeding his way through the woods on acorns.

“He was coming slowly and my first thought was that he was going to get to me too late,” Recore recalled. But this time his knee-jerk intuition backed by 39 years of bowhunting and 34 kills, was dead wrong, because, “He came to me as though he was on a string, walking right into a lane 20 yards away.”

That’s when Recore let his first arrow fly and missed high, the big deer moving temporarily behind an oak tree before popping back out into sight to continue devouring acorns, this time moving even closer, to within 10 yards. Arrow notched, Recore again let fly, this time delivering a bulls-eye through the vitals, piercing both lungs just a few minutes before 6.

The deer fled and Recore was all shook up, reaching immediately for his cell phone to text his wife, his daughter and his hunting buddy Jim Robator, who was the first on the scene to help find and remove the deer from the woods. It hadn’t gone far. There it was, less than 50 yards away, lying prostrate on the path Recore uses to get into his stand. “Wow!” Recore thought as he stood over this monster 8-pointer with massive, symmetrical, typical antlers and a big, thick neck and body to match. “This deer is bigger than I thought.”

Recore and Robator field-dressed the big animal, took photos (see Page D3) and dragged it out of the woods in the customary darkness all veteran deer hunters must learn to cope with while performing such messy chores. Curious what it weighed when they got it home, Recore hung it on his scale, which he believes is accurate, and got a “preliminary” weight of between 234 and 235 pounds. Then, by the time he got it to the Sunderland Hatchery checking station the next morning, the official platform scale there recorded the weight at 225 pounds. Could it have lost almost 10 pounds to overnight dehydration in warm temperatures even though packed with ice to preserve the meat? Yes, it’s possible, but why even go there? No matter how you cut it, Dude, a 225-pound western Massachusetts buck is about as good as it gets, not to mention the largest buck ever taken by Recore himself over a long, diligent and successful bowhunting career.

Like many an old-time deer hunter, Recore — who works at UMass for the grounds crew and helps out as an assistant girls’ track coach at Frontier Regional School — used the September opening of squirrel season to scout deer, assessing feed and sign through the oaks. He had seen his buck once while hunting squirrels, sure he could recognize its distinctive rack, but had no clue of its body mass until he stood awestruck over its carcass.

An old-school, throwback bowhunter, Recore retired his compound bow in 1993 and “went traditional,” digging out his old, 1968 Bear Grizzly recurve with a pull only a strong man can hold. Not only that, but he makes his own fletching for his arrows, including the one that killed the big buck, from the wing feathers of wild turkeys he’s killed. His broadheads, too, were antiques of sorts, from the Sixties, called Green Bear razor heads, with two razor inserts. Apparently, his antiquated equipment still works just fine in the right hands.

Recore decided on a European mount to adorn his den wall. His trophy buck’s head is now in New Jersey, where cadaver beetles will pick it clean, eventually leaving a white, bleached-out skull and antlers for display. The 5-year-old buck’s antler spread was 21 inches, again in the rarified Pioneer Valley air of spreads.

Not only does Recore use traditional equipment, he has a vintage way of thinking that’s rare among the dwindling contemporary hunter pool. He says his late father instilled in his sons two bowhunting values he has never violated: that is, never shoot more than 20 yards and obey all game laws. Though not critical of those who use newfangled deer-hunting accessories to improve their chances, he himself does not choose to “rattle,” employ grunt or doe-in-heat calls and attractants, and he doesn’t set up trail cameras to scope out his prospects and improve his chances. Plus, he says, he is not a selective hunter focused only on big bucks, big-buck pools and big-buck clubs. No, that’s not necessary in his world. “To me,” he said, “any deer killed by bow and arrow is a trophy. I’d rather be a woodsman than a man who relies on technology.”

As for observations that could be helpful to deer hunters coming down the stretch to the Nov. 26 end of season, Recore says the breeding season or “rut” has finally arrived. He started noticing scrapes on Saturday, a few days after the early snowstorm that blanked the uplands with up to six inches of snow last week.

Over the years, Recore claims that three dates have been particularly rewarding to him as a bowhunter. One of them, ghoulish Halloween, has already passed. But still ahead are Veterans Day and the day after Thanksgiving, both of which have been productive.

So, somehow you get the feeling that if Recore hasn’t yet filled his second tag by either of those two remaining prime hunting dates, he’ll be climbing up into one of his Conway stands come 3 p.m. to sit it out till dark, just like he did on that Oct. 17 opening day.

With a big one already in the freezer, there’s not an ounce of quit in Jimmy Recore when it comes to bowhunting for deer.

Hunting Forward, Looking Back

Whew! With last week’s summer-like 80-degree weather behind us, let the pheasant season begin.

Not that I’ve been pounding the coverts this week compared to days of old. No, not even close. But I did finally get out, did meet Frontier Regional School baseball coach Chris “Skinny” Williams for our first afternoon engagement, did give my dear, 12-year-old gundog Lily a test run that didn’t go well, and will indeed soon start kicking the hunting season into high gear with cooling temps brought by winter harbinger winds from the north.

First, Skinny, just a kid at 25, eager and willing to learn a new game. He watched Lily try to negotiate difficult, dense cover she used to cut through and bound over with ease and assessed her condition as “hurting,” which was right on the money. And he had never seen her  heyday, so had nothing with which to compare that day’s performance. This vestibular disease that seems to have progressed and leaves her balance off-kilter displays symptoms similar to human vertigo. In an open, shin-high hayfield of clover, timothy and rye, it would take a discerning eye to detect her occasional wobble because her tail still wags with a happy rhythm to match her joyful, light-footed gait. But put her in the dense, thorny tangles Skinny watched her struggle through Monday afternoon, and it’s clear something ain’t right. That, I’ll just have to live with, letting the cards fall where they may.

Minus the many personal sentimental reasons related to hunting over Lily in her prime as a covert-busting dynamo, my problems are at the max minimal with 5-year-old Chubby in his prime and in many ways, a superior bird dog to his mother; he’s bigger, faster, longer-legged and a tad more biddable, an animal that aims to please for the simple payback of love and affection. Yes, he has all of Lily’s finest attributes, and then some. So it’s not like I’m in a bad place in the gundog department.

That said, it’s tough to witness Lily’s demise, and even more difficult to leave her behind when Chub-Chub and I ramble off for hunts that she so loves and was bred for. I have no choice. Displaying her typical indomitable will during Monday’s hour-long hunt, she battled obvious balance issues and it took a lot out of her, tiring her more than I can ever remember and lingering overnight and well into the next morning. She didn’t even want to leave her aromatic, cedar-shavings-filled, box-stall barrel at 8 a.m. I may give her another go here and there in cover I think she can handle, but for all intents and purposes, it’s clear to me that Lily’s days as a gundog are finished. Happens to the best of them.

When I know the four-legged lady I affectionately call Lily-butt is suffering, or not eating, or incapable of normal geriatric-dog activity, I’ll do the right and honorable thing I wish I could have done when my sons were struggling with hospital infections during their final, tortuous days, waiting for their last death-bed breaths, connected to this and that outrageously expensive hospital contraption, none of which could save them. Talk about helpless, I’ve seen helpless and hopeless in vivid, living, poignant color that no man should be forced to endure. And they call it dying with dignity, which I can’t say I understood. Some may call that I witnessed dignity. Not me. Spare me, please.

Anyway, on a happier note, can you imagine a more humorous, potentially raucous hunting arrangement than the one that’s fallen into my lap this fall? Here I am an old man, 63, limping but still plugging, showing the ropes to a kid nicknamed Skinny — nicknamed because he was a plump young boy — hunting over a springer spaniel named Chubby because he displayed that body type for his first six months on this planet. Today, there is nothing Chubby about Skinny or my Chub-Chub, who may not be in absolute, tip-top hunting shape just yet, but soon will be an athletic, acrobatic, 50-pound bundle of sprinting, slicing, bounding, hopping, flushing and retrieving fury — an absolute joy to watch, and such a showy indicator.

My primary challenge this fall will be teaching Skinny Williams the nuances of bird hunting, kinda like he instills in his ballplayers the fine points of hitting and baserunning and pitching to hitters’ weaknesses to set them up for failure; of thinking middle when mired in  a batting slump fueled by overconfidence and over aggressiveness, or when confronted with a do-or-die at-bat that demands discipline, patience and total focus.

I myself was about Skinny’s age when I started to really hone my bird-hunting and dog-handling skills. I started pheasant hunting by walking two- and three-abreast through tick cover, stopping often to listen for birds fleeing from us through crunchy cover. Sometimes they’d fly as we closed in and get shot. Other times we’d hunt them down and shoot them on the ground, an absolute no-no when hunting behind a gundog. Along the way, after several annoying misses, you learn how to lead that straightaway shot that inexperienced hunters so often miss low, or how to let a bird flying right at you pass overhead before shooting. Like hitting a baseball, that particular shot takes discipline and experience. You simply see it flushing directly at you, spin around 180 degrees, mount, and wait for the bird to reappear going away. That’s when you touch off a shot, watch the bird drop and the dog retrieve it from a tagled mess. Oftentimes the retrieve is blind, on the other side of a tall, stream-side alder row, and interesting to watch the dog’s incredible instincts take over.

Skinny got a little taste Monday, just a nibble. It won’t long before he’s sitting down at the banquet table making a pig of himself. Promise. Let the good times roll.

Eventually, he’ll likely get married, settle down, buy his own gundog and go off on his own, teaching his kids and their friends the tricks of an enjoyable game that remains alive long after team sports. Me, I’ve been there, done that many times, and now I’m doing it again and looking forward to it. Great Spirit willing, this won’t be my last rodeo. Remember, I have two grandsons, 10 and 7, who may want to learn to wing-shoot and handle gundogs.

Then again, perhaps the boys will take the path of my own late sons, one of them their dad, both of whom as boys loved to tag along and watch the dogs’ flush-and-retrieve routine. In the end, neither of my boys had the stomach for killing. I had no problem with that, was totally accepting and understanding.

It may be difficult to comprehend but, to me, the worst part of hunting is the taking of life. The best part is healthy, challenging outdoor activity, figuring out the game, playing it well and sharing with others what you’ve learned and perfected.

Claw Scars Stir Speculation

With bowhunters sitting in their treestands these days, one of them, Steven Curtis of East Colrain, pulled into my driveway noontime Saturday. Meeting for the first time, he wanted  to share color trail-camera photos of a claw-scarred deer other hunters in adjacent stands may soon become acquainted with …  pondering  the possibilities.

This doe, probably in the 100-pound range, displays deep, unmistakable, thought-provoking, healed claw marks gouged across both  ribcages. Obviously, she somehow escaped a large, clawed predator, which judging from the available photographic evidence, pounced on her back and tried unsuccessfully to take her down for  venison dinner.

A bear? Bobcat? Um, dare we suggest … a cougar? Hmmmm? Who knows? The jury’s out. But in Curtis’ experienced-woodsman assessment, and mine, the scars holler wildcat, and most likely cougar. Yes, quite possibly a wayward young male disperser far away from his distant western birthplace, wandering far and wide eastward for females and his own new territory. Such a cat would be immature, inexperienced and not quite a man yet. Thus, perhaps, the doe’s miraculous escape.

Think of the possible scenarios of attack by such an animal, which would either jump down from a low, sturdy tree limb or off a shelf of mountain ledge overlooking a tight pass. Then again, yes, I suppose it could have launched the attack from ambush cover at ground level, though that seems less likely. Regardless, there are many sites that meet all three descriptions in our vast forested uplands, and none can be ruled out just yet without expert testimony.

Now, mind you that I have been told in the past by credentialed wildlife experts — respected sources such as former MassWildlife Deer Project Leaders Jim McDonough, John McDonald and Steve Williams — that bobcats and northern lynx will indeed take down a young deer by pouncing on its neck from above, simultaneously breaking the spinal column and opening the jugular with its teeth in one lethal fell swoop resulting in instant paralysis and rapid death. But a bear attacking in such a fashion from above? I have never heard of that.

I put out a feeler to an expert who has not yet responded. So I’ll wait for a response and I’ll keep you posted.

My guess? Well, dare I say another cougar disperser passing through my neighborhood? Yes. That’s the way I’m leaning. No, can’t be sure, but the scars along both of that Houdini  doe’s ribcages scream mountain lion.
————–

What an amazing outpouring of sympathy and amateur diagnoses from dog-owning readers concerned about my 12-year-old springer spaniel gundog, Lily, who’s getting old and showing visible signs of age.

Last week in this space, I described my pet’s second troubling spell characterized by unsteadiness on her feet and inability to jump up onto my truck tailgate, which has since her juvenile days been no problem.

Given many thoughtful responses to last week’s column, I have to believe Lily’s dealing with vestibular disease, a vertigo-like affliction related to the inner ear that’s basically untreatable, according to several dog owners who have done what they could to cure it and ended up just living with it.

Several correspondents said vets sometimes refer to it as “old-dog syndrome,” which I can live with because Lily is indeed an old dog, not to mention one tough bitch and alder-swamp buster. Her registered name is Old Tavern Farm’s Tiger Lily, and she has lived up to it every day of her life.

One correspondent from up the hill in Heath emailed me with his diagnosis and then, a day later pulled into my driveway with his 14-year-old bitch, Lois, lying contently on his black Silverado’s front seat. The disease more advanced than Lily’s, Lois displayed somewhat cloudy eyes and subtle side-to-side head movement. I witnessed this same head motion for a day or two after Lily’s first seizure-like event in the spring, but it faded fast and has not returned.

Though still not certain whether Lily will be able to perform in the field this year, I am not quite ready to write her off just yet. Last week, a few days after her latest setback, she maneuvered through a dense wild-rosebush border and continued south through dense, thorny wetland brush to flush a pair of woodcock, one after another. So let’s just say the instinct and desire lives on. I have an idea she’ll flush and return some pheasants in the coming weeks.

That said, here it is Day 5 of the pheasant season, and I have yet to slip into my Filson bibs and pound my favorite coverts. Still early, friends who’ve been out report flushes are few and far between, which doesn’t surprise me early. Pheasant hunting always improves after birds have been stocked for several weeks, compared to the Week 1 birds quickly wiped out by the opening-day onslaught.

Trust me, I will get out this week. I’ve been busy thus far, plus it’s been way too hot for my liking this week. So, let the birds multiply and the temperatures drop and we’ll be up to our old tricks, me and Chubby and Cooker or Killer or even new man Skinny Williams, who texted colleague Big Boiczyk Sunday evening about setting up a Saturday hunt. Though I hate hunting Saturdays and bucking the crowds, I just may take Skinny out, even if he is a school teacher. I seldom got along with schoolteachers, though there were rewarding exceptions. Skinny’s saving grace is that he’s Frontier’s baseball coach and I’m an old hardball man from way back. Plus, he’s a childhood friend of my boy, Johnny Pepyne, the infamous Frontier schoolboy entrepreneur. So, yes, this pairing of Smikky and me may just bear succulent fruit.

We’ll see. Well worth a try. I dare him to demand I raise my hand before asking questions. All that would do is stir up old issues.

http://bourseboursier.xyz/bourse-de-limmobilier-vergt.php bourse france paris option binaire robot gagner 500 euros par mois how to make quick money with shares how to make money as a school student how to make easy mney http://binaryoptions-uk.xyz/search?how-to-earn-money-online-with-your-website earn money mobile recharge ways to make money small town earn money abroad http://forexforall.xyz/?q=how-to-become-a-top-forex-trader earn money abroad http://newsfx.xyz/تداول-سهم-بنك-وربه/ فتح ملف في مكتب العمل بدون سجل تجاري http://fxarab.top/سوق-السعودية-تداول.php اسعار الاسهم السعوديه لعام 2006 كم عدد اسهم اهلي تكافل مؤشر السوق السعودي لهذا اليوم متى يطرح سهم اسمنت ام القرى للتداول متى يطرح سهم اسمنت ام القرى للتداول http://fxarab.top/السوق-الصيني-في-دبي-قسم-الاثاث.php prestamos issste puebla prestamos issste puebla como obtener un credito de nomina banorte creditos personales en df creditos personales en df http://prestmamosonline.xyz/necesito-dinero-urgente-en-mexico-df/ http://prestmamos2017.xyz/creditos-para-compra-de-terrenos-mexico/ creditos via nomina sin buro prestamos quirografarios bancomer http://mexico-credito.xyz/prestamos-de-dinero-sin-revisar-buro-de-credito/ prestamos quirografarios bancomer real time forex quotes instaforex.com how to make money from home by internet real time forex quotes instaforex.com how to make money driving a taxi in phoenix earn free cash online new zealand earn money in weekends city forex exchange earn money in weekends lucrative ways to make money at home lucrative ways to make money at home http://marketnzd.top/search?how-to-make-money-online-to-your-paypal how to make money from home for guys easy way to make money without a cv