Reports From The Northwoods

As our own archery deer season approaches (Oct. 19), hints of what to expect from a northern border state.

Bowhunters’ take thus far, after the first New Hampshire Fish & Game polling of checking stations, shows a 10 percent decline from last year. The explanation from Granite State deer biologists is that deer are tough to pattern during this, the early season due to an abundance of wild food in the woods, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who patrols local wild lands. Fruits, berries and nuts, known in biologist jargon as soft- and hard-mast crops, are plentiful this fall after what people who follow such things identify as a great (that is, dry) spring for natural pollination. Thus, in places where oak and beech groves exist, there are many acorns and beechnuts underfoot and available to meandering, foraging deer. The same can be said of wild apples and berries of many varieties, all of them important deer foods when plentiful. Add to that the many cornfields and hayfields available not far away from wild foods and, yes indeed, a man or woman sitting patiently in a tree stand waiting for deer to appear could be faced with a long, tedious, at times seemingly pointless wait.

The recent early-season New Hampshire survey showed a total of 1,109 deer killed by bowhunters through Sept. 27, compared to 1,230 at the same point last year. Obviously, that could all change quickly once the rutting season begins and dominant bucks are more interested in breeding than feeding. That’s when they become more vulnerable to hunters than any other time of year. And hunters who are adept at antler rattling and setting out phony doe-in-estrus scent trails can dramatically increase their chances of felling a nice buck.

No word or preliminary bear-harvests from Massachusetts yet, but with the New Hampshire bear season underway since last month, the first numbers have been released and they too show a decrease from a year ago and from the five-year average at this incomplete point of the season.

Through Oct. 1, Granite State bear hunters had harvested 424 animals. The breakdown by sex shows that harvest comprised of 266 males and 158 females. Bait hunters have had the most success, taking 318 bears (201 males, 117 females), while still-hunters and stalkers have taken 99 (61 males, 38 females) and houndsmen have killed the remaining seven (four males, three females).

Some Massachusetts hunters have clamored for legalization of bait-hunting here as a way of increasing a harvest that needs help. But so far the requests have fallen on deaf ears, though baiting remains a viable alteration in a state that annually falls below the targeted stabilization harvest of approximately 12 to 14 percent of the statewide population.

This year’s New Hampshire harvest is lagging 15 percent below the five-year average of 502 kills by this point of the season. Also, this year’s incomplete number is 29 percent below last year’s pace. Officials figure this year’s total will be closer to the 2013 harvest of 570.

Again, a big reason for the decline is the rich hard- and soft-mast crops available, making patterning the hunters’ prey difficult. For bears, add to the hard-mast formula the big, hard-shelled nuts like hickory, walnuts and butternuts, which they can crunch up and devour.

Of course, the baiting segment, which can overcome the negative abundant natural-food factor to a point, is over, and even when it was fair game, not everyone likes to go that route. Not only that, but even those who do hunt over bait can run into problems when bears ignore their Dunkin-Donut smorgasbords for more desirable wild foods.

The annual fall Franklin County League of Sportsmen’s Clubs turkey shoots are fast approaching, running from 9 a.m. to noon on Sundays beginning Oct. 25 and continuing through Nov. 22.

No other local turkey shoot offers so many enticing options. The choices at the East Deerfield facility include: Turkey Shoot (15-shooter line, $2 per shot), Rabbit Shoot ($2 for three shots), 100-Yard Blackpowder Shoot ($1.50 per shot), and 100-Yard Slug Shoot ($1.50 per shot).

Shooters must bring their own shotguns for the Turkey Shoot, but appropriate firearms are on hand for the other three shoots. No outside ammo is allowed for any reason. All minors must be accompanied by an adult.

An interesting, cutting-edge read for gundog, and particularly retriever trainers — “Absolutely Positively Gundog Training: Positive Training For Your Retriever Gundog” — arrived in the mail last week from Robert Milner, a fellow member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

It’s never too late to learn new tricks in the world of gun-dog training, and this veteran of the game brings it to a new level by relying on none other than Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner for new twists relevant to dog handling.

Milner gives tips on observing and selecting gundogs from a litter or kennel and shoots down trusted, overused methods of rule by force and intimidation. He says dogs have been bred for millennia to want to please. Thus there is no reason to be overbearing in the disciplinary arena. That’s where the word positive comes in. Milner is a believer that the trainer is only teaching a dog to do what it instinctually wants to do — please the handler, not run wild doing its own thing.

The author’s observations will either reinforce local handlers’ beliefs and practices or perhaps introduce something new and exciting that’ll show immediate improvements against old ways that have produced bad habits, if not embarrassing behaviors by sensitive dogs that do not react well to harsh punishment and loud, intimidating commands.

According to Milner, there’s no need for intimidation. The name of the game is gentle handling and hunting behind an animal consistently displaying joie d’ vivre while scouring dense coverts for wary game birds.

Milner’s book isn’t expensive and can be purchased from many online sources.

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