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.

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