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Friday, January 29, 2010

A Cold Hike at Longridge Deer Camp

 Winter is back here in the Connecticut Valley... -4 degrees this morning with twenty mile per hour winds, it was cold! Three inches of rain over the weekend left us with a foot loss of snow, and in the yard, we have next to nothing left. But today it actually went up to 8 degrees so I decided to take a hike in the heat of the day, up though a typical deer yard...I thought there was no snow, so I hiked without snowshows to my later regret. Below you see the Southern side of the Far Ridge...little snow. Lots of blowdown from last nights fierce winds..

Then you see the far Ridge Food Plot, on the North side of the ridge, with a good 14 inches of snow still there..not bad traveling because there was a crust that held me up pretty well.

Below is the tunnel we cut through our Christmas tree plantation last week. The deer love going through here, and we snowmobile though it. It reminds us of a tunnel cut through a huge Cedar swamp grove in Maine that we went through on a snowmobile trip some years ago. It was just like this but a mile long, and called the Love Tunnel...
While these pictures for some reason are not in order, at the end of my hike the sun had gone down, and a beautiful moon was rising. I've heard that it is being chased by Mars this month, and when it gets high above I'll step outside to try to see the red planet.

Next you see me entering the deer yard area, which is typically dark even on a bright day. The rifle you see is my Browning T-Bolt .22, which comes with me on many a hike. It is deadly on squirrels, headshots to 50-70 yards. None chattered today, but I also had my eye out for rabbits, mostly snowshoe hare, for the pot. They are white this time of year, and very difficult to spot without dogs to jog them.
Here is a rabbit trail, and if I had Beagles, this is where I would turn them loose...thousands of tracks this year, whereas last year there were hardly any. Go figure...

Of course, anywhere you find rabbit tracks in this part of the country you are going to see some Fisher tracks too...these were four plus inches, a very good sized animal.

Now, in the deer yard we can see some deer scat, and trails. Today, there was nothing really fresh to see. I have entered this yard in the past and observed many deer. When the snow is very deep they do not run at first, rather they check you out and decide if it is worth the risk to tramp through the deep snow...Today I saw none...indicative of the low snow level.

Apparently the deer had decided at one point to yard up, and had started to strip the hemlock trees of their bark. There isn't much nutrition in this, but it fills their bellies and quells the hunger pains as they burn off natural fat to stay alive. The tree below is so stripped it probably will not make it another year, though they ARE tough!

On the North side of the ridge I began to regret my not bringing snowshoes. There was easily 18 inches of snow, and while that is very little for this time of year, I had thought we lost a lot more. Fortunately the crust was decent in a lot of places and held me up quite well.  

Once I got to the trail system, and stopped bushwacking I found places on the trail that the rain had washed nearly to ground level. Then at temperatures way below zero, the ground froze and produced these heaving crystals over 18 inches high. In some places when you hit bare ground you will fall in over a foot, as the earth has heaved and frozen so hard that you are stepping on nothing but a world of crystal, and plunge through!
Below, as I approach the farm through the woods, I take a look at the mess ahead of me, all ice and snowstorm blowdown, and a huge clean-up project that surely won't start before spring. But all in all, a nice two hour hike, it was 8 degrees when I started and four when I finished. Didn't see a single creature, but know that they saw me! Another wonderful afternoon at deer camp!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Winters Afternoon at Long Ridge

  Today I just had to get out and do something related to hunting deer. Can't work the land, yesterday I felled some Maples for the deer to munch on during super cold spells, and burned a couple of brush piles...what to do?

Yesterday it went up to 36 degrees here, and we lost a lot of snow. I didn't even wear a sweater! Today it just about went up to freezing and was very pleasant. Tonight we are getting up to a foot of snow again, so I figured I would take my ATV out to the Western stand to loosen the hanger straps, and retrieve the foam seat from it before the mice beat me to it. Another week or so and the ATVs won't be able to make it through the snow, and we'll be on snowmobiles. I headed up the road we live on and a quarter mile away is one of our log landings you see above, to enter that part of the trail system.

Just above the log landing you enter the Western trails and I am headed to a food plot, both to service my hanger stand, and to check out any recent sign. You can see I have been up here  before we lost some snow on a snowmobile...

When I reach the food plot I can see that the deer have been on this one, digging down through a foot of snow to reach some greens. That will soon stop though, as we begin to accumulate snow, the deer winter in their yards and stop moving around. With a foot or less on the ground they are still active.

Twenty feet up on a Black Birch, shrouded in Hemlock branches is my hanger..Up I go and loosen the straps and toss the seat down to my ATV parked below...

After I got the job completed I couldn't bear to head back to camp quite yet and head on up the Western perimeter trail to see what else is going on. On quite a few steep inclines I have to work the Honda to keep going, but make it up over the top, and head along the upper reaches. A ton of tracks, mostly deer, fox and coyote, but I do find one very fresh set of Fisher tracks crossing the trail. These are just a bit bigger than a large Coyote track, and easy to spot by the way they kind of scrabble along. Then up and across the top and over to the Eastern stand, and on the way back to camp I took the time to mark trees that I plan to take out along the trail this spring. Not an exciting afternoon at Long Rindge Deer Camp, but a satisfying one! Hope you all were able to get out as well! For those of you still hunting, lucky you!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Experience An Evening at LRDC

The evenings typically start at Long Ridge about 5 or 5:15 PM as hunters return to camp from still hunts or stands. During the main of deer season  it gets dark here about 4:50 PM or so and it'll take 20/25 minutes for 6 to 10 hunters to all get back to camp.. some are walking, some on ATV's, some arrive in vehicles because they hunted spots up or down the road and way out. In any case, there are floodlights at camp and these can be seen for some distance as you approach from any angle in the woods. There is a perennial fire going in the large stone fireplace and first hunter back to camp stokes this to intoxicating levels. Sparks and the crackling of burning fire wood are what I first see when I come out. Because I do not like to school the deer on my elevated stands, I wait til well after dark to return to camp, so am often the last in. Coming across the fields to camp I can see the shadows of hunters around the fire, and it is always exciting to hear what they saw, shot, experienced. After unloading rifles and carrying in whatever gear we want, we gather around the large dining table that seats ten. On the table you'll find soda, a large variety of wines, liquors, mixers, beer, snacks, and the most delicious array of crackers and cheeses you've experienced. It's cocktail hour! Above you see a typical shot of a toast about to be doubt to a successful past year. If this is the first night of the season, it is time to clink glasses, refresh ourselves of family, work and personal news, and to renew long and enduring friendships...

After an hour or so of socializing, we begin preparing the main meal. Always, good Maine Russet potatoes, the best baking potatos grown, are wrapped in foil and tossed into the grill for a good hour or more. This give us time to gather around the fire, hoist another drink, admire the harvest, and to prepare our meats. Our meats are rarely purchased, almost always wild game harvested by us. Venison, moose, elk, mule deer, wild boar, bear, are all consumed with gusto. Several of the hunters actually enrolled in a first water cooking class and learned how to make up the most savory sauces one could imagine. These meals truly rival anything I have ever eaten in some of the finest restaurants in the East. Our best grill artist is a hunter from Pennsyvania, who can broil any game there is to tender perfection...Toss in a first class salad, and the crew is called in. Tons to eat, tons to drink - diets are put asides for deer camp, and mountains of gourmet food is enjoyed by all, delicious red wines accompany the meals and we all wonder why we cannot live like this year around!

After supper, of course, out to the fire and chatting over the possibilities for tomorrows hunt, our children's future, national politics, or the beauty of life itself. A lovely evening is far away, drudgery, if there is any in our lives, is far away, finances, The Long War, everything, right now, is far, far, away from us at deer camp this evening.

Several hours later, depending on how early one wants to rise to hunt, it is moved inside, deep in easy chairs around the reading table for a night cap, easy conversation, or quiet contemplation. It is the moment of first walking out of the woods, and this final moment of the day, that I have my deepest thoughts and appreciation for real friends, in a real world, so far from Washington DC, so far from where our brave youngsters are warding off the murderers around the world. Our camp is primitive, and modest. Just a porta-potty. No running water. But it is warm, and dry, and comfortable, and when filled with the voices and bodies of real hunters, a true variety of cool people who love nature, and family and life, then I feel surrounded by a richness and luxury I can hardly explain. I have sat in my easy chair and listened to the buzz of enjoyment around me, and been humbled into stunned silence and not a little thankful prayer. What a thing, deer camp!

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 - A New Year for Long Ridge Deer Camp

Here it is in January and very cold, windy and snowy. Above you see one of the main trails out of camp leading to the Southeast Bowl, the Trail Stand, the Ridge Stand and the East Plot Stand.  This is how it looked after being beaten to death by foot traffic and ATV during deer season, which was as rainy and wet as any I have ever been through.... The top photo shows it just over a month later, frozen solid, twelve inches of snow, and farther up, eight solid inches of ice under the snow where the draining water from rain froze in place at 5 degrees.

Like the pictures above, you see LRDC in it's glory during November, full of use, firewood consumed, and ready for a winters rest! Tired!

And here we are, snuggled in for the winters beginning, I mean, it'll drop to 20 or 30 below before we are done, and the snow will pile up 3 to eight feet by February. Right now it is sixteen degrees inside camp - cold but not cold enough to stop the projects we have started already. Got a new hanger stand for a stocking stuffer, brought it down and have just put it together. Come spring I will buy seven,  eight foot 2x4s, pressure treated, to make a twenty foot ladder. Up she'll go and I'll hoist this baby up and attach it sometime in August over a new stand site. We are off to a good start!

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