Harvest Time

The preliminary 2015 Massachusetts deer harvest of 9,910, released late last week by MassWildlife, was mediocre compared to recent harvests but not surprising from a western Massachusetts perspective.

Gone are the days when Franklin County woods most favorable to deer hunting were patrolled annually by eastern Massachusetts visitors hunting where their chance of success was greatest. Who would have ever dreamed that just the opposite would occur a generation or two down the road? Yes, that’s right, western Mass. meat hunters are now traveling to the eastern half of the state to supply venison for their freezers, be it during archery, shotgun, primitive-firearm or all of the above seasons. Why? Very simple. With higher deer densities confined in smaller patches of woods, the EMass success rates are far higher. Not only that, but in some deer-management zones, hunters can obtain multiple antlerless deer permits, and bowhunters have the luxury of setting up on deer that live along the edge of residential neighborhoods and are thus more accustomed to and less wary of human scent.

What it all adds up to is EMass numbers like those released last week. Although preliminary, the 70/30-percent harvest breakdown moving from the eastern to western halves of the state doesn’t figure to change much when state Deer Project Leader David Stainbrook releases his final report in the coming days That’s just the way it is nowadays, and the way it has been for at least 20 years. And don’t expect the current formula to change anytime soon. Not when the deer-management team intentionally manipulates its most effective deer-management tool — antlerless permits — to encourage hunting pressure eastward. That way, they can reduce suburban highway carnage where deer populations are densest while simultaneously building WMass numbers by drawing away hunters. Another factor in favor of reducing EMass deer densities is Lyme Disease, which is carried by deer ticks that can create serious health risks. Yes indeed, people living in suburban deer country have arrived at the point by now where they’ve developed tick and Lyme Disease phobia. Particularly vulnerable are children playing outside, and that doesn’t even address expensive Lyme Disease issues pertaining to dogs and other household pets as well as some livestock, especially horses.

As for the preliminary numbers, the eight Deer Management Zones in the western half of the state (Zones 1 through 7, with Zone 4 split into north and south) produced a total of 2757 kills during the archery (920), shotgun (1,347) and primitive-firearm (490) seasons. That represents a meager 30 percent of the statewide kill. Western hunters produced 22 percent of the archery harvest, compared to 33 percent of the shotgun and 31 percent of the primitive-firearm harvests. The eastern half of the state (Zones 8 through 14) registered 6,950 kills, which represents 70 percent of the statewide tally.

A harvest in the five zones west of the Connecticut River (Zones 1-4N/S) was 1,829, while the three zones bordered on the east by the river (Zones 5 through 7) produced 1,131 kills.

The state’s top harvests came from Zones 11 (2,141), 10 (1,920), and 9 (883). Combined, those three represent half of the statewide kill. Zone 11 is located in southeastern Massachusetts, mostly Bristol and Plymouth counties, Zone 10 is located in northeastern Massachusetts, all of Essex and some of Middlesex and Norfolk counties, and Zone 9 ventures into Worcester, Middlesex and Norfolk counties. So, in a general sense, the majority of our deer are now being killed in an area bordered on the west by Worcester and Leominster, on the northeast by the North Shore and in the southeast by Fall River and Plymouth … not by any stretch traditional deer country unless you want to go back to colonial times.

Franklin County hunters bemoaned the abundant hard and soft mast that made it nearly impossible to pattern deer last fall. And even when the fellas did “get into deer,” they had to kill them on the spot or expect their prey to vanish into a plethora of adjacent feeding areas where they weren’t pressured. Once those deer found a place to hunker down and feed, they’d stay when hunter pressure didn’t follow. And even when hunters did discover their new hideouts, they’d easily find another out of harm’s way.

In recent years, Stainbrook’s deer-management team has been trying to reduce deer densities in eastern Zones 10 through 14, stabilize them in central Zones 7 through 9, and increase them in Zones 1 through 6. In 2010, when the western Zones 2 through 7 had estimated deer densities of 12 to 15 per square mile, the management team wanted to up levels to 15 to 18. Last year, Stainbrook decided “to make the goals a more realistic 12 to 18 deer per square mile,” with some areas obviously holding more than others.

“It’s tough to gauge deer population in a place like Zone 4 North when I’m getting conflicting calls telling me there are too many deer in one area while people nearby are asking where all their deer went,” Stainbrook said. “We’re working on increasing populations out there but are up against it in old- and medium-growth forest,” where deer populations stay flat at best. Deer numbers grow quicker in areas where responsible logging is regularly occurring, leaving in its wake thick hardwood-regeneration-phase plots rich in winter browse.

“You can’t beat browse like sugar-maple saplings that sprout up after someone’s maple orchard is thinned out,” Stainbrook said. “We encourage landowners to keep their woodlots healthy and vibrant through forest-management plans that promote wildlife and healthy ecosystems.”

Many local hunters groused this past season about winter-kill and coyote predation as two major factors leading to a perceived reduced deer herd from 2014. Well, Stainbrook paid heed and did explore that speculative assessment by encouraging MassWildlife’s Connecticut Valley Wildlife District staff to investigate any reported deer carcasses. The problem is that wildlife biologists found no evidence of high winter mortality by starvation or predation during the difficult winter of 2014-15.

Another factor contributing to local hunters’ lack of success during the most recent deer season can be attributed to an ever-shrinking hunter pool in Franklin County woods that were once inundated with enthusiastic hunters moving deer throughout the day and improving everyone’s chance of seeing and/or killing them. Now, during a warm snowless season like the most recent, an ever-diminishing hunter pool can really be up against it to fill deer tags in habitats chock full of acorns, apples, grapes and you name it.

Potentially, an entirely different, more favorable scenario will unfold for deer hunters next fall. At least that’s what the folks most frustrated this past year are hoping.

Fact is, you never know. That’s a challenge sportsmen welcome, and can come away victorious with due diligence.

– – –

Longtime North Orange reader Micheal Moore (no, not that Michael Moore) chimed in with an interesting local rattlesnake tidbit related to the mention here of a controversial MassWildlife proposal to stock Timber Rattlers on a secluded Quabbin Reservoir island.

Moore recalls “reading in your (news)paper or the Brattleboro Reformer about a forest fire in West Brattleboro in 1958 or 1959, when thousands of Timber Rattlesnakes poured out of the ledges and spooked firemen. At this time, they were pretty sure they’d eradicated them from most of Vermont, so everyone was shocked. The point I took from the incident was that even though the woods were apparently full of them, no one seemed to see them, was bitten by them or had their dogs bitten.

“You suspect firemen from southern Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire must have hunted, fished or hiked those woods, and some of them probably even lived in the woods. Still, never a reported snakebite. I’ve since tried to find the article to no avail. Otherwise I’d forward it, but I’m thinking you’re likely handier than me at news research, so it might be something you could come up with.”

So far, after cursory Internet searches using various keyword combinations, no further information on the reported Brattleboro wildfire snakes. If anyone has recollection or documentation, please do respond to the email address listed below.

Meanwhile, in conversation with Recorder administrative assistant Diane Poirier Tuesday afternoon about the possibility of uncovering an old Recorder clipping about the snake-infested Brattleboro inferno, she immediately recognized the eerie tale learned as a child from her mother, a Gill native.

“Oh yeah, I remember that story,” she said with a little shiver. “It used to give us the heebie-jeebies.”


Further research necessary. Hopefully, it’ll bear succulent, salubrious fruit.

Rattlers Revisited

The deluge of timber rattlesnake comments continues following two weeks of discussion here about the state’s plan to establish a population of the venomous snakes on Mt. Zion, the large, isolated Quabbin Reservoir island and no-man’s land that’s off limits to humans.

MassWildlife’s justification for the proposal is that no reptile is slipping faster toward extinction than the timber rattler, and thus it’s high time to reverse that troubling trend. That said, state officials and proponents can’t with a straight face pretend they didn’t expect some sort of clamor once their plan leaked out. Yes, one had to presume the inevitability that a public largely unaware that it has always lived with rattlesnakes (and poisonous copperheads, for that matter) without ever having seen one was bound to react hysterically when apprised of the plan. And, yes, the public knee-jerk reaction was indeed negative. Oh what a stir it created. Poisonous snakes can do that to people, especially card-carrying ophidiaphobes, of which there are many. But let’s be honest. Fair or not, is there a more predictable target of public scorn than government agencies and their humble public servants? So let’s not act surprised by the unfavorable, accusatory buzz, particularly that emanating from the North Quabbin Region.

Put on your thinking caps and consider this: Given the fact that, no matter what the state says, there are already rattlesnakes top to bottom in the Pioneer Valley’s hills and dales, wasn’t it only a matter of time in these days of global warming and reforestation before rattlesnakes started coming back like bears and moose and many other formerly displaced wildlife species before them? Well, maybe not, considering the state disclosure that this endangered reptile is in serious peril due to road-kill and human contact. But it still makes sense that a warming climate would eventually open the possibility for more rattlers and copperheads, which have always been more prolific in warmer southern climes than here.

Anyway, most of the feedback this space has fielded was aimed at its own speculation that, despite claims that the last places of refuge for rattlers in the Bay State are located in Hampden and Hampshire counties and the Blue Hills area south of Boston, they are here, too, if you know where to search. Problem is that fewer and fewer folks are patrolling remote, difficult woods, particularly high, ledgy spines with snake-inviting talus slopes, shale beds and leg-breaking rock slides. It’s not the kind of terrain hikers gravitate to for summer frolic, in many cases because savvy upland explorers know that’s precisely where you’re most apt to encounter potentially dangerous serpents from the evil underworld.


Now for a quick look at the more interesting feedback to cross this desk in the past week:

• The most detailed correspondence came by email late last Thursday night from a Colrain man. He wanted to tell a tale that unfolded before his very eyes “five or six years ago” while walking his two unrestrained dogs along the ridge-top trail following the Pocumtuck Ridge overlooking Wapping and Old Deerfield, south of the Eaglebrook School ski slopes. Yes, it was up there that he spotted something halfway onto the trail in front of him which caught his attention and turned out to be “the biggest snake I had ever seen in the wild,” estimated at “three or four feet long and very thick.” Because his dogs had already passed the viper without incident, the intrigued hiker decided to investigate closer, which may or may not be legal when dealing with an endangered species.

“It was elongated, motionless and brown,” he wrote. “In the back of my mind I wondered if maybe it was a rattler because I had heard of sightings on the Holyoke and Mt. Tom ranges. Like an idiot, I picked up a very long branch … and slowly extended it toward the snake, which promptly snapped into a tight coil with the tail rattling away at the center.”

He thought about reporting his sighting to MassWildlife but never got around to it because he figured it wasn’t all that rare.

• Earlier last Thursday, around 9 a.m., the home phone rang and it was a familiar Greenfield man who made it clear that he wanted to remain anonymous. An avid hiker who’s no stranger to upland terrain where rattlers are most apt to lurk, he himself has never encountered one but assumes he’s unknowingly passed many in his travels. He cited hiking trails on Mount Toby and Northfield Mountain as his two most likely haunts to contain rattlers, but was more interested in recounting the tales told many times by his mother, who grew up adjacent to what is today Greenfield’s Cherry Rum Plaza when it was undeveloped, wooded, swampy terrain during her childhood. She was fond of telling her sons of the rattlesnakes killed by neighborhood boys near a well-known den along the southern edge of White Ash Swamp. This den was associated with an outcropping of ledge overlooking Cherry Rum Brook. So, take it to the bank that even today, 70 years later, if someone seriously searched for rattlers along the ridgeline overlooking the Connecticut River, exploring also the steep, stony, eastern and/or western slopes of Rocky Mountain all the way from Canada Hill to Bears Den overlooking Bingville, there’s a good chance you could find a rattler.

• That bold prediction focused in Greenfield gains credence when you consider additional feedback that arrived last week about a mountain north of the state border, across the Connecticut River from Brattleboro, Vt., named here last week (Mt. Wantastiquet) as the 1961 site where a power-company laborer had killed a rattler displayed in Adams Donuts’ parking lot. Considering what correspondent Wendy Gaida reported about that site, it’s more than likely that rattlers still exist there. Ms. Gaida responded to last week’s column to report that she grew up in North Hinsdale, N.H., at the base of that mountain whose Indian name she had never heard until she was an adult. No, the only name she knew for Wantastiquet was the vernacular “Rattlesnake Mountain,” where her family forbade summer play due to rattlesnake fears.

“We were told there were thousands of rattlesnakes up there,” she recalled. “Everyone talked about it, including my grandparents, who also lived in North Hinsdale. They summered dry cows up there but never allow us on the mountain except in the winter.”

• The final feedback arrived from none other than a brother-in-law nestled into faraway idyllic retirement on a gentleman’s farm in Waldo County, Maine. Spurred by mention here last week of the ballad “On Springfield Mountain,” about a young Wilbraham man killed by a rattlesnake in 1761, he had a tale to tell from his childhood on Somers (Conn.) Mountain, a stone’s throw from the Springfield Mt. of Woody Guthrie ballad fame. He recalled capturing a snake and placing it in a grass-filled pickle jar as a curious 5- or 6-year-old Somers lad. That snake became part of the family, transmitting absolutely no bad vibes until neighbor Chan Hubble stopped by on his way through and the young lad decided he may want to see his captured pet, which he fetched and brought just outside the hilltop home’s front door.

“There, to my astonishment, upon looking into the jar, old Chan went absolutely wild, immediately screaming, ‘Copperhead!’ and dumping my little snake out on the ground in front of my mother and me. Once the snake was out, Mr. Hubble leaped unexpectedly into the air time and again — each time crashing down with his heavy boots on my precious little snake and bellowing, ‘Copperhead!’
“To this day, I have no idea what type of snake that was. And, of course, once old Chan was done dancing, which lasted the better part of a minute, a forensic scientist would have had trouble determining that the mass on the ground was a snake, never mind what type of snake it was.”

Oh yes, snakes sure can bring out the worst fears in a man, especially a committed ophidiophobe, which ole Chan Hubble may very well have been.

That young boy, now a trusted brother-in-law and devoted naturalist, got a close look at the reaction one can expect when such fears kick into high gear.

You can’t make it up.

Rattler Feedback

Lots of feedback here and there about last week’s column confirming a MassWildlife proposal to establish a population of endangered Timber Rattlesnakes on a secluded, unspecified Quabbin Reservoir island since dubbed “Rattlesnake Island” by the Boston Globe.

“What are they, nuts?” were the most common words uttered. Followed by, “Why would anyone do that? I don’t like snakes.”

Well, the decision likely wasn’t based on public perception of rattlesnakes. No, not quite. More important was the reality that the population of a once prevalent New England reptile with a well-defined purpose in the big picture is sliding toward extinction, and wildlife officials charged to prevent such end games, and to save and protect endangered species, are determined to just that. Thus the recent proposal, which would entail capturing enough wild Bay State rattlers to be shipped to the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, R.I., where they’ll be nurtured to optimal health for breeding and produce some 150 progeny to be released in a couple of years on Rattlesnake Island.

The first email to show up after last week’s column hit the street came from Greenfield native Larry Jubb, who had a tale to tell. The next arrived in rapid fashion from a Greenfield Meadows resident and Wilbraham native, who wanted to share an old childhood song about an unfortunate 18th-century death by rattlesnake bite on Hampden County’s Springfield Mountain.

Let’s start with Jubb, who was eager to talk when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon. Contrary to the column’s suggestion that few if any can recall a Franklin County rattlesnake tale in their lifetime, Jubb had a humdinger. He told the story like it happened yesterday, despite the fact that it occurred more than 50 years ago, in 1961. Yes, he remembers it well … seated for morning coffee at Adams Donuts in Greenfield when a fella from Green Mountain Power Co. drove into the parking lot with a show-and-tell rattlesnake he had killed across the river from Brattleboro, Vt., on Wantastiquet Mt., in West Chestefield, N.H. No, that Indian place name for the rocky mountain clearly visible from Interstate 91 had no rattlesnake context. According to William Bight’s “Native American Place Names of the United States,” the name Wantastiquet probably suggest “lost-river place,” and is also found in the Windsor, Vt., area.

“As I recall, the dead rattler in the back of that pickup truck was two or three feet long,” Jubb said. “That’s the first and last local rattler I’ve ever seen, but I’ve heard of others.”

For instance, he cited the day more than a decade ago when he was patrolling Poplar Mountain Road between Erving and Northfield in his Sheriff’s Triad cruiser up by Rose Ledge and the Hermits’ Caves. Parked side of the road was a maroon vehicle with state insignias on the doors. He stopped to chat with the fella driving and learned that he was doing rattlesnake-habitat research, not far from Northfield’s Rattlesnake Mountain. Not only that, but the man was offering a $500 reward for anyone who could lead him to rattlesnakes. That really stuck in Jubb’s memory.

Later, in basically the same neighborhood, just down the hill along the Millers River in Farley, he asked an elderly lady he remembered only as Mrs. Kersavage if she knew anything about rattlesnakes in the area. Oh yeah, indeed she did. In fact, rattlers were once a popular topic in her hometown, she told him, because as a young girl she used to be terrified of the poisonous vipers when walking daily to and from the old schoolhouse.

“She told me she thought the state brought in blacksnakes to eradicate rattlesnakes,” he said. “I can’t vouch for that. First time I ever heard of such a thing. But that’s what she told me.”

Meanwhile, as for the Greenfield Meadows woman who reached out by email to comment on rattlesnakes, Amy Donovan wanted to share an old Wilbraham ballad “On Springfield Mountain” she learned to sing as a child. An 1989 Minnechaug Regional High School graduate, she sent along the Merrick Family version of the song made famous by none other than Woodie Guthrie. It’s the tale of unfortunate Timothy Merrick, 22, of South Wilbraham (now Hampden). Engaged and soon to be married to sweetheart Sarah Lamb, Merrick died before his wedding day, on Aug. 7, 1761, from a rattlesnake bite sustained while walking through his father’s field. The song was likely taught to local kids post-tragedy, with the hope that they’d always be on the lookout for snakes.

In 1982, when a “Springfield Union” article speculated that Mirrick’s was Massachusetts’ last recorded death by rattlesnake bite, a researcher found it not to be so. Yes, a man named William Meuse found another death by rattlesnake on May 1, 1778, also in Wilbraham. You can bet careful research of dusty old town records across New England would identify other snakebite mortality, and not only by rattlesnakes. Copperheads, another native, poisonous New England snake, were another hazard. In fact, not five years ago a press release out of the Mount Tom State Reservation warned outdoor enthusiasts to be wary of copperheads after a hiker was bitten. Many years earlier, longtime residents will recall a news story about a nest of rattlers found under a ticket booth or scaffolding at Mountain Park, an old amusement park located on the mountain’s eastern slope, overlooking Route 5, Interstate 91 and downtown Holyoke.

Rarely seen, Timber Rattlers are still around if you know where to look. And soon, if the proposed Quabbin program comes to fruition as expected, the North Quabbin Region population will increase. That potential development has been greeted with knee-jerk opposition and hysteria. MassWildlife experts predict no one will know the difference. Outdoor enthusiasts aren’t so sure.

As usual, the reality likely falls somewhere between the public hysteria and MassWildlife’s soothing assurances of safety.

Rattlesnake Racket

It’s true that the bright waxing moon in the cold winter sky shouldn’t evoke visions of vipers. Yet, go figure, a long persecuted New England snake is indeed this week’s unseasonable topic.

Snakes, in January? you ask, bemusedly scratching at your temple with your index finger.”

Yeah, snakes in January. Better still, Timber Rattlesnakes — those venomous vipers of colonial New England lore that once sent shivers up the spine of many a man, woman and child working around the wood pile or traipsing barefoot through the summer woods back in the day. Nowadays, you can still find this feared, misunderstood, endangered reptile locally around the talus slopes of Mounts Tom and Tekoa south and west of here. But when’s the last time you heard of a rattler sighting anywhere in Franklin County? Likely never, and for good reason. According to an information sheet published by MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP), rattlesnakes no longer exist in this county, which may or may not be true … probably not.

Common sense’ll tell you that a man could probably cross the path of a rattler if he went searching in remote pockets of local, stony mountains, even around the cliffs of the Sugarloafs north and south, or maybe rocky outcroppings and treacherous upland rock slides on Mt. Toby or high in our western hills — places like, a wild guess, the western slope of High Ridge overlooking foreboding Guinea Gulch and the beautiful Conway State Forest.

The indigenous people who greeted the first European explorers to New England were often adorned in clothing that displayed traces of our native rattlesnake, be it decorative skins worn like belts around the waist, bands for the arms or legs, or long, sharp, ominous fangs strung into a string of beads or onto clothing worn ceremonially or for formal wear. So, it’s a fact that this poisonous snake was here, and not uncommon, either, until Euro-Americans decided they were dastardly demons that must be extirpated, the sooner the better. Thus bounties were offered and the wanton destruction began, bringing about a rapid decline that now borders on extinction. Yes, much like the native folks who wore their skins and fangs with pride as symbols of the underworld, from the colonial perspective, the only good rattlesnake was a dead one, and killing them was encouraged.

So now, get a load of this — wild but true — there’s currently a MassWilfdlife proposal supported by respected wildlife biologist Tom French, Division of Fisheries and Wildlife assistant director for NHESP, to establish a wild population of Timber Rattlers on a large, unspecified Quabbin Reservoir island. Although the proposal has not yet been approved, it seems likely that it will be, given the NHESP responsibility to protect and enhance endangered species in the name of conservation. Plus there’s added incentive to rebuild our rattlesnake population now, before it diminishes even further: never before has there been a population decline close to that of the past 30 years. No question, it’s time to act.

I got wind of the proposal more than a month ago from a reliable North Quabbin Region source, who, frankly, I doubted a little bit. Yes, during a telephone conversation with always-affable Millers River Fisherman’s Association founder Peter Mallet of New Salem, this country character questioned the wisdom of stocking rattlesnakes on the Quabbin, remote island or not, and claimed that the North Quabbin Trails Association was up in arms about it.

“I know it sounds crazy,” Mallet gasped, “but this is real. I got it straight from a game warden. Don’t these people know rattlesnakes can swim?”

Well, in fact they do. French-generated information about the proposal furnished by MassWildlife Information and Education guru Marion Larson acknowledges that rattlesnakes are good swimmers but speculates that despite this ability, a small, isolated population would have no reason to leave a secluded, paradisiacal Quabbin island believed to have supported historic rattlesnake populations before reservoir flooding dramatically changed the landscape. Although that may well be true, it is far from absolute, especially if after many decades overpopulation stimulates forced migration in all directions.

Something gleaned from the short narrative written in favor of the Quabbin proposal that’s likely misleading is the declaration that “all of the documented bites from wild snakes since colonial times can be counted on one hand, and there have been no life-threatening encounters since colonial times on record.” Although this may be true, the words to focus on are “documented” and “on record,” both highly rhetorical. The question is: How many rattlesnake bites from the 17th and 18th centuries were “documented,” that is formally reported and recorded by town, county and/or state officials? The answer is likely few. And to claim that no one ever died from a snake bite is at best weak. Cursory research of the colonial period reveals many reports of rattlesnakes and a fear of snake bites to people and livestock alike.

Indians were experts at treating poisonous snake bites. The first move was to open the skin with a knife and suck the blood from the wound at the point where the fangs penetrated the body. Then they had wild-plant antidotes and salves or powders to counter the effects of whatever poison remained. But it is highly unlikely that no New England pioneers from the wilds of early uninhabited pockets of New England succumbed to snake bites. Though probably not prevalent, random death had to occur unless accompanied by Indian scouts or maybe equipped with a pouch of herbal remedies learned from them.

Because rattlesnakes are now an Endangered Species, it is absolutely illegal to kill them. The MassWildlife map pinpointing these snakes’ current range show them present in Berkshire, Hampshire and Hampden counties and south of Boston in the Blue Hills region. They can be identified by their triangular head and narrow neck but can vary in color from jet black to sulfur-yellow with black, brown, or rust-colored blotches separated by cross bands on the back and sides. What distinguishes the Timber Rattler from other rattlesnakes is their lack of stripes or bands on the head and face, and their solid black tails. Adults measure 3 to 5 feet in length, not a pretty sight to someone who comes upon one unexpectedly.

According to the NHESP information pamphlet, Timber Rattlers are most often found in mountainous terrain characterized by second-growth deciduous or coniferous forest, with step ledges, rock slides, and large rodent populations. They are sometimes found in pine barrens and wetlands, and may occasionally be found in fields and pastures.

Our warming climate could make the Northeast even more favorable habitat to Timber Rattlers, which hibernate in caves and stone crevices from mid-October to mid-April.

But is stocking them a good idea? The jury’s still out.

Lady Luck

The email message, linked to another from before Thanksgiving and its prompt response, was sent by Laurie Banas from Hatfield by way of South Deerfield, where her Frontier classmates will remember her as Laurie Magelinski. She was just checking in to provide her final update on a memorable deer-hunting season.

In November, Ms. Banas had touched base to tell about an unusual bow-hunting occurrence that unfolded before her doubting eyes on the way to her tree stand. Out of the corner of her eye, she had caught movement entering an old, overgrown field, identified it as a wild-turkey flock and decided to “snuggle up against a tree” to watch. In the process of counting more than 30 birds — many of them young, frisky jakes “making quite a ruckus” by strutting, faux-sparring and taking short flight in a playful maturation ritual — she was surprised to find among them a bright blue anomaly. Yes, to her utter disbelief, accompanying the turkeys was, of all things, a peacock.

“Yup,” she wrote, “hard to believe. Had to look and look and look again. Sure enough, a peacock. Bright blue. No ornamental feathers, but the little dicky-doo thing atop his head. Thought I had seen most everything, but never a peacock thinking it was a turkey, and a very fancy one at that.”

Accompanying the note were photos taken and sent by her cell phone. Yes indeed, a lonely peacock roaming with a flock of turkeys. Banas declined to name the site, and who can blame her for protecting the location of a favorite deer stand?

Prior to that peculiar sighting, from reading between the lines, the archery deer season could have been summed up as uneventful, perhaps even bordering on boring. Which doesn’t mean she hadn’t had her moments. She had, after all, according to a postseason email, let fly and missed a nice 6-pointer and seen many does that kept her enthusiasm piqued. She thus kept carefully trudging to her secluded tree stand mornings and/or evenings in pursuit of an antlered buck and the cabin-fever-soothing venison such a kill deposits in her freezer. Then, lo, proving once again that perseverance pays, her fortunes changed dramatically during the shotgun deer season, which she put an end to in rapid fashion, putting a lot of the local boys to shame.

Yes, according to her most recent update, Ms. Banas bagged back-to-back bucks on Days 1 and 2 of the two-week shotgun season. Not only that, but there may have been a little karma involved, given that she was hunting one of her late dad’s favorite haunts.

“I always go to my dad’s old stomping grounds as a tribute to him — a way to reconnect with that space and time,” she wrote, referring to former part-time South Deerfield cop, Stanley Magelinski.

Well, this time Dad’s spirit must have been present in the fall wind to push deer toward her. At 8:30 a.m. Day 1, she killed a scrappy 5-point, 115-pound buck with a broken main antler beam, likely from fighting. Then, 24 hours later, at 8:45 the next morning in the same spot, she killed a 7-point, 110-pound buck to end her season in a flash. Perhaps she had prematurely ended the reign of twin 2- or 3-year-old buckaroos. Or maybe they were just random, unrelated young bucks passing the same stand nearly a day to the minute apart.

With rapid-fire success in the rear-view, Ms. Banas was confronted with the bleak reality that her season was over unless she was up for helping others hoping to fill their harvest tags. Nope, not her cup of tea running around the woods trying to move deer for others.

“Honestly, I am not into helping people drive deer,” she wrote, “so it was a boring December, for sure. But, all tagged out, I saw many more deer after that on back-road drives.”
Sounds like one of those years all deer hunters experience if they stay at it long enough. Some years you can’t see a flag. Others, well, no matter where you go, there are deer.

Luck of the draw.

Opening Salvo

Could conditions have been any more favorable for hunters allowed for the first time in more than a half-century to kill bears during the 12-day shotgun deer season?

Well, not likely, with weather bordering on surreal and the woods literally full of a wide variety of wild foods. In fact, many hunters who were in the woods to experience the first go-round last month may never in their lifetimes see a better scenario unfold. Then again, who knows? With the planet said to be warming at an alarming rate, Decembers and Christmases similar to those we just witnessed may indeed become more the rule than the exception. But let’s not go there. It’s become a political hot potato that can get hotter by the second, and pretty ugly.

According to MassWildlife Bear Project Leader Laura Conlee, the preliminary bear harvest during deer season was a respectable 53, including that humongous 498-pound bruin shot in Quabbin country by an Athol hunter and first suspected to be a state record. However, further checking by MassWildlife Information and Education guru Marion Larson revealed that a bigger bruin had indeed been taken, and not that long ago, either. The record beast weighing a whopping 541 pounds was killed just three years ago in Southwick. Bagged during the 2012 September season, that 15-year-old bear stands as the state record since records have been kept. Both massive bears were males that were weighed field-dressed. Estimates suggest both animals would have tipped the scales at between 600 and 700 pounds live weight — nothing a man would want to pester during weekend woodland travel.

How warm was it during the first shotgun deer season allowing bear hunting in recent memory? Well, try this on for size. There were reports of nightcrawler picking past Christmas, and open-water Barton Cove anglers were casting lures from bass boats in shirtsleeves on New Years Day. The reason the unseasonably mild, snowless deer season offered ideal late bear-hunting opportunity was that the warmth, coupled with an overabundance of nuts, fruits and berries, kept foraging bears active longer than cold, snowy years. Had there been deep snow, frigid temps and sparse mast crops, much of the food would have been gone early and many bears would have been denned up in their dormant winter hibernation stage when, contrary to prevailing wisdom, they are rarely totally out of commission but are for sure less active and available to hunters.

Although Conlee agrees with the assessment that conditions for bear hunting during the most-recent deer season were optimal, she is certain some bears will always be available during shotgun deer seasons. Thus she’s confident that hunters will continue to produce a consistent supplement to the bear harvest regardless of conditions. In the process, hunters will furnish a needed alternative method of keeping the annual bear harvest on the upswing and maybe even meet the goal of stabilizing the statewide population before it gets out of hand. Fact is that suburban bears are already causing issues east of here, and the problems will spill out to the hinterlands and multiply if the population keeps growing unchecked. The previous split, six-week bear seasons simply weren’t meeting harvest goals.

Bears most vulnerable to deer hunters over the long haul will, according to Conlee, be solitary wandering males, barren sows and mother sows with growing yearling cubs. Bears that fit that mould hold out as long as they can in search of food to build fat reserves for lean winter dormancy. Even during difficult winters, some bears will come out of their dens on mild days to search for food. Although Conlee said the preferred late-fall feed is high-protein acorns and beechnuts, they will also seek out apples, black cherries, berries, and large, hard nuts like butternuts, hickories and walnuts, which are more than deer can handle. She said bears have no problem crunching up the bigger, harder nuts, and actually seek out hickory and walnut or butternut groves with good yields.

Something interesting in the wake of our first simultaneous shotgun deer/bear season in many years is that the 2015 bear harvest will actually be less than that of 2014, when bears were not fair game to shotgun deer hunters and mast crops were spotty at best, not nearly as bountiful as this year. The incomplete 2015 harvest shows 175 bears killed during September and November, plus a preliminary 53 during deer season for a total of 228. That’s 12 fewer than the September/November 2014 record total 240. Hmmmm? So how did that occur?

One factor that could lead to higher numbers during mediocre mast years like 2014 could be that bears have fewer places to feed and are thus easier to pattern and predict. Such places would include silage cornfields and commercial orchards, both of which provide easy access and open sight lines for rifles. However, even though cultivated foods were a factor in that 2014 harvest, the numbers don’t bear out a majority of cornfield kills. In fact, Conlee reported that only 14 percent of the 2014 harvest came from cultivated food sources, compared to 68 percent from wild foods, 14 percent from swamps and 17 percent from softwoods. Apparently, a majority of the successful hunters had — as a result of diligent scouting, evaluation and intuitive planning — discovered productive wild-food pockets during a spotty year and their scouting paid dividends.

Conlee said bears can grow accustomed to eating corn and become pests by developing a preference for it, but she doesn’t believe that is typical behavior or even that it’s as common as prevailing wisdom would suggest. To the contrary, she said bears prefer variety and take whatever’s available in a given year, and may just focus on productive nut groves even when corn and orchard fruits are ripe, rampant and easy picking. Which doesn’t preclude orchard and cornfield damage during bountiful natural-feed years like 2015, when bears will still switch it up from time to time and take a little of everything in their travels. Still, if natural feed is abundant, with exceptions, Conlee thinks most bears will seek it out and not focus primarily on cornfields and commercial orchards. Plus, she said, wise old bears that have been pressured by farmers an/or hunters over the years quickly adapt and learn to feed on cornfields at night after legal hunting hours.

So now, following our first combined deer/bear season in generations, questions remain and will surely linger for many years to come. Eventually, though, we’ll know precisely what the new twist means in the big picture. Think of it: How could this season extension into deer season not aid the initiative to harvest more bears in an effort aimed at population control and reduction of potential human conflict?

Is Seeing Believing?

Winter finally arrived this week, leaving a thin yet significant coating of a filthy, frozen disaster that’s nearly impossible to shovel. But why dwell on the negative? Wouldn’t you rather backtrack to the good days of the recent surreal past, when springlike weather was receiving love from lollygaggers and fitness freaks alike and, for the most part, hate from deer hunters patrolling warm, soft, snow-free woods?

So, here we go. …

It’s 6 p.m. and the shotgun deer season has been over for about an hour. The wireless phone, cradled in its charger within arm’s reach atop a Federal four-drawer cherry chest of drawers, rings and displays a familiar name on the caller ID. It’s an old hunting buddy and traveling companion. No media darling, he prefers anonymity. Thus, he’s always been “Killer” in this space.

An old backwoodsman and Buckland native, the man has successfully hunted and fished for just about everything in his 71 years of existence. Not only that, but he can even lay claim to rare membership in the rapidly dwindling fraternity of working men who once supplemented their annual income by trapping back in the days before leg-holds were outlawed in 1996. His lively tales of predawn awakenings to tend trap lines and pre-breakfast skinning, stretching and treating chores for the beaver, otter, mink, muskrat, fox, coyote and raccoon pelts he processed are fun indeed to absorb; likewise, the tales of carefully packing pelts for trips to fur auctions halfway across the state. Whether spun during back-road rambles or just sitting in front of a toasty, crackling winter fire for convivial chit-chat, they’re always worth a listen.

The reason for his call on this particular night was total astonishment. He had to talk to someone. You see, traveling earlier that day to a last hurrah of shotgun deer season in Conway with his stepson, and crossing east to west across Bardwells Ferry Bridge, the Fox-News devotee had run across a most surprising sight. Yes, after the appearance of a parked pickup on the Conway side had produced a glimmer of hope that other hunters were in the woods and may even move fleeing deer past him or his partner, his optimism had been quickly squashed. Why? Because, upon closer inspection, he spotted movement along the distant eastern Deerfield River bank far below. To his disbelief, there stood a vested angler wearing chest-waders submerged to the waist and, of all things, flycasting before 9 Dec. 12 morn.

“I remember thinking then that when you live as long as I have, you’re bound to see strange things,” he quipped, “but I gotta tell you I never dreamed I’d see someone flyfishing on the last day of shotgun deer season. Who knows? Maybe global warming is real.”

It doesn’t end there.

After making his rounds and working himself to a profuse sweat by circling, zigging and zagging through the woods in many directions trying and fill a harvest tag, the boys came away empty on that last day and Ole Killer was home by 3 p.m. Preparing something for supper out of carefully packaged foods from his bloated stand-up freezer, he went to the backyard for a moment and — lo — noticed something that surprised him as much if not more than his earlier Deerfield River sighting. Right there underfoot were unmistakable nightcrawler holes Pioneer Valley residents grow accustomed to seeing in rich summer soil, not during the typically frozen second week of December.

He first thought was that it must have been something else. But no! Inspection confirmed they were indeed nightcrawler holes. Go figure. Just the pervious night, crawlers had obviously been out and available. And given the mild temperatures forecast for the approaching overnight, they would again soon be stretched out in the darkness on damp green grass.

Sure enough, when he later returned to the scene with a moss-filled Maxwell House coffee can, he had no problem picking a couple dozen fat, lively crawlers to store in the fridge for future ice-fishing adventures. Quite a day: a morning Deerfield River flyfisher followed by nighttime crawler picking in … uhm … mid-December. Is something wrong with that picture?

But wait. It gets better — this time maybe even traipsing into the realm of surreal.

Two weeks later, on the most recent Saturday past — yes, the day after Christmas — again that same white wireless phone cradled in its charger on the cherry chest of drawers rang within arm’s reach. It was the Killer with more news. No, not a hunting tale. Not quite, even though his stepson had pestered him that morning, chumming for a short hunt. Killer declined. The weather wasn’t right. Plus, he had other plans that precluded even a brief foot-free push.

Come nighttime, chores and a sumptuous family dinner behind him, the dedicated old ice fisherman decided to perform one more little mission before mixing a stiff drink and putting his feet up for the night. He went to the fridge, grabbed the Maxwell House coffee can full of crawlers, picked up a flashlight and headed to the damp, loamy, backyard lawn to pick some additional future ice-fishing bait. And yes, you betcha he snagged a couple dozen more crawlers in no time on the day after Christmas. In fact, it was described by him as easy pickings. Yes indeed — big, fat, juicy, lively buggers stretched out luxuriously for effortless collection on the green, dew-covered lawn. No lie. Here it was the day after Christmas and nightcrawler picking was probably better than it had been on the Fourth of July.

Problem is that now Ole Killer is perplexed. Something just ain’t right. Although still reluctant to doubt his favorite nightly-news feed that routinely harangues global warming as a liberal scheme, he says this recent string of events has really sent his wheels a spinnin’ to a shrill, unnerving scream. Shaking his head in confusion, he ponders the probabilities of first not seeing a deer during shotgun season, then at the same time finding a flyfisherman on the Deerfield River and later the same day, plus again two weeks later, he himself picking backyard crawlers.

Frankly, he’s not sure what to make of it. Could it be that he’s getting fed a line of baloney on his favorite news feed?

Well, as cartoon character “Muskie” used to comically quip on Saturday mornings back in the day, “It’s possi-bullllle.”

Indian Bummer

Bittersweet has pushed its yellow skin aside, adding a softer shade of red to the abundant Christmas berries populating our local wetlands. Both wild ornamental berries will, over time, be snipped here and there by human gatherers seeking materials for holiday wreaths to hang on front doors, and fall floral arrangements to place in vases, stoneware crocks or old, scarred walnut trenchers centered on dining-room tables.

Yes, the blotches of pleasant, uplifting colors just keep changing in this Indian summer weather so many Pioneer Valley folks eagerly anticipate annually — perfect for light yard work and soothing conversation, installation of storm windows, screen-door removal, bicycling along back roads, or hiking old, narrow trails through the high, colorful, soon to be barren upland hardwoods, where there’s just enough chill in a shady breeze to keep all comfortable.

But for the bird hunter, Indians summer can quickly devolve into Indian bummer, not in spite of the warm temperatures but because of them. For those accustomed to pounding dense, punishing cover through mucky, boggy tangles, it’s frankly too hot and uncomfortable for anyone wearing rugged old clothing standbys like Filson Tin Cloth bibs and jackets built for ultimate protection and comfort in temperatures of 50 degrees and below. Those attired in such protective garments made for brush-busting want no part of temperatures in the 60s, never mind 70s. Quite the contrary, who in their right mind would choose to follow fit, aggressive gun dogs through thick, thorny coverts wearing heavy canvas apparel. And forget shorts and T-shirts, which would in no time leave a man’s arms and legs tattered and torn to shreds.

Likewise, gun dogs, even those in tip-top shape, spirited, athletic types born for stamina and determination, perform much better and last longer under cool temperatures and gray skies. Get them out in warm, sunny conditions like we’ve had this week and you had better hunt well-watered coverts, where exhausted, overheated animals can submerge themselves in cool-down slurping streams with refreshing water to replenish what seems like their unlimited, boundless energy under ideal, cool conditions.

An option for warm weather can always be early-morning hunts while it’s still cool or even downright cold before the sun rises high enough for warmth. But the problem with that solution is that experienced wing shooters much prefer mid-morning or midday hunting, which gives pheasant and grouse time to leave their overnight roosts and deposit enticing scent, old and new, that keeps dogs jacked up while trailing scent through feeding areas, which are this year ubiquitous, bountiful crops of wild seeds and berries in marshes high, low and in between.

That is not to suggest that bird hunters are alone among hunting brethren with their cool-weather preferences. It is no different for bear hunters, who took to the woods for the second segment of the three-way split-season this year, or even the archery deer hunters, both of whom will have to check daily for ticks burrowed into warm, moist, hidden regions of their bodies, and may even get pestered by misquotes and other similar airborne pests buzzing about in extended unseasonable warmth. That’s not to mention the clothing factor. Most bowhunting and November bear-hunting clothing trends toward at least lightly insulated pants, shirts or jackets. When wearing such clothing and walking through the woods to a stand or even still-hunting from blind to blind, a hunter can work up undesirable sweat, never good when the prey has a good nose.

Plus, who wants to harvest large, heavy animals in summer temperatures? Dragging large carcasses out of the woods can be unpleasant indeed on warm days. Plus, the warm temperatures complicating the drag also mandate immediate butchering for anyone who doesn’t have access to a walk-in cooler to prevent meat from spoiling overnight. Again, short-sleeve shirts and Bermuda shorts, even camo versions for deer hunters, don’t cut it for many reason. First, the bug and pricker factor. Plus, bare arms and legs are a dead giveaway when hunting something that requires camo concealment. And that doesn’t even address the cold factor before the sun rises high enough to warm the environment. Yes, it can get mighty chilly around sunrise and sunset, when most hunters prefer being settled into their stands for some time.

The good news is that splendid fall weather similar to what we’re experiencing this week can provide hunter respite, a short window of pleasant weather perfect for catching up on seasonal chores that must be completed before winter. There will be more than enough cool and outright cold days better suited for hunting before the seasons end.

You just gotta go with the flow, fellas. Hunt when the weather’s right, which leaves many options excluding heat.

Not so much as a word on the street or in the coffee shops yet about big deer taken by local bowhunters. The peak rut can’t be far off, so anyone who’s got a good tale to share can send it to the email address listed below or call 413-772-0474.

It’s early afternoon and the home phone rings. It’s a friend with an unusual question. He says he doesn’t agree with turning his clock back in the fall for Daylight Savings Time, which gives him an extra hour in the morning and subtracts one in the evening.

“Wouldn’t you rather have an extra hour after work,” he inquired. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people, including hunters, and all of them would rather have the extra hour in the evening for chores or hobbies. So why do we keep pushing our clocks back every fall? It’s stupid.”


Seems to make sense on a number of levels.

Swamp Busters

Bird season in the Happy Valley is glorious yet short for those who love it.

With it comes cold mornings — windshield scrapers always at the ready — and crisp, cool afternoons; sometimes sunny, sometimes gray, some wet and soggy days, others dry and crunchy, some windy and blustery, others still as a walk-in freezer locker.

An early-season bonus is the brilliant backdrop colored with broad splashes of distant orange sugarbush, ridge-top coppertone oak groves and always the pale yellow alders and poplars of the bottomland marsh being hunted, the mellow yellow complemented nicely by a drab brown underbody of post-frost goldenrod and ragweed cover lipped by cattail patches concealing hidden hummocks that can drop a man on his face in a flash.

Veterans know enough to be wary of cattails for reasons other than the cumbersome hummocks. Often along the border of such cattail stands are found deep, muddy channels that are barely discernible though impossible to cross afoot. One wrong forward step will instantly sink a man over his waist, never a pleasant predicament.

Plus there’s always the presence of hidden head-high prickers of various types, especially bull briars, which can stop a man dead in his tracks, literally, necessitating immediate reassessment before backing out of a dense thorny tangle in search of a kinder-gentler route.

Some hunters carry pruning shears to clear their paths. Others fear that if they do carry such a tool, it’s likely they’ll eventually puncture a car seat or expensive leather sofa at home. Thus they choose instead to plow through thorny tangles by raising their shotguns overhead and bulldozing through them wearing heavy Tin Cloth bibs and jackets, sleeved upper arms shielding their face from long, sharp thorns that can produce deep, bloody scratches.

Then again, such bullish moves always invite face-first falls most often broken by bent elbows extended with hands and forearms turned up to protect the shotgun. The silhouette embedded immediately afterward in the soft turf prominently displays two deep, conical dimples and the outline of a body that has temporarily matted down thick brush.

Such defensive landings from unexpected tumbles don’t save faces and necks from ugly abrasions and blood, which come with the territory in thick swamps where wary game birds lurk. Yes, it’s true that such unwelcome surprises are as inevitable as flushing riled-up ring-necked roosters for anyone who regularly hunts punishing cover through black unforgiving muck.

Gun dogs? Well, it’s even more challenging for them, even though they’re built for swamp-busting. Their tongues more often than not get sliced open, producing profuse bleeding that splashes customary crimson streaks and stains back onto their shoulders and sides. Though they don’t seem to mind the blood even a little bit, enthusiastic, all-out chases through flooded, beaver-infested wetlands present potentially more serious injuries when puncture wounds along the underbelly and rib cage are inflicted by sharp, pointed, spear-like stumps of small alders and poplars left by beavers’ handiwork. The shiny black wetland colonizers fill the gaps between sticks with mud as filler/waterproofing for their dams and huts.

These swampland beaver spikes left behind protrude straight upward from muck and standing water, and can puncture dogs’ feet and torso alike. And the danger is that such wounds bring with them a high vulnerability to bacterial infection from giardia, always present in such soupy beaver habitat. Unless treated in a timely fashion by thorough washing and subsequent application of an antibiotic salve, there’s a good chance that a serious abscess will form, eventually requiring costly veterinary intervention. And if you choose to save money and let the infection run its course (usually a mistake), be prepared for a systemic infection known in medical jargon as “going septic,” a dreadful diagnosis no one ever wants to hear for man or beast.

Another veterinary problem gun-dog owners can encounter, particularly early in the season after the first hard frosts, is tick-delivered Lyme disease that can result from a bite in habitat frequented by deer. For this reason, it’s a must to treat such dogs with monthly doses of topical medicine that covers the animals’ entire body after hand-depositing a head-to-tail application of drops along the length of the backbone. If on the day after application you find ticks embedded on your animal’s face or neck (the most common places to find them) and think the expensive medication isn’t working, fear not. The medicine kills ticks for a month after application. If you don’t believe it, pull them off and expect to find them dead and dried to a crusty brown. Mission accomplished. Lyme disease is said to require a 72-hour incubation period.

With all the negatives behind us, how about a positive or two? We’re talking about things like dogs making game, wildly wagging their tails, jumping, bounding, narrowing their quarter tighter and tighter, all jacked up for the flush and retrieve. Experienced hunters recognize just from the furious sound of a brush-busting dog that their invisible pet is hot on scent. At that point, it’s always advisable to stay close, position your hands right, raise your gun to a half-ready position from which it’ll be easy shoulder, and at all times keep your front foot pointed in the direction of the dog.

Eventually comes the best sound to emanate from such an exercise — that “cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck” of a scolding, flushing ring-necked rooster trying to fly to safety. The next sounds are a deafening roar or two, then a simple “fetch it up” command from hunter to loyal pet.

Honestly, it gets no better, very similar to taking a cut and hitting a baseball on the sweet spot. Talk about excitement and anticipation. It’s all there in brilliant, vivid fall colors, an added bonus indeed before the deep freeze of barren winter.

Dry Run

High enthusiasm and low expectations hovered over the dense, thorny, tangled, frost-browned wetland below, splashed with bright sunlight in cool air, the backdrop an infinite blue sky framed at the base by brilliant fall color from a deep, foreboding wooded swamp far back on the eastern perimeter.

Opening day of pheasant season? No. Too busy. Too crowded. It was, instead, late morning on the first Monday, Day 2, when the prospect of a random flush is possible but not particularly likely following the all-out opening-day circus of eager hunters, who just can’t resist despite chaotic overflow crowds. To each his or her own.

Remember the old bumper sticker that used to be sold at outdoor-shows reading, “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work.”? Well, that applies to bird hunting, too. Especially after paths have been broken through tangled marsh for old, battered legs, and the air temps have dropped below 50. Then even robust activity can transpire without profuse, uncomfortable sweating. In fact, a veteran who knows the game and plays it right can petty-much avoid sweating on cool, windy, tailor-made days for aggressive bird hunting.

Parked on the small earthen ramp that can handle two vehicles at a heavily hunted site was a red Subaru wagon cluttered inside with plastic pails and boxes and other stuff that didn’t suggest hunting. Not bird-hunting, anyway. Plus the person who parked there seemed oblivious to hunting season, hoarding both available parking places, which seemed a bit inconsiderate even though it wasn’t a real inconvenience. There’s always more than enough room to pull over along the quiet country road situated at the base of western uplands known to have been called Sunkist Mountains.

Not 50 yards into the overgrown, thorny field, the car’s owner appeared clothed in drab colors that answered the hunting question. Nope. Not a hunter. Just a young lady scholar carrying a tall, thin, calibrated, tube-like olive staff she carried upright for a walking stick that served the dual purpose of a measuring stick when needed.

A rod? No. Three meters, which made it more than two meters shy of a rod, a 16.5-foot unit of measure used by land surveyors for vertical and horizontal measurement alike. Using it at the time for a long walking staff, the young woman said she had previously used it for measurements pertaining to a UMass grad-school project assessing activity of migrating song birds passing through the Pioneer Valley twice annually — once heading north for mating and nesting, again this time of year on their return to winter refuge in the sunny South. The casual conversation meandered from plants to birds to animals to deep history and deep ecology and Indian trails before she continued on her merry way back to the car. She would not be back this fall but still had to revisit Montague Plains.

That perchance wetland meeting in the rear view, man and dogs busted through pucker brush for less than an hour, the dogs quartering and covering what seemed like every inch of the marshy field’s north half. All that work and not so much as a flush, false start or upward twitch of the shotgun; just a furious scouring of dense, seed-dusty cover for pheasants or woodcock or maybe even a stray partridge, where they were once plentiful, today rare.

Call it a dry run. A good yet unproductive romp for all.

Future trips will be far more fruitful once stocked birds accumulate, acclimate and learn how to temporarily escape hunting pressure in the dense, impenetrable alder swamp flooded by beavers.

When these feathered transplants decide to fly into the huntable field to feed on seeds, berries, hayfield grasses and insects at the wrong time, they stand a good chance of falling to a passing hunter. If not, there’s a good chance that a fox, coyote, fisher cat or bird of prey will eventually snag them here and there until all have vanished.

Call it put-and-take hunting at its finest. Fun while it lasts, but a far cry from hunting wild birds.

Speaking of pheasant hunting, disturbing news from New Hampshire, which stocks about a quarter of the birds this state does each fall.

Hunter Christopher A. Moulton of Boscowen, N.H., was shot by an unidentified hunter Friday morning at the Sanbornton (N.H.) Flood Control Area pheasant-hunting site, suffering minor injuries that did not require hospital attention. Nonetheless, state officials were alarmed enough to implement an emergency measure mandating closure of all pheasant-stocking sites from 7 a.m. to noon on Wednesday and today, the final two stocking days of the season.

The measure resulted from what New Hampshire Fish & Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau called unsafe shooting taking place while state stocking crews were in the process of releasing pheasants.

“We are taking this emergency action to protect Fish & Game personnel and members of the public participating in the pheasant hunt,” said Normandeau. “It is unfortunate that the actions of a few unsportsmanlike and unsafe individuals have made this measure necessary. It does not reflect on the vast majority of safe and responsible hunters.”

The archery deer season opened Monday, presenting bowhunters with the daunting task of predicting deer feeding patterns on a landscape that’s full of natural feeds, such as nuts, fruits and berries, all of which are plentiful this year. Add to that agricultural foods such as corn, hayfields and winter squash, and it’s anyone’s guess where deer will choose to feed on any given day. Still, there appears to be no shortage of whitetails, so it just comes down to being in the right place at the right time. … Simultaneously, the fall turkey season is also underway, also opening on Monday. Despite the fact that gobblers and hens are fair game in the fall, this season never draws hunting pressure to rival the more popular spring hunt. The fall hunt is a different game, which most hunters seem to find less alluring than the spring, bearded-turkeys-only hunt during the mating season. Fall hunters either sit quiet in woods where they know there are big flocks of birds to bushwhack, or walk through the woods to break up a flock and draw a bird back to the gun with regrouping calls, including the kee-kee run, which is more useful and popular among hunters in the fall than spring.