The weather is starting to get cooler, and the hunting seasons are beginning. Two weeks ago squirrel season opened in NY. It in the warm up season for pheasant and turkey in October and then bear and deer in November. This past weekend my friend Rich and I decided to go squirrel hunting on a mountain where he had noticed a high concentration of mushrooms, which would attract the squirrels. Unfortunately, at the last minute he had to cancel because of work.
I wasn’t too excited about hunting squirrel by myself all weekend, so I figured I would use the opportunity to scout an area I had noticed on the maps, which seemed promising for deer and bear later in the year. I still brought equipment for squirrel hunting, just in case I noticed them along the way-a rare occurrence in the forest.
If you are not interested in hunting, or animal sign, this post will probably be very boring. That being said, my friends always make fun of me for being a “mushroom and scat photographer”, but when it comes time to try to locate game, who do they call? Yes, the guy with the pictured of the mushrooms and scat. :)
The area I had selected was the southernmost section of Sundown Forest in the Catskill mountains. It caught my eye because of how flat it appeared on the map. That is a rare sight in these mountain, where the slopes vary anywhere from steep to vertical. So, I set out in the morning in the hopes that the terrain would look as good in person as it did on the map.
The are looked promising. It wasn’t clear open fields, but at least it was somewhat flat. There is a snowmobile trail that cuts across the forest from went to east. I followed it for a few dozen feet, and then cut north into the forest.
I was on slightly elevated ground, and unfortunately it did not look like good deer country. The terrain was flatter than most, but the most likely food source this time of year was missing-acorns. There was a lot of maple, beech, hickory, and even some pine, but no oak. On the other hand there was a plentiful variety of mushrooms.
There were a lot more examples with which I will not bore you now. Also, while I didn’t notice any deer sign, there was clearly a bear in the are.
It was a small bear, but there was lots of sign. I am not sure what it had been eating. Its scat contained a lot of these seeds.
The scat was relatively fresh, so I started tracking the bear. For that I used the scat, and the trails which the bear was using. At some choke points the signs were clear, like this log where someone or something had definitely stepped on.
I turned east, and started moving towards the lower ground, which is designated as Balsam Swamp. At that point the bear tracks started becoming less visible, but I started seeing deer sign.
Most of it was doe or young buck scat, but one of them was clearly the work of an older buck.
Eventually I reached an area to the north of Balsam Swamp. To my surprise and delight, it was nice open pine forest. Well, as open as the forests get around here.
In several locations I heard the sound of squirrels chattering. I decided to take my rifle out and see it I could spot any of them.
The hunting tools I had with me were my Savage 93R17 F rifle with a a Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40 scope (older model), my Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x25 binoculars, and a squirrel call. I was using CCI 17 grain hollow point bullets because they do less damage to the squirrels than the ballistic tip .17 HMR bullets you usually see sold.
I put my pack down in a locations which seemed promising, and started calling the squirrels. I could hear them, and my hope was that by chattering with them, I would be better able to locate and see them. This continued for quite some time-I would call, listen, and then glass the trees with the binoculars, but to no avail. I couldn’t spot any of then through the thick canopy. I had just moved slightly to get a better view of a tree, when I heard a noise behind me. The following is an exact account of what I did and what went through my mind:
- “Noise” I turn around.
- “It’s a deer… why is it black… that’s a strange deer”
- “That’s not a deer, it’s a dog… and it’s running towards me… that’s a huge dog… what is it doing here?”
- “It’s a bear!!! … Shoot it!”
- “No! It’s running away… Quick, take the camera out… turn it on! Turn it on!”
- “Oh, it’s gone… maybe if I follow it it will stop at some point and I will be able to see it again”
- I followed the bear for some time, and was able to pick up some of the tracks, but eventually lost it.
It was gone, and I was disappointed. I returned to my pack, and prepared lunch. The whole time the squirrels were chattering in the trees above me, mocking my failure.
The conclusion that I reached from the encounter with the bear was that the squirrel call was an effective bear call as well. I have a predator call which produces dying rabbit sounds, and the distressed squirrel chatter produced by the squirrel call must have had the same effect. I’ll keep it in mind in November.
After lunch I decided to stay in the area and continue hunting. Before I did that, unpacked, and got a fire going. I didn’t want to have to watch my back the entire time I was looking at the tree tops in search of squirrel.
The weather was getting a bit cold, especially when not moving much, so I put on my Revelcloud jacket. I had no luck the rest of the day, and ended up cooking the fought I had brought with me.
In the morning I set out again. My plan was to travel around the swamp to the eastern side, and then south until I reached the snowmobile trail, which I would follow out of the forest. I promised myself not to take any more pictures, but I couldn’t help myself, so here are a few more:
… and let’s not forget about the scat…
On the east side of the swamp, I was even able to find some acorns, although not enough to comprise a substantial food source.
The return trip was a lot more difficult than that into the forest. For some reason I kept drifting into the swamp, which was covered by very dense vegetation. It made travel impossible. Each time I would have to move further east to get to more open ground, only to drift into the swamp again, repeating the process. I was running very low and water, and sources in the area were not great unless I wanted to go even further east to a river. Luckily though, I ran across a sream where I could fill up. The water was draining from the swamp, and was far from ideal, but it was better than nothing.
It took me a few hours to get into the forest the first day, but it took me the better part of a day to make my way out. Eventually however, I reached the trail.
On my way out, I ran across a large pile of scat. I’m not even sure what it was. If it was a bear, it was much larger than the one I encountered. If I was anywhere else I would have guessed cattle, but there were none in the area.
Travel on the trail was easy, and I was soon out of the forest.
Below is the track recorded by the GPS, as shown both on Google Earth, as well as on to the tope map so you can better see the location.
The area seems very promising both for deer and bear hunting. When the season opens in mid November, I’ll be sure to come back here. I don’t like to hunt on managed property, and am not a fan of trail cameras, so for me this is as good of a scout as I could get. My hope is that for the next two months the deer and bears continue to frequent the area, so that in I would be able to call them close to me when the season starts and i have my .308 in hand.