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Hunter

Hunter’s Corner: A return to winter and a hunt for shed antlers

We interrupt the unscheduled January thaw to return you to winter.

From a home heating oil consumption perspective, the thaw was fabulous. From a recreational standpoint, it was a disaster. The consumptive and non-consumptive recreational opportunities play a significant role in the New Hampshire economy. The opportunities to get out and enjoy the splendor of our outdoors suffered a hiatus during the thaw. Those who snowmobile had to go where the snow was, and it wasn’t around here, as all the trails were iced over or worn down to bare ground. There wasn’t any safe ice on the big lakes to fish, and ice making on the big lakes was put on hold.

I did go out searching deer trails the past two weekends. On the first outing, I bumped into two fellow hunters I had met during the past season who were doing the same thing. The tracks tell it all. I had been hunting on the eastern side of a small swamp and there were some tracks from deer and a few turkeys. I spotted a few rubs. A rub is where a deer sharpens his antlers as it transitions from soft velvet-covered antlers to bone-hard antlers. I did spot the tracks of three bucks, one of them being a brute. The track was wide and had impressive hawks or dew claws.

On the western side of the swamp, it was track city. The ridge lines were covered with tracks and there were several runways. You could see where the deer had been pawing for acorns. It seemed odd that there were more tree stands on the eastern side of the swamp than on the western side. I think I will keep that little discovery to myself.

The following weekend, I was checking out a different parcel. What a gorgeous afternoon, temperature in the 40s, hiking conditions near perfect. I thought I had the trail to myself, but lo and behold I met with a hiker coming in the opposite direction. We had a nice chat and continued on our ways. The serenity of the afternoon was amazing. I did discover several travel ways that held serious promise for this year, come fall. I also noticed some tracks from coyotes, which doesn’t surprise me as I have confronted them in this area in the past.

Actually there are more reasons to be out this time of year for me than to check on deer trails. Just being out in the woods is good exercise and allows us to avoid life’s clutter. It gives me a chance, however slim, to hunt coyotes and even, more elusive for these parts, the snowshoe hare. Yet another reason to hunt for shed antlers. The life of a buck is dominated by hours of light in the day. Come fall, a biologic change in the deer hardens his antlers and increases the level of testosterone, ending with the rut. As the daily amount of light changes, the process reverses and the level of testosterone reduces and his antlers drop off. That is the real bonus of shed hunting. Trophy class bucks are in the five-plus years class. The mineral content and food availability found in a buck’s range will determine just how massive the buck’s rack will be.

In addition to catching-lightning-in-a-jar odds of gaining a shot at a coyote, I also wanted to have a chance at a snowshoe hare. Snowshoe hares are crepuscular to nocturnal. This is why you will see lots of tracks and few hares. Diurnal activity level increases during the breeding season, which normally begins in March. Hares prefer young forests with abundant understory of brush. In New Hampshire, hares prefer second growth deciduous, conifers and mixed woods. The mainstay of the winter diet is twigs. The list of predators is numerous, which is they are most active at night.

You can hunt for snowshoes in just about any part of the state where you have the right forest conditions, but the farther north you go, the better it gets for the hares. If I had to recommend one location, it would be the White Mountain National Forest. There is plenty of rich habitat and easy access. There has always been a division of thought as to what is the best choice of firearm with which to hunt hares. For standing shots, it is hard to beat a scoped .22-caliber rifle. For a running shot, the shotgun is number one. Savage, for many decades, has manufactured an over-under combination gun that fires a .22 long rifle or .22 rimfire magnum in the top barrel and either a .410 or 20 gauge in the bottom barrel. This combination offers the best of both worlds. You might look around for a used Savage.

Hunting hares is a challenging winter sport. If you or your hunting buddies don’t have a beagle, it can still make for an interesting hunt by finding snowshoe hare tracks and following the tracks. With a completely white coat, the first thing you will see most time are their black eyes.

(Bob Washburn can be reached at hunterscorner@aolcom.)

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