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Hunter

The search is on for elusive Mr. Moose

Yesterday marked the opening of the 2012 moose season. Some 275 lucky permit holders and five who won the NH Wildlife Heritage Foundation auction headed to the woods with high hopes of bagging New Hampshire's biggest trophy. The number of moose permits declined this year, owing to the winter tick parasite infestation. It is a sad situation since nothing can be done other than hoping for a snowy winter.

The weather forecast of rain and 60 degrees suggests that there will be little moose movement, which adds to the difficulty of the moose hunt.

My friend Steve has scouted his assigned WMU and has located several moose. Unfortunately, Steve developed a knee problem. We tried calling the Scooter Store to see if they had a four-wheel drive model, but Steve is determined to tough it out.

There is a direct correlation between temperature and moose movement. The warmer the temperatures, the less moose move. The cooler the temperatures, the more they move. The simple reason is the heavy coat the moose has developed to survive the winter. In years where the temperatures are 50 degrees and lower, the kill percentage is high. In years where the temperatures are above 55, the kill percentage is low. There are two factors that will add success to the hunt: scouting and, in the absence scouting, employing a guide.

The first moose hunt took place in 1988 with a total of 75 permits issued. At the time, the moose population was estimated to be 1,500. The current moose population is estimated to be 5,000. In addition to the winter tick problem, the warm days of June may have interrupted the lactating process of cow moose with their calves. If that proves to be the case, the calf crop may have been seriously impacted. Given all of the factors impacting this year's moose hunt, I would not be surprised if the final kill percentage was in the 60-percent territory as opposed to the 70 percent that is closer to the normal.

The color line has peak foliage at the Lakes Region. This means that from the White Mountains north, the leaves should be down, assisting hunters with greater visibility. The wind and rain help the leaves to drop. While the central and southern part of the state have yet to reach peak color, the woods are opening up, which will help moose hunters.

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October 27-28 is the youth deer hunt. Last year's hunt was up 21 percent over the previous year. This was the third highest youth weekend hunt since the youth season began in 1999. This is a special weekend to take a young person age 15 and younger deer hunting with an adult mentor without the pressure of competing adult hunters, save the archery hunters who are out this time of year.

Accompanying adults must be licensed hunters and are not allowed to carry a weapon; the idea is to concentrate your time and attention on coaching your young companion.

The deer herd is in exceptional condition. The acorn crop just couldn't get any better. Last year's youth hunt produced 475 deer, which was a 21-percent increase over 2010. I would not be surprised if when the 2012 numbers are in that last year's numbers are exceeded.

''The weekend is a chance to introduce young people to deer hunting, under the careful guidance of an experienced adult,'' said Kent Gustafson, deer project leader. ''You can build bonds for a lifetime while tracking a whitetail through the autumn woods or deciphering the sounds of the forest from a tree stand. We hope hunters will spend the weekend with their sons and daughters, grandchildren or young friends, helping them learn what hunting (is) all about.''

Gustafson notes that hunting can also help youngsters learn about the environment, conservation, traditions and ethics, and it can build a deep and abiding appreciation for the wildlife and wild places that many of our citizens and visitors cherish.

New Hampshire has offered a special youth deer hunt since 1999. Non-resident youth may participate in New Hampshire's youth weekend only if their state of residence allows New Hampshire youth to participate in its youth deer hunt.

• • •

For the hunter, hiker and nature lover, October is an incredible month. The sights, sounds and smells are incredible. With a gentle breeze blowing over young ferns, the sweet smell is refreshing. When the ferns die from a frost or other means, the aroma is less than sweet. The other aroma that is quick to get your attention is sage. This is an unmistakable smell that you will quickly identify and never forget.

The breeze also creates a constant rustling of the leaves. The last to fall are beach and oak leaves. They will remain well into the first quarter of next year. As for the others, there seems to be a symphony of cascading leaves.

The major sound you will experience is the thump of dropping acorns. It is rare to hear a single acorn drop. More common is the staccato of multiple thumps. It's almost like someone was orchestrating this action, but it's not.

Never in as long as I can remember have we had the ultimate bumper crop of squirrels. As you walk through the woods, gray squirrels will quickly scamper away with the slightest movement detected. But they suffer from serious short-term memory loss and quickly forget what caused their flight and return to their nut gathering activity as if nothing happened. I recently came across a young gray squirrel that was totally unaware that the squirrel season was open. He just sat there agitated, shaking his tail at me. He got a free ride; I was bird hunting.

Red squirrels and chipmunks are pests. At the slightest intrusion, they will scurry to the safety of their nests. Often I will take a ground stand for deer, and the red squirrel and chipmunks just can't stand it. They will venture out to investigate what that strange shape is and come within a few feet, only to detect the slightest movement and noisily depart.

The fall birds are a busy lot. They flit from branch to branch as if on a special mission. The blue jays are also on a special mission, giving out a warning caw at anything they suspect is out of place. The ravens or poor crow are in constant motion and letting everyone know they are on patrol. An occasional Canada goose honking overhead is a reminder of what follows after fall. There have been several large flocks of geese heading south.

Be you a hunter, hiker or nature lover, the optimum color to be wearing is blaze orange. You really need to be seen. You see a lot of people wearing light green as an alternative color. This color doesn't cut it in dusk and dawn light conditions. Only blaze orange is best in these low-light conditions. Enjoy the outdoors, but do it safely.

(Bob Washburn can be reached at hunterscorner@aol.com.)

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