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Hunters Corner: April brings new wildlife movement

It would appear that March came in like a lamb and went out like a lamb. The middle weeks could have been warmer, but so be it; March is gone.

I find it ironic that Fish and Game designated April 1 (April Fools Day) as the day all bobhouses must be off the ice. Someone must have had a sense of humor when that date was first chosen. At any rate, today is your lucky day to remove your bobhouse if you haven’t done so. Failure to remove a bobhouse can result in a fine and/or loss of fishing license for one year. In the case where conservation officers cannot identify the owner, Fish and Game has the authority to seize any bobhouse and its contents not removed by the deadline.

If you missed the April 1 deadline for entering the Maine moose lottery as I did, online applications can be found at and must be completed by May 14. I had two applications that were gathering dust and I just missed the deadline.

Maine recently released its 2012 deer statistics and the overall harvest was up by 13.4 percent. The 2012 deer season ended with the total harvest of 21,365, which was an impressive increase over the 2011 harvest of 18,839. What made this impressive was the increase was experienced in all wildlife management units. Most notable was the 19-percent increase in buck harvest. I figured it would take a few more years to fully recover after the devastating winter kill from five years back. Maine regulates the taking of antlerless deer by issuing permits. It allocates permits to WMU to keep buck-doe ratios in check. It has worked and for 2013, hunters can anticipate greater deer hunting opportunities.

Vermont had three state-record fish caught in 2012. In February 2012, Brian LaBelle caught an 8.81-pound Burbot (cusk) from Lake Champlain. This is the second year in a row a state record has been set for this species.

The Burbot is the only freshwater member of the cod family, and in Vermont they can be found in a number of deep, cold Northeast Kingdom lakes such as Willoughby, Memphremagog and Champlain. The previous record Burbot was caught in February 2011 and weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces.

In June 2012, Robert Scott was fishing with a live golden shiner off his dock on Lake St. Catherine when he hooked a state-record channel catfish. The big cat measured 41 inches and weighed 35 pounds, 15 ounces, besting the previous record by more than a pound.

In July, 14-year-old Logan Bathalon was fishing with a worm and a bobber when he hooked a giant pan fish. The pumpkinseed sunfish measured 10.5 inches and weighed 1.25 pounds. As with LaBelle’s Burbot, this was the second year in a row the pumpkinseed record was beaten.

With last year’s warm March weather, bear left their dens early and were on a mission, hungry with little to feed on. A similar phenomenon took place this March in Vermont.

“Bears are triggered to enter their den when food begins to become scarce in fall and early winter, which usually follows a heavy snowfall,” said Forrest Hammond, bear project leader for Vermont Fish and Wildlife. “Spring rains and warm temperatures cause bears to leave their dens in search of uncovered nuts and green shoots that start to emerge from the melting snow pack. Bears will be active as long as they can easily find food, but they will return to their dens if another deep snowfall covers their food supply.”

Shorter denning seasons in Vermont are consistent with reports from the American West, Scandinavia and Spain, where many brown bears have forgone hibernation altogether. Bears vary in duration of winter dormancy based on their latitude and altitude; bears that live farther north or high in the mountains typically den for a longer period of time.

Vermont’s black bears are not the only species changing their behavior due to recent winter weather patterns. Many bird species have started to migrate, breed and nest earlier in the spring.

John Buck, migratory bird project leader, says that the department has observed state endangered spruce grouse displaying courtship and breeding activity three weeks early as a response to low spring snow pack levels in recent years.

“We’re concerned that the females may nest early and then see their nests buried under a heavy, late season snowstorm which would likely result in a high rate of nest failures,” he said.

So what is hot in New Hampshire come April 1? When it comes to bird feeders, take them down because of black bears.

“About half of the annual complaints last year could have been easily avoided by removing bird feeders for the spring and summer season and securing garbage,” said Andy Timmins, Fish and Game biologist. “Remove these two common attractants and do your part to minimize conflicts.”

I suspect similar observations are being made in New Hampshire. I have noticed resident geese flying around the Concord area. There is a mating pair that I observe on a westerly course almost daily, honking their way to their destination. That is my “welcome to spring” sound.

(Bob Washburn can be reached at

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