Mar 10

stalking the snowsnake

Had a call the other day from Mikey, my barber, at the popular Log Cabin Barber Shop in North Syracuse, NY, about Snow Snakes. We had been discussing the snow snake recently, and he brought up the subject in his shop among a number of his customers. Now most of those guys are hunters, ice fishermen, snowmobilers, and such, but they insisted that the snow snake did not exist. Perhaps they will learn the truth the hard way.

My experience with the elusive snowsnake goes ‘way back to when I grew up on the Tug Hill.  You could always find signs of their passing in the snow covered forests.  Then we spent a lot of time snowmobiling the Tug in the ’60′s and ’70′s, and tracks of the snake were everywhere.  I think they were drawn to the trails of the snowmobilers, maybe by the garbage and empty containers.  Or maybe it was just that more and more humans were invading their wintry lair with those noisy machines.  And at our Montague hunting camp, there was usually snow on the ground, and you always saw the snow snake tunnels near camp in the mornings.  Were they searching for food scraps, or perhaps lurking to accost the unwary hunter who stepped outside in his longjohns to look at the stars?

For those who have never encountered the snowsnake, let me tell you that you are very unlikely to see one, but you may see evidence of his passage.  Look near the trails for a round or near-round hole in the deep snow, surrounded by a yellowish border.  If it is very fresh, you may detect a faint sulpher odor.  The elusive snow snake has been and gone.  This tunnel may be his trail thru the snow as he hunts for food, or the entrance to his undersnow lair: I have never stuck a hand in to explore it.

What does this mysterious reptile look like, you may ask?  I am not sure that I ever actually seen one, but those who claim to know describe it as being anywhere from 1 to 6 feet long, and covered in a shiny fur of white or pale yellow.  You will see his beady black eyes, and perhaps a black tip on his tail.  It is easy to see that the snake could easily be mistaken for an ermine or weasel in his winter phase.  Do not be fooled.

I have read reports of the snow snake in many of our northern regions, including Manitoba, Michigan, Northern Ontario, and of course, Northern New York.  No doubt they also inhabit New England as well.  Early Native American tribes , such as the Abenacki and Haudenosaunee, apparently knew of the snake, and even had a winter game that involved throwing a 6-foot sharpened stick or spear thru the snow.  Or were they actually throwing it AT the snowsnake to drive him from his snowy tunnel?

I have read other reports, and seen vague photos, of alleged snowsnakes lurking in trees, coiled around snowy branches, perhaps basking in the sparse winter sun, or waiting for an unsuspecting victim to pass underneath.

Is the snow snake dangerous, you may well ask?  I can find no record of human fatalities involving this reptile, but over the years there have been any number of snowmobilers, snowshoers, skiiers, trappers, and such, found frozen in the snow in remote areas.  Did they freeze to death, were they victims of physical ailments, or perhaps victims of snakebite?  Who can say?

With so many more snowmobilers and other outdoor adventurers out in the forests today, I am surprised that there are not more reports of snowsnakes coming in, maybe even some photos.  (I did have a photo of a snowsnake tunnel somewhere in my 35mm slide files, but don’t seem to be able to find it.  Hmmmm.)  My theory is that everyone seems to be traveling so much further and faster these days, with the 100 mph snowmobiles and all, that they just don’t notice all that goes on around them.  Or is the snow snake no longer there?  Perhaps a victim of global warming?  Perhaps this elusive critter does not exist at all.  Like the mythical Saskquatch and the mysterious black panther, we want to believe he is out there, even if there is no hard evidence that he exists.  This demands further studies.  I would love to hear from anyone with experience with these mysterious reptiles.



Nov 1

Now that another deer season is in full swing, I have been searching the internet for a website called “tughillhunting.com”, but it seems to have disappeared.  Maybe you know about it?

Anyway, I have some experience with Tug Hill and deer hunting, so if you would like to use this site to share your whitetail deer stories, photos, questions, ideas, and such, please feel free.  I am mostly familiar with the Montague/Sears Pond area, and the Windfarm lands of Harrisburg and Martinsburg, but would like to hear from hunters from any parts of the Tug.

Let us know how your hunt has been this year, what’s new around camp, and your experience with how the deer population is faring.  Have any good recipes you would like to share?

Rector's Corners, NY

Rector

And if you are successful in taking a Tug Hill trophy, I am familiar with a couple of NYS Big Buck Club expert scorers, so we can get you in contact and see how your trophy rates.

I found this in my web surfing.  You may enjoy it.  Years ago I had a cassette tape that we listened to the night before the season opener.

DEER CAMP

Oct 29
Another Pitcher Hill buck 2008

Another Pitcher Hill buck 2008

I would like to be able to tell you that our club had this ol’ buck all photographed, patterned, predicted, and tagged with a cute name like “Crabby” or “The Craw” and already the stuff of legend around our Pitcher Hill Camp.  I would like to tell you that. But no, up to the second day of the deer season, no one had even seen him, unless maybe a couple years back when he was a little cowhorn spike.  He had even eluded, obviously, the nighthunting road hunters that regularly patrol our land.  Although he had apparently been injured some time the year before, causing that unusual lobster claw antler.

As whitetail bucks go, this one was not a monster, especially for a Tug Hill buck.  Certainly not Boone & Crockett class, or even NY Big Buck Club.  He weighed about 200 pounds alive, not a real monster in an area where 250 pounders are not uncommon.  His typical antler carried 4 long even points with good mass, and he probably would have had a spread of 20 or 22 inches if the right antler had matched.  A good wallhanger trophy, especially on The Tug.  The other antler, however, grew straight forward, with a lobster claw fork at the end.  An unusual trophy.

Our usual hunting style is to post a few of our hunters on known deer trails and escape routes, then have 1 or 2 hunters walk quietly thru an area and try to move the deer.  It is best to know the area, and after 50 years or so of hunting these woods, we pretty much know where the deer like to bed and which way they will go.  Usually. Obviously our bud Brucie got too close to this buck, and he decided to leave the area.

One of the fun parts of deer hunting is getting together and making a plan, revising and honing that plan, then trying to carry it out successfully. A lot depends on the wind, weather, and the experience of the hunters in your group. The hard part is getting the deer to co-operate. This time it worked to perfection, and the deer exited the Pitcher Swamp headed right to Jim, antlers gleaming proudly in the sunlight. It would be hard to say who was more surprised when they met, but Jim recovered first, and another hunt ended successfully. It is so great when a plan comes together.

Oct 24

My brothers Lee and Jim with two Tug Hill bucks
My brothers Lee and Jim with two Tug Hill bucks

Once again this year I was fortunate enough to make the opener of the deer season on Tug Hill.  I don’t believe I have missed Opening Day in over 50 years now, except for a couple of years fighting the Cold War in Europe.  Too far to commute.

This year we had one of those rare opening weekends when the weather was perfect: sunny but cool, still some leaves on the trees for color.  It is always great to get together with family and old friends, even a few new ones, and enjoy some stories, good food, lots of laughs.  The deer hunting is just an excuse for being there, and if you harvest a few deer, as we usually do, it is a bonus.  I’ll post a few photos later.  Our bud John even had an encounter with a trio of bears, as rare on The Tug as a DEC Officer.

Of course, as I get older, my circles keep getting smaller.  I used to enjoy stalking the ridges and slipping thru the swamps, meeting the whitetail on his own grounds.  Now I mostly sit in a treestand for a few hours, hoping someone will chase a deer by me, but not really upset if it doesn’t happen.

I know that I am going to hear from some folk who are anti-hunting, anti-meateaters, anti-nature, and all that.  Been there and done that.  Just don’t criticize me and I will do the same for you.  I’m sure I could convert you with an afternoon in the woods on a sunny autumn day, and afterward a hearty dinner of venison steaks with mushrooms, onions, mashed potatoes, and gravy.  It just doesn’t get any better, and I hope I can be there for 50 more years, or at least a few.

What really irritates us is the growing number of “hunters” who patrol the rural roads at night and shoot the deer from their trucks.  Even that unsportsmanlike activity could be tolerated if they had starving children at home, and they took the venison home and used it.  There are too many deer, and not enough hunters any more.  But more and more of these night stalkers just leave the deer lie, or sometimes they cut out some choice steaks.  The rest remains in the field.  Some day we will catch them.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps the idea is to shoot every deer they see and hope that one is a buck that they can hang in the front yard.  Antlers are even harder to see in the dark, so there are a lot of mistakes.

Oct 14

It was one of those perfect October days, not too hot, not too cold, sunny and bright. I decided to go in early to my deer stand, located at the edge of one of our Tug Hill farm fields. I took along a Louis L’Amour book, got my rifle and camera ready, and laid back for a few hours. This is the part of deer hunting I really enjoy. After awhile, a big doe and twin fawns joined me, and I watched them cavorting on the field for an hour or so, hoping that the buck I knew was in the neighborhood would join them. Just before dark, a pack of hunting coyotes started to make music in the nearby woods, and my deer eased off the field. Although I knew there would be no more deer today, I stayed until the light was gone, then unloaded my rifle, packed my gear, and climbed down from the stand. As I started the half-mile trek across the fields to camp, I could suddenly hear the hunting calls of the coyotes in the trees to my right, and also on my left. Were they hunting me? Even with a rifle in hand,it makes one feel very alone out there. As an instinctive shiver went down my back and the hairs stood up on my neck, I stuffed a clip back in my deer rifle and played my light around the field, looking for shining eyes. But no, as I stood alone in the darkened field for a while, the melodious calls of the hunters faded in another direction. Some unlucky hare was probably the target this night. A welcome full Hunter moon arose, shedding some light on the field. However, I walked just a bit faster as I headed for the distant lights of the farmhouse.

Sep 5

Adirondack Buck

Adirondack Buck

OL’ TIGE

The other day I was doing some wandering on Google, wasting time, and I came across this great piece of poetry. Brought back some memories of one of our most memorable deer hunts, gosh, some 50 years ago now. I remember like it was last year.

My brothers Lee and Jim were still teens, and I was just back from the Cold War. Deer were scarce on Tug Hill after a few tough winters, and we had been exploring some promising hunting grounds in the Adirondacks. We borrowed a neighbor’s WWII jeep, and Brother Dick’s ’52 Chevy pickup with his homemade camper, and set out for a November hunt. More about that later, maybe.

We were camped near Pico Mountain, and to get there one had to drive about 10 miles of gravel road beyond Brantingham Lake, then 4 or 5 miles of log roads into the woods. Lee and I had been in camp for a few days, and came out to pick up Jim at Brantingham. On our journey back to camp, we were ambushed by a jolly group of hunters on the Partridgeville Road, who insisted we join them in their camp, where a little party was going on. Their senior camper-he seemed ancient, but surely wasn’t much older than I am now-stood on a chair, bourbon in hand, and recited for us verbatim this very funny poem-we thought at the time he was making it up-and it has stayed with us all this years. I have never found it in print until now. Not sure who the author was.

Ready?

THE PISSING DOG
A farmer’s dog came into town,
His Christian name was Tige;
His mother showed her pedigree,
It was noblesse oblige.
And as he trotted down the street,
It was wonderful to see
Him piss against each corner,
And Diss against each tree.
He pissed against each gateway,
And pissed against each post;
For pissing was his specialty,
And pissing was his boast.
The city dogs looked on amazed,
In growing helpless rage;
To see a simple country dog,
The pisser of his age.
[9]



Some thought that he a king might be,
Of legend long forgot;
Whose asshole shone like burnished gold,
And smelled like berganot.
Then each one smelled him critically,
They smelled him two by two;
But the country dog in high disdain,
Stood still until they were through.
Then just to show his mettle,
That he did not care a damn,
He trotted to a grocery store,
And pissed upon a ham.
He pissed upon a child’s bare leg,
He pissed upon the floor;
Till the grocer with a bull’s-eye kick,
Sent him pissing through the door.
Behind him all the city dogs
Lined up with instinct true,
To start a pissing carnival,
And see the stranger through.
[10]



They showed him every pissing place
They had about the town,
And started in with many a wink
To piss the stranger down,
They sent for champion pissers
In training and condition,
Who sometimes did a pissing stunt,
Or pissed for exhibition.
But Tige was pissing merrily,
With hind leg hoisted high;
When most were hoisting legs in bluff,
But pissing mighty dry,
Then Tige sought out new pissing ground,
By piles of scrap and rust;
Till even the boldest pissers there
Pissed a little spurt of dust.
Then followed free hand pissing,
With fancy flirts and flings,
Like “double drop” and “gimlet twist,”
And all those graceful things*
[11]



So on and on went the pissing dog,
With shining amber rill,
Till the boldest pisser of them all
Was pissed to a dead standstill.
But never a wink gave the country dog,
Nor bark, nor growl, nor grin;
But pissed his journey out of town
As he came pissing in,
.

Jul 27
The good ol' days on the tug

The good ol' days on the tug

I have always felt a strong tie to The Tug that keeps calling me back.  My Dad and Mom were both born there, operated a dairy farm for 50 years or so, and raised a large family.  Eleven of us grew up there; working on the farm, rambling the forests, fields, and backroads; fishing, hunting, exploring, picking berries. Not a bad life.

Now that I am retired and have the time, I don’t get back much; it’s dangerous to be out there alone where the cell phone doesn’t work-a few trips in Summer and a couple of hunting trips with my bros in the Fall.  I just spent a few days in Montague, doing some painting and fixin’ on the camp, and wandering around.  I love to travel the old roads with my camera, remembering the farms and homes and stores and people that once were-all gone now.  All those hardy immigrants who took their turn in trying to tame The Tug: Irish, Polish, Hungarians.  Most of the farmland has gone back to forest, and it is hard to tell where the homes were unless you know what to look for.  Most everyone had a few huge maple trees in the yard, and they are still there.  There is probably the remains of a cellar nearby.  Now there are more and more summer homes and hunting camps, with some great new neighbors, most of whom know little about the history of the region and people.  People like Charlie Kempa, who was attacked by a lynx and killed it with his ax.  Or Amby Williams, who almost hosted a Woodstock concert on the Tug.  Or George “The Runner” Jacunski.  And the snowmobilers and ATVers ride the roads at high speeds, unaware that here where a sports bar now sits was once a thriving village of over 300 people-even a broom factory- and former home of “Running George”.  Just to the south was the beginning of the Glenfield & Western Railroad, over its icy tracks moved thousands of Tug Hill logs to the mills in the valley below.  This little creek, nearly every little creek, powered a cheese factory or sawmill or both.  And nearly every intersection boasted a church, schoolhouse, grange, or general store to serve the many farms.  All gone now, but for some of the cemeteries.  Nothing but memories.  Here at Mud Creek we fished for trout.  Near the former Pat Vaugh farm we chased a nice buck out for my dad on Thanksgiving morning.  Here on Pitcher Road the whole family went picking huckleberries on summer sundays.  There lived Mrs Nefsey, who had the only phone in the neighborhood, and gladly shared it, in exchange for some local gossip.  It was a harder but friendlier time then.  Memories.

For those who may be interested in history of Tug Hill, Harold E. Samson wrote 2 very good books.  “Tug Hill Country” Tales from the Big Woods, and “The Other Side of the Hill”, which covered our east and north side.  I believe both have been reprinted recently in paperback.  I knew many of the people he tells about, and some of the stories were local legend.  John Golden’s “Northern Drift” has some good stories on Tug Hill people, and Louis Mihalyi of Glenfield did a couple of “Nature, Nurture, and Nostalgia” books with the best from his Black River Journal in the Watertown Times.  And last year, I found on ebay a copy of the “History of the Town of Harrisburg”.  Great reading.  Maybe someday I will do one.  There aren’t a million stories out there, but quite a few.  Some good ones.

For those not familiar with Montague, here is some interesting reading:

Montague History

Jan 18

Now that I am retired and have some free time on my hands, I have been thinking of putting together some stories into a Tug Hill book.  I have 25 years of our camp logs, lots of photos, and lots of memories, and it would be fun to put them on paper.  Someone might enjoy them.  It is easy to get published these days.  Now I just have to come up with some motivation.

Dec 14

I have a few of my photos shared on a site called “flickr”, and they have a new thing where I can maybe put them on my own website. We’ll give it a try:

www.flickr.com

This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from pitcherhill39. Make your own badge here.


Nov 4

Here is a look at our farm on Tug Hill from outer space. Big Brother is keeping a close eye on us. Comforting, no? As you can see, the windmills stand out clearly. We are looking into using these maps for deer hunting. The deer don’t show up (that would be helpful), but it gives a good look at the terrain. http://maps.google.com/maps/mm?hl=en&ie=UTF8&t=h&layer=t&ll=43.786246,-75.609455&spn=0.018248,0.036349&z=15

« Previous Entries