While walking the forest this week, I began seeing the tell-tell signs of autumn. Flowers, grass, berries and mushrooms while still abundant are slowly ebbing into fall displays of color and the scent of ready-to-fall leaves waft through the forest glens. Change is upon us and that means change in animal behaviors, too.
One of the sure signs of Fall is the beginning of the rutting season for deer and elk. From my scouting hikes, it seems that the moose and elk have already shed their velvet. The deer, however, still show signs of antler growth.
As many of you know, bull elk, buck deer and bull moose grow antlers every year. The antlers will be encased in a soft velvety tissue as they grow. About this time of year, the males have a sharp rise in testosterone levels which will trigger a shutdown of blood supply to the velvet. They then begin to rub the velvet off on small trees scattered throughout the forest. This precedes a rush to the breeding season which generally starts 10 days prior to the fall equinox, Sept. 22.
As the animals move into this cycle, they become less wary and are easier prey for the hunters and also provide excellent viewing and opportunities for hearing the big bull elk bugle. There is nothing quite as thrilling as the eerie sounds of a big bull as he challenges all comers to a fight over the harem of females he has assembled.
Last year, I had the pleasure of being within 100 yards of five bulls as they bugled at one another. We had crawled in to get closer to their battling when suddenly I saw movement on the ground. Two pine martins came scooting along the ground playing and tumbling along. Pine martins are small forest animals that look like a long mink and they flowed along the ground like waves in the ocean. They reminded me of the Disney movies about otters as they played.
Saturday, I took a walk back into one of my favorite areas that has small meadows intermixed among aspen and spruce. Earlier in the summer, when dry conditions prevailed, the larger animals had moved out of this area to places with better food supplies. With the return of the rains and subsequent increase in foliage, I saw a remarkable change in activity now.
Elk, deer and bear sign was everywhere. I especially saw lots of bear activity evidenced by logs split open and cow patties turned over in search of grubs. We set a trail camera on one of the water holes there and were rewarded with a great picture of a black bear that came by the camera.
It reminds me of a time when I watched a bear claw a tree. He made short work of the bark and literally tore the tree to shreds quickly. I am not sure the reason for this, whether to sharpen or clean their claws or maybe just because they can. No matter what, they sure can open car doors quickly!
With hunting season upon us, man adds another variable in the changing environment. Hunters will "put pressure" on elk and deer and force them to move down into safe havens closer to town. About 10 years ago, we had just bought a brand, spanking new car. We were driving from the country to town during the rut, when a whitetail doe ran out in front of us. No one was hurt, but the car with only 1000 miles on it was totaled. Those stories are all too common around here as evidenced by the road kill on Hwy 160. Last week alone, I saw coyote, deer and fox hit by vehicles on the highway already.
While big game is on the move and a bit unpredictable, fishing is still good. The summer tourists have returned to their winter abodes and so the lakes and rivers are seeing less pressure. Shaw Lake was opened last weekend and reports are good. Those fish must have been wondering where everyone was for the whole summer. Be sure and call the local Forest Service Office to see if it’s open before you drive up to fish, though.
The rivers remain murky due to the rains and fire damage but a #5 or #7 Rapala in perch color is producing some great fish in all the waters. Spinners, spoons or other flashy lures also produce in these cloudy waters. The clearer streams are producing fish on small caddis patterns with bead head droppers.
So no matter your activity this season, be watchful for wildlife as they change their patterns and density near you. The berries are abundant, mushrooms still flourishing and viewing opportunities for both flora and fauna is at their peak. Cooper and I will be out there finding all of these on the golden days of late summer and expect to see you out there in our glorious mountains.