Last week, I enjoyed a leisurely hike along the Jackrabbit Trail while traveling with Ed Kanze, a local guide and naturalist from Bloomingdale.
McKenzie Pond was the intended destination, and our journey began from a trailhead located just off the McKenzie Pond Road.
It was a crisp autumn morning, the sky was a deep shade of blue and the understory was brilliant with shafts of sunlight that penetrated the thick cover.
Whitetail hunters quickly learn to look for buck rubs which indicate a buck’s territory. Commonly, the size of the tree featuring a rub offers a fair assessment of the size of the buck. The larger the tree, the larger the buck.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
The trail skirted an old ball field before it began gaining elevation through a mixed hardwood forest dotted with huge glacial erratics.
Most of the mudholes had frozen over, and the hoarfrost crunched loudly underfoot as we tromped along. Although the woods were eerily still, we certainly weren't going to sneak up on any wildlife while making such a racket.
Ed and I made quick work of the hike, and even though we traveled at a leisurely pace, we made it to the outlet of the pond without even breaking a sweat.
As we stepped out of the woods near the pond's outlet, a bald eagle took to the air just beyond the dam. The bird disappeared quickly around a point of land and we never saw it again.
I explained that bald eagles were frequent visitors to McKenzie Pond, which holds a healthy population of brook trout, lake trout and landlocked salmon. He claimed to have heard the same thing.
"In fact," I told Ed, "I was up this way just last spring fishing with my friend Tim Doyle.
"Doyle knows this pond like nobody else, and he sure knows how to fish for salmon. He took a couple of nice salmon that day, and I never even got a hit."
Then I explained, only half jokingly, "I think Doyle owns this pond."
Ed and I hung around near the outlet for a bit examining a small inlet to see if any salmon were up the stream. But as usual, no fish were found and we soon decided to head back down the trail.
On our return trip, we exchanged cordialities with a camo-clad hunter who was on his way out. Later, just before reaching the trailhead, we ran into another hunter on his way in.
"I guess it's just a good morning to be in the woods," I thought to myself.
We finally made it to the trailhead, and as we stuffed gear into our respective vehicles a passing car slowed down abruptly and finally stopped.
The driver backed up to the trailhead where we stood. She sure seemed to be in a hurry.
I recognized her when she rolled down the window. There was no escaping the sadness apparent in her eyes.
"I saw you coming out of the woods, and I thought you'd want to know," she explained. "Tim Doyle passed away this morning."
Stunned and stuttering, I replied, "Thanks, ahh, ah, thanks " It was the only noise I could manage to mutter.
I simply wanted to walk off and head back up the trail. But I couldn't escape the news.
Tim was a friend, a woodsman, a guideboat builder, an angler and so much more. He was also a husband, father, co-worker and a coach.
He was addicted to outdoor life and he knew the local woods and waters as well as anyone. He lived to race in the Hanmer, where he and his daughters became regular fixtures. He respected Adirondack traditions, and eventually he became one.
As dependable as clockwork, I'd run into Tim nearly every June morning as I motored up the lake with my fishing guests.
Often, I'd attempt to visit with him as he trained on the still waters of Lake Flower in the early morning mist. I'd usually get in just a few words before he'd say, "Sorry Bub can't talk now."
And with a quick haul on the oars, he was out of hearing range.
If heaven looks anything like McKenzie Pond, which Tim claimed it might, I'll bet the fish up there are currently very nervous. Godspeed!
On the hunt
After completing a recent survey of several local big buck contests, I now feel much better. It appears I'm not a member of the only hunting camp in the Adirondacks that has yet to "tip one over."
Ward Lumber, which hosts one of the largest local buck contests, currently reports just seven entries, with a 200-pound, 11-pointer topping the board. The annual contest, which attracts entries to the Jay store as well as the Malone store, typically covers the northern Adirondacks as well as the Champlain basin.
They explained: "It's been kind of slow so far this year, but now they seem to be coming in."
Blue Line Sport Shop in Saranac Lake, which handles entries for the fabled Trudeau Big Buck Contest, has only a handful of entries to date.
As one employee pointed out, "I know we've weighed in quite a few deer so far, but I don't know how many were entered."
Unlike most local contests, the Trudeau Big Buck requires a fee and pre-registration, which tends to limit the number of entries.
Although many hunters claim to have been seeing a fair share of deer already this season, current conditions have not been exactly as expected for the middle of November.
It seems either climate change or just bad luck has been responsible for unseasonably moderate temperatures and a nearly non-existent snowpack.
With the month of November nearly halfway expired, there is still very little snow on the ground, with the exception of a few mountain summits.
And with the combination of warm weather, it appears the deer are moving primarily at night. Hopefully, as the rut advances toward its peak, lovesick bucks will begin to make mistakes and reveal themselves.
The next few weeks will be the prime time of the season, and if a hunter can find the does, it is a safe bet bucks will be close at hand. Stay alert, and be ready to take a shot. Carry your rifle at the ready, this is no time to use a sling.
If does are around, get comfortable and sit tight, be patient and remain attentive, but don't expect to see a whole deer. Look for parts like the white around an eye or the black of a nose, or even a twitching tail.
Stay with the does and watch their behavior. At this time, breeding activity lasts from dawn till dusk and throughout the night. A big buck can lose up to a quarter of its body weight while chasing does, in just three weeks time.