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  • Matt Breton

2023 Hunting Season Wrap Up

Another great season without a tag filled. Becoming a new habit that I don't really care for at a basement level (where my freezer is), and yet, it allows for a lot of time and adventures in the woods. I got to spend a lot of time out there with good folks, especially my Dad, who isn't getting any younger.

September had a long hike as a tune up, followed by some brook trout fishing, then there were a few October hunts for grouse, woodcock, and ducks.

Shifting over fully to big game, I guided a wilderness CO elk hunt, then switched gears to New England deer chasing for November and December. Over 60 days, I hunted somewhere around 40-45. If I averaged 5 miles a day, which seems reasonable, my legs accumulated about 200 miles. I don't know that I'm recovered yet. Training for 2024 starts next week.

As I write this near Christmas, I'm back out with a shotgun locally, after grouse and snowshoe hare and am already looking ahead.

A few highlights:

Kilkenny Ridge Traverse

Over two days and one night of Labor Day weekend in September, my buddy Chad and I hiked the Kilkenny Ridge Traverse. Was a good slog of 25+/- miles as tune up for heading west in October. Tried out a bivy sack and liked it - much lighter than a tent.

Above, random woods on day 2, looking north to where we started

Below, getting our digs for the night set up.

Above, the view from Roger's Ledge

Float Trip

My fishing buddy and boss decided to leave the clinic where I work, so rather than a coffee mug, we got him float trip. I got to go along while we floated the Androscoggin out of Errol. We landed some nice fish and missed/lost a couple really good ones.

Went with Tom who owns Highly recommend him - he worked hard and definitely knows the river.

Pedaling for Brookies

As September drew to a close, I had an itch to get in behind a gate to try for late season trout/salmon. We fished there in mid September on what is becoming a regular invite trip, but felt like we were early, so I decided to go back. Unfortunately things were warm and low, so no luck. I had set up my mountain bike to carry my gear with a rack - last year we hiked in, which took a lot longer. So this needs a little tweaking, but will definitely work.

October Ducks, Grouse, and Moose Pulling

I was leaving for Colorado on October 10th, so needed to squeeze in what I could. Managed to get out and do a short float on a rainy day opener. Had a few decoys out, flushed a couple and missed some fast-flying teal.

A nice taste. We love to fry up grouse with salt and pepper and eat on a cracker with cream cheese.

On a Tuesday night, knowing I had Wednesday off, Marc let me know he had a moose to pull in the morning. Dad hadn't witnessed this really cool VT tradition, so we made the trip in.

CO Elk

I headed to Colorado to guide a first rifle Wilderness Elk Hunt for Russ at CO-Outfiiters.

This is always a cool adventure for me, and I hope, for my clients. Public land hunts like this are tough, but fun. I guided three hunters from MN, a father and his two sons, age 12 and 16. They all did great. The Rocky Mountains are a tough hunt for anyone, but especially for a 12 year old who is used to tree stands. They were game for anything. I like to think the 16y/o will be a guide in a few year - he hunted all week with pins in his thumb!

We saw moose and mule deer, heard one bugle after the other client in camp missed a cow, came close one morning near where that client ended up shooting his bull. No shots, but quite an experience in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. I helped pack out the other clients bull and we ended the week waiting for the ride out by doing a little fishing.

Below, a sketchy drive through Rabbit Ear Pass with a horse trailer in tow.

Above, getting gear prepped to load on mules

Below, CO scenery

Above and below, heading up into the mountains for the week

Above and below, my clients (Will, Charlie, and Steve) and some of the views

Below, a Shiras moose shed

Above, Brandon's bull

Below, ready to pack out with Dave and Brandon

Above, the boys fishing the creek below camp while we wait for the ride out

Deer Sign and Chasing

November was spent chasing deer, mostly in NH. Saw a lot of rubs and scrapes, passed on two bucks over the first couple weeks on sparse or no snow. Made it to Maine for a couple days early. Got to VT camp for opening weekend with all the guys which is always a blast. Tracked a few bucks that I either didn't catch up to or got cut off on. Chad and I were able to double team on a buck that we each saw once, but had no shot at. Saw enough good sign to get excited about next year there, feel like we're getting spots dialed in a bit to go look for tracks when the snow lands.

Below, a unicorn spike breeds a doe. I was cruising looking for a track when this doe crossed in front of me at 35 yards with her tongue hanging out. I heard grunting behind and was ready, since this was an area I've chased some decent bucks in. Out comes a little spike. I couldn't believe it when she stood to let him breed her. I waited a while to see if any other buck was going to come along, but nothing did. I did end up see another deer further down the mountain that I think was probably a buck, but it was too late in teh day to do anything with him.

I pulled a camera on a signpost since the buck that worked those rubs had been killed the year before. Much to my surprise, the signposts had been hit again and this guy was doing the work. He made a scrape underneath one, which was interesting.

Above, this pine marten was being chased by a hawk and didn't know where to go.

Below, Chad and I double teaming on a buck that we didn't catch

Below, tracks on early season snow in Maine

This 5-ish pointer (to the left of the barked striped maple) got a pass on bare ground while I had stopped for a sandwich.

Above, a buck I tracked that went by someone's trail cam and I was able to get a peek at him. This was a good chase, but I was 9 hours behind and didn't catch up.

Finally, A Miss

After nearly two months, I was hunting from home in VT for muzzleloader week. My buddy Chad missed one opening weekend of muzzleloader. I tracked a couple bucks, got cut off on one I thought I might shoot, then we had a few days of crunchy snow.

Friday I took a long walk and that afternoon I found a snowed-in buck track that looked pretty good. It was a few days old, but being late season, I felt like it was worth investigating. I followed it into a swampy area where I came into an absolute barnyard. At first I thought it was a few deer, but it turned out that this buck had spent a couple days in that spot just feeding and bedding. I tried to sort it out, but finally ended up making a loop to find a fresher set of tracks. At that point, I was pretty sure the tracks I was on were from the night before, so I eased up and hoped to catch him up feeding. The snow was crunchy and there wasn't any wind and I ended up bumping him without knowing it; there were jsut running tracks. I back tracked to his bed to make sure it was the same deer and I didn't give him very long before I started after him again. In short order, I saw a good sized body take off without a shot. I decided to leave him before I really buggered him and come back the next day when there was a warm up and some wind predicted.

Above, the track of teh buck I missed, mostly freshened up

Chad and I headed in there Saturday morning, making the mile and a half trek to pick up this buck’s running track. We picked up the 18-hour-old track and started to cruise along. The buck had run for a few hundred yards, stopped to watch his back track, then carried on with his business of feeding and bedding. We passed through 4 beds he made through the night, slowing down each time as the track freshened up, until the swirling wind jumped him up before we saw him.

          After jumping him, we took a break. We now had a buck just in front of us. Things were starting to warm up, so the crust was finally fading. As we took up the track, the buck took us along a brook and into some whippy hardwoods. Just 15 minutes in, we saw him take off again on the other side of the brook, about 120 yards from where we'd just jumped him. It was just a body and legs taking off without a good enough look at him to take a shot. Now he was onto us.

We picked up the pace, hoping to catch this tired fella in a spot where we could get a shot. We bumped him again without seeing him and then he headed out. We crossed the old road we had walked in on and Chad swung off to watch a crossing he thought the buck might cruise through, where the buck he had missed the week before had gone. I stayed on the track. The buck trekked through the hardwoods, but now there was some terrain rather than a flat swamp, so I thought I might catch a glimpse.

          About four hours into the chase, near 11 a.m., I was moving along the track, looking as far ahead through the woods as I could trying to spot this buck. Suddenly, to my right, about 60 yards away, tucked in a depression, a deer lifted its head from feeding. I had looked right over the top of it. The buck! I pulled up as he took off and tried to find a lane to shoot through. I was running out of real estate and took a shot. I followed that buck for a few more hours and miles, jumped him a couple more times without seeing him, but didn’t connect. Getting out to the end of the road that day was bittersweet. A fun chase and adventure all the way around; exactly what I hope for in a day, and a season, of deer hunting.

Below, back out with a shotgun in hand, a late season grouse.

Hunting season never really ends

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