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Lynx Tracks – Exciting First for Us

Lynx Tracks – Exciting First for Us

Lynx Tracks in the Snow

We’re making the most of our backwoods road riding this month while we wait for winter to give up and let spring move in. The roads are still frozen and the frost hasn’t started working its way out of the ground yet. From last weekend to this, the ice has gained rather than lost area at the outlets and along moving water. It’s moving backward. Finding lynx tracks in the snow last weekend was a highlight of winter and a first for me.

lynx tracks, lynx in Maine, tracks,

Talking With the Warden

I talked with our local game warden about our trespasser and the lynx. He’s familiar with the lynx but hadn’t seen signs of him in a couple of  years, and he was happy to hear he’s still around. They’re beautiful cats. I said I was 99.9% sure we’d seen lynx tracks, and he replied that they are “awesome and impressive. If you think you saw lynx tracks that’s what you saw.” On top of a heavy crust and with a little fresh snow on top, the tracks are the size of my palm.

The front foot is in front/on bottom, and the back foot steps on part of the front foot. It’s an easy size and pattern to recognize.

These lynx tracks belong to a cat in Topsfield. There are five sets of tracks near Grand Lake Stream. A few years ago lynx in the area were little more than rumors. We knew they’d move in eventually as these “endangered” (pffft  No they’re not, that’s ridiculous.) animals with a small population continue to reproduce and spread out. If you’re standing on one side of the US/New Brunswick, Canada border they’re endangered. On the other side, in Canada, they are a species with a healthy and growing population. (off the soapbox now)

Hollow Bones

I learned during our conversation that lynx have hollow bones, part of what makes it easier for them to stay on top of the snow. A thick crust, huge round “snowshoe” feet, and hollow bones. How absolutely cool is that. There are two tracks below. The front foot is on the bottom, back foot partially covers the front. The scratch mark is consistent on the left side, and I think it’s the front foot scuffing the snow.

lynx tracks, snow, maine

What Do Lynx Eat?

We know the lynx are around. They’re on two sides of us and have been for at least a few years. They follow the snowshoe hare population, their main diet. The hare population has recovered since the winter of 2014/15 when local hares were all but wiped out. I don’t know that they’d be a threat to the poultry or much of a threat to deer. Now that I’ve learned more, I’m less concerned about increased danger to my poultry. Interesting, the things you learn as a result of riding a backwoods road for an hour.

Backwoods roads were muddy this weekend so went to see elk instead. Elk. In Maine. Tis true. Instead of buying a side of farm-raised beef we’re considering harvesting a farm-raised elk. Thinking about it. I have pictures of course. I’ll share a couple tomorrow.

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Moose Browse – Late Winter in Maine’s Woods

Moose Browse – Late Winter in Maine’s Woods

Moose Browse

It’s still very much winter here in northeastern Maine. Snow is measured in feet in parts of our woodlot. Branches I don’t notice when the ground is bare have to be ducked under now. The bobcat is still hunting snowshoe hare in sight of the house and now, there’s a fisher passing through. I find their tracks in the snow. And speaking of tracks in the snow, last weekend I found tracks that made us stop the truck and back up. I’ll share them tomorrow. Back to moose browse. We were looking at a logging job in an area there are a lot of moose. A pile of cedar logs that hadn’t been delimbed yet served as moose browse.


moose browse, cedar, what do moose eat, winter
moose browse, twigs, cedar

Moose Track in Snow

moose track in snow, moose browseMoose aren’t having a hard time with the snow. Their legs are long enough to deal with a foot or two with ease. They leave tracks that are so large their hard to mistake even if you see them from a distance. They’re large, deep and far apart. In a winter with deep snow they’re easier to see on plowed roads and snowmobile trails. If you have a vehicle that will take you safely down woods roads to timber harvests after the harvest is complete, you might find them browsing cedar tops left behind.

Other than old age, moose are it’s most likely to die because of winter ticks, also known as moose ticks. We haven’t seen this yet this winter but we know it’s happening. Watch for bare spots in their coat, blood and hair on the snow where they’ve bedded down, and emaciated moose, especially calves. It’s a sad thing to see and awful way to die.

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Bobcat on the Homestead

Bobcat on the Homestead

Bobcat on the Homestead

I’ve been waiting for him. Let’s call this bobcat “him.” Could be a female, I don’t know yet. I’ve been waiting for a bobcat to show up. We know they’re here year round but we don’t see them until mid to late February, when it’s been a hard winter or the snow is deep. The blizzard and subsequent storm provided the deep, soft snow. It’s unusually warm so the snow is compacting and dropping but still, I knew he’d come. I set up a bait site a few weeks ago and hadn’t been out to check it in 12 days.

The bobcat wandered through Sunday night and found the site. Something, probably an ermine, chewed the bottom of the onion bag and let the pork trimmings drop in chunks to the ground. The cat isn’t that hungry. It put no effort into reaching up for the pork or the fish hanging 18 inches away.

Preventive Measures

I’ve been waiting so the ducks and chickens are locked safely away in the coop unless I’m outside with them. I go out a little early for evening chores and let them out. The ducks have a bath and the chickens eat a little snow (why do they love snow so much when they’re not thirsty?) and then they put themselves back in for the evening. They might be a little bored but they aren’t unhappy. I’ll buy a half-dozen heads of lettuce and hang them from the ceiling to give them something to do.

He arrived first in the dark. He comes and goes often, was here in daylight on Tuesday, and back again at midnight. I brought more food out Wednesday morning and will check the site from a distance on Friday morning.

Bait Site

Although this is legally a bait site it’s not a site being hunted, and so the site doesn’t have to be labeled. Bobcat season ended February 21. I expected the coyote to stumble upon or smell the bait but to date the bobcat is the only large animal visiting.

Living With Bobcats

We killed the first two bobcats that killed our poultry. It’s our responsibility to keep our charges safe. When the third cat killed two ducks we learned how to live with not one but two cats. These tips should help you prevent attacks and make your homestead less inviting.

  • Bobcats don’t want to be around our homestead. They show up only when the snow is soft and deep, they’re unable to hunt well, the snowshoe hare population dips, and the winter has been long.
  • Put game cameras out and if legal, place bait to hold the cat’s interest in front of the camera. This will help you know what’s there. You can deal with what you know and by knowing, you can take extra measures to keep livestock safe.
  • Keep livestock of all kinds behind sturdy high fencing. Cats climb and canines dig under. Add an angle extension at the top, leaning outside the pen, and bury 12″ of wire to deter digging.
  • Have livestock guardian animals. LGD’s (livestock guardian dogs), llamas and donkeys work well.
  • If it’s legal, feed a starving cat away from the homestead. We thought we’d kill the third cat but didn’t catch it in the act (legal requirement when hunting season is closed). Talk to your game warden or equivalent about what you can and can’t do. It kept the bobcat away from our poultry because it was no longer desperate enough to take its chances.
  • Don’t feed pets and livestock outside.
  • If someone’s up during the night hit the panic button on your vehicle’s key fob or blow an air horn. Bobcats hunt day and night. An active homestead is likely to be comfortable for a bobcat. If you’re not outside, hit that panic button now and then during the day. (We do this for bears.)
  • Scare crows with human scent and clothes that move with the breeze.
  • Have the dogs mark their territory, and you can as well. This bobcat marks its territory under the bait by peeing in the snow.

Bobcat Photos

One camera says January but it’s February. I keep forgetting to change the date when I change batteries.

bobcat, bait, hunting, maine

bobcat, Talmadge, bait pile, game camera

bobcat, Talmadge, Maine, big wild radio

The bobcat moved away from the bait site and picked up the snowmobile trail into the food plot.

bobcat, snowmobile trail, game camera, food plot

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Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter

(My February column in Maine Woodlands) Feeding deer in winter is tricky. We mean well but we can kill deer with kindness if we aren’t careful. Farmer’s Almanac said we’d have a lot of snow this winter, and they were right. We had more snow on the ground in December here in Talmadge than we had all last winter. Steve built a new food plot for the wildlife and the deer came. There were three bucks at various times, an older doe that’s usually without a fawn, a doe with twins and a doe with a singleton. Up the road a quarter-mile, neighbors had a doe with quadruplets eating under the apple tree most evenings. Most of the deer moved toward Grand Lake Stream to yard up together but a few stragglers have stayed behind.

The deer stopped eating the forage radish and turnip in the food plot in the last few days of December when a thick icy crust on top of 18″ of snow stopped them from pawing their way to the food. They occasionally walk through the plot and pass by the game cameras. They’re getting thin. Whitetails put on about 90 days’ worth of fat and their 90 days is running out. It’s hard to resist the urge to feed them. Deer will starve to death with a belly full of corn. You can’t change their diet, especially this late in winter without dire consequences.

feeding deer, deer eating cedarWhat you can do is drop a cedar tree for them. If the deer have eaten what they can reach you can bring the food down to them. We did this with good results in April of 2014. The deer returned from their winter yards to deep snow. Two cedar trees tided them over until the snow melted. The snowshoe hares also fed off the trees. The deer will most likely be fine without our help but if you want to give them a hand, keep the food natural.

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Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine – Short-tailed Weasel

We have an ermine, called a short-tailed weasel or stoat when from spring through fall when its coat isn’t white. I mentioned it before. It still comes around now and then even though it’s wiped out the mouse problem for us. There’s been some concern by folks who get a glimpse of him about the safety of our ducks and chickens. So far it’s fine. If it’s going into the hen house it isn’t causing a problem. There’s plenty of food so the little guy is well fed. We like to live with the wildlife as much as possible. As long as they mind their manners they’re welcome to stay.

There isn’t a lot I can do to prevent the ermine from getting to the poultry. They can squeeze through a tiny hole to get in and the birds are outside during the day. I’ve read that ermine are nocturnal but we see him almost daily in morning and afternoon, same as every other ermine we’ve had. Relocating is inhumane this time of year. Taking an animal out of its habitat and moving it to a strange place in the dead of winter is likely to cause it a harsh death. I’m not sure we have a live trap small enough to keep it contained anyway.

stoat, short-tailed weasel, weasel, ermine
ermine, mouse,
I suspect the occasional scattering of small bird feathers we find under the bird feeder and around the back porch are signs of his successful hunts. We hope he’ll feast on the three red squirrels. I heard it skittering around the attic yesterday and hope that means he’ll will discourage the red squirrels from moving in when it’s time to build a nest.

Look carefully, there aren’t a lot of details. The ermine is sitting on an old moose antler that Steve found it in the woods last fall while he was hunting. It’s so old moss is growing, and the calcium is breaking down. It’s flaking away a little at a time. For now it’s interesting took look at, and the ermine likes to sit on it. When he’s unaware of my presence he’ll stand up straight and tall on the antler to get a better view of what’s around. This morning he knew I was there so he came and went faster than ermines already move naturally.

moose antler, ermine, stoat, short-tailed weaselErmine’s are small, adorable and somewhat personable predators. I lose track of time watching him and will miss seeing him when winter ends and he returns to the woods.

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Track Maker – predator on the homestead

Track Maker – predator on the homestead

The Track Maker

I waited until it warmed up before going out this morning. Six below. -6°F, “feels like” -17°F (feels like needles on bare skin) when I went out. The ducks peeked out the door. A hen waddled out, looked around, stretched her right leg behind her, wings out straight, turned around and waddled back inside. I closed the door behind her and filled the water pans. The chickens are pecking at a pan of bacon fat I gave them a few days ago as a treat. The extra calories help them stay warm and maintain weight. We’re in the coldest part of winter now. I think I’ve already told you that. Ava snuffled enough birds to be satisfied that all was well, looked for eggs in the usual spots on the floor (she stares at them, I’m sure hoping they’ll leap into her mouth since she’s not allowed to take them) and went to the door to wait. One egg from Sweetie. The ducks aren’t laying and only three chickens are popping out eggs every couple of days.

It’s so cold the snow squeaks under foot. Ava and Zoey took off in the direction of the food plot then waited to see if I were going with them. None of us are getting enough exercise these days. I’d bundled up before leaving the house so we could go for a short walk. There were game cameras to check this morning. What left the tracks we found while walking Sunday afternoon?

Bobcat or Coyote?

Do I want to deal with an early bobcat or a coyote? Coyotes are easier when it comes to poultry but bobcats are far more interesting. I fed a starving bobcat at the end of winter 2015 to keep him alive and away from my birds. Do I want to do it again? The deer have moved on so I can set up a feeding station at the bear bait site without worrying about causing problems for the deer. Would I rather bait a coyote in the same spot? The difference between a feeding station and a bait is species. I’ll feed a bobcat to keep it away from the ducks and chickens but I’ll bait a coyote in order to shoot it. A bobcat will stay away from people if it isn’t desperate. A coyote is an opportunist waiting for one escaped bird rather it’s starving or not.

We went to all three cameras, two in the food plot and one in the wood yard, and swapped the cards. I pried the first one open with a little effort but the clasps on the second and third cameras were frozen solid.  There’s nothing good about taking your gloves off when it’s -7° and breezy but I wanted those cards.

And the Pictures Show…

The pictures show nothing definite but I’m pretty sure the track maker is a coyote. Right side of the screen, a coyote head. The camera triggered two seconds too fast for a full body shot. The batteries were probably too cold to snap the second photo sooner. Normally there are three or four empty pictures before something walks into the frame. We have the head and tip of a busy tail.
coyote, food plot, winter, track maker
track maker, coyote tailNotice the lack of tracks on the snow? The coyote is light enough to stay on top of the crust. Deer break through. It’s a big advantage for the coyotes. It snowed a few times between December 28 and January 6 when the track maker returned. I hoped to find the culprit in this photo but didn’t. Cold batteries again. Look closely. There’s a snowshoe hare
snowshoe hare, food plot, winter, snow, track makertrack makerHere’s what we know. Bobcats don’t come near the house unless they’re starving. We’ve had four bobcats here in 18 winters. All were starving and desperate enough to take their chances with us and the dogs. Two of them came in the winter of 2015 when we had more than 200 inches of snow. One of them killed two ducks but the other found the feeding station and didn’t come closer. We know there’s another coyote here. There aren’t any indications of a bobcat. I think the hare hopped through and the coyote followed its tracks and/or scent later. It snowed Friday night into Saturday morning. There wasn’t much of a crust on the snow for the coyote to stay on so it broke through and left the tracks that then collected snow.

Nature sleuthing. Don’t you love it? I believe the track maker is the coyote. Case dismissed.

Snowy Food Plots and White-tailed Deer

Snowy Food Plots and White-tailed Deer

Snowy Food Plots

We’ve been waiting for snowy food plots to learn how to the wildlife will react to the food we’ve provided. There are turnip and radish tops above snow but as you can see, the deer are pawing through the snow to get to grass. Unfortunately we don’t know what kind of grass seed was in the seed mix.

snowy food plot, white-tailed deer, Maine, food plots in winter
snowy food plots, deer, deer in winter food plots

snowy food plots, snowshoe hare tracks in snowThe deer have flattened one food plot, their favorite, and moved into the larger plot behind the house. The smaller plot was full of kale and oats, apparently the does and fawns’ favorites. They ate the seed heads from the oats and the leaves from the kale, leaving the kale ribs standing. Most of the ribs and oat plants are gone now. Now that we have snowy food plots the deer paw through the snow to get to food. They seem to favor grass over turnip and forage radish tops. When the grass is gone we expect them to pull up the turnip and radish roots. The roots they miss will die and improve the soil.

The short-antlered buck was here. It’s always good to see the bucks. Splay, the big old doe that’s fat and round looks like she’s packed on enough calories to last two winters. Good for her!

Snowshoe Hares

There are a lot of snowshoe hares this year. Remember the kits? I find their tracks near the wood yard. It’s easy to tell them from the others because they’re much smaller. The tracks above are from an adult hare. Hares are in the snowy food plots eating tops off turnip and a little grass. None of the animals want anything to do with pumpkins yet. That’s unusual. Maybe they’ll be the last thing eaten before the deer move on to their winter feeding grounds.

I hope to harvest one or two hares before the season closes at the end of March. They’re hard on the fruit trees in winter and the garden in summer. While I won’t be growing an outdoor garden, they can ruin the food plot as the tender shoots pop up. I’ll be looking for hares in the food plot only, not going into the woods to find them. I doubt I could find them without a hound and Zoey’s ears turn off when she’s behind a hare. She doesn’t hear a word we say yell.

Elsewhere on the homestead

I’ve made one wreath so far. I’ll make more today, finish decorating the tree that I haven’t told you about yet, and make a soup for supper. I haven’t been to the freezer yet. I’m going with whatever suitable soup meat I see first being the kind of soup I make. It could be caribou thanks to most generous Cristina, turkey or chicken we raised, or moose thanks to a friend who hit a moose. I wish I were baking bread today but since we still have half of a sour dough seven grain loaf there’s no need to bake.

What’s happening at your place today?

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Hibernation in the Woodlot

Hibernation in the Woodlot

Hibernation

Hibernation is underway in our woodlots. We can let the dogs out in the evening without worrying about them bumping into raccoons, skunks, porcupines and bears. Or…can we? Sometime during the night a small animal chewed the bottom out of the mesh bag and dropped the suet to the porch floor.

Late one December I stumbled upon a soaking wet carcass.  I assumed from its black fur that a neighbor’s cat had fallen prey to a coyote or fox until I got closer. The smell wasn’t strong but it was unmistakable and I didn’t need a closer look to know that a skunk had come out of it’s den for a walk in the snow.

In elementary school, we learned these animals fell asleep in a cozy den and didn’t wake up until spring. I was in awe of the bear’s ability to give birth while sleeping, and of the cubs’ ability to find their way to nurse all winter. Should have known that was too good to be true.

Maine’s True Hibernators

There are three true hibernators in Maine. The little brown bat, struggling with white nose syndrome, went to their hibernacula in September and October to spend the winter and don’t emerge until early to mid-spring. Unless you have a cave, mine or empty building in your woodlot you probably don’t have hibernating bats. The little brown bat’s heart rate drops from one thousand beats per minute to five during hibernation.

ground hog, whistle pig, hibernation

Have you noticed the resident ground hogs giving your late-season garden a break? They’re the second of Maine’s true hibernators. Like the little brown bat, ground hogs settle in to hibernate in early to mid-fall. They dig a den that might be attached to the tunnel where they spend the rest of the year. It’s located below the frost line and above the water table. The ground hog’s body temperature drops to 38°, heart rate to four beats per minute, and breaths only ten an hour. If ground hogs are hibernating in your woodlot they’re most likely at the edge near a clearing.

Meadow jumping mice do well to survive winter, though many don’t. Unlike most animals preparing winter, jumping mice spend only two weeks fattening up. Their den is a small chamber less than two feet below the surface, often beneath logs. Once dug, jumping mice line the chamber with dry plant material, close the opening with soil, and don’t emerge until spring. Unlike other rodents that stash seeds for winter, jumping mice don’t need them. They won’t wake to eat or drink while hibernating.

We most often see our part-time hibernators, skunks and raccoons, during January thaw before the coldest part of winter sets in, and again in late February. In mild winters like that of 2015/16, both were out and about for two weeks starting on February 1 (raccoon) and February 3 (skunk) according to photos on our game cameras. We know now that bears aren’t the sound sleepers we once believed. They seldom leave the den in winter and when they do they don’t go far, and they don’t eat or drink. In the 18 winters we’ve spent snowshoeing our woodlot and surrounding woods I’ve seen bear tracks only twice. Loggers sometimes rouse a bear out of its den by moving a pile of logs, or sometimes a single log.

We’re more likely to find tracks in the snow than the part-time hibernators while we’re in the woods. Take a look around. Tracks tell part of the story of what animals were out and about when least expected.

Beaver Damage in the Woodlot

Beaver Damage in the Woodlot

Beaver Damage

Beaver damage – a problem that creates beauty. Now what do we do?

beaver damage, woodlot
beaver damage, beaver lodge, woodlot
beaver lodge, beaver damage, woodlot, flooding
beaver damage, mud dam
beaver tracks, mud, beaver damage, woodlot

We had a surprise, unwelcome discovery in the woodlot late in the summer. Steve discovered a beaver lodge and bog a few hundred yards from the house. It looks like I need to spend more time poking around in the woodlot to see what’s happening out there. Beaver damage can happen fast and I don’t want the little buggers to get any further ahead of us than they already have.

The beaver lodge is four feet tall and six feet wide. There hasn’t been any recent activity in the area, probably because of the drought conditions. They’ve chosen a poor spot for their home, a seasonal stream that’s four feet wide and a foot deep for a few months of the year. It makes me wonder what they were thinking while scoping out real estate. There’s a nice stream lined with hardwoods and full of brook trout a half mile away, and the beaver damage there is remarkable. Nobody seems to care how much flooding they do there.

Muddy Beaver Dam

The beaver dam is a ring of mud around the low area, pressed firmly into place and stuffed with grasses. They’ve flooded an acre of land and made a huge vernal pool. Unfortunately, stagnant water has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Consequently, I can’t blame the drastic increase entirely on the lack of bats.

Now we have to decide what, if anything, to do about these new neighbors. We don’t have enough information to make an informed decision just yet.

Weighing Pros and Cons

Pro: They aren’t active right now and probably haven’t been this summer because of the lack of rain. It isn’t an area of the woodlot that’s useful to us as far as trees go so we really don’t have a lot to lose. Wood harvesting is heaviest in fall as they prepare for winter so I’m taking a walk each week to look for signs. We’ll know quickly if they return.

Black bear, coyote and bobcats prey on beaver. Coyotes and bobcats have been problems in the past. Better that they have a natural diet than snack on my domestic ducks. Fisher are another beaver predator but haven’t bothered our birds.

Moose and deer have trails passing through and around this area and are there on a regular basis. When there is water in the pool it’s so dirty I doubt animals drink. It would be a good place to set up a tree stand or ground blind for this month’s archery hunt. We’ve never harvested a large game animal from our woodlot.

It’s a pretty spot that I enjoy walking now. I’ve been picking fall mushrooms out there, and this discovery brings me back each week to a place in the woodlot I didn’t visit.

On the con list, we have a long-haired dog that loves water and all things smelly, and another dog that’s half duck toller. She loves to splash around the edge of water. We’re grateful this is outside their territory so they haven’t found the murky mess. In addition to the stench they’d bring home, I’m a little concerned about giardia.

It could be worse

Beaver damage could be worse if we have a wet summer that doesn’t allow the water to drain. In an already damp environment on the edge of a heath, there’s no real need for a bog in our woodlot.

Will they return when the fall rains arrive? The ground is naturally wet with springs that don’t freeze but there’s little water except in with fall rain, snow melt and spring rains.

Considering the tiny size of the stream a deceiver isn’t necessary.  If they become a problem, we can look into asking a trapper to take a look and determine whether this is worth his or her time. For now we’ll wait to see what happens and act on the information we get.

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Young Bull Moose on an Afternoon Stroll

Young Bull Moose on an Afternoon Stroll

Young Bull Moose

A young bull moose visits the food plot on his way to somewhere more interesting. He’s been here night and day, always coming into and leaving the food plot in the same directions. On Tuesday he swung a left at the Y and walked past another camera. We’re game camera junkies. They’re all over the place.

Living with wildlife is never dull and usually a joy. I’d like to see this little guy so I’m thinking of putting up a tree stand and calling. A bull in rut is nothing to fool with so I’ll be sitting up high instead of on the ground. For most of the year the moose are no problem at all other than a few trampled plants in the garden. The rut has started so if he’s within hearing distance and thinks there’s a cow around he’ll be easy to see. I moved one of the cameras this morning in hopes of getting face shots.

The white strip to his right in the first three pictures is one of the high tunnels in the backyard. He isn’t shy about being around the house during the day. I hope he doesn’t come into the yard and get tangled in the electro fence the poultry is in. There haven’t been tracks in the garden so he probably isn’t getting too close to the birds.

What do you have for wildlife in your yard?

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moose-2
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moose-4young bull moose, food plot

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