John Harrigan: Deer, coyotes, and dogs, and a ride to remember

JOHN HARRIGAN March 02. 2013 9:44PM

This has been a strange year for weather in general, and the deer in particular. While there wasn't enough snow in early winter to make them yard up tight, they sort of congregated, loosely, in areas surrounding historic yards so they can reach them if more major snow comes along.

Free-running dogs are never a good idea, but even more so at this time of year, when the deer have almost used up their reserves of fat and energy.

The deer should not have to flee in a chase, and mostly should be resting between forays for food and water.

And it's a vastly unfair pursuit. The deer is using up energy needed to survive until spring breakup, when it can roam far and wide to feed. The dog, however, knows that it has food and a warm bed back home - and so its little mental calculator says "Chase with abandon."

Enter the coyote, which must play by different rules. It has a little computer in its head too, that calculates energy expended versus energy perhaps obtained, and after a certain amount of leaps, runs, and swerves says, "Give up, it's not worth it, go after something smaller." And so the coyote gives up the chase.

Well, "sometimes" is the right word for this scenario, because the coyote, which with every generation is getting bigger than its Western cousin, is evolving into a brush-wolf and has learned to hunt in packs to bring down larger prey. So the above scenario may be right for foxes and fisher cats chasing lesser prey, but steadily more incorrect for coyotes.

Some wildlife experts are fond of saying that free-running household dogs do more damage to the deer population than coyotes do. I'm thinking that if this was true back a few years, steadily it is not true. The coyote is part of the natural scene, having occupied the niche we made vacant with our persecution of the wolf. It is part of a still mysterious holistic cycle, and belongs here. It has learned to hunt together and communicate during the chase. The coyote is a responsive breeder, and responds to depredations on its population (trapping, poisoning, snaring, shooting) by having more and larger litters. No one, anywhere, has successfully hunted it to extirpation. Not for nothing did the original people here call it "The Trickster."

To the "My dog would never chase deer" line of denial, I've been at this business for 44 years, and time after time have heard from Fish and Game officers that they've seen poodles among the pursuing pack.

The bottom line is that we can't control the wild predator but we sure can control the domestic dog. Moral of the story: Hitch your dog, or at least have it in sight and under voice control.

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I hardly ever go from Colebrook to Pittsburg via Route 3. Oh, I have friends and businesses I like to visit there, but the highway itself is just like so many other highways in the land - straight where possible, level, wide, and in short, boring (think William Least Heat Moon, in his "Blue Highways"). So unless compelled otherwise, I take Route 145, one of the most interesting and scenic roads in New Hampshire - and believe me, I've traveled hither and yon all over the state. It is my absolute favorite highway, with Route 113 a close second. Can anyone imagine the uproar if the state announced plans to "improve" Route 113, that beautiful turning, twisting, hilly and humpy old road, dipsy-doos and kiss-me-quicks and all?

I would put modest signs at entrances and exits along Route 145 and 113, saying "If you don't know how to use brakes and steering wheel and accelerator (Tim Samples, in his "How to Talk Yankee" series, calls them "exhilarators), don't take this road." When I was working on the machine floor at Beecher Falls Factory, I had an MGB, and it, and I, positively loved 145.

Every now and then someone declares the need for "improving" Route 145. "Over my dead body," I've said a couple of times in print, adding that I would lie down in front of the bulldozer. To which Fred Kind, a longtime family and personal friend and public servant but on opposite sides on past issues involving growth and development, said, "Well, I hope I'm driving the bulldozer." He was kidding (I think).

When I was living with Rudy and Joan Shatney at Clarksville Pond, we had to travel down Route 145 to school, with either Rudy or Joan at the wheel. Daughter Jeannette and I eventually got our licenses at the same time, being 1947 war babies, and fought for the privilege of driving.

In the pavement in front of the Purrington house, just up the road from the Creampoke turn and Metallak's grave-site historical marker, an ancient stump protruded from the pavement, cedar, I've always thought, because it had so obviously existed for a long time. Original roads were often laid out over old Indian paths, stumps and protruding bedrock and all. Metallak, by the by, is worth exploring via Google, and I often guide people to his hard-to-find grave, which is festooned with coins, feathers, beads, bear claws and porcupine quills, by his tribal descendants and admirers from all over New England and Canada whom no body ever seems to see, a wonderful thing in my mind, one of the few customs and mysteries left. He was the last chief of the Coashaukees, an offshoot tribe of the Abenaki, from whom Coos County (pronounced "Co-oss) got its name. He died in miserable poverty, blind and a ward of the town.

Just below the stump, we had to steer around a woodchuck hole, right in the tarmac, old-timer talk for "the improved tarvia," where the woodchuck would pop its head out at the rumble of approaching vehicles, and then duck back down, just in time.

Jeannette and I found that the big old Ram's Head Dodge, a behemoth of heavy metal, could coast from Dead Man's Curve, which we took pell-mell, tires screeching, all the way to the ancient bedrock dike at Stewartstown Hollow, a face-whitening ride, but we did it all the time, polishing driving skills, and Jeannette's younger sister Kathleen, who held on for dear life, never ratted.

John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook, N.H. 03576, or

John Harrigan

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