RFD Maine — Varmints
One of my buddies recently moved from his in-town location to a charming place out in the country. Everything seemed good at first. Then he learned, the hard way, about biting insects. Of course these pests are pretty much non-existent in the city, but out in the country they have no problem holding their own.
“I never knew they could be so bad,” my friend told me. Yup. They’re bad alright, and for someone who had never had the pleasure of dealing with blackflies, mosquitoes and deerflies, the initial shock was great.
But biting insects are only one of the many less-than-pleasant facts of life in RFD Maine. There are many more and in fact, they are legion.
Several weeks ago I looked out my back door to see two deer standing on the hillside behind my house. These were only about 50 feet away, which made my heart sink. The deer stood almost beneath one of the 18-year-old apple trees that have yet to bear a decent crop of apples. Why is that, you might ask, that these mature trees have yet to bear fruit? Because ever since the trees were first planted, generations of deer have visited them, nibbling the tips of the branches and eating the unripe fruit. This “extra” pruning served to set the trees back so much that only this year does one of them have a few apples on its uppermost branches, where the deer can’t reach. I think there are 11 apples, but of course I’m not counting.
Back about eight years ago, I decided to turn a small, vacant field into a pear orchard. So I planted a number of pear varieties one spring. The trees grew quickly and went into the winter hale and hardy. But over the winter, deer wandered into my pear orchard and chewed the little trees down to stubs, thus dashing my hopes for an ongoing crop of pears. I love pears and the deer have taken that away from me.
But that was not the end of deer damage. Last year a deer passed through my front lawn and nibbled on bean plants in the raised beds there. While they set the plants back a bit, I still managed to harvest a reasonable amount of produce.
By this summer, I had forgotten about deer and beans. So remember the two deer I saw near my apple trees? You guessed it. They ate four rows of beans, prompting me to put up strings and flash tape in order to ward them off.
Two of my raised beds are in my very dooryard and in fact, one bed sits against the house, in order to take advantage of warmth due to a south-facing exposure. One morning recently, I awoke to find that something had totally wiped out my chard, uprooted several of what were highly-productive broccoli plants, knocked down a tomato cage with a tomato “bush” full of Roma tomatoes, stomped on pepper plants full of green peppers, half-ate my summer squash and trampled down my carrots. All of this only feet from where I sleep.
What was this unidentified pest? It seemed unreasonable that a deer would come so close to my house. Besides, I saw no tracks. But surely, the thing was big. The damage it did told me that much.
Then one evening I heard a strange sound outside and went out to investigate. There, were two porcupines, happily tromping down what remained of my pepper plants. I ran back in, grabbed my .22-caliber rifle and solved the “mystery varmint” problem.
Porcupine. Who would have thought?
Several years ago, I was amazed to see a woodchuck munching down on winter squash vines by a bed behind my house. It would begin at the end and, like someone swallowing a long strand of spaghetti, and work its way to the other end.
So I got my rifle and carefully walked around the house in order to get a shot. But the wily marmot somehow sensed my presence and ran under my deck before I could administer the fatal shot. We repeated this sequence several times, with the same unsatisfactory result. What to do?
Back in the house, ruminating, I watched to see the woodchuck leave its sanctuary beneath my deck and waddle back out to the squash bed, where it proceeded to chow down on my squash vines. I then had a revelation.
The varmint apparently couldn’t see me as long as I remained in the house. I sized up the situation and seized the opportunity. A .22-caliber bullet does not make a very big hole. So while sitting on a stool inside my house, I shot through the door screen and flattened the woodchuck. And instead of patching the screen, I left the tiny, round hole there as a souvenir of the one time I outsmarted a wily varmint.
One varmint I have yet to outwit and probably never will is a mink that visits my trout pond each September. One afternoon four or five years ago, I went out to feed my trout and they didn’t respond. Usually, rainbow trout attack the floating pellets with a vengeance. But not this time. What was wrong?
Thinking that perhaps changing air pressure or some other temporary influence had caused this lack of response, I dismissed it. But the next day and the day after that the fish remained close-mouthed. So I got a fish locator and paddled around, looking for fish icons on the screen. There were none. My trout were gone.
Then I realized what had happened. A mink, the likes of the one I had seen around earlier, had cleaned out my pond. This they do overnight, in a wild killing spree. The mink may nibble on one trout, but other than that, it prefers to stash them out of harm’s way, a “fish cache,” so to speak.
I spoke with numerous trappers, all of whom promised me that when trapping season arrived, they would come and catch the mink thief. But thus far, none of them have remained true to their word.
So now, with no hope in sight, I buy fewer and larger trout each spring. Then I raise them up to a good size and catch them out during the summer, before the mink visits. Usually two or three trout remain in the pond for the varmint, trout that were too cagy for me to catch on hook-and-line. But I get most of them, anyway.
Sadly, the pond has plenty of ice-cold, well-oxygenated spring water and as such, can easily hold trout over the winter. In fact, I once had some natural reproduction, something that delighted me. But now, the mink has dashed all plans of holding fish over.
Plenty other varmints prowl RFD Maine. These include skunks, raccoons and coyotes, to name but a few. Skunks and ‘coons raid trash cans and coyotes keep people awake at night with their howling.
But for all of this, you won’t find me abandoning the country way of life any time soon. The advantages surely outweigh the deficits.