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December 21, 2012

Nothing hunts like a fisher

The Daily Star

---- — Last week when the regular deer season was winding down, I sat on a log along a deep gorge that runs down the hill on the backside of our woodlot.

No deer seemed to be moving in an area that usually has lots of activity. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something. I slowly turned my head and watched a fisher come up the creek at the bottom of the ravine.

I saw him move closer and closer, meticulously checking out every log and rock along his path. As I watched the dark brown, oversized weasel move steadily up the little brook, I remembered a fisher story.

When I lived in the southern Adirondacks many years ago, there was an old fellow who came to the Wells Fish and Game Club meeting one night. When the president gave him a chance to speak, old Charlie Reese stood up and started in.

“We have a problem. The fishers are eatin’ all the patiges.”

“They’re eating all the what?” someone asked.

“Patiges. Those darn fishers are eatin’ all the patiges. I’ve hunted for three days and haven’t got a one. All I see is fisher tracks.”

Well to Charley, they were patiges. To the rest of us, the birds he was hunting were partridge or ruffed grouse.

One of the members suggested that he should trap the fishers that winter to solve his problem. Someone else told him he should take it up with the Department of Environmental Conservation in Northville.

“Years ago we wouldn’t have this problem,” Charley said. “When I was young, I’d hunt ‘em down.”

Because of its fine hair, a small, black, female fisher pelt would bring more than $150. When Charley came across a track in the snow, he’d follow it until he got it. I was told that he’d follow one for several days through deep snow and frightful blizzards if necessary. But when he came to the fish and game meeting, he was about 85 years old. So the fisher finally had the advantage over the old mountain man.

Over the last few years, many people in this area have asked me about fishers. They’ve been spotted in West Oneonta, on Winney Hill, near Milford, and along Route 51 in Morris. Several years ago, the DEC released several pairs of fishers on state land around the area, and they’ve done well. That’s because they’re very efficient predators.

My old friend John Vodron once told me how good the fisher is as a hunter.

“A red squirrel is about as fast as any animal is in the tree tops, but they’re no match for a pine martin,” he said. “But after the martin catches the squirrel, the fisher gets the martin.”

One of the fisher’s favorite foods is porcupine. There are few animals that can kill and eat a porcupine without a mouthful of painful quills. But a fisher knows all the tricks. When he finds a hedgehog up in the tree tops, he will climb up and slice open its unprotected belly with its sharp claws. Before long, the porky dies and falls to the ground, feeding the fisher for several days.

I was snowshoeing back in the White House country years ago and saw something going in and out of the snow several yards ahead of me. When it disappeared from sight, I’d move silently forward. Suddenly, a fisher came up out of that hole in the snow and he wasn’t very happy. He hissed at me before running off into the woods.

I poked around and discovered that he had been feeding inside a deer carcass buried in the deep winter fluff. I continued on up the trail toward Hamilton Lake Stream and I’m sure the fisher quickly returned to its precious treasure.

Certainly eating on a dead deer is a whole lot easier than hunting down some patige in order to survive the winter.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at