Joe Hackett came across this large barred owl during a recent fishing trip north of Lake Clear. The bird posed just long enough for some great photos.
During the waning days of trout season, I took advantage of the opportunity to combine some grouse hunting with a bit of angling.
I spent most of my time traveling alone, while wheeling a pack canoe along some old logging roads that connect a network of small, backwoods trout ponds north of Lake Clear.
Earlier in the week, I was startled by grouse that flushed regularly. It seemed the birds were bursting into the air around every bend in the trail.
Unfortunately, the only weapons I had available at the time were a 5 weight, flyrod and an ultralight spincasting rod. Neither was of much use, even though the grouse often took to the air within striking distance.
Since the grouse appeared so plentiful, I packed along a shotgun the following day, in hopes of mixing a little fowl with my fish.
Of course, the easiest method to assure there will be neither fish nor fowl available to a sportsman is to carry along the proper implements to harvest both. I probably would have had better luck with a slingshot!
On my first trip, which was about a half-mile portage, no grouse were flushed. However, as I approached the pond’s put-in, the trout were in the air.
In fact, fish were literally jumping out of the water, slashing and leaping in the pond’s small bays. I immediately recognized the melee as part of an annual ritual, where male brook trout begin to test their strength to complete the spawn.
On my first foray to the bay, I caught and released fish on nearly every cast. They were all large, hook-jawed males, resplendent in brilliant red, orange and white spawn colors. They were aggressive and not boat-shy, and they responded eagerly to nearly anything tossed their way. After an hour of pure angling madness, I packed up and headed off to test another nearby pond, with my shotgun at the ready. I was certain to find a grouse!
Four ponds and three long carries later, I had still not seen, or even heard a grouse stirring. It was as if the darn birds had evaporated from the local woods overnight.
However, as I approached the final pond on my route I heard a bird flush in the thick spruce forest. I grabbed my shotgun, and left my boat behind as I slipped quietly into the nearby woods.
Up ahead, I heard a rustling and as I crouched to peer through the tangle of limbs and thick cover; I had a sense I was being watched.
Most woodland wanderers have experienced a similar situation; especially deer hunters who discover a big buck had been eyeballing them as the white flag disappears into the distance.
It is a difficult sensation to describe, but I just knew something had its eyes on me. Finally, I gave up on the understory and as I slowly stood up, my eyes focused on the observer.
Perched on a limb, less than 20 away, was the largest Barred Owl that I had ever seen. He rotated his head around, and glared at me. I flushed with embarrassment, as I had been sneaking through the forest, while under constant observation. It was to be the only flush of the day.
With my cover blown, I stood up to face my winged observer, as I fumbled for a camera. Fortunately, the old owl was willing to pose, and I was able to capture several nice shots. Later, while reviewing the images, it appeared the owl was sporting a wide smirk across its beak.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.