Suddenly the peace of darkness was shattered by a bloodcurdling screech behind the rock that sent shivers through my body. I spun my 30.06 around to face the creature that might come bounding over the rocks toward me.
It was pitch black in the Vermont woods while I waited for the dawn of deer opener. From my perch I was above a valley that would funnel deer. A handmade blind stretched between two trees camouflaging me while my back was against some large boulders. There was a fresh snow on the ground where I deposited deer urine to bring in the bucks. The blasting screech on the other side of the rocks was a fisher cat attracted to the doe urine that I had laid down. The nocturnal fisher was screeching a mating call misinterpreting deer urine for another fisher. I whistled a long blast and followed by a silence, the fisher gradually departed the scene, undoubtedly disappointed. When dawn came, the fisher was gone and I saw a nice buck in the valley and downed him with my 30.06.
The fisher (Martes pennant) is a ferocious predator that lives in the deep forest and is rarely seen except at night. Its nocturnal screech sounds like someone crying for help. Trappers take the fisher for its fine fur. It is the largest of the mustelids that include the weasels, mink, otter and skunk.
The fisher cat has a pointed face similar to the weasel and retracted claws make them excellent climbers. The dark brown to black fur shines and some individuals have patches on the chest or abdomen. Their screech- like cry is used to attract mates and sometimes they shriek before killing prey. The fisher commonly eats porcupine, grouse, turkey, poultry, rabbits, domestic cats and other small mammals.
Ironically, the fisher cat doesn’t eat fish despite its name, but the name comes from French trappers who called their pelts “fichet”. The fisher is found in Southern Alaska, throughout Canada, California to Maine and the Rocky Mts, any of the northern forests.
The solitary Fisher cat roams the forest areas at night in the summer and sometimes in the day during the winter. Fisher cats breed in Feb to March but have delayed implantation, similar to bears, with fertilized eggs that lay dormant for 10-11 months then eggs implant to uterine wall. Kits are born after 1 ½ months with a litter of 1-4. Fishers are mature at 1yr and females produce their first litter at age 2. Dens are located in tree holes where the female protects and nurses the kits for 4 months. By 5 months the kits are the same size as the adults and killing prey. By late summer, the kits leave and become solitary hunters. The female covers 10 square miles in a circuit, while the male has a 30 mile circuit returning within a week to its first area.
The screech is what most people remember about their first encounter with a fisher, while many people enter internet forums with recordings to find out what animal made that screech. If a fisher comes up close to you and lets off a screech, you will never forget it. By Kathleen Kalina
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