Giant gray squirrels are not uncommon in the southern tier forest lands of New York State. Forrest Fisher Photo
Hunters and Trappers Favorite Time of Year…Open Season
Hunting seasons for big game like whitetail deer and black bear are underway with the archery season. Likewise, many small game species, like ruffed grouse, pheasant, rabbit, squirrel, and wild turkey, are also open and in progress.
Hunting and trapping seasons for bobcat, raccoon and fox, and trapping seasons for fisher and mink began in some regions of the state on October 25th. Be sure to check the New York State Hunting and Trapping Regulations Guide for the season dates and regulations for your hunting or trapping area.
Wild turkey hunting in the Southern Zone began October 20th and runs through Nov. 2nd. Hunters are required to have a turkey permit, and the statewide season bag limit is one bird of either sex.
Remember, harvest reporting is critical to wildlife management, and by regulation, hunters must report their harvest of a turkey within seven days of taking the animal. DEC encourages hunters to, “Take it, tag it, and then report it.”
Trappers should note special permit requirements are required for fisher and marten trapping seasons. Fisher season began on October 25th in many WMUs and fisher and marten season began today in the Adirondacks. All fisher and marten trappers must obtain a special, free permit from their regional wildlife office, submit a trapping activity log, and submit the skull or jaw from harvested fishers and martens.
DEC’s wildlife managers rely on the information supplied by trappers to help manage populations of these popular furbearers. To obtain a free fisher or fisher/marten permit, trappers should contact their regional wildlife office or apply by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Only one fisher or fisher/marten permit is needed to trap these species anywhere in New York where the season is open. For more information, see page 54 in the Hunting and Trapping Regulations Guide.
As always, please follow the basic rules of hunter safety to protect yourself and other hunters this season.
Pilot Project Concludes on Public Input for Deer Populations
Evaluation and Assessment Continues
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has a pilot effort in progress to improve collection of public input about deer impacts and desired deer population levels (www.dec.ny.gov/press/103053.html). This is a collaborative venture with Cornell University and county-level Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) offices that has concluded and is now being evaluated. The effort was intended to revise and modify the former Citizen Task Force process to improve methods for public input on desirable changes in local deer abundance, consistent with DEC’s Deer Management Plan.
The pilot, which took place in a 1,325-square-mile area of central New York (Wildlife Management Units 7H, 8J and 8S), began with a 2015 survey of residents to gather information on the values they attribute to deer and their experiences with and concerns about deer impacts. Out of the 3,000 surveys that were mailed, 1,456 were completed and returned. Following considerable public outreach to advertise the program, two webinars were held in January 2016 to provide information to residents on DEC’s deer management program, the results of the public survey, deer biology, deer impacts on people and the environment, and deer management issues and challenges. Webinar participants were then asked if they would like to volunteer to be part of an input group, and 12 of the 24 volunteers were selected.
This group held two meetings in March 2016 to discuss local deer-related impacts and prioritize issues that they felt DEC should address. These meetings were facilitated by Oneida County officials and two DEC wildlife biologists attended to answer questions and offer advice. Although the group members had been selected to maximize the diversity of deer-related interests and perspectives as much as possible given the low number of volunteers, the prioritization of impacts identified by group participants differed markedly from that indicated by the survey of residents. The number one priority for the input group, deer hunting opportunities, was viewed as least important by the surveyed residents; Lyme disease was identified as the number one management priority by the surveyed residents, but was identified by the input group as least important for DEC to address, along with deer-vehicle collisions.
As group participants observed, making decisions about deer and deer management is a complex task involving diverse stakeholder interests and values, which may be conflicting. Designing a process that can address this complexity satisfactorily is difficult. The pilot process is currently being evaluated by DEC and our Cornell research partners, and we expect to generate recommendations for refinement later in 2016. If, after refinement, the new process proves workable and valuable, DEC intends to implement it on a routine cycle in each aggregate of Wildlife Management Units across the state to respond to changing conditions and attitudes about deer impacts over time. DEC deer managers will consider the public’s prioritization of deer impacts and desires for deer population change, in conjunction with data on the ecological impacts of deer, as they make decisions about changes to deer abundance in each area.
Additional details on the pilot effort and its outcomes are available in the progress report, and DEC will provide more information about future developments as the project continues.
To the dismay of many deer hunters in Western New York, the state announced last fall that they would be going through with their plan to adopt new regulations in 12 Wildlife Management Units around the state where deer populations have gotten out of control. This includes WMUs 9A and 9F which encompass all of Niagara County and all or portions of Erie, Genesee and Orleans counties, among others.
“Responsible management requires periodic adjustment of hunting rules to ensure that deer populations are compatible with local socio-economic interests as well as maintaining a balanced ecosystem,” said NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Acting Commissioner, Marc Gerstman, when the rules were announced. Public input was weighed along with the negative impacts associated with problems like tick-borne diseases, increased deer-car collisions, effects on forest habitat regeneration and general deer overpopulation.
The new regulation called for the first 15 days of the early archery season and all of the late bow and muzzleloader seasons to be antlerless only in the following units around the state: 1C, 3M, 3S, 4J, 8A, 8C, 8F, 8G, 8H, 8N, 9A and 9F. Because management objectives were not being met in these units, the state felt it was prudent to enact these regulations as soon as possible.
On the cover, it seems like a wise decision. However, numerous hunters were upset over the fact that DEC originally said that the agency would not enact any new deer hunting regulations until 2016 after public hearings were held. It certainly put people like Dale Dunkelberger of Lockport in a tough place. Dunkelberger, who serves as the Region 9 representative to the Conservation Fund Advisory Board and a person “in the know” when it comes to Albany issues as it relates to the DEC, had been fielding negative comments ever since the new regulations were proposed earlier in June of 2015. He assured people that nothing would take place until 2016. Bam! The hammer dropped and Dunkelberger took more heat for it even though he was not directly involved in the decision or the process. He was only the messanger and he was shot for it. Well, not really shot, but you know what I mean.
“Many people called me to oppose the changes, but it was difficult to explain to them that I was only one voice, no matter how many calls I received. Changes normally won’t take place until there’s a review by the Deer Management Task Force for an area, which takes place every five years. Every call I received was negative.” Therein lies a lesson to be learned: Let your voices be heard!!
The sporting community carries some massive power when it comes to issues and concerns that affect our outdoor pastimes, be it our Second Amendment rights or the regulations that oversee our natural resources. Public input is important and DEC failed to perform the basic community outreach as far as this most recent regulation was concerned. I must stress “adequate” public outreach. They did have a comment period for the regulation, but after being assured nothing would happen in 2015, most sat back and did nothing. There was very poor communication with the hunting community. In the end, there were less than 200 comments according to DEC. DEC took it as it didn’t matter to deer hunters. They are now considering rescinding this particular regulation and holding off until 2017 before any more deer management decisions will be made.
On the flip side, how much of a problem was there in places like Niagara County (where I live) and are there only certain areas posing a threat to agricultural lands, gardens or shrubs? Many hunters we spoke with didn’t see an overabundance of antlerless deer around and they wondered where was this directive was coming from?
To add to the confusion, the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) enables wildlife biologists to assist landowners and resource managers to develop property-specific deer management plans on their property. Some modifications are being made to make things easier. Permit durations will be extended from one to three years in length. With Niagara County being primarily private land, shouldn’t this be the way to manage the problem areas?
After it was all said and done, the new regulation kept many serious hunters out of the woods the first 15 days of the archery season. Niagara Falls taxidermist Tim Young of Niagara Falls (Trophy Room Taxidermy) made the best point when he commented: “When the state changed the archery season and went with an Oct. 1 opener, serious bow hunters found that they could pattern a big buck during that early season before there was any pressure. You might get one good shot at that trophy. Why would an archery hunter head to an area with a big buck knowing that they wouldn’t be able to shoot it? They wouldn’t. Ditto for the late season muzzleloader hunters in the Southern Zone. It forced them to hunt other areas, and the real reason for the regulations change – reduce the numbers of antlerless deer – just didn’t happen here in Niagara County. It just made hunters angry.”
One GOOD Answer: Far More GIANT Deer, Far fewer Hunters!
Whitetail deer are the most populous big game animal in the USA, so why should a hunter travel to Canada to hunt them?
“Most state-side hunters have never hunted deer where there are caribou, elk, mule deer, grizzly bear, black bear and wolves, lots of wolves. Feel free to take a couple of those home with you,” Nemechek added with a laugh. “I hunt North Central Alberta and the chance to hunt in snow and really cold weather may be very different than conditions back home, especially if clients live in a southern climate of the USA.”
The rifle season in Alberta covers the month of November which allows US sportsmen to plan around their back home seasons in the quest for a giant buck. “The season opens November 1,” says Nemechek, “when the bucks are feeling the urge, but the does are disinterested. Inevitably, between November 8th-10th, the rut kicks in and the chase is on.”
Central Alberta hunts can be much like the Midwest with enormous grain and alfalfa fields, though the bulk of Nemecheck’s hunting occurs in the boreal forest farther north. In this situation, deer are larger in body size than those in more agricultural regions and posses one other important characteristic. “If you see and pass on a buck in the bush, you may never see it again,” Nemechek says.
“These deer often reach old age due to very limited hunting pressure, but their territories are large and secluded. Ten to 20 percent of our clients bag a buck of 170 or more and about that many again see or miss one that big,” says Nemechek. “But you have to be ready,” he adds. “The buck you see in the first five minutes of a weeklong booking may be just as big or bigger than one you’ll see until the hunt ends. I tell hunters to look for a number of long tall points and heavy mass. A buck with those characteristics will score well. Visit this website to see more about that at www.HuntNorthRiver.com.
Alberta’s neighbor to the east is Canada’s other big buck powerhouse as represented by Vern Hyllestad of Sask-Can Outfitters, who was quick to tout the advantages of a Canadian whitetail hunt (www.saskcanoutfitters.com). “The amount of hunters out in the woods with us and how many big deer they actually shoot says it all,” he says. “In all of Saskatchewan there may be 2,500 US hunters while back in the states, how many hunters will be out there after the same big deer? That’s why your chances are way greater for shooting a big deer up here.”
Hyllestad believes the amount of big deer keeps his clients coming back. “We had a high count of 15 rack bucks one day and we have gotten as high as 25 in one day in good years. It’s phenomenal and keeps clients on the edge of their seat. You would almost think that it’s penned hunting, but its wild hunting and it blows a guys mind at how much depth there is. Our stands are three miles apart, not 300 yards apart. We have so much wild ground that a big buck may only show up once. Some of our hunts are on the border of national parks and a buck may leave that sanctuary to check a doe quickly and return.
Like in Alberta, deer hunters in Saskatchewan may see other game, but Sask-Can concentrates on whitetail deer. “We try to do good job at one thing, rather than a poor job at a bunch of things. You will see wolves, lynx, and wild things like that,” Hyllestad says.
Season flexibility is another plus for Saskatchewan. “If the only time you can come is the 15th of October, I can run you archery, muzzleloader, or rifle due to the flexibility of our zones and the regulations we have. Feel free to check out the website for up there, (www.saskcanoutfitters.com).
Call it an Arctic clipper, Polar Vortex, or other trendy name, yet whitetail deer have dealt with the challenges of winter for 1000’s of years and are doing fine. The colder the weather the more you can bet that your hunting competition is in the warm, one of the reasons that the deer woods settles down in late season and you’ll have the whole place to yourself.
Hunting in late season gives you that Jeremiah Johnson feeling and once you learn to laugh at the cold, the worse the weather the more enjoyable it becomes. Here are six tips to make the most of this year’s deer season.
Tune your Bow and Body for the cold
As the season progresses, archers tend to practice less, despite the more demanding conditions of late season hunting. Shorter days, inclement weather, and work schedules often compete for critical practice time. To overcome these obstacles, move your range indoors. Bag and foam targets from McKenzie, Block, and other allow you to keep your muscles and form in top shape. Turning your bow’s draw weight down a crank or two is often advisable. After sitting in cold weather, your muscles may stiffen and heavier layers of cloths may impede your draw. Every hour or so, you should come to full draw or conduct some discrete stretching exercises. Make sure that you practice shooting in your full hunting dress, including gloves.
Deer will Herd Up – Late season deer will concentrate near food sources. Find an afternoon travel path to a corn or alfalfa field and you have a hot-spot. In cold weather, you may want to consider using a ladder stand or a stick-type climbing device. Heavy clothing may cause you to perspire as you work up the tree with a climber. Ladder and stick-type stands allow easier access with less exertion.
As you settle in, make sure you can stand and move without creaks or squeaks. Platforms can be slippery and your safety harness will be especially important. Snug it to be sure.
Plan to Stay Warm
Sitting in the stand involves less movement than standing and allows you to exercise your feet occasionally, increasing circulation. For warmth, sit on a foam cushion. Inflatable seats provide incredible warming power when used in the Lombard back area. The dead-air insulation feels like a heating pad.
If your feet often get cold, spray them with antiperspirant before putting on socks. This helps prevent foot sweat. Consider using a “Tosti Toes” inside your boot. These pads are designed to operate in the low oxygen levels inside your boot.
Scent-reducing rain suits can be an excellent choice in cold weather because they contain scent and block the wind. Outfit that are waterproof, windproof, and contains human scent are excellent. Since last minute whitetails can be any-weather events, having this 3-way protection comes in mighty handy, especially in the South where the rut occurs during the rainy season.
Don’t Forget your Rut Tricks
Late season is often a second rut period. Don’t forget your grunt tube and rattling horns. Hunter’s Specialties TrueTalker is very versatile, offering excellent volume and the versatility of a grunt and bleat sound. Instead of carrying rattling antlers, consider a rattle-bag. It generates the antler sound and stores easily in a pack or large pocket.
Scouting is still important in last-minute deer hunting and trail timers can put you onto that buck of a lifetime, a process made easier with the advent of snow. Cold weather may prevent you from spending as much time in the woods as you’d like and this device can pinpoint the best times to sit the stand as well as capture the quality of deer on film. Even if the big one gets away, you can show the beast to your friends and begin making plans for next year.
Plan Your Approach Getting to a stand in cold weather takes some planning. If you have to climb or walk through deep snow, consider dressing in your shirt and trousers and carry insulating outer layers. Daypacks are invaluable and can hold and organize your gloves, calls, knife, survival gear, etc. Be sure to carry matches, a lighter, and an extra candy bar or two. Staying dry is the key to staying warm.
Keep Coyotes in Mind You can never kill too many coyotes and they may be more responsive to a caller in late season. If you are in a stand and things seem slow, cast a few squeaks or rabbit squawks and see what happens. The iHunt app for smart phones has a dozen or more calls that can entice a coyote or other predator.
A side benefit of late season hunting is seeing how deer react naturally to food sources and travel corridors. As you watch and monitor animal movements, you’ll be more prepared for next fall. Even if you spot Mr. Big and can’t get a shot, you’ll know his whereabouts come opening day.