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An Adirondack sportsman's calendar

May 24, 2008
Joe Hackett

The history of outdoor sporting adventures in the Adirondacks began centuries ago, when the region was known as Couxsachrage, or 'dismal wilderness' by its native peoples. It was a favored hunting ground for the Iroquois and Algonquin nations.

When Europeans first arrived, the region provided the New World's first commodities of trade, as Adirondack beaver pelts became crucial to early commerce.

The woods and waters of the North Woods later provided proving grounds for notable outdoorsmen George Washington Sears, (aka Nessmuck), author of Woodcraft, considered the definitive guidebook for 19th-century outdoor adventurers. In his formative years, a young Theodore Roosevelt developed his love for sport and an appreciation for all things wild while spending summers on the shores of the St. Regis Lakes. It was there he authored the guidebook, Birds of Franklin County and first discovered a lifelong interest in conservation. In later years, as a guest of the Tahawus Club, Roosevelt was whisked from the shoulder of Mt. Marcy to his presidential inaugural in Buffalo following the assassination of President McKinley.

Paul Smith, of hotel fame, began his career as a guide catering to hunting and fishing parties from his Hunter's Home near Loon Lake.

Since those early days, travelers have continued to seek outdoor adventures across a land so vast that no one can claim to know it all. This same sense of discovery continues to draw sportsmen and women to the region's recesses to pursue opportunities for fur, fish, fowl and game.

Though sporting enthusiasts elsewhere in the country may lament lack of free lands to roam, the problem doesn't exist here; in the Adirondack Park, the difficulty comes in deciding where to travel among over 3 million acres of public woods and waters.

Due to the foresight of advocates who sought protection of wilderness in the latter part of the 19th century, the Adirondack Park of the 21st century is wilder than it was a hundred years ago, and through the management practices of professional foresters, game managers and fisheries biologists, current opportunities for traditional sporting adventures with rod or rifle still rank among the best available anywhere in the country.

There remain very few places in the world where nature has been allowed to restore forests and wetlands, streams and ponds to the extent available within the 6.5 million acre Adirondack Park.

With it's unique mix of woods and waters, raging rivers and soaring cliffs, towering summits and staggering swamps; it is wild

country that can still capture the imagination.

It is a place where sportsmen and women remain indelibly linked to the land; where they've learned to read its subtle signs and feel its pulse and still use these rhythms as a natural calendar by which to measure the year, not by the month, but by the season.

Maple season comes in the early spring, followed by mud season and finally the trout season when a returning loon's mournful tune beckons anglers to open water, signaling that ice has finally cleared the


A brief wild turkey season is interspersed with openers for northern pike and walleye, with the bass opener following in short order. Black flies and mosquitoes give way to mayflies, a

flyfisherman's delight. The early spring pests are replaced by horse flies and deer flies, and tourist season begins in earnest.

Soon, June bugs bounce off window screens as fireflies twinkle in the night skies and summer folk return to the lakes. Beaches and barbecues fill the day, while swimming holes and fishing poles command many a young boy's reams.

By mid-summer, berry picking commences and life slows to a crawl as the dog days of summer take hold. Evening fires crackle as thunder rumbles in the distance, and the gentle pitter-patter of rain on a leanto roof lulls a camper to sleep.

Then, like a crack of lightning, yellow school buses begin to roll and the hills take on colors which deliver the sportsman's season; the High Holy Days of autumn are soon at hand.

Velvet still drapes a buck's rack as the yip and yap of a coyote's call sounds from the hills in the cool, night air. As oyster mushrooms sprout from old beech logs and the barking of geese sounds from overhead, a musty pungency of decay hangs in the forest air.

It is a time of great opportunity and even greater indecision, for there are just too many choices.

Are ruffed grouse to be pursued as a bird dog leads the way? Or are decoys to be displayed in an attempt to coax ducks or geese within range, as a retriever sits quivering in anticipation? And what about that wild turkey that was promised for Thanksgiving?

Should anglers head off to a backcountry pond where brook trout have developed spawn colors to rival the attendant fall foliage, or should they wade rivers where salmon return for the same purpose?

As the air turns crisp and frost seizes the ground, the days grow shorter. Leaves crunch underfoot as the woods open up when suddenly, the hills are cloaked in first white and rim ice begins to sets up on the ponds.

Pickup trucks with empty gun racks line the back roads, and tradesmen call in sick to work. Regular life is put on hold for the Big Game season, which begins in mid September with Early Bear and ends in early December.

It is one of the longest sporting seasons of the year when woodsmoke again scents the air and Buffalo plaid jackets become the fashion of the day while longjohns are the lingerie. Good friends gather in small hunting camps to rekindle old memories and restore friendships earned around a warm woodstove. It is a place where traditions are passed on and the spirit of the hunt commands the soul of the place.

It comes at a time when the faces on Main Street are again familiar and the question, "Did ya get yours yet?" suffices as a formal

greeting at the post office or the church.

This all occurs in a land of extremes: extremes in terrain, of weather and of sporting passions. It happens in a place of endless swamps and unforgiving cold, of deep snows and even deeper forests.

It is big country and it will never be a place for the unprepared.

This is a place where neighbors take care of neighbors and either willingly extend similar courtesies to strangers.

No matter how lonely the road, around here no one stays stuck in a ditch for long.

Cold gradually takes hold of the land and ice begins to seize the lakes. In many a hunter's dreams, last season's bucks are shot, reshot

or missed again. Happily, hunts go down in memory to be revisited later, over warm stoves in the cold season.

As ice firms up, small villages of ice shanties sprout from frozen Adirondack lakes and the next season unfolds.

Packbaskets filled

with tip-ups and ice augers on sleds are lugged to tiny holes drilled in search of large fish, though perch will do.

Temperatures continue to drop as lake ice rumbles in the night and snow squeaks like styrofoam underfoot. Jumper cables and dry gas

become precious commodities as woodpiles begin to dwindle.

It finally ends, as the first sweet stream begins billowing from the vents of a sugar shack roof and another year begins.



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