The regular big-game season will conclude at sunset on Sunday in the Northern Zone, and reports concerning hunter success are mixed.
Hunters continue to lament autumn's unseasonably warm weather patterns, which have disrupted the hunting season and stunted the movement of wildlife.
The unusual weather patterns, with warmer temperatures and a lack of consistent snow, are now the standard in most areas of the Adirondacks.
Bob Bombard from Peru, NY stands by his 12-point deer weighing 198 pounds.
(Photo courtesy of Joe Hackett)
It would be difficult for any North Country hunter to question the reality of climate change as it has become as obvious as the brown ground underfoot.
Fortunately, in the upper elevations, there has been a trace of snow existent for much of the season. Snow on the ground makes tracking deer possible, as it is easy to determine the direction and freshness of tracks. Without snow, deer easily blend right into the background.
Such is not the case for varying hares, which are already displaying their white, winter coats. With no snow cover, these unfortunate animals remain the most nervous creature in the forest. They are particularly vulnerable to predators since they stand out against the brown, woodland background.
Earlier in the week, I called around to survey hunters, buck contest operators and meat processors in order to gauge the progress of the season to date. Mostly everyone agreed that this season's take will be down a bit from last year; however, it does not appear to be a significant decrease.
Some reasoned that the lower take is attributable to last year's hard winter; others point to a burgeoning coyote population.
Almost unanimously, hunters focused on the mild weather and lack of snow. Several hunters claimed the warm weather severely curtailed the rut.
Ward Lumber Company hosts one of the largest Buck Contests in the region. It is in its 16th year. Since they only accept entries of North Country deer, it is often a fair gauge of the season to date. The contest is free and runs through Saturday. Hunters may enter at Ward Lumber in Jay.
When I spoke with Mary Rankin, who manages the contest, she explained that they have only received about half the entries of last year's harvest. However, she indicated that this may be due to a lack of consistent snow cover.
Meat processors claim that the take is way down but add that many hunters are likely butchering deer themselves to save money. As one cutter explained, "I know many hunters who got their deer early this year and cut it up quick so it didn't spoil in the warm weather. Most years, they'd let it hang and bring it in after they came out of camp."
A Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman told me that
preliminary data indicates the statewide harvest is about the same as last season, while Region 5 is down slightly with less than a week remaining in the season.
For hunters who can't get enough, the big-game season continues for one more week with a late season muzzleloading opportunities that extend through Dec. 14 in certainwildlife management units along the Champlain Valley and St. Lawrence Valley. After the regular season end on Dec. 7 in the Southern Zone, the muzzleloading season extends until Dec. 16 in many WMUs.
But for most hunters, this weekend signals a time to clean and oil the rifle, pack away the clothes and close up the camp until next year. It is time to bid goodbye to old friends and get back to a normal routine.
The hunt always ends, but the memories last forever. This is especially true for those hunters whose shirttails now adorn the camp door.
This also a great time for hunters to pick up a trigger lock for their firearms before putting them up for the season. Gun cabinets and firearms have long been a point of fascination for children. The $5 cost of a trigger lock is a wise investment. It may help to prevent a tragedy that no amount of money can repair.
As the hunting season nears completion, I'll likely drop into my typical end-of-the year funk while I search for the next opportunity to play. I know that I can always extend the deer season with an extra week of muzzleloading in the Northern Zone WMUs, or go downstate. There also remains the option of hunting ruffed grouse; I've flushed many this year while deer hunting. However, grouse always seem to disappear from their usual haunts when I travel with a shotgun in hand.
Although Whiteface is already off to a good year, there still isn't enough snow depth for snowshoeing or backcountry skiing. The more intriguing options such as ice fishing, skating, ice sailing will have to be put on hold pending the arrival of more seasonable weather.
There's little snow and no safe ice, but winter will arrive soon enough.
There will always be time to play.