The Last Big Hunt
Thanksgiving weekend has long been considered a benchmark that signals the rapid transition from fall to winter. It's the time of year when "Did ya get one?", is a normal greeting at the Post Office or the grocery store.
However, for the past decade, Thanksgiving has not been a very reliable indicator. In my youth, there was usually enough snow accumulated by Thanksgiving to go skiing, at least on Nordic boards.
In recent years, it's been rare for skiers to enjoy natural snow by Thanksgiving. In fact, it's been rare that hunters have any decent tracking snow at all. This season, hunters have gone without any significant snow cover. The little snow that did fall melted away within a day.
It's been another brown season.
Deer hunters lament the unseasonably warm weather that has once again disrupted the hunting season and stunted the movement of wildlife. The weather patterns have confounded many hunters who rely on snow cover for tracking deer. Even though deer scrapes, rubs and other signals of whitetail rut remain on schedule, it's become increasingly obvious that our weather is severely out of whack. I hunted through most of the weekend in a T-shirt and came back with a sunburn. It appears that a down jacket and wool pants are no longer standard garb for the Adirondack hunter.
Safety first: Know your target
Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally one of the busiest times for deer hunters, and hunters should expect to find the woods to be very busy over the course of the last remaining week of the deer season.
Now, more than ever, it is crucial to remember the most essential element of hunter safety: You must be absolutely certain of your target and backstop before you pull the trigger.
Deer hunting is a sport that requires both split-second decision-making and accurate shooting. Not only must the target be a deer, but it must also have horns. Taking the time to perform proper target identification is the only way to prevent a hunting tragedy. By being proactive and wearing at least some measure of blaze orange, most accidents can be avoided.
Anyone entering the woods at a trailhead with a parking lot full of pickup trucks with empty gun racks should make every effort to alert hunters to their presence. Dress in bright colors.
This is not to say that anyone should be whistling, hooting or shouting, but rather that they should be dressed appropriately. If it is apparent that other hunters are in the area you intend to hunt, be certain that they can recognize you and be sure to watch out for them.
If you have strayed into another hunter's territory, especially in the middle of a drive, a wise approach is to give a short, quick whistle to make your presence known before moving on to other terrain.
Birds and bunnies
Varying hares, which have already donned their white winter coats, remain the most nervous creatures in the woods. Often referred to as snowshoe rabbits, the animals develop a white coat that serves as a seasonal camouflage. However, with the lack of snow cover to date, the poor bunnies are highlighted against the brown woodland background.
In such conditions, they are particularly vulnerable to predators. Ruffed grouse appear to be in good supply this year and in good shape. I don't recall ever seeing such an abundance of large, plump grouse as I have in the past two weeks. Grouse offer hunters a reason to get out in the woods after the conclusion of deer season and also provide quality table fare.
Deadly deer: Rambo Bambi
A recent story concerning a Moira man being attacked by a 10-point buck raised a lot of eyebrows. The incident occurred while Gerald Dabiew, 56, was loading firewood.
Some hunters may have scoffed at the veracity of the incident (which, according to reports, left the man "cut and bruised from head-to-toe"), but, in truth, the man was lucky.
In November of 2006, Ronald Donah of Ellenburg was killed by a whitetail buck that was kept penned on his property. In both of the incidents, the bucks were in full rut, with raging hormones that have the power to transform a deer's normal timidity into aggression.
In October of 2007, John Henry Frix of Georgia suffered a similar fate when he was killed by a penned deer on his property. He had been gored several times in the upper body by a buck in rut.
On May 20, 2009 a whitetail deer attacked a man and his 7-year-old son in Pulaski County, Virginia. Both of these individuals escaped without a major injury.
On YouTube, there are at least four videos currently posted featuring deer attacks on people. The attacks filmed are vicious and provide insight into just how dangerous a deer's hooves can be.
A buck that attacked Ron Dudek, 73, of Rancho Santa Fe, California, on Sept. 25, 2005 in his garden was likely caught by surprise as it charged out of a patch of shrubbery. It gored Dudek, who was rushed to the hospital and received 220 stitches for the wounds. He died three weeks later from a pulmonary blood clot resulting from the encounter.
In June of 2005, seven people were threatened or attacked by deer on Southern Illinois University's main campus in Carbondale. Two of the three people injured required hospital care.
While such cases are not considered normal, the number of them has steadily increased in recent years, and no one knows why.
In recent decades, deer herds have experienced significant increases throughout the United States.
At the same time, developers have built homes in areas that encroach on deer habitat. Experienced hunters know that generations of deer will return to the same areas to breed that they have traditionally used during the rut.
"We have more white-tailed deer now than we have ever had in the history of the country," explained Todd Smith, editor in chief of Outdoor Life magazine. "So it's not surprising we're having more encounters. When deer and people meet, stuff's going to happen."
Deer can be even more deadly on the highways, where an average of 130 fatal vehicle collisions are recorded each year among the nearly 1.5 million car-deer accidents that occur annually in the United States. Pennsylvania leads the nation in deer-related accidents, which cause at least $1.1 billion a year in vehicle damage annually in the United States. According to records, the cold weather months are the peak season for deer-vehicle crashes. This coincides with their breeding season.