October has finally arrived and on the sporting calendar, it ranks a perfect 10. The month ignites a flurry of outdoor activities, with the opening and closing of a majority of the year's sporting seasons, the arrival of cooler weather, the departure of tourists and the beginning of the Sportsman's High Holy Days of Autumn.
The forests will be afire with colors that only occur once a year. Currently, the local woods are at or near peak in the upper elevations and leaves are rapidly beginning to carpet area trails with a crunchy cushion. However, in the valleys and river bottoms, the fall foliage is at least a few weeks shy of peak color.
This is a season of great expectations and incredible indecision. The spectrum of sporting options continues to grow as new seasons begin and others close. While the hours of daylight contract, sporting opportunities expand through the early portion of October as the natural world comes alive with opportunities for outdoor action.
An incredible palette of peak fall foliage reveals the endless colors available in nature's full fall spectrum.
(Photo by Joe Hackett)
Birds are migrating, fish are spawning and animals, including those of the two-legged sort, are beginning to stock up for the long, cold winter season that is certain to come.
This is the season of all-seasons, when weather patterns can deliver stifling heat and brilliant bluebird days or a fresh snow can arrive with winds that topple tall pines. It is an unpredictable period, with a most predictable outcome: Despite the weather, people are certain to be out and about enjoying the outdoors.
Cold waters on the lakes and ponds will turn flat and black. Brook and lake trout will lurk below on their annual spawn as salmon return to the rivers with similar intent. Walleye, bass and pike will likewise be on the prowl, fattening up before the lean winter season.
All creatures large and small will be busy with the harvest. Great flocks of geese will settle in the cornfields, as squirrels scamper about the forest floor to stash seeds into a hideaway that they will often forget.
Ruffed grouse will scour the apple trees for one last meal as flocks of wild turkeys feast along the forest floor. Woodcock will dart into the creekside alder beds as wood ducks settle into a lonely marsh. Elsewhere, a shotgun is being cleaned and readied for the season, while a hunting dog whimpers with excitement.
Soon, along the back roads pickup trucks will generously liberate small groups of hunters clad in buffalo plaid woolies or a similarly camo-covered crew. Hunting camps will fill with stories and laughter, while card games will commence and the monster bucks of seasons past will be shot at and shot again.
That familiar mustiness which is a standard of hunting camp will mix with mothballs, wood smoke and whiskey to form a magical scent that taints the nostrils but once a year.
Friendships will be renewed, jokes will be told, whitetail deer will grow increasingly wary, the weather will get worse, our packs will be heavier and a new season will begin.
A bitter wind may be blowing outside as men in their longjohns roll out of bunks in a variety of camps, cabins tents and huts scattered throughout the North Country.
Scratching, belching, barking and farting, hunters will gather around a breakfast table where hot coffee is steaming, the pancakes are piled high and the bacon is perfectly crisp. Pure maple syrup will pour like tap water and the morning feed will commence.
One by one, they'll fill up and finally file out, and finally a new year will begin.
A new season begins
Although a majority of the world's population celebrates the New Year on Jan. 1, for a small portion of our nation's population, the official New Year begins with the arrival of deer season.
Sportsmen operate by a natural calendar, where time is dictated by the seasonal offerings rather than by a prescribed day or date. When they are in the woods and on the waters, time just doesn't much matter. They wake in the dark and sleep when the moment arrives; they are usually quite adept at filling in the hours between.
What was once a rite of passage for some has become an annual tradition for many. Camp life offers an opportunity for grown men to recapture a taste of their youth. It allows youngsters to grow into men.
The hunting tradition is as old as mankind. As the planet's apex predator, humans are genetically engineered to hunt. Our eyes are in the front of our skull and our teeth can cut and chew meat. Our anatomy enables us to process meat and our senses are designed to search for it.
The task of stalking and harvesting a wild animal continues to satisfy an innate need that still resides within all of us. As children, we cultivate these skills with games such as hide and seek, capture the flag or red rover.
Although the primary population of the country continues to morph the United States into a suburban nation, research reveals that hunting remains nearly as popular today as when our ancestors first arrived as colonists on our shores.
According to a national survey conducted in 2001, 87 percent of the U.S. population approves of hunting. Nearly 50 percent of those under age 29 said they would go hunting if a friend invited them.
Deer hunting remains primarily a blue-collar pursuit. The majority of hunters are rural, white males in their early 50s.
Whitetail deer are the most widely available and easily accessible big game species available in North America.
However, the average age of hunters continues to drop nationwide as states have begun to implement youth mentor programs that enable young hunters to participate. This recruitment method has helped to revitalize the sport at a time when our hunting heritage was on the wane.
Today, it has been estimated that roughly 7 to 9 percent of the U.S. population regularly participates in hunting, with women now constituting the fastest growing demographic of the hunting community.
The contributions of sportsmen and women - attained through license purchases, Duck Stamps and a federal excise tax that is collected on all hunting and fishing equipment - has made the American Conservation funding model the envy of the world.
No country on earth offers the wealth of natural resources that are presently available to the U.S. general population. Nor has any nation ever been able to sustain the long-term conservation efforts that have be implemented in the United States for over a century.
In 1900, throughout the country, less than half a million white-tailed deer remained in the wild. Today, conservation programs have returned the whitetail population to over 32 million nationwide.
Proudly, let the hunt begin.
Be careful out there
Whether hunting, hiking, birding, biking, angling or simply enjoying the season, all outdoor travelers should be aware of the common sense precautions that are necessary for the season.
Dress accordingly, in bright colors, especially when traveling in areas frequented by hunters. If a parking lot is full of pickup trucks and the gun racks are empty, please make your presence known.
Although it should go without saying, all user groups deserve a mutual respect. Travelers should exhibit the simple common courtesies that have become an inherent element of enjoyable woodland travel.
Although the trout season ends Oct. 15, the new license year begins on Oct. 1. By Oct. 1, hunters and anglers must have in their possession a current, 2010-11, NYS hunting or fishing license.
Paddlers, anglers, hunters and boaters should also be aware of a new regulation that requires "between November 1 and May 1 each person on board a pleasure vessel less than 21 feet vessel (must be) wearing a securely fastened United States Coast Guard approved wearable personal flotation device when such vessel is underway." Just like a seat belt, wear it or ticket.
Never enter the woods without a map and compass. Let someone know where you are headed and when you expect to return. A pack should include food, water, lighter, toilet paper, first-aid kit, knife and other appropriate necessities as required for the expected journey.