In the upper elevations, autumn has reached its golden age, as forests shed their foliage and the evergreens become ever more apparent. To date, frosts have been few and the weather pattern rather mild. However, as locals know, at any moment the mountains can be cloaked in white and the weather can turn as ornery as expected.
Although tourists may flinch at the notion, hunters rejoice at the prospect of a fresh carpet of snow, which always seems to make the hunt easier. Snow takes the guesswork out of deer travel routes and diminishes the advantage of a whitetail's natural camouflage. Brown whitetails disappear in brown woods, but stand out against a white backdrop.
Saturday, Oct. 16 signals the opening of muzzleloading season across the Northern Zone. Although the regular big game opener remains a week away, I expect a majority of hunting camps will be full and the deer will be nervous.
Painted turtles, commonly found sunning along Adirondack ponds, are very popular with collectors due to their docile nature and colorful markings. However, it is illegal to remove these or any other native New York reptiles from the wild.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
For many hunters, the week of blackpowder opportunities is comparable to preseason training. It presents an opportunity to get out and scout about before the seriousness of the regular big game arrives the following weekend. In competitive terms, muzzleloading season is merely a scrimmage.
It offers hunters a chance to get into the rhythm of the hunt, to test their legs and stamina and to fine tune their deer vision. It offers a return to the sporting tradition in a traditional style at a time when the weather is bearable and the woods are reasonably quiet.
It is a Sunday stroll rather than a sprint to the finish, with little pressure to perform and numerous opportunities to sort through the cobwebs of previous hunts.
Most of all, blackpowder season presents an opportunity to restore the camaraderie of camp, with numerous opportunities to catch up with friends and family that may only pass this way but once a year.
Get out and enjoy it!
Turtles in trouble
Due to both profession and obsession, I spend a lot of time on the water, in the water or near the water. It is an environment that I have come to understand and greatly enjoy. I continue to study watery environs with a compulsion that would make my science teachers proud.
Although my primary textbook remains a simple hatch chart of insects, my discoveries could fill volumes. Whether a blond beaver on the pond, a wood turtle by the river or a big old blue-clawed crawfish by the creek, the watery world offers a surprise around every bend. Despite my determined focus on fishing, I find that it is often the background players that most commonly hit the day's high note.
Such was the case on a canoe trip down the Boquet River earlier this season. Although trout were the primary target of my expedition, the discovery of a large, healthy wood turtle nesting along a sandy beach became the highlight of the journey.
While growing up in Elizabethtown, my primary interests consisted of Bartons Brook, which flowed through our backyard and The Branch, which was located just across the street. Both of these small streams eventually merged with the Boquet River at a junction pool located less than a 10-minute bike ride from our Water Street home.
As a youngster, flowing water was my playground and, to a large extent, it remains so to this day. Although I now visit ponds and lakes with greater frequency, a river's current provides a special attraction and fascination. I guess it has to do with the prospect of something new always floating by.
Back then, I had a great interest in turtles. I hunted them, collected them and protected them until the day a snapping turtle chomped off the tip of my favorite fishing rod. After that incident, snappers were no longer high on my list of favored species.
My youthful indiscretions would now have me in big trouble. In New York, as with most of the eastern states, it is now illegal to collect, possess or sell a long list of turtles. However, it is interesting to note that snapping turtles rarely make the lists. I guess that I wasn't the only kid on the block to lose a rod tip to a snapper.
Today, turtles and many other reptiles are under far greater threats than a little boy seeking revenge. According to Conservation International, a wildlife protection group, "A perfect storm of habitat loss, hunting and a pet trade is decimating the world's freshwater turtle populations."
"More than 40 percent of the planet's freshwater turtle species are threatened with extinction, making them among the most threatened groups of animals on the planet," explained Peter Paul van Dijk, director of the group's Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program. "Their decline is an indicator that the freshwater ecosystems that millions of people rely on for irrigation, food and water are being damaged in a manner that could have dire consequences for people and turtles alike."
Although turtle populations in China, South America and Southeast Asia are under the greatest danger, New York's native populations of bog turtles, which are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, box turtles and wood turtles are also under threat from poachers.
Following a survey of wood turtles that was conducted by the Adirondack chapter of the Wildlife Conservation Society, researchers explained that, "We were very sensitive about releasing the results, due to threats posed by collectors."
In fact, Operation Shellshock, an extensive undercover investigation instituted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, uncovered a lucrative international black market for poaching and selling of native, protected New York species.
Investigators found timber rattlesnakes and wood turtles being shipped out of state and out of the country to support high-end collectors. They found thousands of snapping turtles laundered through a Louisiana turtle farm, then shipped illegally to China. They found poachers stealing turtle eggs as soon as they were laid.
"What they found was alarming," explained DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. "A very lucrative illegal market for these creatures does exist, fostered by a strong, clandestine culture of people who want to exploit wildlife for illegal profit."
Charges against 18 individuals included 14 felonies, 11 misdemeanors and dozens of violations. More than 2,400 individual turtles, snakes and salamanders were involved in the documented crimes.
Most recently, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department issued a press release stating, "Many populations of reptiles and amphibians, including turtles, are being threatened by people illegally collecting them in the wild.