Outdoor travelers should expect the North Country woods to be busy this weekend, as the opening day of the annual big-game season arrives today.
Snow has already capped several of the High Peaks and the tang of woodsmoke tints the mountain air, just in time for the annual invasion of hunters returning to camp.
At one time, tent camps and trailers could be found stretching along state Route 3 from Saranac Lake all the way to Coreys. Back then, the opening day of deer season was a big deal. Local diners would be filled with wool-clad visitors eager for a quick cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast. Their pickup trucks would line the backloads and big buck contests could be found at most local bars.
Whitetail deer are the most commonly sought target among North American hunters.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Unfortunately, times have changed. Currently, there are fewer than a handful of camps to be found along Route 3 and opening day of deer season is no longer considered an official Adirondack holiday.
Whitetail deer, which are widely dispersed throughout the country, are the most commonly sought quarry among North American hunters. As whitetail numbers continue to rise, their population has expanded to more than 200 times the size of the herd that existed when the first Europeans arrived on the continent.
Whitetails are considered a "blue-collar" game animal and hunting them remains largely a common man's sport. They can be found almost everywhere, from the deep woods to the farmlands to the suburbs. Increasingly, they can be found in our local villages.
Economics of consumptive recreation
Hunting remains one of the most popular outdoor activities in the United States. According to a national survey taken in 2007, there were 33,784,009 people who hunted that year. This total represents approximately 10 percent of the total U.S. population over 12 years of age.
The survey indicated hunters spent, on average, $490 per person on equipment, license fees, transportation, dogs, food and other items. Despite an obvious decline in hunting participation in recent years, a state Department of Environmental Conservation study on the economic impact of sport hunting and wildlife-related recreation in New York reveals that hunting alone contributes $891 million in expenditures, with a total economic impact of $1.53 billion.
Overall, the impact of hunting, fishing and wildlife-related activities in New York has a combined economic impact of $3.45 billion in expenditures, $6.22 billion in economic impact, $64 million in state taxes and more than 60,000 jobs.
A 2006 national survey conducted to gauge public perceptions of hunting found that more than 78 percent of all American adults "approved" of hunting.
Although some consider hunting and fishing to be merely hobbies, these pursuits actually provide tremendous economic resources that also benefit the environment.
Sportsmen provide the necessary wildlife management services required to keep fish and game populations in sync with the environment. The funding gathered from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and the excise taxes collected on the sale of this equipment is used to fund the nation's conservation efforts.
In addition, the fish and game that is harvested provides families with a readily available and sustainable source of healthy, all-natural, organically raised and free-range fish, fowl and meat that contains no preservatives, additives, by-products or growth hormones.
On the hunt
Humans are born with an inherent instinct to hunt; there is no disputing the fact. We are instilled with this need by nature and by genetic composition. We are a predatory species and our evolutionary tract has allowed us to become the planet's apex predator.
Evidence of this fact is readily available in nearly all cultures. Despite any previous training, young boys around the globe will instinctively attempt to use a stick as a weapon. Depending on location, they will raise a stick like a rifle, bow or spear without any prior modeling behavior.
Innocent childhood games such as red rover, hide 'n seek, tag and hog pile are examples of our innate need to stalk and hunt. In essence, these simple games provide youth with the training and experience necessary to hunt, as they practice stalking, sneaking, pouncing and mobbing behaviors.
Despite any prior experience, the first thing a small boy will do when presented with a BB gun is to attempt to shoot something: a bird, frog or a bug. When questioned why, kids typically respond, "I don't why, I just wanted to."
For thousands of years, the harvest of wild animals for food was a key component of everyday life. This survival instinct remains a part of our essence and it transcends both heritage and culture.
As a species, we are hard wired to hunt and motivated by a compulsion that is difficult to explain and impossible to ignore. Civilized societies have trained humans to tame this instinct, yet it remains a force that is hidden deep inside all of us.
The act of hunting provides humans with an opportunity to return to the natural world and to our natural state. It is an immersion that heightens our senses and satisfies an indescribable, yet undeniable primeval need that lingers in our being.
When we hunt, we become authentic participants in the natural world, rather than functioning as mere observers. It is an instinct that goes far beyond heritage and culture; it is part of our essence. The more often we exercise this instinct, the closer we become to our own nature.
Tips on the whitetail trail
- Be on your game from the moment you enter the woods until the time you depart. Most encounters with a whitetail last less than seven seconds.
- Slow down and stick around. Most hunters travel far too fast, and too often. Hunting requires patience and persistence and the most successful hunters are persistently patient.
- Trust your gut. Next to the brain, our stomachs have the greatest number of nerve endings in our body. Recognize your gut instinct. Learn to tap into this subconscious sense that often alerts us just before something happens.
- Look before you leap. Walk slowly and stop often. It is very difficult to pick up on movement while you are on the move. Limit your movements and scan with your eyes, not your head.
- Sit on the forest floor, with your back to a tree. You will be able to see further, hear more and blend into the scenery.
- Learn to search for parts and pieces of a deer. Don't expect to see an entire animal. Learn to spot a black nose, the flicker of a tail and the white of a rack or the horizontal shape of a deer's back, which often contrasts with the vertical world of the surrounding forest.
- Pick a few puffballs and stuff them in your pocket. Use them to detect wind direction, even when there is just the slightest breeze. Hunt while walking into the wind, or take a watch with the wind in your face.