I spent a few days in camp over the past weekend to enjoy the opening of the deer season. As always, it provided an opportunity to catch up with old friends and to wear off a bit of the rust that had accumulated on my bones following the close of the trout season a few weeks back.
The current woodland conditions appear more dense than usual for this time of the season, as the birch and poplars seem to be holding their leaves tight to the vest. The thick cover limits the sighting opportunities in most areas. Hunters in stands report that shooting lanes that were relatively wide open to 30 or 40 yards last season are now quite limited due to the heavy foliage.
The heavy rains of spring resulted in vegetation that was remarkably lush this summer, and it appears to be lasting well into the fall. However, it's nothing that a killing frost and a few windstorms can't remove.
Guideboat builder Joe Spadaro and guide Joe Hackett join a group of North Country Community College students on the shore of Lake Flower in Saranac Lake.
The wet spring and warm summer also provided an abundance of fruit and nuts, as berry bushes were flush earlier this summer and the crop of beech nuts and acorns has been prolific.
Although the beech nuts are still hanging in there, a few days of strong winds will deposit a fresh batch upon the forest floor, giving the deer a fresh feast to share with the squirrels, chipmunks and mice.
More than any other factor, this year's thick foliage should provide ample reason for hunters to incorporate a "hunter orange" component into their hunting outfit. Numerous studies have proven that hunters who dressed in blaze orange are far less likely to suffer a hunting accident than those who do not sport this highly visible material. There has never been a hunting fatality in New York involving a hunter who was wearing orange.
The international orange color was first developed by the famed arctic explorer Admiral Byrd to aid airplane pilots in charting the progress of his dogsleds during his journeys to the Poles.
If there's one thing that remains consistent among the whitetail-hunting fraternity, it is news of "The Rut," the special timeframe when the bucks are on the move, searching for does in all the wrong places.
I often wonder which species is most anxious for the rut to begin, man or whitetail. There appears to be plenty of evidence the rut is heating up, with widespread sign of scrapes and rubs.
I've not received any indication the bucks are even in the seeking stage yet. However, I expect the rut will occur around mid-November as usual, despite the combined anticipation of thousands of hunters.
All of the time I spent as a child wishing and praying for Santa Claus to arrive never delivered Christmas any earlier than December 25th. I don't expect it will have any greater effect on the timing of the rut. But then again, deer hunters always like to give it their best shot.
Dead or Alive?
Speaking of shots, I recently came across a story that should be of interest to all hunters. It involved a car-deer accident that occurred in Minnesota when a driver hit a massive buck with his truck.
During deer season, most of the stories are about deer that were once alive but are now dead. It is a logical progression of events during the hunting season. We don't often hear about dead deer suddenly becoming alive, but it can happen.
According to reports in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Darin Fagerman received a call from a man who hit a buck with his vehicle.
"The man calls me and says he wants to keep the buck and he's going to field dress it," Fagerman said. "I told him I'd meet him in town with a permit."
However Fagerman said, "The guy calls back a few minutes later and explains, they had tossed the dead deer in the bed of the pickup and they heard a ruckus in the back. The buck was standing in the back of the pickup. It jumped up, jumped over the tailgate, and away it went."
"He was pretty surprised," Fagerman said of the hopeful owner of fresh venison. "The deer was pretty limp. He thought it was dead."
According to the report, the deer was never seen again. However, if the unlucky driver and his buddy had actually attempted to field dress the animal, they may never have been seen again either, at least not in their original condition.
It goes without saying, that most hunters are more than a little bit excited as they approach a downed deer, especially if it is their first. I know that I set a new record in the 100-meter dash, as I ran to check on my first buck.
I hit it twice and it dropped after a short run. I never considered the fact that the deer may not be dead. I never thought that it could injure me or get up and bound away. I was Johnny-on-the-spot.
However, common sense took over and I cautiously approached the downed deer from the backside, away from its legs. I remembered the words of a mentor, "Always wait 20 minutes before you approach a downed deer. A wounded deer can still do a lot of damage to a human."
I had already violated that sage advice, but I did remember to, "Stay back and always be ready to take a finishing shot. Check for signs of life, movement from breathing, eyes blinking, or the quivering of muscles, but do it from a safe distance."
His words rang in my ears, "If its eyes are glazed, poke 'em gently with a stick to make sure the deer is dead. If it's not dead, you'll see it to react. Step back and wait, but keep it in your sights."
Report your harvest
The state Department of Environmental Conservation wants to remind all hunters to report their harvest, whether it is a whitetail, black bear, turkey or other game species. In order to allow hunters adequate time to file a report, the required timeframe has been extended for seven days after the take.
Reporting your take is mandatory and necessary for proper game management. This information is vital for DEC wildlife biologists to help determine game harvests and to set future hunting seasons.
Hunters can report their take online, or call toll-free at 1-866-GAME-RPT (1-866-426-3778). Be a sport and do your part.
The Joe and Joe Show
Guideboat builder Joe Spadaro of Lake Clear and I recently spent an afternoon on Lake Flower with a group of students from North Country Community College.
The students were participating in a new interdisciplinary class instructed by Stefanie Kearns and Sarah Maroun that incorporates the humanities and wilderness recreation leadership.
Entitled, "Wilderness in Literature, Culture and Society," the course provides students with interactive opportunities which allow them to investigate how the Adirondack wilderness has achieved its identity.
Participants were provided with a background on Adirondack guides and the guiding profession, along with an in-depth lesson on the materials and construction techniques necessary to build an authentic Adirondack guideboat.
Following the presentations, students had the opportunity to row Mr. Spadaro's 16-foot guideboat. For many, it was their first experience in an authentic guideboat and it certainly left an impression.
As one student wrote, "Thanks so much for today's class. It really struck a nerve with me, and I believe it's something I'm going to look into further. Making guideboats, that is."