The biggest hunting day of the year happened Saturday morning. Orange-clad shotgun hunters headed to the woods to pursue the whitetail deer and black bear around local woodlots. It also looks like we finally may have some great opening-day weather.
As I pen this column, the weatherman is calling for some cooler temperatures, but no snow is in the forecast. With the new Saturday opening day falling on the same week as Thanksgiving, with plenty of deer to hunt and with the rut coming a little later this year, the "perfect storm" for deer hunters is here. With more big bucks being tagged already and the number of big buck sightings on the rise, this opening week should be a good one.
What more could big-game hunters want?
It looks like the rut will still be in swing for at least part of the weekend, but it will not be as intense as this past week. Even with opening day falling earlier this year, the rut will trickle into the first few days. Traditionally, about 50 percent of the total deer taken are on opening day. Then the percentage goes down with Thanksgiving being the second-largest day, and the following Saturday coming in third.
While the state has issued a fair number of DMU tags in Region 9, it is no where near the number issued a few years ago. There are still more than enough hunting opportunities which will, in turn, help with deer movement.
With plenty of DMU tags out this year, it is just as important as ever that all hunters know their target and what lies beyond it. For those who have been in the field this year, they know that there are plenty of good bucks in the Southern Tier this season. Of course, the larger bucks will be running with a majority of the does, which means the opening weekend should be an excellent time to harvest that trophy of a lifetime.
But what's a hunter supposed to do? Where are you going to hunt? There are really two schools of thought on hunting during the busy opening week. Setting up deer drives is a popular way to get deer moving. For some, drives have been traditionally the most popular choice for gun hunters, while stand hunting has been gaining in popularity. Both methods have positives and negatives, like everything to do with hunting. It generally boils down to personal preference. Many times it really depends on the area you are hunting and the given pressure an area is going to get, as to how you're going to hunt.
For farmland hunters who are hunting pressured land, stand hunting is generally the best bet. For hunters working large tracks of land with little pressure, still hunting or driving will get deer up and moving around.
For sportsmen who haven't been able to get out and do any scouting, I would strongly suggest hooking up with partners and do some driving. This should produce plenty of action and keep you warm on the cool mornings. Safety should always be the first thing in the mind of every hunter, but no more so than when with the group that puts on drives. Knowing where your hunting partners are and where the drivers are coming through decreases the opportunity for mistakes.
Stand hunting is basically broken down into two different techniques. The first is walking in long before first light and climbing into your treestand. The second is a ground blind, located close to travel or escape routes.
Deer will be pushed during the first few days of the season, and it's your job to find out where they are going, their escape routes and how they're going to get there. Over the years I have customized a blend of the two techniques that most sportsmen use during shotgun season. I prefer putting my hunters in stands that are overlooking well-used travel and escape routes. This technique can be used in conjunction with both drives and still hunters.
Remember travel and escape routes are some of the best areas to set up. Your setups should have good cover around and set, so you can see as far as possible. Knowing the area and which way the deer are going to come are very important. To be successful while sitting 15 to 20 feet off the ground, place stands near travel and escape routes.
Getting into the woods long before everybody else does also is a big plus. Getting set up before other hunters start in works to your advantage, as does sitting on your stand all day or as long as you can hold out. Remember that most hunters leave the woods around 10 a.m. and come back in around 2 p.m. That is when you can get some great midday action.
Don't wait until after breakfast to head into the woods. Get out as early as possible, especially the first few days of the season. The first few days are when hunters will hit the woodlots the hardest and is also when the majority of hunters are out.
Probably the most important little trick to being successful during the first part of the shotgun season is staying in your stand as long as you can. I know it's hard when everybody else is walking around or going out to eat, but the hunters who stay in their stand throughout the day will see more deer than those taking breaks. When hunters are walking around and coming back in, they are bound to jump deer toward you. Staying in the same spot all day will produce deer as long as there are deer in the area. That's where your scouting will pay off. As guys are walking around, you'll have the best opportunity to shoot a quality buck who doesn't even know you are there.
From the low-lying land in Gerry to the vineyards of Fredonia, hunters this year should enjoy some of the best opening day and opening week of shotgun hunting in recent memory. For most of us, hunting is a passion and we take it very seriously.
If you come across another hunter, don't set up close to him. Chances are he has spent time in the area and knows where the deer are. Please back off and let him hunt the area.
We are very fortunate to have some of the best whitetail hunting in the Empire State right here in our own backyard, so respect others' right to enjoy the same sport you enjoy.
If you plan on hunting from a tree stand this season, make sure you are using a quality safety harness. The days of a long strap holding you to the tree is gone. The association of treestand manufacturers insist that all of its members include a safety harness with every treestand sold. While each harness may be different, it is important for our safety that we each learn how to use it and then use it.
Never point a gun in a direction where it could hurt someone else. Each year more hunting accidents happen while hunters are climbing into their stands, loading, unloading and crossing fences. Make sure your safety is always on until you're ready to shoot.
And remember the first rule of safe hunting - know your target and beyond before you pull the trigger.