There Are Plenty Of Turkeys, But It’s Deer Season
Over the last two weeks, hunters have traveled to Western New York to hunt for whitetail deer and black bear, and to enjoy the vastness of our forests and fields along the hills and valleys of the Southern Tier.
Some hunters drive from home or hotel to state land for a chance to score on a big-game critter here; others are lucky enough to have friends with a cabin or a camper for a special place they call deer camp for a few weeks of the year. Either way, the experience can be exciting, educational, fun and even surreal.
While sitting in an elevated hunting blind with a full-body harness attached to a lifeline on the tree, hunters can see a long way. From a 17-foot high blind in a typical Western New York woods with all the tree leaves gone and down on Mother Earth, a view of several hundred yards is possible. With snow on the ground and a pair of low-cost binoculars, hunters can see squirrels, chipmunks, little birds, coyotes, fox, fishers and much more. This year, more broods of turkeys are hiking the hills than most hunters have seen in a long time. They scratch their way along, gobble or purr now and then, as they appear to have a continuing conversation among themselves. Usually, there are 10 to 14 birds per group, sometimes more and sometimes less.
A longtime local hunter and friend, Brian Larkman of West Seneca, decided to stalk hunt from the ground this year. It was the first time doing this for him in a very long time. He usually sits in a tree stand in a quiet spot where a hillside of ancient red and white oak trees meets the field grass and fresh new sapling tree growth in a valley area of the Southern Tier. This area has been a hot spot for him for over a decade, scoring many bucks over the years, including a magnificent 10- and 12-pointer. This year, he relinquished his stand to a young hunter because he believes in recruiting and retaining younger folks in the cherished American pastime of hunting. The youngster was a 22-year-old from East Aurora who had missed several years of deer hunting because of medical ailments. But now he was healthy, he was back, and Larkman provided his premier elevated hunting stand spot to this younger hunter for a chance to bag a deer from a renowned and proven hunting zone.
In the meantime, a few years passed, and the adjacent land changed ownership, and the area’s forest was disturbed by the sound of ATVs, more traffic, chainsaws and other distractions. Time can change the face of the woods, but people can also cause revision to the solitude of once discrete areas of the woods. The young hunter reported that other hunters were traveling in the adjacent region, and it could have been the new travel routes there that worked to dismiss this once excellent deer hunting spot to a seemingly lesser hunting spot.
On the other hand, people movement from a once undisturbed forest zone can be a good thing to move deer along that might be bedded down in such areas — an advantage for the hunter.
Hunting from a tree stand can provide a sense of advantage for the hunter. The benefit is real because it allows for a better vantage point, reduces the scent of the hunter to dismiss detection by the deer, offers a broader field of view and increases the chance for a successful hunt. The most significant advantage is that it keeps the hunter’s presence above the deer’s line of sight, minimizing the possibility of being spotted by the deer. Additionally, tree stand hunting helps maintain a safer shooting environment with a downward aiming angle.
Upon returning to the cabin, the young hunter said he did not see a deer. With chilly temps below freezing for much of the day, sitting without movement in a tree stand can be a festival of survival, to be polite. Hand warmers help, toe warmers help, and a good thermos of hot coffee and a candy bar can help, too. For most hunters, the only exposed surface to the weather is their face, so be aware that frostbite and sunburn can occur on your facial mug. Cover up what you can with a face cover of any sort. Many varieties are available.
On day 2, the young hunter decided to move up the hillside of red and white oak trees to view from the downward angle of the hilltop. He had located a suitable sitting area next to a previously logged trailhead and observed the area below him for six hours. Returning to the cabin for a bowl of hot soup at about noon, he shared the story of watching two foxes playing tag with each other, scampering around with gray squirrels, red squirrels, black squirrels and chipmunks, chickadee birds pecking away for bugs on the tree bark, spotting an eagle and a prominent fisher, but no deer.
“This has been a great day of hunting so far,” he said. “I gotta get back out there.”
No deer, and he was having a great day in the woods. That says it all.
Later that day, the seven friends of this hunting camp took turns sharing a recap of their day in the woods, enjoying some good homemade food, the refreshing warmth and heat of the camp stove, jokes, stories, and the camaraderie of friendship that forms lifelong memories. Hunting camp is better for many big game trips than the hunting trip to the woods. This can lead to less effective hunting success at times, but combining these elements of the big game season in Western New York provides for the experience of treasured adventures. Deer camp after the hunting day is a chance to recharge for the next day. Big-game hunting in Western New York is fun and an opportunity to meet the hunting gods who occasionally smile at you. On those days, we later head to the butcher shop with our prize from the big game woods. The result is a freezer filled with organic meat for the year ahead — chemical-free deliciousness.
Last but not least, even at this time of year, fishing is still number one on the outdoor fun list for many sportsmen. Weather permitting, anglers chase muskellunge in the Niagara River for their hot pre-winter bite until the Niagara River season closes on Dec. 15. The musky bite often picks up in the upper river as water temperatures drop into the 40s. Anglers target musky by casting large stickbaits or drifting and jigging large tube jigs (8-10 inches). Trolling around the outer Buffalo Harbor breakwalls and the gaps in the breakwalls often produce good musky catches. Walleye are available around the outer Buffalo Harbor breakwalls and gaps at night.
The Lake Erie tributary fishing has been slow due to reduced water flow from the lack of rain, but there are lots of steelhead spread throughout the waterway system. With hunting season, the heavy pressure on the water is now reduced. Steelhead commonly bite on natural baits like egg sacs or worms, flies including egg imitations, black stoneflies, nymphs, streamer and bugger patterns, and lures such as minnow-type stickbaits, in-line spinners and spoons. Tributary anglers should be aware of recent yearling domestic rainbow trout stockings in Chautauqua, Canadaway, Cattaraugus and 18-Mile creeks. DEC warns that these are “put and grow” stockings to supplement the fishery in future years and are smaller than the minimum keeper size of 12 inches. Please handle with care.
Note that the Lower Niagara River NYPA fishing platform and other fishing facilities are closing for the winter season on Dec. 3. The boat launch docks remain in place at Buffalo Harbor launch all year. Launch docks have been removed at most other Lake Erie launches, but the launch ramps remain open.
Also, take note for hunters and anglers: due to site and trail improvement projects, the Valentine Flats parking lot and access trail at the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area are closed until further notice. The nearby access point at Forty Road on S. Branch Cattaraugus Creek remains open.
Here is to good fishing and good hunting in WNY. God bless America.
Nov. 18: Dec. 10: NYS Southern Zone Big Game Regular Hunting Season (firearms).
Nov. 28: Children-In-The-Stream-Youth 4H Fly Fishing Program, Free, SUNY Fredonia Rockefeller Art Center, 7-8:30 p.m., info: Alberto Rey, 716-410-7003.
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