B y Derek Liebig
The anticipation has been building for months and will reach its peak early Saturday morning as the first rays of sunshine appear on the southern horizon, illuminating fields and wood lots throughout the area. Waiting patiently along hillsides, hedgerows and behind blinds, will be hunters hoping to catch a glimpse of that always elusive “monster” buck.
For the past several weeks, hunters across the northern reaches of the state have been tracking New York’s most popular game animal, the white tailed deer, and this weekend they will be joined by their southern counterparts as the white-tailed deer season opens state-wide this Saturday.
The southern zone rifle season runs from Nov. 19 to Dec. 11 (it ends on Dec. 4 in the northern zone) and according to officials should be a fruitful season for local hunters.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, hunters took just over 230,000 total deer in 2010, up slightly from the past few years and officials expect that number to increase this year despite a slow start to the white tailed deer season in the northern zone.
According to The Whitehall Times outdoor columnist, Gene Terry, the hunting season has gotten off to a slow start in the north but the prospects look better in the south.
“It might be the worse year I’ve seen, I’m not seeing any deer in the Northern zone,” Terry said. “There’s no feed in the woods, no acorns, but I think it will better in the Southern zone because there’s more fields where they can find feed.”
John Rozell, who processes deer for local hunters and runs a Venice Donation Program in Whitehall, said that although it’s been slower than normal in Whitehall and corresponding points to the east, overall numbers are up at this point in the season.
“We’re heading towards 110 deer, which is about 10 or 15 ahead of last year,” Rozell said, adding that he’s processed quite a few deer from the southern zone archery season.
Rozell said area’s where there’s a lot of feed, hunters are finding plenty of success.
“Where there are beech-nuts, there’s deer and they’re also working the fields,” he said. “Where they have to depend on oaks, there’s not many (deer).”
The farmland of Washington County (especially the southern and central parts of the county) is traditionally a good area to find deer. According to the DEC figures, between 3.1 and 4 bucks were harvested per mile last year in the wildlife management that composes Washington County, one of the highest totals in the eastern part of the state.
Rozell said that some hunters have noticed that the deer are already starting to move around as bucks begin to search for does, further increasing the chances of seeing a deer.
However, perhaps the single most important factor to a hunter’s success (or lack thereof) is time, as in the amount of time an individual spends in the woods.
According to “Deer Hunting in United States: Demographics and Trends,” a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study released in September, hunters who harvest a deer spend twice as many days in the woods, on average, than those who do not.
The report, which is based on 2006 data, revealed that successful hunters in New York spend an average
17 days hunting in order to harvest a deer while unsuccessful hunters spent only 11 days in the woods.
Those figures are very similar in neighboring Vermont where successful hunters spent an average of 16 days in the woods compared to just 10 days for unsuccessful hunters.
Regardless of whether they’re successful or not, hunting remains extremely important to New York State.
Each year, more than 500,000 deer hunters contribute nearly $690 million to New York State’s economy through hunting related expenses, $35 million of which is used by the DEC to support wildlife management activities in the state.
With that many hunters in the woods, officials encourage hunters to use caution in the woods and follow several guidelines so they and others remain safe.
Hunters should remember to treat their gun as if it were loaded, know what’s behind their target and not shoot over the top of a hill.
It’s also a good idea to wear blaze orange, especially when you’re moving around so people can identify each other in the woods.
For more information on the NYS white-tail deer season, including license fees, season dates and more, visit the DEC website at www.dec.ny.gov.